Chapter 1: Prologue
The café looked a quiet place, at first glance. A little shabby, a little worn. The paint covering the door was old, distressed around the edges. The windows were clean, but the frames were nicked, pocket marked by age and use. A perpetually full bowl of cat food sat to one side of the door.
The sign was perhaps the only truly cared for part of the cafe, and even it was just— simple. Plain, even. Clear white lettering against a black background said Black Cat Café. It was not a proclamation, not even an invitation, just a statement. Here is a café. Come if you want damn good coffee without any frills. All told, it was not a place most would give a second glance to.
But then again, appearances had always been deceiving.
It sat comfortably in a small district of Tokyo. Two blocks to the north was one of the biggest underground crime centers of the nation, a conglomerate of villains and people with nefarious intentions.
Two blocks to the south sat Endeavor’s Hero Agency.
It was fitting, that the café sat between these two places. It straddled both worlds, after all, a safe place for villains and heroes both. Each group knew the three Very Official Unofficial Rules of the Black Cat Café— no violence, no shop-talk, and above all else, no getting between the owner and his coffee.
The owner had not originally designed it that way, but well, he could hardly have helped it. Not with his quirk, not with his temperament, and most especially not with his damned morals.
The inside was a contrast from the shabby exterior— the smooth lacquer tables were well cared for, smooth and shiny in the dim lighting. A hulking espresso maker stood on a long mahogany bar, industrial and imposing. Rows of small white coffee cups lined the edge of the counter, a barrier between coffee-maker and coffee-drinker. This was by design.
Behind the bar now stood a man with pale blue hair. His posture was slouched, and he was blanketed in a black hoodie twice the size of his torso. He looked at once sullen and fragile. This was deceiving, as he was far from fragile.
His hands worked quickly over the espresso machine, pinky fingers perpetually raised. The smell of fresh coffee hit the air like a bomb, and he slid a small cup across the counter without sparing a glance at the waiting customer. This was usual, and the customer took no offense.
This man— barely twenty, so perhaps young man was more appropriate— was not the owner. But he was important.
Low conversation filled the café, interrupted only by the occasional burr of the grinder. In the background could be heard the sound of crooning jazz, soft enough to be a lullaby.
And it often was, for the owner.
His hair was as unkempt as the outside of the café, and just as deceiving. Dark sunglasses covered his gaze, as was usual— the glasses never came off. Behind the glasses, his eyes were tired, dry, and a perpetual red. A loose shirt, wide collared and soft, completed the disheveled look. He was sitting, now, in a small corner table, leaning back into the soft embrace of the leather armchair with a cat’s grace.
It was a prime spot, secluded and slightly raised from the rest of the café. Far more comfortable than any other table. Still, no customer ever sat there. They knew better than to risk it.
Redeye was a dangerous man, when angered, and no one wanted to be on the wrong end of his glare.
Before logic had won out, he had considered going by Eraser. The soft, sentimental side whispered close, it’s close enough. But he was nothing if not a practical man, and in the end, he discarded the idea. He was done with that life— done with the endless fight against humanity, done with seeing the worst of the world. He had something important to protect, now. There could be no reminders— no tracks to find him.
If he sometimes remembered the name, if his eyes sometimes gentled at the thought of Eraserhead and the person who had given him that moniker, well. No one needed to know, and no one ever would.
Aizawa Shota received his hero license at the tender age of sixteen. He spent eight years doing good with a low profile, committed and terrifyingly talented. No one knew his name, but villains soon learned to fear a man wearing goggles.
At twenty-four, he disappeared. No friends could track him down, no family knew his whereabouts. The police looked into the possibility of kidnap, but could find no evidence.
For all intents and purposes, Aizawa Shota no longer existed.
His closest friends— a young Midnight and a younger Present Mic— searched for him. They called in favors from heroes around the nation, but there was nothing to find. Shota had erased his own existence as thoroughly as he erased quirks.
They never gave up the search.
Some days, Hizashi will see a hint of scruffy black hair and tired eyes around a corner, in an alley, he’s right there—
His nightmares are worse, on those days.
It is no surprise they do not find him. Saying Shota is good at stealth is akin to saying a cat likes milk. It is not wrong— but it is a foolish understatement.
And Shota— Shota has had six years to hone his skills. He has new scars, newer habits. Some days, he thinks Hizashi wouldn’t be able to recognize him.
His nightmares are worse, on those days.
As he stood there, eyes red, poised over the crying form of a twelve-year-old child who had just dissolved his father into dust, Shota just couldn’t understand. How had the world come to this?
The boy picked up a bloody hand, small fingers shaking. “Pa-papa?”
How had it come to this?
Shota closed his eyes against a rush of familiar bitterness, and the hand dissolved under tiny fingers. A scream tore through the room, high and so very fragile.
His eyes opened again, flashing red before the child could harm himself. They would stay red for the next five years.
He took the boy.
That was the day the hero Eraserhead vanished, the day Aizawa Shota went truly underground. It was the day that changed the path of history irreparably.
Chapter 2: The First Stray
Don’t expect updates this fast, generally— I just got inspired by the comments :D. Also, Shota’s undercover name is an unrepentant pun on a coffee drink, because I am trash.
The day the UA exam results were sent had not been a good one for Shinsou Hitoshi. He had known that his quirk might cause him problems, that it might not be suited to the exam. But this—
1-C. General Education.
After all his struggles, working to keep afloat in a system that didn’t care— he couldn’t bear it, a familiar bitterness rising up in his throat. An ache spread across his chest, and he clenched a hand over his heart. Maybe, if he pressed hard enough, he’d erase the sting.
He couldn’t help what his heart longed for, but damn if it didn’t hurt.
He didn’t know it— couldn’t, how could he ever expect what was to come— but the next day would be better. It would be a good day.
Hitoshi had not left the orphanage that morning with the intention of finding a mentor. He had also not set out to get mugged, but hey, plans change. Apparently.
“Give me your wallet, kid!”
The knife was inching closer to his throat. Hitoshi raised his hands, hunching his shoulders. He fed a tremor into his voice— truth be told, he didn’t have to fake it much. This was just his luck, really.
“Okay, j-just let me reach for it. Is that alright?”
“Hurry u—” The mugger stopped moving, eyes glassy. Hitoshi let out a breath, relief making him shake. His back scrapped against rough brick painfully as he hurried to step back. For once, he was glad for his quirk.
“Go to the police and turn yourself in as a robber.” The man began lumbering forward, eyes glassy and mouth agape.
There was a sigh from the end of the alley, loud and resigned. It echoed across brick and concrete with a lazy ease, filling the narrow street with a whoosh. The sound was so out of place Hitoshi almost didn’t believe he’d actually heard it.
“You don’t want to do that.” A man stood there, resplendent in a worn sweater. Long hair lay around his neck, blending into the dark fabric of his shirt. He looked as tired as Hitoshi felt.
The mugger was walking forward, controlled steps drawing closer to the stranger. He didn’t seem worried, face still turned towards Hitoshi. Dark sunglasses covered his eyes, but somehow Hitoshi knew they were focused on him.
“Using your quirk in public— on a person— is illegal.”
Hitoshi didn’t quite follow what happened next— it was too fast, too fluid. There was a flash of red, a swirl of movement, and in a blink, the robber was pinned to the ground. Rope appeared from somewhere, and the mugger was bound before Hitoshi could even open his mouth to question.
“If you’d sent him to the station like that, the police could've traced it back to you.” The tired man rose to his feet with a fighter’s grace. A flash of silver moved through the air to Hitoshi’s left, and the knife buried itself in the ground at his feet, shiny and lethal. “Next time take his weapon.”
Was this a hero, a cop? Hitoshi hadn’t used his quirk for anything but self-defense, but people were cruel— he had learned that the hard way growing up forgotten, a throw away child.
The letters UA flashed through his mind. The world was cruel. He had to stop him. “Wait! How would they know it was me?”
The man leveled him a flat look. Black hair floated up, framing a fine boned face. “Mind control quirks are rare.”
Hitoshi’s quirk didn’t activate. His quirk didn’t work. Panic, sharp and cold as the bricks against his back, raced through him.
Another sigh escaped the man’s lips. “Go home. Forget this happened, and don’t do it again.” An edge of danger flashed from behind the glasses, and a shiver ran up Hitoshi’s spine. “And definitely don’t try to use it on me. It’s a powerful quirk, one you need to be careful with.”
A bitter taste filled Hitoshi’s mouth. Of course, of course he’d be cautioned. It was such a villainous quirk, after all.
“Perfect for a villain, you mean?” Hitoshi couldn’t keep the venom from his words, he was just so angry— first UA, now this damn stranger. Why couldn’t anyone see?
The man raised an eyebrow, exuding calm. It was strange— Hitoshi was so used to getting reactions, so used to people flinching away in disgust.
“Did I say that? No, it’s a good quirk. For whatever you want to be.”
Hitoshi froze. For… whatever he wanted to be?
“Could someone be a hero, with that quirk?” Hitoshi asked. Could I be a hero? He didn’t ask. The man seemed to understand anyway.
“Yes. It has potential.” The reply was nonchalant, unemotional. That above all else told Hitoshi it was genuine. His heart ached, painful with hope.
The man was walking away. Hitoshi couldn’t let that happen, not now.
“Wait!” A pause. “Teach me how to fight like that.”
The boy follows Shota home.
He wants to be a hero. Of course, he does. It was just Shota’s luck. Worse yet, he was attending UA.
Unbidden, Shota thought of fifteen years ago, of learning to fight in those halls. The clanging of metal, the burn of bruises— they felt more real than the touch of wood under his fingers.
He thought of blond hair and an ear-splittingly loud voice, of a bright grin and brighter personality.
Better not to think at all, he decided.
He gave the boy— no, Shinsou, he’d said his name earlier— a cup of coffee.
Still using robots for the exam, huh? Something like that would never let Shinso use his quirk effectively. It hadn’t let Shota use his, either.
It was such an illogical test.
He swirled a spoon in his espresso, annoyance creeping through him. Shinsou was staring at him from across the table. The boy’s eyes were fixed somewhere around Shota’s nose. Scared of his quirk?
Shinsou leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms before him. Shota saw minute tremors running up his hands.
Ah. It was nerves, then.
It would be a risk, teaching him. He was too close to UA— too close to people Eraserhead had once known, to Hizashi. It was a risk Shota should not take, not with Tomura to protect.
“Waiting for a response to activate your quirk puts you at a disadvantage. We’ll work on that first.” He felt his lips pull taut— he wasn’t sure if it was a smile or a snarl. “That and your hand-to-hand.”
“Now. Can you make espresso?”
Chapter 3: Cat Fight
I did not intend for this to be twice the length of the other chapters, but apparently it wanted to be.
In another world, in another place, Shimura Tenko is deemed dangerous after the death of his father. The authorities are not wrong, but they are so wrong. A risk to society— not a boy any longer— is locked away.
A man comes to him then, while he is alone, while he was abandoned. All for One had always known the best moment to strike.
“No one came to save you. That must have hurt, right Shimura Tenko? Everyone just passed by, pretending not to see, thinking that some hero would save the day…”
In that world, Tenko became a villain of unrivaled cruelty and malice.
But in this world, some hero did come to save the day. Tenko’s cries were heard, he was saved.
Shota knew what would have happened to Tenko, after his father’s death. He was familiar with the institutions where they put children with out of controls quirks.
Bitter, tired, Shota deemed that unacceptable. Tenko was never labeled dangerous, because he vanished that day, just another casualty of quirk abuse. In his place, Shigaraki Tomura was born.
It was a quiet Sunday morning when Shigaraki Tomura first met Shinsou Hitoshi. Nightingales were chirping quietly, birdsong flitting through open windows to nest in Tomura’s ear. A cat— sleek and over-fed— purred against his face, suffocating him in plush fur. It was a peaceful morning. It would not stay that way.
Not even his habitual late-night insomnia could keep Tomura asleep in the face of Nimble’s motor-boat purring. He groaned through a mouthful of fluff. Shota would want him down soon, to help with the café. Coffee could not make itself, after all.
And who else would do the damn dishes.
Tomura pulled himself out of bed with difficulty—the ache of exhaustion deep in his bones. Sparing had been brutal yesterday, and he felt every one of his hard-earned bruises protest any movement. He grumbled his way through putting on pants, tugged a shirt over his head, and headed down the creaking steps to the café.
At the bottom of the stairs, he paused, eyes habitually drawn to Shota’s table. A boy sat there, purple hair a flash of color across the canvas of the darkly furnished café. He blinked. Brought a pale hand to his face and scrubbed at his eyes. Blinked again.
The sight remained, stubborn as a mule. There was a kid in the café.
A kid. In the café. One table to Tomura’s left was a yakuza boss, proudly displaying vibrant tattoos even as he sipped a latté. A table to the right sat Best Jeanist, out of uniform but no less put together for it. No child should be in this café, not with the fragile peace it maintained between hero and villain, the knife edge it walked between worlds. No violence could happen inside, but that meant nothing as soon as someone left the doors. A gazelle walking into a lion’s den would have a better shot at surviving.
Could kids even appreciate coffee?
Tomura didn’t know— he hadn’t interacted with anyone outside of the café— outside of Shota, really— for years.
It was too early in the morning to be putting up with this. He had only clawed his way from restless sleep a few minutes ago, and he still felt the drag of caffeine deprivation. He was so tired.
It took just that one look— one image of the purple haired little monster perched next to Shota— to make Tomura turn on his heel and trudge back up the stairs. That kid was sitting at Shota’s table— he needed his favorite hoodie to deal with this.
On his return, he cloistered himself behind the bar. A cup of espresso had appeared, sitting on the lacquered wood with a thick crema that practically begged to be drunk. It was Shota’s doing, no doubt.
Tomura tucked his hands into deep pockets, careful to leave his pinkies out. The soft fabric was comforting, familiar. His favorite hoodie hardly looked any different than the rest of them— black, unobtrusive, clandestine— but it was special. He’d had it for years— six, exactly— and the edges were beginning to wear. He took shelter in it now.
Tomura didn’t know what had gotten into Shota’s head. He clicked his tongue, restless. Shota had always loved strays, had taken to bringing home cats and caring for them until their fur was sleek and their bellies full. He just hadn’t thought he’d bring back a person.
He should have known better— he did know better. Shota had adopted him, after all. What was one more child? A seed of jealousy took root at the thought, curling up his spine.
The kid looked up, caught his gaze. He didn’t shrink from Tomura’s glare, just stared back. His expression was apathetic and his face looked wane. The bags under his eyes were a match for Tomura’s own. He resolutely shoved down a flash of kinship— a kid did not belong here.
“Hey, Sensei. Can we get rid of the kid? He’s annoying.” His voice echoed loudly in the intimate café, drawing looks from a few of the customers. Tomura didn’t care. There was a shifting from Shota’s table, a restless movement. It was hard to tell underneath the dark glasses, but he was sure Shota’s gaze flicked to him.
“No. Drink your coffee, Tomura.” Reflexively, he reached out for his cup, swallowing it in one gulp. The hot liquid burned down his throat. A twitch appeared at the corner of Shota’s eye, just visible underneath the edge. He was probably upset Tomura hadn’t savored the flavor properly. As if the caffeine wasn’t the important part.
“If I were going to kick people out of here by maturity, you’d be the first to leave.”
Tomura bristled. “Hey hey!”
“Leave it, Tomura.” Shota’s jaw was set— there would be no talking him out of it. The kid still hadn’t spoken a word, looking between Shota and him, tired eyes assessing. At least he seemed smart.
“Tch. Fine. Can he at least make coffee?”
“You’ll teach him.”
Of course. Tomura slouched up to the espresso machine, running his palms over the smooth metal. The warmth was comforting. He flicked a switch, and the grinder roared to life.
“Well, kid? Get over here.” The kid rose to his feet slowly, and approached even slower. Tomura felt annoyance flash through him. “How about you try saying your name like a proper adult?”
“Shinsou Hitoshi. You gonna say yours? Like a proper adult?”
Great, the kid was a brat too. This day was just getting better.
“Shigaraki Tomura. We might as well get started, if Sensei wants you to learn.” There was a flash of red from across the café. Tomura narrowed his eyes.
A quirk Shota was suppressing, huh? An idle hand reached to scratch his neck. He stopped the motion halfway, muscles tensing.
Maybe the kid wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Thirty minutes later, Tomura was despairing for his taste buds, but not for the kid’s coffee skills. He was a quick learner, attentive and careful. Every minute or so, he’d peek a glance at Shota, eyes flicking to the scruffy man. Tomura ignored it— he recognized the disbelief and wary hope of a stray offered a home.
He’d stop being so nice if this cup of espresso wasn’t good. It had a decent crema, at first glance, and Tomura hadn’t noticed any overt failings. He still didn’t want to drink it, though— the first five cups had not been pleasant.
“You forgot the spoon, idiot.”
Shinsou colored, reaching for the utensil drawer. “I’m not the idiot here.”
“Yeah, keep telling yourself that, little brat.”
Shinsou turned, movements jerky. He shoved a spoon across the saucer, jostling the cup. It tipped, fell—
The world slowed, and Tomura moved. But he was too slow— coffee fell across his sweater in a dark stain. Scalding liquid seeped over his skin, but Tomura didn’t care, couldn’t care.
The brat had spilled coffee on his favorite hoodie. The one Shota had given him, the first thing Shota had ever given him. He took in a shivering breath, eyes never leaving Shinsou. The kid looked scared— he should be.
Tomura dragged rough fingers over his neck, nails hitting deep into skin. Liquid was rising up under his hand, but it didn’t matter, the sweater was stained. The kid wasn’t going to get out of this unscathed.
A gentle hand gripped his wrist, strong and familiar, stopping the restless motion of his nails. Tomura let out a breath, dragged his eyes away from Shinsou, let the irrational anger filling him cool.
It was Shota— of course it was, no one else touched him, no one else was allowed to. Tomura reached out, steadied himself on a strong arm, five fingers making contact. He didn’t worry though, Shota was looking at him, Shota was protecting him, Shota was there— Tomura wasn’t alone.
He couldn’t kill Shota, not like he’d killed Father.
“Shinsou, it’s time for you to leave.” Shota’s words were low, gravely, and unemotional. The kid still flinched back like he’d been struck. Right now, Tomura couldn’t care, panicked blood too hot. He didn’t know what he’d have done to the kid, if Shota hadn’t intervened. He sure as hell didn’t want to find out— there was acid bubbling in his veins, closer to the surface than usual.
“You shouldn’t wear this around the cafe.” Shota spoke quietly, just above a whisper. This close, Tomura could see concerned eyes behind the dark glasses.
Tomura opened his mouth, felt the sting across his neck. Closed it. Tried again. “Where else would I wear it?”
Shota let out a quiet exhale, and the breath puffed over Tomura’s head.
“Let’s get you cleaned up.”
The kid didn’t return the next day. It bugged Tomura more than he cared to admit, and he found himself scowling at the espresso maker, its shiny surface reflecting guilty eyes. Tomura had let his temper out, let the panic take over, and he couldn’t help the stirrings of regret in his chest.
Shota had looked happy yesterday. Something of the tiredness had eased around his eyes at the sight of Shinsou, at the endless cups of bad coffee. His movements had been lighter, voice more playful. Most importantly, he had smiled at the kid. A tiny thing, but there.
Tomura had never seen Shota smile at anyone but him, before.
The next afternoon he’d pulled on a hoodie— his third favorite, he wasn’t taking that risk again— and set out to find an obnoxious kid.
It wasn’t a difficult task— the moron had been in his uniform, and some effective Googling had given Tomura an address. He leaned against the gate to Shinsou’s school, slouching against the smooth metal. His skin crawled with the proximity to all the people, to the shear exposure of being out in the open. He spared a desperate thought for the intimacy of the café. Soon, students were streaming out, shooting curious glances his way. He shot baleful ones back.
It did not take long for the kid to show up. His posture was slouched, the bags under his eyes worse. He caught Tomura’s look quickly enough, and stiffened, something strong stirring in his gaze. He took slow steps towards Tomura.
Well, at least he had a spine.
“I’m sorry, about the coffee.”
“You have a shitty way of showing it, kid. And your face pisses me off.” Tomura started walking away, feet tracing the familiar path back to the café. When he didn't hear any movement, he turned. The kid was standing there, posture wary and hopeful.
He looked like a stray dog that had been hit too many times, one who still came back for affection. Tomura clicked his tongue, annoyed at the twinge of guilt in his chest.
“Are you just going to stand there? Sensei hates late people, and you don’t want to piss him off.”
He started walking again. This time, the kid followed.
In a dark room, in a place far from any good, the cruelest man in the world stewed. Frustration was building in his blackened heart and had been for a while.
For six years, he had suffered failure. For five, he had been reduced to a wretched simulacrum of a man, blind and worse than dead.
But Shimura Tenko was still missing. The boy who was born twisted—born to be All for One’s successor— was missing. So destructive a quirk should be easy to trace, and yet he was nowhere to be found. It was time to employ some help.
“So, Broker. You understand the task?”
Chapter 4: Half 'n Half with your coffee?
I originally intended to have a section about Dabi here too, but that's been axed for now-- which is a shame because I was going to call this the Brothers Todoroki. :( As always, please feed the hungry comment monster and give me feedback.
It was a little-known fact, but Todoroki Shoto loved cats. Fluffy or sleek, regal or indolent, black or white, it didn’t matter— he adored them all, from the tips of their ears to the pad of their paws. He could often be found crouched beside a stray, hand extended, waiting for the chance to touch. This had varied results.
Sometimes the cat would welcome the pet and purr— and sometimes claws would dig deep into his calloused fingers. Shoto didn’t care— at the sight of a cat, his hands moved without his permission.
Had it been allowed, Shoto would have two cats. Two, he had often thought, was the perfect number. But it was not allowed, not in Enji’s household, never in his house.
The day Shoto first went into the Black Cat Café was one like any other. He was walking down a narrow alley, coming from Endeavor’s Agency. His shoulders were tense, jaw aching from clenched teeth. He only registered the feeling distantly, almost non-existent through a haze of anger. His gut was churning, and his hands were shaking slightly, rage making them unsteady.
A normal response to a meeting with Endeavor.
His distraction almost made him miss the small bowl of cat food sitting outside a disheveled café. At the sight, he felt a stirring of kinship. It was some sense tingling in the back of his mind, some internal understanding of, ah, here lives a cat person.
When he saw the sign— Black Cat Café— the trembling in his hands gentled. He took a step forward, hesitant. With a name like that, there was likely a cat inside.
That alone pushed Shoto into opening the door. It was a decision he would not regret.
No greeting came, when he stepped in. No employee met him with a smile, no happy chatter met his entrance— the café was quiet, filled with a low simmer of conversation. In the background, the radio played just loud enough to be heard, a man’s constant stream of recorded exuberance echoing playfully off leather seats. The tone was distinctive, and Shoto felt something in him relax at the familiar sound, a near Pavlovian response to Yamada-sensei’s voice.
In the moody interior, Shoto’s eye was caught by a flash of purple, bright against dark décor. The boy behind the mahogany counter looked up on his entrance, expression going surprised and angry before it smoothed over into apathetic. Tired eyes tugged at the strands of Shoto’s memory, but he could not place the face.
He walked up to the counter, footsteps loud against the soft background of sound. There was no menu, nothing to tell Shoto what to order. No case for pastries, no charming adornments— just a smooth stretch of lacquered wood for as far as the eye could see. All told, it was a rather strange cafe.
The trembling of his hands had slowed, tempered by curiosity. He glanced around, eyes searching for a hint of fur.
“What can I make you?” The boy’s drawl was emotionless, calming. Shoto matched his expressionless stare with one equally cool.
“I figured. Care to tell me what kind of coffee?” An eyebrow raised this time, purple creeping up on a pale face. Shoto wondered why he looked so tired, what had drawn the bags under his eyes. A mystery for another time, perhaps.
“Latte.” Shoto pushed across enough yen to reasonably cover the cost. The boy ignored the money, turning to the hulking coffee machine on the counter. His hands moved over the buttons, methodical and slow. Shoto wasn’t sure if it was hesitance or lethargy tracing his motions.
“Do you have a cat?”
“What?” Light fingers paused over shining metal.
“Is there a cat, in the café?”
The boy blinked, once, twice, before shaking his head. “No.”
Shoto bit down a sigh of disappointment and tucked a shaking hand in his pocket. As a cup— filled to the brim with an artful swirl of foam— slid across the counter, he registered a flicker of movement. In the molasses-calm of the café, the sight startled him. He looked up, eyes searching. His gaze caught on a corner of the café. There was a table there, tucked away from the rest. A computer was resting on the smooth surface, screen mirror-bright. No one sat there. Strange.
He took a step towards the table, cup in hand, but a voice stopped him.
“Todoroki-kun, is it not?” Shoto turned, surprised to see Best Jeanist posed and poised in a nearby chair. A swath of dark fabric lay across his lap, thick material a stark contrast to blue denim. The hero waved him over, long hand splayed in an elegant gesture. “You should not sit at that table. It is the owner’s.”
Shoto settled beside him, casting a curious look at the material over his legs. “How do you know me?”
“I have worked with your father before. I saw pictures of you, in passing.”
“I see.” The trembling in Shoto’s fingers had moved up to his hands again. Rage— incandescent and fiery, like his Father’s— was rising. He resisted the urge to stand and leave, taking a sip of scalding coffee instead. The liquid burned his mouth and he did not care.
“Not many children find their way in here. It might be best if you don’t return.”
The words— spoken crispy and clear— felt like a warning. Shoto opened his mouth, questions hot on his tongue—
Shoto’s snapped his head toward the sound. A man was standing there, long hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. His eyes were obscured by a pair of dark glasses, and his shirt was at least a size too big, baggy across a leanly muscled frame.
He was also holding the cutest cat Shoto had ever seen. A paw stretched out, moving through the air in an indolent stretch. He raised a hand to match it, reaching—
He stopped midmotion, shooting a glance up at the man. A tiny quirk of the lips crept across the scruffy face, and the man plopped the cat directly in Shoto’s lap.
It was like bomb of fur had been set off— self-satisfied meows filled the air like shrapnel. Shoto’s hands were steady as he reached out to stroke silky hair, warmth radiating out beside the purrs. Claws kneaded into the fabric of his pants, pricking Shoto’s legs painfully. He’d never felt happier.
“What is his name?”
“Nimble.” It was a good name, for a cat. Shoto told him so, and the feline purred affirmatively. He lost himself in the feel of fur under his hand, the purr echoing through his body. He barely registered the conversation taking place above him.
“Redeye-san, it is done. I strengthened the fibers as I repaired them, so it will last for many more years.” Best Jeanist was holding out the dark fabric from before, handing to the scruffy man. It looked like some kind of sweater. Redeye, he had called him? Shoto tucked the name away in his memory.
A gravelly voice responded, folding the material under an arm. “Thanks, Jeanist-san. I am in your debt.” The man— Redeye— turned to Shoto. He felt the weight of an invisible gaze lay heavy across him, and he stared back, fingers still moving over plush fur. With a snort, Redeye looked away. Shoto couldn’t help but feel that had been a test, of some kind. Had he passed?
“Feel free to come by to pet him anytime. He loves the attention.” With that, the man left, walking to the corner table and curling into an armchair. Nimble nudged Shoto’s fingers, letting out a demanding meow.
“I take it back, Todoroki-kun. It looks like you are welcome to return.”
Chapter 5: The Spark of a Wildfire
So my Dabi love is showing through, sorry not sorry. This was meant to attach to the last chapter, but got too long, hence the similar beginning.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was a little-known fact, but Dabi loved cats. Independent, fierce, and occasionally vicious—they were the perfect animal. He scoffed at the blind obedience of dogs, was annoyed by the endless chirping of birds, and didn’t understand the point of anything else. But cats— cats he understood.
Cats deigned to be pet, demanded attention on their own terms, and did as they pleased. It was, in many respects, how he wanted to live his own life.
You’d think he would have been drawn to the Black Cat Café by a feline super-sense, an inquisitive desire to know. You’d be wrong. No, Dabi visited the café for a much more practical reason. A boring reason, even, though it was necessary.
His next visit would be driven by a cat’s curiosity.
He stepped into the shabby café on a gloomy Wednesday, feet light and face apathetic. He had no expectations beyond the norm— some coffee, perhaps a sweet, and an endless row of bored professionals. Maybe— maybe— a cup of decent espresso.
He did not get any of that. As the door shut behind him, Dabi was doused in the smell of freshly ground coffee, dark and chocolatey. A moody interior met his eyes, lit more like a bar than a café, with plush leather seats scattered throughout a high-ceilinged room.
That was not the only surprise. A glance told him this was no normal establishment— he recognized at least ten villains spread out among the tables, from unranked nobodies to more notorious individuals. He paused, suddenly alert. His contact had arranged to meet here, and she was a professional, choosing places both discrete and unknown.
This was neither.
What made it worse were the heroes, scattered in equal numbers. Something strange was going on here.
Dabi’s fingers twitched, fire itching to be released, wanting to burn every fake hero he saw. He pushed down the urge to bare his teeth in a snarl. Now was not the time.
His contact was at a small table to the side, obscured from view but by no means hidden. Laid out in front of her— in clear view of the entire café— was his new identity. The contact herself, a small woman with shrewd eyes, did not look worried. Dabi felt worried. The woman was normally cautious and yet—
He slouched into the chair across from her. “And here I thought you were at least smart. Seems I was damn wrong.”
She looked up, glancing at him before turning back to the book laying in front of her. “Don’t say anything. No shop-talk, in here. Take whatever documents you want and pay me.”
He raised an eyebrow and shot her an unimpressed work. No shop-talk? That was the only reason they were meeting at all. He drummed impatient fingers over the table, short nails clicking over the wood. Did she want to have a damn coffee and chat?
He snapped up an ID, turning the stiff card over in his palm. It was good work, professional— no one would be able to tell it was a fake. Suzuki Daiki, huh? It was a decent name. It would do.
“They are in the system?” He rubbed a finger over the thumbnail picture. He looked sullen, in it, eyes drawn and tired. It was good likeness.
Her eyes widened, incredulous. “I said no shop-talk. Do you want to be kicked out?”
Dabi raised an eyebrow, shooting a disbelieving look around the room. Confusion was warring with annoyance in him— curiosity eventually won out. He opened his mouth, question at the ready. She cut him off with a sharp motion.
“No shop-talk. I need to work in this café.”
“Your friend doesn’t seem to know the rules, Sato-san. You should really fix that.” The voice was low, lazy, with a sullen note. It was not a voice that should cause alarm— too petulant for that— but his contact went stiff at the sound.
“Sorry, Shigaraki-san. I haven’t explained them yet.” The man she spoke to was slouched, posture bowed forward. A thick black sweater enveloped his body like a shroud, and thin fingers twitched at his side, restless.
Dabi eyed him, interest stirring up his spine. He was young, just into adulthood, and Sato was hard to spook— what had her so polite? He wanted to find out, wanted to claw this puzzle to pieces. The man’s eyes flicked to him. They were an uncanny red, striking in a tired face.
“No violence. No shop-talk. And don’t touch Redeye-sensei’s coffee.” His words were matter of fact, almost rote. He nodded a head towards a corner table at the last word, where a scruffy man sat, curled around a book. Dabi marked his face, committing it to memory. He had a feeling he was important.
“I’m bad with rules. What if I happen to disobey?” The man’s eyes narrowed, mouth tightening. His attention was suddenly laser focused on Dabi, sharp as a knife.
“You’re rude, as well as annoying.” Crimson eyes caught and held his own. It was an inescapable look. “Depends on how much you piss Sensei off, I suppose.”
Forget curious, Dabi was intrigued. A smirk spread across his face, pulled scarred skin taut.
“And you’re a creepy little fuck.” He stretched out a hand, waiting. “The name’s Dabi. You gonna tell me yours?”
Shigaraki looked at his hand like it had personally offended him. He let out a small noise of disgust, and Dabi felt satisfaction flash through him.
“Shigaraki Tomura. And you are on thin fucking ice, Dabi. Don’t break the rules again.”
He turned and stalked away, ducking behind the counter and not looking back. Dabi just grinned, hand still awkwardly outstretched.
Such an interesting puzzle.
He came back a few days later, slouched into the café with a cat’s curiosity. He’d always been bad at resisting temptation, and oh, was this puzzle tempting. He spent twenty minutes picking a fight with Shigaraki— riling him up with just the right insults— before he actually ordered any coffee. It was perfect, satisfying and refreshing in equal measure. The espresso was good too.
After that, it became a habit. Every few days— like clockwork— Dabi returned to the café. Every time, he annoyed Shigaraki into talking to him. It got a little easier each visit, until one day Shigaraki threw the first insult himself. Dabi hid a pleased grin.
His curiosity wasn’t satisfied though— the other man was so interesting, and he’d barely scraped the surface of his personality, let alone his secrets. There was more to find, he was sure.
Sometime into this routine, Dabi sauntered into the café like a stray cat on the prowl. He glanced around the coffee-dark café, eyes searching. Shigaraki wasn’t around, which was unusual— Dabi had learned his schedule pretty completely, and he should be working right now. His absence rang an alarm bell, and Dabi straightened up from his perpetual slouch. He smelled an ambush.
He wasn’t wrong. A few steps into the moody interior and a black cord whipped out from a corner, wrapping around his wrist before he could blink. Instinct had him pulling fire up to burn the restraint away, but nothing happened. He reached for his quirk and it was gone. Alarm raced through him, a hint of panic tracing its path. He looked up and met a masked stare.
It was Redeye. His hair was up, eyes covered per usual, but there was a hint of tension in the corner of his mouth, a readiness to pounce screaming from the tightness of his shoulders. He tugged the cord, pulling Dabi over with a gesture and a command.
Dabi approached the table in a relaxed slouch, carefully hiding the wary tension of his muscles, the flexing of his wrist against the cord.
He had done some research, after the second time, asked some colleagues about the café and its employees. He had been hunting for information on Shigaraki— what he’d gotten instead was a mystery and a warning. The official documentation on Shigaraki was terrifyingly detailed and horrifyingly inaccurate— the type of setup that spoke of a fake identity, and a good one at that.
But the real enigma was this man. There was no information on Redeye from official channels, no person matched his description, and no one knew his quirk. All his informants had said was Do not anger Redeye. What that involved, Dabi didn’t know, but he heeded the warnings— he knew a fighter when he saw one.
“Yeah, Redeye?” His tone tried for casual, went into sharp, and settled at peeved. Bare of his quirk, he felt defenseless, exposed and at this man’s mercy.
“Do not hurt Tomura.”
“What?” Dabi shook his head to clear it. He must have heard that wrong.
Despite the glasses, he could feel a poisonous glare staring him down. “You heard me the first time.” A pause. “I know you’ve done research on us, so I trust you won’t take this threat this lightly.”
Dabi blinked. Felt hysteria and raw disbelief crawl up his spine. Blinked again.
Was… was he getting the shovel talk?
A chuckle slipped out, involuntary. It was followed by slightly manic laughter. “You gonna warn me away from your creep of a princess? Tell me he’s fragile and I better take care of him? Oh, this is just too good.”
Redeye snorted and gave him a level look. “Don’t be irrational. Tomura can take care of himself. I’m telling you that I will take care of you if anything happens.” With a flick, the cord dropped from his wrist and coiled near Redeye’s ankles. The man himself turned back to his book, angled away from Dabi.
That was a dismissal if he’d ever seen one. Still feeling the edge of hysteria crawling up him, Dabi pivoted away and put some distance between them. He reached for his quirk again and felt a rush of relief as flames danced across his fingers. His contacts hadn’t been kidding— Redeye was dangerous.
A voice called out. “Dabi. If you had no chance, I would’ve gotten rid of you.”
It was a moment before Dabi registered the words, and another before their meaning clicked. A grin spread over his face— for once undiluted by venom— and he let out a low laugh.
What a way to get parental approval.
Here is my tumblr thehoardofthegreatdragon . I haven't ever used it much, but feel free to hit me up!
Also, I realized Eri and Tomura both have red eyes and I just-- I just want to make a happy red-eyed-family so badly. It kills me. Might write that some time soon.
Chapter 6: Radio Silence
A bit of a shorter more introspective chapter here. Next time, things start to heat up!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
On Friday afternoons, if the café wasn’t too crowded, if Tomura didn’t have a headache, if all the conditions were perfect, Shota would turn on the radio. A voice— exuberant, polished, and achingly familiar— would twine through the air. It would coil around him, sink deep into his skin and thrum across his heart strings like a violin bow. Few of the customers objected; Present Mic’s radio station was popular, even among villains. He had always been a flawless entertainer.
On those days, if Shota closed his eyes, if he leaned back and forgot, he could pretend Hizashi was there. He could wrap himself in the past and remember for a few precious minutes. He never let himself do this for long— it wasn’t practical, not when he had people to take care of, two young lives to protect.
And though his heart ached for Hizashi, Shota did not regret his choice. He couldn’t, not when Tomura smiled, sullen and tired but free. Not when Shinsou snarked affectionately at the him, hope and confidence growing in his eyes. Not when he had made such a difference.
It had been worse when Tomura was young, when Shota was a scared adult trying to protect a lethal child from himself and the world. Back then, each day had been a trial and he’d wished for Hizashi, Nemuri, someone with every breath. It had been hard. But things got better, they improved. Tomura learned control, and Shota— Shota began to care deeply for the broken boy in his care.
Now he was a young man, restrained and irritable, with picture-perfect control and a fighter’s will. He stood beside Shota, rather than behind him. Something like pride nested in Shota’s chest. Idle fingers turned a cup, swirling the last dregs of coffee.
Things had been shifting, recently. Something new was in the air, some wind of change had ruffled the threads of the future, brushed over the shabby exterior of the café. It had brought Shinsou to his door, a stray following him home. No, not a stray, not anymore— Shinsou was his student, his ward, his son— a part of their mismatched family.
It had brought other, even more unexpected, guests to his home. His eyes flicked to a table nearby, where Endeavor’s son— Todoroki-kun, the boy worth more than his father’s name— was gently petting along Nimble’s back, strokes matched to the beat of a purr. The delicate balance was shifting.
And that said nothing of their other regular, he of the scarred face and crude comments. Shota wondered if Tomura was going to realize, anytime soon. He doubted it.
Change had come to his café.
How this would play out, Shota did not know. But he did know, with absolute certainty, that it was becoming harder to hide. Too many threads were weaving themselves into the future of the café, too much was changing. It would be exacerbated by the Sports Festival, but that was a given. Shinsou was ready for it— he’d take the school by storm. And with his performance would come danger.
Strained red eyes blinked slowly, lazily. They stayed red, but this was no surprise— Shota had five years practice raising Tomura, caring for a child whose quirk could destroy anything. He could spend hours with his eyes open, Erasure activated.
Whatever happened, whatever storm was on the horizon, Shota would be ready for it. And if hiding was no longer an option? Shota would deal with that, somehow.
He leaned back into his chair, welcoming the comforting embrace of soft leather. His eyes drifted half closed, and he let Hizashi’s voice lull him into relaxation.
The radio segment always ended the same way, had for the past six years. Anticipation and guilt curled in Shota’s gut, and he closed his eyes against a rush of emotion.
“Alright, listeners! You’ve been spirited, but that’s the end of the show!” The exuberant volume dimmed to something more intimate. “A final shout out, as always, for my dearest friend— Shota, I hope you are out there, somewhere. I hope you hear this. We miss you.”
As he had for the last six years, Shota’s fingers brushed over his phone, entered the digits of a familiar number. The display flashed at him, bright and accusing.
And as he had for the last six years, he turned the phone off without calling.
In a clandestine bar, dim and dark with villainy and broken lights alike, the man with a missing tooth hummed to himself. Greasy hair glinted in the shadows, as oily as his smirk. He was pleased— very pleased. The man called Sensei had offered a hefty check, beyond the scope of his normal clients.
The Broker loved well-paying clients, loved the smooth flow of cash, the challenge of an expensive job.
But they were better if they were repeat customers. So, it was vital— vital— to impress the most generous clients. And, oh, would he impress Sensei. Money was the name of the game, and it was a game Broker played extremely well.
For this kind of information, it was best to scout it out, keep an ear to the ground. He had a few contacts he’d send out, first. If that didn’t play out, well— there was always the café.
Here is my tumblr thehoardofthegreatdragon. Come send me prompts and puns plz.
Chapter 7: A Family Spar
Remember how I said, 'oh, things will heat up next time?' That was before Family BondingTM slapped me in the face. So enjoy! On the plus side, this means I'll probably have another chapter up sooner than expected. If you want the full experience, go re-read chapter 2 first-- I retconned some things in (and fixed a few memorable typos).
Thank you for the prompts and comments-- they keep me motivated!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hitoshi panted, breath catching in his throat. His arms ached, his legs were shaking, and he could feel a deep pain throbbing into existence on his right side. Sweat was beading down his face, matting purple hair to a clammy forehead.
He was still standing.
Of course, Shigaraki barely looked out of breath, posture slouched and lazy. Hitoshi hadn’t landed a single hit in the thirty-minute session, though bruises dotted his own body.
But Hitoshi was still standing.
“Shinsou, you are leaving your left open. Tomura, don’t get sloppy.” The low voice echoed strangely in the large room, bouncing off wood floors with an uncanny effect. Hitoshi had been surprised when Redeye led him here— more surprised to realize it was directly under the café, an elaborate training room built underground. When he’d asked why it was even there, his teacher had just given him a tired look and pointed to Shigaraki.
Hitoshi had decided he didn’t want to know. Then the sparing sessions had started, and he had far more to worry about.
Now, Redeye was leaning against a smooth wall, dark hair raised around his face and bare eyes an uncanny red. It took a moment for his words to register, Hitoshi’s brain working slowly through the haze of exhaustion.
Left? But Hitoshi had a hit on his right arm and knew his blocks had been slower there.
“Tch, like I need to care.” As Shigaraki darted in— fast, so damn fast— Hitoshi moved back, crouched low under a swinging arm and punched.
His fist connected solidly with Shigaraki’s torso, the tremors of the hit running down his arm. It was as Hitoshi had thought— as Redeye had hinted— he’d gone for his left.
Shigaraki rolled away, smooth as silk, and came to his feet with a dangerously calm face. He looked at Hitoshi with a flat stare that sent apprehension crawling up his spine.
Knuckles throbbing, Hitoshi took a measured step back. He was going to pay for that win. Still he couldn’t resist a taunt— “Gonna care now, Shigaraki?”
Red eyes narrowed in a sullen face, going slim and dangerous. “Brat, you are going to regret that.”
Hitoshi shifted, sparing a glance for Redeye. He was surprised to see the man grinning, teeth bared and lips pulled back. Even knowing it was Redeye, his teacher, the man who had given Hitoshi hope—
It was a terrifying look.
“Good, Shinsou. Do I have to repeat myself, Tomura?”
Shigaraki cracked his neck, the sound ominous against Hitoshi’s panting. He settled into an unassuming pose, slouched and prepared to pounce. “No, Sensei.”
Hitoshi swallowed against a dry throat, tired muscles habitually tensing. This was not going to be pleasant.
Later, tired and sweaty and thoroughly beaten, Hitoshi collapsed next to Redeye, sticking unpleasantly to smooth leather. The man was sitting at his usual table, book open across his lap and long fingers idly stroking the cover. He flipped pages in the glow of a small lamp, the only light in the closed café.
After closing was the only time they could all spar together. It was also the only time Hitoshi had ever seen his teacher without the glasses— he looked sharper with them off, somehow more threatening. It was something about actually seeing his eyes flash an angry, dangerous red.
Hitoshi had never felt more comfortable around someone, more desperate to make him proud.
“Do you think I am ready?”
The sound of pages turning faded away, but nothing rose up to replace it. The silence was that of anticipation. “Yes. You haven’t achieved your full potential yet, but you’ve improved.”
That had been all Hitoshi needed to hear— all he’d ever needed to hear— from the closest thing to a parent he had. A smile— small and so relieved— spread across his face. Redeye’s faith was all he needed.
He let his head loll against the chair, strained muscles going loose and relaxed. Wry and pleased, he said, “I’ll try not to trip over my own feet.”
Redeye huffed out an amused breath, stirring the café back into motion.
“Tomura wouldn’t let you live down the embarrassment.” A moment of serene silence passed between them, filled with Hitoshi’s low breathing.
“It’s going to be dangerous for you, coming back here after the Sports Festival.” The comment— quiet and serious— took Hitoshi by surprise.
“You mean because of the televised show? I won’t reveal the café, and the rules of the café— they’ll keep me safe.” You’ll keep me safe, he didn’t say. You are training me to keep myself safe, was better, closer to the truth.
Redeye shook his head, long hair brushing in front of tired eyes. “It’s not that. You’ll be a promising young hero with a powerful— and easily abused— quirk. You’ll have people lining up to win you over or kill you.” He paused, gently folding his book closed. It slid across the table with a paper-dry swoosh. “From both sides of the fight. It will be hard to protect yourself.”
Hitoshi stared his teacher down, searching for something in his face. An ugly feeling was growing in his chest, dark and mutinous. “Are you asking me to stay away?”
Redeye snorted. “No Shinsou, I’m telling you we have a spare bedroom. You don’t have to stay with us, but you can.”
Oh. Oh. That was so much better than what he had expected to hear. Still, doubt lingered in his mind, an uninvited specter at the feast. After all, what did he bring to the café besides insecurities and a child’s bitterness? Was he truly welcome?
“Shigaraki is okay with that?” Redeye gave him an impenetrable look at the deflection, flat and knowing. Shinsou resisted the urge to squirm, leather smooth under nervous fingers.
“Why don’t you ask him yourself?”
A hand landed on Hitoshi’s head, forcing mussed purple hair down over his eyes in one smooth grind. He reached up— blind and annoyed— to grip a familiar wrist. He did not touch the fingers— he knew better than that, even with Redeye present— but he did try to pry the hand off, tugging against a strong grip. He was far from successful.
“Brat, you think Sensei wouldn’t have already asked?” Shigaraki pulled away, leaving behind a tangled wreck of hair.
A rush of warm affection flashed through Hitoshi, aggravation following close on its heels. His eyes traced Shigaraki’s lazy movements with a healthy dose of caution, even as he combed desperate fingers through his hair. Sore muscles protested the motion, and he soon gave up— it was irreparably knotted. The other man collapsed into a chair across the table with a creak of leather, tucked deep into a blanketing sweater.
“Ever tried calling me Hitoshi instead of brat? Or is using my proper name too hard?” There was a hairsbreadth of hesitation— a pause where Hitoshi realized he’d just said Hitoshi— before Shigaraki clicked his tongue, irritation lining the set of lean shoulders.
“Fine, brat. Call me Tomura.”
Something like silence sighed its way through the café, a brush of still contentment. It took a moment— a precious, happy moment— for Hitoshi to ready a retort. Even then, it had no real heat, no sting— “Not Oniichan?"
Tomura— and wasn’t that a heady thought, that Hitoshi had earned the right to call him that— growled, crimson eyes flashing with malice. “I’ll fucking end you.”
Amused but reprimanding, Redeye’s voice echoed lowly in the dark café. “Tomura, Hitoshi.” There was the tiniest pause, just enough space for an objection. Hitoshi had none, a shy smile curling across his lips.
“Back on topic— Hitoshi, what do you say?”
“I’ll have to ask.” Ask was putting it lightly— Hitoshi would do whatever it took to get the orphanage to say yes. He didn’t think anyone would object— most children were expected to leave by sixteen or so. He was nearing that cutoff, nearing when he’d be cast out, a true throw away child. As long as the orphanage knew he was safe— pretended that he was safe, really— no one would object, because there wasn’t anyone to object.
And he would be safe, safer than anywhere else.
“But do you want to?” The stare was piercing when unobscured by sunglasses. Hitoshi responded without hesitation, happiness bubbling up across his face as a smile.
“Yes.” A thousand times yes.
I spent too long reading about the Japanese orphanage system for this, and damn do I need some chocolate now because that shit is depressing. But at least my information is accurate! (They are actually called 'throw away children,' I wanna punch something).
Here is my tumblr thehoardofthegreatdragon, come feed the prompt monster.
Chapter 8: A Festival of Surprises
Hello long chapter my old friend, I didn't think I'd see you again. And also an early chapter? Say whaaat?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Sports Festival began raucously, the roar of the crowd echoing across the stadium and making the seats shake. Hizashi didn’t mind, couldn’t mind. He just basked in the fervor of thousands of voices rising in an excited chorus. This feeling, this thrill was what he lived for— excitement pounding through the mass of people to the beat of a giant heart. The energy of a crowd was the life blood of any good event, and damn if this one didn’t have serious energy. High in the announcer’s box, he grinned, enthusiasm making him hum. He had a good feeling about this year, a thrum of anticipation coursing through him.
He didn’t know how right he was.
The first tournament began no differently than any other year, with nervous and determined faces alike staring up at him from the arena. He sent them all a reassuring wink— not that they could see it— and began the announcements. Familiar motions and patterns came easily; this was no different from tournament Hizashi had once competed in, a lifetime and so many experiences ago. Running it was only slightly more work, to be honest.
The tournament broke the comforting mold within a few hours.
Hizashi looked down at the slip of paper before him, reading it over for the tenth time. Still, the writing did not change, even if it made no sense. According to public record, Shinsou Hitoshi’s quirk was verbally activated. An emitter-type, it was a form of mind control, with the ability to take control of any person for a few minutes at a time. Hizashi had scanned over all this information— scant and misleading— as soon as the kid had gotten through the cavalry battle. Hell, he’d noticed him in the obstacle course. It was a powerful quirk, to be sure, but it had limitations. Severe limitations.
In no way did that account for this.
“And the winner is— Shinsou Hitoshi of class 1-C, with Bakugou out of bounds! What an upset, Bakugou of Class 1-A beaten soundly by someone outside the hero course. With two wins to his name and not a scratch on him, Shinsou certainly looks to have a bright future.”
As he kept up a constant commentary of statistics and skills, Hizashi’s mind raced. The few moves the kid had actually had to use before snapping Bakugou up in his quirk were smooth and familiar. They lacked some of the polish he remembered them having— a little rough around the edges— but were so close. And it wasn’t just the movements; that style of fighting, the scruffy hair, the bags underneath the eyes, the unusual quirk— it was all heart-wrenchingly similar. He looked like Shota.
And he wanted to be a hero. Hizashi’s hand clenched around his mic, fingers going tight and knuckles white. He pushed down a surge of raw emotion, potent and wistful, at the reminder. Memories were floating into his mind, of Shota, young and fierce and so passionately heroic.
He wondered what Shota looked like now, the thought like acid across a wound. Did he have any new scars? Did he still leave his hair long and unkempt? Did his eyes still go soft, kind, at the sight of a cat?
Or was he years cold, gone to a place Hizashi couldn’t follow?
Fingers trembling, Hizashi switched off the mic, needing a moment. Something between a sigh and a curse shook the air around him, quirk-strong. His heart couldn’t take this. He couldn’t let himself see Shota in every scruffy kid with a dream. The wound hadn’t scabbed, and likely never would, but he still had to live.
It was time to announce the next match. Hizashi drew back the shards of his composure, plastered his best mask on, and flipped on the mic.
It didn’t matter if the kid won the Sport’s Festival or not. Hizashi would help him either way. Shinsou would make it into the hero class, without question. And from there— from there the boy could become great.
Hizashi did not know it— could not know it— but that was the first progress he’d made in his six-year search. Someday soon, his greatest dream would come true.
For as long as he could remember, Shoto had known when to pay attention. When something odd was happening, when something was important— he knew to look. It was what had driven him to watch Midoriya, a whisper of rival floating in the back of his mind. It was what had made him leave his room ten years ago and watch his brother fade into the night, a ghost that haunted him still. He did not know it, but it was also what had pulled him to the café, that fateful day many weeks ago.
That sensation, that urge, was running through him now, a shiver of pay attention creeping up his spine. It was making him point a laser focus on the match happening before him.
And the feeling wasn’t wrong. The kid with purple hair— the kid from the coffee shop— had just beaten Bakugou. Bakugou, second in the class, fighter extraordinaire, fierce and explosive and driven in equal measure. He wasn’t Shoto’s rival— that role belonged to Midoriya, just by virtue of his mysterious connection to All Might— but he was a threat.
So as Bakugou was beaten, Shoto paid attention. Beaten may be too weak of a word. He had stepped onto the stage, a few blows— both fists and words— had been exchanged, and then Bakugou had walked out of bounds. Calmly, stoically walked out of bounds.
Shoto had never seen Bakugou’s face look that calm before. He had never seen him do anything calmly before. A control quirk, he thought. It was the only possibility, the only thing that made sense. But more than that? Shoto had no idea, mind racing but no information coming to the fore. He needed to find out— provided he beat Midoriya, he’d be facing Shinsou in the final.
He beat Midoriya, if what had happened could count as a victory. That didn’t even begin to describe the utter destruction Midoriya wreaked on his own body. He’d passed out, arm a battlefield of broken bones, a ruined mess. Shoto hadn’t earned that victory, not truly— Midoriya had pulled and prodded until Shoto let fire raged across the arena. His words— strong and resonate with conviction— were still ringing through Shoto, an endless cacophony of it’s your power!
He couldn’t concentrate. His hands were shaking, a fine tremor running over his body from head to toe. Clenching his fists just made the quivering migrate up his arms, shake his left side to pieces. He’d forgotten his father, his cruel legacy, and been stronger for it.
Was this the path forward?
Shoto didn’t know, couldn’t know yet. But now— now was not the time to try for understanding. Now was the time for fighting. He heard his next match announced as if through a dream, murky and distorted. Dazed, distracted, he walked into the arena with a calm gaze and a maelstrom of confusion deep in his stomach. Shoto didn’t want to fight, wasn’t sure if he still knew how. He didn’t know if it was right to use his father’s flame— his flame. But he still wanted to win. Across from him stood Shinsou, apathetic face belaying angry eyes. Shoto took a breath, a puff of snow swirling into the air on a low exhale. His gaze caught and held on Shinsou’s, and he read the determination there, the desperation. It was a match for his own.
He could do this.
The match began with fanfare and a roar from the crowd, but Shoto only had attention for his opponent.
