“It was a sneak attack!” Himiko said enthusiastically. She had pulled herself up onto the bartop, and was swinging her legs back and forth as she recounted events. “Dabi was really smart about the timing. We waited until all the little heroes were scattered in the woods as part of some test-”
“Test of courage,” Magne said, and then snorted. “We sure gave them a test of courage.”
Toshinori couldn’t stop glancing back at Bakugou, who was gagged and furiously silent, strapped to a chair with his hands locked in front of him in the same sort of insulation box they’d had to use at the sports festival. Once he was no longer in imminent danger from Dabi’s fingers around his neck, some of his ever-present fire had come back, and Toshinori was relieved to see it.
He needed a way to get him out. But how? If he could find an excuse for leaving the room and send a message to Nedzu or Aizawa- but then the League would be directly in the line of fire when the reprisal came- but didn’t they deserve that? They’d known the potential ramifications when they launched a direct attack on a class of heroes in training. But-
“They were pretty brave!” Spinner slurred from where he had his head down on the bar, his concussion still blurring his words together. “‘Specially th’ one, um, th’ one Stain approved of! He punched me and it was like, wow… kid’s s-st. Strong.”
Toshinori blinked. “Midoriya?”
“Deku!” Himiko squealed almost immediately, with uncomfortable enthusiasm. “He was cute! So bloody! And he looked at me…”
Something dropped like a rock in Toshinori’s stomach. “Bloody?” He swallowed hard, then forced himself to ask, “Were there… any deaths?”
“No,” Dabi huffed. “Fuckin’ travesty. The brats were stronger than we thought. It caught us off guard.”
“And we lost Moonfish and Mustard too,” Twice chipped in. “I can’t believe they let themselves get caught! Of course they did, they were weaksauce. Maybe it would’ve gone better if Muscular hadn’t gotten caught like a bitch a week ago.”
Toshinori imagined any of his students facing off against Muscular, and felt momentarily ill.
“We did catch our prize, though!” Himiko said, clapping her hands. She pranced over to Bakugou and tapped him lightly on the nose. He made a muffled snarling sound and jerked against his bonds, and she danced backwards, giggling.
“So that was the point of all this?” Toshinori asked. “A kidnapping?”
“Indeed,” Kurogiri confirmed, slipping back to his usual place behind the bar. “Shigaraki thought that, given the boy’s performance and… temperament during the Sports Festival, he could potentially be a very powerful ally.”
It was… a bad plan. All that loss for just one potential gain? It would have been a bad plan even if Toshinori didn’t know with absolute certainty that Bakugou would never become a villain- he’d rarely met anyone more determined to be a hero, short of young Midoriya. And that surprised him. Judging by what he’d seen of Shigaraki so far, when his mind was in gear he wasn’t a half-bad strategist, though thus far he’d used those skills mostly for RTS games.
This plan was shortsighted and narrow, so either Toshinori had greatly misjudged Shigaraki, or… there were wider forces at work here, moving towards some other goal, and Bakugou wasn’t really the target at all.
Right on cue, the door opened and Shigaraki stepped in.
“Nice of you to deign to join us, boss,” Dabi drawled out, words dripping with sarcasm thick enough to choke on. “Mission went well, since you asked.”
“I was busy,” Shigaraki bit out. “What, do you need me to babysit you? I had to meet with Sensei. He's got plans.” He said the last word proudly, sounding satisfied, pleased to be entrusted with his master’s schemes.
“Sensei,” Toshinori repeated under his breath, feeling an old, heavy suspicion harden in his stomach.
Shigaraki glanced up, noticing his presence. “Oh, hey, old man,” he said, and then, eyes narrowing slightly, “The hell are you doing here? It's late. Why the fuck aren't you sleeping?”
It took a long moment before Toshinori recognized that the sharpness in Shigaraki’s voice didn't carry an accusation. It was something closer to… concern?
