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Catalyze

Chapter Text

“Hey MC, I’m making contact with the informant. Going radio silent for the next fifteen so I don’t spook him,” Shinsou said over the radio.

MC was Shouto’s new nickname amongst the Network. In typical Shouto fashion, he wasn’t creative when it came to codenames, so he’d just asked to be called ‘mission control.’ That was apparently too long for everyone, though, because it had only taken a couple of field tests before everyone was referring to him as MC.

“Roger that. I’ll try to keep everyone from setting themselves on fire until you get back,” Shouto replied.

This was the third time he’d manned the computers for them. So far, it had just been routine patrols, practices to make sure everything was working. No one had died yet. All things considered it was going well.

As he expected from any organization under Shinsou’s command, they were well organized if not well-trained. He even had a shift schedule for patrols, with different members of his team assigned certain days of the week to work, and everything was done on the buddy system. The only one Shinsou trusted to work alone was Shinsou.

They were still acclimating Midoriya to the field. Personally, Shouto didn’t think he was ready to be outside of a training room at all, but he knew he couldn’t stop Midoriya from being reckless. Or rather, he couldn’t stop Deku.

Shouto had asked him why that name. His response had been to shrug and reply, “I’m already used to responding to it, so it won’t be confusing in the heat of the moment. And besides, all the hero names I thought up as a kid...none really go with my current power set, you know? And anything is better than everyone calling me Green Man.”

So Deku it was.

Shinsou had issued him the basic protection gear all members wore: dark grey body armor over a navy green jumpsuit. He was allowed to modify it, but the cost had to come out of his own pocket.

So far the only customization Midoriya had done was to the helmet meant for streaming his information back to the base: he’d balanced it so that instead of an antenna protruding up from one side, it was symmetrical. Two 6-inch protrusions from the side of his head angled up and back. Shinsou said they looked like bunny ears. Shouto thought they were a liability, likely to get caught on something. However, they did currently need an antenna, since that was the most reliable way to make sure Midoriya could broadcast a signal, and two wasn’t much worse than one.

Also Shinsou was right that they looked like bunny ears, and Shouto secretly thought it was a little cute.

Right now he could see Midoriya’s perspective through the cam as he prowled the shadows. He wasn’t very good at prowling yet, so it was really more like nervous skittering, trying to keep up. They only had one functional camera setup, and it went to Midoriya since he was the most inexperienced. With both normal, night vision, and infrared lenses, the camera had not been cheap, and Shouto wasn’t sure where Midoriya had gotten the money from. He always had a bunch of rare All Might collectibles to fence, but it was hard to imagine him parting with any of those. Then again, maybe for the sake of his ambition he would.

“Have you guys found anything interesting yet?” he asked into the microphone.

“Nothing besides wind-blown ash,” Midoriya replied.

They were searching around the burned-out building Shouto had visited a couple of days ago. As he had predicted, Shinsou had been very interested in that information, and now Deku and Amalgaknight were searching around the ruins for any traces the police might have missed. They didn’t dare disturb the site itself, since it was still under police jurisdiction. However, Shouto had seen everything of interest there. Now the hope was that the person or persons involved had left something leaving the scene they could pick up on. It was a bit like walking the beach and hoping to trip over buried treasure.

“Without an agency, 99% of hero work is wandering around and hoping you get in trouble,” Amalgaknight instructed Deku. “Honestly, the better you are at getting into trouble, the better you’ll be at this line of work.”

He was under the impression that Midoriya could benefit from his ‘sage advice.’ As the currently longest-operating vigilante on Shinsou’s team, he was the de facto second in command. Shouto wasn’t convinced he deserved it. His Quirk was formidable, but the man was an idiot.

“Try to block out everything he says,” Shouto advised. “He had no idea what he’s talking about.”

“You’re still broadcasting to the both of us,” Amalgaknight said indignantly.

“I know.”

“Do you think Shin- um, I mean Echo Chamber is safe going to the meeting all by himself?” Midoriya interrupted.

Shouto was pretty sure he was just trying to prevent bickering, but he answered him anyways.

“He can handle himself. Besides, informants are usually pretty safe,” Shouto reassured. “They’re just harmless rats who want to game the system.”

They were along the edge of the river now, close to the docks. Once upon a time, this had been a thriving place for boats to unload and ship out their wares. However, overseas imports had taken a huge hit after the most recent recession, and the local business had died with it. Now there were more empty warehouses than occupied ones. According to Shinsou, his team regularly inspected the warehouses, as did local police. Everyone knew they were breeding houses for crime, places where unsavory transactions could happen out of sight. However, it wasn’t feasible to monitor all of them at once, and nothing had turned up so far.

Over the speaker, Shouto could just barely make out the white noise of water in the background, sloshing against the embankments. If he was there in person, it would probably smell faintly of rotting wood and brine.

“Do you suppose it’s possible they used a boat for a getaway vehicle?” Midoriya speculated, looking out over the water.

“That’s one way to avoid oncoming emergency vehicles,” Amalgaknight agreed. “You don’t actually see a lot of boats around here anymore, though. They’d stick out.”

With the microphone so close to Midoriya’s mouth, Shouto had a front-row seat to his thinking out loud process.

“I wonder if there’s something at the docks, then. They’re only a couple of blocks from the building that burned down, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they made it to there undetected. Those docks are rotting away, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they are closed to the public, meaning they are fairly private. And they’re originally designed for much larger shipping vessels, so a smaller speedboat could probably hide underneath the support beams at low tide-”

“Nothing to lose by checking them out,” Shouto suggested. “Just step carefully. It really does look like that place is about to fall apart.”