“Hey, hero, how’s it feel to be at the top from birth?” The words were taunting, harsh and jaded. It was the same bitterness Shoto had seen on his face in the café, so many visits ago. It was tempered now— less poisonous and more purposeful. He didn’t know what to make of that. “You sure had it easy, didn’t you? Got everything handed to you on a nice silver platter.”
Shoto’s eyes narrowed, anger burning through him. Shinsou knew nothing. He had no idea what Shoto had gone through at the hands of Endeavor, the price Shoto had paid in blood and sweat and family in exchange for that silver platter. But Shoto said nothing, kept his mouth closed and tongue still— he had been warned.
Look shitty Half ‘n Half, I don’t fucking care about you, got that? But I don’t want that freak to win. So listen— don’t answer any of his questions, no matter what he damn says. His quirk works on response.
Instead, he sent a wave of ice cascading towards Shinsou. Without the activation of his quirk, the boy was helpless against the snow rushing through Shoto’s veins— it would not take much to push him out of the ring. Ice left his fingers, shards crystalizing across an outstretched hand.
And then everything seemed to stop.
Shoto felt his body relax without his permission, raise from a fighting stance to a defenseless standing position. Hands fell, lax and loose, at his sides. The wave of ice he had summoned melted away into nothingness. He couldn’t move— he could barely think, something overwhelming latched iron-tight around him.
A tired smirk split Shinsou’s face, vicious and proud in victory, but tinged with something like regret. “I’d say this isn’t personal, but, well— it is. It’s personal because you had everything.” He sighed, brushing a weary hand through purple hair. Shoto didn’t notice even as everything in him noticed. He waited for Shinsou’s commands even as he couldn’t understand any of them.
“But I’d go through anyone, for this victory. Nimble likes you— so I’m sorry, I know this feels weird.”
Shoto didn’t respond— there was nothing left of him to respond. He had become a blank slate for Shinsou to write on. And, oh, did he write, an iron brush carving dark calligraphy across Shoto’s body and soul.
“Walk out of bounds.” So Shoto did, taking gentle, slow, footsteps to his defeat.
Later, after the control had been released, after the roar of the crowd had died down, after his defeat had been announced to the world and his father, Shoto wondered. How. How? Shoto hadn’t responded to him, hadn’t breathed a sound. How had Shinsou activated his quirk?
Standing before the crowd for the medal ceremony, Shoto was numb, iced to the bone. The podium felt low under his feet, surreal and wrong— he could have been higher, could have earned a victory here. Next time he would be higher. To his right, Shinsou looked tired as ever, untroubled by the roar of the crowd, but there was an edge of something peeling at his skin. Shoto did not— could not— take his eyes off him. A drive to know curled around his heart like a serpent, coiling ever tigher.
Next time he would take that place— Shinsou’s place— atop all others. He would go back to the café, he decided, as soon as he could. There, he could demand answers.
But for now, he had more important things to attend to. Ice bloomed across his hand, a familiar cold, even as he bent his neck to accept the medal, smooth ribbon a reminder of his failure. All Might’s words were absorbed and discarded, unimportant before the fire stirring across his left side.
That’s fine, Shoto. You aren’t bound by his blood.
He had a hospital to visit.
In the darkened interior of the café, customers and staff alike gathered around a small television, breathless with anticipation. The wide room had been completely rearranged, chairs turned towards the lacquered counter and tables pushed to the side. With the curtains drawn and the lights off, the screen cast a low glow across faces and tables alike. It was an eerie lighting, ill-suited for anything productive. This was no issue— no one was working today, heroes and villains alike watching the next generation of heroes announce to the world We are here.
Their attention was fixed on one student in particular, with brilliant purple hair and excellent espresso making skills.
Tomura watched, gaze lazy, as Hitoshi destroyed the competition using a careful mix of baiting and strategy. The boy was good, Tomura would give him that— he’d grown under their care, learned to use his quirk properly. He’d stretched the muscle until it broke and reformed into something stronger and more malleable. His control— both over himself and others— was impeccable.
Yet another person swanned into the café, and Tomura suppressed a growl. A spring chill was creeping in from the continuous trickle of movement in and out the door. It curled around Tomura, threading across his skin with an icy touch. With a shiver, he burrowed deeper into his sweater, cursing the thinness of the material, but not willing to leave. He wanted to witness what happened next.
“Cold, princess?” The words were amused, derisive. Dabi shifted closer, skin fire-hot and radiating out heat. It was a pleasant warmth against the chill, and Tomura hated it.
Irritation— already at a perpetual simmer— boiled up. He snapped, “Fuck off.”
Dabi just laughed, the sound pleased as a cat whisker-deep in cream. He flexed, a low roll of his shoulders, and a curl of smoke wound through the air. It burned away the chill like so much dust, quick and comforting. Tomura shot Dabi a poisonous look.
He didn’t shift away.
A flash of motion caught his eye. It was the boy who Nimble had taken a liking to, small across the screen but coloring no less identifiable. Tomura didn’t quite remember his name, hadn’t taken the time— Todoroki, maybe? Waves of ice were flashing out from outstretched arms and Tomura felt colder just looking at them. “Looks like he actually has some fight in him.” The comment was idle, uninterested— its effect was far from that.
Beside him, in a steady but implacable straightening of the spine, Dabi went stiff.
Tomura glanced over, eyes flicking up to catch on the man’s face. What he saw there— it was hard to place, and harder to put words to. Something between horror and regret. Something unsettled. It was not an emotion he’d seen on the scarred face before— it was not anything he wanted to see again. “What the hell’s wrong, asshole?”
A rough laugh cracked over the air, bitter and shaky. “Nothing, just—” He looked at the screen, face distant. “Nothing.”
Still, Dabi did not relax, his usual slouch left by the wayside in favor of ramrod-straight posture. Tomura clicked his tongue, something like worry crawling inside him. The fuck was going on? Shifting, he tugged the ends of the sweater over his fingers, the soft material warm and soothing.
Dabi would tell him; he’d have little choice in the matter, not if he wanted to survive the encounter. But Tomura would leave it be for now— now was Hitoshi’s moment.
Soon the café erupted into a wave of cheers. Across the screen, Hitoshi stood, alone and victorious in the arena. Tomura felt a smile stretch his lips, proud and satisfied. He’d had little doubt Hitoshi would win, but still— it was good to see. Tomura would have to grind him into dust in their next sparing match, just to make sure the fame didn’t go to his head.
What kind of brother would he be otherwise?
“The kid actually did it! Congratulations, Redeye.” A rustling of wings accompanied the statement, as a lean man stood and flipped the owner a thumbs up and a wink. Careful feathers deftly avoided knocking over any cups, bone-white porcelain standing stalwart against tiny gusts of wind. The other customers were not so lucky.
Shota snorted from beside Tomura. He was sitting in one of the few comfortable chairs closest to the television, a disheveled king holding court in ill-fitting clothes. Across his lap was Nimble, content and purring with the slow pets showered on him. “Congratulate him, not me, Hawks.”
The hero saluted, cheeky and grinning. “Aw, making me do all the work? I suppose if I wanna keep my coffee supplier happy I’ll have to.”
Before Shota could respond, another voice pipped up, smooth and theatrical. It cut through the cherry attitude like a knife. “So, he wants to be a hero?”
Something in the tone set Tomura’s hackles up, and he shifted towards the sound. It came from the edge of the glow of the screen, at a low table shaded in mystery. A man sat there, languid with a yellow trench coat thrown across the chair beside him.
Ah. No wonder— Sako had a bone to pick, as any villain did. Still, he had better watch his tongue or Tomura would remove it for him.
Shota’s answer was simple and straightforward. “Yes.”
“And you are going to let him?” The words were just shy of demanding, but their meaning was clear— are you not impartial? A hush rushed through the group, tension notching up a few degrees. Across the sudden silence, a constant purr was a rumbling counterpart to the roar of a virtual crowd.
“This any of your fucking business?” Tomura snapped, annoyed. He resisted the urge to stand, his blood hot and angry. Hitoshi could decide for himself, make his own damn decisions, and to question Shota—
It pissed him off.
Shota cut him off with a gesture and calmly spoken words. Crimson eyes glimmered behind dark glasses like stars, bloody and ominous. “It is his dream, and he has the potential. It would be cruel to take that from him.”
The words rang like a final judgement in the café. And they were— Shota had spoken, and so that was the end of it.
In a darkened interior, lit only by the light of a single screen, All for One stared with sightless eyes. The roar of the virtual crowd almost overtook the announcer’s words— but fortunately, not quite.
“What a useful quirk.”
I'm very happy so many people are enjoying this story (nearly 500 kudos!), so thank you all-- you are the best. As always, leave a comment or come find me on Tumblr if you have Things to say (or just want to throw ideas or prompts at me). I have been known to write random drabbles on request. :p.
Chapter 9: Good Things Come in Threes
*Shows up a week+ later with a chapter that's three times longer than it was supposed to be*-- 'sup folks. So this story-- and my plot-- has ballooned something awful, but I can't bring myself to mind. Expect longer chapters on the regular, now, and a final word count of ~80,000.
Also, I have made this a series so I could add a few cute Tumblr drabbles that don't quite fit in to the work-- go check them out, and if you want more, send me prompts. :p
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Midoriya Izuku was born with a natural curiosity. It was what had motivated him to chase after heroes, studying them like specimens and inspirations alike. He could break down strengths and weaknesses in a few glances, build unique and effective strategies with just a notebook and a pen. It was what had let him survive in UA at all, that innate perception keeping him at pace with his peers even as his borrowed quirk held him back.
In another life, Izuku would have made a terrifying villain, would have taken over the world in a rage of cold intellect.
In this world, Izuku was filled with a true sense of justice, strong and righteous. In this world, he becomes the most formidable hero— not just because of his mastery of his quirk, but because of his mind.
This curiosity, this drive to know, went haywire after the Sports Festival. Shinsou Hitoshi was a mystery, a comet of sheer potential and flawless training that rocketed Class 1-A into a frenzy. Everyone was scrambling to put together information on the illusive boy. Kacchan wanted to fight him, Todoroki-kun wanted to interrogate him, and Izuku— Izuku wanted to understand him. How had he won? How did his quirk work? What drove him? Who had taught him?
That was how it started, at least. Then— then Izuku had seen his defensive posture, his wary eyes, the way he stood slightly apart from the crowd. He had seen him isolated— through choice or by society, Izuku did not know. But he knew that pain, had lived it as a quirkless child. Izuku understood.
He had looked at the set of Shinsou’s shoulders and thought— He seems so lonely.
After that, Izuku just wanted to be his friend. He wanted to open the door into the dark of solitude and pull Shinsou into the light. And when Izuku put his mind to something, it damn well happened.
Observation told him a direct approach wouldn’t work. Kacchan had already tried to corner Shinsou a few times, but he had slipped away, sly as a fox. Granted, Kacchan’s expression hadn’t been the most welcoming— more threatening than anything else— but Izuku had seen anger on Shinsou’s face.
There was hostility there, shining from tired eyes, and it seemed to be directed at Class 1-A. With a hurdle to jump already in place, convincing Shinsou into friendship would take subtly and patience. Izuku would have to wait for the best opportunity.
It came sooner than he had expected. A few days after the Sport’s Festival, Kayama-sensei walked into the room with a steaming cup of coffee in hand and Shinsou trailing behind her.
The class froze. Izuku felt his heartrate pick up, and he sent a tentative smile towards the front of the class. Shinsou ignored it— ignored everyone, really, staring determinedly at the wall. Kayama-sensei took a long sip of coffee, a deep breath, and then another sip. Izuku thought she was enjoying watching the class squirm.
Eventually, she spoke. “Class, I’m sure you remember Shinsou Hitoshi. He’ll be transferring into 1-A beginning today.”
The silence that met the statement was that of baited breath, the calm before the maelstrom. No one dared interrupt Kayama-sensei, but everyone was tempted. In the cool of the morning, with light filtering through tall windows in a dull glow, Shinsou looked like a weary soldier going to war.
The class, on the other hand, looked like a pack of hyenas before a fresh kill. Izuku could feel the smoke wafting from beside him, tiny popcorn explosions going off around Kacchan’s clenched fists.
This wouldn’t end well.
A sip of coffee later, Kayama-sensei shot them a sharp look and continued. “Also, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, Mineta is no longer with us. He has been dropped to Class 1-C. Shinsou, you’ll be taking his seat, near the back.” She paused, pushing black-rimmed glasses up her face. “Bakugou, unless you want to take a long nap, stop using your quirk.”
The explosions cut off, but the anger wafting from Kacchan just increased. Every one of Shinsou’s steps towards his chair— towards Izuku and Kacchan, this was such a bad idea— was heralded by an increase in killing intent from Izuku’s left.
He gulped, nerves making him twitchy, but Shinsou didn’t seem fazed. He slid into his chair without looking at anyone, face set in a mask of apathy.
Kayama-sensei’s voice rang through the room, breaking into the tension. “Now, to exciting topics. Beginning next week, everyone will be participating in an internship, of sorts. It is really more of a trial run than anything else, but it is a week-long and with professional heroes, so understand how important it is to your future!” She went on to detail out the program. A click had the list of internship offers flashing onto the board. Izuku’s eyes went wide— the disparity between people was enormous, an order of magnitude difference between first and fourth place.
Shinsou’s name was second on the chart, ousted by Todoroki, with Kacchan a distant third. Smoke started leaking out of Kacchan’s ears. Eyes trailing down the board, Izuku searched for his name. At the bottom he found it— zero requests, god that stung. A sliver of disappointment ran down his spine. He’d let All Might down again.
The world didn’t know him.
Izuku shook his head and stared down at white-knuckled fists. He would succeed— he had to succeed. The rest of the lesson was hard to pay attention to, a haze of frustration making tears cloud his vision.
As Kayama-sensei left the room, she stopped by Shinsou’s desk. This close, Izuku couldn’t help but overhear— “Thank you for the coffee, Shinsou. It was just how I like it.”
“It was a thank you, for this.” He paused, looking around the room. “I guessed what might be good. I’m glad I was right.”
She laughed, her long mane of hair shaking with the movement. “You are a good kid, Shinsou, I hope you make it. And you should really be thanking Yamada.”
Izuku chanced a glance at Shinsou and saw a small smile on his face. It was a tiny thing, happy and fleeting— as soon as he noticed Izuku looking, it vanished and Shinsou’s face settled into his usual apathy.
Izuku just felt more determined to befriend him.
For the rest of the morning, Shinsou did not speak to anyone, shooting indifferent glares at anyone who looked his way. The class was simmering with barely repressed curiosity— Izuku was sure it would come to a boiling point soon. As English ended and lunch began, everyone was prepared to swoop in like lions going for the kill.
But Yamada-sensei foiled their plans. “Hey, hey, hey, that’s it for today! Shinsou, stay for a sec.”
The class trailed out, shooting restless glances at their newest member. Izuku lingered as long as he could but was eventually shooed out. Another chance lost.
Shinsou didn’t appear at lunch. Izuku tried not to worry about it, but he kept remembering the lonely expression, the smile that was gone as soon as he knew someone was looking.
Izuku wanted it to stay.
He settled into a table with slumped shoulders and a tray of delicious food. Iida and Uraraka sat beside him in familiar motions. The mood was far from jovial— each of them seemed to have something on their minds, and even the normally bubbly Uraraka was possessed of a kind of quiet. Iida— well, Iida hadn’t really spoken in a while. Yet another thing worrying Izuku.
The plastic click of another tray surprised him. More surprising was the person holding the tray— Todoroki slid in across from Izuku with a question in his eyes. Izuku smiled, pleased at the overture of friendship.
A flash of purple caught his eye, and he looked up just to see Shinsou slip out of the cafeteria and into the hall, a pensive expression in the cast of his face. Gone yet again, before anyone could speak to him. This avoidance was definitely intentional.
“I want to talk to him.” The words slipped out, into the still air with no context or preface. Izuku colored slightly, a flush of embarrassment moving through him.
Uraraka hummed, seeming to follow his line of thought. “Shinsou-kun? He doesn’t really seem to want to talk though.” She glanced at Todoroki as she spoke, and then said— “You talked to him during the match, right Todoroki-kun?”
He nodded, face calm. “He works at a coffee shop in Tokyo. I go there sometimes.” His tone was quiet and thoughtful. He glanced at Izuku, mismatched eyes searching. “I had been planning to go after class.”
Izuku felt apprehension grow on his face. Todoroki was no Kacchan, but still— that had been a crushing defeat. The last thing Shinsou needed was to be challenged to a fight at his job. “To, ah, talk?”
“To ask questions.” The response made Izuku relax a little, and he breathed a sigh of relief into his food.
“We should go say hi! It would be friendly, and it looks like he needs friends.” Uraraka waved wildly with a fork, chirpy smile on her face.
Pensive, Izuku stared blankly down at his tray. A sea of rice stared back, fluffy and bone-white. He remembered Shinsou’s posture, his loneliness. It was a familiar look, though Shinsou seemed to stand a little taller than Izuku had.
Would this count as an ambush? Would Shinsou take well to it, or poorly? Izuku hardly wanted to make things worse. In the end, he decided it did not matter— if Shinsou wouldn’t give him the opportunity, he’d make the first one. Decision made, he looked at Todoroki, resolve making his gaze steady. “Can I go with you?”
Todoroki-kun seemed to have been expecting that question and answered without hesitation. “Yes.” Some of the tension melted out of Izuku’s spine. He’d have a chance to convince Shinsou, now.
Uraraka held out a threatening fork, determination lining an adorable face. “I’m coming too.”
Todoroki just nodded.
That was how Izuku found himself standing outside a shabby café with Todoroki Shoto and Uraraka Ochako. It had taken them a fair bit of time— and train ride— to get here. Izuku was amazed Shinsou could actually work here, with the commute.
Now they were hesitating, lingering outside the door without purpose. The entrance was worn, windows dark, and atmosphere a little eerie.
Izuku looked at the door with wide eyes. “S-Shinsou works here?” It seemed a little strange for a part-time job, and even stranger for someone who wanted to be a hero.
“I think he is related to the owner,” was all Todoroki said in answer. He looked completely at ease with the sight, and he had led them here with sure steps— this was not his first visit.
Uraraka-chan piped up, eyebrows scrunched together. She didn’t look nervous so much as confused. “It looks a little spooky. How did you even find this place?”
“They have a cat.” The words were matter-of-fact, said like they needed no more explanation. Izuku would definitely have liked more information.
Expression firm, Uraraka marched up to the door. “It’s silly to just be standing out here.”
With that she pushed the door open, a burst of warmth and the smell of coffee swirling out to greet them. Izuku took a few cautious steps inside, finding himself surprised by the cozy interior. As the door swung shut behind him, he glanced to a high counter, standing stalwart and somber in the center of the room. His eyes met with a lazy red stare and caught, something dangerous freezing him in place. The man standing there stood with a tired slouch and a baggy sweater, hands moving languidly over a hulking machine.
He assessed them with a lethargic look—fingers still moving across silver metal. His gaze swept across and Izuku and Uraraka before settling on Todoroki. “Here for the cat, Todoroki?”
The boy walked forward with a low shake of the head. “We wanted to talk to Shinsou.”
Crimson eyes went narrow and dangerous. The man seemed to slouch a little further into his sweater, pulling pale hands back to tap across the counter. The sound was menacing, a series of low clicks that echoed through the room. “You are all in Class 1-A, aren’t you? Heroic little brats that got your asses kicked by Hitoshi. How annoying.” He paused, looking them over again. Izuku felt the intensity of that scrutiny and resisted the urge to squirm.
“What, exactly, do you want him for? You better have a damn good reason.” The or else floated in the background, unsaid but very much implied.
Izuku gulped, arms and mind flailing. “No, uh, we just wanted to talk to him! I promise! Because he’s our classmate now, and at lunch he looked kinda l-lonely and uhm he left really quickly after class and we couldn’t talk to him then.” Izuku trailed off, babbling dying a quick death in the face of that stare.
Smile firmly in place, Uraraka pipped up beside him with determined cheer. “Yup! We are classmates now, and classmates should be friends.”
“I want to ask him about his quirk.” A pause, and Todoroki shifted, the movement slight and somehow bashful. “And pet Nimble.”
A red gaze lay heavy across the three students, flicking up and down and finding them wanting. Izuku scrambled for his courage and met the look, nerves making him shrink slightly but determination giving him a steady gaze. He wanted to befriend Shinsou— please see that.
Some of his desperation must have come through, because the man clicked his tongue and moved away from the counter. “Make one wrong move and you’ll regret it.” He disappeared thought a door, a murmur of “I’ll curse you with shitty coffee for the rest of your damned annoying lives” trailing after him.
Izuku let out a breath, the sound whooshing into the low conversation filling the café. Beside him, Todoroki’s expression— though perpetually stoic— lost some of its tension.
Uraraka though— Uraraka just had a small smile on her face, warm and happy. She rocked forward on her toes, all traces of nervousness gone. Izuku blinked at her, slightly intimidated. “Uraraka-chan?”
She hummed, a jubilant sound. “He really cares about Shinsou-kun, huh?”
Izuku considered the words, turning them over his mind. That hadn’t felt like care but— but Uraraka was right, wasn’t she? The man had only gotten irritable when they’d mentioned Shinsou. He had been protective.
There was no time to respond, as the low creak of dry hinges signaled the man’s return. He slouched into the room, Shinsou in tow and a cascade of fluff filling his arms. He dropped the cat unceremoniously, and furry paws hit the ground running, moving to hit Todoroki’s ankles like a freight train. With the ease of long practice, Todoroki scooped up the cat, face gentling into something soft and beautiful— Izuku tore his eyes away, a blush crawling madly up his face.
That sight was too much for him.
Shinsou was more cautious in his approach, stepping forward with a guarded expression. Tired eyes were wary as he stopped before them, focused briefly on Izuku and Uraraka before settling on Todoroki. “Why are you here?”
“I want to be your friend!” The words blurted out of Izuku, and he flushed, embarrassment making his face hot. “I-if you’ll let me. Ah, I should have started with something else.”
Uraraka nodded, echoing after him. “Me too, Shinsou-kun! We’d like to make you feel welcome.”
His mouth twitched into a frown, distrusting and surprised. His gaze flicked between the two of them, searching for something. The bags under his eyes were worse, Izuku noticed— was he stressed? “No one says that— that’s not how the world works.”
“We’d like to try.” Izuku said, voice steady, eyes wide. You looked lonely, he didn’t say.
Shinsou stared at them. Izuku and Uraraka stared back. Todoroki pet the cat, fingers carding over smooth fur. Silence filled the air between them, hovering delicately on a hummingbird’s wings.
Eventually, Shinsou sighed. “Come on.” He walked to a table set far in the bowels of the café. Izuku followed him, feeling a little like he was walking into the jaws of an over-caffeinated beast. Most of the tables in this corner were unoccupied, save for one, where a scruffy man in dark glasses sat. Familiar papers spilled across dark wood before him, the letters UA printed in a bold font across the top. Izuku looked at them curiously, eyes scanning what he could see from an awkward angle.
“Internship offers.” The words pulled his attention back to Shinsou, and Izuku flushed a little, slumping down into the chair beside Uraraka with a tinge of chagrin. On the other side of the table, Todoroki sat carefully, cradling his furry cargo with gentle hands. The cat let out an annoyed meow all the same.
“I, ah—” Izuku stopped, the meaning catching up with his mouth. “Are those your internship offers?”
Shinsou nodded, purple hair swaying with the motion of his head. An edge of wariness caught the corner of his lips. “I asked Sensei to look them over.”
Interest sent his gaze snapping back to the disheveled man. He could almost feel Todoroki-kun straighten up across the table, and Uraraka go hawk-like beside him. Shinsou’s teacher— the one who had trained him to fight, to win. He didn’t look particularly terrifying— more tired than anything else— but Izuku knew that appearances could be deceiving. Yagi-san was evidence enough of that. There was a whispery shifting of paper, and the man placed the sheets across the table, head lifting slightly. Izuku couldn’t tell if the man was reading or meeting his eyes, but a chill ran up his spine nonetheless.
This was someone to pay attention to.
Uraraka pursed her lips, thoughtful. “Have you thought about what internship you are doing?”
Shinsou hesitated, but answered, voice low. “I didn’t really want one.” He paused. “I don’t think I’d learn much.”
Izuku felt disbelief rush through him. Didn’t think he’d learn much? But the experience alone would be invaluable, let alone the connections they could make. Izuku opened his mouth to object— a list of reasons hot on his tongue— but someone beat him too it.
“Wrong, Hitoshi.” A sheet of paper slid in front of Shinsou, falling from the hand of the disheveled man. Dark glasses obscured his gaze, but Shinsou stared directly into them anyway. Izuku got the impression he could see through them with the ease of long contact. “You should do an internship. It doesn’t matter what I’ve taught you— seeing pros in action and taking part in that action will still be worthwhile training.” Knuckles rapped on Shinsou’s forehead, a gentle reprimand.
The action was so familiar— so familial— that Izuku had to resist the urge to rub his forehead. Yagi-san had done the same thing just a few hours ago.
“As for your options— Hawks is loud and famous, good at positively managing the press. He knows you already and you get along, so he’d be a good choice. The Pussycats could be helpful— Sosaki-san would be good at training your quirk. I’m sure she will have some insights.”
Shinsou looked at the sheet before him, eyes cast down and a conflicted expression dancing across his lips. “Thank you, Sensei.”
The man sighed, low and gusty. Any energy in him seemed to vanish into the air. He placed a hand on Shinsou’s shoulder. “We’ll talk later.”
He turned to the table, surveying them with masked eyes. He didn’t seem inclined to introduce himself— just nodded his head to the table. “Todoroki.”
The man— Redeye, was it? That sounded like a hero name, but Izuku had never heard of him— leaned forward and scratched long fingers across the cat’s head, the movement followed by a wave of purring. With languid motions, he returned to his table, settling against the leather of the armchair. Izuku’s eyes followed him, curiosity burning a hole in his belly. Who was he?
“Those are good internship choices, Shinsou-kun.” Uraraka said, thoughtful gaze fixed on the other table. She paused for a moment. “Shinsou-kun, do you think your teacher would be willing to look over my internship offers? He seems like he’d have good advice.”
Shinsou blinked, slow and pensive. Something like jealousy stole across his face but smoothed away so quickly Izuku wasn’t sure he’d actually seen it.
“You can try.”
Uraraka stood, face determined, and left the table. Izuku was abruptly remined of her words before the tournament, of her pledge to grow stronger. He wondered how strong she could get, when she was already so courageous.
Terrifyingly strong, was the answer.
Redeye’s head rose at her approach, long hair falling across his shoulders in a disheveled curtain. Uraraka spoke quietly, respectfully— after a moment, Redeye gestured to a seat at his table and took the list of internships, fingers curling across the white paper.
Even as Izuku was happy for Uraraka, he had to force down a curl of disappointment. There was no list for him to take to Redeye— or Yagi-san.
He turned back to the table and settled into a quiet conversation with Shinsou and Todoroki. It was surprisingly easy— Izuku chattered, Shinsou inserted the occasional dry remark, and Todoroki pet the cat. Izuku felt happiness bubbling up across his face like pop soda— pleasant and buoyant.
Eventually, Shinsou interjected, voice light and curious. “This entire conversation, you two haven’t tensed up once. Most people who’ve seen my quirk do.”
Izuku blinked, surprised by the change. “But you seem like a nice person?”
A disbelieving laugh huffed through the air. Shinsou’s eyebrows had crawled up his forehead, and something like humor— something like happiness— was floating through his eyes. “How are you even real?”
Izuku gave him a nervous shrug, not quite knowing how to respond.
It was Todoroki who broke the pleasant atmosphere with a question. “How does your quirk activate?” His mismatched gaze was challenging and keen— Shinsou just matched the look with an apathetic one.
“Like I’m going to tell you. Sensei would kick my ass if I gave up an advantage.”
Izuku had already considered many possibilities— but the words made them start spilling out. “Kacchan said it activated when he spoke to you, which would imply a response-based quirk? But Todoroki never responded verbally, which implies any response will work. Does it have to be a physical response, or maybe a mental one will do? Emitter type, probably. Interesting applications, it would be useful to extend that to…”
A sharp click snapped his attention up. The man with the red gaze and sweater was staring down at him, a fresh cup of coffee steaming before Shinsou. “Kid, you’re fucking creepy, cut it out.”
Izuku felt color rise across his face, hands coming up to wave frantically. Had he started mumbling again? Damn. “Ah, sorry! I didn’t mean to.”
“Like you can talk about creepiness, Tomura.” Shinsou said the words absently, eyes fixed on Izuku. Instead of offended or annoyed, Shinsou looked bemused, glancing at Izuku like he was something strange. Izuku’s blush deepened, and he fidgeted in the chair.
“I didn’t mean to talk about your quirk, I’m sorry.” He offered the words hesitantly, an apology.
Shinsou looked down at the coffee steaming before him. A tiny smile crept up his face— almost shy— and he pushed the cup across the table to Izuku. “It’s fine.”
Izuku looked into the white porcelain, a swirl of dark coffee greeting him. Honestly, Izuku hadn’t ever drunk much coffee— he prefers to sleep well and wake up naturally if he can. The taste is a little bitter for him, and he dislikes the idea of forcing yourself awake. But in the face of that smile—
He could hardly decline.
A sigh by the man— Tomura? But that was a given name, Izuku couldn’t call him that— caught Izuku by surprise.
“Fucking fine, brat. I’ll make more coffee.”
As always, leave a comment or come find me on Tumblr if you have Things to say (or just want to throw ideas at me or say hi, I really like hearing from you peeps).
Chapter 10: Trouble Comes in Threes
Actual plot! I am shook, seriously shook.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was a cloudy day when Giran waltzed into the café, low smirk fixed firmly into place. A gloomy day, even— clouds hung low and threatening over the sky, dooming the sun to an early death.
It was a fitting day for him to resort to this.
He pushed the door open with a shoulder, hands busy cupping a low flame. It blazed to life, catching the cigarette caught in his teeth. The spark was bright in the dim café, bright and conspicuous. Few people were inside— he’d picked a purposefully quiet time. The door closed with a whoosh behind him, just dramatic enough for a proper entrance.
The purple haired boy-hero— Shinsou, he’d had a couple clients ask after that one and made a note of the name— behind the counter looked up, tired eyes catching on the trail of smoke. Giran sent him a smirk and dusted ash in his direction in greeting. It fell across the floor of the café in a sooty stain. Something angry flashed across tired eyes, and the boy looked ready to take the filth out of Giran’s hide.
What spirit. It would be fun to watch how far it took him.
The smoke also caught the eye of the who it was actually meant to. Redeye’s gaze was masked by dark glasses, but Giran sauntered over to his table with the knowledge it was fixed on him. He knew when he’d caught someone’s attention. He— deliberately and slowly— sat in the chair opposite the man, leaning back with a crooked smile and no invitation.
For a moment, Giran said nothing, just ran assessing eyes over the man, noting fewer lines around the glasses than normal. Someone had been getting his beauty sleep. The broker wondered what had eased the perpetual tired expression since his last visit.
He’d had dealings with Redeye before, of course. Anyone who was anyone had— the café played too important a role in the underworld to be ignored. Giran had been here for coffee and to drop off products alike— the espresso was excellent.
But this was the first time he’d come here with the intention of breaking the rules. Hopefully, the pay would be worth it. Hopefully, Redeye would think the pay was worth it. Everyone had their price— Giran just had to find it. He blew out a stream of smoke, watched it creep across the table and fade into Redeye’s hair.
“Why are you here, Broker?” The man’s face was smooth and expressionless, but Giran thought he detected a hint of irritation. Good. An emotional man was all the easier to manipulate.
Giran flashed him a gap-toothed smile. “I can’t visit an old friend?”
Redeye’s eyebrows raised, something like disbelief etched in them. Get to the point, was left unsaid but heavily implied.
Giran smirked, let the ashes from his cigarette fall across the smooth wood of the table, a dingy constellation across the night sky. Redeye’s gaze flicked down to the mess, and his lips went thin. “I’m looking for someone. Thought you might know where I could find them, since you do run the best café in town.”
“No shop talk in here, Broker.” The words were flat, unemotional. Normally, that tone had people backing off and edging away, apologies falling like raindrops from scared lips. Normally, Giran would be among them.
Not today, though.
“Ah, one of the rules, right? But if the owner can’t break the rules, who can?” He sent a crooked smile at Redeye, all bluster and deviousness. “Especially for the right price?”
Something hard crept into the line of Redeye’s shoulders. He reached across the table and touched a finger to the fine layer of cigarette ash. Thoughtful, dangerous fingers rubbed together, going sooty and stained. A flick of the wrist had the entire pile spraying across Giran’s suit in a dark mist.
Just like that, his amusement ebbed away into annoyance. He let his smirk grow in response.
“Certainty not you— don’t think I haven’t noticed you sending Sato-san in here to test how far those rules bend.” Dark glasses could not hide the threat in Redeye’s gaze. “Get to the point before I kick you out. Permanently.”
Giran felt something shiver through his hindbrain, an instinctual fear. He shrugged it off with the ease of long practice— no one got good in his business without taking a few risks. And Giran— Giran was the best. “I have a client who is searching for someone. A boy with a particularly destructive quirk.”
Giran’s eyes caught a twitch at the corner of Redeye’s mouth, a tensing across lean shoulders. Ah, a spark of interest. The words that followed told the Broker he’d found an opening. “What kind of quirk?”
Giran leaned forward, sensing weakness. His smirk grew smug and vicious. “He can dissolve anything he touches.”
Something went stiff in Redeye’s posture, but his face stayed calm. “That’s a dangerous one.” The words were placid, even mild, but Giran could tell the composure was faked. He could practically taste victory.
“You’ll be generously compensated, if he’s found.”
“I’m sure.” Redeye said nothing for a breath, glasses dark and face inscrutable. “Who is your client?”
Giran’s mouth stretched into something warning. A strange question. One Redeye knew better than to ask. That, more than anything else, told the Broker that he knew something. “Ah, you should know I have the utmost discretion.” A pause, inviting. “So? Anything?”
Like a wall going up, Redeye straightened in his chair, wiping all traces of emotion from his face. He shook his head, shaggy hair shifting with the movement. “Leave. And don’t come back.”
Giran resisted the urge to smile all the wider. He brushed hands over his suit, the fabric starchy under his fingers— they came away sooty, dirtied. He paid it no mind. “Now, Redeye, I’m sure you don’t mean that.”
“You broke the rules. And I don’t tolerate the sale of children.” Redeye said, terse.
“Why so upset, Redeye?” The words left his lips like the taunt they were. Across the table Redeye stood, tall and imposing in an ill-fitting shirt. A threat— unyielding and lethal— was clear in his posture. Giran held up placating hands, rising to his feet with a smirk. “Now now, no need for violence. I’ll see myself out.”
He walked out of the café with one hand tucked inside his suit jacket—saunter distinctly casual— as his thumb stroked across the grip of his gun. A thrill of danger was creeping up his spine. He hated putting his back to a predator, and oh, was Redeye a predator. Still, the visit had been worth it. Giran knew when a man was hiding something— the stench of secrets and deception was unmistakable.
Discovering his secrets— the relevant secrets, at least— would take a two-pronged approach.
As he stepped into a light rain, dreary and cold, Giran raised a sleek phone to his ear. The ringing sounded soft against the background of falling water.
“Hello. I trust you are well?” His tone was respectful, professional— no need to piss off a generous client. There was a pause, as he listened closely to the other end. “No, no news yet. I had a question. That distraction you mentioned— if it is still possible, I’d like to use it.”
There was a beat as he listened to the response. A drop of water slid across the lens of his glasses, but he paid it no mind. “Tonight, if possible.”
“Ah, yes, understood.” Giran laid knowing eyes on the café. A smirk— wide and vicious— crept across his face. “Yes, I think I do have a lead.”
The door swung shut behind the Broker with a dull thunk, a swirl of wet wind creeping into the café in its wake. The cold breeze brushed across Shota, but he barely felt it through the heat pounding in his skull. A rush of fear and anger was flashing up his spine, leaving a tingling sensation. His hands did not shake as they brushed across the table, trailing through the remnants of cigarette ash— but it was a near thing. He had been caught thoroughly off guard.
Someone was hunting for Shimura Tenko.
Shota had erased Tenko from the world, from all documentation and memory. The boy had had no family left, not after his father’s death. No one should know about him, let alone think him alive. His quirk should be the thing of pipe dreams.
That someone thought to look for him now, of all times—
Shota lifted sooty fingers to his face, staring down at them with distracted eyes. It was the Broker who had come searching— that, above anything else, was the most worrying. Giran was worse than a bloodhound when he had been paid to find something.
It was just a matter of time now, just a matter of time before the person willing to pay Giran’s price found Tomura. Shota wiped his hand across the table, leaving an ashen trail, resisting the urge to curl his fingers into the wood. Something furious— something protective— was curling across Shota’s shoulders like a cat, clawing at him to lash out at the threat. He measured his breaths carefully, calmly— it took a moment for his rationality to prevail.
It would take precise planning— and even more cunning manipulation— to win this. Shota wasn’t sure he even knew what winning would be, but whatever it was, he would do it. No one threatened Tomura on his watch.
A towel wiped across the table, leaving the surface clean but coming away dirtied— it was fitting, Shota thought, that Giran would stain everything he touched. Shota raised masked eyes to look at Hitoshi as the boy finished cleaning the table. Purple eyes were staring at Shota with barely veiled worry.
“Everything okay, Sensei?” The words were quiet, almost hesitant. Shota did not want to know what expression lay on his face to make Hitoshi take that tone. He sighed, the sound tight and strained.
Everything was most definitely not okay, and as much as Shota would like to say otherwise, Hitoshi deserved the truth. He had vowed to be forever honest with Tomura, six years ago— he could hardly do otherwise with Hitoshi.
“We have a problem.” He spoke in a low voice, forcing Hitoshi to lean closer. “Someone is searching for a boy with a quirk that dissolves everything he touches.”
Shota didn’t say anything more, simply watched as Hitoshi’s eyes flickered to the door upstairs. “Is—” Hitoshi cut himself off, hands twisting the rag in his hands into a taut spiral.
The boy had proven himself a quick learner.
Shota nodded, approving, but the motion was preoccupied. “Yes. And it would be very dangerous if he was found.”
There was a minute of silence, pensive on both sides.
“How can I help?” Hitoshi’s voice was flat, determined. Shota felt a surge of pride, of warmth, and finally— of fear. Hitoshi could not be involved in this fight, not with the players Shota suspected lurked in the shadows.
He shook his head, a mane of hair falling across his ever-red eyes. “Nothing, at the moment. I will take care of this.” Shota would have to— though how, he didn’t know. A sigh whooshed from him, heavy with the weight of his worry. He shifted topics. “Have you picked an internship?”
Hitoshi slunk down beside him, settling into a leather chair. He accepted the change of subject with a sour face and a grimace. “Yeah, I’m thinking the Pussycats. I was going to ask Hawk if he’d be willing to take me for a longer-term internship later, but training my quirk is more important.”
Shota nodded, contemplative. It was not the decision he’d expected Hitoshi to make— not with how attached to the café he’d become— but it was the best one. Better now that danger had come knocking. “Logical. He’ll likely agree.” He paused. “You’ll be away for a week, then.”
Hitoshi looked down. “Yeah.” His voice was quiet, almost lost.
Shota thought he knew why. He took the rag from slack fingers. The remnants of ash staining the white cloth that made him frown. “Be on your best behavior, Hitoshi. We can’t have you embarrassing us.”
Hitoshi snorted, rolling tired eyes. “I got it Sensei, I’m not Tomura. Will the café still be standing when I get back?” There was more truth in the words than Hitoshi meant to put into them, Shota was sure. A kernel of uncertainty, irrationality.
Will you still be here?
It looked like Shota’s hunch was correct. The only comfort Shota could offer was that of cold certainty— they would not leave Hitoshi. “We aren’t going anywhere.”
Hitoshi looked down, a wry smile clawing at the edges of his lips. They sat in quiet companionship for a moment, each lost to their own worries, before he spoke up again. “Oh, I forgot to tell you Sensei— one of the teachers approached me today. Offered to help me train and had a few really interesting ideas to do with voice modulation. I know you told me to be cautious, so I wanted to run it by you.”
Shota froze. It didn’t have to be— it likely wasn’t— but. But that was just the type of thing Hizashi would do, wasn’t it? The stupidly noble man. “Which one?”
“Yamada-sensei, he’s the English teacher and—” Shota held up a hand. His fingers clenched around the cool fabric of the rag, involuntary and honest.
“I know who he is.” He choked out a laugh, bitter and longing and sad. Fate had a cruel sense of humor, to put Hizashi so close and yet unreachable. “Of course, he offered to help.”
“You know him.” It was a said like a revelation, and Hitoshi’s eyes had gone wide. Not you know of him, but you know him.
Shota pinched his nose, the pressure grounding. “Yes.”
Shota cut him off with a hand. He was annoyed to note it was trembling slightly, a buzz of emotion running down from his spine and making him shaky. He placed it flat on the table, the smooth wood a stabilizing comfort. “You can’t speak to him about me.”
Hitoshi shifted beside him, fixing eyes on him. “I’ll be discrete, but why?”
Shota felt his lips thin. “What did he ask?”
“He asked me if I was being trained. I told him yes, but— I mean, I didn’t say much.”
All might not be lost then. Shota spoke quickly. “Nothing about my appearance or quirk?”
Hitoshi shook his head. “No, just what type of training I’ve done. A few questions about what you do.” He looked at Shota, gaze contrite. “I just said you owned a coffee shop.”
Shota hummed through a tight throat, relief and a crushing wave of longing sweeping through him. That was probably fine— nothing that would explicitly lead Hizashi to him. Though it had likely stirred some of his curiosity.
That could be a problem.
Shota stifled a groan, running a restless hand through his hair. What was the saying? Trouble always comes in threes. Shota had never been superstitious— had always been a believer in hard fact and cold logic. But right now— right now, he had a bad feeling roiling in his gut. What fresh hell was heading their way?
“Sensei?” The voice pulled Shota’s attention up to Hitoshi. He was giving Shota an alarmed look, confusion and concern warring across a tired face.
It was clear Hitoshi didn’t understand what had Shota so worried. And why would he? What would a humble café owner have to fear from a hero?
But that wasn’t the right question to ask.
It would make sense if Hitoshi knew Shota’s past, Tomura’s past. In some ways, it wasn’t fully Shota’s tale to tell, but he doubted Tomura would mind. Shota stared at Hitoshi from behind dark glasses, assessing. He needn’t have bothered. There wasn’t anything to assess, no motives or loyalty to question— Hitoshi was part of the family. He needed to know. A glance around the café marked a few customers near enough to hear.
This was not a conversation that could be overheard.
“Follow me.” He stood, lean muscle unfolding from the enveloping leather like a telescope. A few steps took him— and Hitoshi, shadowing his movements— up the door upstairs. As he passed the counter, he flung the ash stained rag across the counter, the movement sharp and angry.
Giran would regret his search as he had regretted nothing else in his mercenary life.
Hitoshi glanced back, doubtful, as they walked up the stairs. “Ah, Sensei, should we really just leave the café?”
“We’ll send Tomura down.”
A few minutes later they sat nestled in the kitchen. A wide window let gloomy light trickle in, the rain-soaked sun dim across a butcher-block island. There they sat, tea in hand, as Shota told Hitoshi the whole story, from depressing start to bittersweet finish.
Later that day, in the cool of the evening, Shota’s mind was calmer. He ran fingers over the smooth wood of his table, the friction soothing. The smell of freshly ground coffee was thick in the air, and he breathed it in with fluttering eyes.
The genesis of a plan had come to him, and— while it was far from perfect— it had potential. It would be risky, but Shota did not see how he had a choice.
Across the café, Hitoshi was behind the counter, fingers working steadily over the machine even as he sent the occasional surreptitious glance at Shota.
Shota noticed them all, of course— his training in stealth far outstripped Hitoshi’s— but he said nothing. In the face of the revelations of the day, Shota could put up with some incredulity. The conversation earlier had reminded him why— and for whom— he was willing to take risks.
Shota’s equilibrium had returned, and a path forward was clear. He should have known it would never last. Trouble came in threes, after all.
A scream, nearby and terrified, flitted through the window. The sound was loud, close, and cut off abruptly— too abruptly to be a natural end. Shota straightened, pulling away from the smooth back of his chair with a creak of leather. Around him, the café stilled, villains and heroes alike falling into a silence that spoke of battle-readiness.
Another scream rent the air, closer than the last one. It ended in a low gurgle, a wet sound that Shota knew too well.
In the five years Shota had owned this café, no incident had come near enough to be heard. This was not due to chance— Shota had ensured it.
This was no coincidence.
He stood, wrapping a long black cord across his neck, the metallic fabric heavy across his throat. Leaving meant playing into whatever hand was being dealt— by the Broker, almost surely— but staying could prove far worse. Shota needed information, and the chaos outside had it.
A glance around told him that all eyes were on him— he grimaced, but it could hardly be avoided now. Tomura was nowhere to be seen— likely up in his room. Shota could only hope he stayed there.
“Hitoshi, watch the café. Do not let Tomura come after me.” The words were sharp and left no room for disagreement. Hitoshi just nodded, worry casting his features in an eerie light. Behind the counter, sheltered and concerned but loyal, he looked so young. Shota tore his eyes away, casting around the café.
He will be fine.
“Destro, would you keep the peace until I return?” The words were addressed to an older man, still fit from the battles of his youth but face lined with many years lived. The man was respected by heroes and villains alike— nothing would happen under his watch.
Giran could arrange no accidents with the General of the Quirk Liberation Army present, no matter how far into retirement Destro claimed to be.
Shota barely waited for a nod— somber and dignified— before he turned and raced through the door upstairs. He took the stairs two at a time, snaking up to the roof with the ease of long practice. On top of his building, perched on a high ledge with old brick crumbling beneath his shoes, Shota could finally see what had caused the screaming.
There were monsters in the street.
Someone— no, something, these were no men, instead bestial and mindless— was destroying the city. A large chunk was missing from the building one street over, rubble cascading from the tear. Bodies were scattered beside the debris, most unmoving and eerily still. A few— an unlucky few— were still screaming, drawing the attention of the three hulking creatures. The angle was awkward— too high for Shota to get any specific details— but he could see that there was something strangeabout the creatures’ heads.
This was no normal attack— there was no store to rob, no hero to crush, no purpose— it had to be a message. Whether warning or distraction, Shota did not know, but in either case the situation was serious. Shota shifted, the bricks crumbling beneath his weight.
Someone was willing to let loose three monsters to reach Tomura.
Another scream, high and terrified, floated up to catch on his ears. One of the monsters was lumbering towards one of the moving civilians in an unstoppable shamble. Another shrill cry sounded out, more desperate than before and with an edge of hysteria. Shota grimaced. It was a foolish risk, but— Shota had been hero for far too long to ignore a call for help. He wound the end of his cord across a nearby pipe, legs tensing to swing off the edge.
It proved unnecessary— a comet of flame shot past him, incandescently hot, to land before one of the monsters with a crash. Endeavor stood from the wreckage of brick and mortar with all the drama of a Greek god, fire streaming across his face.
Shota relaxed on the roof, arm falling to rest at his side. He kept his eyes fixed on the villains— quirk on, his quirk was always on— but he uncoiled his cord from the pipe. The number two hero had raw fire power Shota couldn’t hope to match, and he’d make quick work of these enemies. Shota would learn more by observing how they fought.
As he had thought, Endeavor disabled them with quick and efficient movements. The creatures had incredible power— and several different enhancement quirks— but little else. They did not attack with any strategy, any intelligence. Curious.
A flicker of motion caught his eye, and he looked up, eyes red and wary.
There was a figure, high in the air. Another man— creature?— was hovering around the café. The hero below did not see the figure, hadn’t noticed him circling above on preternatural wings. As Endeavor delivered the final blow on the ground— a flash of fire burning the last standing enemy into something unrecognizable— the creature began to fly away, heading to the south.
Shota did not need to stop to think— without a second’s pause, he followed, leaping across rooftops and slinging himself between buildings. It was a precarious run, but he didn’t spare a moment for worry— the three story drops below him were hungry for a fall, but his feet were light and landings cat-like.
A few minutes passed, but the creature didn’t seem to be stopping. If anything, its pace was increasing. Shota grimaced, feeling a burn of exertion begin to creep over his limbs. He couldn’t keep this up for much longer. It was time for a different strategy. Reaching into his belt, he pulled out a small metal disk, attaching it to the end of his cord with efficient movements. With a whip-sharp crack, he snapped the cord up and across the creature’s back. It slapped onto gray skin, but the creature did not turn around— did not even pause in its flight.
The disk stuck, a spot of shining metal on the otherwise inhuman skin. Just as it was meant to.
Shota stopped, kneeling down to catch his breath. A hand pressed against the rough surface of concrete, fingers supporting enough of his weight to make them go white with pressure. The pulse of his heart slowed.
This was as much as he could do without leaving the café even more exposed. With luck, this would pay off.
With luck, Giran would not have gotten what he wanted.
Motions smooth— but the ache of tiredness edging into his limbs— Shota leapt back across the roofs. His pace was slower now— not languid but far from the breakneck run of earlier— so it was a few precious minutes before he slid into his building.
There was a tension in the café, when he came down the stairs. Tomura was leaning against one wall, looking sullen and murderous in equal measure. Hitoshi stood behind the counter, hands working nervously across the machine. The two were sending glances at each other— apprehensive but determined from Hitoshi, and resentful from Tomura.
Shota did not need to guess what had happened— he’d told Hitoshi to keep Tomura here. He had not specified by what means, and a mind control quirk would be all-too suited to that task. It might take Tomura a while to forgive this.
Still, the place was standing— Destro was good on his word. The old man nodded to Shota from a nearby table, grizzled and august in a black hat. “When you have a moment, Redeye.”
Shota inclined his head, distracted but respectful. “Of course.” He began stepping towards the table, fatigued limbs protesting the movement, when a voice interrupted.
“Sensei.” Shota glanced to Hitoshi. The boy looked worried, and he kept shooting looks at Tomura. In his hand was a small envelope, brown paper as bland as it was curious. “A woman gave this to me just after you left.”
Shota reached a hand out, the movement quick with worry for Hitoshi. The package was heavier than he expected, too heavy to hold only paper. There was no writing on the front, nothing to indicate either sender or receiver. It had been designed to be delivered in person. It did not look dangerous, but as Shota well knew— appearances could be deceiving.
Was this the work of Giran? But it made no sense— nothing about this needed a distraction. There was something else at work here.
With sure but cautious fingers, Shota tore open the envelope and emptied the contents onto his hand. He stared, vision colored by dark glasses. The sight answered none of the questions he had asked but several he had not thought to ask.
Sitting on Shota’s palm was a phone.
In case anyone was wondering, Destro is actually a canon character, though really only mentioned in the manga. He's a villain mentioned in the same sentence as AfO, so he's supposed to be decently strong. I have added my own inferences about his age and current life, because very little is known. Here is my Tumblr, feel free to come say hi. (Or you can leave a comment on your way out, I'm not picky :p)
Chapter 11: A Duality of Names
If you are also confused by the speed I am writing Things, that makes at least two of us. :/
On another note: It has been brought to my attention that I was doing a comment etiquette faux pas (I only responded to ones with questions? I thought this was normal???). Anyway, starting with last chapter I am endeavoring (pun fully intended) to fix this. I know it is work to leave a comment, and work to put yourself out there (even in a small way) so I am happy to respond more.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Once, when Tomura was very small— barely Tomura at all, the name Tenko still fresh in his mind and on his lips— he asked Shota a question. It was a hard question to ask, and even harder to answer.
“Did you leave someone behind?” When you took me, he did not say. He thought it though, the words swishing through his head with all the subtly of a bright red dress.
Shota’s answer was short and to the point. “Yes.”
“Did you— did you love them?”
Tomura felt a thrill of childish happiness at that. He was someone Shota had left so much behind for— had left a person behind for. But there was a stirring of guilt in his stomach, insidious and insistent.
Years later, watching Shota wear a bittersweet smile and stare out the window, Tomura would realize that Shota had meant both love and love, and feel all the guiltier.
The café was possessed of a calm that made Tomura’s skin crawl. It was not silent— no, crooning jazz played in the background as always, melodic and pleasant and bothersome. It was not unoccupied— a few scattered customers sat at the tables, a decent crowd for the early of the day, though with Hitoshi gone for the day it felt emptier.
Thank fuck for that.
Tomura was holding onto his grudge like a damn life-line. He rubbed his thumbs across the counter, the action contemplative. Lacquered wood pressed back at him, smooth and soothing.
He did not miss having Hitoshi constantly in his space. He did not miss being chained to the café while Shota was out fighting. He did not miss being brainwashed. He did not.
Perhaps by the evening, some of the anger curling in his belly— a match for the betrayal, completely rational, Tomura had trusted Hitoshi— would have abated. Tomura didn’t know if he’d be happy or pissed at that. He clicked his tongue, restless and frustrated.
It would have been a quiet day— a day for Tomura to brood, stew in his annoyance. With the calm creeping across the tables, it could have been good day, even. Instead, he was being driven to distraction. And all because of a sleek black phone.
It sat at Shota’s table as it had for the last two days, innocuous and so god-damn annoying. Every hour, like clockwork, it rang five times before falling silent. Even sheltering behind the counter, Tomura could still hear its high-pitched buzzing. Each time it rang, Shota looked down at it, contemplative, but never picked it up.
It was unbelievably suspicious. Tomura knew something was going on, could tell from Shota’s preoccupation and irritation. He knew that it had to do with that evening— the villain attack that Tomura had been kept from. But he didn’t know exactly what was happening. He had cornered Shota briefly, asked— and been met with I’ll know in a few days. Ask then. To say that answer was frustrating was putting it mildly.
Why the hell was he learning to fight if Shota wouldn’t let him defend the café, defend Shota?
Tomura trusted Shota, of course, trusted him with his life. But— but Shota was nervous. Tomura could tell from the restless shifting, the long glances into coffee cups, the way Shota spent more time staring at that damn phone than his book. Shota looked worried.
Tomura could not remember seeing him like this.
It was unnerving, and it had only gotten worse after the man’s conversation with Destro. Whatever the old soldier had told him, it had shaken Shota even more.