“Couldn't sleep,” he said automatically, and it was honest enough, even if he withheld the reason why. “Needed something to do, so…”
He trailed off, gestured helplessly at the spotlessly clean bar.
“Huh,” Shigaraki said, and grinned behind the hand on his face, tucking his hands in his pockets. “Well, good timing. You get to witness the triumph of the League of Villains. Front row seat.”
Toshinori managed a weak smile. He felt sick.
Shigaraki stalked forwards, towards the captive Bakugou, who renewed his struggles with new vigor at the approach. Toshinori could hear the muffled sound of him shouting into his gag.
“Now, this isn't any way to treat a guest,” Shigaraki said, casting the rest of the League a look that seemed almost reproachful. “He's all tied up.”
“Like hell we were leaving him untied,” Dabi said flatly. “Do it yourself and get your face blown off if you want.”
Shigaraki rolled his eyes. “Like you even have a face left to lose,” he muttered snidely. “But it's fine. We have time. Everything isn't in place yet,” he said. “All Might still hasn't shown himself.”
All Might. It always led back to All Might. All Might, who was loved and hated with a fervency unmatched by any other public figure on the planet.
All Toshinori had ever wanted to do was help people.
“What does All Might have to do with this?” Toshinori asked.
It was hard to read Shigaraki’s expression behind the stiff, dead hand. Toshinori missed the way he looked when he was playing games, face uncovered, eyes vibrant and alive. Now, he didn't look anything like that, and Toshinori was reminded, yet again, that these were villains.
“This kid is one of All Might’s students,” Shigaraki said, with a contemptuous grin that was visible even behind the hand’s stiffly splayed fingers. “One of his strongest, in fact… and most volatile. If we can turn him to our side, All Might will be crushed and the public’s faith in their Symbol of Peace will be shaken to its core.”
“What if he doesn’t change to your side, though?” Toshinori asked, trying to sound less worried than he was.
Would you hurt him? What would you do?
If it came to that, he knew, he’d grab Bakugou, activate whatever he had available of his quirk, and get the both of them out of there, consequences be damned. He would not let a student of his be hurt in front of his eyes, not ever, and especially not after he was utterly useless when their training camp was attacked.
He so badly hoped it wouldn’t come to that. But he was going to have to do something.
“He will,” Shigaraki said, with absolute certainty in his voice.
“But if he doesn’t?” Toshinori pressed. “I mean… UA students must have quite some conviction. It’s not a place to go if your heart isn’t fully set on becoming a hero, is it?”
Shigaraki waved his concerns off. “Don’t worry so much. Even if he doesn’t listen to me, well… Sensei can be very persuasive.”
All at once, the ball of anxiety and worry and fear roiling in Toshinori’s stomach dropped like a lead weight, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. He found the edge of the bar with one hand and surreptitiously tightened his hand around it, in case his legs betrayed him.
There wasn’t any doubt left, not at all.
His phone, tucked away in his back pocket, abruptly vibrated with an incoming call.
He yanked the phone out of his pocket and slammed the mute button as fast as he could, suddenly very thankful for the time that Aizawa had pulled him aside and explained, with deep exhaustion, how to control the sound settings on one’s phone.
The phone continued to vibrate, now mercifully muted. Tsukauchi Naomasa, the screen said. Good. Perfect. If one of the villains had seen the name Eraserhead or any number of other pro heroes pop up on his screen, there would have been problems.
Everyone was staring at him. He hoped none of them had recognized the voice on his ringtone before he cut it off.
“Ah,” he said. “Sorry.”
“Who’s that, Mr. Yagi?” Toga asked, bouncing up on her tiptoes to try and read the screen over his shoulder.
“Ah, my- ah- nephew is calling me,” Toshinori stammered, heart still racing from the close call. He nearly said coworker, but corrected at the last moment when he remembered he’d told them he worked for Nighteye. “He… likes to check in on me. Do you mind if I step outside and-”
“Yeah, go ahead,” Shigaraki said with an idle wave of his hand. “Make it quick.”
