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Golden Life, Golden Lies

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“It’s a simple exchange - an even trade!”

The villain’s voice grated on Amajiki’s ears, and he wished more than ever to disappear. He wanted his hero cloak, wanted his pouches, wanted more than the hood of his ratty sweater between him and the three villains cornering him in an alley.

He gripped the strap of his backpack tightly. They’d obviously followed him from school, and they’d obviously picked him specially.

“I’m not interested—not interested in a deal...” He needed to get it together. These weren’t classmates staring holes in his skull while he did a presentation in class; these were villains. This was the League of Villains, and Amajiki was in danger.

“No... thank you,” he managed, and the dark-haired one with all the scars rolled his eyes.

“It’s a good offer, kid,” he said.

Amajiki forced himself to look at the villains more closely. Dabi, that was the name of the guy who’d spoken. The mutant quirk was Spinner, and the guy covered in hands was their leader, Shigaraki Tomura.

Shigaraki took a step forward.

“Why don’t I tell you the terms of our little loot swap?” he said.

Amajiki pushed air past his teeth. Remember to breathe, Tamaki! he could hear Fatgum saying in his mind. One, two, three, four, turn the corner, two, two, three, fo—

“You’re friends with that Lemillion, yeah?”

Amajiki was already frozen in place, but his anxiety ticked closer to panic.

“What about him?” he demanded, and he was impressed at the level sound of his own voice.

“Well,” Shigaraki said, “it’s such a shame he lost his quirk. What a waste of promising talent, don’t you think?”

“Yeah! A damn shame!” Spinner yelled, a little too loud. Dabi glanced over, irritated, and Spinner crossed his arms in a huff.

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” Shigaraki continued, “if there was an item that could restore it?”

Amajiki’s heart stuttered in his chest.

“That’s—”

“I can make that happen,” Shigaraki interrupted. He rummaged in his pocket, then pulled out a photo. Amajiki had to squint through the dark light of the alley, but it appeared to be of a small blue capsule. “Do you know what this is?” Shigaraki rasped.

“I don’t wanna fight you,” Amajiki responded instead. “If you let me leave, this can end peacefully.” He summoned a bit more courage. “If you force me to fight, I promise it won’t end well for you.”

Dabi scoffed, but Shigaraki ignored him.

“This capsule is the antidote to Overhaul’s bullets,” and red eyes pinned Amajiki to the wall.

An antidote!

“I’ll give you this antidote,” Shigaraki said, “if you agree to do a little job for me.”

Amajiki’s head spun. There’s an antidote, there’s an antidote, there’s an antidote, his brain chanted on repeat. There was an antidote, and it was within Amajiki’s grasp. But no, what was he thinking? These were wanted supervillains. He could never work with them. Right?

“How do I know it’s real?” Amajiki called out. “How could I possibly trust you?”

Why was he even asking?! He couldn’t do this… could he?

“I’m not wasting my bullets to prove anything to you,” Shigaraki said, “but we haven't attacked you, have we? That’s all the proof I’m willing to offer.”

Amajiki stared them down. Shigaraki’s stance didn’t falter. If he was telling the truth… but no, of course this was a trick. But if it wasn’t…

Amajiki wanted to be a hero. He’d always wanted to be a hero. He’d always wanted to be Mirio’s hero. What would it be like, he wondered, to be the one to give Mirio his quirk back?

He pictured Mirio in his mind. Sunny, perfect Mirio: the reason Amajiki believed in soulmates. More than anyone alive, Mirio deserved this. He deserved to become the hero of his dreams, to become Pro Hero Lemillion. It wasn’t fair he’d never permeate again, it wasn’t fair he had to hope Eri would someday master her out-of-control quirk, it wasn’t fair that Mirio, of all people, was robbed of the future he worked so hard to achieve.

But as much as it ached… Mirio would never accept this. Brilliant, noble Mirio would never accept his quirk like this. For Amajiki to do this would be nothing short of a complete and total betrayal.

Anger flared in his chest, both at his own weakness and at the villains trapping him against this wall.

If Amajiki were to do what these villains asked, it would break Mirio’s heart. It would make Amajiki a traitor to every one of his and Mirio’s shared ideals, it would destroy the future they’d worked for all these years. And yet these villains thought Amajiki would do it? They thought that he, Suneater, would betray his Lemillion?

Mirio would never accept this. Not like this.

“No,” Amajiki heard himself say. “No!”