Shota was Tomura’s foundation, his family— when he went nervous, Tomura went ballistic. The suspense was making Tomura’s nerves go haywire, and he had felt jittery all morning. He ran distracted palms across the coffee maker, the cool metal failing to sooth him.
The soft creak of the opening door was a welcome distraction, and he almost breathed out a sigh of relief at the sight of Dabi slouching through the entrance. He didn’t, of course— he’d be caught dead before he let Dabi see that.
Eerie turquoise eyes lit up when they found Tomura, and a slow smirk spread honey-smooth across scarred lips. Tomura repressed a shiver at the expression. With a swirl of drama, Dabi slouched up to the counter, stopping only to lean across the smooth wood. He shifted obtrusive elbows on the surface, uncaring of the teetering clink of coffee-cups. Tomura clicked his tongue, a wave of reassuring annoyance moving through him. He moved the white porcelain out of the way with gentle fingers, thumb tucked against his palm. “Can you fucking not?”
Dabi ignored him with the ease of long practice. “Hey creep, how’s it going?”
Tomura wanted to punch that damn look out the door. He wanted to pull Dabi across the counter and kiss him. He wanted to pour hot coffee over Dabi’s white shirt.
He settled for a huffing sigh. There was still a tension in him— in the café as a whole, really— but he felt relief crawling up his spine. Tomura decided not to examine that too closely.
“Fucking peachy, asshole.” He said nothing else, hands moving restlessly over the coffee machine. A moment later, he plonked a cup of espresso down before Dabi, movements stilted and jerky.
There was a beat of silence.
“Uh, princess?” Dabi raised an eyebrow, pointing a finger down at the coffee. Tomura blinked down at the cup— it had no crema, and there was a burned smell wafting up where something smooth should be. It was a frankly horrible looking espresso, riddled with a beginner’s errors.
Tomura hadn’t made a cup that bad in years.
Wordless and frustrated, Tomura grabbed the cup and dumped it into the sink. The acrid smell that rose up made his nostrils wrinkle in distaste. He reached fingers to the silver buttons— he’d make a good shot if it took all day, damn it—but a scarred hand stopped him. Tomura looked down at the offending fingers— stroking gentle, distracting circles across his wrist— with undiluted malice. He didn’t move them, though.
Dabi leveled him a calm, stoic look. “It’s a little late for coffee, yeah?”
It was only ten in the morning. Tomura snarled, a purposeless anger clawing at his ribcage and a fluttering growing in his chest. He let his hand fall away from the machine.
Tomura fell silent, fuming about everything and nothing. He was just so irritated with the last two days, with the damn attack, with his entire family. He’d almost flinched away from Hitoshi, last time they talked. That— that was un-fucking-acceptable.
But Shota could have been killed. He could have died at the hands of those hulking creatures— monstrous even on the small screen of the TV— and Tomura had been powerless to help. It didn’t matter that Shota was beyond skilled, an experienced hero, an unrepentant badass— if something had happened to him, Tomura would not have been there.
That chilled him to the bone.
A breath left him, whooshing into the space between Dabi and him, a bubble of a world where Tomura could stand still, for just a moment. He felt a searing blue gaze on him.
He ignored it.
Eventually a voice pulled him out of the cocoon of silence, the comforting— annoying— feel of Dabi’s company.
“Tomura.” There would never be a day when Tomura wouldn’t come at Shota’s call, but he moved a little slower today, weighed down by an amorphous fear.
He made his way to the table, tucking pale hands deep in his sweater. He was a little surprised when Dabi was also waved over. Tomura asked, a question— a grudge, god was he bitter right now— in his voice. “Sensei?”
Shota just gave him a tiny smile, apologetic and far too-knowing. It made something in Tomura relax, a habitual response to his parent. Shota spoke to Dabi— “I have a favor to ask.”
The scarred man shifted closer to Tomura, not using him as a shield, but— coming close. Despite his black mood, Tomura felt a touch of petty amusement. He snorted into the hood of his sweater, turning his mouth into the warm fabric.
“Your contact, the one that brought you here. Can you track her down?” The words were efficient and flat, but still— Tomura could hear something tense threading through them. Suspicion took root in his mind, and he traced idle fingers across the smooth black of his pockets.
Dabi nodded, thoughtful. “Yeah, I can do that. There a reason?”
Shota pressed his lips together into something tight and vicious. It really couldn’t be called a smile, but an expression was more than Shota gave most. “Not that you need to know.”
A low laugh fluttered out of Dabi, flitting into the air on a butterfly’s wings. It died a quick death. “I’ll do it. Give me a few days.”
Something satisfied flashed across a tired face. “Good.” Shota stood with a creak of bending steel, all hard edges and immovable force.
“Do you need some coffee, Tomura?” The question was quiet, plain, but Tomura still twitched at the words.
“I can make my own coffee, Sensei.” He said, with all the offense of a water-logged cat, burrowing deeper into a black hoodie. Shota just nodded, accepting the words and disregarding them.
“I’ll make you a cup.”
In the face of Dabi’s laughter— low and gruff and altogether appealing— Tomura sat with a sullen sigh. The dark leather creaked under his movements, the sound grating to his frustration.
If he had to hear one more annoying noise—
Fuck that. Tomura couldn’t take it anymore. He snapped a hand out, grabbing the phone and flicking it open before Shota could make it back to the table. “What the fuck do you want?”
A smoky voice answered, words caressing up his spine like a lover’s touch. “Tell me your name.” There was something mesmerizing about it, a kind of smooth seduction that Tomura recognized and ignored— he didn’t care, couldn’t care anymore. Would answering the question make the voice happy? Tomura would do anything to make that voice happy, to hear it again.
Molasses slow, he opened his mouth. “Shim—”
A strong hand snatched the phone out of his grip, Shota shoving his face away and staring him down with dark glasses. Tomura struggled against the arm, scrambling towards the phone— he needed to hear that voice again as surely as he needed air.
“Dabi, hold him.” Hands wrapped around him, the feel of scarred palms familiar and comforting across his forearms. Tomura blinked, slow and methodical and thoughtless. Something was stirring in the back of his mind, but still— that voice.
“Princess, talk to me, come on.” The words were spoken directly in his ear, harsh and low. The voice wasn’t the one from before— not the one Tomura needed to please, that one was in the phone Shota had taken away— but it was still pleasant. Attractive even, with a low tone that made a sliver of thirst curl in his belly. It was better sounding, more appealing, just more. Tomura let himself drift towards it, like a moth towards the flame.
The voice had asked a question, hadn’t it? He had to answer.
“Shimura Tenko.” His own tone was quiet, whisper soft, for the voice’s ears only. There was a sharp intake of breath from behind him.
Gentle hands turned Tomura around, pulling his eyes away from the phone— the voice— and making him face electric blue eyes. “Princess, Tomura, snap out of it. Come on you fucking creep, don’t you want to punch me?”
Tomura thought about it, the process molasses slow. Yes, he decided, he did want to punch him. But the voice hadn’t asked him to— would that please it?
Since when did Tomura care if something pleased a god-damn voice? Awareness tingled back into his fingertips— back through his mind— gradually. Dabi’s hands were still handcuff-tight around him, a steady gaze fixed on his face with concern lining the set of his brow.
Like the flick of a switch, Tomura was his own again. He shook his head, a convulsive shiver running up his spine. Shota’s voice behind him only just registered. “Tomura, can you hear me?” He nodded, the gesture strangely hard to complete. “Tell me what happened.”
“That fucking voice.” He stopped, mouth moving into something angry. “The voice asked my name and I— I had to answer.”
Behind dark glasses, Shota’s eyes sharpened, going sharp as obsidian. “Describe the voice.”
“Attractive.” The word slipped out before Tomura could stop it. But it was all he could think— he couldn’t even remember a gender, let alone more details.
Something clicked in Shota’s face, a quick-setting realization that made him look livid. He took a step back and opened the phone, pressing a few buttons before holding it to his ear. A hiss of noise echoed from the phone. Tomura blinked, but no, no— Shota couldn’t do that. The voice, he’d answer, he’d—
But Shota did no such thing, speaking low and furious into the phone. “Surprised it isn’t working? I know your quirk. Pull it back, now.” There was a knife sharp danger present in his voice.
A beat of silence.
“Tell Giran if he sets foot in my café again he will not leave it.” A harsh breath, then. “And don’t think I won’t recognize you.”
The phone shut with a gratifying click. “Dabi.” Shota tossed it high in the air, and it was consumed in a swirl of blue flame, a wildfire’s fury etched into Dabi’s face. A low murmur rose from the background, accompanied by customers shooting them furtive glances. Still, scarred hands stayed on Tomura’s wrists.
His neck itched so badly.
“Tomura. Next time do not answer the mysterious phone.” The words were harsh, but Shota placed a comforting hand on Tomura’s shoulder. His palm— large and warm and familiar— was calming. But not enough, not in the face of that.
Unsettled, a tremor running across his spine, Tomura snapped out. “Why the hell did you just let it ring?”
“I wanted to measure their desperation.” Shota’s mouth went flat. “They are very desperate, to use that quirk. Desperate enough for that attack.”
“What was that quirk?” Tomura demanded, tugging his arms against Dabi’s grip. It gentled, going loose and soothing. It would be easy to pull away, now— Tomura did not. “Some kind of mind control?”
“An infatuation quirk. She was trying to get me to talk.” Shota snorted, darkly amused. “She never expected it to fail.”
“How—” Tomura’s words stalled, and he hissed, frustrated. He would not be frightened by a voice. “How did it not affect you?”
Shota smiled, the first happy expression of the evening. “That quirk is weakened by previous attachments.”
“And?” Tomura still didn’t understand.
“Tomura, I’ve been in love with the same person for fifteen years.” Shota deadpanned. “That voice— it didn’t even register as special.”
Oh. Oh. Tomura remembered, now— he’d seen the traces of that love for years, even asked after it. But to hear it said so fearlessly? It felt invasive, like he was encroaching on something not meant for him.
He clicked his tongue, switching topics with alacrity. “What was she after?”
“The same thing the Broker was. Someone is desperately trying to hunt Shimura Tenko down.”
Tomura froze. Had— had he heard that right? Shota’s face— serious and concerned and fucking frightened— told him he had. That expression explained the last two days so well.
Ice crept down Tomura’s spine, a chill of apprehension following in its wake. All he could think of to say was— “What?”
The look Shota gave him was hard to describe. “Tomura…”
Tomura’s hand pulled free of Dabi’s grip, rising up with a terrible madness. There was an itch on his neck, and he had to scratch, had to tear—
“Tomura.” The name was sharper now, not reprimanding but cautioning. A shuddery sound tore out of his throat, and he fixed red eyes on Shota.
He could not scratch.
He took a deep breath, shudder-free and calm. He was not Tenko, anymore. Shota— and him, Hitoshi, even Dabi— could handle this. “What—” He stopped. Began again. “What is the plan?”
The answer came quickly. “We need to take the offensive. But first—” Shota reached beside his chair, rummaging around briefly before returning with a small metal disk caught between two fingers. He tossed it at Tomura, and only years of reflex training had him snatching it from the air. “Stick this somewhere inconspicuous. It’ll adhere to the skin.” He gave Tomura a serious look. “Don’t ever take this off. It’s a precaution, but with what just happened— one that is logical to take.”
Tomura did not need to ask what it was— he knew Shota too well for that. He made a disgruntled noise, something shaky still clinging under his skin. “Couldn’t have picked a tracker less shiny?” He pulled back his hair and put the disk underneath the thick of it, nestled at the base of his neck. The metal was cold against his skin, a contrast to the heat blooming across the fresh scratches. Remorse— and disappointment, and fear, damn was he afraid— was an implacable companion.
Shota let out a breath. He squeezed Tomura’s shoulder a last time, before stepping out of the café with a quick, “I have to make a call.”
In his wake, Dabi moved closer. A large hand curled over the fresh scratches on Tomura’s neck, fire-hot and soothing. He let himself lean into it, for a heartbeat.
Then he pushed the hand away, pulling the arm down by the wrist with a careful four fingers. Dabi seemed to take it in stride, shooting him a knowing look. “Gonna explain who the hell Shimura Tenko is, creep?”
Tomura could not help the tension curling into his muscles. But— the name was already out there. The name was the dangerous part. So, he spoke honestly. “No one, anymore. Just a boy who killed his father.”
Dabi hummed, contemplative and understanding. He was still just looking at Tomura, fixing him with an intense stare. Finally, he said, “Todoroki Touya.”
Tomura reared back, confused and caught off-balance. Todoroki— that was Endeavor’s name. That was the cat-lover’s name. “Who?”
“A scared boy who wanted to kill his father.” Dabi grinned, sharp and toothy and languid. “Might still do it."
And just like that, Tomura understood. Pieces of a puzzle began to slot into place, fitting all too well into a larger canvas. Dabi’s hatred for heroes. The impossibly powerful fire quirk. The look of surprise— of knowing— at the sight of the Todoroki boy.
But the key piece was the name he had just been given.
They stood in silence for a moment, the mutual confession making it comfortable. The smell of smoke wafted off Dabi’s skin and Tomura— Tomura relaxed.
He shifted, thinking of how Dabi’s voice had seemed attractive and urgent under the damn quirk’s influence. The infatuation quirk was weakened by strong attachments, hmm? Tomura didn’t want to examine that any more closely, but—
No, he still didn’t want to think about it. Tomura balled a fist and punched Dabi in the stomach, hard. A low oof echoed through the café.
“Ouch, what the hell, princess? What was that for?”
A grin spread across his cracked lips. “You were right, I did want to punch you.”
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Chapter 12: Interlude: Midnight Musings
This chapter is an interlude, not a full update, so there will still be an update come Monday.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The spun-silver shine of the moon fell across a large bed in a dim wave. The light illuminated the two people sleeping there, one dead to the world and the other awake and blinking. Kayama Nemuri was a deep sleeper, usually— fitting, given her quirk.
But on a few special nights, when the moon shone just a little too brightly, when the apartment echoed with the creak of silence, sleep escaped her grasp. Nemuri would find herself staring up at warm cream of her ceiling— cast into something strange and surreal by the hour and dim lighting— body tired but mind whirling.
Tonight was one of those nights. It was late— well past two in the morning, later than Nemuri ever wanted to be awake— and still she was alert, gripped by the claws of wakefulness. She sighed, deep but whisper-quiet— no need to wake Yū.
With resignation, she slipped out of bed and the arms of her lover. As her legs left the covers, she shivered— the air was cold, the touch of bare stone harsh against her bare feet. A fighter’s grace carried her out of the room without a sound.
It was too late for wine— tea was in order.
3 AM caught her leaning against the kitchen counter, tea steaming her glasses into opacity and leaving her blind.
She was fine with that.
In the light of the twilight hour, she mused, thoughts aimless and amorphous. It was a rare luxury; Nemuri almost never had time to herself. It was eerily calm, and she would have appreciated it if not for the drag of exhaustion pulling at her muscles. A thought bloomed, random and out of the blue of night; her students would go out on internships soon— only a week before they left. She’d miss their enthusiasm, but damn would she be happy to have some time at home, time to spend on Yū.
Speak of the devil, and she would appear, wrapped in a loose shirt and nothing else. Nemuri ran idle eyes across Yū’s legs. She didn’t bother hiding the grin that crawled across her face, but it was distracted and soft. Now was not a time for anything but contemplation.
“Old hag, you can’t miss your beauty sleep.” The words were said with a yawn, as Yū tucked herself under Nemuri’s arm, shifting with a sleepy murmur. A purple sheen began collecting in the air around her, and Nemuri slammed down on her quirk with an iron-clad control.
It rarely acted up— years of training saw to that— but this would be the time.
“I don’t need my beauty sleep nearly as much as you do, sweetheart. Though that disheveled look you are working right now really turns me on.” The bickering fell from her lips, familiar and biting but without any true sting.
Yū snorted, giving Nemuri a flat look. “It’s too late for this. Come to bed and put me to sleep.”
Nemuri rolled exasperated— fond— eyes. “Brat,” she said as royal purple mist collected around the curl of Yū’s lips, tender as a kiss.
It only took a moment to for her to fall asleep, drawn deep under by the influence of plum smoke. Nemuri looked down at her, heart growing warm and fond and far too big to fit under her chest.
Her fingers tightened across pale skin— the desire to just hold and never let go so very strong— and Yū shifted in her grip. With a breath, Nemuri relaxed, lifting her up off the ground and into a flawlessly executed princess carry, cradling a blonde head against her bust. Without her quirk activated, Yū was small, fitting easily into the space of Nemuri’s arms. The silky feel of hair under her fingers felt like coming home.
She was precious, and Nemuri— Nemuri would do whatever it took to protect her sassy ass.
It was times like this that she truly understood the demons haunting Hizashi, chasing his wide grin and boisterous personality. Nemuri didn’t know what she’d do, if she lost Yū, but a restless six-year search stretching out into eternity sounded about right.
Six years of nightmares sounded about right.
There is a bookmark of this fic with the caption “aizawa 'adopts' all the children in his sketchy swiss cafe” and I have never felt more personally called out. (It was beautiful).
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Chapter 13: All Was Lost and Not Yet Found
Here be plot!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
At a cluttered desk in the Tokyo Police Department, Tsukauchi Naomasa sat, face pensive and mind racing. Papers piled high on either side of him, a towering wall of white that perpetually threatened disaster. Naomasa paid them no attention, huffing out a breath and slapping another page on the nearest stack.
The papers quivered, teetering in a slow wave before going level again. Another crisis averted.
It was late afternoon, and the station had been unusually slow, with few villains brought in and only a handful of incidents reported. Despite his preoccupation, Naomasa had noticed the quiet filling the station— the lack of background noise tugged at him, making it harder to focus. He tried not to let it bother him. He couldn’t afford to— the public safety was bigger than his discomfort.
Normally, Naomasa would take the opportunity to catch up on paperwork, the enemy of all investigators.
Not today, though. Today his desk had been filled with scraps of theories, his scrawl penciling out a hundred possibilities. Still, none of them fit. His current case was a confounding thing, with enough mystery to fill a haunted house. He hoped it wouldn’t have the gore to match, but— if this information was correct, all bets were off.
Earbuds firmly in place, Naomasa narrowed his eyes, pensive expression etching deeper into the lines of his face.
He could recite the message verbatim, by this point, but still a strong hand reached forward, hitting replay for the fifth time. The low static of a recording filled the small headphones, the gentle noise of the police station overrun but not drowned out by a recorded rush of wind and roar of car engines. Then a voice, low and gruff, began speaking.
“This message is for the detective in charge of investigating the attack in Tokyo three days ago. There are more of those creatures, stored in a warehouse, 2-11-2, Yurakumo, Kamino Ward, Yokohama.”
There was a pause on the recording, a tiny burst of background noise. The first time, Naomasa had thought this the end of the message. The first time, Naomasa hadn’t realized the scope of this threat.
“All for One might be there.”
A low click sounded, but Naomasa sat with the headphones in for a few more seconds. Thoughtful— apprehensive— eyes stared at the computer screen before him. The police coat of arms gazed back, a brilliant white against the black background. It was a proud thing— a bitter, slighted pride— splayed across his screen like a splash of paint.
He hadn’t gleaned anything new from the recording, but that was hardly surprising— he had listened to it until his ears bled, and then wound back the tape and listened to a few more times. The voice was matter of fact, speaking without hesitation, without hidden meaning. The only hint of emotion came at the very end and it was concern.
All for One. The legendary villain that Naomasa knew to be all too real. Just the name sent a shiver of apprehension down his spine, a rush of something foreboding creeping across his skin like the brush of a spider’s legs. Naomasa was one of the most experienced detectives on the force, but— but no one was prepared for that villain.
Naomasa was also one of perhaps five people who knew the full story of All for One and that was why the villain was so terrifying. For most, he was the thing of myths, and myths were far from threatening. People would tell the ghost story of All for One under the cover of night, huddled and gleeful in their fear. They would shiver from awe at the sheer evil of such a villain— but then they would go home to a warm bed and bright lights and the story would fade into comforting myth.
Naomasa did not have that luxury.
The worry in the tipster’s voice— it made Naomasa suspect the man knew the dangers of All for One were real. But that meant the threat could be real.
He had to be tracked down.
Staying off the radar in these days took considerable skill, but despite the police’s best efforts, the caller remained anonymous. The message had already been traced to a disposable phone, abandoned in a dumpster only a block from the Tokyo attack. The phone had been searched, fingerprinted, and its purchase tracked down— to no avail. Whoever bought it had done so in cash, from a store with known underworld connections. No one was willing to speak to the police there— mouths sewn shut with disdain and loyalty alike— and so the trail had gone uncomfortably cold.
It was, for all intents and purposes, an untraceable message.
It was also— at first glance— an impossible one. There had been no evidence to indicate All for One survived that fateful fight five years ago, nothing to tell of his escape. All Might had ended it victorious— bloodied and broken irreparably— but victorious.
And yet. And yet. Something in Naomasa’s gut had told him the tip could be right.
Then the DNA analysis results for the attackers had slapped across Naomasa’s overburdened desk like a manila bomb, and suddenly there was cause for worry. Multiple people. Multiple quirks.
Naomasa knew of only one person who could be responsible for that.
It didn’t matter what he thought, of course— he’d do due diligence and investigate regardless of his own opinions. But what the message would have him do is call in some extra backup.
He pulled his phone out of the pocket of his coat, brown fabric rustling like dry grass. Methodical fingers dialed a familiar number.
“Yagi-san, I have something to tell you.”
A few hours later, and everything was arranged with alacrity— no time was spared putting together this taskforce, not once All Might knew the situation.
When the top hero called in favors, the world quivered.
Naomasa stood from his desk, leaning against the plain surface with a feather light touch. Still, the stacks of paper wove through the air, grass caught in the wind. With steady hands and a curl of dread entombed deep in his belly, Naomasa headed towards the doors. It was time to begin this, for better or worse.
A quick stop at his partner’s desk and a tap-tap across her papers had her pulling off headphones.
“Ready to go?” He said, feeling far from ready himself.
“Yeah.” Kaniyashikistood, pulling on her coat with quick fingers. Naomasa noted she’d strapped an extra gun to her hip— he didn’t bother to tell her it would be useless against All for One. She was an experienced cop, she already knew. “Have you grabbed Yamamoto yet?”
At once, Naomasa felt a twinge of guilt, hot and fierce and ultimately pointless. Yamamoto was one of the best covert operatives the force had, but that was not why he had asked for her.
Yamamoto was a rare creature in this day and age. She was quirkless. In any other situation, that could have been a disadvantage. Here, it was an asset.
Without a quirk, she stood a hairsbreadth better chance against All for One. Without a quirk, she could not be left comatose and stripped of her mind. So it had to be her.
Still, it was hard for Naomasa to stomach. If All for One was in that warehouse, they were all putting their lives on the line— but hers would be the first at risk.
And she was so young.
He shook his head free of the cobwebs of remorse, pulling his hat over his head. Naomasa would do everything he could to bring her home safe, and they both had a duty to do. “No, we’ll snag her on the way out. Is the Special Assault Team ready?”
“Just got the go ahead. They’ll be standing by as soon as we give the go. Said they are bringing some extra heroes with them, just in case.”
Tsukauchi just smiled, a hint of mischievousness quirking his lips. Extra heroes was putting it mildly— All Might was an assault team all by himself, a canon of pure firepower. With the addition of Fatgum and Midnight— well, it would be something to remember, to say the least.
With a swirl of dapper coats and the clicking of polished shoes, Naomasa and Kaniyashikileft the station. Moments had them sitting in the back of a nondescript van in Kamino ward, headsets on and tension running through their spines. Outside, the street was calm, quiet, and unobtrusive. It would not stay that way.
“I’m going in.” Yamamoto’s came in crackly through the headphones, like the crumpling of paper. With a hiss of static, the TV before Naomasa flashed on, a view of a high wall transmitting into the van.
Naomasa flipped on his mic. “You have the go ahead.” He said nothing more, though a be careful lingered on his tongue, bitter and unneeded.
For a few minutes, the only sound was Yamamoto’s low panting. She infiltrated the building with the ease of long practice, dodging between security cameras and shadows alike. Her movements weren’t effortless— she was human after all, and quirkless— but they were smooth, keeping the camera steady.
Tension built inside the van as dark hallways gave way to darker rooms, broad and vast and completely obscured by the lack of light. The beam of Yamamoto’s flashlight caught across the metal of doors, reflecting into the camera and blinding Naomasa for the blink of an eye.
He did not turn away from the camera, and this— this was for the best. Because Yamamoto rounded a corner and eased a door open with a creak and suddenly Naomasa had no doubts All for One was responsible for this.
The video feed showed a wall of tank-entrapped monsters— hulking brutes, corded with muscle and hauntingly inhuman. They were suspended in a thick and viscous fluid, eerily like flies trapped in honey.
Three of those monsters had destroyed a city block. Three of those monsters had taken Endeavor to bring them down. There were at least a dozen here. Naomasa felt his jaw go stiff, horror and a thread of foreboding crawling through him.
The anonymous caller had been right. Naomasa didn’t wait for Yamamoto to discover anything more, and he didn’t need to— “Get out of there.”
“Roger, sir.” Yamamoto wasted no time dashing out of the room, stealth sacrificed for speed in the face of what she had just seen. It took approximately a minute and a half for her to retrace her steps— a lifetime in the hot space of the van.
An agent to the last, she slowed to a halt outside the building, crouching high on the outer wall like an alley cat. She adjusted until the camera angled through a window. Still, nothing had visibly changed. Naomasa breathed out a sigh of relief, the sound loud in the quiet of the van. Yamamoto had escaped undetected.
He signaled to Kaniyashiki, and she spoke into her mic, quick and professional. “SAT, you have the go, the targets have been spotted. No report of AFO as of yet.”
A staticky hiss of confirmation met their ears as the heroes moved in, not bothering to be subtle. Subtle wasn’t really the style of this particular task force. The pounding of heavy feet, the snap of a flexing whip, the sonic boom that was All Might, glorious and surely smiling and so very angry— all this could be heard through the thick steel of the van walls.
They waited. Through the window of Yamamoto’s camera, Naomasa watched. For a moment, the building was still, though nothing was quiet.
Then a cascade of crashes brought half the wall tumbling down, the very street shaking with the strength of the fall. Rubble flew towards the camera, and Naomasa tensed as pieces cut close to Yamamoto’s perch, too close, shit—
“Yamamoto!” There was a swirl of movement from the camera, dizzying and swift. A whip sharp crackechoed through the van. “Yamamoto!”
After a heartbeat— a terrifying long second where Naomasa could feel the blood pumping through his ears— the shaking of the camera settled. The skeleton of the building could be seen, concrete wall held together by a ligament of exposed rebar. A hiss from the headset sent a wash of relief through Naomasa.
“Sir. I a—” A shaky breath. “I am fine. Midnight got me out.”
Naomasa had never been more grateful for a whip before.
A crackling of static sounded across Naomasa’s headset, the voice of Midnight loud and quick. “Your agent is fine. AFO spotted, I repeat, enemy spotted. All Might and Fatgum have engaged.”
There was another crash, a thunderclap of a sound, and a shockwave rocked the van. Naomasa clenched pale knuckles across his ear, resisting the urge to fling the doors open. There was nothing he could do out there, nothing that would help All Might. Naomasa had made many hard calls, in his time as an investigator. He had pulled the trigger on a friend’s life, once, with a bad call, sent someone to a place they could never return from. He still regretted that decision. But— but sitting there, while his friend fought All for One, was perhaps the hardest thing he had ever done.
Mere seconds ticked by, counted to the beat of Naomasa’s heart, and then—
The sound of a street crumbling into dust was not something he had ever had to put a name to, before. Now he had. The camera turned, swinging around to catch the sight of All Might standing in the wreckage. A broken water main was showering the rubble in a sea of fauxrain, turning everything a shade of grey. All Might— hair slicked down by the water, shoulders bowed under a great strain— looked defeated.
“… e-enemy has escaped.”
There was a moment of shocked silence, the sound of baited breath lying heavy across the intercom. The camera had started shaking slightly with Yamamoto’s trembling.
Naomasa himself felt a trembling creeping up his hands, something disbelieving making him want to shake like a leaf in the wind.
But right now, All Might— his friend, his hero, the Symbol of Peace— needed him. Nothing would keep him from that. He flung open the van doors to the sight of Fatgum and Midnight were standing off to one side, scratched and worn and shaken. Both were staring at All Might with something close to a revelation.
Something close to fear.
In the drizzle of water, All Might seemed to fold in on himself, becoming someone tired and small— but not lesser, never lesser.
Naomasa stepped up to meet his old friend with a heavy heart, stepping into the silence that surrounded the towering man.
“He was there.” Naomasa said it with a quiet certainty. Even without the radio calls, Naomasa would have known from Yagi’s posture alone.
All Might nodded, a brittle edge cracking into his smile. Droplets of water crept across his face, stained with flecks of the street below them. It painted a grimy and grim portrait across his smile.
There was a moment of silence, still as the grave. The enemy they had thought dead had come back to haunt them. That was chilling news.
Yagi began speaking, the words ground out like broken glass. “He said it was not yet time.” He paused, fists clenching at his sides. “I don’t know for what, but— he got away. He had a new set of quirks, a new set of powers.”
Naomasa didn’t ask for any more details— they’d go over the full scope of All for One’s current abilities later, and it would likely be a fruitless exercise. The villain was slippery as an eel, with the bite of a blood-frenzied piranha.
A shudder rocked the mountain of All Might’s shoulders, showering Naomasa in a mist of water. Electric blue eyes glimmered. “He won’t get to leave, next time.”
Naomasa reached up, placing a comforting hand across a broad shoulder. “He’s lost some of the advantage. We know he’s alive, now.” Naomasa said, mind whirling. The needed to find All for One, and quickly— there was really only one path before them.
“We need to track down that source.”
There was a restless energy underneath Toshinori’s skin, buzzing and burning and angry. He felt like any second now he’d vibrate out of his skeletal body and shake into pieces on the sidewalk, a man who had been a symbol meeting his end as he should— alone and without fanfare. It was a grim thought— a grim feeling, really— but this was a grim day.
His enemy was alive.
His enemy was alive and had escaped him a second time. A third time, though he never cared to remember that first tragic encounter. A hand clenched into the loose fabric of his banana-yellow pants, wrinkling it irreparably. It didn’t tear— couldn’t, these weak limbs held no power. That was all the more infuriating.
What good was he now? What did a cripple who couldn’t even catch Nana’s killer have to offer the world?
Toshinori had long known his era was past, that it was time for Izuku to take up his mantle. But seeing his incompetence— his failure—demonstrated set his aching body ablaze. Shame, frustration, and pain flooded through his system— his constant companions back to haunt every weary step.
He paced across the street, covering the same ground for the hundredth time that day. The asphalt under his shoes was smooth and springy— the mark of a freshly redone road.
Tsukauchi had said the call originated from somewhere in this three-block radius. While the police had already scoured the area for clues, Toshinori couldn’t help himself. He had to look, had to help in the search for the tipster. If not—
If not, what could he do?
He wandered further from the place of the attack, down a side street and into the unknown. This street was worn, not shabby but not the shining gleam of new construction either. A small cafe sat on a corner, nearly tucked into an alley with how nondescript it was. A few bars dotted the streets, neon lights looking surreal and strange in the light of day. Toshinori could imagine it came alive a little at night— this was Tokyo, after all— but now it was just eerie.
A flash of red caught his attention, the color gaudy in the empty street. Across the way, was a flash of blonde hair and smear of crimson. Was that... Hawks?
Toshinori paused and looked more closely, scrunching his face in an effort to see clearly. Lo and behold, it was Hawks, walking up to the shabby cafe with his usual swagger.
Curious despite his black mood, Toshinori crossed the street and followed the younger hero in.
A dim atmosphere met him, dark and soothing to the eyes. Smooth wood filled his gaze, a vision of shining mahogany checkerboarding a clean interior. The décor was interesting, to be sure, but what really caught Toshinori’s attention was the layout.
It was defensible, the counter positioned to block the path upstairs, the tables scattered like obstacles. It would be easy to take cover and fight a winning battle here against vast numbers. It was far from a normal café design, no-- it was a small, well decorated and well caffeinated fortress.
A glance told him Hawks had sauntered up to the bar, moving up to the lacquered counter with the speed of long practice. Behind the bar stood a disheveled man with dark sunglasses, leanly muscled and wiry. He would have been counted tall, had Toshinori been anyone else. Beside him stood a boy with lilac purple hair and a familiar face— one of his students, now that was a surprise. Toshinori pushed down the look of recognition— the smile. The boy wouldn’t know him in this crippled form.
No one did, and that was for the best. Sighing through the burn of disappointment, Toshinori walked up to the counter. Coffee wouldn’t do him any good— not with the delicate balance of medicine and prayer his body ran on these days— but perhaps they’d have some tea.
In the face of this morning, Toshinori would like nothing more than to sink deep into a cup of tea.
The man greeted him with a nod, long hair falling forward languidly. The loose fabric of his shirt shifted across a muscled chest, the fluidity of the movement speaking of physical training. A dancer, perhaps?
“Do you have tea?” Toshinori asked, eyes casting around for a menu. There was none.
The man’s eyes were impossible to see, but Toshinori could feel them flicking over his emaciated form, assessing.
“I have some ginger tea, in the back.” The man said, gruff and low. The voice rang a bell, but Toshinori couldn’t quite place it. Toshinori shifted, the weight of his body grinding through his bones in something thoughtful and pained.
But— ginger tea was good for digestion. Good for stomach aches and nausea, soothing on his nerves. While he wasn’t positive, something in the man’s posture told Toshinori he knew this. That he had suggested it on purpose.
It had been a long time since Toshinori had experienced a kindness so small and so meaningful. There was no pity in the man’s face, no judgement— no expression at all, really. Just an offer of comfort and that— that meant everything.
Toshinori smiled, bright and toothy and skeletal. He knew it was a discomfiting look, but all he had to offer was his gratitude. “That would be perfect.”
The man turned away to prepare the drink, but as he shifted, Toshinori thought he saw a hint of an answering smile.
Chapter 14: The Sound of Silence
So a few things.
1- Here be angst, I am so sorry.
I am really not
2- Real life is picking up hardcore, so I am putting this story on bi-monthly updates rather than weekly. It will still be a priority, but I gotta do the life things.
3- I love you all. I have the best readers and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. And I will win
4- By my estimates, we may reach 1000 kudos this chapter AND I AM SO FUCKING STOKED. I don't understand how this happened, but see Thing 3-- I love you all and am so glad y'all like this crazy little story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The sun shone through high windows with the intensity of a wildfire, burning across swaths of the gym floor and rocky terrain alike. The rocks grew alive in the light, going from dull to sparkling with the touch of sun. A hazy tint followed the glow in, making the afternoon sun seem strangely dispersed and muted.
On the far side of the cavernous room, explosions popped into being across Hizashi’s vision, sparking through the haze filling the gym. It was the mad chase of Bakugou hunting his opponent, cast in the light of nitroglycerin and zeal. Had Hizashi been any less certain of this class’ potential, he would have been worried for Kirishima.
But the kid could take it— they could all take it, each and every one of them a study in potential. They were beginning to become heroes in their own right, and Hizashi was damn proud.
That same afternoon light shone across the ground directly before him, catching on the two students standing there, arms tense and guards up. They looked dangerous, perched on the tips of their toes and with a charged silence stretching between them.
Shinsou was holding a posture near to standing, shoulders loose and relaxed and ready. At first glance, it looked defenseless.
It was not. Hizashi could see the balance of weight across Shinsou’s body. It was a strange stance, to be sure, but something told Hizashi the boy would be able to use it. The kid was prepared to lung or dodge in equal measure, perfectly poised to move. Purple eyes were fixed on Ashido’s torso— following the center of gravity rather than the eyes.
That was a skill that took a long time to learn. It was also heart-wrenchingly familiar coming from a slouched and tired and—
Hizashi punched down those thoughts with impunity. He could not afford them. He blinked his eyes, forcing his attention back to match before him.
Now was not the time.
With feet dug deep into the rock— acid eating away the ground beneath her slow and sure— Ashido stood opposite Shinsou. Her posture was a startling contrast to Shinsou’s— she stood with a foot arced back and arms raised threateningly, her weight balanced to pounce. For all the world, she looked like a big horned sheep ready to ram into her opponent, bloodthirsty grin and all.
This was there third spar of the day, and so far, it was Shinsou 3, Ashido 0. Decisive wins, for sure, and Hizashi suspected Ashido was getting impatient and frustrated.
A shift in the light reflected mirror-bright off the buckles of Ashido’s boots, piercing through Hizashi’s shades and blinding him. He shook his head, hair flicking dagger-sharp through the air.
“Hey hey, move it to the left!” He called, exuberant but squinting. Neither student responded, but on Ashido’s next lunge— made slick and quick by acid— Shinsou tucked a gloved hand under her arm and flung her through the air to the left. With efficient— smooth as jazz, really, man the kid was good— movements he followed up, driving a knee into her stomach mid-air. Both of them crashed to the ground, Ashido firmly pinned to the sand-soft ground.
Well, color Hizashi impressed.
And incredibly suspicious. That kind of move— it took serious training. Nothing that could be picked up off the streets or from a— what had Shinsou called his teacher?— a barista. The kid was quite the mystery.
But Hizashi didn’t really need to know, didn’t need to pick apart the kid’s secrets. He was here first and foremost as a teacher, and Shinsou was no villain— just a kid who wanted to be a hero.
Hizashi could understand that, and better yet, he had lived it. He would do everything in his power to help Shinsou reach that goal. Not that the kid needed a lot of help— so far it looked like he could skip the combat training.
Damn, had that been a nice throw. Hizashi grinned wide and bright, meandering closer with the shining click of metal plated boots. The students were still in a heap, a tangle of flailing arms and dangerous knees. Ashido groaned and shoot a peeved glare up at Shinsou, the look made all the fiercer by the piercing yellow of her irises.
“Niiiice! Come on, up you get.” Hizashi waved them up, hand moving through the air exuberantly. They didn’t hesitate to comply, dragging themselves off the rocky ground with the ease of long practice.
This was far from their first spar and would be far from the last.
Ashido rubbing a hand across her back, arching into something pained and creaky. Still, that didn’t dampen her enthusiasm— Hizashi approved. “That was crazy dude!” A smile cracked over her lips. “But you aren’t going to do it again. I’ll win this time!”
Face apathetic as always— god, the kid needed to live a little, maybe Hizashi could get him a rock album or something— Shinsou tilted his head. “You can try.”
Ashido growled playfully in response. “Bring it, purple hair!” A pause and a sheepish look at Hizashi caught the edge of her words. “If that’s okay, sensei?”
“Yes, listener, that’s good! But first, Shinsou—” Hizashi’s smile grew, happy at their comradery. “I think you should get a voice modulator.” He tapped across his neck, the sound a clicking of finger nails. “Like this one, maybe. I think we can make that quirk of yours even more powerful. Go to the Support Department after this and have them check you out.”
Shinsou nodded, tired eyes glinting with satisfaction but face staying level. “Yes, Sensei.”
Hizashi pointed them forward with a snap of his fingers, finger gun immaculate and precise. “Alright, once more you two!”
They squared off again, the veil of comradery melting into something sharp and dangerous. They were classmates no longer, now enemies squaring off against a battle field.
Good, that is how they should be treating this exercise. Some of the others hadn’t understood that, before the Sports Festival— some of the others still didn’t.
The fight began in a flash, Ashido lunging forward hands outstretched to eat away at Shinsou. Her stance was good, but she needed to learn to be patient in a fight.
Shinsou didn’t have this problem— he sat like a spider, waiting for Ashido to get just close enough before twisting backward in something fluid and fast. He put his weight across Ashido’s back with a hand and flipped himself up and over and—
And that was where Hizashi’s brain went frighteningly blank. His heart was beating frantically in his chest, shaking his ribcage into tragic pieces. Had he the mind— had he the will, the ability to think about anything at all— Hizashi would have been worried, would have clenched a hand across the leather covering his pulse and felt the beat of his heart like a crescendo of deadly drums.
But he could not think.
Because that move— that agile cat-like piece of gymnastics— was Shota’s. It didn’t just resemble it, no, Hizashi had helped Shota design that. He had been victim of it too many times to ever forget, fallen onto a gym floor with bruises and a smile to help Shota practice until it was something polished and beautiful. He had seen Shota use the finished move on countless villains, and it never failed to take an enemy down— not with the grace Shota performed it with.
There was no possible way Shinsou had learned that from anyone but Shota.
Hizashi didn’t know what to do. He wanted to grab Shinsou and scream quirk-loud in his face, shake slender shoulders and demand answers. He wanted to drag himself out of the gym into the true light of day and fall to pieces.
He wanted to hold Shota.
He did none of these things. Instead, Hizashi pasted his best smile across his face— a cheery façade, wide and toothy and a damned lie— and watched as Shinsou swept Ashido to the ground, as Shinsou used Shota’s moves with a learned skill. It wasn’t a perfect copy, still rough around the edges— but it was good.
How had he not noticed the similarity before? A grimace crawled across his lips with a painful twist. The answer was clear— Hizashi had noticed. He’d seen the similarity and written it off, thought it the desperation rooted deep in his bones making him see things.
For two weeks, it had just been a pipe dream, a hope to chase into the dark of night— and Hizashi knew better than to follow the sweet smoke of that addiction.
But apparently, he should have.
The matched finished with little fanfare— the win was clearly Shinsou’s. Ashido grumbled as she levered herself off the ground yet again, but was a good sport, complimenting the rad moves, bro. Hizashi could barely bring himself to care, to pay attention at all. His hands trembled against the lining of his pockets, the touch of silk smooth across his fingertips.
He felt unsteady.
“Ashido, go get cleaned up.” He waved her away with a hand and shaking voice, his tone wobbling uncertainly. God, what had he been reduced to that even his voice shook?
She shot him a look— something concerned and surprised, damn her empathy— but dutifully bounced away. Shinsou moved to follow her, purple hair waving with his steps, but Hizashi stopped him with a raised hand. In the bright afternoon light, the leather of his gloves reflected a dull gloss.
He could not let him leave, not with the suspicion burning a hole in his stomach.
“Shinsou, stay back a sec.” His voice came out surprisingly steady, for the turmoil running through him. Still it trembled across the air, a hint of quirk strength creeping in at the end. Hizashi slammed his mouth closed, the clash of teeth a match to the press of his control.
He could not hurt his students.
With a quizzical eyebrow, Shinsou bobbed his head. He stepped to stand next to Hizashi, face emotionless and shoulders slumped. The kid looked tired, but Hizashi couldn’t care right now— he needed to ask these questions.
“Those were advanced moves.” Hizashi snapped his fingers at him, hands steady, voice calm, and mind shrieking.
A calm nod answered him, simple and to the point. “Thanks, sensei.”
And the kid said nothing else. A stoic one, huh? That would have been a problem if Hizashi hadn’t spent nine years with Shota as a constant companion, if he hadn’t put his all into learning how to draw Shota out of his shell.
If he hadn’t fallen in love.
He smiled, toothy and bright and desperate. “Yeah, that last move especially was inspired. Where did you learn it?”
Shinsou didn’t flinch, but something tense straightened the line of his back and smoothed across his face. In a flash, all traces of emotion were erased. “I’d prefer not to say, sensei.”
That was a telling response. Hizashi forced down the urge to demand answers— this was still his student. He was responsible for Shinsou’s care, his wellbeing, his very life— he couldn’t just threaten the kid.
But he could ask. “I’d like to thank your teacher, is all. He’s saved me a lot of work.” He tried to thread the words with a hint of a grin, the edges of playfulness. All that came out was something brittle and cracked.
Shinsou looked him dead on, eyes at once flinty and apathetic. “I have no teacher, sensei.”
Hizashi hummed in something like frustration, his tone echoing through the air between them. Kid, the lies were obvious. But— but he couldn’t push too much, not now, not here.
“How bout I describe a person to you, then?” A flick of the fingers had his shades pulled down. “Tall, disheveled black hair, loves cats more than anything else.” He said, the words coming quick and desperate through the cracks of his smile. Still the most beautiful person I have ever seen, he did not say.
Shinsou shook his head, purple hair swaying gently. “I am sorry, sensei, I don’t know him.”
By the set of his shoulders, by the flinch across his face, by the millisecond of hesitation, Hizashi knew that to be a lie. Hope burst across his chest like tropical flower, bright and painful.
This— this might be the first lead he’d had on Shota in six long and lonely years. This might be what finally let him see his closest friend again.
But what to do about it?
The next day, Hizashi watched from a high window— perched like a cockatoo with the hair to match— as Nemuri led the kids out of the school. The class— excited and nervous and so young— trailed behind her like ducklings. Hizashi did need to hope that they learn from these internships. This group was an awesome crowd, and he had full confidence they’d rock the opportunity.
Whether they’d come back unscathed— well, that was another question entirely. No hero went unscathed, no one avoided all the slings and arrows bombarding anyone of this profession.
After all, what were heroes if not the body shields of civilians? They took the blows so no one else needed to. This was why Hizashi had become a hero— to protect.
The kids would learn the drawbacks of the job sooner or later.
Without his permission, Hizashi’s eyes drifted to a fluffy purple head, firmly in the middle of the class. It was a spot of bright color, not standing out of the crowd— not with Todoroki and Midoriya there, god, not with Ashido—but certainly visible.
It was a color that had haunted his dreams last night.
For six years, he had been plagued with nightmares. For six years, he had wandered trancelike through blurry alleys. His dreams were always dark, always edged with the gritty not-quite surreal tone of an old noir film. They always ended badly. But last night had been particularly haunting.
In the confines of a dimly lit alley he had seen Shota. Black hair was splayed across a pale neck, his face beautiful and disheveled and everything Hizashi remembered. The play of shadow across his face aged him past the eternal youth Shota kept in Hizashi’s dreams, making him gritty and alarmingly real.
He was everything Hizashi had ever wanted. He took an aborted step forward, but did not move, frozen by the catch of the dream. A shadow played across the wall, ominous and dreadful, creeping behind Shota. But Shota did not see.
He was talking to Shinsou— an apparition appearing before him like a purple mist swimming through the air. The shadow crept closer. Shota was too distracted, hadn’t looked behind him no—
Hizashi ran— ran like the very beat of his heart depended on it, legs working furiously. But he did not move. His mind kept him trapped in this moment, held at the end of the alley and forced to just watch as the shadow surged forward.
Hizashi couldn’t bear what happened next.
He had seen Shota die before— it was a common theme in his nightmares, his mind a pitiless companion. That lifeless body— the sight of light fading from tired red eyes— Hizashi had seen it before.
He had not seen Shota die while diving forward to protect his student, and that was somehow worse. Another crack to drive across his heart. Another nail in his coffin. A body— all too lifelike for the mirage of a dream, neck held at an unnatural angle and splayed over Shinsou protectively.
It was too much.
Hizashi had woken up with sweat coating his back and a mindless horror clenching at his stomach. Long hair fell across his face, the blond strands cocooning him in a small space.
He had not gone back to sleep.
Now he couldn’t wash the sight out of his mind. Every time he saw purple hair, he thought of Shota throwing himself forward, desperate and caring.
Hizashi might need to quit his job, if this kept up.
His eyes trailed after Shinsou, unable to stop himself from twisting the knife in deeper. The kid was in the middle of the group, now. For a moment, that struck Hizashi as strange— the boy was as introverted as Shota.
But— ah, yes, that was it. Beside Shinsou stood Midoriya, green hair flashing across the crowd like a growth of new grass, vibrant and cheery. Close behind flanked Todoroki and Uraraka.
Shinsou never stood a chance.
The kids vanished out of view, eventually, but Hizashi stayed where he was, caught in the web of old thoughts. He fidgeted before the window, the glass inches away from his face. In the shifting light, he could begin to see his reflection shimmer into being on the clear pane. He looked burdened, green eyes tired and brimming with something Hizashi refused to put a name to.
He felt sick, the echoes of that conversation pulling at his gut.
I’m sorry, sensei, I don’t know him.
Hizashi didn’t know what was worse— that he knew that to be a lie, or that Shinsou could be thinking of someone other than Shota. In either case, the question remained— what reason did Shinsou have to lie?
Having a teacher was far from illegal, and one so skilled should be something to brag about, not lie to cover up. Hizashi could think of only two options— villain or vigilante.
The first was bad, and the mark of a traitor. The second though— the second was worse.
He’d have kept a close eye on the boy anyway— something in him whispering Shota every time he saw those tired eyes. But now— now he had to. It would be an exercise in exhaustion.
Hizashi pulled himself away from the window— from that faint fell hope— and walked down the hall with sightless eyes and directionless feet.
This chance had pulled so much in him to the surface, and to have it crushed— Hizashi could not bear that pain. If Shota wasn’t at the end of this road, Hizashi would have a hard time gluing the shattered pieces of his heart back together.
But he had never thought about moving on, not even on the darkest nights, not even curled around the hole where his heart had been. Hizashi was not the type to leave a friend behind— he’d scream his way to them and stand tall as a defender to the last.
So how could he leave Shota, who meant so much—
Hizashi clenched a gloved fist, feeling the creaking of hard leather press against his palms. When he saw Shota next— when, not if, never if— Hizashi would shriek until his eardrums burst, and then hug him into tiny, loved, pieces.
He breathed in, a deep inhale, before throwing his voice up into the ceiling. It wasn’t quirk strong— not in the school, not if he wanted to survive his next tea with Nezu— but it had the full force of his frustration behind it. The windows quaked. High ceilings bounced back the sound, and Hizashi welcomed it, let it wash over him and push away his frustration.
For a moment, everything went silent.
Slowly, with thoughts weighing him down, he began to walk forward. He meandered through the building, waving a casual greeting to the second and third years. The building felt empty and echoing with the first years gone— the youngest chicks had just taken their first flight, and would be all the better for it.
After a few moments, a familiar voice caught his attention, snagging across his ear and pulling him around a corner.
Over his years as a radio host— over his years training his quirk— Hizashi had become preternaturally good at recognizing voices, at reading emotions in the faintest vibration of tone. Everyone spoke their emotions clear as day—he only had to listen. He could tell a frequent caller by the cadence of their voice, recognized his friends in the breath before words. He had an uncannily good ear— voices were his trade, and Hizashi was damn good at what he did.
So, Yagi’s voice— threaded with anger like the roaring of a lion— seized his attention quick and precise.
“Is there any news?” Hope floated through the air with the words. Hizashi moved towards the sound, intrigued by the tone.
“No, nothing yet. There has been no trace of the caller, either.” That was a new voice, with a professional tone. Still, Hizashi thought he detected a hint of fondness, of familiarity.
This person knew Yagi. Hizashi quickened his footsteps, walking towards the conversation. He needed a distraction right now and something hero related would do the trick nicely
“Shit.” The word was said with surprising vehemence, a burst of English into the stillness of a silence.
Hizashi rounded a corner to see All Might, skeletal and serious and frowning, looking up at him. Beside him stood a man in the trench coat of a detective and the polished shoes of a policeman. Neither had a trace of happiness across their faces, and that— that was terrifying to see on All Might.
Hizashi had just strutted into something serious.
“Hey, Yagi-san, my bad.” He straightened weary shoulders in a creak of leather. So much for that distraction— he knew a private conversation when he saw one. “I’ll be seeing you.” He nodded, a graceful bob of the head, and moved to walk around them.
A rumbling voice kept his feet in place. “Ah, Yamada-san. Please, if you have a moment.”
Hizashi did indeed have a moment. He had as many moments as it took to keep himself from falling back into sleep.
To keep the nightmares at bay.
He grinned, wide and chirpy and fake. “You got it, Yagi-san. What’s up?” The words rolled across his tongue and into the hall with a singer’s rhythm.
There was a pause, weighty and serious. Yagi looked tired, something in him sagging against the weight of the world. The stripes of his banana-yellow suit cast him washed out and exhausted.
But he also looked furious.
When he spoke, it was with a slow deliberate tone— the tone of a man who had picked a path and would stick to it. “Yamada-san, we will be putting together a strike force, and I think you could be useful.”
Hizashi opened his mouth to question, words always threatening at the tip of his tongue, but a bony hand stopped him.
“This enemy—” Yagi paused, face going dark and grave. A long arm rose up to brush through downy hair.
Hizashi felt his eyes go narrow behind his shades. Who could give All Might pause?
“This enemy is exceedingly dangerous. Unquestioningly the most dangerous enemy in the world.”
His voice told Hizashi these were no lies. His face told Hizashi this was a grim tale. His eyes told Hizashi that this villain should be very worried. “Must be a hell of an enemy to give you pause.” He voiced into the lull of Yagi’s words.
Yagi nodded, a monolithic motion of shifting bones. “He is. His name is All for One, and he killed my mentor. He gave me this injury, and almost won our last battle.” A pause, grave with heavy thoughts. “He is a threat to this world.”
Hizashi’s breath caught in the vice of his chest, surprise making him blink. This enemy had wounded All Might irreparably. This enemy had almost beaten All Might. That could happen? Hizashi felt a thrill of terror run through his body, shaking out the end of his fingertips. He was good— but he wasn’t save the world good.
“Why involve me?” Hizashi asked, needing to know.
Yagi smiled, a skeletal facsimile of his usual grin. It still had the motivational power of a rock star. “Because you are a hero, of course! Because we need people like you on the frontlines. And because you are good at long range incapacitation.” Something shadowed across Yagi’s face, a fell foul thing that belonged in Hizashi’s nightmares. “This enemy is difficult for close range heroes to engage. He is difficult for anyone to engage”
Hizashi hummed under his breath, low and thoughtful and apprehensive. “Who else is involved?”
“The number three hero, Hawks, very likely. Myself, of course, and Fatgum. Perhaps Sir Nighteye if it is possible.”
Why is this happening now? Why was everything happening now? Hizashi considered his options, a crease tucking between his eyebrows.
But really there was no choice to be made— Hizashi was a hero. He would always choose to help.
“Count me in.”
Chapter 15: Embrace the Winds of Change
So remember last week, when I said things were going to take longer? That was before I knew my life wasn't complete without writing Hawks.
That was before the discord made me write so much Hawks smut.
