Prologue – Deal with the Devil - 3 ½ months ago
Detective Naomasa Tsukauchi took the moment’s luxury of leaning back and closing his eyes in the otherwise empty elevator, now that the doors were safely closed, wishing for the first time that he lived on the thirtieth floor of a much larger building, just so he could have a few extra seconds of peace. As the lead investigator of the League of Villains attack against the UA at the USJ, he’d no doubt become a somewhat lesser target of those villains.
A gently voiced “third floor” notified him he’d already reached his destination, and he snapped to attention, pressing his hand to the reassuring weight of the specially designed firearm at his side, one which had been crafted with villains with powerful Quirks in mind. It would be useless against the Nomu they currently had in custody, but bullets had definitely worked against its master, the man currently sporting nearly as many bullet wounds as he had hands. Though Snipe’s bullets hadn’t been effective against the warp teleporter villain who had spirited him away from UA’s Heroes.
The apartment building hallway was thankfully empty of potential ambushers, or anyone else, for that matter, because very few other people would be getting home from work after 2:00 am. The lighting was reassuringly bright; there were no shadows for villains to lurk in.
“You’re getting paranoid in your old age, Masa,” he chided softly, using the nickname only his father ever used. And one other person, but that was years ago, and he quickly suppressed those memories. Because the thought of a maudlin night of drinking was too damned tempting, and he never drank alone, because too many good officers had crawled into a bottle and never climbed back out.
And he’d somehow made it to his door on autopilot, completely oblivious to his surroundings, and that could get him killed. “Fear not citizen, for I am here,” a familiar voice gently chided in his head. But All Might wasn’t here, beside him, and thanks to the battle he’d fought against the Nomu, he was down from three hours maintaining his hero form, to only one. At this rate, his best friend, the Symbol of Peace, soon wouldn’t be there for anyone. And to hell with his self-imposed rules, he needed that drink.
He disarmed the alarm, opened the multiple locks and headed inside, the combination motion detector and heat sensor trigger flicking on the lights as soon as it registered a human presence, reassuring him that he was alone in his apartment. He slipped his shoes off and his slippers on, and headed for his liquor cabinet, the one he normally only ever opened when he had company, because it had been another in an endless series of long, hard days. “Of course there’s no one here. You’ve never been that important,” he chided in unusual self-deprecation.
“Some people might argue that,” a stranger’s voice stated quietly.
Naomasa spun, drawing his gun, as his heart raced, his eyes immediately landing on the intruder, who wasn’t even trying to hide, though he couldn’t have been inconspicuous if he tried.
His face was a purposeful patchwork of terribly scarred and perfect skin, that looked stapled together, rough patches under turquoise eyes, and on his chin, under straight black hair, with a long midnight blue trench coat, that looked as stitched together as he was. He was lazily seated on his sofa, his booted feet resting on the coffee table, arms casually draped over the sofa back.
“You’ve gotten careless in your old age, Masa. Motion detectors don’t turn lights on if someone remains still, and heat sensors don’t work on someone who can regulate their body temperature, and they can both be disabled or electronically bypassed anyway. You’ve gotten stupid, too. You obviously don’t need the gun, because you’d have already been dead, if I wanted you to be. You should know the bullets would never get near me anyway. Because I’d just melt them in mid-air.” To illustrate his point, a small puff of blue flame appeared over one hand, and began dexterously weaving in and out through his fingers, as if he was flipping a coin through them.
At the sight of the familiar action, the blue fire, Naomasa suddenly forgot how to breathe. “Touya?” he whispered in shocked disbelief, the gun immediately lowering. Because Endeavor’s eldest son, the headstrong and rebellious boy he’d mentored, had vanished without a trace ten years ago, at the vulnerable age of fourteen, becoming the subject of one of the most intensive missing person investigations in their department’s history. “We thought you were dead! What happened? Where have you been all these years? What are you doing here?”