He flung out an arm, tentacles bursting from his fingertips. Three wrapped around Shigaraki while the other two smacked Dabi and Spinner in opposite directions. Spinner flew through the air to land several meters back, and Amajiki heard the CRACK! of his skull hitting the side of a dumpster.

That was one villain unconscious.

His tentacles wrapped tighter around Shigaraki’s waist, but the villain leered at him with bloodshot eyes. Shigaraki didn’t say anything, just placed all five fingers around the living, pulsing extensions of Amajiki’s fingers.

Decay ripped through his tentacles, and Amajiki screamed.

But he still had his left hand free, so he sent five smaller tentacles flying to snake around Shigaraki’s wrists and slam the villain against the wall.

Air whooshed from Shiagaraki’s lungs, and then there were flames.

Blue consumed the world, and Amajiki ripped Shigaraki towards himself while sprouting a massive clam shell across his back. The flames were crematory-hot, and his shell cracked almost immediately. But he had Shigaraki in close now, and Dabi apparently had some reservations about roasting his boss.

Amajiki flung Shigaraki against the closest wall, making sure he kept them close enough together that Dabi couldn’t torch him without also destroying Shigaraki. Amajiki’s tentacles held Shigaraki’s death-hands high above his head, pulling taut as the villain twisted his wrists.

He didn’t exactly struggle very hard, but Amajiki’s mind was racing too fast to focus on it.

His head whipped back and forth between the two villains.

“Stay back!” he yelled at Dabi, and Dabi raised his hands in a casual surrender. Amajiki looked back at Shigaraki.

He opened his mouth, but a shudder cut him off. Pieces of clam shell shivered out of his skin while feathers tickled along his back. The stress of the situation was pulling at his quirk, scrambling the impulses he’d built through rigorous training to contain his manifestations. He hadn’t lost control of his quirk in years.

Not now, calm down, Tamaki! he berated himself.

Red eyes drank it up.

“You don’t need to fight it, Amajiki Tamaki,” the villain taunted, and something in Amajiki snapped. He shoved his forearm against Shigaraki's throat, pressing hard.

“Where are you keeping the antidote?!” Amajiki yelled, but Shigaraki just smiled. Amajiki pressed harder. “You’re going to tell me,” he said, and looked over at Dabi with wild eyes. "Now!!"

Dabi raised an unimpressed eyebrow, and to Amajiki’s right, the shadows leaped.

Amajiki yanked his arm off Shigaraki's throat to block the sword aimed straight at his head. Spinner was awake, apparently, and he was pissed. His massive sword clanged painfully against the lobster carapace coating Amajiki's arm, but Amajiki couldn't let go of Shigaraki—

A blast of flame smashed into Amajiki’s back, punching him to his knees and burning white-hot through his clothes. He whipped Shigaraki around as a human shield between himself and Dabi. The villain cut off his flames at the move, but Spinner was still swinging. Amajiki rolled out of the way, then used his position on the ground to snake a fresh tentacle around Spinner’s legs and fling him towards the dumpster again.

Next, Amajiki shoved brown wings through the hole Dabi had scorched in his hoodie and pumped them once, twice, three times to flip himself and his captive over Dabi's head. Amajiki’s back screamed at the treatment, but he’d worry about his burns later.

Dabi dropped to a crouch when the pair landed, but Amajiki held Shigaraki in front of himself as a shield.

As a warning.

Dabi's eyes tracked Amajiki’s movements, and barely a second later, a battered Spinner landed next to the flame villain.

"You're going to tell me where it is," Amajiki demanded.

"Like hell we will," Spinner called out. "You're outnumbered, moron!"

"This is your leader, right?" Amajiki shook his wings meaningfully while kicking off his shoes. With his feet free, he transformed them into the rabbit legs he'd thankfully added to his daily intake. He thumped one foot on the ground.

"There might be more of you, but that doesn't mean anything if you can't catch me," he said. "I'll take your leader straight to the heroes!"

Shigaraki chuckled in his hold.

"Last chance," the villain rasped, apparently immune to Amajiki's threats. "Take the deal, do one easy job, and you'll get your little buddy's quirk back. Doesn't that sound nice?"

"Shut up!" Amajiki yelled, and shook Shigaraki for good measure.

Amajiki’s head was pounding. The antidote might not even be real, this might all be a trick, but what if it wasn’t? The picture did look just how Mirio described the red one that took his powers, and Fatgum had talked a lot about how the Shie Hissaikai needed money, so maybe they had a bigger operation going on than just destroying quirks...

But all that was irrelevant right now. If there was even a chance the antidote was real, Amajiki wasn't leaving until he knew exactly where it was.