Anyway, good news is I have redone plot again, and this little story is now sitting pretty at an estimated 130k. So. Uh. I don't know how this happened. But good news for you, and suffering for me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Wind pressed on the window, a howling beast of a current. It swirled across clear glass, strong enough to been seen shaping the very air. The clear walls shook beneath its fury, terror echoing through the reverberations of glass.
It was beautiful.
It was an awe-inspiring sight, suffused with the full force of nature and raw. This high up, the wind almost had the building swaying like a willow tree. This high up, the wind could destroy.
Hawks found it comforting. He looked out the metal-sharp edge of the building, saw the tremors shaking the steel frame, and wanted to fly.
He resisted the urge, stretching his wings wide to greet the wind from inside his glass cage. The bars were steel-strong today, keeping him trapped with the weight of his thoughts. The itch in his feathers was getting worse again, made near-unbearable by the hours of meetings. It was barely 11:00, but already, his schedule had exploded.
Sometimes, with the weight of the mundane pressing down on his wings, Hawks’ felt no hero but a figurehead, handsome and charming and useless. Sometimes, Hawks felt he couldn’t save a life at all.
Then he stretched his wings wide and took to the skies. Then he swept his feathers like stilettos through the air and rescued a child, ten, twenty, a hundred—
Then every moment of the mundane was bearable. He would survive, he always survived. Hawks could suffer until his wings were shredded and stripped bare. And if it made the world a little safer, he would. Two more hours without flight would not kill him, even through the itch across his back.
And this next meeting was vital.
The click of shoes echoed across the spacious room, and Hawks beat massive wings, flipping himself up and back in a swirl of crimson. With a fighter’s grace, he touched down on the couch, slouching into the smooth leather. Behind him, splayed against the silhouette of the sky, his wings shuffled, griffonic and majestic.
He knew it to be an impressive sight.
Tsukauchi looked far from intimidated. The policeman approached without trepidation, all professional lines and faint smiles. He was not a tall man, all things considered— not with hulking beasts like Endeavor out there, not with All Might— but he still had a few inches on Hawks. Had Hawks been a lesser man, a less confident man, the height might have made him puff up his wings into something imposing.
Hawks just grinned and sunk into the embrace of the couch, wings relaxing across the leather. “So, policeman. What can I do for you?”
Tsukauchi quirked his lips with the smile of a diplomat, noncommittal and engaging. Still, Hawks thought he could see a hint of humor lurking in his eyes. He inclined his head, dipping into something respectful. “Hawks, thank you for your time.”
Hawks almost laughed, a smile spreading across his face. “Man, I will always make time for the police.”
That was the truth, but it was far from the whole truth. Hawks had heard rumors, had picked up a hint, a trace—
What was happening now would rock the country— he could feel the winds of change stirring along his feathers. He had flown in them and seen a sliver of what was to come, been buffeted by that sight.
There was no way he could have refused this meeting.
“I wanted to talk to you about a strike force All Might is assembling.” Tsukauchi spoke matter-of-factly, tone still just as professional, but the words themselves were telling.
They echoed through the room with as much force as the wind against Hawks’ cage.
A strike force— he had not heard of this. Hawks leaned forward, elbows coming to rest on his knees. Behind him, his wings shuffled to attention in a wave of feathery crimson. He spoke, casual and grave and surprised. It was not a good feeling. “Oh?”
“I assume you have heard of the battle at Kamino Ward?”
Hawks dipped his head in a nod, shades tilting down with the movement.
“That battle— it was against a man called All for One, organized off of a tip. He is All Might’s greatest enemy. He has been alive for close to 200 years.” There was a pause, and Hawks’ digested the words with a grave understanding, grin melting into something serious.
“He is a threat to the world.”
Hawks shifted, wings moving restlessly. He had heard some of this— he knew some of this, from contacts and intelligence gathering alike. Hawks had always made it a point to keep an ear to the ground for information. The shifting mood of the police had caught his eye like a kicked beehive. He knew something was happening.
He had not imagined the scope of the problem.
Into the weighty air of the room, he spoke, mind racing and jaw tight. “Why don’t you tell me everything— and you can count me in.”
A beat of silence followed, and then— then the whole tale unwound with Tsukauchi’s words, long and twisted and strange. Nothing about it made sense, nothing about it was comforting, nothing about it fit.
What purpose lay behind the first attack? It had accomplished nothing— no civilians had been killed, no heroes kicked from the fight, and the property damage had been minimal, as these things go.
It had been a failure. If All for One was as dangerous as Tsukauchi had said— and to leave All Might crippled and broken, the villain had to be— he would not make such an error.
And the location— was this truly a coincidence?
As Tsukauchi left, Hawks walked to the window, wings draped behind him in a rush of crimson. With a tap of a strong hand, the crystal-clear pane slid open.
The wind pressed against Hawks with the arms of an old friend, streaming his wings out behind him like a banner. It took one hop— one leap, well-practiced and effortless— to lift him into the air.
He had a few minutes before the new intern finished up his paper work, and he’d use it to clear his mind, to brush the tension from his wings. The sky welcomed him into its embrace, and for a few precious minutes he couldn’t feel the bars of his cage.
It was blissful.
Hawks landed back in the building with tousled hair and a fluttering of elegant feathers. His heart felt lighter, his mind clear, and his purpose sure.
He was also five long minutes late.
The kid was waiting for him, when he slid back through the window. Tokoyami was standing at attention, serious and severe with the ruffled plumage of irritation.
Beside him— gentle and kind and fiercely efficient, god Hawks was lucky to have hired her— stood Todoroki. The wind in his wake brushed her snow-white hair back, flashing the hints of red strands away from her face.
They were a good pair to come back to, and Hawks— Hawks felt something happy rise up in him at the sight. A woman with a heart three times too large for her frozen chest, and a kid with big dreams and bigger potential.
Maybe his cage was the right size, after all.
Todoroki smiled, a small thing hidden in the corners of her lips. She bobbed a nod to him, extending a schedule and forms with organized fingers. “Hawks-san, the paperwork is done except for your signature. Tokoyami-kun is good to go.”
He shot her a relieved grin. In that moment, Todoroki was his damn hero— Hawks despised paperwork. “Thanks, Todoroki. You can head back to work, I have it from here.”
With an inclined head she, stepped careful feet towards the door, methodical and quiet.
In her wake, Hawks looked Tokoyami over, assessing. The kid was in his hero costume, the drape of black a match for the severity of his plumage. He looked every bit the dark and wrathful bird of the night in appearance, but damn did the kid still have so much to learn.
Catching Hawks’ gaze, Tokoyami nodded a feathered head, beak dipping downwards. “Hawks-san, my thanks for this internship.”
Hawks waved a lazy hand, tucking gargantuan wings close against his back. “Don’t worry about it, man. I’m happy to have you.”
Something pleased flashed across Tokoyami’s red eyes, and the kid looked away, bashful. Hawks smiled, reaching a strong hand to ruffle his hair back, the feeling of fingers a pleasant scratch across his scalp.
No point in dawdling, though, now that the kid was here. He stretched his arms high, feeling the cricks in his back crack and grind with the movement. He finished the movement with a whooshing exhale. “Alright kid, come on, we got a place to be.”
Tokoyami looked up, surprise painting his plumage. “Patrol?”
Hawks stepped towards the window, pulling it open with crimson feathers. A gale pushed against his shades like a kiss from an old friend. “Not quite. Something to do first.”
Without an ounce of hesitation, Hawks stepped backwards off the ledge and into open air. His wings caught the wind, powerful strokes keeping him steady as he smirked at Tokoyami.
The kid looked petrified, plumage ruffled in the strong breeze. Hawks let his grin grow wide and amused.
“Well, little bird? We don’t have all day.”
“Hawks-san, I—” He paused, taking a low gulp of air before bowing his head in defeat. “I do not know the embrace of the void of the sky.”
Hawks translated that roughly to I can’t fly. He felt a laugh bubble up, let it boil out and be swept away in the wind. He’d have to teach the kid eventually, but for now—
“We’ll fix that later.” A flight of feathers rushed from his wings, catching on the edge of Tokoyami’s clothes and lifting him up in the air. The boy let out a squeak— echoed from the shadows inking dark stains across his back.
“Don’t worry kid, I won’t drop you.”
That didn’t look to comfort Tokoyami much— but damn, it should have. Hawks was a hero par excellence, and under the span of his wings, the kid would be as safe as anyone could be.
With a beat of his wings, Hawks had them soaring up, up— high into the heat of the sun and the expanse of sky. They moved across the city, the rush of wind hitting Hawks’ face and low shrieks of terror echoing at his side.
It was a good day.
Their flight wasn’t long— Tokyo was a large city, to be sure, but as the crow flies everything was close. And Hawks— Hawks was fast.
With a slow descent, they landed on a small side street, Hawks touching down with a graceful slouch and Tokoyami collapsing across the pavement.
Had that been too much?
“You okay kid?” There was true concern in his words.
A groan was his answer, muffled across the surface of the street. “I was not ready for the force of the abyssal sky.”
A light chuckle left Hawks, amused and already so fond. This intern pick had been a good decision, he could tell. “That’s okay kid, you had me. Me and abyssal sky? We go way back.”
With a delicate press of feather, he pulled the boy up, propping him gently on his feet. Tokoyami swayed slightly before drawing himself up, spine going straight and plumage fighting the good fight against gravity.
Hawks eyed him through the cover of his shades, assessing. In the bright light of mid-afternoon, the kid looked washed out and drained. “You good to walk?”
A nod was his answer, as Tokoyami tucked his beak down, breath calming into something closer to normal. “Yes, Hawks-san.”
“Good, because here we are.” Hawks waved at the street, a grand gesture of a lazy hand and a satisfied smirk.
The kid just looked more confused. “If I may ask, Hawks-san. Why are we here?”
It was a good question, Hawks supposed. At first glance, this side street of Tokyo held little to captivate the attention. At the second glance, one might notice the newly laid concrete, the fresh brick standing fire-red on the walls.
No one took a third glance.
But they all should have. This street— the café, shadowed in the height of buildings and the breadth of Tokyo— deserved a third glance.
Today, Hawks was drawn by two purposes. Today, Hawks was not here for the delightful coffee. Today, he was here to pull the blindfold off Tokoyami’s gaze, to teach him to take that third glance.
This internship was a funny thing, really. Hawks’ speed could not be taught, his skill could not be borrowed— not many students could learn from him because none could keep up with him. Tokoyami was no different, but—
The kid had potential, and it would be tragic to waste that.
Hawks couldn’t train the kid much in a week, but he could introduce him to the most important place in the underworld. Under the span of his crimson wings, Tokoyami’s debut to the Black Cat Café would be all the more effective.
And Hawks had a question to ask.
“For the coffee.” He deadpanned, a grin creeping across his face. “Why else little blackbird?”
Tokoyami just shot him a perplexed look, half disbelieving and half frustrated. Hawks almost laughed, choking down the amusement with a smile.
Oh, to only be so innocent.
His grin spread, a fearsome thing of teeth and cheer. With lazy feet he began meandering forward, throwing words back over his shoulder. “Come on, kid, don’t get lost.”
His wings furled behind him as he walked, drawn up and into something unobtrusive and large, something threatening.
Their walk into the café was laced with an awkward silence and the gentle swish of the door. The dim and noir atmosphere greeted Hawks like an old friend, wrapping across his feathers and making his shoulders relax.
This place was really one of a kind.
Behind the bar stood Shigaraki, perpetually wrapped in a black hoodie and slouched forward like he’d gone eight days with no espresso. Hawks’ eyes caught on Redeye’s table, noting the man sitting there, pen in hand and loose shirt hanging off his wiry frame.
Good— this would have been pointless without Redeye.
Hawks swanned up to the lacquered counter, avoiding tables with the ease of hard-earned skill. Tokoyami followed behind him, steps sounding across the wood floor with an echo of hesitation. Hawks ignored it— the kid would learn better then to hesitate, soon enough.
He leaned across the wood, propping his weight up with strong forearms. “Hey, Shigaraki, how’s it going?”
The sullen man turned at Hawks’ words, facing easing from his perpetual irritation to something on the knife-edge of annoyance. His hair hung across the edge of his face, the pale blue a sharp contrast to red eyes. He was striking, but this was nothing new to Hawks— he had noticed on the first day he had sauntered into the café, wings blazing behind him.
“The usual?” The words were sighed out with something close to exasperation. Red eyes flicked next to Hawks, going dark and heavy with judgement.
Kids weren’t really allowed here, Hawks knew. But Tokoyami was no child— he was a hero-in training. There were things the little bird needed to learn. It wasn’t time to play in a gentle breeze, anymore— the kid needed to soar in the jet-stream, face the buffeting winds that wanted to rip him to shreds and survive.
This was the first step, in that path. Hawks would keep him company for a while— he’d keep a feather holding him up, shelter him from the worst updrafts. It wasn’t yet time for the training wings to come off.
“Yeah.” He tilted his head toward Tokoyami, feathery hair swishing at the movement. “And whatever the kid’s having is on me.”
There was a moment of silence, as Tokoyami glanced around the café. His red gaze was mistrustful, and his shoulders hunched forward like he was preparing for a blow.
Hawks would have felt bad, if this wasn’t so important.
As the silence stretched on, Shigaraki narrowed tired eyes. “You ever gonna talk, brat?” The tone grew more annoyed by the syllable, and Hawks hid something close to a wince.
Tokoyami shifted closer to Hawks in the face of that tone, creeping ever-so-slightly behind a crimson wing. Hawks shifted in front of him, shooting Shigaraki an exasperated look.
“I will have an espresso. The darkest roast you have, please.” Tokoyami spoke quietly, with an implacable weight, muffled into the back of Hawks’ wings.
“You think we use anything but dark roast, here, brat?” Tomura clicked his tongue, nose scrunching up in disgust. “Why the hell did you bring this kid here, Hawks?”
Tokoyami puffed up beside him, going serious and offended. Hawks resisted the urge to sooth down his plumage. He didn’t resist the urge to shift his wings further before the kid.
“Cut the kid some slack, Shigaraki— this is his first time here.” He sent a soothing smile at Tokoyami, rustling his wings comfortingly. The kid’s shoulders relaxed slightly in response.
“And it should be the fucking last.” Shigaraki’s eyes stared at Hawks, baleful and red-hot.
Hawks smiled through a narrowed gaze, a surge of something protective racing through him. No one could hurt Tokoyami on his watch— not even his favorite barista. His feathers swished across his wings in an imposing wave.
“I’d say you are wrong, but really, that’s up to Redeye.” He grinned, a hint of teeth flashing at the slouched man. “Give the kid a chance, Shigaraki— you won’t regret it.”
There was a moment of tension, floating over the counter between them. Shigaraki eyed Hawks with annoyance painting the crease of his brow and something complicated and sharp twisting his lips from their normal scowl. Hawks— Hawks just smiled back. It was a threatening expression.
A defeated sigh gusted out of Shigaraki. He turned away from them, long fingers working across the sleek metal of the coffee machine. “Fine.”
Hawks couldn’t resist the urge to shoot the man a true grin, bright and happy. Within minutes, he had settled into a table near Redeye’s, pulling Tokoyami along with him like a shadowy chick.
Their cups clinked onto the wood surface as one, a sharp note across the lulling sound of jazz. Tokoyami settled down, nesting into the smooth leather of the chair.
Hawks held up a hand, waving the kid at his espresso. “Stay here for a sec, little bird.”
With shifting crimson wings sweeping behind him, Hawks meandered over to Redeye. There was not a specific step when he knew he’d caught the attention of the owner, but as he came to stand beside the disheveled man, Hawks could feel it burning into him.
The man’s expression did not change, but his head tilted up, just a fraction. There was no tension over his face, and the cup next to him was blessedly full of steaming espresso, dark and luxurious.
This would be a good day for the introduction, then.
“Hawks.” The word was quiet, flat but not unfriendly. It was a tone Hawks had worked hard to earn, at this café.
He lifted his chin into a nod, the swish of his hair tracing the movement. “Hey, Redeye. Mind if I sit?”
An incline of the head was his only answer, but that was enough, with Redeye— in the space of this café, this man’s slightest motion was all that mattered.
Hawks used quick feathers to lift a low-backed chair from another table, flipping it around until he could straddle it. The weight of his wings and his questions came to rest across his forearms, pressed into the top of the chair.
Still, Redeye just waited, inscrutable behind dark glasses.
Hawks jabbed a casual finger over his shoulder at Tokoyami, the gesture slick and smooth. “Was hoping to introduce the kid to you, and this café. He’s a soon-to-be hero.”
Redeye’s head turned, focusing in on the kid for a single heartbeat, two. Whatever he saw in Tokoyami, he clearly approved.
“Send him over after this. What else?” The words held no emotion, but Hawks knew what they asked. That is not all you came for, they said.
“I wanted to give you a heads up, and ask for a tip— cool to talk shop for a sec?" It was a dangerous thing to say, on the knife-edge of acceptable. But Redeye was a practical man, and Hawks knew what he’d say.
Hawks was a master of prediction, of the long game— twenty-two years in a cage had taught him well. With enough temptation, anyone could break the rules. Hawks came bearing information, and as Number Three Hero, his words had weight.
He knew what Redeye would say, and he was not wrong—
“Make it quick.” The words were still low and gruff but spoken with something barely above a whisper. No one was close enough to register them, and Hawks knew that was far from an accident.
He grinned and shuffled his wings behind him with a sleek roll of his shoulders. Hook, line, and sinker. “There was a battle at Kamino Ward yesterday. They attacked based on information gotten from an anonymous tip, and more of those creatures were found— the ones from the recent attack. You remember?”
There was a pause, weighty with Redeye’s frown. “I remember. The outcome?”
“The enemy escaped.”
There was a hissing inhale across the table, the sound of frustration being drawn through teeth. Well, that was interesting.
Hawks’ smile grew into something sharp and knowing, his wings flexing restlessly behind him. “I was hoping you might know who gave the tip.”
Redeye paused, an incremental thing caught in his shifting hair, in the length of fingers toying with the edge of a cup.
“I know who it was.”
A quiver ran up Hawks’ wings, and he shifted forward, relaxed with the rush of tension. “Man, don’t keep me waiting.”
“Do you know the man called Destro?”
Crimson wings shook against the wind as Hawks’ landed fleet-footed before the police station. The night sky released him with a gentle kiss, a breeze ruffling his hair in a mother’s caress. It was the end of a day, but Hawks wouldn’t be sleeping for hours more.
The kid had long since been dropped off, the hero work done for the day, the world ready to close its eyes.
A scared protectiveness kept Hawks’ eyes alert, kept him moving. He had lived in a cage his whole life, felt it press against the span of his wings.
Now he worried for his prison, for the people he wanted to protect. Now, he felt a grim anticipation crawling up him, soaking deep into the fluff of his feathers.
Redeye’s words haunted him.
Tsukauchi had to be told about this. All Might had to be told about this. The two greatest villains in modern memory, striking at each other from the shadows—
This was the precipice the world could teeter off, and Hawks’ wasn’t sure he’d have enough feathers to catch everyone.
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Also, EloFromMars and I have started a Write More Hawks campaign, and also made a collection for Hawks Fics. Please submit a work to the collection if you know any good Hawks fics, because we can't read them all but we want to give as much love as we can. Collection here.
Chapter 16: A Strange Quiet
Also, I have like five Vignettes prompts and I see and love all of them, and will write them when life isn't kicking my ass quite so hard.
A last note: there have been two fan-fanfics of BCC since the last chapter, and they are both fabulous, go read them.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The café was full to bursting with people, but it felt empty. The café was loud with a midmorning rush of heroes and villains alike, but it felt quiet as the moment after a cat’s step.
The café was normal, but it felt strange.
It was a strangeness that echoed through the strands of Shota’s hair, through the length of his fingers, through the dark shine of his glasses. His skin felt too-tight, his eyes ached with a familiar weariness. He was exhausted, tired past the stretch of his muscles and the headache beating out a beat across his temple.
But he couldn’t sleep.
A silence swept in with the morning air. Like a slow drop off into sleep— like a gradual lullaby of quiet— it slipped across the smooth wood of tables, over the brown leather of chairs, and into the space of Shota’s table. There was noise held in the bubbles of conversation across the café, but it stayed away from this corner, away from Shota. It stayed away from the bar too, away from the prickly slouch of Tomura’s shoulders.
It was too quiet. It was just quiet enough. It was and was not.
It was strange.
Shota wrapped the quiet around him like armor, wearing it as blanket of silence too thick to penetrate. People were tiring on a good day— illogical and emotional and frustrating— but today.
Today anyone would be too much.
Today Hitoshi was gone. Today Tomura was brooding. Today Shota was tired.
He had not felt like this, before. This feeling of abandonment, of restlessness— this worry, strong and irrational and parental— was a new feeling.
Hitoshi’s absence had Shota more anxiouos than he had ever felt, restless and frustrated and on edge. It had only been a day since Hitoshi stepped out of the door, only a day since the boy had waved goodbye. It was only temporary.
Already, Shota was sure he wouldn’t be able to bear the day Hitoshi left for good. He had known the boy had become part of the family, had earned his way into Shota’s heart with an unbreakable spirit and a bitter dream of true heroism.
But he hadn’t realized how much he’d miss him. He had turned to speak to him twice today, caught himself casting a searching gaze around the café only to find nothing.
Shota know this feeling all too well— it was a temporary echo of the pain he felt every day, weaker and more irrational but still there.
He shifted into something more settled in his chair, feeling a realization break over him like a rush of rain. Perhaps that was it— perhaps it was that old wound, the ache of a missing friend, making this worse. What had scabbed over across his heart was freshly split open because Hizashi was so close.
Hitoshi had spoken to him. Hitoshi was learning from him. All Shota had to do was walk into UA, cast a shadow on familiar walls and say—
His breath caught in his throat, caught in the iron vice of his control. He would not cry. He had not shed a tear from strained eyes in six years, and he would damn well not start now.
He would not. He could not, not with two young lives depending on his. Shota was the smoke shield that kept Tomura safe from the world, the shelter that gave Hitoshi a home.
He could not let Hizashi find him.
But that decision might not be Shota’s to make, anymore. He swallowed, tasted something bitter and hopeful across the roof of his mouth.
He wasn’t naïve enough to believe Hizashi had fallen for Hitoshi’s lies. The boy was brilliant and kind but far from a proficient liar.
Hizashi— Hizashi had to suspect something.
Shota didn’t know what he should do about this. He shifted behind the shelter of his table, running long fingers across the lacquered wood. With hands that did not shake but wanted to, with a heavy heart that fluttered up in his chest with hope, Shota stared down at the table.
That was a lie.
He knew what he needed to do. He knew the best path forward, for Tomura’s sake, for Hitoshi’s sake.
Behind the dark panes of his glasses, red eyes flicked to the door of the café. It was a hefty thing, wood weighty with age and memories. It stood tall and dreary, scratched from within by the kneading of a cat’s paw, and from without by the weathering of wind and rain.
It was a door Shota had spent five long years hiding behind, and now— now it didn’t feel protective, it felt restrictive.
To disappear like so much smoke, vanishing into the night with Hitoshi and Hizashi as his shadows. To leave behind all of this and start life anew for the second time, never to be found again.
Or to remain and wait for the inevitable day Hizashi sauntered through that door, voice quirk-loud and face filled with an emotion Shota didn’t care to think about, didn’t care to label as betrayal. Against the painful clench of his heart, Shota settled a palm across the table, drew stability from the wood, planting himself like a tree.
Hitoshi’s fate demanded he stay. Tomura’s demanded he leave. It was a choice he didn’t want to make.
But Shota was rational, practical. He would do what it took— whatever it took— to protect his family.
Shota would make a choice.
With a sigh pulled from the depths of his lungs, Shota braved his way from behind the table. Quick and efficient steps took him behind the bar, took him to the coffee maker standing stalwart on the counter. The cool metal of the machine greeted his hands like an old friend.
Tomura said nothing as he approached, shifting just enough to brush against Shota’s side in a familiar gesture. He didn’t leave, didn’t turn away, barely leveled him a glare— Shota took that as a good sign.
He turned his attention to the machine, silver surface soothing under his fingers. With a flick of a switch, it rumbled to life. As it did, as the slow drip of espresso trickled into a clear shot glass, Shota slowly and methodically packed away his emotions.
They were important yes, but right now— now he needed to be rational.
He drank the espresso faster than normal, swallowing it down with barely a breath to pause. Flavor was secondary to expedience, right now. He had something he needed to do.
And for this, he needed privacy. Long legs took him up the narrow stairs, into the sunny corner of the upstairs kitchen. With the spinelessness of a cat, he draped himself across a chair, let the light soak into his skin.
Then he pulled out his phone and dialed a newly familiar number. The phone picked up on the first ring, a craggy voice echoing down the line into Shota’s ear.
“Redeye. Am I to assume this call means you used me?”
“Yes.” There was nothing more that needed to be said, but still Shota’s mouth moved. “Thank you.” He said, voice low and gruff but so goddamn grateful.
For being willing to let me use this, for letting me you, for the knowledge that All for One was involved.
Shota shifted in the light of the sun, shifted in the kitchen he had built for himself, shifted in his home. In this space, his shoulders lost some of their tension, the strain easing into something manageable.
A laugh sounded from the phone, tinny and rough with age. That voice had lost none of its power with age— Destro could still marshal armies, though he chose not to, now. “You of all people should understand, Redeye. I could never abandon him.”
Shota did understand, knew the horror of that thought like a dagger to the chest. Like the wound he still bore, open and unhealed over his heart.
He had made the decision to never abandon Tomura once and not once regretted it, despite that wound. “Yes. I understand.”
There was a moment of silence from the other end of the call, a moment of mourning, of understanding. And then—
“I should really be thanking you, for being there. When I—” A pause, caught on the edge of a sob. “I could not be there.”
There was a particular tone of voice spoke of loss. It held silence a breath too long, it pressed against the ear with the clammy feel of suppressed tears. It whispered heartbreak. Shota knew that tone, knew it well.
He heard it now in the crackle of Destro’s voice.
“Don’t be irrational. You were in prison.” He could not stop the words from rolling off his lips, though offering comfort to a villain was not a thing he’d ever imagined himself doing.
But a lot could change, in six years. Destro was not a part of Shota’s family, didn’t enter into his circle of loyalty. But he was part of Tomura’s, and that meant something.
Shota spoke lowly. “If I had been there five minutes earlier—" He exhaled lowly into the sunlit air. The press of light across his skin no longer felt so warm.
Shota had never been one to stray from the truth. If he had been five minutes earlier, that day—
If he had moved a little faster, if he had left for patrol a little earlier—
He could have spared Tomura a world of heartbreak. If he had been there, Tomura would still have a father, and Destro a son.
Tomura would still be Tenko. Shota would never have grown to love him.
But the man might have been happier, might have been whole.
A creak drew him back into himself, a quiet groan of metal. The phone in his hand hadn’t bent under his fingers— but it had drawn close to that edge. In the silence, the sound rang out loud as a bell.
Shota inhaled through his nose, wind scaping into his lungs. Gradually, slowly, he relaxed the grip of his hand.
Tenko was Tomura.
A cough, low and gravely and filled with loss, sounded in his ear. “You did not call to hear an old man rambling, Redeye. Go back to your café, go back to your kids. I will contact you later.”
With that, the line went dead.
The kitchen felt cold despite the warming light of the sun, felt frustratingly empty. But it was a bastion from the café downstairs.
Despite the temptation to stay— the temptation to soak in the cold sun that should not be cold— Shota did not tarry there, instead moving back down the stairs.
The café was waiting, after all. Tomura was waiting. As he opened the door to the shop, hinges moving oil smooth and silent, a voice called out.
“Sensei.” Tomura’s tone was sullen, low, and respectful. The man slouched up to Shota with low riding shoulders and fingers twitching across the edge of his hoodie.
He looked ill at ease. He looked tired. He looked strung out.
Shota hated seeing that look on him, but damn if it wasn’t familiar. In the first few years, the man— boy, he’d been a boy back then, with shaking hands and a raw and bloody neck— had always looked like that. It had been a lack of trust, Shota knew.
But trust had grown, for both of them.
Tomura— Tomura had grown to trust that Shota would never leave him. It had taken many long nights— many sleepless ones, for Shota— before Tomura had learned that. Tomura had grown so much, in the dusky light of the café and between these espresso-infused walls. Here, Tomura had learned that he could not kill Shota.
Not like the father Shota remembered walking through, dust in the wind.
In the last week that trust had been twisted. It hadn’t broken, no— it would take so much more to break it— but it had been damaged.
Beneath the weight of Hitoshi’s quirk, it had been bent. Beneath the knowledge Shota would sacrifice himself for Tomura, it had been pressed down. Beneath the lengths they would go to keep Tomura safe, it had folded into something small and frail.
Shota knew this. He could see it in the twitch of pale fingers, in the nails running over lacquered wood. Tomura had not worn his favorite sweater once, since that night.
That trust was bent.
“What is it?” Shota spoke lowly, tone level and face stoic.
It would do no good to let his frustration show, no matter how it ate at Shota’s rationality. The hunch of lean shoulders spoke volumes about Tomura’s mood, and he would do nothing to make that worse.
Tomura clicked his tongue, dug pale hands deep in pockets of his sweater, hiding the shaking of his fingers. Shota noticed.
“I got a call from the asshole.”
Ah. There was no question of who he was talking about— only one person drove Tomura to distraction and relaxed his shoulders in equal measure. “He found her, then.”
Tomura nodded, the gesture barely there. “Yeah. Says he set up a meeting at the market in 5th.”
A shiver of foreboding clawed up Shota’s spine.
That was— an interesting choice. An open-air market? What advantage did Sato have, there? Shota narrowed strained eyes, thoughtful and wary and prepared for the worst. He had not survived six years in this world without takin reasonable precautions. He would be ready.
It was a safe distance from the café at least— perhaps a thirty-minute walk into the heart of Tokyo.
“When?” The word sounded out, low and gruff.
“A few hours.” Tomura shifted, shoulders rolling inside his black hoodie— inside his fifth favorite sweater, new and unstained, with no marks and no hints of wear. Shota hated that sweater.
Tomura looked up, red-eyes catching on the shine of Shota’s glasses. There was determination in the set of his face, in the edge of cracked lips.
“I am coming with you.”
The tone was hard. It was resolved. It rang with that bent trust. It drove a dagger into Shota’s heart, made him bleed with a parent’s protectiveness.
But Tomura wasn’t done. “You trained me to fight, Sensei, and you know I can be useful. For Hitoshi’s sake, for yours— I will be a tool for violence. I will protect this place. Do not dare try and take that from me.”
Between them, the words fell to the floor, downed by the pull of gravity and their own gravitas.
There was a moment of stillness, between them. The café was buzzing with activity, people shifting around tables and sound moving all the more frenetically. But in the space before them, in the bubble around them— time seemed frozen.
Shota— Shota couldn’t fight that. Tomura’s words were logical— an extra fighter of Tomura’s skill would be invaluable in any situation. Together— with four years of combat training and trust to move them as one battle-machine— they would be a force to be reckoned with.
But fear, insidious and all too real, was making Shota hesitate.
What if he was there?
His heart didn’t want to say yes, but Shota had long since overcome what his heart wanted. He would make the rational decision, though it pained him.
He would do what it took to protect their family.
“You can come with me.” Tomura seemed to deflate with the words, iron-strong posture melting into something closer to his normal slouch. He looked relieved— the twitch of his fingers had calmed into small circles across his sweater.
He looked calmer. Shota had propped up the bent bridge of trust between them, pulled Tomura’s side up with this agreement.
He paused, let the echo ring through the space between them. “But you are not a tool for violence, Tomura. What future do you see for yourself? The words you say, they cement who you are.” He held the next thought across his tongue for a breath, felt its weight.
“A tool— that is not who you are.”
A baleful— caring, worried, god Shota was sorry to have put that expression across Tomura’s face— gaze met his. It stared through his glasses with the power of a searchlight. Still, Tomura did not speak, just bared his teeth into something frustrated.
Shota narrowed ever-red eyes in return. “And?”
In a shuffling move, Tomura clicked his tongue, twisting his face up and away, hiding in the dark fabric of his hoodie. There was a silence between them, ballooning out into the still air. It was sullen and frightened and tense, it was dark and brooding and worried.
It was like nothing Shota had felt in years. This change— the shifting in the world, the shifting in Tomura— it was beyond terrifying. But Shota stayed firm— this was important. “Tomura.”
“I’ll think about it, Sensei.” The words were tense, bitten out through chapped lips and the frustrated edge of teeth.
That would do. It was not the assent Shota wanted, but it would have been illogical to expect that— Tomura would need time to cool off, to reach the conclusion on his own. He kept his face level and voice calm.
“We’ll head out at 11:00 then.”
And that settled it.
An hour later saw Shota stepping out of the café, coat drawn around him like a blanket and steel-soft cord wrapped around his neck in a comforting weight. He felt an edge of readiness threading through his bones, ending in the long stretch of his palm. Shota had always been an efficient fighter, trained to erase.
Today— with the threat to Tomura under his skin, red-hot— he felt deadly.
Tomura followed close on his heels, hood drawn over his head and sweater clasped around him like a monk’s robe. In the light of mid-day, he looked washed out, weak and frail to the burning sun. But that— like so much else, like the exterior of their café, like the disheveled nest of Shota’s own hair— was deceiving.
Shota looked to Tomura’s fingers and found them still. He had made the right decision.
They fell into step with the ease of long practice, with the ease of many years and constant companionship. Tomura kept neatly to Shota’s side, a half-pace behind him, tucked into the space behind his shoulder. It was the way they had walked together since Tomura was newly found, with hands that twitched to his neck, with fingers that shook when he looked at them.
It was a gait that flooded Shota with a wave of powerful nostalgia. He pushed it aside, boxed it away with the rest of the counterproductive emotions. Now was not the time.
When had he grown so soft?
He glanced to his side, to the man curling into his hoodie like it was a lifeline. That— that was when.
Their path to the meeting was marked by a comfortable silence, broken only once—
Beside him, Tomura spoke up, low and quiet. “You know who is searching.” For me, he did not say. He hadn’t asked since that night, and Shota hadn’t offered it up.
It would just worry Tomura, just make him act irrationally.
Shota couldn’t bear that. He opened his mouth to speak, though to say what— he wasn’t sure.
But a prickle of warning across his skin stopped him, a small gasp stopped him, the beat of tiny feet stopped him. His battle sense sent the hairs across his neck tingling, pulled his spine straight and eyes alert.
Then a small hand reached out, desperate and frantic as the beat of a hummingbird’s heart. Shota let it catch across the fabric of his pants, crouched down to grip fragile fingers tight. A girl trembled there, with hair like the first snowfall and arms covered in swaths of bandages, new and fresh and horrifying.
Something angry and ferocious rose its head inside Shota, something ready to tear into whoever had done this.
Then the girl looked up and Shota met red eyes— terrified, wide, and stricken with horror— and thought—
Chapter 17: Blood and Dust
Hello Darkness my old friend, it's been three months and I have so many excuses but basically-- work and writer's block be bitches. Anyhow! Chapter! Enjoy the drama!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It took Shota a precious few seconds, a breath, a blink.
It took him a precious few seconds to pull his attention off the terror floating in small red eyes, away from the shaking frame clinging to his legs. His heart was racing, a familiar protectiveness rising in him like a tide, fed by the bandages across small arms, fed by old memories and older anger. The anger didn’t blind him, didn’t leave him helpless, but it did distract him—
It took Shota a precious few seconds to draw his gaze up, up, to look into the shadows moving in the entrance of the nearby alley. It took him a precious few seconds to scan the darkness lining dull-red bricks like a cloak, a few metronome-steady heartbeats to see the man standing there, silent as a specter.
He looked into the dark of the alley and the shadows lurking there looked back. He looked into a haunting man’s eyes— framed by a plague mask and cropped black hair, a feathered coat giving him imitation wings— and saw the conviction lurking there. He wished he hadn’t looked.
At his gaze the man shuffled free from the alley, came alive against the dull bricks. His eyes flicked to Shota— cool, assessing, dismissive— before focusing in on the girl at his feet. There was something clinical in that look, something possessive. It sent chills creeping up Shota’s spine, fast as the crackling of ice.
It was a look he had never seen directed at a child before. But Shota had seen it before, as a hero. He knew what it meant.
With a pounding building along his eyes, Shota inhaled, deep and calming. Long training forced his shoulders down, forced awareness back into his body. They were still standing in the street, Tomura beside him and the noon sun shining mirror-bright overhead. People moved behind him, oblivious and carefree, shifting the air behind his back in a steady stream. It sent a chill under his loose shirt, crept along his spine with a playful breeze.
Between him and the mouth of the alley— between him and the man— the air was still as the grave.
His instincts were pounding through his veins, loud and insistent. Be ready, they said, focused razor sharp on the man before him. Beside Shota— in response, the kid had always been able to read his moods— Tomura shifted his weight, pulled twitching fingers out of his black hoodie.
Shota took another breath— soothing and controlled, he would not lose to his emotions, not now— and looked down at bandage-white shoulders. The girl couldn’t have been more than six— young and shaking like a leaf.
Inhale, think. The man hadn’t acted, hadn’t shown aggression but—
But she had terrified red eyes and bandaged arms. But she looked like Tomura.
Inhale. Eyes fixed on the man, Shota shifted his weight across the smooth concrete, dropped lower into a crouch.
Level with the girl— level with pale white hair and shaking shoulders— Shota paused. She was clinging to his leg, crimson eyes fixed on the ground and small hands clenched across the stiff fabric of his jeans. Up close, her trembling was more pronounced, the hunch of her shoulders heart-breakingly obvious. With his movement, she twitched, small fingers going white-knuckled.
She looked terrified.
Slowly, slowly— he couldn’t frighten her, not now not when she was shaking with such learned fear— he reached careful hands for the her. Calloused fingers curled over her arm, gently loosening her grip. Like the spill of espresso, the pale shade drained from her knuckles.
The bandages felt rough under his fingers, cottony and dry. But he couldn’t feel them, didn’t register the sensation— all he could feel was the rising anger, washing up his throat.
“What is your name?” Shota spoke the words flat— emotionless but not unkind. She took a heartbeat to look up, a second to move. Then red eyes stared at him from behind his leg. The clench of his heart was clamp-tight and painful.
The girl opened her mouth, face glass-fragile and something tremulous in her eyes. But she never had a chance to speak— a slick voice interrupted her, snapped her tiny jaw shut, sent fear flashing across red eyes. Shota watched as her expression closed off, forcing his fingers to remain still.
He’d be protecting her before the day was over.
“Sorry about my daughter.” The man before him— he’d gotten close now, only a few feet away— had a voice altogether too smooth, honey sweet and just as sickly. Nothing was visible below his eyes, mouth covered with that long plague mask.
But his expression— it was bleached out and slack, ambivalent in a way that had Shota’s instincts screaming.
He stepped forward, out of the shadows and into the light. In Shota’s grip the girl trembled, pressed in close, pressed into the creases of his shirt, buried a strained face in his chest.
Inhale. Think. With a deliberate slowness, Shota reached a hand up, pulled the edge of his capture weapon loose.
“Where did she get these injuries?” Shota’s voice was reasoned, calm. The anger coiling in his belly didn’t show across his face, didn’t force his voice into a roar— he had far too much experience in the underworld to show that weakness.
The man shrugged, the motion shallow. “She’s been horsing around a little too much, so she’s a bit scraped up. Worries me sick!” The man’s eyes crinkled as he spoke, folding into something like cheer. It was a lie.
Shota knew the sound of lies. They cast vibrations across the air, flashing like shadows, like dark and poisonous things. He knew the sound they made, the icy anger they sent creeping along his jaw.
“You should keep going— wouldn’t want to take up your time with family matters.” The voice dripped with veiled threats, grating across Shota’s hearing like rough sand. He kept still, kept ready— Tomura wasn’t nearly so controlled, coiling tighter, tighter, letting out a hiss of anger.
He sounded as enraged as Shota felt.
The words were small, spoken into the space around Shota’s leg, inside the space of his arms. They only echoed a few feet, dying a quick death the closer they edged to the man. Shota doubted the man had heard them.
But Shota had.
A child’s fear was a sound familiar as the taste of espresso, familiar as the weapon around his neck, familiar as the ache rooted deep in his eyes.
She looked like Tomura.
“I won’t.” He said, making the decision final as he spoke. The girl looked up at him, surprise heavy across a teary face. She was so frail.
Inhale, think. Laser sharp— his decision was made now, for better or worse— Shota focused his attention on the man before him. His eyes burned red, the pounding at his temples growing worse.
“You are abusing her.” It was a statement of fact— a rational deduction, the only possible explanation. Shota’s instincts didn’t lie, not in the face of a child’s fear.
The man hardly seemed to mind the accusation— he shrugged, callous and casual. “Not abuse— discipline. No matter what I say, she does nothing but rebel. It is quite a struggle.” He paused, raised an eyebrow in something inviting pity. “Kids are hard to understand, let me tell you.”
And Shota did understand, more than the man could ever know. He understood— he looked down at bandaged arms and scared red eyes and began planning avenues of attack.
“You fucker.” Tomura’s voice was quivering with rage, his fingers twitching a staccato rhythm next to Shota’s ear. In the shroud of his hoodie, he looked pale and wrathful. Hand whip-quick, Shota reached out and tapped his leg, once, twice, three times.
Enemy ahead. Be ready.
There was no sign Tomura had registered the movement, but there didn’t need to be. He was well trained, a fighter in his own right— he would be ready.
Irritation peaked over the man’s mask, climbed into his eyes. He tsked at Tomura, fixing a hawkish gaze on him, dismissive and annoyed. “I wasn’t talking to you.” His eyes dropped down to the girl, burning a hole into deathly-pale hair.
“You done with your little tantrum?” There was a threat in his words, edged into the smooth lilt of his voice. As he spoke, the man tugged his fingers up across the edge of his glove, snapping the plastic against his skin. In the quiet space between them, the sound echoed hollowly.
In Shota’s arms, the girl twitched, pulling against his grip. Experience and bone-deep suspicion kept his grip firm, gentle fingers keeping her at his side.
That had been a threat but Shota— Shota had felt enough of a child’s terror to last a life time. With that response— she thought the man would hurt her, hurt them.
A touch-based quirk. He glanced down at bandaged arms, swathed in cloth and so very pale. A dangerous quirk, then.
Nothing Shota hadn’t dealt with before, a hundred, thousand, times. Nothing he couldn’t handle now.
Shota spoke again, this time to the man. His words were set as the concrete beneath his feet, set as his decision. Beside him, Tomura tensed.
“No, I don’t think she is.”
Movement seemed to stop, time caught on the edge in his voice and the meaning of his words. The trembling in his arms had stopped, the girl going rabbit-still with shock. The space between them— it was caught in a freeze frame, trapped by the man’s surprise.
It did not stay that way.
With a sigh, the man cracked his neck, the sound harsh in the echoing silence. Something in his expression fell away, a layer peeled off and discarded. He seemed to stand straighter against the red-brick background. “Fine.” He pulled back into the shadows, gestured lazily with one gloved hand. “Do you mind if we take this into the alley?”
Gathering the child up in one arm, feeling the shaking of her bandaged frame against his chest, Shota stood. His muscles creaked on the way up, wound tight and tense.
If that was how it had to be, this was the best way.
With careful hands, he pulled the girl’s fingers free from his clothes, butterfly-wing fragile hands shaking in his grip. He shifted her weight— light, it was too damn light, the girl was chronically underfed— onto one arm. She was still trembling.
It was unacceptable.
He took quick steps into the alley, following the man’s cast-off shadows. His feet were soundless across the concrete, kept quiet with the ease of long experience and the steady beat of his heart. Tomura walked beside him, coiled tight as a spring.
“Be ready.” Shota said, voice low and pitched for Tomura’s ears alone.
“I am, Sensei.” Pale fingers twitched, catching across the corner of Shota’s gaze. “I am more than ready.”
“Good.” Shota stopped a few feet into the maw of the alley, watched the midmorning-sun retreat away from the brick walls. A glance back told him they couldn’t be seen from the street at large.
It was time.
“Well?” The man asked, impatience creeping into his voice. “I’m sorry for the trouble, but I’d really like my daughter back.” He reached a hand out gloved fingers stretching towards Shota without hesitation.
Shota stood his ground, pulling the girl away from his chest gently. The girl didn’t look up at him as he lifted her away, but tiny shoulders slumped downwards, a tremor running through her like a leaf shaking in a cruel wind.
She expected him to give her back.
Was that all her life had been? Was that all she had seen? Had every moment of her life been an endless chorus of not now, and bear with it?
Shota’s jaw clenched, the tide of anger swimming behind his eyes. It was unacceptable for any child to look so downcast. In a smooth motion, he placed her on the ground, taking two quick steps before her.
She would be safe, behind him. Tomura knew what to do.
There was a shifting sound from before him, as the man rolled feathered shoulders. The rustle echoed through the alley with a harsh finality and just like that— the man’s expression went dark and stormy. The last layer, shed.
“That’s how it’s going to be, huh?” The man sighed, the sound muffled behind his mask. “You are as filthy as the rest of them. I will purge you.”
And just like that, Shota let himself stop thinking, let the anger boiling in his veins take the reins.
Inhale. Don’t think.
There was a flutter of plastic as the man snapped off a glove, bare fingers pale against the shadows. Shota watched— tense and ready— as the man slapped his palms across the flat edge of the asphalt, something smug creeping behind his mask.
But nothing happened.
As shock set in, Shota struck. Eyes glowing crimson, he snapped his capture weapon forward, the black corded steel striking whip-sharp to wrap around the man’s hands. A quicksilver smooth motion pulled him forward, pressed the man’s surprised expression into the rough surface of the alley floor. Shota used the momentum to leap forward, slamming his body weight across the man’s back.
A sickly crack echoed off the brick walls, bounced between exposed metal pipes and concrete ground alike. Shards of the man’s mask littered the ground like shrapnel.
For a moment, there was a haunting stillness. It caught in the tangles of Shota’s capture weapon, in the strength of his grip. He perched over the man, foot pinning him to the ground like a beetle.
Shota's eyes were glowing red— there would be no escape.
A harsh sound scrapped out of the man, something between a laugh and a gasp. He turned a bloodied face to eye Shota, cheek grinding against the concrete as he moved. A bruise was forming around his mouth— marking where the mask had been.
“Redeye.” He said the name like a revelation, breathy and choked. A laugh bubbled out of him, rough as sandpaper. “I’ve wanted to see this up close.” A shuddery inhale. “I’ve wanted to study you, too. Pick apart your quirk— use it to erase the plague.” A manic gleam shone from the man’s eyes, dead and apathetic and driven.
Shota pressed his foot harder into the man’s back, pressed down the disquiet creeping up his spine. The man recognized his quirk.
This— this was bad. Unacceptably bad, in fact— Shota had gone to great lengths to shroud his quirk in mystery, had made it a thing of back alley rumors and hushed whispers. The café eats quirks, it was said. Redeye can take quirks.
But this man had studied him enough to know.
Inhale, think. The man must have a purpose, must have looked into him for a reason. Shota— Shota needed to know what that was.
“Let’s do this quickly.” Shota tugged his capture weapon, pulling just enough to strain the man’s arms pain-tight. His heart was beating double time, worry pushing the anger away.
How could he protect Tomura— Hitoshi, the damned café— if this was known?
“Tell me what you’ve been doing to the girl, and why my quirk would be useful to you.” He pulled harder, heard a strained exhale. “Now.”
The man hardly seemed to register him, bruised face focusing on Shota for a moment, two, before looking away. Restless fingers twitched at the man’s side, and he called out unnaturally loud.
“Don’t make me do it.”
Shota narrowed coal-red eyes, instincts screaming. Something was wrong. He shifted, muscles tensed to move.
But the man hadn’t been speaking to Shota. The slap of bare feet on concrete caught his attention, made him look—
At the words, as if drawn in by chains— heavy and inescapable, with motions that were too familiar— the girl had squirmed out of Tomura’s four-fingered grasp. She was running down the alley, pale hair streaming out behind her in a bone-white banner.
Shota looked up for a split second, eyes catching across a scared face, pale and bandaged into oblivion, and then—
Then the alley below him came alive. In a rush, the pavement moved like a wave, rippling beneath his feet. Shota struggled to keep his balance, cat-like grace put to the test. In the turmoil, he stepped back, weight settled evenly but—
But the man was free, snaking loose of his capture weapon—
In a blink, the man sent a wave of concrete shrapnel down the alley, rushing towards Tomura like a flood. Shota saw the attack in slow motion, watched the rough pavement mold itself into spikes hungry for blood, rushing forward, no—
Instinct had him moving before he could stop to think, snapping out one end of his capture weapon towards Tomura and the other towards the girl. The steel-soft fabric moved quick as lightning, wrapping around the girl and pulling her to safety, touching her down feather-light beside him.
The other end didn’t make it to Tomura in time.
Shota felt his heart stop, felt everything stop, as Tomura was obscured in the wave of gray pavement. Still moving, it was still moving, tall as a man and it had—
His capture weapon bounced back in a metallic clatter, falling to the ground with the finality of a death knell. Shota couldn’t breathe, took an aborted step forward, rationality overrun by a parent’s panic.
Then— then came a sound like falling sand, a sound like cracking glass and suddenly—
Suddenly the pavement dissolved into dust, fine as the grit carried into the café on a windy day. Behind the mist stood Tomura— unharmed, he is okay Shota’s mind ran on repeat— slouched shoulders tight with a battle-readiness and a single lethal hand outstretched. Five fingers had made contact.
Slow, slow, Shota’s heart began pounding again. It pounded in his ears, a low rhythmic background to the man’s voice, background to the destruction that was spreading to the surrounding buildings, crumbling the street into dust.
“That quirk— someone has been searching for you, you know.” The man spoke the words into the air like daggers, standing tall. He was deeper in the alley now, both hands bare of gloves and tapping out a rhythm across his legs. Even as he spoke, the man’s eyes were fixed on the girl beside Shota.
In the drizzle of dust, Shota’s heart began to beat double time, restarting into something vicious and protective. With ruthless accuracy, he twisted, using one arm to snap the girl safely into the waiting arms of Tomura and the other to flick his capture weapon at the man.
The man— he would not get to either of them. Shota would ensure it.
But the man danced out of the way, dropping back to slam a hand against the brick of the wall behind him. Shota pinned him to the wall with an ever-red gaze, but he’d lost the element of surprise. Viper-quick, the man launched himself at Shota, crossing the distance between them with a flashing double-step. A knee flew towards Shota’s face, fast and vicious and unavoidable.
Shota saw the approach and knew he wouldn’t be fast enough. But the best laid trap was one the enemy wouldn’t expect— he stood still, curling a hand across the smooth steel of his scarf.
With a harsh crunch, Shota felt the bones of his nose fold like dry paper, a low accompaniment to the shattering crackle of his glasses. Glass shards cascaded across his face, slicing a thousand small cuts.
“Sensei!” There was a sound like a slap, loud in the aftermath of the crash. It rang, inflated in importance in the hollow shock of Shota’s mind.
But he had a grip on the man, fingers curled around the outstretched leg. Before the pain set in— before the blood blocked his vision— Shota snapped his wrist, sending his weapon wrapping around the man’s torso and snaking around his hands.
He would not hurt Tomura.
For a heartbeat, he had the man’s lethal hands tied tight to his torso, had him pinned and immobilized. For a heartbeat, Shota had won.
Then the pavement below his feet began to crumble, washed away in the tide of the wind. The motion shook loose his footing and grip alike, sending him toppling backwards. Long years of experience had him snapping out the end of his capture weapon, using the edge of a building to keep steady on uneven footing. His arm creaked with the strain, muscles tensing under his weight. Crumbling brick fazed across his vision like red fog, thick and choking. Blurry eyes didn’t blink, wouldn’t blink, but for a moment— for a moment, he couldn’t see.
There was a frustrated noise, echoing from somewhere before him. In the haze, a metallic creak was all the warning he had— all the warning he needed, reflexes taking him back in a quick leap. A harsh crash sounded amidst the hiss of rushing sand.
“Tomura, stop!” He spoke loudly, but the words barely sounded over the cacophony in the alley.
But they were heard.
The destruction slowed, slowed, stopped. Below his feet, the half-dissolved pavement remained firm, whole. As the dust settled across the alley, as the shards of glass and dust of dissolved pavement rained down in a haze, as pain slowly percolated into his perception, Shota looked around to see—
Nothing. The man was gone. On the cracked ground— damning, this whole alley screamed of Tomura’s quirk— was a fresh trail of blood and a what had once been a telephone poll.
Now? Now it was spread like so much slag, disassembled into something round and harmless.
Now the man was gone.
Inhale. Inhale, Shota. The pounding in his brow was growing worse, beating out a rhythm across his temples. His eyes ached, and the sweet delirium of shock was beginning to wear off— feeling leaking back into his broken nose.
The man was gone. A threat to the family, a threat to Tomura— gone.
Shota— Shota didn’t know how to fix this.
Three heart beats passed like that, panic and fury clawing at his throat like a vice. Then he let his arm fall down, straightened his back in a slow movement. With a flick of his wrist, he coiled his capture weapon on his shoulders.
Inhale. Shota was a rational man, and now was not the time.
Exposed red eyes— the sun hitting him almost made him flinch, it had been so long— sought out Tomura and the girl. They were standing towards the mouth of the alley, Tomura holding the girl with one arm.
The other was still extended towards the ground, still twitching restlessly. Tomura looked raw, expression open with something close to terror. For a moment, Shota couldn’t place what had caused it, wanted to wipe that expression out of existence. But—
Ah. He’d never seen Shota injured before, had he? Shota opened his mouth to speak, but a noise interrupted him. A clamor was rising, from the end of the alley— it was the sound of worry, of people. It was the sound of pounding footsteps and raised voices.
For people in hiding, it was an ominous sound.
There was no time— Shota took quick steps towards Tomura, speaking as he walked. With each step, Shota’s face stung, a sharp pain lancing across the bridge of his nose.
He kept walking.
“We have to leave. Now.”
He scanned them over for injuries, face throbbing in time with his heart— the girl’s face was tear-streaked, and Tomura’s hand was bloody and bruised, he must have hit the wall.
They were fine.