“You tried to tell me being too confident, too cocky, would get me killed. You were right. It did. Touya is dead. In the States, they called me Conflagration, but he’s dead too, now. Now that I’m back in Japan, I’m going by Dabi. You remember the first step of our code, right? You should like my new name. You always appreciated American puns.”
The first step of their code. Dabi, backwards. Ibad. I bad. Naomasa’s skin prickled and a lead weight settled in his stomach, as his hand tightened on the grip of his weapon, though he didn’t lift it again. He licked suddenly dry lips at the likelihood that the troubled and violent kid he’d loved like a little brother was a villain, now. “What are you doing here?” he repeated, softly.
Dabi’s eyes burned with an inner light, of obsession, or vengeance, or madness, a look that belied his otherwise expressionless face. “I’m here to give you a thumb drive, a secure laptop, a watch, and a scrambled satellite phone, and to make sure you remember our code, so we can text one another safely, on the phone I’m leaving for you, after you’ve read the information on the thumb drive. Because you’re my new mole in the police department, my pipeline to the plans of the Pro Heroes and access to the teachers and students of UA. You and I are going to be working together, from now on.”
Chapter 1 – Dark Dreams and Difficult Discussions
Shouto Todoroki was aware he was falling behind Midoriya, and his other classmates, as they headed from their dorm across campus, towards their homeroom, that he was pulling out of earshot of the six different conversations he’d been simultaneously listening to, and he’d likely suffer for it later. He’d have even less of an idea what the others were talking about, less of a common frame of reference and raw data to notice or interpret the social cues he so often missed or misunderstood. But he forced himself to stay at his current slower pace.
He was exhausted. He’d had one of his particularly terrible nightmares last night, full of fire and roasting flesh and his mother screaming until her throat burned away. He woke, ready to fight for his life against a towering monster who thankfully wasn’t there, who wasn’t anywhere near. As he sat shivering under his blanket, sheathed in protective ice, he reminded himself his mother was safe, in the hospital, that as long as she was there, his father couldn’t hurt her, and as long as he was here, on campus, his father couldn’t hurt him, because they were both surrounded by witnesses. He’d spent the remainder of the night vainly attempting to read ahead in three of his classes, unable to focus and retain any of it, and then had gone for a run, as soon as dawn broke.
Just thinking about his father now instinctively made him want to press ahead, to try to pick up those lost trails of conversation. But his father wasn’t going to spring a sudden situational awareness test on him that he wouldn’t be prepared for, that he’d fail, because he always failed every test, every scenario and… Stop. Focus.
A moment later, his eyes locked onto disheveled green hair, over a deceptively narrow looking back and shoulders, in a familiar grey student jacket. Midoriya always looked so small, so harmless, until you saw his shirtless chest and arms, or his face, the unmistakable awareness and intelligence in his emerald eyes. Like him, Midoriya was constantly watching, gauging, cataloguing, for similar yet different reasons. Assessing weaknesses and strengths, yes, but Midoriya freely shared his discoveries with his rivals, to help them reach their full potential. Except they weren’t rivals to Midoriya. They were friends. Which even after months at UA was still alien, confusing to Shouto.
“Todoroki-kun?” Midoriya asked, as he turned towards him, as if sensing his gaze, radiating concern when they locked eyes.
Shouto felt his head automatically dip down, his left hand going up to surreptitiously and self-consciously push a few additional locks of hair over his scar. He aborted the ingrained motion deliberately, lowering his hand in self-disgust, because this was Midoriya, who not only saw past his scar, but honestly didn’t seem to ever even notice it, which was impossible, because it was huge, and ugly, and Midoriya noticed everything. With Midoriya, he didn’t need to try to hide or look like he wasn’t challenging him, and damn it, Midoriya had called his name and was looking at him, and he’d been so preoccupied, caught in his own head, that he’d failed to reply.
“I’m fine.” The words were automatic, and a lie, because he’d never been fine, not since he was an infant, and Midoriya knew that, because he’d told him, he’d confessed the deepest darkest secrets of his past, his family, and Midoriya hadn’t scoffed, or pitied, or ignored, he’d been kind, gentle, caring. But he couldn’t tell him the humiliating truth.