Toshinori had a moment to marvel at the trust he’d gained, and to feel equally guilty about betraying that trust, as he stepped outside and closed the door behind him. He took a few steps away from the door to escape eavesdropping range (he wouldn’t put it past Toga, in particular) before he finally answered the phone and brought it to his ear.
“All Might!” Naomasa’s voice rang in his ear, sounding all but frantic, and despite himself Toshinori couldn’t help but smile, just for a moment. “I’ve been trying to reach you at home- there’s been an attack- the League of Villains-”
“I know,” Toshinori said, cutting Tsukauchi off before he could try and re-explain the situation to him. “They kidnapped young Bakugou.”
“Someone’s already explained the situation to you?” Naomasa asked.
“Er- in a way,” Toshinori said. Technically it was true. Someone had. “Listen, are-”
“The heroes are holding a meeting to discuss the situation. They need All Might, but nobody’s been able to find you. There’s already talk of a press conference, and you’ll need to be there for that too if it happens. Where-”
“Naomasa, listen!” Toshinori interrupted, and was relieved when the voice on the other end went expectantly quiet. “Are the rest of the students alright?”
“Some of them were hurt, but they’ll recover,” Naomasa answered. “Jirou and Hagakure were hit the worst, they’re still in urgent care. Yaoyorozu took a rather significant blow to the head. Some of the students, especially in Class B, inhaled a lot of poisoned gas. Midoriya broke an arm, again, and Uraraka has some moderate blood loss.”
Each statement felt like a blow, and Toshinori was only barely able to keep himself from flinching with every new name. He could have stopped this. He should have. But now, all he could do was try his best to fix it.
“But they’re all fine, Yagi-san,” Naomasa repeated reassuringly, when his silence had dragged on a beat too long. “It could have been much worse. From what I hear, the students rose to the situation admirably. They’re good kids. They’ll be good heroes.”
“Yeah,” Toshinori agreed, leaning his tired shoulders against the building and tilting his head back to stare up at the sky. There were a few stars visible, shining between the patchy clouds. “Yeah, they will.”
He hesitated a moment longer before saying the next words, because he had no idea how on earth he was going to explain himself, but that didn’t matter, did it? So long as his kids were safe. Young Bakugou was going to be a good hero, and Toshinori wanted to see that happen. He didn’t care what he had to do to make sure the boy stayed far, far away from All for One’s toxic grasp.
“Naomasa,” he said. “I know where Bakugou is. Listen very carefully.”
Toshinori returned to the bar by circling around and entering through the back door, the one close behind where Bakugou was restrained. The villains were still chattering excitedly, still high on the rush of their successful attack and retrieval, and no one took note of his quiet re-entry.
Toshinori stepped up beside where Bakugou was still fruitlessly struggling to wrench his hands out of the restraints and bent down to murmur, “It’s going to be alright, young Bakugou.”
Bakugou jerked in surprise, craning his head against the restraints as far as he could to look over at Toshinori with a look of narrow-eyed, furious suspicion.
Toshinori smiled. “Because I am here.”
Bakugou stared at him, eyes wide and expression unreadable behind his gag. Toshinori winked, then straightened before any of the League members could take notice of the exchange, stepping back over to the bar.
“Everything okay with your nephew, gramps?” Twice asked, looking up as he approached.
“Just fine,” Toshinori said with a slight smile. God, despite everything, he was still so fond of them, of Twice and all the rest of these broken people. He knew it was biting him even as he spoke, even with one of his students tied up just feet away, but he couldn’t help it. “He just wanted to know how I was doing and share some news about, er… one of his kids.”
Twice lit up, the eyes of his mask widening. “Yo, are you a grandpa for real?” he asked eagerly. “Are there mini-Yagis out there?”
Toshinori chuckled, shook his head. “Oh, no. Ah- no kids, myself. Never seemed to have the time. But…”
Midoriya’s sunshine smile; Uraraka’s laughter; Kirishima’s enthusiasm and Iida’s diligence-
“...but I’ve got a big family,” Toshinori said. And right now one of those kids is in danger, and I am going to see him home safe no matter what.