Movements sharp, Shota crouched before the girl— “I am going to take you somewhere safe.” Despite the situation— the urgency, the peril, god that man knew Tomura— Shota waited for a small nod before sweeping the girl up.
He tilted his head at a wall, the gesture clear.
Tomura didn’t need another word, pulling himself up the brick with a climber’s ease, bloody fingers leaving small red marks along the wall.
Shota’s arm tightened around the girl, pulling her in close with a gentleness he hadn’t needed to use in many years.
Under his arm, the girl shook, face buried against his side. Overhead, the clamor of news helicopters reverberated through the buildings.
It was a long journey back.
The café was cool and quiet, when they returned, somber and empty of people. There was no Hitoshi to greet them with a half-smile, no Dabi to snark up the stairs, no customers to create a low buzz of conversation.
It was quiet, and Shota was glad for it.
They dropped in from the rooftop entrance like alley-cats, creeping into the building. They’d lost the chaos blocks back, and Shota was confident no one had followed them. Even with the pain and panic pounding through him, stealth was his forte.
In the well-kept space of the kitchen, Shota set the girl down. She didn’t move— tired, stressed, very likely— but she did look up at him, jewel-red eyes wary and glimmering with a world-weary hope.
She looked like Tomura did, all those years ago.
“What is your name?”
There was a moment of quiet, caught in the frantic heartbeats of a little girl. For a moment, she didn’t speak and Shota thought she might not— too much holding her tongue still, too much horror lived.
“Eri.” She paused, her eyes going narrow and wet with suppressed tears. He saw her hands clench in the fabric of her linen-bare dress, tiny fingers going white knuckled and nervous.
“You have kind hands.” She stopped, silence held in the strands of bleached white hair. “I didn’t know they could be kind.”
Shota had felt his heart break only twice before. The first time was when he had knelt in the ashes of a father to take the hand of Tenko, when he had stared into wide eyes and a shaking face and made the decision to protect.
The second was when he had paid the price for that decision, in friends and family and Hizashi.
He made the same decision now.
Later, with Eri in a restless sleep and the pallor of late afternoon sun streaming into the kitchen, Shota sat at the counter, body weary and mind racing. Fingers steady, he reached a hand up to his face, felt the damage there. A broken nose, too many bruises to count, and a thousand small cuts.
He’d survive. But would the café? Would Tomura?
The thought was too much to bear, at that moment. Inhale, Shota. Think.
He ignored the voice for a moment, bringing both hands up to pop the bone back into place with a harsh craa— ack.
There was a sharp inhale from before him, and as his blurry vision cleared Tomura came flooding into view. Bruised fingers— earned, fought, and paid for, Shota knew, but it didn’t make the injuries easier to see on Tomura— brought a cloth to Shota’s face, brushed away the blood with soft motions. The glass-fine cuts covering his face stung at the contact, tender and barely scabbed. He’d have to bandage them later or they’d likely catch an infection. But not now— now, there was something more important to take care of.
The cloth was shaking, ever so slightly, fluttering against Shota’s face.
This was more important. Tomura was coiled like a spring, bare of sweater and exposed like a raw nerve. He looked wild, eyes fixed on the blood covering Shota’s face and jaw clenched like a vice.
He didn’t ask if Shota was alright, and that was for the best. There was no right answer to that question. Instead—
“What happened to her family?” The question was tight, spoken in a hiss through Tomura’s teeth. Shota paused before responding, took a shallow breath through his lips.
“Probably the same thing that happened to yours.”
Jacket pulled up tight around her collar, Sato let herself fade into the crowd, let the chaos swallow her whole until nothing remained but a chameleon’s camouflage.
Today was a good day.
She moved against the crowd with the skill of a silverfish, quick and innocuous. No one would notice her, no one would see her twist and turn between people. She was a small framed woman, easily overlooked on a good day. Today— today no one would see her.
As it should be.
She was moving away from the meeting, away from the marketplace. But the meeting didn’t matter, not now. She had the information she needed, the information she’d been searching for since she stepped into the café all those months ago. The dissolved building spoke to that.
She had a check to collect.
Chapter 18: Interludes: The Witching Hour
*cue evil laughter* No one expected... AN UPDATE. This chapter is a series of interludes-- we are at a turning point, now. Be prepared.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In a new corner of Tokyo— hidden in the cracks of a warehouse, hidden away from moonlight and prying eyes alike— a man sat. His scarred face was twisted into something like a smile, teeth barred. Had he any eyes left to speak of anymore, they would have been narrowed and glittering.
But he had no eyes. All told, it was a haunting expression— a haunting man, cruelty and malice shining through the slits of his teeth.
He had reason to be happy, today. He was thousands of dollars poorer, but he hardly cared. It was but a drop in the bucket, a tiny price to pay for the information the Broker had brought.
At last, at long last, his plans were coming to fruition. The boy had been found.
Nana’s grandson had been found.
He reached a gargantuan hand forward, lifted a picture up into the blue-white light. The thing was an anachronism, in this day and age— digital images were faster, cheaper, and easier to erase.
But All for One liked the feel of glossy paper under his fingers, liked the way photos lay across his desk, gem-bright and treasured.
He liked the ownership they represented. This? This will be mine.
This particular image depicted a young man— pale hair doing nothing to disguise red eyes and a sullen face— walking beside a disheveled man in dark glasses. They shone across the glossy paper, unsuspecting and unseeing. Shigaraki Tomura, Tenko now went by. A name to match a face, and a price paid for both.
But All for One had found him— and he never lost his quarry. Like a spider, he would wait, set his traps and watch as the young man fell into them. He ran marred fingers over the image, contemplative.
The man though—
The man he knew. Like a metronome, he traced across the picture, again, again. Redeye would be a problem, without a doubt. The smile spread like a plague over his lips, growing dark and broad. The scars across his body itched, phantom pain crawling across his skin like beetles.
It was a reminder of what he had lost, who he had lost to.
It was a reminder of who his enemy was. It didn’t matter what Redeye did, not really— he was no All Might.
He didn’t bear that curse.
It was well past the witching hour, but Shota was far from asleep. He lay on his side, eyes fixed on the window— restless and frustrated and so damn tired. But sleep wouldn’t come.
The moonlight was streaming across his bed in a cascade of silver light, casting strange shadows across everything in sight, landing unobstructed across the swollen shape of his nose. He almost felt its sting in the cuts on his face, the pale light giving no warmth but pressing into him all the same.
He couldn’t sleep. There was so much to do. He had to tell Hitoshi, had to do damage control, had to—
Had to do everything. The fight had grown too massive, the threats too real. If All For One was even half the villain Shota had heard legends of— that Destro had spoken of— he would have seen this. He would know.
Their time in hiding was over, poured out like espresso on the sands of time.
He shifted across the bed, twisting closer to the window. The moonlight shifted with him, twining across wiry limbs and over a myriad of bruises.
There was so much to do.
He took a breath, forcing the restlessness down. Right now, Shota just lay still. His face strung with an army of small cuts, the pounding in his temples loud and furious. His eyes— they were black and strained, drained of color.
It was the first time in a long time they’d lacked color.
Tomorrow, there would be things to handle, but tonight, in this witching hour, Shota allowed himself this one thing. Tonight, his skin itched with pain and his heart throbbed with heartbreak. Tonight, he was filled with something he could not bear to call dread. But he did not move.
Still the moon wound in, silver-bright and uninterrupted, as it always had and always would.
The wind flowed across his skin like water, the press of currents swirling around him in a torrent that demanded he stop, play, dance through the air. Another time, he’d let the breeze ripple across his feathers, delight in the strain of his back muscles and the cloudless sky. Another time, this breeze would make him smile, suave and languid. Another time, he'd delight in it.
But not today, no— today Hawks had a place to be. Today what he’d dreaded, spent sleepless nights planning for, had happened. Today a fight had come.
And now something in his gut— the same instinct that drove him to catch the high airstreams, the same instinct that had him dodging attacks at the speed of sound— was telling him to watch out.
Something was coming.
In a rush of crimson feathers, he touched down, furling massive wings across his back. He’d had no trouble finding the alley— even high in the air, the damage was clear. From above, the alley looked like clay— deep gouges carved into it with the enthusiasm of a zealot. Dust littered the ground, coating the air, covering Hawks’ wings in a drab sheen.
He didn’t take the time to flick them clean.
Shoulders loose, back straight, feathers ready— he would not be taken by surprise, not now, not with so many villains in the shadows— he let golden eyes take in the street, appraising. The damage was intense, spilling out from the alley and into the nearby buildings, a wave of chaos. The very pavement had shaken loose of its foundations, crumbled into ash and dust. Hawks rolled his shoulders, felt the comforting weight of his wings.
Something cataclysmic had happened here.
He scrapped a boot across the dust at his feet, the motion revealing a mark in the pavement. There was a hand carved there, five fingers pressed clear as day into the asphalt. Instincts twinging, he knelt down, running gloved fingers across the edge of the print. It looked smooth, like someone had just pressed a little too hard and—
And the pavement had dissolved.
In a flurry, his feathers rustled behind him, marking his agitation. Since that day— since Destro— he had worried for his gold-lined cage, worried for the people he had sworn to protect. He only had his feathers, and in the face of this—
He didn't know if they would be enough.
So Hawks had kept an ear to the ground, listened to the wind and and the rumors. Intelligence could do wonders in suppressing violence, and Hawks would never shy away from that.
And he'd heard whispers of a quirk like this.
Hawks stood, wings rustling, restless, breathless, determination and worry twining in his gut. Behind the cover of his shades, his eyes had gone dark and stormy, swirling with a tornado’s fury.
A quirk like that could do serious damage. Hawks would not— could not, not with people sheltering below his wings, not with two megalithic villains striking from the shadows, not with the world at stake— let that stand.
With a snap his wings went wide, spread to blot out the sun. His shadow was cast in crimson, and for a moment, the civilians were shielded by a flurry of feathers.
Then he left, and all that remained was ash and dust.
In the dark of night, Tomura sat, hands bruised and bloody. No moonlight danced across his face, no star shine burned away his thoughts. He was caught in the spell of the witching hour, caught in the tangle of his own mind.
He was alone— damned to his fucking thoughts, to his anger. Shota had long since gone to bed, and the girl was fast asleep. Aimless red eyes fixed on the long stretch of his hands, watched deadly fingers clench, clench, twitch—
He wanted to scratch, the urge twisting through him like an itch.
He did not move.
He wanted to rip something to pieces, satisfy the fury bubbling up like poison.
Shota was hurt.
It was a quiet night, empty and lonely and loud with the sound of solitude. Tomura hated it, acid climbing up his veins and making his jaw clench. His family had been threatened, tonight. Shota had been hurt, had bled and fought.
And all while they tried to remain incognito, all at the worst possible time— or the best, for whoever was searching. A dull grinding sound filled the room, crackling up from Tomura’s jaw. The cuts across his hands stung, the bruises ached. He hurt.
He didn’t give a damn, not tonight. The whole fucking mess was too convenient, too well timed.
They had been setup.
A convenient villain, the perfect victim, ideal timing—
And on the way to the meeting.
There was only one person who could have arranged this. It was dark in the café— inky black and lonely, with nothing but shadowed thoughts to fill the air. They didn’t leech into Tomura— he swallowed them fucking whole, drew them in and let them sting his throat.
They tasted like betrayal.
He had trusted him. He had relied on him, turned to him for petty bickering and warmth alike. Tomura shifted in his chair, clenching twitching fingers, restless, listless, angry. Dabi hadn’t been family, not quite— but he’d been close.
Close enough to paint a bitter taste over Tomura’s tongue. His neck itched.
He didn’t move, instead turning crimson eyes on the stretch of his fingers. They had destroyed so much, today. He’d torn the street to pieces, shattered everything in sight.
But it had been controlled. Tomura had controlled it. Pale knuckles— bruised and beaten but so goddamn ready— clenched.
Dabi would regret this.
She didn’t know where she was.
She awoke in a strange bed, small fingers shaking in smooth sheets, under a new blanket a new pillow a new—
Everything. The fabric was a little rougher than she was used to, dragging across the texture of her bandages as she sat up. Frantic, she looked around, hair brushing her shoulders, panicking eyes darting over the room.
Her heart beat quick, quick, determined to break out of her chest. She didn’t know where she was, what was happening, what to do.
Then she looked around, shoulders trembling and—
There were no toys.
She stopped, held rabbit still. The men Kai sent— they always brought toys and sick smiles, always always.
They scared her, those men. But not as much as Kai, never as much as Kai—
But there were no toys.
It wasn’t a large room— of medium size, maybe, and sparsely decorated. It didn’t really look lived in, with dust lying heavy enough in the air it made her sneeze. It was late— but she could tell that, could see out of a window, she’d never been allowed a window before— dark and spooky outside.
Night was scary, but she didn’t flinch back. Kai was scarier, and he came during the day. She took a breath— no one came. She shifted in the bed— no one knocked on the door. She spoke, quiet as a mouse.
There was no response. Only the silence answered her, swallowed up her words into the quiet of the witching hour.
She was never left alone, in that place. Trembling fingers clenched in the sheets, brushed across the rough fabric. Had that— that dream been real? Had the man with the kind hands taken her away? She didn’t know, but—
But there were no toys.
The night was cool, a brisk chill flooding like a tide down concrete hallways. It swirled across his skin, caught at the corners of his jacket, sent a wave of feathers brushing over his neck. Normally, Kai would have paid it no mind, ignored it along with all the other unimportant things.
Like the people, for instance.
But today, today it sent shivers running up his spine, pressed against the fresh bruises covering his face. Today it brushed across his skin and reminded him of his mortality.
Today he hated the cold.
He frowned, refusing to burrow deeper into his coat. That would be weakness, and Kai was far from weak.
He had a job to do.
And now, now he’d lost the single most important thing he needed. Frustration sent bare hands stroking the surface of the table before him. The wood shook beneath his fingers, a shiver emanating from his thumb. Had there been lesser yakuza in the room, they would have trembled, would have shuddered in fear.
But there were not, not in this space, not in this study. Only the Eight Precepts came here, only they dared. And they were gone, sleeping silent and restless and watch-dog sharp.
It was the witching hour, far past the time others went to bed. But Kai— Kai had never been like the others, not like the plague swarming society like cockroaches. Most nights he stayed awake until his work was done, until it was perfect.
But tonight, fell thoughts and failures kept him awake.
His jaw clenched, the sensation sending tendrils of pain over his bruised face. That man— Redeye, one of his targets, now one of his enemies— he was formidable. Kai was no fool, far too sly to let his pride blind him— he was outclassed.
He could not beat Redeye alone, no, this would take subtlety, planning. He’d need to step with the utmost care to recover Eri. But maybe, just maybe—
He’d obtain Redeye in the process.
Long fingers traced over the wood again, made it come alive under his touch. Jagged splinters reformed into an uncanny simulacrum of a cat on the table, tail wrapped around wooden paws. Another pass of his fingers had the splinters falling away.
It was polished, now.
At least Kai knew where she was— there was no doubt of that. Redeye had taken her, and so there was only one place she could be.
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Chapter 19: A Cleansing Flame
With a hint of blue fire staining his fingers like ink, Dabi sauntered forward, walking through the streets of Tokyo like they belonged to him. The sun reflected off his sutures, the metal mirror-bright in the noonday sun. He looked languid and dangerous, tall as a wildfire and just as fierce.
This was no illusion — Dabi was always dangerous, always felt the hint the edge of the unraveling place just out of reach. He was flame, fire, and spark wrapped into human skin and left unattended. It was no wonder when the smoke leaked through.
But now… now something insidious crept under his skin, swirled between his scars. It tugged at him, made him irritable and frustrated, left him pacing the length of his shabby apartment like a jungle cat.
He felt trapped. His fire twitched across his hands, sent a fever rushing up his spine. Strained joints ached, painful with use and abuse.
It had been 24 hours since the meeting with Sato.
He was hot, too hot, too useless. He had heard nothing from Tomura. His fire flickered, restless. He wasn’t worried.
Still, Dabi sauntered forward, legs moving towards the door and fire creeping across his skin like ants. A puzzle had gone radio-silent and it was—
Unexpected, is all. Dabi wasn’t worried— there were other puzzles to find, other things to burn and annoy and what if something had happened, what if he was gone—
His fire flared up, bright as the sun and just as dangerous. Heat crept up his forehead, made sweat bead across the nape of his neck. Something was digging claws deep into his spine, gouging into him. Smoke trailed from his palm, quirk twisting under his restlessness. The sun was bright, his fire was hot, and he wasn’t worried.
But…but maybe he’d go to the café anyway.
Mere minutes later, his feet had taken him here, had moved without his permission — had him standing before a heavy door, weathered with age and secrets. It was as stalwart as its owner, and just as disheveled. Something in him relaxed at the sight, the fire across his fingers flickering out.
A smirk — it wasn’t relieved, no, it was smug; it wouldn’t do to let Tomura see anything else — crept onto his face. The door was still there. It hadn’t burned to cinders.
The café was in place and somehow, somehow that eased the restlessness crawling over Dabi’s palms. He wasn’t worried.
With a long creeeaak, the door swung open and he walked forward into a café that was —
Dabi paused, instincts sending the hair across his neck sky high. Something was wrong. No customers adorned the tables, no idle chatter swept through the room. The polished tables were empty and bare, the cups clean and stacked for use.
Redeye was nowhere to be seen, and at first glance, neither was Tomura.
But that was wrong. Dabi could see a hint of pale hair, of strong shoulders and a sullen posture. In a motion slow and crackly, Tomura rose up from behind the counter. He was swathed in a black hoodie at least two times too big, bulky fabric hiding what Dabi knew to be a lean frame.
He was facing away from Dabi, gaze fixed firmly on the coffee machine. With molasses-slowness, scratched hands lifted to move over the buttons and flick a switch. In the still air of the café, the sound echoed loud as bells.
Like a candle in a storm, like a lighthouse that had found its ship, Dabi’s fire flickered out. The fever creeping up his neck went warm-steady — hardly noticeable — and tense shoulders dropped a fraction.
He was alright.
The sun shining through the time-worn windows looked brighter now without the glow of blue flame. Dabi wasn’t worried. Quick — but not too quick, no, he was languid and casual and purposefully annoying — steps took him to the counter and had him settling his elbows on the smooth wood.
It felt blissfully cool against the heat coming off his sutures.
“Hey Princess. How’d the meeting go?” He asked, tone casual, relaxed. Why didn’t you call? He didn’t say.
He didn’t care, after all. Caring only ever ended in hurt. He had his fire and his rage and that…that would be enough.
For a breath, there was no response. Silence crept across the counter, over his waiting hands and across the warmth of his skin. Dabi resisted the urge to reach across, to put a hand over Tomura’s arm.
His fire was out now.
Tomura didn’t turn away from the coffee machine, but his hands did pause — steely and still over the buttons. All at once, the hairs at the back of Dabi’s neck rose, sending long-honed instincts — honed at the hands of his father, with the burn scars to prove it — screaming.
Something was wrong. His back went tense, ready.
Dabi was a connoisseur of anger. The cold rage of a villain, ruthless and deadly as sin? It burned through him with every hero he saw. The helpless anger of a victim, frightened and frustrated and loving? Dabi had it racing through his veins like blood, like poison. The bitter fury of the betrayed and damned? It was the marrow in his bones, shaking through him with every step he took.
He knew anger.
As Tomura turned towards him, as blazing eyes fixed on him coal-bright and furious, Dabi saw something there he recognized, something he was made of, flesh and bone and anger mixed into the furnace to make Dabi.
Tomura was angry.
Dabi knew he should take a step back, should put space between himself and that fury. It was what he would have done with anyone else: pasted a fire-bright smirk across his face and sent hungry flames reaching forward.
But this was Tomura. Dabi had spent months coming to the café, months prodding him into conversation, months learning his tells and moods alike. The way his hands twitched when something upset him, the curl of his palms over his favorite sweater. The hint of a smile he let slip — small and precious and yet still dangerous as acid — when Dabi leaned across the counter.
This was the freak. Dabi knew him.
So instead, he reached fever-warm fingers forward, stretched across the counter to touch Tomura’s shoulder.
They never made it there. Viper-quick, Tomura snatched Dabi’s wrist, pressed four fingers down hard and painful and relentless. Dabi could feel the grinding of his bones, the ache building along his skin but —
But his eyes were fixed on Tomura’s pointer finger, held a hairsbreadth away from his skin. But he couldn’t bring himself to call up fire, couldn’t turn Tomura into so much ash.
Dabi knew him.
“Princess, what’s the damn idea?” His voice didn’t shake as he spoke — no, it was loud and demanding, with the edge of bitterness creeping in. He’d always been one to stand his ground, to not back down, to take the beating. Another thing Enji had taught him, in burns and broken bones and blood.
There was a snarl from across the counter, something animal and furious. Tomura’s eyes — red as fire…any fire but Dabi’s — were focused laser-sharp on Dabi’s skin. He could feel that gaze, feel it burn into his scars.
He didn’t care.
“The fucking idea is that I don’t want you to touch me.” Tomura pulled his arm, forced Dabi hard against the counter, forced him to lean forward. If it was anyone else, Dabi would have burned them to ash in a heartbeat but…but this was Tomura.
This was Tomura.
Dabi shifted against the counter, let the hard mahogany press uncomfortably into his stomach. What the fuck was going on?
“I got that, creep.” He took a breath, felt the pressure against his ribs, felt Tomura’s fingers press deeper into his skin. His skin still felt feverish, warm with weakness, delicate and fragile. That was going to bruise.
“You going to explain why or just rough me up?” Dabi said the words in a near lilt, let something like sarcasm leak through.
It was a familiar shield, a familiar lie. He didn’t care.
Tomura bared bone-white teeth, leaned forward. He looked ready to tear into Dabi, rip him to pieces with grit and bare hands.
What had happened?
“You set us up.” Tomura spoke the words like a curse, like a prayer. They dropped into the silent café like a bomb.
Dabi took a breath, another, then another. He blinked, long and slow as a panther. What?
“Set you up with a meeting? Yeah, Princess, you goddamn asked me to.” His words were incredulous, startled, angry. Bruises were blossoming across his wrists like flowers.
His skin still felt fever-bright. The words just made Tomura tighten his grip, fury lancing across red eyes.
Tomura had reached the end of his patience, and that finger, that final finger got so close.
And then suddenly it was gone.
“Get out.” The pressure on Dabi’s wrist vanished like so much smoke, left him unbalanced and unsettled. He took an unsteady step backward, weight moving away from the counter. His skin felt hot, and smoke began leaking from his sutures, threading into the café air.
His wrist throbbed.
Betrayal — bitter and familiar, a companion Dabi had sworn to never have again, a companion who would never leave him — kindled in his chest. Something had happened: something to do with the meeting, something bad. And Tomura thought it was his fault.
Tomura thought —
Dabi cut off that thought, shoved it down, down into a place it couldn’t see the light of day. His skin itched, the edges of his scars tingling. Voice as steady as he could make it, he snapped out. “What the fuck is going on?”
The words came out sharper than he had intended, an edge of something creeping into them from the smoke flooding his chest and constricting his heart vice-tight. He wasn’t worried, no.
But instead of an explanation — instead of anything: words, a goddamn look— Tomura just spoke knife-quiet.
With the finality of the thud of a coffin lid, with precision of a large hand falling down no father—
A pain lanced up Dabi’s chest, smoke billowing out of his lungs. His skin felt too tight, his scars itching, god, and his heart stung.
Was this really all that Tomura thought of him?
He tried looking for something in the other man’s face, for anything to say there was doubt, that he didn’t think Dabi would do this, but Tomura had turned away. Tomura had turned away, had moved further behind the counter, had left.
That dismissal stung.
“Fucking fine.” Dabi pulled himself straight, set a crooked smirk on his face. With the ease of long practice, he shoved the hurt down, froze it over until nothing but his flame remained. He stepped towards the door, feet heavy but the threat at his back pressing him forwards.
Dabi knew anger, knew it like an old friend, knew it with a terrible nostalgia.
It had been a long time since he’d felt betrayal, and even longer since he’d let himself care. Fifteen years and a myriad of scars, fifteen years and smoke leaking from his skin.
He’d never learned his lesson.
It was just past midnight, dark and forlorn and blissfully peaceful. In the small apartment — borrowed from a nearby arms dealer, Dabi had always been resourceful like that— he sat, leaning across a battered couch like a panther.
The lamp beside him flickered, the light struggling against the black sky, struggling to keep out the dark.
It couldn’t keep out the loneliness, and an hour ago, Dabi would have cared. An hour ago, Dabi had been pressing scarred fingers into the bruises around his wrist, smoke leaking from his sutures.
I don’t care. I never cared. Dabi had whispered, words quiet as a child’s cry and just as futile.
“I never cared.” The words sounded hollow even to his own ears, echoing through the cavity of his chest and giving him no rest.
They were weighty with lies, and fell mercilessly to a shabby floor.
An hour ago, he had brushed fingers across his wrist and thought of all the things that had left before. The bruises were days old now, purpling into the same shades as his scars. He couldn’t call them beautiful— nothing was beautiful in this fucking world, not with the burn marks that covered his vision— but they were striking.
After all this time, after long days spent in Tomura’s company, this was the way Tomura had marked him. Dabi had imagined so many other ways— so many better places, fingers not bruising but —
He hissed out a breath, air escaping through clenched teeth. Now? Now that was ash in the wind. But he should have known, really: nothing ever stayed.
So Dabi had left, had kept his distance. He hadn’t watched the café, though something in him wanted to. The space between him and that weathered door felt like a chasm, broad and deep as the bruises pressed into his wrist. He hadn’t spoken to Tomura, either. If the man could believe that of him, then…
Then they had nothing to talk about. A wind from that chasm was brushing over him now, banking the warmth of Dabi’s fire, sending him shivering and shaking and alone. He had spent the better part of his life on his own, moving between places like a stray cat; he’d never cared before.
He didn’t care now. He didn’t.
But still he’d pressed into the bruises.
Now though— now his skin was left forgotten, the marks forgotten. All that he was — all that he had ever been, from hero’s son to quiet victim to silent villain — was thrumming with temptation. His gaze tracked the computer screen before him, watched with electric-blue eyes as the video ended.
He felt manic.
Thoughtlessly — by sheer impulse, his hand moving on its own— he reached forward, hit replay.
Tinny music played from old speakers, quiet in the small room. It was a dark video, of poor quality. It shouldn’t have been captivating, not with the overdramatic music and blood-tinged backgrounds.
It wouldn’t have been, if not for that man.
He was small across the screen, but his eyes seemed to engulf the world, swallow it whole and spit out something better. The man with a mission, with a story and dream unlike anything Dabi had seen before.
Stain. A villain with a purpose. A man who wanted to purge this damned society, wanted to destroy the false heroes leeching off the lifeblood of humanity.
Heroes like Enji.
An image of fire — sending the shadow of a fever creeping over his skin — roared into Dabi’s mind. He took a shuddery breath, found himself shivering and cold. His scars itched.
Shoto had been there, had fought Stain. Dabi’s baby brother, all grown up and indoctrinated but no less scarred.
Enji had been there too.
A world without fake heroes. A world without Endeavor.
The fever threatening over his skin, it pounded, pulsed. Dabi felt spellbound. It sounded so peaceful.
Something crawled up his spine, sent movement cascading across his back. In one long motion he snapped straight, sat up against the couch. He felt warm, like his fire was burning through all that he was and leaving nothing but resolve behind.
It was time for a fresh burn, to erase the underbrush, to let society grow anew. The purge was coming, whether heroes — whether Enji — wanted it or not. Dabi wanted to be part of change, might be part of that. What good were heroes anyway?
Unbidden, a memory long dead and dusty floated into his mind. Mismatched hair and a shy smile — Shoto had always been the kindest of the siblings. On a summer day, long ago, Shoto had offered Touya a melon pop with the brightest smile he had ever seen. The cool treat had kept his fever at bay, sheltered him from the sweltering heat of day. The bamboo patio had been smooth under Touya’s hands that day, smooth as silk and steel.
The most damaged gems always shone the brightest, and Shoto — Shoto had been the focus of Enji’s attentions.
Touya — no, Dabi, he was Dabi now, with the scars to prove it — didn’t know if he still was. There had been a phone call, once, so many years ago and then…
Nothing. Something cold slid across his spine, made his skin prickle, and his throat go tight with a feeling he refused to put a name to.
What good were heroes, anyway?
With blue fire dancing across his fingers and an uncomfortable heat building across his scars, Dabi stood. He felt feverish with ideals, with a dream of a perfect world. A world without Enji.
It was time for the fire to burn, time for him to burn. He cracked scarred knuckles, watched his flames ripple in the stale air of the apartment. The sound echoed, harsh and uncanny, touching over his bones.
Someone had used him to hurt Tomura. He barred his teeth panther-like, some twisted version of a smirk spreading over the cracks of his sutures.
He had a rat to hunt down.
Tracking prey took patience, diligence. It wasn’t a skill Dabi was particularly good at. No, he was far better at ignoring his problems than finding them. On a normal day, properly motivated, he was efficient with a skill beaten into him from an early age. On a normal day, he’d prowl the streets for clues and hints, casual as an alley cat. On a normal day, he was good…but not the best.
Today, it took him less than twelve hours to find Sato. Even her cunning — even her quirk, chameleonic and concealing — couldn’t keep him from her. Today he walked the shadowed alleys of night until the sun rose, feet hitting purposefully against the ground.
He was calm. He was angry. He was spellbound.
Even a rat could be tracked down with enough drive. And Dabi, he hadn’t slept, hadn’t blinked, hadn’t rested since the video. Since Stain. His fire felt like it was bursting through the seams of his scars. He was doused in a righteous fuel, all cracked lines and sharp pieces.
Sato was the first step. There would be more.
A kind smile. Small fingers, and red fire to compliment his.
He blinked electric blue eyes, slow, slow, and the image burned away. It had hung in the air like a mirage, the edges of the memory cracked with strain and pain. Dabi shoved it down.
He wouldn’t rest, couldn’t now.
The streets of Tokyo were just feeling the light of the sun, a pale glow shining gossamer-thin across sky-high windows. His hunt had ended in an apartment district— residential, inconspicuous, perfect for Sato— not far from the center of the city. If he listened closely, he’d be able to hear the beating heart of downtown, pounding alive with the beginning of business hours.
It wasn’t far from the café, but Dabi hadn’t taken note. He’d never cared.
He shifted in the sun, let his eyes scan up the building before him. It was a tall thing, a hallmark of city life — fifteen stories and filled to the brim with misery, with people living by society’s rules.
Dabi wanted to burn it down.
The third floor of the corner building, the arms dealer had said, voice cracking from fear, high and squeaky and panicked. Apartment 309.
It was the last thing the man would say for a long time.
As Dabi sauntered towards the building, walked up the stairs, brushed methodical fingers across an old and weary banister, he wondered —
Would he leave this untouched? The dull metal of a door handle pressed into his palm, cold and biting. Was his fire hot enough to melt this to slag?
Would he leave her alive?
A scarred palm clenched over the door at the end of the second floor, at the beginning of the third. The steel felt thick and sturdy beneath his hand.
What would Stain do?
Dabi — Dabi thought he knew. And as he melted the door into her apartment, as he took a few measured steps forward, the question fell heavy across his throat.
The fever crept up now, poured over the edge of his scars like poison, bubbled across his skin. He felt hot.
The gun going off echoed loudly in the space, stirring the early morning air like a hurricane. The bullet didn’t fare as well: caught in the shield of his fire, it dropped to the ground like so much slag.
Her expression — terrified, with a thin veneer of resolve, a thin mask of bravery — greeted him like an old friend. He had surprised her, could tell from the shaking of her gun hand, the way frantic eyes darted to the door behind him. He felt a bittersweet pleasure coil around him. This was a villain’s justice.
“You never showed, Sato-san,” he spoke languidly, calmly — the words sounded through the small apartment like the tolling of church bells at a funeral.
Perhaps they would mark a death, today.
“Wha—” She stopped, looking at the bullet adorning the ground. She swallowed. “What are you doing here?”
Something long and slow and lethal bubbled up inside him, like magma, like hatred. He felt cool, calm—
“Ah, this is such a pain.” He sighed, the sound whooshing out of him. He let the fever flood him, run up his face and over his mind. Everything was a haze, everything was angry. “Let’s have a little chat, opportunities like this don’t come very often.”
“I don’t talk to trash very often. It’ll be a nice change.” The words slipped out with his anger, without his will or command but— but they sounded right. That was what she was, wasn’t it? A betrayer. Trash. A smirk tugged at the corners of his lips — froze her still as ice, for a heartbeat, for a moment.
It was long enough.
In a wave, he sent blue fire rushing forward, cutting off her escape and making his body feel feverish.
A kind smile.
He took a slow step forward, shoulders loose and relaxed. He felt so calm, felt like the world was starting to make sense.
Stain’s vision was so right.
But the smile—
His fire flooded forward, licked across her shoes. She was a professional information broker— skilled beyond measure in digging up dirt and forging papers— but she was not a fighter.
It showed. She looked terrified, frantic, cunning burned away into so much fear. Her breath was coming in harsh little gasps, the sound almost engulfed by the roar of his fire.
He stepped close, let his fire flood in behind him. The room was aglow with blue. “Who are you working for? Who pays your bills, trash?”
“I work for myself, asshole.” She spat out the words with the viciousness of a cornered rat, all wide eyes and shaking hands. Dabi fixed electric blue eyes on her, felt a lazy gaze sear into her skin. She shivered.
“Do better than that.” He raised a finger, let blue fire catch across his nail. In a breath, he sent it weaving forwards towards her, a thread of heat and fire and painful promise all in one.
Her eyes fixed on it. “You don’t want to make me your enemy,” she said, voice shaky and panicked and horrified.
Did she know how little he cared, in this moment?
Dabi said nothing. Around her, the fire coiled tighter, tighter, a snake wrapping around its prey. He felt so calm.
As the first hiss of searing flesh sounded out, as a gasp of pain washed across his ears, Sato spoke fast and panicked.
“Alright, alright! it’s the Broker. I work for the Broker.”
But Dabi had already known that, had heard it in the café on the day he’d heard Shimura Tenko. On the day he’d spoken Touya aloud for the first time in nearly a decade, on the day he’d bared soul and flesh to a stranger.
He didn’t care; he knew better than to get attached. They always left. Always.
Or they were burned away. The bruises around his wrist itched, and, god, did he want to press into them and never let go.
“And?” The words were an invitation, a prod. The fire around Sato spread wider, pulled back just enough.
She seemed to sense the threat — a dry tongue licked her lips, body kept still as stone. If she moved an inch, a breath, a twitch…she’d be burned.
She likely thought he wouldn’t shift the fire with her, wouldn’t keep her from brushing into that deadly curtain and scream. On another day, she might have been wrong, but today—
Today his scars itched and a fever crept up his forehead. Today he was afire with a dream. Unbidden, his fire crept a little closer, and the stench of burning hair filled the room.
The police might come soon, and Dabi couldn’t bring himself to care.
“All for One. I am not supposed to know, but I do my research on clients.” Sato spoke quickly, pressing the words out into burning-hot air. She paused, took a breath, shallow, shallow. “All for One was searching for a man with Shigaraki’s quirk. He paid a hefty price for information on his whereabouts.”
There was a silence, then, caught in the crackling of his fire, in the fever-bright heat pouring from his scars. Nothing moved, not the lashing of his flames, not the poverty-stale air. Dabi was cold.
All at once, his calm had been washed away, replaced by a dark shock.
All for One was hunting Tomura. All for One was hunting Tomura. Ice slid down his spine, fast and uncontrollable and chilling him to the bone. Like a fever had been lifted, like something worse had come.
Dabi was used to people leaving, used to everything he loved being burned away — either by Enji or his own blue-ash fire. He was poison. Tomura had left him, had told him to go but…
Tomura was —
Tomura was in danger.
He stopped, took a breath, felt supercharged air go double time through his lungs, felt his heart constrict painfully. His flame burned hotter and his skin grew all the more feverish.
No one could take Tomura away.
And just like that, the vision was washed away in a tide of worry. Stain’s dream was still tempting, still fiery and furious and perfect but— but Tomura was in danger. Dabi’s heart was racing, pounding in his ears and pressing out of the edges of his scars. All of the sudden, he could feel the heat of his flame under his skin, the damage being done.
All for One.
Dabi’s hand was moving before he could think, before he could breathe— slender fingers wrapping around Sato’s throat, fire leaking between his skin.
“Tell me everything.”
It took her a few scant minutes to speak, to hiss out the words from a burned throat. With a dull finality, Dabi uncurled his fingers from around her throat and let her drop to the floor. The faint movement of her chest was the only sign of life.
Dabi felt as feverish as a desert mirage, and just as faint and fleeting.
The room around him was charred black and blue, unrecognizable. In the distance, he heard the sound of sirens, fading into his hearing like he was underwater.
But he couldn’t leave just yet, not with her here, not with evidence left. But there was an easy way to burn that problem away.
He reached a hand forward, blue fire curling up from his scars and making him sway.
A kind smile. Mismatched eyes.
Shoto had always wanted to be a hero.
Dabi’s hand moved forward getting slower, slower, slower—
A kind smile.
His arm fell loosely to his side.
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Chapter 20: A Weary Soul
I have returned! With a chapter! Read and enjoy, peeps!
also my tododeku ass is showing through and I'm not sorry
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hitoshi was tired.
Every muscle in his body ached with a week’s training, numb and sore and perfect. His skin was a single bruise, a monstrous thing with roots in the sole of his foot and tendrils creeping across arms, abs, and face. Scrapes lined his body like stars against the night sky, dotting his skin constellation-bright.
But he didn’t care, couldn’t find even a scrap of bitterness— no, Hitoshi was exhilarated.
Every movement sent shockwaves of pain through his body — echoes of brutal combat training and long hours — but right now all Hitoshi could feel was success. When his arms ached with a bone-deep weariness, he heard you threw Tiger today whispered in the wind. When his temple throbbed with quirk-abuse, echoes of you commanded Mandalay for five full minutes rung through his room.
Hitoshi felt new; like he’d shed a skin he hadn’t known he’d been hiding behind. The shattered pieces of that façade lay at his feet, doubts and insecurities cracked and conquered.
For a week, Ragdoll had read out his weaknesses each day like a grocery list—
Too slow. Insecure. Quirk has severe time limitations.
Dependent on others. Bitter. Weak.
Each time, the list had stung, sunk into the bags beneath his eyes and left him with a clenched jaw and downcast eyes.
But each day, that list had gotten shorter. Inch by inch, weakness by weakness, he had improved.
Hitoshi was new.
Grip numb, he hoisted his bag up his back, ignoring the creak of sore muscles and shaky limbs. He spared a final glance around the room, let tired eyes linger across the clean tatami mats. It was bare of all traces of him— he had left no impression here, nothing to mark this time, nothing to say Hitoshi was here.
He’d likely not see this place again, but… but today was a good day. Today, he went home with sore muscles and a new skin.
Absently — preoccupied, Hitoshi was caught in the spider’s web of his hope — he pulled out his phone, slick metal sliding against his callouses. Flashing up at him, innocuous and suggestive, was a notification.
Message from Sensei.
Hitoshi paused, feet bare and warm on the tatami mats. He wasn’t worried — too worn for that, muscles loose and well-used — but he was surprised.
Sensei almost never texted.
Weary fingers took a few tries to open the message and then…
Sensei: Something has happened. Come straight home. Do not bring anyone else.
And just like that, disquiet crawled up Hitoshi’s spine, left him unsettled and off-balance. He shifted, weight pushing across bound straw and the memories he had left here.
It had only been a week, a week of improvement and progress, a week of small steps towards his dream. It had been a good week.
What could have happened?
The trip home — by car, then by train, long enough to give him time to agonize over the message, long enough to make him sweat — went by slow as poured molasses, slow as the drip of honey. With every moment, Hitoshi’s tired body wound tighter, tighter. He wanted to curl up into a ball, to hide from that message and all he was reading into it.
But the café was the only home he’d ever had. He had smiled in those espresso-washed walls, found a place to belong, found a path to his dream. He knew better than anyone else that Sensei could handle himself, could handle anything the world threw at café and family. But—
The world was a cruel place, said the thousand small injustices Hitoshi had endured. That bitterness now ran in his blood, left him with a knife-sharp tongue and a chip on his shoulder.
And fate? Fate was a fickle son of a bitch.
He walked, at first, stepping off the train with unease coiling in his stomach and bags carved under his eyes. He took two slow steps— measured, careful, foolish.
Fate was cruel.
Then he ran, feet taking him from the train station to the café in a blur. He turned familiar corners with as much speed as he could muster, moving hero-quick and heart pounding. His shoes hit hard against the pavement, rubber soles sending shock waves up his legs.
He grit his teeth and moved faster.
The café came into view with a rush of pavement and the desperate clutch of Hitoshi’s heart. He collided with the door as he tried to open it, fingers anxious and clumsy with exhaustion. The ache of training wasn’t pleasant now; it left him frustrated and too slow.
He turned the handle, pulled, pulled—
Nothing moved, the door standing motionless and stalwart against his fingers. The old wood had no give for him, not now. When had it become barrier, not shield?
Hitoshi blinked, felt something like realization creep into his mind. It was early afternoon — sun shining across tired eyes, blinding and brilliant — and the café was locked.
What had happened?
His keys flew into his hand, slotted into the door once, twice, click—
A café bare of customers and coffee greeted him, tables empty and achingly hollow of conversation. A stark silence followed the creak of the door, swept into the room with Hitoshi’s gaze and dread.
Something had changed. He took a step inside, let the door swing shut behind him with a harsh finality.
Here were the facts: they were in the café in the early afternoon. There were no customers. Sensei wasn’t wearing his glasses. A bruise stood stark across his nose, a beaten purple.
What had happened?
Hitoshi took a breath, let a shallow inhale fill his bitter chest. The bags under his eyes felt like a corruption, his arms shaky with doubt he thought he’d cured.
He looked at Shota’s table and felt lost.
Wrapped in a blanket and with a mug tucked into too-small hands was a child. She was a tiny thing, with bone-pale hair and a gleaming horn. They reflected harshly in the low light of the café, too-bright and uncanny. But her shoulders were hunched inwards, defensive and folded in.
Hitoshi knew that posture like the beat of his heart.
Beside her, all angry tension and clenched fingers, sat Tomura. With red eyes gleaming and narrow, he looked furious, angry with something beyond rage.
But none of this was what made Hitoshi’s heart clench, none of it hurt like the sight of Sensei. It was like a thin veneer had been laid over his vision, leaving Hitoshi seeing blurred and just slightly off.
Sitting across from the girl, capture weapon slung across his shoulders and crimson eyes ever-vigilant, was Redeye. His faced was a patchwork of bruises and scrapes, purple and red standing out strong against pale skin.
He looked beaten.
Here were the facts: Hitoshi stood, disbelieving and frozen with an uneasy fear, caught in the center of a storm. It was barely past the blush of noon, but there were no customers. Sensei wasn’t wearing his glasses. There was a child sitting next to Tomura, hair bone pale and shoulders twisted in a way only an orphan could manage.
What had happened?
The last part must have slipped out, because as one three pairs of red eyes fixed on Hitoshi. Like this, faces in parallel and a similar world-weariness pinching their lips together, the three looked uncannily similar. Hitoshi felt his stomach twist, unpleasant and fierce.
When had another been allowed in this space?
He took a hesitant step forward, wary as a fox. Something anxious was crawling through his hair, infecting him and twisting through the hope that had lodged in his chest.
He had been alone for so long, fought his insignificant battles with a single-minded bitterness. He’d worked against the voices in his head, the voices screaming down, screaming into his mind.
A villainous quirk. What a freak.
But here, in the walls of this café, Hitoshi had found something new. Here, he had been offered a home.
If that was taken…
He took another step forward. His heart felt as heavy as his feet did light.
“Hitoshi, come, sit down.” Sensei gestured across the table, a long hand sweeping over the dark wood with a tired grace.
There were cuts decorating those fingers, carved into a familiar palm.
Hitoshi walked forward, legs moving automatically but—
Sensei’s face. Those bruises.
He folded into a chair with no ease, weariness making his bones lead-heavy. The leather creaked beneath him, a deep counterpoint to his pounding heart.
“Who is she?” His voice did not falter, but it was quiet, worried, quick as a viper. Hitoshi felt defensive, hackles raising across his neck. He looked to Tomura — for a brother’s guidance, for anything to help him, for something— but the man’s expression was stormy as a hurricane.
What had happened?
“This is Eri.” The name made her twitch, chance a look up at Hitoshi, frail and quiet and so scared. “She will be staying with us for the foreseeable future.” It was said with nonchalance, flat and frank as Sensei’s words always were. His eyes rested heavy on Hitoshi’s face, searching for something in the set of his mouth. Months ago, a look like that would have had him sitting steel-straight in his chair, made him go quiet and mutinous.
Months ago, Hitoshi had a villain’s quirk.
He looked across the table at Eri, recognized the fear in her shoulders. Another had been allowed in this space, but Sensei had brought her.
Another had been allowed in this space but— but hadn’t Hitoshi been another, not so long ago? He took a breath, let some of the tension leech from his shoulders. Weary muscles thanked him as he sunk back into the chair.
The edge of Shota’s mouth quirked up, the tiniest fraction of a movement, slight and unnoticeable.
“Tomura, take Eri upstairs. I need to fill Hitoshi in.”
Wordless — motions choppy and sharp, driven to a place beyond fury— Tomura pulled Eri out of her chair, a four-fingered grip gentle and light.
She still shuddered, trembled in his grip as they walked away. For a moment, there was silence, caught on the edge of a child’s fear.
“Something happened that has to do with AFO. Something that pissed Tomura off.” Hitoshi spoke with precision, let the words fall to distract from the unease trembling through shaky limbs. It was a guess, turned into reality by Sensei’s shallow nod.
What had happened?
There was a pause, long and painful. The bruises across Sensei’s face drew Hitoshi’s eyes, made him shift in his seat. He was restless, afraid, he was—
A breath, filling tired lungs. Fate was a fickle son of a bitch.
“It will take a while to tell, Hitoshi.” Sensei said, voice low and measured.
Get comfortable, went unsaid.
The mood in the café was beyond any strain Hitoshi had felt before, the atmosphere made heavy by the crumbling pieces of his peace.
Sensei was preoccupied, busy with a terrible paranoia. He walked the floor of the café once an hour, fierce as a caged tiger, sweeping the building for the slightest hint of danger. He did not stop, feet moving silent and repetitive. There was no pause for rest, no moment to breathe, to drink coffee, to speak—
The bruises still stood stark on his face, an unsettling marker of what Hitoshi had missed. Of what he had failed to prevent.
What kind of hero-to-be was he?
In counterpart to Sensei’s obsessive mood— a low buzz rumbled through the café, vibrating through chairs and bones alike— Tomura radiated a high-pitched fury. The man moved from room to room without a word, sullen shoulders set high and muscles taut. He stared straight ahead, looking past Hitoshi with eyes that had no room for anything but raw rage.
Together, they held the café in balance, left Hitoshi strained and stressed and so damn worried.
But there was someone new in their care. But another had been allowed into this space, and Hitoshi couldn’t ignore that.
Eri was waited at the counter, small feet dangling over the wood floor like tiny pendulums, swinging to the beat of her heart. She still flinched from too-quick movements, still went rabbit-still every time the door opened.
But she had begun to question.
“What is espresso?” This was the first question, asked with quiet strain and the voice of vulnerability. Hitoshi answered whip-quick, an instinctual sass pressing words out.
“Tomura’s addiction.” He paused, looked across the room for a response. But Tomura didn’t move, didn’t even lift his gaze from the table. Acid-stained fingers had been tracing the wood-whorls for hours, relentless and agitated and angry.
He hadn’t moved since this morning, hadn’t spoken more than a few words in days. His eyes burned with a fury he refused to name, and Hitoshi hadn’t dared ask more than once.
A sharp tongue could get him burned, with that look on Tomura’s face.
“A bitter drink.” He amended, letting tired eyes fall on Eri. “You probably won’t like it.”
“What is a hero?” Her voice trembled with her second question, but not with fear— curiosity lurked in her eyes, an orphan’s vain hope shining out as she glanced across the café.
Hitoshi recognized that look.
He didn’t have to pause, didn’t stop to think— the words flowed out of him with the ease of hours spent pondering, with every breath he spent carving them into his bones.
With his villain’s quirk and tired cynicism, Hitoshi had repeated these words to himself like a life line. A hero is—
“Someone who stands tall before people who need help.” He straightened a little as he spoke, back uncurling from an exhausted slouch. His every muscle still felt weary, sore and shaky and well-trained.
He stood straighter anyway. There was a pause, as Eri seemed to consider this, turning the words over in her mind.
“Do heroes always have kind hands?”
“No,” said Hitoshi, eyes resting on Tomura. Not all heroes had hands to give, not all heroes could touch— or cared too. But they all stood tall, shielding and monolithic. “No, they don’t have to.”
A brother didn’t need kind hands.
Eri had saved the hardest question for last:
“Why did Redeye take me?”
Hitoshi didn’t answer right away, couldn’t find the words to touch on the desperation in her voice. He felt a twinge of sympathy pull at his heart strings, prickle across his tired eyes. He knew what it was like to flinch away from touch, to crave a parent’s hands, to distrust everything the world had to offer.
Hitoshi knew that look, knew it with the bone-deep certainty of an outcast. So did Tomura— in this mismatched family of misfits and outcasts, they were all unnatural. They were beyond control, powerful and dangerous and with such villainous quirks, and so they were feared, locked away and kept hidden.
Tomura and Hitoshi — and Eri, now, with the strength of golden time racing through her veins — were the misfit toys, all worn edges and faceless daydreams.
Sensei had brought them together and patched their split seems, mended their torn skin. Hitoshi looked across the café, let purple-strained eyes land on Sensei’s table, rest on the disheveled man leaning across a chair.
“You needed him.”
And that was all that mattered.
On the third day after his return — on the third day into Tomura’s anger, on the third day of an eerie silence filling the café like poison fog — Hitoshi got a message.
Todoroki: I want to see Nimble. Izuku wants to come.
Relief — unexpected and sweet as spun sugar — rose up in his belly, soothed the bags beneath his eyes. This text— it felt like an opportunity. He shifted in his seat, let the cool leather creak under his motions. It was a familiar noise, echoing hollowly in the still air. The windows were closed tight, shutters locked and bolts slid forbiddingly home.
They had been shut for three days, the beginnings of dust collecting across dull-metal latches. The door stood vigil-still, unopened for just as long.
The café was empty, but Hitoshi knew it couldn’t stay that way.
This place— it could catch alight like a powder keg, all dry tinder and angry fuel. Sparks lingered in the air, cast from pent-up rage and paranoia and a child’s fear. No matter what avoidance Tomura was practicing, no matter the enemy hunting him, this couldn’t stand. Hitoshi couldn’t let this situation stand.
He had promised himself that he wouldn’t let anyone end this, take the dream of a family away from him.
It didn’t matter if anyone included Sensei.
“Sensei,” was all Hitoshi said as he slid the phone to Shota. It hit the table with a dull thunk, moving over polished wood in a motion that was too slow, too long, too nerve-wracking.
Red eyes glanced down, narrowed, went still. The message was flashing on an unlocked screen, words damning and stark.
“We need to reopen the café. We can’t hide forever…or we’ll be hunted down like animals. We need to take this to them.” He did not hesitate over the words— they had formed themselves in his mind, crystalized with a deadly accuracy over the past two days.
Sensei may not appreciate it, but Hitoshi had earned the right to say this. His heartbeat was beating double time, fast and fleeting and nervous. He had earned this.
In a sudden and shifting motion, a gust of breath left Shota, swirled across the table and sent air puffing against Hitoshi’s hair. Red eyes closed for the first time in three days, in months, in six long years.
“You’re right, it’s only logical.” There was silence, a fraught thing, a stressed thing that Hitoshi felt in the bags beneath his eyes, in the strands of purple hair brushing his eyes. Then—
“Have your friends come tomorrow.”
Hitoshi paused, blinked slow. A peace settled across the stretch of his skin, across the beat of blood through his mind.
He had always been quick of mind, always ready with a taunting insult or sharp retort. With his quirk — villainous no longer, he would earn the right to be called a hero — he couldn’t afford anything less. His mind was his weapon as well as his prison, bone walls protecting him from the world just as easily as they trapped in his fear. He tongue was quick and sharp because it needed to be.
Hitoshi always had something to say.
Now he opened his mouth to speak and words escaped him. His friends.
They were his friends.
The sound of the door creaking open caught his attention, forced his spine steel-straight in his chair. Amidst the chatter of the café — a comforting sound, after three days and change of delirious silence and Tomura’s anger — it shouldn’t have been noticeable.
But Hitoshi had been paying attention, had ears pricked with a casual focus.
For the twenty-second time this morning, he looked up, cast the facade of apathy at the door. Each time before, it had been a customer, a villain, a hero, a walking vehicle for Redeye’s espresso. It had never been them.
This time though, he was proven wrong. This time, Midoriya peeked out from behind the door, green eyes wide and sparkling with the cheer of All Might.
Hitoshi could tell when he was noticed, watched Midoriya’s gaze zoom in on him with a laser focus. He resisted the urge to shift, to raise uncomfortable hackles. The attention of others — of kids his age, of adults, of anyone — for too long it had been tinged with fear— with disgust.
That had changed, in the crucible that was the café-family, in the honing steel that was the hero course. That attention had become a warming thing, a kind thing.
They were his friends.
But still, attention was unsettling.
Midoriya walked over half sheepish half determined, with a sparking conviction flashing from his grin. He was a maelstrom of energy, with something fierce lurking beneath his skin. Todoroki followed in his wake, eyes distracted and face ice-calm.
Hitoshi stifled the comment dripping from his tongue, bit into his wit to keep it still— there was something more interesting to see here.
The two boys, they were moving as one, shifting together through the café with a single fighter’s ease. With each step Midoriya took, Todoroki pivoted his weight, kept his line of sight clear and muscles loose. With each breath, Midoriya twitched fingers back, flicked eyes towards Todoroki.
They stood so close.