“It’s stupid.” He felt his brows crease in the faintest of frowns, the emotion escaping because it was Midoriya, he was safe, he wouldn’t judge and criticize, belittle and traumatize, and Midoriya, of all people, deserved the truth. But still, he couldn’t tell him about his horrific nightmare, so he settled on something else that he’d been worrying about, something real, instead of his own mind sabotaging him in his sleep.
He took a slow, deep, calming breath. “No, it’s not stupid, it’s important.” Not the most important thing ever, but the most important person. “It’s my mother,” he qualified, relieved to have finally conveyed what he meant to say.
Only now, Midoriya’s concern was morphing into alarm, as his eyes widened. “Is she alright? Did something happen? No, of course something happened, Izuku, you idiot, because he wouldn’t be upset if she was fine,” he continued, muttering the last part, no longer talking to him, but to himself.
“No. She’s fine. It’s not that. It’s… a present,” he rushed to clarify, because even in the light of day, with someone he trusted, someone safe beside him, he didn’t want to relive what he’d seen.
He looked into Midoriya’s eyes, expecting to see understanding and relief. But instead, there was confusion.
“A present?” he asked, politely baffled.
Why was communicating so hard? People all around him effortlessly had conversations daily, as if it was nothing, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to speak their every thought, without fear of rebuke, ridicule, and rejection. Shouto took a slow, deep breath and tried to untangle the gossamer wisps of thought that eluded him, like spider silk dancing on an evening breeze. Only it was morning, and there were no spiders, though Shouji perhaps counted, because he had eight limbs, six arms and two legs.
Don’t look at him, it doesn’t matter how far from you he is, what his weak points are, this isn’t a test, or a mission, he isn’t an adversary, a foe, you don’t need to take him down hard and fast, you need to speak, coherently.
You can do this. You’ve been learning, improving. You can’t disappoint Midoriya. Even if he wouldn’t ever be disappointed in you. “Because you’re amazing, Todoroki-kun, I wish you could see yourself the way we all see you.” And now Midoriya’s voice is in your head, but not the right way. You need to listen to what he’s saying now, not before.
He licked his lips, quickly, ready to try again, and then frowned, perplexed, because Midoriya’s eyes were widening, and his gaze was still riveted on him, but not on his eyes, anymore, he was looking at his mouth. Why?
“Because you’re still not speaking, you pathetic, worthless, incompetent excuse for a Hero. When are you going to grow up, Shouto? When are you going to prove to the world you’re my son?”
He shivered as his right side flooded with cold at Endeavor’s belittling voice in his head, painstakingly tamping down the ice that fought to blast free and sheathe his arm, to prove to that bastard whose son he was: it wasn’t his father’s.
“It’s yours! Your quirk, not his!”
And the memory of Midoriya’s voice returning his flame to him cut through the thick, choking smoke in his mind that was smothering his thoughts, like a warm ray of sunshine driving away the cold morning fog.
“Sorry. I was just thinking, about what to get her, my mother, a present, because it’s almost her birthday, but it’s been so long, I’m not really sure what she likes anymore, what she needs, or wants,” he clarified, the words suddenly flowing effortlessly, and the relief would have made him giddy, if he wasn’t still ashamed for being so tongue tied before.