He'd find it.

For Mirio.

"I'll ask you one last time," he warned, and shell wrapped around his temples to lock menacingly over his face. "Where is it?!"

"Where is what, Tamaki?" a new voice said. But it wasn’t just any voice… it was Mirio’s voice.

Amajiki whirled at the sound, but what he saw didn’t make sense. Mirio was standing in the mouth of the alley. Mirio was here and he was standing in the mouth of the alley.

"...Mirio?"

Mirio laughed. It was his normal sunshine laugh, but how could this be happening? Why was Mirio here? Amajiki was in the middle of whatever the hell this situation was and now... Mirio was here? He was supposed to be at his parents' house recuperating...

"What's up, Tamaki?" Mirio said, smiling wide. "Are you being mean to poor Tomura?"

Amajiki kept one ear tuned to Dabi and Spinner, but both eyes on his best friend, somehow standing there beaming like he had no cares in the world. And wait, he'd called the villain...

"Why are you using his given—"

"You didn't wanna help your best buddy get his quirk back?” Mirio said, ignoring his question. “That's pretty mean, Tamaki."

Amajiki faltered.

Why was Mirio saying this?

"You should have taken the deal, Tamaki," Mirio said, and suddenly, Mirio was melting.

"Mirio!" Amajiki cried, but blond hair was melting, shoulders were shrinking, and the solid outline of Mirio shrunk down, down, horribly down into the shape of one Toga Himiko.

She giggled in the shocked quiet, and Amajiki watched in horror as pieces of Mirio slid to the ground.

Toga twirled down the alley, and a man in a tophat stepped from the shadows to drop a cloak around her shoulders once she reached the group.

"Excellent performance!" The man clapped, but froze when a swordfish's weapon stabbed straight through his stupid hat.

"What have you done with Mirio?!" Amajiki nearly screamed. He was breathing hard. How had she turned into Mirio?!

"Ah, young Lemillion," the man - Mr. Compress, that was his name - said as he pulled a crystal ball from his pocket with a flourish. He tossed the ball, and a stapled hand snatched it from the air.

Dabi held the marble up high, then backlit it with a spurt of flame from his other hand. Clearly outlined with that horrible little marble, was Mirio.

That’s how she’d turned into Mirio. They’d kidnapped him, stolen his blood, and shoved him into a tiny crystal prison.

“You should have taken the deal, kid,” Dabi taunted. He cradled the marble in one hand, and flame licked at his fingers. “Might wanna keep your distance,” Dabi continued, “these crystals aren’t fireproof.”

Amajiki had felt how hot Dabi’s flames were. He didn’t doubt that one hand would be enough to destroy one measly crystal, no matter who was inside. Globs of Toga’s disguise still pooled below her feet, and Amajiki’s heart felt as ruined as the mess of blond hair and melted flesh tones seeping into the asphalt.

“I think it’s time you put me down,” Shigaraki said.

Amajiki couldn’t stop staring at the tiny crystal ball that was Mirio’s life. All of Mirio, inside that crystal ball. All that joy, that potential, that goodness... all at the mercy of bright blue flames.

Retracting his tentacles felt like signing a death warrant. Whether it was his own or Mirio’s, Amajiki wasn’t sure. Shigaraki’s feet touched pavement, and Amajiki forced his quirk back inside.

Perhaps Amajiki’s darkest dreams could conjure up worse nightmares than this, but that was only in the terror of sleep. In the morning, there would be Mirio, there would be sunshine, and there would be laughter brushing away despair.

But right now, there was nobody here to save the day. There was only Suneater, a dark alley, and the cold certainty that he was about to betray everything Mirio held dear. Because maybe Mirio would choose death to keep his ideals, but Amajiki wouldn’t, not when Mirio was the one in the noose. No matter what the villains wanted from him, no matter how low he had to sink or who he had to betray, he knew he’d choose Mirio every time.

He would betray him every single time.

“What’s the job?” he gritted out. He clenched his fists tight at his sides, his quirk begging to be set loose again. But Mirio was in Dabi’s palm, and Amajiki wanted to scream.

Shigaraki leered at him.

Jobs, hero,” he said. They were all grinning, and Amajiki was a mouse in the trap.

“If you’d cooperated like I asked, I would have let you off with just one quest log. But now,” Shigaraki said, his eyes alight, “now you’ve gotta earn it.”

For Mirio, Amajiki thought, and watched the last of golden hair melt into the pavement.

He’d survive this, he’d do whatever it took, no matter what.

For Mirio.