Hitoshi felt a moment of déjà vu, a moment of stillness in the storm. It had just been a week but— but Tomura was angry. But Sensei was bruised and battered. But a small child had stumbled into their lives, bandaged arms and scared red eyes belying a terrible courage. But those two stood damn close.
Everything had changed.
“Shinsou-kun!” An excited wave accompanied the words, frenetic and cheerful. Midoriya was smiling — he was always smiling, it exhausted Hitoshi down to his very bones — but his face was lined with scrapes, and there were swaths of white bandages wrapping across his hands. Todoroki looked no better, cuts lining his face like a gruesome armor.
It seemed everyone bore bruises, this week.
Before Todoroki could open his mouth, Hitoshi pointed to the back of the café, finger held steady. He felt calm, wry amusement coloring his vision. “The cat’s over there.”
Like a puff of icy mist, Todoroki pivoted and left, walking towards Nimble with purpose.
Hitoshi almost laughed, and despite himself a small smirk crept over his face. The aloof and fiery Todoroki, kneeling down to scratch a cat’s belly.
Truly, the strong brought low.
“Your internship was with the Pussycats, right?” Midoriya didn’t stop moving forward, sliding into a chair with excited tone and easy motions. Bandaged fingers gestured in the air, a frenzied energy leaking from his movements. “They have an interesting and useful quirk combination, I really wish I could see it up close.
Bright eyes fixed on Hitoshi, enthusiasm leaking from them like green lightning. “You must have learned so much.”
It was too much. Hitoshi turned away, fixed tired eyes on Todoroki to fight the feeling bubbling up in his stomach. He wasn’t used to this, not from people outside of the café.
His friends. They were his friends.
“I did. You learn enough to challenge me, Midoriya?” The words were a barb, playful and taunting and everything Hitoshi had learned he could have.
They made Midoriya smile, eyes fierce with determination. “I did. I will tell the world I am here.” There was a pause, a breath, a heartbeat, a look that shook the very heavens. “Get ready to face me.”
In that moment, Hitoshi felt his world align, felt everything shift.
Here were the facts: the café was full to the brim with customers. His family was battered and bruised but whole, with a new puzzle piece slotting in, rough edges and all. Hitoshi had friends, friends who believed in him, friends he’d be proud to stand beside.
And Midoriya— he had the soul of a hero, thrumming off his skin like an inescapable brilliance. He’d change the world, rock it to its very core and leave it better.
Maybe, maybe, Hitoshi could help with that. Maybe the boy with a villain’s quirk and a hero’s spirit could help shape this fragile future.
In the pause of the future rocketing down a different path, in the sigh chasing the forging of a new path, Midoriya seemed to realize what he’d said. His grin went sheepish, shoulders creeping up timid as a deer. “Ah, I mean, if you want to!”
Hitoshi didn’t try to fight the smile creeping up his face.
It didn’t matter what Tomura would say— had said, words carved deep into Dabi’s body, left searing and putrid in the marrow of his bones. Dabi still pressed into the bruises, faded though they were. Soon, soon, they too would vanish, fade from his skin and leave him with nothing but ash and damned memories.
But it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what he did, if he tried to dissolve the flesh of Dabi’s frail body— he had enough scars that more didn’t matter, couldn’t when—
He took a shifting breath, rolled fever-hot shoulders.
He’d tried, but— the pain hadn’t turned to hate yet.
Fires banked and smoke gone, Dabi pushed the door to the café open. It opened with a drawn-out creaaak, like the cracking of his bones on a bad day.
It didn’t matter what Tomura said: Dabi would protect him.
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Thanks to the much appreciated Escher84 for a beta read.
Chapter 21: A Star's Dust
*cue mad cackling in the background*
Oh, y'all are gonna flip. Also might kill me next chapter, but that's future me's problem. Also, prompts are open on my Tumblr, so hit me up if you want to see a Thing.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Shoto had always been a thing of winter and biting cold, of anger and bitterness and the rage of a scalded child.
Spite had been his fuel for a decade, caught his veins afire with motivation. With the dawn of every day, Shoto woke up stronger than before, muscles aching and anger coiling in his belly. Without fail, come wind or hail or broken spirit, Shoto rolled out of his futon with one burning purpose.
Today I beat him.
Today I win.
For a decade, that had been his mantra.
Shoto looked across the table, traced green curls with an aimless gaze. Midoriya sat beside him, all frenetic motion and wide smiles. In the frantic motion of his hands, theories and strategies came alive, spun into thought above the smooth wood of the table. The shrapnel of enthusiasm hit Shoto like a wave, made a smile crawl over his face, small and breathless with pride. Across from him — eye bags deep and bitter expression wiped clean by fond amusement — Shinsou leaned back in his chair, the leather creaking beneath him.
Today I beat him. The thought was feeble as a faded memory, stirring like a trapped bird beneath Shoto’s new conviction.
God, he had been so blind.
But now, now he could see— the path before him was clear, the fog of spite that had blurred his vision for so long burned off. Shoto felt level-headed and buoyant, calm as the sea on a cloudless day. He had burned off that fog with his own fire.
He had been blind, but now he could see.
He let the smile carve itself deeper into his face, leave lines he’d never be free of. Happiness was not something Shoto was used to, not with the harsh sting of betrayal coating his thoughts and spite driving him ever-forward.
For a decade, the memory of his mother’s fingers had only brought him sadness. Now it brought something closer to forgiveness.
Now...now, with the dawn of each day, Shoto woke with a new thought. It was a fragile and tentative thing: clinging to the ice of his skin, coating him like the last frost of winter. With each day, it echoed through his bones a little louder than before, a little more resonant.
Today I become better. Today I become stronger.
And sometimes — caught in the fractal pattern of green lightning and the scars lining strong hands — Shoto thought I see him today.
His heart felt hot and furious as lava, on those mornings.
He took a breath, felt the air rush into super-charged lungs. Warmth was rising across the curve of his cheeks, creeping up his neck fire. He had always burned with the fury of a firestorm, but now —
A spark had caught on the kindling of his skin, and Shoto didn’t want it to stop.
He forced down the flush, let happiness bubble across his eyes instead. Long fingers did not pause as they stroked Nimble’s plush fur, knuckle-deep in fluff and a rumbling purr.
He could finally see.
The conversation across the smooth mahogany was lively, filled with the banter of burgeoning friendship and sparks of interesting thought. With the sparks lighting across his skin, Shoto let the words wash over him, flow over icy skin and rest against his ears.
This was happiness as he had not known it before.
The door to the café swung open with the sound of dying metal and aged wood, bringing a cool breeze in to brush across the tables. It prickled over his skin, made the flush die from his face but not his chest. It shouldn’t have caught Shoto’s attention — didn’t, really, not today, not with the warmth beneath his fingers — but something made him look up.
Something made him pay attention.
He chanced an idle glance at the door, mismatched eyes lazy and apathetic with happiness.
Blue fire to match those eyes.
He looked again, throat caught in the memory of scalding water, breath out of reach and chest tight. His face felt hot, scar itching, itching, god it stung.
Blue fire to match his eyes, blue fire that burned too hot.
On another day, in another place, years and worlds away, Shoto wouldn’t recognize him. There were startling differences: a lanky frame, swallowed up by a loose shirt; scarred lips pieced together with moonshine-silver sutures; electric blue eyes, now aglow with anger. But Shoto remembered them softer, kinder.
They had once been a brother’s eyes.
On another day, Shoto would have looked at this man’s face and seen a villain’s shark-toothed smile.
But now, here in these espresso-stained walls, with a fragile happiness taking root in his chest and surrounded by friends, Shoto saw that face and remembered .
He took a step forward— when had he stood? When had Nimble left his lap? Shoto didn’t know, surroundings blurring in the pounding heat of his heart. All was silent. All was loud. All was nothing and everything, and all he could see was his brother’s eyes. Shoto’s face burned .
Blue fire, gone star-bright and lethal.
“Touya.” The name slipped out, lost and lonely as a child’s cry. His voice was quiet, trembling like his hands— like his hands back then, gripping a brother’s fading fingers.
He had never stopped trembling.
Touya— Touya heard him. His expression morphed beyond words, twisting into something broken behind the eyes. For a breath, a moment, two frantic beats of Shoto’s heart, Touya looked back at him, his face an open wound of emotion.
His brother looked afraid.
Blue fire split his skin, the price of Prominence Burn paid in blood.
Then a wary mask slid across his face: cascaded across scarred lips and made electric blue eyes go predator-dark. It burned like fire, wiped Touya’s expression clean until all Shoto could see was a smug smile and a man nothing like the brother he remembered.
Two steps forward took him within touching distance, close enough to feel the fever-heat radiating off Touya’s fractured skin.
When had he gotten so close? When had he moved? Shoto didn’t know, couldn’t think past the sutures standing proud and bitter across his brother’s face.
He barely remembered the day Touya had gotten those scars, the memory fragmented by time and distorted by a child’s fear.
But he remembered the heat of sea-blue fire like it was his own, remembered the heat pressing into his skin, the horror that had filled him that day.
That terror stayed with him to this day.
“It’s—” Shoto had no words, nothing to express the maelstrom flooding his veins like ice. He was shaking, he registered distantly through a fog of disbelief, shaking like a feral thing.
Shoto had never expected to see that face again.
“It’s what, Shoto?” A sneer had begun to crawl over Touya’s face, harsh and painful, making the scars stitching together his face twist and creak with disdain. Those scars, purple and discolored from flame. Those scars—
Shoto hated those scars as he hated his own— as he hated the burns marking his mother’s torment.
Blue fire rose to meet the red, but it would never be enough.
Touya’s voice had grown deep and furious with age, resonant and malicious in a way Shoto despised. Touya had always had a sharp tongue, but it used to be kind to Shoto— his scathing wit had been saved for Enji and Enji alone.
Now it turned on Shoto, and he felt only pain. “It’s good to see me again? Don’t kid yourself.”
A laugh echoed in the space between them, bounced into the icy chasm opening up beneath Shoto’s feet. It was a hole of black emotion and burning memory, a thing of nightmares and the void between brothers.
Would the ground crack, he wondered, and swallow them both?
“It is.” The words punched their way out of Shoto’s throat, forlorn and desperate. They made Touya’s eyes narrow, made him look away, made that façade crack into the void beneath them. “I—”
Shoto swallowed around the ice crawling up his skin, around the sting behind his eyes. In thousands of days and through countless hours, he had never dared hope.
“I didn’t think I’d see you again, after...”
After Enji had pushed him one flame too far. After Touya had burned himself beyond hope and memory, beyond grace and glory, into the place where Enji deemed him unfit.
After that day, Shoto had never expected to see his brother again.
Blue fire — it had gone out, it had burned all its fuel.
Something in Touya’s face went hard, icy and cold with memories Shoto knew too well. Lean shoulders went tight with offense and hurt and every painful thing in between. “Yeah, well I expected the next time to be at a funeral.”
Shoto didn’t ask whose. Despite years apart and the chasm broad and deep between them, despite his faded memories, they were brother’s in blood and abuse.
Touya— with a loyal heart and a wicked smirk, with a bitter tongue and a fiery temper, with kind hands...
Touya could never die of old age. Shoto knew over whose grave they would meet.
Silence bloomed between them then. It spanned the void between them, a bridge of fire and old regrets. Neither spoke; because no words could ever be enough.
What was there to say, before the space between them? All Shoto could see was a brother that was too old and too bitter, scarred just enough.
What curse was there on this family?
But every silence must be broken, be it ten years later or four too-quick heartbeats.
“What the hell are you doing here, Shoto? How did you even find the café?” Touya said. His voice trailed off, eyes going distant and stormy with the fury of a firestorm. His shoulders— tense with surprise and the unwelcome sight of a past he’d rather forget— wound tighter .
Shoto watched as the brother he’d thought dead looked away from him, cast a searching gaze across coffee-stained tables.
The chasm cracked wider beneath his feet, crumbled and caved in until Shoto was balanced only on his toes.
“I have to go,” Touya said, smoke leaking out of his mouth in a thin stream. Even as he spoke, he had begun to turn, twisting away from Shoto.
I’m sorry, Shoto, he didn’t say— though he had once, a decade ago. Shoto didn’t want to hear it, couldn’t bear it again, not now with happiness within reach.
He reached a hand forward without thought, without pause: gripping Touya’s sleeve with strong fingers, with a child’s grip — as he had a decade ago — as he had before scars lined both their bodies.
“Wait, Touya—” Shoto stopped. His voice had gone taut with emotion, with the ice crawling across his skin, with the fire burning beneath it.
The chasm would split him in two.
“I can’t—" Touya stopped voice gripped by a terrible quiet. He shook black hair, looked across the cafe and far away. “We can—”
He still hadn’t looked at Shoto. A breath, a gritting of teeth, and Shoto watched that bitter facade slide down over old eyes.
Blue fire had burned him.
“Save the family reunion for later, Shoto. Invite dear old dad, for all I care. I have to go.” He ripped himself away, tore the thick cloth of his shirt from Shoto’s fingers and took quick steps away, back stiff with an emotion Shoto couldn’t name.
And just like that, he was gone, storming across the café. He was within sight, still near, still alive but...but all Shoto could see was the wash of effervescent blue flame, the memory a decade old.
All he could feel was the ghost of fabric between his fingers.
Blue fire burned him still.
One, two. The whorls of wood before him felt familiar against his finger, smoothed down by a six-year habit, by a child’s boredom. The table was polished mahogany — a hardwood, resistant to the wear and tear of daily life in a café — but it had stood little chance against the frustrations of a young boy.
It stood less of a chance against the rage of a man.
Three, four. Tomura dug his nail in on this count, peeling away a stretch of wax from the table like flaking skin. Dig deeper, carve into the wood, scratch away the betrayal eating at his bones.
His neck itched.
Still, the wood greeted his finger with a comforting warmth.
Dabi had walked into the café four minutes and twenty seconds ago. Tomura had seen him the moment the door swung open, armed with a smug grin and eyes lined with smoke and conviction. He had been armed with his normal swagger, walked in as if he was allowed to.
Tomura wanted to wipe away that confident face, wanted to wipe away the part of him that felt sweet relief, wanted to wipe away the snake curling in his veins that always noticed Dabi.
But now...now all he felt was rage. Dabi had walked in four minutes and twenty seconds ago, and he hadn’t seen Tomura. He’d been sidetracked, pulled away by the Todoroki kid.
Tomura could see Dabi’s expression from across the room, watched the terror crawl across his face. A thought he couldn’t repress — couldn’t shove down like all the others, annoyingly persistent — floated into his mind, lonely and thoughtful and pitying.
Todoroki Touya. A boy who wanted to kill his father.
Tomura bit chapped lips, the pain forcing the feeling in his chest away. Dabi had always been so warm, a shining beacon of sarcasm and fire-bright thorns.
Tomura hated him.
Anger was bubbling in him, swirling across the inside of his skin, inescapable, a torrent of acid and fury and hurt . His neck crawled with a thousand small trails of sensation, the phantom touch making him murderous and mutinous. He wouldn’t scratch, didn’t bring a hand to his neck. No, his fingers dug deep into the table, twisting against the polished wood.
Seven, eight. Dabi had dared.
At five minutes, eleven seconds, Dabi saw him, electric blue eyes going hard with recognition.
Tomura didn’t move, didn’t twitch out of his seat. His fingers stilled across the wood, muscles going tense and furious. His heart ached — the blood boiling out of his veins, surging over his bones and eating at him.
He would dissolve in this anger, in this betrayal. But now, now he was still as cracked stone, and just as harsh. Dabi had dared.
In the long and weary years of his life, in the dust of his father brushing across his skin, in sleepless nights and choked breaths, Tomura had borne a world of pain.
But betrayal was a new sting, and he didn’t care for it.
At five minutes and forty-three seconds, Dabi began walking forward. He approached Tomura’s table with a predator’s caution, wariness lighting across his face, the set of his lips.
Good. Dabi should be wary after what he had done, after the hurt he had nailed heart-deep into Tomura’s chest.
Still, he stopped too-close and yet too-far: within reach of Tomura’s lethal fingers, but too far to feel that sickly warmth.
Tomura’s hand twitched across the wood, nails biting into the abused veneer.
“Princess.” The word wasn’t hesitant, but firm — not guilty, but familiar. Dabi sounded hot as a summer’s day, voice burning through the air and twisting between them like woodsmoke.
It was fond, worried, caring. Tomura wanted to strip the flesh from his bones.
How dare he.
Nine, ten. His fingers had begun to move on the table again, tracing circles across the smooth whorls. With each motion, his muscles tightened, sending him spiraling into a clockwork fury.
He said nothing, words eaten in the acid bubbling in his chest and over his lungs. He had no way to express his rage .
“I know what you think I did.” A breath hissed out of Dabi, trailed into the air and left Tomura breathless. “You might have told me, creep, and I would have told you this: I didn’t fucking betray you.”
The words snuck under Tomura’s skin, made it itch like poison poured between flesh and shell, left him trembling with a torrent of rage and vain hope.
How dare he make him doubt.
“Get. Out.” The words snaked between clenched teeth, between the fury keeping Tomura stone-still.
How dare he.
Dabi sensed the shift — heard the threat in Tomura’s voice — but he didn’t back away, electric blue eyes fixed on Tomura with something more than care .
God, that look made Tomura angry beyond what his skin could contain, beyond the reach of words and emotions.
Betrayal had cut him to the quick, but hope burned all the more.
“I didn’t, creep, and I can prove it.” Dabi leaned forward with the words, scarred palm reaching for Tomura. It was a confident motion, a purposeful one. Somehow, in the few days of separation, Dabi had gained a conviction as strong as Tomura’s rage: strong as metal and inescapable as dust.
Tomura fixed a crimson gaze on that wrist, watched it move toward him. He was scorpion-still, five fingers at the ready but...
But that wrist still bore bruises — still had the shadows of his marks. Four days ago, Tomura had gripped that wrist with a hurtful rage, had heard the creak of bones beneath his fingers.
He had reached out to maim.
The breath rushed into Tomura, making his lungs press painfully against the bone cage keeping them in his skin. He hated that sight, hated that palm, hated those scars. The doubt was crawling up his spine now, insidious with the dreams he had dissolved into dust.
Look at what your hands have wrought, Shimura Tenko.
Dabi’s hand stopped a hairsbreadth before his face, a second before Tomura’s rage forced him to strike. Instead of a touch, residual heat just brushed over his face, tender and threatening and too close.
Tomura wanted to flay him.
“I have Sato.”
“What?” The word slipped out, surprise making his muscles go loose and the anger flicker out for the span of a heartbeat, for a moment held on the edge of his patience.
What had Dabi said?
“I have Sato.”
The roof was open to the harsh light of midday, exposed to the wind and sky in a way that made Tomura’s skin prickle. Without a cloud in sight, every brick was visible, every shadow washed away by the sun.
Today was not a day to be so exposed, even with Sensei beside him and years of training lining whipcord-strong muscles. Restless and listless and furious, Tomura shifted his weight, ground the rough pavement below his feet. He was mutinous in the face of hope, mutinous in the face of his rage.
Dabi stood a few feet away, close enough to touch, too far to speak to. But even now, even here, Dabi radiated a distracting warmth, and god, Tomura was still so angry.
They stood there, three lone wolves gathered as a pack, standing vigil over the body between them, laid out against the rough surface of the roof like so much trash.
In the harsh light of the noonday sun, Sato looked broken.
Her face was bruised and burned, charred to flaking and beyond. The rest of her fared no better: clothing ripped and hair cremated in the heat of Dabi’s rage.
Her breathing was soft with the cool touch of unconsciousness, soft as the sound of falling leaves, soft as rustling grass.
In, out. In, out.
Her breaths were so quiet . Like this, vulnerable and stripped of guile, Sato looked too human. Tomura’s gaze trailed across the burns marking her like a brand, across the shallow movement of her chest.
Dabi had done this. Dabi had left these marks across her face, bubbled her skin in his rage. Tomura took a breath, chest tight with something he couldn’t name.
Then he looked again, forced red eyes to take in every gruesome detail, let it filter into him like poison.
She was broken.
If Dabi was to be believed, this woman betrayed them. Their family of misfits, of cored-out people brought together with the smell of bitter espresso, of Hitoshi and Sensei.
She had put them in danger. She had sold them out.
And yet the damage done to her...it turned Tomura’s stomach, made him lightheaded with a sudden burst of fear, a jarring high note to the undercurrent of rage stealing across his bones.
He took a breath, watched the slow rise of her bone-and-burned-flesh chest.
What would he have done, had he found Sato first? His anger was acidic, eating away metal and shining silver, bubbling across flesh and soul until it corrupted all it touched. That fury had been spread across his veins like butter, melted into his skin by the threat to his family.
What would he have done?
Tomura didn’t want to know.
“She’s alive.” The words were harsh as an avalanche, echoing in the stream of midday light. That voice demanded attention, resonant and understated in Sensei’s low tones.
A hero’s judgement sat heavy on those words, lurked in the edges of Sensei’s flat stare. It was sharp with failed expectation, contained in a way that spoke of true anger.
Tomura could practically hear it settle on Dabi’s shoulders.
He shuddered, a small thing of shaking bones and trembling fingers. A breath, take a breath.
What would he have done?
“Yeah, she’s alive,” Dabi said, the words going tight and choked, like Dabi couldn’t bring himself to admit it. “She sold the freak out— gave his name to AFO,” Dabi paused, sutures gleaming in the sunlight with his indecision. “His old name.”
The rage that still swirled behind Tomura’s baleful eyes settled, went still for the smallest heartbeat. The words were unwelcome as poison, curling through his veins like boiling acid , All For One knew where he was, but—
But something else bubbled under his skin, pushing the shock and fear aside with a tide of emotion. The thing lurking beneath his skin— a creature of hope and sweet denial— pushed out of his heart, scales glimmering with the thoughts that had been haunting him since Dabi had first walked into the café.
Tomura believed him.
He took a step closer, moved to feel the warmth radiating off Dabi’s skin. There was still fury in his bones, but it was less now, dissolving under the press of sweet relief. Tenko was still echoing through his head like an old wound split open and left to fester anew, but—
It hadn’t been betrayal.
Electric blue eyes flicked to him, bored into him with a conviction that was worried and gentle and alive with a vigilante’s justice.
In that precious moment, a fragile peace crystallized between them, kept aloft by the heat of Dabi’s fire, by the breadth of the space between them.
In that moment, Tomura finally understood the hurt pounding under his skin, rough with rage and bitter with betrayal.
He cared for Dabi. He cared for him , had let him burn close to his skin, let him touch his fingers with a welcomed grip.
And he had left those prints across Dabi’s wrist, carved marks bruise-deep into him.
What had he done?
Sensei’s words cut through the horror dawning over his rage like the rising sun across a desert. “Get Hitoshi: we will get all the information we can. Then we take her to the police.”
“She has a lot of information on us,” Dabi said, voice idle with a thousand heavy implications. He still hadn’t looked away from Tomura, eyes burning brilliant as a star.
He was Tomura’s supernova, all shimmering lights and electric beauty. How had he not noticed before?
Sensei sighed, a gusty thing that sent disheveled hair shaking. The evening breeze pressed his hair back, left his bruised face clear for all to see. “I know.”
The words rung like a death knell, all resigned acceptance and resolute worry. The body at their feet didn’t stir, burned beyond the waking place and kept there.
But she was still alive, and that meant something.
It took them precisely twelve minutes and eleven seconds to carry Sato’s broken body to the police station, worry driving them faster, and the cover of night shielding them from prying eyes. With each pounding step — following in Sensei’s carefully placed footsteps, following his every gracile motion with the ease of long training — the rooftops seemed to come alive. The rush of wind across Tomura’s skin sent it prickling, unpleasant and bone-cold with Dabi’s absence.
He couldn’t come for this, not with his fire marking Sato’s body like a constellation. Tomura hated the chill crawling across his skin with a poisonous rage.
Now the informant was hidden in the shadowed corners of an alley. Bruised and burned skin looked lifeless against the smooth concrete, corpse-still and gruesome.
In, out. Her chest lifted with a terrifying hesitance. The charred remains of her hair hung limp and wiry on the pavement.
Tomura hated her.
They had gotten everything scrap of information they could, had proven the truth of Dabi’s words. With each secret she’d spilled from brainwashed lips, Tomura had felt the rage bubble inside him anew. She had taken his greatest secret and flicked it into the wishing well, fed it to the beasts lurking there.
Now All for One would devour it, threaten Tomura’s worn and beloved home.
What would he have done?
He— he didn’t know anymore, and that made disquiet sneak up his spine, made his neck itch. Tomura had thought he understood himself, with the skill borne of long thoughts and heavier secrets.
He had been wrong.
Sensei’s voice was quiet, whisper-soft between them, “I’m going to call it in— head home. Take the streets, and go incognito.” A pause swept across the alley, held in exposed red eyes and the gleam of moonlight across a bruised face. The black-red of bricks contrasted sharply to Sensei’s face, made him stand out against the shadowed background.
He looked afraid, a father’s fear lurking behind the strands of his hair. “Be careful.”
In a sweeping motion of stealth and disheveled clothes, Sensei was gone, crawling up the wall and out of sight spider-quick.
Tomura didn’t hesitate, long fingers clenching against his side as he walked into the street. Streetlights cast an inhuman glow across the edge of his nails, leaving his deadly fingers skeletal and bone-white.
He kept walking, until the alley was long gone, lost as dust to the wind, dissolved away from memory but not from Tomura’s bitter and haunting thoughts.
He didn’t know what he’d see, if he looked in the mirror now.
A hacking cough dragged him out of the quagmire of his mind, shook him awake and aware and ready .
His hand twitched at his side, lean muscle giving him the shell of confidence. He was alone on a lonely street, furious and shaken as he had not been since dust brushed over his fingertips for the first time.
But he wasn’t alone anymore. A few feet away stood an old woman, shrunken with age and frail as dry bones. She was a shriveled thing, eyes weary with an elderly kindness and mouth stretched from too much smiling.
She coughed again, the sound deep and wet with disease. The hurt in it reminded Tomura of the alley he’d just left behind, of the body he’d left there.
In, out out out—
It was too loud, not gentle enough to breath to, no. Tomura controlled the urge to twitch away, irritation bubbling up his spine with a murmur of disquiet.
It was deep in the dark of night, and she hadn’t been there, a moment ago.
“Young man,” she said, the words slow as molasses and just as sweet. There was no pause to speak into, nothing to stop her next words, nothing to keep the ice from Tomura’s spine. “Shimura Tenko.”
She smiled that kind smile, ancient eyes glinting with something Tomura couldn't name. She looked beneficent, alive with the grace of the elderly.
In, out, he couldn’t—
His breath caught, clawed through his throat and hissed between clenched teeth. He was shaking, he noted dimly, watching the fabric of his hoodie shift with the trembling of his shoulders.
“Who the fuck are you? How do you know my name?” Even as he spoke, sensation crept up his skin, made it itch with a thousand tiny legs.
There was only one person who could know that name, now.
A laugh twirled between them, dry and craggy with years lived. Power crept into the woman’s eyes, face twisting beyond the bounds of wrinkles and a kind smile for a breath, a heartbeat.
For one fragile moment, Tomura looked down at the old woman and saw nothing but scars and hollow eye sockets.
For a moment, Tomura saw fear itself.
Then the kind smile crept back up wrinkled lips, and it vanished like dust beneath his fingertips.
“An interested party.”
Tomura needed to get out, had to leave, he needed Sensei, needed Dabi, needed—
She tilted her head to one side, a shriveled bird of prey with eyes fixing Tomura in place. “Heroes have become quite the menace, don’t you think? Would you like to help me solve that problem?”
The question echoed off his skin, hit him like a punch to the gut. With dread sinking its stinger deep into the flesh of his heart, Tomura knew what he was being asked.
What would he have done to Sato, had he found her first?
He hissed the words out, forced them between clenched teeth, “No, I fucking wouldn’t.”
Expression and wrinkles slid off her face in one breath, leaving behind only the vaguest features of humanity.
And the woman melted into the pavement, flesh and bone dripping into black mire at his feet.
Tomura shook his way into the café, skin clammy with fear and neck a bloody ruin of scratches.
He didn’t remember the journey home, the shadows of night and the old woman’s words blurring his memory.
The door slammed behind him, a shield between Tomura and the nightmares that walked the streets— thick oak with countless scratches, the marks of a cat’s claws and long years of weathering. He would be safe here.
His shoulders slouched, tension bleeding from him and into the floor beneath his feet. Awareness trickled back in like the drip of poison, slow and steady and—
Only Dabi was in the café, settled at the closest table with electric eyes and silver-bright sutures.
The word curled into Tomura’s ear with a warm familiarity, echoing in the empty expanse of the café. It soothed the panic clinging to his bones, fed his fickle heart irritation instead.
In, out, the woman was gone.
Tomura took slow steps to Dabi’s table, stood over him like a specter.
“Princess,” he repeated, the word soft and intimate in the air between them. Tomura hated that he welcomed it.
“What.” He poured as much vitriol as he could into his voice, poured all the fury and hurt and betrayal that had settled into his bones over the last few days. Fear lurked in his veins; let Dabi taste it.
He ripped it all out and gave it voice, gave it form, but his voice—
His voice just sounded tired.
“You believe me.” It wasn’t a question, no doubt lurked in Dabi’s fire-hot words.
The asshole probably thought Tomura would be dissolving him into a fine powder, if he didn’t believe. He’d be wrong; Tomura knew now that he couldn’t bear the bruises on Dabi’s skin.
He couldn’t bear being the one to leave them there.
“Yeah, asshole.” Tomura rolled tense shoulders, rolled the stress straight into his stomach. It curled there, a knot winding tighter and tighter until all that was left was strain and strange nerves.
In, out, the woman was gone.
“I believe you.”
A chuckle — warm with a summer’s breeze, warm as Tomura’s prickling skin — filled the air between them. Dabi stood, took a step closer, moved into Tomura’s space with a smoky smile and eyes gleaming with conviction.
When had he gotten so close? When had Tomura let him so close, let this sewn-together man creep under his skin?
When had he started to care?
“I’m glad, Princess.” Dabi reached forward, scarred palm resting across the scratches on Tomura’s neck. His skin was hot as a wild-fire, burning a brand of trust into Tomura’s pulse.
He swallowed against the weight, let himself lean into the touch. For the first time in days, he didn’t focus on the four-fingered bruises across that wrist.
“I didn’t like pissing you off. Although...” Dabi was so close, thumb moving soothing circles over torn skin, pressing calm over the maelstrom contained in Tomura’s muscles and bones and soul.
“You’re hot when you’re angry.”
Something in Tomura snapped, a piece of his armor breaking loose and falling with a clatter across the floor between them. How the fuck did Dabi have the right to say that?
A lethal hand whipped out, grabbing Dabi’s jaw in four-fingered grip somewhere between gentle and furious . Tomura was almost shaking, the strain of four-days’ anger and betrayal crashing through him like a tidal wave.
He had been kept at the breaking place. He had cared.
How dare Dabi say that without kissing him.
“Asshole,” He hissed out, viper-quick and trembling against the hand across his neck. He cut off Dabi’s laugh with a growl and press of lips.
Thanks to the much appreciated Escher84 for a beta read.
Do you know how many dashes they took out? So many.
Chapter 22: A Gilded Cage
A few things before we begin:
1- We are likely to break 2000 kudos on this chapter. I am so fucking excited, you have no idea. And this leads me into thing two which is--
2- I have the best readers. You all are amazing, and thank you for coming on this wacky-ass journey to an espresso-filled cafe. I love you all.
3- I have been real bad about answering comments in the last few weeks, know that I will answer them all in the next few days, real life has just been a little crazy recently. If you've left me a comment and I haven't responded, know that I read and loved it regardless.
You may want to kill me after this chapter. Be warned. muahahahaha
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
His wings were spread wide today; crimson feathers caught the blood-stained glow of the setting sun behind him, ushering his every step forward.
He walked with a hero’s purpose today. The glinting light from the windows streamed across his eyes, flickering with the movement of his body, with the metal bars stretching up to the ceiling, up to the heavens.
On another day, he would have strolled, legs loose and smile drawn lazily across his face. On another day, he would have stopped to greet civilians, would have given them a scrawling signature and a cheery grin. On another day, he would have let the air tease his wings, felt the draw of the sky across his face, brushed against the heavens and flew.
But today, the impetus of a stormcloud traced his steps, pushed him faster, faster. He couldn’t pause, not now.
The hospital was fraught with tension, stretched taut as a hangman's rope. The swarms of police lining the halls parted before him, a blue sea before red wings. He received countless friendly nods, respectful greetings, shifting faces behind grim coats and towering stacks of paper. With the press of wind that followed him, one sheet teetered close to the edge, the white pages, tipping, falling—
Hawks caught them with a casual feather, never stopping his forward motion, steps relentless and inexorable. He couldn’t stop now, not with the promise of information ahead. Not with a clue to the war on the horizon, a war between titanic villains, a war that would have casualties.
Hawks had to stop it.
Three hallways and four twisting turns had him before the Restricted Wing, red tape and watchful officers guarding the door. Hawks ducked in with a hero’s privilege, slipping into the near-empty corridor beyond. Naomasa met him with his first steps inside, gentle smile hiding a spine of steel, clothing dapper as only a detective’s could be.
Hawks forced himself to a stop, wings still and steady to hide the trembling impatience leaking through his hollow bones.
The winds of fate were pushing him forward, and he couldn’t stop them now.
“Hawks-san.” An inclined head was Naomasa’s only movement, efficient and methodical as a master composer— the man was ever careful .
“Naomasa-san. Let’s not waste time.” He summoned a smile, brushed onto a tense face with all the training coated on hollow bones. His shoulders were loose, relaxed. Hawks had always been good at putting on a brave face.
“Of course.” Naomasa took measured steps forward, strong form leading Hawks down the hall. “It was called in again too, the same voice as last time.” Naomasa paused, a thread of worry weaving through his professional tone like an oil slick. “We found someone else, too. You’ll want to see this one.”
The line of his shoulders went tense as steel. He forced himself to keep walking, forced his feet to stay grounded.
The long walls couldn’t handle the whirlwind of his impatience. “Another? An informant?”
“No, this girl—” Few things could give a detective as skilled as Naomasa pause, and fewer could make his eyes as troubled as storm clouds.
Hawks could feel the winds shifting, growing untamable even to his skills. This girl, Naomasa had said . Another victim too young to face the horrors creeping in the night.
Another life Hawks hadn’t saved.
“She can’t really be considered alive, not as she is now. All Might thinks it’s his doing.” The words rung down the hallway, echoed across bland walls and the curve of Hawks’s wings. He felt an itch crawl up his spine, strong as the brush of icy fingers over his skin, clammy with death and decay.
A protective rage was curling between his primaries, bunching across his wings until they had brushed over the tall ceiling.
“The girl.” A breath, wings shaking down with his exhale, with the iron-strength of his will. He had learned to control the hurricane in his veins long ago, had learned how people feared the wildness in his heart.
He was a hero, with a gilded cage keeping the predator away. He couldn’t spread his wings wide, not here, not now, not with the furies of wind and sky peeking from inhuman eyes.
You are a hero now, Hawks. Heroes don’t strike fear in the heart.
He was bound by the walls of the hospital, with information to collect and people to save. Today, his wings were downy-soft, not wild. Today, his talons were nails, and his eagle-sharp vision was just good.
Today he was tame.
“I’d like to see the girl first.”
The trip down the hall was quick, the two of them sweeping between white-washed walls with a purposeful speed. Booted feet took them over spotless tile, over colorless floors. Hawks wondered how much blood had been spilt on those floors, how many tears had been wiped away by the sting of antiseptic.
Then he remembered the gilded bars of his cage and ceased to wonder.
The room Naomasa led him to was inconspicuous: four, simple walls bearing tasteful art and bland colors. As Hawks stepped in, a painting of a seaside caught his eyes, a spot of brilliant blue on an ocean of beige. A lone cottage decorated a sandy beach, the shades of loneliness casting the building in sunset purples. It looked like it bore a story in the short brush strokes, but this was no surprise. Every wall in the hospital contained a myriad of stories.
But there was another story waiting in this room.
The girl on the bed was pale with the pallor of a coma, light blonde hair cast across the clean white of the pillow behind her. The beginnings of sickness were wasting away at her face, making high cheekbones stand stark against delicate features.
An infectious smile , Hawks thought, sharp eyes picturing that face grinning wide. She surely had an infectious smile.
“She’s unresponsive, it seems. Likely no more than 18. Doctors say there is minimal brain activity,” Naomasa paused, face going grave. It seemed there was more to her story. “Hawks-san…”
Silence filled the room like a plague, but Hawks didn’t let himself look away from her face.
“Her quirk has been stripped from her.”
Hawks felt his heart clench in his chest, felt sharp nails dig into his palms. A tremble spread up from the tips of his wings, infinitesimal and unnoticeable. A person with a cheery smile, lying near-lifeless and quirkless against corpse-white sheets.
This is why they were here.
“Where was she found?” He stepped closer to the bed, reached for the medical chart. Too-sharp eyes scanned across the information, absorbing it and tucking it away for future use.
Then he looked at her face, committing it to memory, engraving it deep in hollow bones. It would sit on his feathers, line his down as did a hundred other smiles, a thousand bright eyes.
It would keep him in his cage with all the other victims he’d been too slow to save.
“In a northern ward of the city. She was left in a hospital, dropped off by an old woman. No one thought to get her name at the time, and no one can remember more than her face.”
“No footage?” He asked, hope long gone from his voice. Naomasa only shook his head, black hair shifting across tired eyes.
A dead end then. Hawks took a breath, felt his wings rustle across the stretch of his back. Crimson and shadow, brushing with the power of the wind, stirring the wind around him.
He was used to the sadness, to the guilt. He had long ago learned to let it fade away. But the anger — the righteous fury that drove him further and faster and farther than any other hero — it built up on his bones, driving him forward.
She had such a cheerful face.
He stopped, took a gentle breath, let thoughtfulness settle into his bones. Think, bird. Was there anything here to be gained? Aimless eyes wandered around the room and settled on the lonely painting.
Oh. Hawks suppressed a hint of a smile, the surge of his heartbeat making his wings flutter. There was a possibility. Perhaps this was not a dead end after all. “Is there a way to find out what her quirk was?”
Naomasa paused, fingers twitching against the brim of his hat. He looked strange without it atop his head, more human, less detective .
He looked so tired.
“I don’t know. I don’t think that’s ever needed to be done, before.” He hummed, a thoughtful sound sneaking into the lifeless space of the room.
There were just four walls here, and they held such stories.
“I’ll ask the doctors. If we could know what quirk she had…”
Naomasa didn’t finish the thought, but he didn’t need to; if they could pinpoint her quirk, they’d know why All for One took her.
This wouldn’t be a dead end then. Hawks let his gaze fall on her face, trace the hint of stark bones and the edge of taut skin. It was newly familiar, echoing from his etched memories, and god did he hate that feeling.
Hawks hoped her story wouldn’t end inside these four walls as so many others had before her. But he wouldn’t forget that face, regardless. This was his burden to bear along with his feathers, along with his gilded cage and golden jesses.
“Let’s go, Naomasa.” There was nothing more to be gained here, and his wings could offer no protection for her. He’d have Fuyumi search for her family.
He knew the chances were slim, but he would try, always.
The next room had the same beige walls, the same curtained windows. It had the same painting too, the sea looming over the lonely cottage like a great behemoth. It even hung in the same place, three quarters up the wall and straight as steel. Hawks traced his gaze across the brush strokes, eyes eagle-sharp.
The rooms were interchangeable, but the stories inside them were not.
A single step in had a charcoal stench twisting into Hawks’s senses. It was a thing of decay and bitter barbeque, filling the room like a miasma. He raised a hand over his face, and pinched his nose shut against the invasive smell.
There was no stopping the sight that greeted him. Spread across the bed, burned hands laying at her side with a lifeless grace, a woman slept, bound in the embrace of a coma. Her face was with the touch of fresh healing, hair charred away and brows burned off. A hint of bubbling flesh spread over the back of her hands, crawling up into the hospital gown. Hawks had no doubt it encompassed large swaths of her body.
How badly had she been burned? Even now, despite the best healing the police force had to offer, she was nearly inhuman.
But she looked familiar.
The line of her shoulders, the cut of her cheekbones, the shape of her jaw— they all brushed across the hints of Hawks’ memory like a fell breeze of winter.
Who was she?
He struggled to remember, taking slow and thoughtful steps toward the bed. A single, smooth motion had her medical chart held before him, two long feathers keeping it aloft. Still, the itch of remembrance crawled across his wings, twirled through the air, and echoed over his skin like an eagle’s screech.
He knew her from somewhere.
A glance at her records was all it took— just a glance, just enough to see fire in a grid pattern, burns spanning the body, hand print seared into her neck—
That was all it took to send shivers running between his wings, all it took to make raptor-sharp eyes narrow into something deadly.
Since the first day he’d spread his wings and accepted his cage, Hawks had been self-sufficient. Oh, he was a hero, born into the role and shaped by an endless chain of trainers and handlers.
But at his core, an animal instinct had driven him to trust only in the relentless wind and his own burning resolve.
He was bound by the golden filigree of his cage, but he had allowed the bars to be forged. He had no blind faith to give, no eternal trust to share.
On his wings alone, he flew.
Above his skyborne skill, only one person stood taller, and only Endeavor had borne Hawks respect. As a child, he had idolized the hero, spent sweet summer days playing with the doll his handlers’ had given him. The stuffed fabric had been worn thin by the press of a child’s hands, by the rough edge of his talons. He had been allowed all the toys his heart could desire — anything to keep him happy, anything to fill his cage. But that had been the only toy he’d ever wanted.
He had treasured that toy like little else. Now that respect etched itself into his feathers, sent chills up his spine with a terrible knowledge.
Burn patterns in a grid.
It couldn’t have been Endeavor — not with his movements so carefully tracked by the eyes of the media— but Hawks’ had studied the Number Two’s quirk enough to know it was unique.
No other known quirk left a burn pattern like that; no other flame-user had the near-flawless control Endeavor did, no other flame-user could replicate that cross-hatched pattern. Endeavor weaved shapes through the air with a microscopic precision driven by instinct: the motion concentrating heat and movement into a targeted flame with perfect control. No burn pattern could match Todoroki’s. No one had that kind of mastery.
If these burns didn’t come from Endeavor’s fire...
Hawks raised a hand, pressed fingers into the face of the floating paper. The edges of his talons — nails, he called them nails now, kept tame and soft — imprinting the marks of his concentration on the white sheet. The chart was crystal clear, completely in focus, with diagrams screaming a thousand thoughts and confusions towards Hawks.
With grid patterns this wide, the quirk had to burn hotter than Endeavor’s.
“You’ve checked these injuries against a list of known heroes and villains?” He forced the words out through the beat of his heart, through the endless motion of his mind. It was hardly a question: Naomasa was a veteran detective, leaving no stone unturned and no lead unfollowed. Hawks had no doubt he’d already checked, but he needed to hear it.
Naomasa shot him a knowing look, brows pinching with concern. “Yes. It came up as a partial match for Todoroki-san.”
Cross-hatched flames, maximum damage, minimum collateral. A truly unique burn pattern.
How could it be a partial match?
Hawks’s feathers twitched against his back, moving the subtle stench of burned flesh around the room, stirring dead air and disrupting the tense atmosphere between them. The plain walls — painted a pale beige, modern and dull and lifeless, god, they were lifeless — pushed the wind back at him, brushed it across his face.
The tale inside these four walls was stranger than Hawks could ever have guessed.
They had so many clues before them, but he’d be damned if he knew how they fit together. Too many threads twisted in the breeze — too many pieces fluttering around him. Eagle eyes rested on the painting hanging on the wall, traced the slow movement of waves.
The house looked so lonely, alone and lost to the wind.
“She was dropped off outside the station, and the call came afterward.” The words were a statement, a confirmation; Hawks was thinking aloud now, mouth moving with little intent from him. It had to be the same caller as before, the man who knew too much and said too little. The man Redeye had identified as Destro.
The world wasn’t ready for this battle between titans, but Hawks would spread his wings in protection anyway, let crimson feathers take the blow. He didn’t want any new names to carve into his bones, any fresh faces to memorize.
He just wasn’t sure that he would be enough.
“The recording.” He shot Naomasa a look like spun gold, intense as the first rays of the sun and just as relentless. The burn patterns were the same. “Do you have it?”
A short nod was his only answer, framed by appraising eyes. “You want to listen to it.” It wasn’t a question, stated with a detective’s cunning. “Think you might recognize the voice?”
Silence hung like a cloud between them, swirling with the winds of change. Hawks let words sit across his tongue, let them cling to him and curl up hollow bones. Something gut-deep and instinctual was telling him the answer was yes.
He shrugged, the motion an avalanche of glittering crimson and ruffling feathers. Voice noncommittal, Hawks answered, “Worth a shot.”
And that was all that needed to be said. Two steps had them outside the pale, white room, with its off-beige walls and seaside painting, outside the unstoppable beeping of the heart monitor.
It was so much easier to breath outside the burned and scorched air. That women’s story was nearly done, Hawks could tell. His stomach dropped as they left the room, settling down across his hollow bones with the press of gravity.
She’d live, but the cost of burns like that...
He took a breath, let it fill strong lungs and shake stronger wings. Hawks would remember her name, her face. He’d carved it into his hollow bones, let it stain his primaries a deeper crimson. On the day she recovered, on the day her life was no longer painted on the walls of that hospital room—
On that day, he’d allow himself to forget.
Out in the empty hall, Naomasa pulled out a sleek phone. It took three quick taps to have the recording playing, the sound of high wind pressing static-loud from the speakers. A rumbling voice caught the air between them, fell through Hawks’s ears and settled in his stomach, heavy as guilt.
“ The alley, two blocks south of the 3 rd Ward Police Station. All For One will want her.”
With a toneless click, the message ended, brief and to the point. Hawks kept his face clear as a cloud-less sky, swept free and easy by the wind, but—
But he knew that voice, had heard it a hundred times over the years, always in that same gruff tone, always weighed down by an insomniac’s weariness.
Redeye’s voice was hard to mistake.
Hawks’ heart pounded in his chest like a feral thing, quick and fluttery. No dead end after all, but oh, the threat. A hero would bring this forward, open his mouth and let the knowledge tumble out.
But Hawks’ lips were still as the grave, secret held fast and tight to his throat. He was a hero, but he had spent years gathering tiny shreds of information, sat at the table of villains and vigilantes alike, spoken their language and learned their ways.
Hawks was a hero, but he knew the value of the café. And right now, he didn’t know if he could afford to break that place apart.
“The voice is familiar?” Naomasa’s tone was questioning, detective-sharp and honed with the power of his quirk. Hawks could not lie to that voice, but careful trial had taught him how to deceive it nonetheless. Half-truths and clever smiles, wrapped in sunset-red feathers — he knew how, but he didn’t use it now.
They were on the same side, and Hawks trusted in Naomasa’s good intentions.
“Yeah, I might know it.” He let out a breath through his teeth, felt the air press out of his body, leave him empty and filled with a terrible certainty.
This could break the case open, crack into the hard shell of mystery and expose the soft underbelly of secrets that Hawks could use. With this, he might stop the war threatening on the horizon.
But it also might destroy the only haven where villains and heroes could coexist. It might destroy a place Hawks had grown to love, where peace was wrapped in the soothing tones of jazz and the bitterly strong taste of espresso.
He shifted, wings rustling against the dead air of the hall, a protest of crimson feathers and lightning-quick power. But he already knew the decision clinging to his skin.
Hawks would do what it took.
“Yeah, but the person — it is a delicate issue. Give me three days, Naomasa. I have to ask around.” Eyes sharp with the painful conviction filling his hollow bones, Hawks stared down the detective, let all his surety rest in the set of his face.
He was a hero, from the trimmed talons on his feet to the wind leashed in his crimson feathers. The policeman could stand in his way — Hawks wouldn’t stop him, the detective was a good man, from brimmed hat to shiny shoes — but he wouldn’t.
Hawks had earned his trust.
“You know the urgency, Hawks.” Naomasa inclined his head, hair flitting down as if to take the place of his usual fedora. “I trust you’ll act fast.”
A laugh burst out of Hawks, rumbled through a tight chest and spun through the air like a lost feather caught in the wind. “You know me: I’m the fastest hero around.”
As he walked away, as he spread his wings and let them take him high and far and a thousand heartbeats away, Hawks narrowed purposeful eyes.
He knew the urgency better than anyone.
He landed before the café in a spiral of falling crimson, the wind bringing him down gently on the rough pavement. The weathered wood of the door swung open as he touched down, a young man with purple hair stepping across the threshold with light movements.
Shinsou looked three-days’ dead, shoulders slumped towards the ground and hands hanging loose at his sides. Deep bags carved fresh wounds into a young face, casting him twice as old and thrice as weary.
But the light in his eyes — that was new.
“Shinsou-kun, back from your internship?” Hawks schooled his voice as calm as it could get, light and lilting as a feather on the breeze. No need to spook the kid.
Shinsou nodded, a shallow and preoccupied greeting. There was a hint of happiness lurking in the corners of unsmiling lips, a new confidence keeping his spine a little straighter. “Yes, Hawks-san.”
“Heading somewhere?” Hawks didn’t need to force the grin onto his face, not with the fresh ease of Shinsou’s posture. The conversation waiting inside the café would be dark and heavy, with terrible consequences but—
But god, the kid looked happy.
Another nod, just as shallow. “Just out for a walk.”
Hawks laughed, the sound light and fluttery in the open sky. A hint of a breeze brushed over his wings, left him basking in the fresh air. “Don’t let me keep you, kid.”
Without another word, Shinsou stepped down the street, moving smooth and effortlessly. Another day, Hawks would have spared more than a passing thought for where the boy was going. Another day, he wouldn’t have been contented with a question, not with Shinsou’s quirk, not with his connections.
But today, he had bigger worries.
He furled crimson wings tight against his back as he strolled into the café, leashed his power into obedience and readiness. Eagle-sharp eyes took only a moment to adjust to the darkened interior of the café, only a moment to spot Redeye among the tables.
Today, he wasted no time, walking with purpose to the owner’s table. Redeye sat there, eyes uncovered and gleaming crimson in the dusky lighting. He looked uncanny, lethal and wild in a way Hawks knew too well. A pantherous man, protecting the four walls of the café with every ounce of danger leashed in the lean muscle of his shoulders.
And oh, what tale did these four walls tell. Hawks was only beginning to see the bones of the secrets buried beneath the café, peeking out bleached-white and espresso-stained. They told of a creature buried here, a great beast of history and old stories.
It was Redeye’s story, this Hawks knew.
“Redeye.” Hawks made eye contact with a purpose, kept his face serious and gaze calm. Crimson eyes stared back, watched his approach with a bone-deep weariness.
Hawks felt a sympathetic exhaustion brush his over his feathers, familiar as the first breeze of morning. He let none of it soften his eyes. A simple motion had him swinging into the chair before Redeye, swirling it around like a circus performer and settling his elbows against the leather back.
Behind him, his wings shuffled in threat, massive in the enclosed space. For once, Hawks let them shift freely, let them breathe air into the space around him.
Let Redeye see him as he is.
“Hawks.” The word was measured, clipped and to the point. Hawks saw the danger in it. He didn’t care today.
“There’s a recording at the police station — a new tip. I listened to it today. Thought I recognized the voice: a little gruff, sounds like he drinks espresso. Thought you might know him,” Hawks spoke with a careless tone, voice lilting through the air.
But they fell into the space between them, weighty with the gravitas of change. In their wake was only silence, as the rules of the café pressed down across the smooth wood — pressed down over Hawks’s shoulders.
Months ago, those rules would have Hawks kicked from the café. Now, they would have no bearing. The time of rules was over, and the time of action had begun.
Hawks knew Redeye understood this.
“And if I do?” The voice rung between them, dangerous with every ounce of lethality contained in the coiled muscle sitting there. It was as gruff as Hawks remembered, as gruff as he had described.
His memory wasn’t wrong: Redeye was the caller.
“Then I need some answers.” He let his tone go serious, hard with heroic intent. Hawks had people to save, a war to stop.
He would not equivocate, not here. Redeye knew what was happening, had known since the beginning—
And he had lied to Hawks.
But he’d also reported the events, given the police every tip they had. An urge deep in Hawks’s gut — the same wild instinct that had him twisting his wings to catch an updraft, the same instinct that made his reactions superhuman — told him Redeye was to be trusted.
Redeye was an ally.
Hawks had not become the Number 3 Hero without understanding the intricacies of human nature.
“I need to know what’s going on to protect the innocent,” He paused, let words collect across his tongue, “and I will protect them.”
It was a threat and a promise and a statement of fact, wrapped into one grim package. One day, the walls would tell the tale of what happened next.
The street echoed with Hitoshi’s steps, familiar buildings lining his path forward. One, two. He kept walking, kept moving forward. Exhaustion was carved into the bags beneath his eyes, but Hitoshi felt awake with hope. A world-weary ache infested his limbs, but he felt light with ability .
So much had changed, over the last week, and yet so much had stayed the same. Dabi had returned, with apologies and evidence and a searing conviction. He stood closer than ever before to Tomura, an electric blue shadow to Tomura’s dusty light.
Whatever was between them, it had crystalized into something diamond-hard. Hitoshi didn’t know what to make of it, but with the eased lines of Tomura’s face, he couldn’t begrudge it.
Not with the peace spreading back over the café, making the tension in Redeye’s shoulders leak out into every cup of espresso. And if Hitoshi had made a few extra shots, slipped them onto Sensei’s table with little fanfare and tired eyes? Sensei didn’t seem to mind.
One, two. The pavement was smooth beneath his feet, cracks level and streets well maintained. Brick escorted him forward, unfamiliar buildings taking him into the heart of the city.
So much had changed, and then—
Eri. Hitoshi’s friends. He had friends.
So much had changed.
He had left the café with a light heart and the happiness curling in his chest, all the stronger. His feet carried him forward, the sunset shining across his face and warming his skin, leaving him content to wander.
He wasn’t one to bask in the sun usually. But today — today it seemed appropriate. Today, the fading warmth eased the eternal bags beneath his eyes. Around him, Tokyo was pulsing with activity, people streaming by in a flurry of colors, in a cacophony of sounds. Here, a woman with a kind smile and a laugh like the chiming of a thousand bells. There, a man with hunched shoulders and a stilted walk, lonely with the fear of a businessman.