“Oh! Her birthday? That’s wonderful! How old is… no wait. I’m not supposed to ask that, ever, Mom said grownups don’t like people asking about their ages. Would you like ideas? For presents? Because I’ve gotten my mom presents every year, for her birthday, although mostly I make them, because she says it’s more special when I do, although I think it’s mostly because I never had a lot of allowance, growing up, and she didn’t want me using it all on her, because… oh! That’s perfect! Because your mother doesn’t have a heat quirk too, you told me, just a cold one, so she probably feels chilled a lot, right, so how about a sweater? I made this hair ornament for my mother, back in kindergarten, that she said was the best present she ever got, it’s honestly not that well made, because I was just a little kid, though I really took my time picking out and gluing down all the little cloth leaves, on the wood, to make sure the fall colors didn’t repeat, that the red and orange and gold weren’t next to the same color, and anyway, because she loved it so much, last year, I found this sweater, in those same autumn colors, with a leaf pattern, since she still insists on wearing the hair ornament, so I thought, that gave her something to wear that matched it really well but took the attention off what I made, and yeah, so anyway, how about buying a sweater? For your mother? Something pretty and cheerful, red and white, maybe, like your hair, or blue and gray, like your eyes, to remind her of you?” Midoriya finished breathlessly, blushing, because he clearly felt embarrassed, for some reason, even though he’d just given him a perfect suggestion for a present.
“That’s perfect. Definitely not red, or this shade of blue, but I’m not sure about the other colors, or the pattern, but maybe when we look, we’ll find something that… I will. When I look. Because you wouldn’t want to help me shop for a sweater, for my mother, when you’ve never even met her,” Shouto realized, belatedly, out loud.
“No! I’d love to! Shop with you. Help you find a perfect gift. To make you happy. Your mother! To make your mother happy,” Midoriya all but squeaked, his voice getting higher pitched with each word.
“So you’ll come to the mall with me? Could it be today, after school? I’m seeing her tomorrow, and I need to wrap it. So far I only have the card,” Shouto explained.
“The mall?” Midoriya’s voice cracked, and his burgeoning smile froze on his face, which grew notably paler, his freckles standing out in sudden, stark relief.
And of course, he’d be terrified, after what happened the last time he went there. “You don’t have to come wi…”
“No! You can’t go alone! I mean, you want help picking it out, right? And that’s where the store was. I don’t remember the name, it was weird, an English name, but I’ll know it when I see it,” Midoriya insisted, his voice shaky at first, but then determined, and there was that backbone of steel that always hid just below the surface, coming out unexpectedly, challenging the world, and every lurking villain in it.
“You’re going to the mall? I want to come!” Hagakure demanded, startling them both, because they hadn’t realized anyone was listening.
Before that revelation of his failing to be aware of his surroundings could drag Shouto into another downwards spiral, her words set Ashido off as she squealed and demanded to come.
“Me too,” Uraraka piped up.
“Hey Jirou, Momo, all the other girls are going to the mall. You’re coming with us, right?” Kaminari encouraged, as if he was one of the girls, or had at least already said he was coming.
“I’d like to accompany you all as well, if I might,” Iida stated somewhat stiffly and formally.
“We’ll come as well,” Tokoyami volunteered, Dark Shadow pulsing in excitement for a moment as a cloud passed overhead, before the brief shadow vanished and he cowered from the bright morning sun.
“Class trip, class trip!” Ashido and Hagakure began chanting, hands clasped, dancing in a circle.
“Watch it!” Bakugo snarled, his hands crackling a threat of explosion, as they got too close. “If you idiots are going, we’d better come too, to make sure you don’t smack into anybody and piss them off, while you’re there,” he grumbled.
“Count me in! I want to buy some new clothes, too,” Kirishima instantly added.
Todoroki watched in fascination as within moments, the entire class invited themselves to come along with them. But he had no illusions that it was to help him pick out a gift. It was to ensure Midoriya was safe. And Tokoyami, and Bakugo, but neither of them would have inspired the entire class to come.
Everyone who was at the mall last time remembered how they weren’t with Midoriya, how he’d had to face that villain with the disintegration quirk, Tomura Shigaraki, on his own, how his deadly hand had been around Midoriya’s neck, how he’d threatened to kill mothers and children if he didn’t stay quiet and cooperate. How Uraraka had been there, and belatedly realized, and nearly gotten killed. Even Bakugo was ready to protect Midoriya, this time.
Shouto would have suggested a different store, one not in the mall, but it didn’t matter. Because they weren’t safe regardless of where they went, no one was safe, not with the League of Villains still on the loose.