“Right,” Shigaraki said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together to draw the room’s attention. He stepped up in front of Bakugou, met the boy’s furious glare with a gleeful grin. “Let’s have a talk with our new ally here.”
He reached out, and tugged the gag away.
“Hello, there, Bakugou,” he said with a wide grin.
Bakugou glared flatly back, orange eyes burning with rage. He didn’t say anything. Toshinori had seen that look before on the boy, many times, always when he was just seconds away from exploding. Shigaraki didn’t seem phased by the silent treatment. He pulled a chair over from a nearby table and sat down on it backwards, leaning on the backrest.
“You want to be a hero, right?” Shigaraki said. “Wanna help people?”
Bakugou didn’t respond, but Shigaraki nodded anyways, like they were having a conversation.
“Yeah, you do. So I’m gonna let you in on a secret. Heroes don’t help people. Not in the society we live in now.”
Dabi snorted in the background. “‘Heroism’ is just a way for assholes to claw their way up to riches and glory, now,” he said.
“Exactly,” Shigaraki said, leaning forward. “There’s a sickness to it, isn’t it? A grotesqueness, to making people’s lives something to be saved for personal gain. To reducing humanity to a game, a popularity contest. The hero system is broken, Bakugou. It’s warped into something that uses lives as currency, and leaves those that aren’t useful to rot.”
“And the only way to fix it, the only way to win this broken game, is to burn it all down.”
Shigaraki tilted his head to one side, eyeing Bakugou purposefully from between the splayed fingers of the stiff hand on his face.
“You… like winning, don’t you?”
There was no response.
Without looking away from Bakugou, Shigaraki said, “Dabi, untie him.”
“Fuck no,” came the immediate and predictable response. “Twice, you do it.”
“Whaaaat? Why me? No way!” Twice complained, even as he stepped forward to fiddle with the restraints. Toshinori took a subtle step backwards, away from the blast zone, and carefully positioned himself so that Toga and the concussed Spinner were behind him. Just in case. Magne seemed to have a similar thought- she stepped up beside him, and gave him a nod.
The restraints fell away from Bakugou’s hands, and before they’d even hit the ground, an explosion rocked the room. Shigaraki was blown backwards, skidding on his back, the hand covering his face knocked free by the blast.
“Do you ever fucking shut up?” Bakugou snarled, on his feet now, the chair he’d been strapped to a smoking ruin behind him. “God, you idiots just blabber on and on and on, fuck!”
Shigaraki jerkily pulled himself to his feet. Smoke was rising from his hair and shoulders from the blast he’d taken directly to the face, but otherwise he looked uninjured.
“You want me to help you harass heroes? I’m telling you right now, you can get fucked,” Bakugou continued, palms popping like firecrackers. “Not a chance. You think I give a shit about everything you wanna say about society and Stain and whatever the fuck? I don’t care about any of it.”
He grinned, sharp and feral. “I want to be like All Might. And no matter what you say, that’s never going to change.”
Toshinori, despite everything, despite the fear and worry and stress and dread and the way his heart was hammering in his too-fragile chest, could only feel proud.
Shigaraki barely even seemed to hear Bakugou, even as the rest of the League drew back defensively, preparing for combat; even as Bakugou threatened them with a vicious grin. Shigaraki’s eyes were fixed, unseeing, on the hand that had been knocked to the floor.
Toshinori was, perhaps, the only person close enough to hear what he mumbled under his breath-
-and it made a heavy weight sink in his stomach.
All for One, what did you do?
His phone buzzed in his hand, and he surreptitiously tilted it to check the screen.
ETA 1 min
“No one attack him!” Shigaraki shouted, seeming to come back to reality, swinging his hands out to either side to hold the League members back. “It’s fine. Everything… is fine.”
He grinned. “Sensei will be here soon.”