The world looked so much bigger away from the walls of the café. Here, in the harsh light of day, Hitoshi could see all the people he was training to protect. Here, in the ending sun, Hitoshi knew that the café would be alright.
And then a sickly-sweet smell curled into his nose like poison, and Hitoshi —
Hitoshi knew nothing more.
I wrote a piece about my theories on Todoroki Flame burn patterns and possible quirk science here.
Thanks to the treasured Escher84 for a beta read.
Chapter 23: The Cracking Symphony
No true pom surprises here, just draaaaama :D
*maniacal laughter continues in the background*
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Anticipation hung thick in the air, chilling Hizashi to the bone. It spread over his grin like a cancer, floated behind his exuberant voice like a thick miasma. The anticipation was mute and muffler to the noise surrounding him; his class was loud but god Hizashi felt like he stood alone in a sea of silence.
There was something coming, but he’d be damned if he could tell what.
Green eyes fell on an empty chair for the fourth time in the span of a breath, scraped across the wooden desk with too much desperation. Then he dragged them away, kept his voice steady, kept his words moving with all of the skill of a performer eight times over.
Hizashi knew how to patch a star’s mask across the cracks of his smile, had learned in the time between endless nightmares and the space between tears. He knew sorrow like an old friend, and it would not shatter him now. He knew how to work around it.
Raise your voice louder so no one can hear it break.
But still his heart beat across his chest, bird-fragile and frantic. He was a hero, skilled in deception and quirk use alike but—
The chair was empty, echoing the futility of Hizashi’s decision.
This morning, he had placed bare feet on the floor, slick with fever sweat, and known he had to say something. Today he would talk to Shinsou, crack open the secrets the boy held in guarded eyes. There would have been no turning back from today.
Today he was going to ask about Shota, but an empty chair could answer no questions. A tremor crept into his lips, shaking the beginnings of his voice.
He forced it down, ruthless and steely. He was a hero, but—
But Shota had always been far too clever for his own good, and it would be just like him to vanish. The man was ambush and shadow given form, force made patient.
Shinsou’s chair was empty, and all Hizashi could think was what if he’s gone again?
Had his hesitation cost him this? Had Shota known of his suspicion? Had he cared? Hizashi’s fingers clenched across the wood of his desk, digging bloody cracks into his composure. His grin grew sharp as the cut of his leather, his voice climbed into the rafters of comfortable. The students winced, but god Hizashi couldn’t bring that sound down.
Don’t let them hear you break.
The empty chair echoed all his insecurities back, six years’ nightmares washing over the careful curl of his hair. Every ounce of his mettle faded before that damn chair.
What had taken him from Hizashi, all those years ago? How much had changed, in six years? If Hizashi saw a hint of scruff and the lean set of well-trained shoulders, would he recognize them?
Or would he simply walk onward, let a careless gaze skip past everything he had ever wanted?
How well did he truly know Shota now?
You let him go.
It took the performer’s soul — screaming from the flick of his fingers, washing across his smile — to keep his voice from crashing through the ceiling. He kept a steady tone through the class, kept his words calm and his face energetic.
He kept his mask on until there were only empty desks before him.
Quick feet took him to the teacher’s lounge, and quicker fingers had Shinsou’s contact information pulled up on the screen. Blinking up at him was the address for an orphanage in Tokyo.
Hizashi pressed down a full frown, but a furrow crept between his brows. That address matched with nothing the kid had said, nothing Hizashi had gleaned about his life.
He had taught hundreds of children over the years, seen faces haunted by a thousand sorrows. He knew the look of a parentless child, could spot the aching loneliness in the cracks of their mask.
If Shinsou lived in an orphanage Hizashi would eat his headphones. Still, it was the only lead left to him. There was nothing for Hizashi to do but pick up the phone and dial that vain hope.
He wondered what he’d find on the other side of that call.
He wondered if a gruff voice with lethal grace would echo across the line.
He stopped wondering and lifted the phone in a trembling hand, pressing buttons with a caution he never possessed.
“Helloooo Listener! I am calling from UA…”
He placed the phone down with steady fingers, green eyes sharp with new information. The vain hope inside his chest had blossomed beyond the scope of his ribs, leaving him broken open and delicate.
It also left him driven.
Black Cat Café, the man had said, with all the world-weariness of a longtime social worker. It was near the weight being a hero brought, and Hizashi knew the sound too well.
Shinsou had been adopted months ago and left only the name Black Cat Café.
Hizashi had hung up with a breathless and exuberant thanks. Now he was filled with that flowering hope, clogging his throat with endless promise.
If there was ever a place named by Shota, it was Black Cat Café.
Was his friend there, sitting at a table with flat eyes and a lurking smile? Or was the place empty as Shinsou’s chair, as the place between Hizashi’s aching lungs?
He didn’t know, but he’d damn well find out. Calm fingers betrayed his shaking heart, but Hizashi dialed with a careful speed, not slow but far from fast.
This took deliberation.
“Black cat café.”
There is a sound beyond silence. It is a thing only heard in the shattering of a soul, in the breathless inhale of a forlorn lover, in the wind brushing across grave-rock. No storm can summon it, no fire can burn its shape.
It is beyond .
And in that moment, Hizashi cracked shaking lips and spoke only that sound: a breath, an inhale shaking with the shock before a storm. Hizashi’s eyes felt too wide, the beat of his heart too loud. The flower of hope burst from his skin, crawled across his proud hair and strong arms. He was shaking, he was breathless, he was for the first time, without words.
That was Shota’s voice, echoing from the phone in his hand like a panther’s growl. That was Shota’s voice, flat and emotionless and so very dear.
Shota was alive.
Hizashi couldn’t stop the shaking of his fingers now, not with the petals spreading across his bones and flaking his skin away into static color and velvety happiness.
The flower had bloomed, and he would never let it die again.
With every ounce of performer’s training he, Hizashi spoke, voice steady and calm as nothing else about him was.
“It—” He stopped, took a breath. You are on stage, Hizashi. Don’t let him hear you break.
Except— except this was Shota, and if there was anyone who could see past Hizashi’s careful mask, it was Shota.
A breath, shakier now, open and giving in a way he couldn’t help. Still, his voice stayed firm with steel control.
“It is really you.”
There was a moment of stillness like the calm between songs, like the inhale of the sky before a storm. His modulator felt too heavy across his neck, weighty with impossible hope and the flower pressing away from his skin.
He wore his performer’s leather, but that gave him no armor. Today he was bare and broken with possibility.
A rough inhale sounded across the phone, the sound of a thousand thoughts and Shota’s deliberation. Even after six years, Hizashi knew that sound.
Shota was running through possibilities, and god, Hizashi couldn’t let him do that right now. The empty chair haunted him, smooth wood and weary table carved into Hizashi’s mind like a curse.
What if Shota left?
“Wait, hear me out Shota. Don’t hang up.” He said, voice steady, so steady, smooth as caramel and just as convincing. Don’t go, he didn’t say.
But he didn’t need to.
There was a beat of silence, like the sound of a resonant drum echoing through loneliness, and then, “I—”
A breath, gruff and notably pained even through the phone. Hizashi could feel the flower spread over his face, force the beginnings of a trembling smile over his lips.
“I will listen, Hizashi.”
Hearing his name from Shota’s lips was like a punch to the gut, screaming across the leather of his coat and leaving Hizashi breathless as a bird with a shattered wing.
It had been six years, but he had never forgotten that sound.
“I—” He stopped, voice trembling for the first time. He cursed, dragged up his performer’s skin. He couldn’t let Shota hear the shaking of his ribs, the heartbreak that was rising up like an amp turned to eleven.
But in the shaking of his voice he finally heard the right words, felt them crystalize across his tongue. He knew what to say.
“You are alive. Shota, you are alive.”
The pause that followed was choked with a friendship that could last a thousand years, and all that Hizashi had never been able to say.
I love you more than the songs that fill my voice, dearest listener.
I love you.
“Yeah, Hizashi, I—” God, Hizashi couldn’t take these silences, felt them eat into his voice and chip away the smile creeping up his face with the petals. But—
But Shota was alive.
“I had to leave, it was the logical choice. I am sor—” a pause, a swallow like he was pressing all the words away. Hizashi couldn’t have stopped bitterness from leaking up the flower’s petals if he tried, and right now—
Right now he didn’t want to try.
But Shota was alive.
“I am alive. How did you find me?” The question came from silence and returned to it, wrapping around Hizashi’s throat like the bounds of Shota’s capture weapon.
It was so very Shota, to want to know where his deception had failed.
“Shinsou. The listener didn’t come to class today, so I traced him back to the orphanage, and then, to Black Cat Café.” To you, he didn’t say, the words tracing his tongue like an endless rhythm.
He felt alive with happiness, dizzy with hope, and sick with the beginnings of a bitter tide.
But Shota was alive.
“He did what.” The tone had jumped from weary and broken to alarmed in two heartbeats, crashing through the phone like a thunderclap. “He didn’t make it to UA ?”
Dread pooled in Hizashi’s stomach, dripping down his throat like broken songs. Shota sounded afraid. “Would he go somewhere else?”
“No, not now, not without telling me.” The panic in Shota’s voice echoed across the phone, logical and barely controlled with desperation. “He’s—”
Silence came with the cut off word, and Hizashi clenched strong fingers around his phone, pressed it closer to his ear. Maybe, he could fix it into his face, never go without Shota’s voice again.
Maybe he could see him again.
A broken noise, too rational by half and just as furiously shaking. “I can’t tell you, Hizashi.”
The phone crackled beneath Hizashi’s next words, shaking at the seams beneath the strength of a quirk-strong voice. That bitter tide was washing away his hope, breaking into every ounce of the petals blooming across his skin.
Of course Shota would have secrets, after all this time. How well did Hizashi even know this stranger, anymore?
“You have to tell me, Shota.” There was a pause held in the strands of his hair and left to dry and then—
The line went dead in his fingers. That sound tore out of him again, forcing its way into the air. He hadn’t lost control of his quirk in years beyond count, but now all his voice could do was quake across the glass of the windows and shatter them beyond repair.
All he could do was tremble.
But Shota was alive.
The wood of the table greeted his tired eyes like an old friend and dear enemy, comforting before the weariness coating his bones. Shota’s phone trembled from long fingers, dropping onto that smooth wood with a clatter far too loud in for the smoky café. On another day, Shota would have cared, would have smoothed apologetic palms across the table. This table had been his companion for six long years, and it deserved his favor.
Another day, the trembling wouldn’t have happened at all. But today, only two thoughts crowded through the neat corridors of his mind.
He was on his feet before he could think, before words could spill from his lips or echo out of his ears. Hizashi’s voice had sounded the same — six years older but just as smooth, just as dulcet and loud with controlled power. Shota couldn’t take that voice, not with the heartbreak it had carried.
Desperate, with long limbs tight and filled with a terrible tension, Shota shoved those thoughts away, packed them into the box he kept for desperate times.
Hitoshi hadn’t made it to school. He couldn’t afford to be dwelling on the sound of Hizashi’s heartbreak.
Quick feet took him to the door, and with a single shout to Tomura, Shota was out the door in a flash of parental worry. His phone was in his hand before he could think, the GPS pulled up and actively marking Hitoshi’s location.
Four blocks away, in an alley of no note. Four blocks away and not moving, red light blinking up at him from the glass screen. Alarm raced through Shota like the snap of thunderous lightning, and god, he couldn’t run fast enough.
Hitoshi hadn’t made it.
Two minutes later, legs weary from the strain of the sprint, Shota stared down at a tidy dumpster and empty alley. Sitting inconspicuous and carelessly tossed aside was Hitoshi’s bag and the sliver of a cracked phone.
The evidence of a kidnapping.
Shota took a slow step forward, knelt to press long fingers into the fabric of Hitoshi’s bag. It was rough beneath his hand, brushing against raw nerves and new regrets. Sharp eyes — desperate, his heart was beating so fast and he was so worried — traced around the alley, scoured the pavement for more clues.
There were none.
He hadn’t given Hitoshi a body-tracker, hadn’t thought him a target the way Tomura was. Shota, in his overconfidence, in his neglect, had allowed this.
Hitosh had been taken, and he had done nothing.
A shuddering breath crawled across his throat, escaping his mouth as a growl to wrack the mortar of the bricks around him. This was his orchestra, and here, he was nothing but a failed conductor with broken hands.
He punched the wall with every ounce of his strength, felt the building shake beneath trained muscles and a mentor’s worry. He was frightened beyond the scope of fear, angrier than what the human skin could contain.
He bore red eyes and a disheveled shirt to this terrified reckoning.
Hitoshi was gone.
Unbidden — unstoppable, rising in his mind like a tide of mutilating pain — the legends of All for One rose to his mind, tales old and filled with a terrible truth. The words of Destro echoed in his head, the undertow to drag him below the surface. He strips his victims bare of quirk, leaving them comatose. He spares no one.
In this lonely alley, he’d drown in these thoughts, in their bubbling poison. His fist shook against the building, but he didn’t have the strength to steady it.
Hitoshi was gone.
Cut of his strings and without enemy or evidence, Shota let the breaking wave of thoughts overtake him. Cored out and punctured, he sunk into the mire and muck of his failure.
He fell to his knees in that alley, felt the cold pavement scrape against his jeans, scrape him raw and sand down the emptiness inside. Hitoshi’s phone glinted before him, dark screen cursing him to a thousand dark thoughts.
Here, in this alley, Shota’s fingers shook free of their trained calm and broke into pieces against the ground.
His son was gone.
It took him a thousand small moments to glue himself back together, more breaths than he could count. He was the conductor of this symphony, but now it made no sound. Now, his fingers were cracked and broken across the pavement. What he had worked to protect, his son — gone.
All was dust.
A decade of heroic training was the only thing that made him stand, all that gave him life. He had someone waiting for him, Hitoshi to save and Tomura to protect. He could not fade away here, not with the lives hanging around his neck.
With every ounce of fury he held in strained red eyes, he stood.
He felt broken.
The café was calm when he stepped across the threshold, a furious weight dragging his shoulders down, but a rod of wrought iron kept him straight and tall.
He would not be stopped.
He had scoured the alley before he left, but no traces of the kidnapping remained beyond scattered belongings and his own fear. It had been a professional job, with a professional clean up.
Shota just hoped it wouldn’t end with a professional disposal.
It took only one look across the café — eyes gleaming like bright coals of emotion, ready to burn — to stop all conversation across the tables.
In the silence, there was only bated breath.
Redeye was a dangerous man, when angered. Don’t be on the wrong end of his glare.
Without a word, customer after customer stood, escaping from the smooth, mahogany tables and streaming past Shota to the heavy wooden door.
That door had protected Shota from so much, been his shield in the sleepless years of Tomura’s training. It was the gateway to all that he held dear, and he had grown attached beyond reason.
It had failed him as he had failed Hitoshi.
In the echoing space before him, only Tomura and Dabi remained, tall figures standing wary and vigil before the storm. They looked worried, alarm making Dabi stand straight and battle-ready. Tomura’s fingers twitched against the polished wood of the bar, clicking in a restless staccato pattern. Dabi even looked afraid, blue eyes wary with a learned fear.
Shota took a breath, tried to gentle his face. He was raw and aching and furious, but he had no anger for Dabi. Let that be seen.
“Hitoshi has been taken.”
The words fell from his mouth like shards of glass, doomed to mean nothing and everything. Here they fell against the floor, crashing into the silence his eyes had cored out and leaving behind only scars.
Tomura opened his mouth to speak, rage growing opalescent across his face, but Shota couldn’t bear words, not now. He raised a broken hand, conducted a silence with shattered fingers.
All was still.
“We—” He swallowed across the emotion drowning him, against the thoughts crawling over pale skin and a tired face. “We need to find him, but I don’t know how.”
The words echoed across the café, bursting off espresso stained walls and shaking the windows to pieces. They sounded hopeless, doomed and furious and listless.
They sounded like failure, and maybe they were.
Thirty minutes later, with the exhaustion of heavy thoughts dragging at his shoulders, Shota leaned against the smooth wood of the bar, feet heavy and eyes blinking away darkness.
They had searched a mile radius.
They had called in a dozen favors.
They had exhausted all options.
He clenched a helpless fist, watched the tendons across his wrist twist and pull at his skin. His hand looked strong, and oh, what lies were these. He was the lonely conductor of this orchestra, and all he had to show were broken fingers and red eyes.
A crimson gaze flitted across the café, taking in smooth lacquered tables and chairs worn soft by hundreds of thoughtful conversations, a thousand contented sighs.
His careful symphony, played out over six years and the creation of a family. The tension in his hands crept up his arm, spreading into his jaw like a malicious cancer. He had no choice left to him now.
For Hitoshi, he would sacrifice the wood of these walls, the shelter that stalwart door represented. The scratches of a cat’s claws against the wood would sanded away by heroes come a-knocking.
And all it would take was a single phone call.
His fingers didn’t shake as he raised the sleek phone to his face, broken hopes not ruining this motion. Three pressed buttons and a single deep breath and—
“Hawks. All for One has taken Hitoshi. I—” He inhaled, the espresso-stained air diving into his lungs. A sharp inhale was the hero’s only response, echoing down the line and curling into Shota’s ear.
This was his only choice.
“I don’t know how to find him. I am going to need your help, and I will do what it takes. I will help you fight him, all my information is yours, whatever assistance you require. This is the deal I offer you.”
He stopped, watched his symphony clattered to the ground with broken wings and torn tendons. He watched his life fall.
No, he destroyed it, with a single purposeful sentence.
“The café is closed.”
The café won’t ever open again.
It took only three fragile minutes before Hawks walked through the threshold, feathers pressed out against the air like salvation. He brushed the door on his way in, leaving it open in the space behind him.
He broke the café, with that single windy gesture. Shota met the sight head on, fixed his gaze on the shattering sanctity of his home.
He had never replaced his glasses, and now red eyes and a hero’s face were clear for all to see. He was the man who had been Eraserhead, but he had long grown past that shape. A lethal rage was strapped to his grey-steel scarf. He was Redeye now, with eyes eternally crimson.
Hawks took one look at him standing in the middle of the café and approached with no hesitation. He extended a strong hand, eagle-sharp eyes glinting into the espresso abyss.
Shota stared back.
“Hey. I’m Hawks, the number two hero. I’m here to find Shinsou and kick some villainous ass.” He smiled, the expression filled with the endless wind. Maelstroms danced in his eyes. “Who are you?”
Shota paused at the question, understanding its true meaning. Here, here was where he cracked his symphony open for its desperate heartbeat.
Here his broken fingers moved staccato.
“Aizawa Shota. Once the hero named Eraserhead, now known as Redeye.”
It was the truth that ended his greatest work, crashing crescendo majestic across his fingers. He took Hawks’s hand, watched recognition blossom in a sunny face.
“Nice to meet you, Aizawa-san. Let’s get to work.”
It took ten minutes more for the police to stream in, for strangers to crowd through the café’s open door and spread over the tables in sleek trench coats and scuffed shoes. As they milled through the room, they watched Shota warily, edging around the table where Hawks was holding court.
Shota didn’t care, not now, not ever— let them watch. His symphony was missing a key note; he had no patience for stealth.
Restless, he shifted in his seat, impatience and irritation trembling across his skin. Broken fingers spread over the wood before him, leeching their pain into the smooth mahogany. Tomura and Dabi, Hawks and Naomasa, Shota and Yagi— they sat at the table, six points to a star.
They sat as if they all had the right to be there, and god, Shota had never felt his thirty years more than now, with Tomura sitting as his equal.
With Tomura ready to fight for his brother. Shota swallowed back the growl in his throat, the protectiveness curling across his shoulders like a virus.
It was his right.
Instead, he cast his eyes to the surprise at the table, banana-yellow suit draped off a sharp frame. Shota had been surprised to see the skeletal Yagi walk into the café. Mystery, made into stretched skin and a broken body with a severe expression. Shota would have puzzled out why he was here, on another day, tucked the information away with a precise mind.
Today, he couldn’t bring himself to care.
“He wants me, Sensei. Use me as bait.” Tomura’s tone broke into his contemplation, broke his skin and left him bleeding. It was filled with a caged fury, four deadly fingers pressed into the table to give it gravitas.
He looked as desperate as Shota felt.
Across the table, their eyes met, Tomura speaking the words into the air between them. It was a logical plan, efficient and likely to draw All for One out — the man wouldn’t be able to resist Nana’s grandson, not if Destro was to be believed.
It was logical, and it was Tomura’s right, but god, Shota couldn’t lose Tomura too. “No, we will find another way.”
Tomura’s expression grew cold as a winter’s day, acid filling his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, and Shota braced himself for hard words.
On this, he would not budge.
But Yagi’s deep baritone interrupted, sharp face looking between them with a laser focus, “Why would he want you, young man?”
There was silence, caught in the stretch of Tomura’s bared teeth. It spread to tension coiling across his fingers, making them go bone-white against the smooth mahogany. Shota watched the strain feed into Tomura’s shoulders, watched a decision make itself across bitter eyes.
He watched and kept his mouth firmly shut. It was Tomura’s secret to tell. Long experience and a lifetime of information already told Shota what he would say.
After all, his brother was missing too, and Shota knew that ache.
“Because my name used to be Shimura Tenko.”
Silence spun itself into the air for a heartbeat, two—
Then, “ What.”
It took five minutes for the chaos to settle across the table. Terse explanations and sharp words had Yagi settling back into his seat, but still he looked at Tomura like a dying man before an oasis. Hope was breaking over a parched face, and Shota didn’t like it at all. The tension in his hands grew, creeping across pale skin to bleed into his jaw.
Tomura was his son, and Shota wouldn’t let this man take him away. But this... this was a topic for another time, when his symphony wasn’t breaking around him.
When Hitoshi wasn’t gone.
A sigh echoed across the table, gusty and wind-borne. Hawks ran a frustrated hand through feathery hair, leaning back into the span of his wings. Shota watched him shift and forced down the hopelessness growing in his throat like a tide.
It had been twenty minutes since Shota had made the call, fingers shaking with his decision. It had been fifteen since Hawks arrived, all crimson wings and glorious speed.
It had been fifty since the phone call with Hizashi. With traffic at this hour, and factoring in the likely conversation with Nemuri—
Ten minutes . If Shota knew his oldest friend after six lonely years, they had ten minutes until Hizashi came through that door.
Shota couldn’t see him, not now, not with Hitoshi missing and his symphony in pieces. They had to move or Shota would lose the will to leave.
A bestial sound tore its way from Hawks’ throat, echoed across the table. “Damn, if he’d done an internship with me I’d have given him a feather. We could have traced him, then.”
The words barely registered, hitting the table before Shota and sounding like failure. Another mark against him, carved into red eyes and left to go putrid. He had recommended Hitoshi work with the Pussycats—
Stop. Take no breath.
The world froze as blood pounded into Shota’s ears, rushed through his head and left his eyes wide and his heart throbbing.
Take no breath.
The Pussycats, Hitoshi had worked with The Pussycats. Hitoshi had worked with Ragdoll . The traces of Hawks’s words finally bled into Shota’s logic, rotated the cracked wheels and left him with understanding.
“Call Ragdoll.” He pressed the urgency into his voice, cut Hawks off mid-sigh. “Now, call her now.”
If there was evidence of Hawks’s cunning, it was in the speed his eyes narrowed, and the clarity that broke over eagle eyes. He whipped out his phone with a raptor’s speed, dialing with quick fingers.
Shota felt hope crack over his knuckles, give life to a broken conductor’s hands. Ragdoll had used her quirk on Hitoshi— she would know where he was.
They could find him.
Hizashi’s skin thrummed with the silent howl of the wind around him, echoing into the space his voice should fill. There was no one here to raise his voice to now and no one to see him break.
So he kept quiet, let his heart still. Long fingers moved across the motorcycle’s controls, flicking a switch here and pressing white-knuckled into the grip. He shifted his weight with the bike, the ease of long use and effortless skill making the motion smooth as silk.
He was in control of this great machine, but today it felt wrong. Today it was slow.
He was so slow.
He normally sang, on these long drives, raising a chocolate-slick voice to the air and let the wind carry it out and away. Let the world hear him, let them dance to his tune. Move to the rhythm of his song and be free.
But not today. Today, he drove with a singular purpose, efficient and quiet.
He had to find Shota.
A ringing disturbed his silence, buzzing into his headset and leaving his skin tingling with too much calm. It was the sound of his duty come a-knocking; only a hero call could reach him on this line.
He answered with slow fingers to match his slow heart. The precision shot of information that followed made his throat catch.
“Present Mic, this is Naomasa. The target has been found, and the taskforce is being assembled to strike. Go to the coordinates I’ve sent you.”
Hizashi spared a glance down, took desperate eyes off the road long enough to see a location south of him, slightly below Tokyo.
Far from the Black Cat Café.
The thrum of his bike vibrated through his bones, made the frustrated clench of his teeth painful. He took a breath, measured the sound against his traitor’s heart.
He took a breath and forwarded the coordinates to Nemuri.
Raise your voice.
With steady hands and trembling skin, Hizashi switched his headset off and drove north.
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Thanks to the treasured Escher84 for a beta read.
Chapter 24: Speaking Death
Hello I come bearing a chapter and good news. I have been infected by some unholy writing spirit and Black Cat Cafe is now fully and completely written. There are five chapters left (including this one), and it will go up weekly until it is finished (barring problems for my beta and I).
It has been a wild ride y'all, and I'm ready to share the end with you. Enjoy!
(Bit of a Pom surprise near the end.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The wind streamed across Shota, clutching perilously at his ankles and clinging to the folds in his clothes. He closed his eyes against the wind, clenched his jaw. He was moving faster than ever before, torrents catching his hair and the city streaming by below him like light made liquid. The feather at his back seemed too light to hold him, trembling red veins delicate in the evening sun.
But it held him up, strong as steel. They were moving so fast but it wasn’t enough .
Faster, faster, let the wind move us faster.
They made a strange sight, five wingless men held up by a flock of crimson feathers and racing through the air beside the great hero Hawks. They skimmed over the city skyline, barely above the buildings and moving like feathered bullets—a mismatched collection of birds, soaring through the sky to fight a monster.
They had swept out of the café without a backwards glance. It was soon enough; they had left soon enough.
Hizashi hadn’t come crashing through the door like a wrecking ball come to break Shota’s composure. They had left just in time.
The taskforce—and what a concept, that Shota had stumbled across what made a taskforce, that the heroes had taken his cryptic voicemails seriously—would meet them at the location.
But Shota hadn’t been willing to wait, and after a brief discussion, neither had the others. There was civilian hostage, a boy—no hero could stand by in the face of that. Eyes loud with gravitas, Yagi had made the call:
They would leave immediately.
It was strange, that the weakest man among them would make that call. Yagi was tall and skeletal but frail as a leaf in the wind, body made of old wounds and older scars. Shota had narrowed his eyes at the decision, watched as Hawks let the skeletal man call the shots with a look of casual deference.
Who was Yagi, to make heroes pause? What slumbered in his deep voice and grim expression?
Shota didn’t know, but at the moment he couldn’t care; Yagi’s voice had gotten them out of the door and moving, and that was enough.
Shota had a decade of experience carved into the weariness under his eyes. He would adapt, as always.
Hawks had stepped up and volunteered, feathers shooting out liked thunder. “Everyone alright with this?”
“Hurry the fuck up.” Came from Tomura, voice tight and eyes burning red.
“You are the fastest hero, my boy. I leave the transport to you,” came from Yagi, deep and resonant. The man nodded like a snapping turtle, slow and methodical.
S hota said nothing, exposed eyes red red red and ready . Where they saw young civilian, Shota saw son.
Hitoshi was missing, and Shota would move mountains to fix his failure.
Quick feathers had scooped them off the ground and away, moving faster than a car ever could.
And then they flew.
The location Ragdoll sent was a warehouse, nested into the far side of Tokyo. It was inconspicuous at first glance. A wide wall surrounded a hulking building of grey slate and concrete, while the street before it stood empty and barren.
It was an industrial area, filled with row after row of bland warehouses, standing one after another into the sunset.
They landed in a flurry, crimson feathers setting them down on the sidewalk and steadying them. Shota felt his feet hit the ground and fell into a smooth crouch, balanced on the balls of his feet like an acrobat.
He needed no steadying.
Movement from his left tore him away from the warehouse, from the shining silver door and its great lock.
Yagi was changing. Like a great snake shedding its skin, the man seemed to shift, muscles bunching and clenching into the shimmering figure of a hero. White smoke billowed out like steam escaping a pump, and then, the skeletal man bore a hero’s skin.
All Might stood there, face set into a smile and arms the size of Shota’s waist.
A thousand puzzle pieces clicked into place, and suddenly Shota understood . The man who had shaken so gently into his café, the man with the ginger tea and skeletal body, he had worn so many signs.
Yagi bore far too much conviction in his voice and scars on his body to be anything but a hero.
By his side, Tomura and Dabi had gone taut and fraught with tension, but Shota gave them a glance that spoke volumes.
They settled into wariness, but Shota could see the anger staining their faces black. Neither cared for heroes, and both had a thousand reasons.
But right now, heroes were their only hope.
Yagi opened his mouth, great brows drawn into a line of concern. “Please, young man, it is vital you say nothing. I—”
Shota raised a hand, the stretch of his fingers steady with long training. “No need to explain. I am here for my son, hero, and nothing else.”
“Don’t worry big guy; Redeye is a master of keeping secrets.” At his side, Hawks spoke up, face serious and eyes narrowed at the building before them. “This is the place.”
The words were heavy as a storm on the skin, and Shota felt them echo over his tired eyes.
Somewhere in this gleaming warehouse and behind a shining silver door was Hitoshi. Somewhere here was an enemy of legends and years beyond counting.
His jaw clenched, a parent’s fury racing in his veins. It didn’t matter; nothing would stop him, not now and not ever.
Steps quick and light as a panther, he began walking toward the door. Like fiercest shadows, Dabi and Tomura fell into step behind him.
“Hey, Redeye wait, we should make a plan.” Hawks’s voice was near exasperated, catching on the wind and twirling through the air.
Shota didn’t wait and most certainly didn’t stop. “I have a plan, hero. Step one is entering the building.”
There was a swirl of crimson feathers, a burst of wind fast as knives, and Hawks landed before him, blocking the path.
“And what’s step two, my man?” His eyes were sharp, through the smile on his lips. “Look, I know what is going through your head, but we can’t just rush in—”
Hawks stopped mid-sentence, wings twitching into a defensive spread. A hint of motion caught Shota’s eye, had him spinning to his left.
As one, the five men turned to see horror.
From around the wall lumbered a creature with bare brain and bright eyes. Inhuman arms brushed heavy across the rough pavement as it moved, scraping away the asphalt and leaving deep gouges in the ground. A long neck twisted with each step, moving like a living pendulum of nightmares and dark thoughts.
Long rows of glimmering teeth glinted in the sun, but Shota’s eyes had caught on the corded muscles lining the uncanny motions.
This thing was strong.
It was one of the creatures that had attacked the street around the café, and if it had even half that explosive power, it would cost them time. It took a step forward before stopping, a titan coming to rest.
Toward them it was coming for them. Shota tightened his jaw, readied his capture weapon. Steel and fabric felt soft against his hands, and he stood his ground.
But god, every moment they spent out here was a moment Hitoshi was inside, a moment their enemy knew they were here.
They couldn’t waste this time.
Tomura understood that too, speaking up beside Shota and making his heart burn.
“Go, Sensei.” The words were firmer than any Shota had heard before, breaking from a furious throat and cracking into the space between them. Red eyes stared into his like a promise and a threat, and Shota had never felt so much pride and pain at the same time.
“Dabi and I can handle this freak.”
Tomura was ready, with six years of training, with a quirk that was more destructive than any other, with conviction.
Tomura was ready, and Shota had to let him fight.
With tired eyes and chains of worry clamping on his heart, Shota nodded. The motion sending long hair brushing across his neck, pressing the warrior’s calm into his taut muscles. “We will find Hitoshi.”
Anger flickered across Tomura’s face, a mask for the pain Shota knew lived in his bones. “You damn well better.”
“No, my boy, we cannot—” Yagi’s voice thundered out, echoing from a form as iconic as it was strong.
Shota cut him off with a sharp hand, motions efficient and practical. They didn’t have time to spare.
“All Might, we have an enemy to fight. Tomura and Dabi can handle this, and we will need all of our strength to fight All for One.” He spoke quickly but with a sniper’s precision, words meant to strike true. “Have you forgotten him?”
The man that was once Yagi and now All Might—glimmering and proud in the sun—stared him down, jaw clenched into a smile.
“I will not leave Shimura Tenko.”
A snarl interrupted him Tomura’s face turning into fury and old pain. “I am Shigaraki Tomu—”
Hawks broke into his words, voice quick as his feathers. “Hate to say this, but I agree with Redeye. These two can handle themselves, and All for One is going to take all of us. The rest of the strike force is on the way.
“They can hold for five minutes.” Golden eyes stared at the monster, scanning its lethal arms and rows of too-sharp teeth.
Shota did not look again. If he saw it again, he might not be able to leave. Motions efficient, he turned and left, words of caution swallowed off his tongue.
For six years, Shota had taken care of Tomura. He had stayed red-eyed at his bedside and sheltered him from a world that wanted to rip him to shreds and use him. Shota had been shield and sword, capture weapon always ready to defend the fragile boy in his care.
But that boy had become a man, and it was time to let him fight.
So even as the monster leapt forward, moving preternaturally fast, Shota didn’t respond.
He slammed into the silver door, waited for the lock to be cut by a long crimson feather, and darted inside.
He did not look back.
Tomura moved quick feet forward, snapping a hand up to slap away the creature’s strike. An inhuman arm hit the palm of his hand like a thunderclap, reverberating through his bones and shaking him into bruises.
He clenched angry teeth, spread a five-fingered grip over a massive fist and watched flesh dissolve beneath his hand. The shockwave from its attack blew past his head, wind forcing his hair back like spun silver.
He could not take a punch from this thing directly.
Intelligent eyes focused in on him as the creature leapt back, narrowing into lizard-slits. A too-long tongue slipped out, hanging in the air for one beat, two. Sharp teeth glimmered in the sun as the creature took a wary step backward, neck tilting into the unnatural.
In the silence of its assessment, Shota left, taking long and lean strides into the depths of the building. With some reluctance, the heroes and Naomasa followed.
For a moment, there was an eerie pause, the creature staring forward like it was hungry, like it wanted to rip into Tomura and make him bleed. He stood his ground, baring angry teeth to match the monster’s. Dabi stood by his side, flame at the ready, and Tomura’s hands were acid-laced.
Apart, they were lethal. Together, they could destroy.
The flesh Tomura had carved out of the monster’s arm was already healing, muscles growing back with a grotesque speed. A regenerative quirk then, faster than any Tomura had seen before.
He should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. He had seen the news, read the reports, even gotten the truth from Shota.
Multiple quirks. Inhuman speed. Do not feel pain.
Tomura clicked his tongue, let his shoulders relax into readiness. Acidic fingers twitched at his side, lethal and ready. Dabi laughed, low and mocking. Flame caught across his scars, blue light lining Tomura’s vision like frenetic lightning.
The thing wouldn’t make it through, not if Tomura had to rip its skin off muscle with his teeth. He would leave it flayed if he had to .
There was a moment of shifting silence as the thing watched Tomura, eyes too wide and too smart.
After a beat, it shifted. The creature’s arm was nearly healed. Tomura flexed his fingers, felt his tendons shift and stretch beneath brittle skin.
His palm stung with a developing bruise. He was hurt already, but he damn well wouldn’t break.
“That’s a big one, isn’t it princess?” Dabi’s words were teasing in tense air, flickering by like lightest smoke. Tomura nearly growled in response, irritation creeping into the set of his shoulders.
“Shut up and start burning.”
A laugh was his only answer, but Tomura knew the man stood at his back. He felt that fire-warmth through his clothes, searing into his skin and heart.
Fuck Dabi for worming his way under dry skin, slithering in like a snake made of fire and ash. Tomura couldn’t imagine anything but the two of them together, couldn’t get the image of Dabi smiling between the strength of his arms, a dark happiness leaking from his scars. This was all his fault.
Tomura channeled the irritation into another strike, leaping forward to grip a piece of the creature’s torso. Five fingers reached out, deadly and strong—
But they never made contact. The thing jumped away, quicker than the eye could see, and Tomura saw it flicker into his peripherals a shade too slow.
“Are you strong?”
A blow came down, crashing towards his face in an unstoppable tide of muscle. But blue flame gave him the second he needed, streaming towards the creature like a beacon. Tomura ducked down, rolling forward to get in close.
In hand to hand, no one stood a chance against him, not with Shota’s training and the acid staining his fingers. His hand made contact with a grotesque ribcage, dust spreading from his fingers like cancer. He held on tight against the struggling body, arms clenched and steady.
He would not let go.
An elbow came down hard against his shoulder, and he grunted against the crack of breaking bone.
He would not let go. Below his fingers the torso crumbled to dust, the spread of acid carving bone to pieces. A wave of blue fire swept around him, highlighting the stark planes of the snapping teeth above him.
Hollow eyes stared down at him, black and cut from coal.
Intelligence lurked in those eyes, and Tomura saw a flicker race through them just in time. Lips peeled into a snarl, he leapt away from the snap of teeth, watched blue flame cover his retreat. His shoulder ached like broken glass, and his skin was bruised and battered across his palms.
But the thing was missing a handprint from his torso, lungs broken and left exposed to the raw air. Tomura watched as they reformed, fast as he had dissolved them, in corded bones and broken muscle.
This thing was strong.
“Y-you are strong.” The words hissed out of a broken throat, the stretch of a long neck uncanny and unrecognizable. They curled into the air with a resonance that was barely understandable, echoing out and out.
A human spine crested that neck, but Tomura couldn’t see any humanity in this thing.
“A h-hero. Are y-you a hero?. N-no strong heroes.”
Tomura didn’t respond, shifting his weight into steadiness. The gash he’d carved in that body was almost healed.
The thing could speak. He clenched his jaw, reassessing. If it could speak, it knew strategy and wouldn’t come for them blindly.
They would have to be careful, even with the anger pounding in Tomura’s veins.
“D-did you think you could k-kill me? With this kind of fire? W-with those fingers?”
Four minutes before the strike force arrived. Tomura snarled with the place between fear and anger caught on his teeth. He clenched deadly fingers into the air, felt the sting of bone-fractures across his shoulder. Dabi stepped up beside him, fire curling around his body like fine blue lightning, burning hotter than the sun.
Together, they were unstoppable. They could last four minutes.
“You are gonna be dust by the time we are done with you.”
Pain, red, burning.
Blood smeared across his vision, creeping over the pounding in his chest and the exhaustion dragging at his arms. He shifted, slow and pained but unstoppable. Broken bones ached with the movement, digging glass into his nerves and making his jaw clenched.
He’d be damned if that stopped him.
Dabi panting beside him, a fever-flush crawling up his face. Blood leaked between his scars, and Tomura felt the fingers at his side itch.
He wanted to wipe it away with gentle knuckles and hard glares. He wanted to press his lips to those scars, gentle as the curl of smoke but just as promising.
He wanted to make Dabi leave.
The street around them was scorched beyond recognition, fires burning across trees and on the tinder of wooden walls. Steel had melted under the onslaught, and pavement and stone had dissolved under Tomura’s fingers.
But the creature was still standing.
“Are y-you not going to attack anymore? Or can you not?” A skeletal jaw cracked open, black tendons lining sharp teeth. “L-let me test my power.”
Tomura had no strength left in his heart, but he tore the strength from his bones for this.
It had been four minutes.
It had been four minutes, but no one was here.
Dabi was bleeding into pieces, blue fire burning eternal on the beast before them. Tomura was broken and breaking, but still he snarled and raised his hands. But it wasn’t enough, the thing still lived. Tomura had carved swaths from its skin, ripped it to pieces but...
But it wasn’t enough.
He raised lethal fingers, caught the blow coming for them in acid-washed fingers. The creature’s arm dissolved even as he felt his fingers crack.
He would make the strength for this, fury burning in his head like Dabi’s flame.
A tide of red fire burst across the scene, hot as lava. It flooded Tomura’s vision, unexpected but not unwelcome. In the flare of light and the hiss of burning flesh, he took quick steps forward, flashing forward with hand outstretched.
He caught the creature, grabbed it with broken fingers. Skin melted to dust beneath his hand even as a concentrated blast of red flame curled around him to torch struggling the monster’s flailing arms.
This time, he would not let go.
“Move, civilian!” The voice was deep with command, resounding through the burned street with an angry gravitas. Tomura felt his hackles rise, irritation bleeding into the anger lining his bones. At his side, Dabi had gone still with an emotion Tomura couldn’t name, blue flame dying at his fingertips.
Only one man had flame like that.
It was no surprise that Endeavor try to command him. Were this another time, Tomura would rage at this man, scream at him for the scars lining Dabi’s body. Another time, Tomura would have made him regret .
Now, Tomura stretched his skin and ignored the command. His fingers had a strong grip on dissolving flesh, and the creature struggled against his hands but to no avail. Waves of frustrated red flame kept its hands from hitting Tomura.
His hair singed from the heat, but he would not let go.
After a moment, a torrent of blue joined in, streaming forward with a cataclysmic heat. Tomura’s starfire, come to guard him again. He had too much faith in that flame.
Burnt hair curled together with burnt flesh to fill his nose, but still he tightened his grip and felt the creature crumble. Even its regenerative powers couldn’t handle the onslaught, and its struggles grew weak.
In a flash, a smear of black separated from the body and flesh upwards. It was the head, the head, but the damn thing could regenerate.
No. Tomura couldn’t let it get away, not now. He pulled a hand from the scraps of torso before him, reached up—
But Dabi was faster, and the gleam of blue flame sparked from Tomura’s side, a supernova come for this monster.
It burned, wholly and completely.
For a moment, there was only the silence of broken bones and old regrets. A tingling pain began burning up Tomura’s hands, the itch of seared flesh breaking into his thoughts. His hands were numb, his body bruised and broken.
He looked down and saw fresh burns curling up his fingers, red skin pocketed by blue sparks. Wordless, he tucked his hands by his side, hid them away.
Dabi didn’t need to see.
The hero was looking at the two, vague interest meeting a lion’s pride across fire. He looked furious and terrorous and regal, a moustache of flame curling on his lips with his disapproval.
Tomura took a step forward, turning on a slow heel to face Endeavor, shifting his body before Dabi’s. Tomura didn’t spare a glance at the scarred face behind him, didn’t pause in his motion.
He would be a shield.
He didn’t need to look to see the anger and bitter hope on Dabi’s face, to see the desolation. There was nothing like the broken glass of a child’s tears. He may wear an old body with older scars, but Dabi had such a soft heart.
A soft heart, burned and bruised and burned again. A heart that had grown callouses against the pain but could never resist it.
A heart Tomura would guard with his life.
So he stepped in front of the Number Two Hero and stared him down, red eyes holding acidic-fury. In another time, with a different Sensei raising him tall and strong and bitter, he would have dissolved this man to pieces.
In another time, Tomura would have borne the title Villain with pride. Now he was driven by a protective anger.
“Back. Up.” The words were clipped and merciless, bitten off between his teeth and left to rot.
Endeavor narrowed righteous eyes. With fire streaming over him in endless waves, he was gargantuan as a mountain, but Tomura was not afraid. “Impudent brat. Do you know who you are talking to?”
Tomura snarled, anger vicious. Let him come, let him try. Bruises might line his body, and his hands might be numb with burn scars, but he’d be damned if he stood aside before this man.
Let him melt to ash and dust.
“Yeah, what of it?”
Heroic eyes narrowed. “Tell me your name.”
“I don’t owe you a fucking answer.” The tone was broken into pieces and forged into a sword of flat anger, raging against the air and slicing it in two.
For a moment, there was only silence.
Endeavor was looking at him imperiously, eyes heavy with threat and insulted pride. But his eyes had focused on Tomura, all glances over his shoulder gone to dust.
“You are not a hero. Must you be stopped?” He said, shifting his mountainous weight, flame burning up the air between them, leaving Tomura so angry.
But behind his back was a flinch, a twitch, a helpless motion he could feel in his bones.
This wasn’t his fight to have.
He clenched his jaw, felt the stretch of burned skin over his knuckles. Then he took a breath, slow and pained.
Not his fight, but god, would he stand beside Dabi when it happened.
“Do you think I’d be standing here if I was the enemy? The fight is in there.” He tilted his head at the warehouse, towards the massive door and broken wall. “Do your job.”
Stormy eyes lingered on Tomura, flicking over his shoulder. The flames of his moustache twisted with the traces of his ego, but Tomura knew what he’d do.
The man claimed to be a hero, after all.
“Impudent child,” was all he said before he pounded heavy feet across the pavement and into the building, moving with unbelievable speed for his size.
Then, all that was left of Endeavor, Number Two Hero and pathetic excuse of a father, were the molten footprints he left in the asphalt.
For a moment, Tomura didn’t move, felt the trembling shape behind his back gentle and calm, move into stillness.
Dabi pressed his forehead against Tomura’s neck like a prayer, like he was shaking with a broken promise, and that was all he had ever needed. His bones ached, the burns numbing all sensation from his fingers, but he did not move.
He would stand for as long as it took.
A thunderous bang echoed through the street, shaking the pavement beneath them and sending tremors through Tomura’s sore bones. He stumbled, taking a falling step forward before a hand gripped his waist.
Familiar fingers—fever-hot, scarred, and trembling against his stomach—caught him, shifted his weight onto the stretch of Dabi’s arms. In a moment they switched between protector and protected, guardian and guarded.
Even in this, they were equals.
“You okay, princess?” His voice was quiet, automatic. He sounded far away, like he was speaking through a fog and couldn’t see his way home.
Tomura hated that voice.
“Fucking fine. You going to let me go?”
A broken laugh tumbled from scarred lips, warming the edge of his ear. It sounded more grounded, trembling through the mist to land at Tomura’s feet, a lost man found. “You want me to?”
Tomura clicked an irritated tongue, let his muscles relax into the hold. He didn’t reply, but he didn’t need to; Dabi knew his answer. He flexed his hand, felt the muscles struggle to respond. The air brushed over his knuckles, but the wind didn’t register in his fingers.
Tomura didn’t want to think about the damage done to his hands.
“Thank you.” Dabi’s eyes were fixed straight ahead, caught on the warehouse before them. Gentle fingers held Tomura strong, but the body supporting him was trembling, smoke leaking from the cracks of Dabi’s scars.
Tomura said nothing, for there was nothing to say.
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Chapter 25: A Child
I have nothing to say for this chapter. All you can do is suffer.
(A few small Pom Surprises, about half way through)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ducking into the doorway took every ounce of trust and discipline Shota had earned in six long years and a thousand sleepless nights. It took his everything.
He had to let one son stand on his own to save the other. He had to.
He stepped inside quick as a cat, dark hallway greeting him for a breath, a moment, and then artificial lights gleamed to life.
They sparked on the ceiling, illuminating a clear path before them. It was invitation and trap all in one, wrapped in a neat bow.
All for One knew they were here.
Shota began to run anyway. The hallways were cramped and narrow, but the three heroes took them at the speed of sound, racing down and down until they were deep in the bowels of the building.
Naomasa fell behind quickly, a shout of “I’ll search for control rooms,” his only message. It was for the best—the man was skilled but no warrior, he didn’t have the training for what they were about to face.
None of them did, really, not against a villainous legend. Shota raced forward anyway, steps quick as he could get them.
All Might raced ahead even faster, leaving them behind without thought or pause. “I am sorry, young heroes, but I must.”
Shota watched his back disappear down the hallway and felt something leaden settle in his stomach. His feet were moving but he wasn’t fast enough, bound by the strength of his legs and the beat of his heart.
All Might had moved ahead, but what if he wasn’t enough?
“Go ahead,” he spoke quickly.
Hawks shook his head, golden eyes narrowed in concentration. “No, I’ll stay with you. Surprise might do us good.”
The headset in Hawks’s ear still said forward and down. The lit hallways led them forward and down. So forward and down they went.
After a few minutes of steady breath and quick feathers, a massive bang filled the space before them, shook the building like a house of cards.
All Might had found him. Hawks sent a feather out to pull Shota up and fly him forward, moving him quick as the wind.
Long fingers twitched on the capture weapon at his neck, and he clenched his jaw. His eyes were red as spilled blood. He was ready.
Like a breaking storm they spilled out of the narrow hallways, landing as birds of prey on steel railing.
A massive room opened up before them, glimmering in the artificial light. It was a twenty-foot drop to the ground, but Shota didn’t shift, staying perched on high.
He didn’t want to wake what was below.
Across the floor were vats twice the size of a man, and in each was a floating monster. The liquid in the glass shimmered, opaque to the point where all he could see were shadows and the tops of bare brains.
Even that was enough to tell him what was inside. At least a dozen of those monsters, ready and waiting for a command.
Shota clenched his fingers on the metal under his feet, felt the smooth bar shift with his grip. They couldn’t fight them and All for One at the same time.
In the center of the warehouse stood All Might, fists raised at the man who stood before him. He wasn’t saying a word, silent as the grave, but the anger on his face spoke from his grin and the shadows of his brow.
He looked like rage, but he didn’t speak.
Good. The man had Hitoshi, and so logically he had Hitoshi’s quirk. It was unlikely that the man had evolved it to the boy’s level already, but he’d still be able to trap someone in a question, with the edge of his words.
They could not afford that risk.
The three heroes all understood that, and that was why their lips were sealed and their posture steady.
The thing standing before All Might could hardly be called a man anymore. With an armored face and ten quirks trembling over his skin, making it ripple and shake beneath a neat suit, All for One looked like a madman’s bloody painting of humanity.
But Shota only saw this from the edges of his vision, gaze fixed on the glimmering vats around the villain.
For the last six years, he had spent each moment with dark glasses covering his eyes, hiding the red sheen from sight. For six years, he had hidden in the shadows and made his quirk a mystery, a thing whispered into the breath of a coffee cup and the corners of rooms.
Redeye can leave you paralyzed, it was said, after he washed someone’s mobility quirk from existence.
Redeye can steal your quirk, it was said, after he used his capture weapon as an unstoppable third arm.
No one knew the truth, and that was how he’d meant it to be.
And so even All for One didn’t know what Shota could do, didn’t know the scope of his abilities and the points of weakness.
Shota would not look until the opportune moment. They might need the advantage of his eyes, and they needed to find Hitoshi before things went south.
He gestured at Hawks, tilted his head at the standing figures below. As one, they fell still, crouching on the high bar.
It was unlikely they could truly pull of a surprise attack here, not in easy sight and with the brilliant glare of Hawks’s wings. The man was the opposite of subtly, loud and blaring and heroic.
But Shota could. Practical, Shota was practical down to his very bones, and no matter how much worry filled his heart, he would not rush down. All for One would regret this, but Shota had more important things to do.
He would save Hitoshi.
Like a descending Valkyrie on feathers of blood, Hawks kicked off from the railing. Quick motions, buoyed by the wind, took him to All Might’s side. There was a moment of peace, of calm before the storm, and then—
Then All for One laughed.
“All Might, All Might. Couldn’t even fight me on your own? Decided to risk the lives of a new generation of heroes too? You’ve gotten weak.”
There was no response but the grinding of teeth and a clenched fist. All Might looked furious and helpless, but he did not move.
They knew the risks.
“A shame Shimura Nana isn’t here to see this. She wouldn’t be able to bear this, and how broken you are—”
A boom shook the floor, All Might punching the ground near Hawks into craters. His face was set into a mask of fury, arms trembling out of the paper cage of his skin. The winged hero had already leapt alight, wings shifting in the air and feathers darting towards All Might in return.
The man shifted to the side like a moving mountain, and suddenly those feathers were racing towards All for One.
The villain stepped to the side, but not fast enough to avoid two long feathers to the stomach, carving deep into the fine tailoring of his suit.
He coughed blood and Shota felt a brutal satisfaction curl up his spine. The heroes had listened, and they were no fools, moving in strange tandem to send attacks racing towards each other.
If they were retaliating to each other, Hitoshi’s quirk couldn’t catch them.
And now Shota was free to strike. Fingers light and flexible on the pull of his capture weapon, he sent it snapping out, the steel-heavy fabric racing towards All for One like a spider’s web.
But it never hit, All for One taking a casual step back, catching Shota’s weapon as it slid past. Thoughtful fingers pressed into it, shaking the tension in woven fabric and moving Shota’s hand a fraction, an inch, he needed to pull it back—
Careful and slow, All for One brought both hands to the fabric and tore. It shredded like chiffon, cracks of thread running up it and leaving it shattered and broken.
Shota’s weapon, lost to dust. A grim resignation took root in his stomach. Bare of weapon and with no super strength in his bones, this was—
But he’d fight. He’d fight until all his bones were broken and life had made his red eyes black.
Blood leaked from All for One’s neat shoes, dripping from the hole in his stomach, but he stood strong. Like shifting sunlight, the man’s eyes caught on Shota’s perch, and for a heartbeat his posture shifted from ready to angry.
“So you are the man who took Shimura Tenko from me. I have been searching for you for a long time. I will be needing him, I’m afraid.”
Frustration built up in Shota’s fingers, and wariness in his bones. The man was trying to taunt him.
A breath, take a breath.
“You won’t mind trading one son for another, will you?” Anger flooded him, making his teeth grind and the lines of his body go lethal. Tomura and Hitoshi were being treated like property, things to be bought and sold.
Shota wanted to bring red eyes to bear and make All for One regret that sentence. But still he did not speak.
Since the first breath he took and the second thought he’d had, Shota had ever been practical. Always, he took the logical path, using the mind to control his actions.
Emotions were to be corralled, anger and righteousness governed into something calmer. A true hero knew how to fight under any circumstances.
Shota had ever been a true hero, though he had long since left the bright path of fame. So as he perched on the railing, eyes fixed on the ground and shoulders tense as steel, he said not a word. He kept his head down against the father’s fury in his skin and let the other two truly begin the fight.
Using the villain’s distraction, Hawks sent his feathers rushing forward, twirling around All for One and digging into his hands. In tandem, All Might rushed forward, cracking the ground with his very steps. In seconds, he was in All for One’s face, fist pulled back and ready for a punch.
But the man leapt away, arms bunching against the cutting feathers and legs dodging seemingly on their own.
An evasive quirk of some kind. Shota tucked the information away, stockpiling the quirks the man used. If they were to stand a chance, they needed to know the weapons used against them.
“So you aren’t as much of a fool as I had hoped. Why aren’t you fighting, Redeye? Afraid of reacting to me?”
He paused, dancing away from All Might’s attacks, spinning like a tornado in the air. Wind began to build around him, leaving his hair streaming behind him.
All Might just powered through with another punch, ignoring the very wind around him. As long as All for One was speaking to Shota, the others were free to fight.
Even with the shreds of his weapon hanging from the railing, this strategy was working. Shota waited, patient as a spider, for the villain to address one of the others.
His hand to hand was lethal, after all.
“Ah I see, none of you are reacting to me, are you? Clever, clever heroes.” All for One sent his voice spiraling up to Shota, invasive as poison. “But you are a desperate man, no? you want your son back. You want him whole.”
All for One laughed with a deep and dark humor. “You will need me to put him back together again. If he can be at all.”
He twisted forward, hands trembling and breaking and—
And then he stopped.
For a moment, two, three, four, it felt like he wasn’t moving. The world slipped past his skin, brushing over tired eyes but never touching him.
There was something that kept it all away, something iron and deadly and vicious, something familiar and strange.
He felt it but could not see, heard it but could not touch.
What was it? What had happened? Who was he?
He took a breath and felt calm. How strange.
A command echoed in his head, loud and responding, coming from everywhere and nowhere.
Walk towards me.
His arms lifted in a trance, and he stood tall for the first time that day, hands falling to his sides. But they shouldn’t be empty, should they? Where was his capture weapon?
Glassy with the command echoing in his skin, he raised his head as if in a dream. He was supposed to walk toward the voice.
But he needed to see.
He raised his head, saw All for One before him, and the world fractured into pieces.
A scream tore through the air, pained and furious and brutal. It was the sound of a soul being crushed into the void, of a body being ripped to pieces and stitched together while still living.
It was the sound of All for One without his quirk. In a crash, the villain fell to the ground, legs twisting and squirming against the veins pulsing underneath. Black lines crept up his hands, like ink running out of his skin, and twisted and twisted until—
Until he moved no more.
Silence had never clung harder. Shota took a step forward, moved towards the man on the ground. But it was no man, not anymore. All for One was drained dry, mask crushing the delicate bones of a fragile head. The skin that had twisted with a thousand quirks now was still and wrinkled with age.
The man was dead. The greatest villain of the last two hundred years lay on the floor, victim to Shota’s eyes .
He blinked, long and slow. Still his gaze stayed a burning red, and the body stayed motionless on the ground.
After six endless years of never blinking, even unconscious his quirk stayed activated. Even before mind control, his quirk remained active.
He had looked at All for One and he had been ready.
A breath caught in his throat, heavy and hard to swallow. The feeling of that vice on his mind; it had made his skin crawl. Their plans had almost been ruined because of his emotions.
In a thud like the sound of an avalanche, All Might crashed to his knees, massive body falling to the ground. He looked weary beyond measure, smile falling down and weariness growing in its place.
Hawks shot sharp eyes at Shota, assessing and intelligent. He looked none the worse for wear, too fast to have taken any blows. “Your quirk... what exactly does it do?”
“It stops someone's quirk from activating. All for One’s quirk, it must have actively stockpiled quirks.”
The logic was sound, and the pieces all fit. His eyes were still red. He took a breath, the sound endlessly exhausted. His hands were near shaking, but he held his body still and fast. He had the training, the experience—he should not have moved.
Emotion had almost cost them the battle.
“It stopped him from holding quirks. All the quirks in his system, even the ones keeping him alive.”
A laugh—tired but happy, bitter but satisfied—echoed like a pounding drum. All Might looked so human, kneeling on the ground without that damned grin. “After all these years, and everything we have done for One for All.”
“After all this time, all it took was a single look.”
The sentence bounced between them, and for a moment Hawks and All Might stood still with disbelief. But Shota hadn’t cared to wait for their moment of peace.
He had a son to find.
It was in the third room on the second floor where they found Hitoshi. As with the last room, and the room before, and all the long minutes it had taken to search, Shota took quick steps in and scanned the room.
Red eyes moved quickly: a table, a bed, purple hair that was far too still.
He was standing at the door and then he was at Hitoshi’s bedside, staring down and down and Hitoshi wasn’t moving.
The fury that shook Shota’s skin was matched only by fear. Hitoshi was lying like the dead: arm hooked into an IV, and eyes closed like he was merely sleeping. The skin around his face was pale, a bruise creeping across the curve of his cheek. In the artificial light, the bags beneath his eyes looked carved in, bruise-deep and purple.
He wasn’t moving.
Shota reached out, felt the comforting beat of his pulse. His hands weren’t shaking; he wasn’t shaking.
He couldn’t break before Hitoshi was safe. Quick and efficient, he checked Hitoshi for other injures, fingers moving gently on pale skin.
There was nothing. By all rights, Hitoshi was fine, healthy as he had been a day ago. Shota shook sleeping shoulders, but there was no response.
He wasn’t moving.
With his jaw clenched and hands steady—they would stay steady, he wouldn’t let them shake Hitoshi—Shota slipped the IV from his arm. In a smooth move, he lifted Hitoshi high, curling protective fingers over his body.
His son was in his arms again, but he wasn’t moving. Shota didn’t know what All for One had done, what Shota had let him do by negligence.
Would he open those tired eyes again? Shota’s fingers clenched around the strong body in his arms.
In the artificial light, Hitoshi looked so small.
Shota left with quick steps and a cold face. He kept his gaze straight ahead and eyes burning red, not daring to look down at his shaking fingers.
He did not look down as he stepped out of the building, as Dabi and Tomura rushed to him, as he looked over their bruised and broken forms.
More people he had failed.
He did not look down as he commandeered a police car, told the man in a gruff voice and angry tone to drive to the hospital.
He did not look down as Hitoshi was taken from him by a flurry of nurses, rushed into a hospital bed and treated like a king. All Might requested we take special care, one of them said, when he had not asked and did not care.
He did not look down, but oh how his hands trembled.
Hizashi stepped into the café with a beating heart and frantic eyes, fingers shaking around the hard wood of the door. His hair was shaken from its careful style, the wind and his reckless pace forcing it down, hanging around his shoulders. It brushed the leather of his coat like a shroud, but he couldn’t care.
What did appearance matter right now? What did his mask matter? He would raise his voice loud to hide all his fears, but here he was, before Shota’s café.
He had never been able to hide from Shota.
The steps to get inside were quick, but it took him only a glance to realize things were not as they seemed.
Policemen swarmed over the tables, talking in quiet groups as they spread plans over clean wooden tables. They glanced up at his arrival, conversation pausing for a moment, and all Hitoshi could think was: what happened?
He traced his eyes over the shapes of the tables, their particular arrangement. The entire café was set up to bring seclusion. No sound would resonant between tables, not with the padding on the ceiling and the carefully distanced placement between chairs.
It was a café for spoken secrets, and Hizashi felt his heart clench painfully. It was so very Shota.
But the man was nowhere to be seen—disheveled hair missing from the tables, no tired eyes rising to greet him.
He wasn’t here. He wasn’t here.
Hizashi took stumbling steps in, frantic, breathless, broken-hearted and desperate beyond words. His mask was gone, and his hair was down, but he couldn’t care.
He wasn’t here.
“Present Mic! Sir you’ve come to the wrong location, the strike force went ahead.”
A chill crept up his veins, caught his throat and kept his music still.
“The strike force? Why did it come here?”
The officer looked concerned, confusion flashing across a stalwart face.
“Hawks-san was here, called in at the owner’s request. Apparently, a child was taken by the Broken Man. I can’t say I have any more information, sir.”
The Broken Man. Hawks’s code name for All for One, the legendary villain Hizashi could hardly believe was real. A child had been taken, a child that made Shota call for Hawks. A child that was missing. Hizashi felt his voice ice over with concern.
He turned on his heel, intent on getting back on his motorcycle and riding until his skin was raw and broken from the wind. It had been ten minutes since he’d gotten the text from Naomasa, and it would take him ten more to get to the location.
A fight could begin and end in twenty minutes.
An old and hoarse voice called out, stopping him before he reached the door.
“You shouldn’t go, Present Mic.”
Like a scream with no direction, Hizashi turned, hair twisting around him. Shota was out there, fighting an enemy Hizashi had heard legends about. Shota was alive.
How could he not run with his everything?
But the man behind him stopped him short, the face grizzled but familiar. Destro would always be recognizable, the face carved into a thousand wanted posters. The man had waged a war on society, almost breaking the back of the government.
Hizashi felt tension sing up his spine, make his back go rigid as a drumstick. What was Destro doing in Shota’s café? He glanced at the police around him, but they’d hadn’t seemed to react.
Did they not recognize him?
“You are an older, very, ah, liberated listener.”
The man smiled, danger caught in his teeth like a vice. “That I am.”
“Why should I not go after him?” The words slipped out smooth as song, before he could think to change them. Go after him, he’d said, the ease of his treachery shocking himself.
He knew now that he was loyal to Shota, above all else. He couldn’t bring himself to care, not with the flower of hope in his throat.
Destro snorted, the sound of old-to-young, wise-to-foolish. “By the time you get there the fight will be long over. It is All for One we are talking about—they will either die or live, but you can’t change that now.”
Frank and honest and painful, Hizashi felt each word in his bones, echoing louder than the last.
“And if I am not mistaken, you are Present Mic. A man I know would be very sad if something happened to you.”
Hizashi sank into a nearby chair, let the tension ease out of his body and his eyes slide closed. Shota was out fighting, long gone, and he could be broken. But Hizashi couldn’t raise his voice in defense, wasn’t fast enough to be by his side.
The man was right. He could do nothing.
The air collapsed out of his lungs, and he leaned forward, let his hair brush across his face. He was empty and useless as an out of tune guitar.
Then the patter of tiny feet echoed up, stepping towards him slow and unsure.
He cracked an eye open, looked down and down and down until he saw wide red eyes and a glimmering horn.
A girl stood there, small and nearly shivering with hesitance. Her hair was white as snow, and the pallor of her skin spoke of a life never lived outside.
But god, her eyes looked like Shota’s. She wore a strange expression, caught between a frown and apathy. It was not an expression a child should wear, though Hizashi had never been around many children.
He cracked open his throat, let words leak out and hoped they didn’t break. “Who are you, tiny listener?”
Solemn as the grave, she spoke. “Eri.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Redeye saved me.” The words were quiet and sure, spoken with a child’s confidence. Hizashi felt his heart catch, claw up his spine, and make him speak far more gently.
“Do you... do you live here?”
She nodded, the motion quick and fragile beyond words. Hizashi saw the curved hunch of her shoulders, the trained apathy on her face. He thought of Hitoshi’s aloof attitude, of the bitterness that burrowed beneath his eyes.
And suddenly, he understood.
In this small café, in an unknown neighborhood of Tokyo, Shota had been adopting children. He had taken in the orphans, the unwanted, saved the weak and defenseless.
Hizashi felt a smile crack across his face, break his careful mask in two. He laughed, and he cried and he couldn’t stop, tears running down his face unstoppable.
Shota had adopted children. Before him, Eri’s eyes went wide, and she took a step back, glancing towards Destro.
Hizashi waved a flourishing hand, shook his head. “It’s fine, it’s fine. My apologies, tiny listener. Do you have a game you want to play?”
He watched happiness creep down her face, curl into the tiniest smile he had ever seen.
Hizashi had been worried that the Shota he found here would be unrecognizable, a different man with a different life.
But Shota was and always would be the same: a hero.
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Thanks to the treasured Escher84 for a beta read.
Chapter 26: New Hopes
And here it is, my dearest readers, here we go. This is the second to last chapter. Brace your hearts-- that happy ending I've been promising for a year? This is it's beginning.
Also if I haven't responded to your comment, I'll get to it sometime in the next two days! You all give me lovely feed back and I treasure every comment :D
(Pom surprise at the end.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The media had swarmed the scene as soon as the first boom echoed through Tokyo, flying in on helicopters and with fast cars. All were there to see the destruction, to watch the heroes do their work. In the torrent, it was only natural that someone filmed Endeavor’s movements, traced the Number 2 through the wreckage.
And so the world was watching when two young men—not heroes but yet heroic, not licensed but still standing up and proud—fought and beat one of the monsters that had been haunting Tokyo.
They all watched as the patchwork man used fire that streamed forward like Endeavor's, and as one, the world wondered.
The broadcast paused with the press of a button, with the slow motions of Enji’s fingers. He stared at the scene caught on the screen, fire burning in his skin and setting him aflame. It was a match for the blue fire frozen on the TV before him, swirling like a vortex.
Always was he made of fire, and always had it made him great.
But what burned in his blood now was not pride. It was not wrath, not fury, nothing he normally bore.
Slowly, like it pained him, he pressed rewind and watched the footage again. On the screen, nimble motions dodged the blows of that creature, the pixeled Endeavor let loose a flurry of red fire and then—
Pause. The expression across the man’s face was painful and furious, caught in a motion like a snarl, like a scream. It wore on Enji’s mind, made the gargantuan muscles of his back tighten.
Blue flame, bright as a star, hotter than Enji’s.
Fire burned in his bones, was the marrow he lived and breathed. Enji had always reached for the top, unstoppable and angry as a storm. He tolerated no weakness and showed no fear; that was for lesser heroes, for people without true conviction.
But always had he been Number Two, chasing the shadow of All Might. He had married Rei to make his legacy stronger, and he had done what he needed to achieve that.
He had not tolerated weakness, he thought—but insidious thoughts crept into him, shook the conviction in his bones.
Weakness, he had said, training Shoto to move faster, you are to be a hero there is no time for tears.
Weakness, he had said, fury at Rei’s failure—his failure, it was his failure, he couldn’t bear another failure—driving him to strike.
Fragile bones sounded like breaking china when they hit the ground. The sound had felt right then. It still didn’t feel wholly wrong.
He had thought this right.
Blue flame, hotter than Enji’s, faster too, racing like broken lightning and the spark before a hurricane.
But he had always been second best, boots far too furious to fill All Might’s golden shoes. It had taken him ten years to realize kindness was not weakness, that gentle hands and careful praise raised heroes.
(In another time, his rough hands and cold face would breed a villain’s conviction.)
And he had risen from his rage and righteousness to see only ash. A family that shunned him, broken at his hands. A legacy of only fear and anger.
And still he had his rage, coiling in his veins and urging him on and on and on. If Rei stood before him now he would not strike her down, but—
But what good was now when then he had?
Weakness made his skin, but this was no surprise: always had Enji been second best, as a hero and as a father.
Blue flame burst across the screen again, bright and hot as a star. Touya’s fire had always burned hotter than his.
The hallway was bare and clean, broken into neat lines and the careful organization of a hospital. It was bone white and dull, so far from the curves of the café and the gentle stains of espresso that Tomura wanted to rage.
He shifted against the wall, bruised body protesting even the slightest motion. By all rights and the damn doctor’s orders, he should have been flat in a bed and resting, pathetic and weak.
It was a good thing then that he didn’t give a damn about a doctor’s orders. He would guard this door if it broke every bone in his body, lay it as sacrifice for this cause.
He would guard Hitoshi in the only way he could now. If his skin cracked open and he had to dissolve the world to dust, he would not move.
No one would enter. No one would step past him. No one was allowed in this room.
Sensei was in there, breaking apart, and Tomura couldn’t let anyone see that. He shifted again, bandages around his hands leaving his motions clunky and awkward. In a motion smooth as silk, Dabi leaned closer, pressed his side again Tomura’s.
He glared, anger hissing from his bones. Dabi met his glare, stared it down, let honesty curl from his scars.
After a breath, Tomura let himself sag into the support, body aching and weak.
They stood in that hallway and supported each other, pillars broken and bent but not fallen. Dabi had been quiet since the fight, quiet in the ambulance and quiet even as drugs raced through his system to calm that unstoppable fever.
He had been quiet and Tomura hated it. He wanted to rip Todoroki Enji limb from fucking limb, shatter him to pieces and put him back together only to break him again.
No one was allowed to take the life from Dabi’s lips.
“Asshole,” he said, growling with all the impatience in his chest. His neck itched but he wouldn’t scratch even if the bandages allowed him to; he had Dabi’s fingers to lace in his, and his mouth and teeth across Tomura’s neck were better than any sharp nails.
Dabi glanced over, electric blue eyes shifting, distracted and expressionless. A cloudy film of medicine covered the fire sparking there, leaving his bright gaze dull.
Tomura was going to destroy that man.
“Yeah, Princess?” The words were distracted, quiet. Tomura hated them, hated the way Dabi looked lost.
“You gonna just fucking stand there? Talk to me.”
“There’s nothing good to say.” A broken laugh sounded out, small and timid in the silence. Tomura hated that laugh, hated the smile that twisted Dabi’s face into memories of broken toys and a child’s bruises. “You already...
“You’ve already guessed, Princess. Don’t make me say it.” Quiet, tired, Dabi looked away. Tomura felt his heart clench.
He had never been more grateful for the lethal touch of his quirk, for the acid that lived in his hands. He would dissolve the world that had hurt Dabi if it took every ounce of marrow in his bones.
“Who said you have to say that? I said talk to me,” he said, the words harsh as he could make them, sharp enough to snap Dabi’s gaze up, to bring those eyes back to burn into Tomura’s skin.
Understanding curled over those electric eyes like thread mending broken dreams.
He laughed again, but it was gentler this time, edged with the fond touch of satisfaction. “Oh, you want me to talk to you, huh? Can’t get enough of my voice, Princess?”
His eyes glimmered, and Tomura felt sweet relief race through his veins like poison. “Don’t worry, love, you’re stuck with me.” He leaned in, to steal a kiss and breathe into Tomura’s mouth.
Tomura nearly snarled, leaning forward to chase Dabi’s lips. “Like I’d let you leave. I’m not going anywhere, and neither are you.”
Tomura bared his teeth and let his conviction curl up his lips. “You are mine, Dabi, and don’t you dare forget it.”
It was as close to I love you, as he’d ever say. Dabi would understand that.
Somehow, through thick and thin and endless months of his teasing, Dabi had always understood Tomura. He leaned closer and closer until there was nothing left between them, and like that, they settled into a silent vigil.
Footsteps in the hall drew Tomura up, made him shift against Dabi. Someone was walking forward, and so he snapped red eyes up to see the noise.
A man approached with quick steps, tension lining the whole of his body, from long blonde hair to dark leather jacket to the tips of his metallic boots. Heavy hero gear rested on his neck, and the lengths of his arms were decorated with leather gloves and metallic knuckles.
He looked frantic and breathless, desperate as a trapped bird.
At the sight of them, standing there bandaged and intertwined, he stopped.
Tomura glared with every ounce of fury in his blood, with all the acid lining his veins. This was Hitoshi’s room. This was where they were allowed to break, to be vulnerable and to protect.
No one was allowed in.
The man took another step forward, green eyes moving toward the door like it was magnetic and the man was iron dust. He took a step and Tomura stood to his full height, let menace show on his face.
“What the fuck do you want?”
“Hello, hello—is this Shinso Hitoshi’s room?” A breath, a smile, small and vulnerable. Tomura narrowed his eyes, a nagging memory racing up his spine. That voice sounded so familiar, like it was one he’d heard his entire life.
But he had never seen this man before.
“What if it is?”
“Is…” There was a pause, a breath, and that tiny smile grew stronger. It was a mask, and Tomura hated it. “Is Aizawa Shota in there? Is Redeye in there?”
This man knew Sensei’s name. Tomura took a step forward, wariness curling up his spine. Who was this man?
“Who wants to know?”
The man looked tired and irritated, restlessness clear in the shifting sound of leather. “Look, listener, please—I’m an old friend. I just want to see him.”
And suddenly, like racing poison in his marrow, Tomura remembered where he had heard that voice.
For six years, like relentless and espresso-powered clockwork, that voice had echoed out of the speakers of the café. Once a week, late on Friday afternoons when the swell of customers had left and the tables were quiet, it would thread out exuberant and deep.
Sensei always listened to this man’s show.
Did you love him, Tomura had once asked, a lifetime and so many years ago.
Yes, Sensei had said, with the look of faraway places and old wounds.
Then, Tomura had not understood the full scope of the word love, not grasped its painful tragedy.
Now, he felt the warmth of Dabi beside him and had only bitter understanding.
This was the man Sensei had loved for more than six years. This was the man Sensei had left to save him, to rescue Tomura from the pile of his father’s ashes.
Angry—furious with himself, with the guilt beginning to tug at his bandaged fingers—Tomura stepped to the side.
“You knew him before.” It was a statement, not a question, broken through clenched teeth and a tense jaw. The man nodded, opening his mouth to speak.
Tomura interrupted him, relentless. He had never felt more guilt and never felt angrier. How dare the man bring these memories back?
“I don’t fucking care. If you hurt him, I swear to god, I will tear you to pieces.” The words echoed out, vicious as boiling acid.
But he had stepped aside, and the path was clear. That gentle smile, the vulnerable expression of lost love and love found, grew on the man’s face like a blooming flower.
“Thanks, listener. I wouldn’t ever hurt him.”
With those words the man stepped through the door and back into Sensei’s life. Tomura watched him go with a glare.
How the hell had Sensei fallen in love with someone so cheerful?
The gentle beep of the heart monitor was quiet in the din of the hospital, buried beneath the clamor of moving feet and efficient voices. It came in and out, steady beneath the noise but almost impossible to hear.
Shota poured his everything into listening for that gentle beep, and he traced the heart monitor’s every motion with his eyes.
All was well, on paper. The heart monitor confirmed it, the endless machines around the bed beeping with a steady tune. Hitoshi was whole and hale, body healing and with no permanent injuries.
But he wasn’t awake.
The doctors said it was a matter of time—there was no way to know how long the coma would last.
Shota heard their words, felt each strike like the crack of a broken bone.
The doctors said the blood work on his quirk was inconclusive.
Shota listened and remembered, mind drifting to the broken body of All for One.
The doctors said Shota should rest, that nothing could be done sitting at Hitoshi’s bedside now.
He ignored them.
The sliding of the door didn’t make him turn, but it did etch irritation into his shoulders.
He ignored the sound as he ignored the person, as he ignored everything.
He would sit here until Hitoshi awoke.
For a moment, there was silence, trembling into the air and leaving it taut.
It was a single word, but it was enough, enough to make him turn whip-cord fast, the lean muscles of his body moving like a jungle cat. That was a voice he wasn’t expecting to hear here, one that tore into his heart.
Hizashi stood before him, expression broken and hopeful and, god, Shota couldn’t look at him; he was already shattered from his failure, from Hitoshi lying across the bed and not moving.
He couldn’t see Hizashi too, but nothing in him could send him away.
It was an acknowledgement, an apology, a broken promise. It was flat and logical and filled with emotion only Hizashi would hear.
The man had always been the best at reading Shota’s words. Would that be different now?
“God, Shota, it’s really you. You’re alive.” He reached a hand forward, hesitated, and then lunged, the full force of his body hitting Shota like a freight train.
But Shota had already raised his arms to catch him.
For a breath, for a moment, he let himself rest in the space of Hizashi’s arms, in the tears leaking into his shoulder.
For a moment he felt the strength of Hizashi’s body and pretended at something he never had. But Shota had never been one to waste time in fantasies.
He took a step back and watched Hizashi’s face fall. Shadows collected in his oldest friend’s face, but Shota hardened his heart.
Hitoshi was on the bed behind him, and oh how Shota had failed.
A smile spread up Hizashi’s face, artificial and practiced, tied on like a mask. He moved to sit beside Shota, leaned forward to face the bed. “Shinsou is damn loyal to you, you know? A damn fine listener. Going to be a great hero someday.”
Fake, it was fake, Hizashi didn’t use that smile with him.
The man raised a hand and his voice, quietly exuberant but so tired. “The old man Destro told me everything, Shota. You left for the kid outside.
“You left to save him.”
Shota paused, breath caught. He could have left it at that, could have accepted the out.
But this was Hizashi.
“Not only that. I was tired of the irrationality of it all, Hizashi.” The words spilled from him, honest truth that he needed to speak. “We saved and saved and fought, but it never made a difference. It never helped Tomura, or Eri. It was a way out.”
Hizashi’s smile faded, going small and sad. Shota traced the lines of his face, and felt his heart clench. Hizashi’s eyes were a brilliant green, expressive and sparkling even in the off-white light of the hospital.
God, he had missed him.
“I… I am so angry Shota, but I understand.” Hizashi heaved a breath, and Shota felt it shake across the skin of his hands, quirk power forcing it out loud and strong. He didn’t tremble beneath the sensation but he—
He wanted to. He wanted to reach forward and never let Hizashi go, wanted to wrap his frayed capture weapon around those leather-bound fingers and curl into the man’s arms.
He wanted a place where Hitoshi was awake and Tomura wasn’t a fugitive.
He wanted all this, but it was nothing he could have, not now and not six long years ago. Shota was a practical man, and he didn’t let himself hope for the impossible.
“I know, Hizashi.” And he did. Shota had always been able to see through the man’s mask, peak under the showman’s shell and call him friend.
Green eyes brightened into fondness, and Shota felt the numbness across his skin crack.
“You’ve never been able to sit by, not even in school!” A laugh, loud and bright over the sound of the machines. For a moment Shota couldn’t hear the beep, but he dragged his eyes to the heart monitor.
He couldn’t bear to tell Hizashi to stay quiet, but he needed to hear.
“A little quieter Hizashi.”
Hizashi gentled, cast knowing eyes to the heart monitor and the stretch of Hitoshi on the bed.
When he spoke again, his words were soft as a cat’s fur but no less brilliant. “Ah, right, my bad. Man, you were always the first to take down a fool, with quick words and damn sharp eyes. That was the first thing that made me—”
But he fell to silence before continuing, and Shota heard only the hum of rumbling machines.
“Tell me about your kids, Shota.” The sentence was simple, easy. But its meaning was heavier than a mountain.
Could Shota bear to speak, now? Could he tell proud tales of the family he’d made when one of them was lying still before him?
Shota sighed, felt the sound whoosh out of him. His eyes were red with his quirk and his body was shaking with weariness, but he pried the energy from his tired bones anyway.
Hizashi deserved a response.
“Shigaraki Tomura, once called Shimura Tenko. A boy with a quirk that killed his father. I was too late to stop the man’s death.” He took a breath, the words slipping out too easy into the space between them.
Hizashi had always been too easy to talk to.
“He hates cold coffee.” But loves sweaters and the feel of Nimble’s fur, and the bonds of brotherhood that tied him to the café, and that favorite spot where they all sat together in quiet silence.
He loved as much as he hated, but never did Tomura let it show. Shota’s fingers clenched, remembering the bandages around Tomura’s hands, the bruises painted across his body like a constellation.
He had paid a price too.
“Ah yeah, he nearly took my eye out. Still don’t know why he let me in!”
Shota didn’t either, but god he wasn’t sorry. Tomura had been guarding the door, vicious even swathed in bandages. He hadn’t let a soul inside, angry as a feral cat and twice as mean.
But he had let Hizashi through, and Shota couldn’t be more grateful.
He turned his eyes to the bed, fixed a red gaze on the sleeping form before him. Purple hair splayed over the pillows but there was still no life.
“Shinso’s a strong kid.” That was all Hizashi said. He knew better than to offer assurances; they both did.
In the line of duty, no hero was safe. Shota had wanted to keep that life from Tomura and Hitoshi, but he’d never been able to keep them from their dreams.
And now Hitoshi had paid a price.
“What about the little one, Eri?”
In the cold and clean halls of the hospital, time passed strangely. A day, then two, then four—Shota moved only rarely, trusting Tomura and Dabi to keep him apprised. The chair beside Hitoshi’s bed became his throne and grave, and there he sat a lonely vigil.
Time passed, but Shota didn’t feel it move.
Hawks came once, with his face set into grim eagle-lines. He swept into the room like a creature of wind and thunder, and his eyes were sad. The stretch of his crimson feathers was too wide, brushing against the walls and shaking Shota’s fragile time.
He shot the man a tired look, no energy left for sharp words.
“We cracked the last of the League of Villains. Rounded up the henchmen and more of those creatures.” It was an offering, Hawks come to give Shota something.
It wasn’t enough, but nothing could be. Shota nodded, the motion shallow. Another villain destroyed, another threat ruined.
There would be another one soon, and another and another. Hero work never ended: they both knew that. “What of Overhaul?”
Shota had kept his end of the deal, after all, spoken his secrets for Hawks’ use. All the information that had once been Redeye’s was now in Hawks’s taloned fingers. He trusted Hawks to use it well, even against the odds and the endless cruelty of fate.
Their work was never done, but they could also never stop, not even for a moment.
Hawks’s mouth twisted into a grimace, cheerful face and inhuman eyes speaking frustration. “I have my people keeping an ear out. So far, nothing. Seems the guy might actually be good at keeping a low profile.”
Tired shoulders wound tight, energy crawling from the protectiveness in his stomach to make him strong. Shota remembered the bandages wrapped around pale arms, remembered Overhaul’s clinical stare and fast attacks.
Eri still hadn’t quite learned how to smile, the expression unfamiliar and difficult. Four days ago, Hitoshi had begun tricking them out of her with dry words and dashing tales, with Nimble’s fluffy paws and sweet cakes. Shota had watched it with no small amount of amusement.
The man would be found. “If you don’t find him soon, I’ll join the search myself.”
Hawks laughed, the sound windswept in the small room. His eyes were sharp and his smile deadly. “Ah man, Redeye, you’d have to beat me to him. That’d be tough.”
Like a cat hearing the frantic heartbeat of prey, Shota turned fully to Hawks, stared down the Number Two Hero in silence. The man may be fast and relentless as a fury, but Shota had red eyes and a father’s protectiveness.
He wondered which would win.
Hawks met the look with only a grin, flashing quick across his face. He didn’t look threatened, and Shota couldn’t bring himself to care. Actions spoke louder than words, after all, and ever had Shota been a man of action.
Let him see.
“The kid outside, Redeye...am I going to find traces of his quirk on the burned spy in the police station?” The words were light as air, light as wind, but they were heavy with meaning.
Shota felt his spine go tense, staining him like the swirl of espresso. The commission would not touch Dabi.
He spoke low and bland, the words flat but important, “The Hero Commission is going to have bigger problems on its hands.” He paused, fixed red eyes on gold ones. “You’ve looked into Dabi, Hawks. You should look into Endeavor as well.”
If Hawks was half the hero Redeye thought he was, he’d understand the threat that whispered between them.
Expose Dabi, and I will expose Endeavor. You don’t know what sleeping beasts lie there.
For a moment, there was only silence between them, echoing off the dull walls of this painful room and leaving Shota exhausted.
Then Hawks spoke up for the last time. “Redeye.”
“What?” The word was dragged out of a tired throat, pulled out with the last dregs of his energy. He was so tired.
“I’m sorry about the kid.”
For a long moment, Shota didn’t respond, voice caught in a vice and shoulders sagging into exhaustion. He hadn’t had coffee or sleep in three days, he hadn’t moved from this bed more than a handful of times.
How could he care? He had endured worse situations when Tomura was small and couldn’t control the acid leaking from his fingers.
But never had he felt so helpless. He took a breath, let out a sigh that spread into the air like spider webs. He would survive this, as he survived everything.
“So am I.”
Hizashi came every day, spinning into the room with the confidence of a rock star. Each day he brought something different, from food to quiet music to the smallest cat charm Shota had ever seen. They were small gifts, quiet and useless but—
But Shota had never appreciated them more.
Hizashi placed these things gently and discreetly beside Shota, keeping up an enthusiastic stream of commentary and low humming as he buzzed through the room.
He never raised his voice above the sound of the heart monitor, keeping his tone restrained and gentle. Had Shota not already been in love, he would have fallen hard then.
But these feelings were ten years old and he’d a lifetime’s experience controlling them.
On the fourth day, Hizashi brought the tallest cup of coffee Shota had ever seen, filled to the brim with eight shots of espresso. The smell trembled into the air like sweet temptation, like everything Shota had ever needed. It was the smell that had leached out every day from the walls of the café, twirling across Shota’s skin and dancing over his tongue.
It smelled like home.
Exhaustion lined his hands, but Shota gripped the cup with the strength of All Might. Had he been able to look away from the screen of Hitoshi’s heart monitor, Shota would have kissed the hero then and there.
On the fifth day, he brought Nemuri, and Shota was slapped and hugged in equal measure. As he felt the arms of his old friend around him, felt her tears against his shoulder, Shota knew only regret.
But still he didn’t move.
On the sixth day, Hizashi brought Eri. She stepped into the room like a bird with a broken wing, hesitant and so small. She clung to Hizashi’s hand, held it like a lifeline.
At the sight of Shota, she ran towards him, a cloud drawn to the night. She clung to the fabric of his pants, frail fingers trembling but red eyes so trusting.
At the sight of her, Shota felt something in him break. He had offered her a home and a family, but he couldn’t even protect Hitoshi.
“Eri, Hitoshi is here.” He spoke quietly, soft but firm. None of his exhaustion showed, none of his fear.
She didn’t need that truth.
“He isn’t sleeping.” It was a statement, not a question. Eri had seen enough death and violence in her life to know the difference between sleep and illness.
Shota wished that wasn’t so.
“No, he is hurt.”
“Is…” she stopped, went quiet and trembling. “Is it my fault?”
Heart shattering into a thousand pieces, ripping into his tired arms and leaving him weak, Shota knelt beside her.
“No, Eri. It’s the villain’s fault. You can’t take blame for what people choose to do. You can only control your own actions and live as well as you can.”
Tears welled in her eyes, blinked away, welled up and blinked again. She had long been taught not to cry. He reached forward and pulled her into a hug, wrapping gentle hands around her shaking body.
Tiny fingers clung to Shota’s hand as she finally let herself cry.
“You should take your own advice, dearest listener.” The words were quiet, and Shota turned to Hizashi and felt them strike hard.
The man’s green eyes were shining, intelligent and caring in equal measure. Shota couldn’t bear the emotions he saw there, the truth that echoed from Hizashi’s voice.
He was right. God, he was so right. Shota felt his heart clench, felt the sting of exhaustion press at his eyes. He has spent six sleepless days here, holding vigil, punishing himself for a villain’s actions.
The gentle beep of the heart monitor sounded through the room, and now it was so loud, pressing into his ears and curling under his skin.
Hitoshi lay on the bed in the grips of a coma, but Shota hadn’t let this happen. This was not his fault.
He took a deep breath, turned more fully toward Hizashi. Eri slipped out of his arms, moving closer to the bed as Shota looked at his oldest friend’s face.
It was pensive and so very worried. Suddenly, Shota remembered that the man had been hear every day, had spent countless hours by his side, singing gentle songs and speaking with endless cheer.
Suddenly, Shota remembered how much he loved him.
A flash of light filled the room, twirling gold painting the walls a gilded cream. Shota whirled, heart in his throat and fingers twitching for a capture weapon he didn’t have. Red eyes caught on Eri, on the long curve of her horn and the metallic light streaming from her fingers, streaming over Hitoshi, and then it was all gone.
He was shaking, trembling, was Hitoshi going to be okay, what had Eri done—
Beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep.
The heart monitor picked up, speeding into wakefulness.
Hitoshi sat up in the bed with a long groan. His eyes fluttered open. Shota’s heart stopped, caught on the slow blink of purple eyes, at the shifting of disheveled hair and the absence of those horrific bruises.
Hitoshi was awake.
I'm not crying because it's almost done, I'm not, I'm...
Thanks to the treasured Escher84 for a beta read.
Chapter 27: The End
This is not the end, but it is the end. The epilogue will go up tomorrow, and then this fic will be well and truly finished.
Imma hold off on the tearful crying message until then, but for now, enjoy this. I'll answer all comments on Sunday probably.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Noise echoed around him, loud voices and loud hearts and loud breaths. Tomura hated it, wanted to rip the sound from his skin and throw it into the ocean. The hallway before him was filled with twenty clamoring faces, bearing looks from wide-eyed and pleading to downright stubborn.
He stood alone before the door, the last soldier in this war for fucking silence .
Tomura narrowed red eyes, channeled every inch of hostility into the set of his face. These heroic brats wanted to disturb Shota and Hitoshi, and Tomura would throw them on their asses.
“ Shut up.”
He was ignored, Midoriya stepping up with as much conviction as ever.
“Please, Shigaraki-san?” The kid’s face was shining with honesty, with the kindness of a hero. Scarred hands were held firm at his side, twisting in the fabric of his pants and leaving it wrinkled and worn.
Tomura felt his fingers twitch in sympathy, newly broken and burned. He knew how much those wounds had hurt. Midoriya looked nervous, but still he spoke, and Tomura wanted to pour espresso onto that curly green hair and make it stop . He was too much, too bright.
He almost growled, voice edging past irritation. “No, brat.”
“We just want to give Hitoshi some get-well cards! We won’t be a burden, I promise!”
The words rang with sincerity, spoken quick as lightning and just as brilliant. The little brats standing behind Izuku nodded, faces sincere and, god , Tomura hadn’t had enough coffee to deal with this.
Hitoshi had only just woken up a day ago, had only just been torn from the coma and the damage All for One had inflicted. Protectiveness had flooded Tomura’s veins and washed away the acid, washed away all the fury and left only relief.
But he’d be damned if he let Hitoshi’s sleep be disturbed by twenty loud brats.
“No means no, you little shit. Come back in a few days—Hitoshi isn’t up to seeing you,” He said, words flat and irritated. If he even wants to see you, he didn’t say, but the meaning echoed in his silence anyway.
They weren’t true, and Tomura knew it. Hitoshi had grown fond of his classmates. His fool brother had gotten weak for friendship . That was his first mistake, but Tomura wouldn’t make such an error.
(He didn’t think of the fever-hot touch of Dabi’s skin. He didn’t.)
“What did you say, you damned asshole?! You think you can stop us if we want to go in?” The voice was loud and explosive, ringing with the confidence of twenty heroes and the volume of a scream. The kid who spoke was snarling, blonde hair sharp with aggression and insolence. He took a step forward, moving towards the door like a bomb.
Tomura felt his hackles rise, and he bared his teeth right back, meeting threat for threat. This kid dared.
Who the hell did he think he was?
Tomura had broken monsters and stood bleeding before the Number Two Hero as a shield, as a barrier. And this kid had the gall.
“I think I can rip you to pieces, brat. That good enough?”
“Ah, Kacchan, no, we can’t just go in.” Midoriya stepped in front of him, shooting Tomura nervous glances, eyes flashing the restless green of cut grass.
At least one of them understood the lethal spread of Tomura’s fingers.
“Like he could even touch me—"
A voice broke through the tension, cutting it with a deep tenor and brilliant tune. “Liiiisteners! Calm down, calm down!”
It was the man with the hair of a cockatoo and the smile of a rock star, speaking from the door behind Tomura and grinning like a loon. The class quieted instantly, shocked by the sight of their teacher.
They looked like deer caught in the headlights, but even their fear couldn’t ease Tomura’s irritation. He clicked his tongue, shifting to the side of the door.
The man had been coming every day, and each time he saw that bright smile and golden hair Tomura felt a larger thorn of guilt in his side.
“This is a hospital, keep your voices dooooown!” He spoke with a quiet tone but nearly sung the last word, stretching out the syllable into a melody.
Tomura really wanted to punch him.
Sensei’s gruff voice was the only thing that stopped his twitching fingers, the narrowing of his eyes. “Hizashi, enough.”
Silence fell like a storm cloud, all eyes drawn to the sharp lines and disheveled form of Aizawa Shota, Redeye, man of hard looks and harder discipline. Midoriya, Todoroki, and the enthusiastic one—Uraraka, Tomura thought, she’s proven damn impressive during her internship—went stiff before falling into quick and respectful bows.
He stared them down, eyes stained crimson and making even Tomura twitch. He had spent too long living with Shota to not have a healthy respect for those red eyes.
Finally, he spoke. “They can come in, Tomura.”
Still-healing fingers clenched, restless with frustration. Hitoshi was in there, barely awake and weak with days spent in a coma Tomura hadn’t known would be temporary, what if he never woke up—
He stopped, felt the taut stretch of skin around his jaw. He didn’t snarl, but it was a near thing. Hitoshi was in there, and Tomura didn’t want to let anyone disturb him.
Sensei had spoken though, and Tomura would obey. Like acid eating away at his tension, he sighed, the sound loud and effective.
And twenty children rushed into the room behind him.
The Todoroki kid didn’t go in, stopping next to Tomura with an expression complicated as the fractal spread of ice.
Tomura had a guess at what was coming next.
“Where is…” The brat paused, words caught on his lips and twisting to fit the right name.
Patience had never been Tomura’s strong suit. “Your brother?”
A broken look crept over a mismatched face, sparked between two halves of a person. He looked fragile and vulnerable, strong and determined. He nodded, the motion poised and frantic.
Tomura knew the feeling.
“I wanted to talk to him.”
He stretched out the length of his spine, shifted to lean next to the door. Scarred hands folded across his chest, their delicate skin shifting and bending. They were barely healed and still tender to the touch, webs of red marks spreading across his arms and over his fingers like he’d dipped them in flame.
Those scars would never fully fade.
Dabi had kissed the marks, fingers trembling as he touched the skin. Tomura had seen the apologies curling up his throat and growled them away, face set and shoulders sure.
Tomura would burn every inch of his skin if it meant protecting his family.
“He’ll be back,” He said eventually, eyes narrowed but anger fading from his jaw. The kid didn’t deserve his ire, not truly. His neck itched, but not for the painful press of nails—loving bruises lined the stretch of his throat, left by Dabi’s mouth and endless whispered apologies.
Tomura felt those marks and heard laughter behind him, echoing from the room he guarded. Happiness curled up his spine, and Tomura let it stay with a grimace.
The Todoroki kid settled in beside him, content to fall into silence. At least one of the brothers had any sense.
Sauntering steps announced Dabi’s return, loud in the empty hallway. They slowed for a moment, a breath, hesitation curling up the sound.
Then there was another footstep, and another, and then Dabi was standing in front of the Todoroki kid, scars stark against his skin and a heaviness weighing on his eyes.
Tomura said nothing and stayed still, leaning back against the wall like an alley cat. Sounds of cheerful laughter and low explosions came from the door by his side, the noise of celebration and twenty fool students and one fool teacher, the noise of sweet relief, Hitoshi was okay—
But here, in the hall, there was only a tense silence, caught on shared memories.
“I saw you on the news.”
It was a simple sentence, brief and to the point. Tomura heard what went unsaid, the echoing silence between brothers.
You were with Father.
“Yeah, Tomura and I kicked some ass.” The words were short and choked, like they were meant to say more and yet nothing at all.
“Brother. You know what I mean.”
Dabi looked away, blue eyes finding Tomura’s and dancing past, fingers clenching at his side. A furious protectiveness was eating at Tomura’s bones like acid, but he kept still, leaning against the wall and trembling with contained fury.
Dabi was forged in a heartless fire and broken, made strong and broken again. But he had turned himself into melted sand and shattered metal made glass. Tomura would be there, always ready to stand by his side.
But Dabi didn’t need him now.
“I do, Shoto, but what does it matter?” The tone was resigned, holding a thousand regrets and endless bitterness. His face was twisted and hurt with old pain.
Tomura wanted to kiss that look away with angry teeth.
The Todoroki kid looked broken, expression shifting to match his brother’s. “You were alive, and I didn’t know.”
“Alive.” Dabi laughed, the sound harsh and coughing, kept in a vat of sickness and saved to spend on broken dreams. “I wasn’t alive, Shoto, I was thrown out and—”
He stopped, took a breath, the tension coiling out of him. He finally looked towards Tomura, face speaking a thousand truths and pleading .
Tomura stepped forward then, curled a hand around Dabi’s shoulder, casual and vicious in the silence. The man was trembling, frantic and beating against four of Tomura’s scarred fingers.
If he lifted his hand, would the cracked pieces of Dabi’s soul split apart? Would he break? Tomura didn’t know, but it didn’t matter.
Tomura would never move. If Dabi wanted him in this conversation, he would be.
“Spit it out Todoroki. What do you want?” He spoke, quick and acidic—let his words pour into the air.
The kid didn’t flinch back, didn’t shift. The fire in his gaze went from hurt to determined, and Tomura felt an eerie sense of déjà vu.
In that moment, the kid looked like Midoriya, with all the conviction in the world.
“Your name now. It’s Dabi?”
Like breaking glass, like shifting sand, Dabi spoke with a sigh. “Yeah.”
“I’d like to…” Todoroki stopped, took a breath, looked like he was barely holding his arms back before Tomura’s glare.
“I’d like to meet Dabi. I want to know my brother again.”
The shoulder beneath his hand had gone still, restless flutters shaking to a stop. Tomura shifted, felt the fever-hot skin beneath his palm but heard no screams.
Eventually, Dabi laughed, but the sound was dark and delighted now, the laugh that Tomura earned after a harsh glare.
He sounded happy.
“You never change, Shoto. Still as awkward as ever.”
He didn’t say anything else, laughter catching his voice, catching his scars and leaking out like smoke. It was a helpless thing, and Tomura moved closer, let Dabi lean across him.
He was still laughing, but the look on the Todoroki kid’s face was one of understanding.
They returned to the café the next day, Hitoshi walking on his own legs but surrounded by three hovering people, a hero, and the small but bouncy form of Eri. With each step, they shifted with him, protective, at the ready to catch him if he stumbled even an inch.
He shot them a dead-eyed look, exhaustion written into the bags beneath his eyes.
“I can walk.” His tone was bland, but he looked far from irritated, shoulders loose and relaxed.
Tomura snapped back, irritation curling up his spine in a match to the fondness. “Then do it, brat.”
Between them, Sensei walked into the café with a low laugh, the sound small against their arguments.
They settled into the café again, Tomura stepping behind the espresso bar with a sigh of relief. Dabi was close behind, shadowing his steps with a fever-touch and delighted smirk. Hitoshi settled across a chair, tired but whole. Eri glued herself to his side, a bundle of never-smiling energy.
They were home.
The gentle curve of mahogany should have been comforting, the air above heavy with old espresso and the curl of steaming coffee. The endless stretch of coffee cups, a barrier between Tomura and the world, keeping him safe from happy chatter behind bone-white china, should have been good.
The café was as it always had been, though bare of people, and here was where Tomura had always felt most at peace.
But there was a bird in the cat’s den, and Tomura was annoyed.
The damned hero hadn’t left for even a moment, not even for a breath. Present Mic spent his days strutting from table to table, playing small games with Eri and perching by Sensei’s chair. He laughed brightly, moved quickly, made Sensei smile —
It was too much.
But he was always there, had interjected himself into their lives with an ease that shouldn’t have been possible. Every second Tomura breathed he was there.
He stood behind the bar, scarred fingers clenching. The motion made small sparks of pain race up his arms, drawn like poison through his bones.
He didn’t stop, flicking the buttons on the hulking coffee machine before him angrily. Let the pain ground him, let it wash away the guilt.
Let it stop him from doing something truly stupid.
“Calm down, Princess, or you’ll explode.” Dabi’s voice was too quiet to hear outside of the space between them, curling over Tomura’s ear with a hint of smoke. The man was pressed to his side, scarred hands moving quick across the dishes before him.
A grey cloth was held firm in scarred hands, and Dabi dried the coffee cup, placing it in the row before them careful and sure.
It settled with a clink. The barrier was up again, Dabi was by his side. On another day, it would have sent warmth racing through him, would have made him reach for that fever-hot skin.
Now it just pressed the guilt deeper. He had this, had the warmth by his side—
Sensei had given up even the chance. “Shut up.”
The words were more bitter than he could stand, twisting across his throat like a curse.
In that moment, Present Mic leaned forward, proud hair dancing in the dusky light. He moved towards Sensei, and even from here Tomura could see the expression on his face light up with a frightening happiness.
He looked so love struck it made Tomura sick.
In that moment, his weak fingers slipped on the machine before him, shaking with the strain of his fresh scars. Hot water flooded the floor, spilling across the comforting warmth of his sweater and staining him furious. This was his favorite sweater, the one Sensei had given him all those years ago, when tears had carved tracks through the father-dust on his face.
That was it.
“Just fucking kiss him already!” Tomura spat out, words spilling free and angry. Hot water was burning the sensitive skin of his stomach, his hands shook with weakness, and god was he guilty.
That was enough.
He raised his voice, let the anger make him sharp. “I don’t need to see the damn pining. You don’t get to just stay here every day and not do it.”
His back was held straight and furious as a storm, pain building across his stomach but not making him bend. Guilt coiled him, ate at him, but maybe this would ease it.
“Tomura,” Sensei began, voice reproving and tight with endless tension.
Tomura didn’t wait for him to speak more, anger and pain making him unstoppable. “No, Sensei. You’ve loved him for six fucking years. And he has the nerve to just sit there.”
He turned the anger in his bones on Yamada, took in the shock filling that showman’s face.
“You are a coward.” He said, before he turned and walked up the stairs.
Shock moved through Hizashi in wave after crashing wave, breaking in his mind and washing over him again.
Love... He had said love.
He turned his eyes to Shota, took in the tension crawling up his oldest friend’s face. Red eyes were tight, and the stoic set of his face was forced.
His shoulders were trembling, ever so slightly, and in that moment Hizashi knew it was true. He couldn’t breath, couldn’t think through the sudden flood of happiness.
Love, the kid had said love.
Heart light as a cloud, he asked. “Shota…”
“Forget it Hizashi. It’s unimportant.” The words were quick and ruthless, meant to put the matter to rest.
Ignore it and move on, Shota was saying, with the gruff tenor of his voice tight and broken.
But Hizashi couldn’t forget it, wouldn’t ever, not when his heart was so light. The flower in his throat had blossomed and grown, and all he had was warmth.
He didn’t have hope anymore but surety, and that was so much better.
“You know, I made sure we sat next to each other in class in UA?” Hizashi laughed, voice bright and flowing from his throat like thunder. He couldn’t stop it, not with the happiness amping through his veins.
Shota didn’t move, face taut with controlled emotion. Hizashi watched it carefully, channeled every ounce of fondness into his tone.
His voice had always been his greatest weapon. Let it strike true now.
“You were the cool mysterious kid, and you never spoke a word. I wanted to know you, wanted to get you talking and singing with me.”
Another laugh bubbled up, and Shota stirred but the tension was still in those tired shoulders.
“I think I fell in love with you right then.”
Like he’d been shocked, Shota looked up, lean lines of muscle moving lightning-fast. Shota looked up, eyes wide, fingers trembling on the smooth mahogany before him.
Shota looked up, and Hizashi had never seen anything more beautiful.
“Hizashi.” It was just one word but it held so much, and Hizashi couldn’t take it anymore, not with the hope gone and the love to replace it, not with six years’ silence finally broken.
In a move swift and relentless, he leaned forward, intent on a slow and sure kiss.
But Shota was the close-range fighter and always had been: strong hands wrapped around Hizashi’s neck and pulled him in fast, moving like a well-oiled machine.
The press of fingers to his jaw was mesmerizing, but it didn’t hold a candle to the feel of Shota’s lips.
Thanks to the treasured Escher84 for a beta read.
Chapter 28: Epilogue
And here, at last, is our end. It has been almost a year, and this fic has taken me through so much and been so much.
I am glad to have shared it with you all, and thank each and every one of you for reading this.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
This cafe looked a quiet place, at first glance. It was newly built and sturdy, with broad windows stretching up towards the sky and well-cared-for frames lining the glass. Fresh paint gleamed on the window sill, the wood smelling of freshly cut pine and the curl of black coffee. The polished door was shut and locked, a hard oak that would stand the test of time.
There was not a key in sight, not a scratch on the shining metal handle. It looked new as the rest of the building, and perhaps it was, because the café had yet to open.
The sign—perhaps the only shabby part of the whole display—read Black Cat Cafe in clean character. It was undemanding, unimpressive and unimpressed. Come here if you want damn fine coffee and no bullshit , it seemed to say, with a tone like curling smoke.
It was above all else an honest sign, written years and lifetimes ago. Below the old characters was a scrawl of bone-white chalk, messy and uncaring.
Closed for the Day.
The café sat in a strange part of Tokyo—two blocks to the east was The Nest, the famed hero agency of the Number One Hero, Hawks of the crimson wings and easy grin. Two blocks to the east was an old warehouse with broken windows and the cold appeal of a villainous bar.
A woman with a smile like knives and a girlish figure lived there, and it was said you could hear her mad giggles as you drank. But you never heard her anger before you died.
It was fitting, this location. The café was a place of conundrums and the fog between worlds. Villains and heroes alike journeyed to its espresso-stained tables, brought their opinions to a place of coffee cups and gentle jazz.
Here and here alone, the two halves of society could speak and understand.
It was a place for peace, but it was not a quiet place. With a single step through the door, you could hear the delighted chiming of a child’s laugh, the low rumbling of a man’s chuckle, the angry clink of coffee cups.
Inside these four walls and well-kept windows lived a family: A young girl, with eyes that held a trained fear but lips that were learning to smile; a young man with tired eyes and stark purple hair sat on the ground, fluffy white cat held in his lap and stories spinning from his lips; two men, standing behind the lacquered mahogany of the bar and sharing body heat and snide remarks; a man with the hair of a cockatoo and a passion for song.
These people—with laughter shared freely between them and covered in cat’s fur—were not the owner, but they were important.
Overlooking it all, curled into a sleek leather chair like a great jungle cat, sat a man with disheveled hair and lines etching exhaustion into his face. He was leanly muscled, with a warrior’s build well-hidden in shabby clothes and a deceiving posture. A cup of espresso sat steaming before him but yet untouched, clear glass showing a thick crema and heady aroma.
On most days, he was a man to be wary of—after all, Redeye was a dangerous man, when angered.
No one wanted to be on the wrong end of his stare.
But on this day, a gentle smile lurked in the corner of his lips, made his eyes go soft with a fondness he’d freely admit to.
On this day, Aizawa Shota sat with restful black eyes and a deep happiness curling over his bones.