True to Midoriya’s predictions, there was a ‘ No Trespassing- structure condemned ’ notice hanging from a chain spread across the entrance. Not the most high-tech security system. One large step over it and they were onto the docks.

“Congratulations on your first unlawful entry, Deku,” Amalgaknight said. “You’re really running with the big leagues now.”

“Do not encourage him. Deku, what exactly are you looking for?” Shouto asked.

“Some sign a boat was here,” Midoriya said, running his fingers along the cleats lining the docks. They were rusted and covered in algae growth. “Since this place is abandoned, it should be obvious if one was here.”

They moved along the docks, checking the moorings for any sign of use. The boards creaked and splintered with every step, and Shouto winced from his seat. Even though the cameras were waterproof, he still didn’t want to see Midoriya take a spill into the water. It was so polluted, he’d probably mutate a new Quirk all of his own. Or die from mercury poisoning.

Finally, two thirds of the way down, they found a cleat where some of the greenish growth had been scraped off around the base.

“Well lookie here, your super-sleuth instincts paid off,” Amalgaknight said, shining his flashlight around it. “Too bad we have no way of finding out where the boat could have gone.”

“Still, it’s something,” Midoriya mused. “If they left by boat, the place they’re going must also be accessible by boats. They have to have some sort of dock or river access wherever they are-”

Midoriya continued to hunch over the little metal notch and mutter to himself, thinking aloud. Shouto went ahead and took screencaptures so they could analyze the mooring later. He switched to nightvision after a couple, hoping to catch more details in the low light. It probably couldn’t tell them anything, but it made him feel useful.

Something caught his eye on the second monitor, the one showing the rear-view cam. A flicker, like moonlight off of water. However, it quickly went from a pinprick to a blotch. Outlined in stark relief against the shimmering light was the figure of a person.

“Behind you!” Shouto yelled.

However, he hadn’t been quick enough. Even as the duo tensed, a blaze roared to life, so bright that Shouto’s nightvision screen went white. The thermographic lens would probably be just as useless in these conditions. Cursing, he switched over to the regular lens. However, even that couldn’t make out much. The salt-soaked boards of the dock were equivalent to driftwood at this point, meaning they burned fast and they burned blue.

“We’re not getting out that way,” Amalgaknight said. “I give this pile of garbage two minutes before the whole thing collapses.”

“I can just put the flames out,” Midoriya replied.

“No! This was intentionally set,” Shouto explained. “You need to avoid a confrontation if possible. Get in the water and get out. Stay underwater if you can, so you aren’t easy targets.”

Shouto tried to page Shinsou. Nothing. He was still in that damn meeting. Those two were on their own for now.

Fortunately, for once in his life Midoriya decided not to argue with good sense. Or maybe it was that jumping into dark waters off a burning dock met his recklessness quota. In any case, he leapt off, and soon all Shouto could see through the camera was bubbles and darkness. He switched over to nightvision. They were in shallow enough water that he could just barely make out the gravelly bottom. Midoriya wasn’t swimming with his chest facing forward, so he couldn’t see anything useful. However, they were moving fast enough that Shouto assumed he was using his Quirk to aide in propulsion.

Even though Shouto hadn’t instructed him how, he was smart enough to figure out that he could use his left side to heat the water behind him, causing it to expand and push him forward like an underwater rocket. Not as elegant as just skimming over the surface in ice, but Shouto had done it a few times when he needed to move underwater.

The ground sloped up, water getting shallow. In no time at all, the camera changed angles as Midoriya adjusted his body. He scrambled back ashore. The dock was barely 100 meters away, still ablaze.

“Is Amalgaknight with you?” Shouto asked.

Nothing.

“Midoriya? Can you hear me?”

The mic didn’t even hiss in response.

Damn it! We got waterproof cameras, but we didn’t even think about the possibility of submerging the microphones. The headset is probably completely shot.

Midoriya seemed just as confused as him. Shouto watched him take the helmet off briefly to shake it, but that did nothing. For now, Shouto was visual only, with no way to offer input.

“All right MC, what did I miss?” Shinsou’s voice drawled over the line.

“It’s about time. Team A is in trouble. They’re at the docks close to the investigation site. Sending you their location now.”

“Are they not reporting in?” Shinsou asked. Shouto could hear the agitation in his voice, and beneath that, concern. He spent most of his nights trying to prevent his ragtag team from danger.

“I’ve lost audio, but I still have visual. You know what they say about culprits always returning to the scene of a crime?”

“Fuck! Are you serious?”

Shouto copied over Midoriya’s GPS coordinates, but Shinsou was ahead of him. He was already swinging from streetlight to streetlight, aided by his capture weapon.

“That’s my best guess. Someone set fire to the docks while they were inspecting them.”

“Best case scenario they were planning on destroying any evidence anyways. Worst case scenario they are actively keeping tabs on us.”

On his screen, Midoriya and Amalgaknight had reunited and were climbing up to street level. As far as he could tell, they were both unharmed. They were making a rookie mistake by going back up to the road where they were visible. The purpose was to get away, but instead they made themselves bait.

So of course someone took it.

Another flash of flames, and Midoriya jumped and startled. He was losing his composure. Right now, he needed a voice in his ear to coach him through it. That was the one thing Shouto was supposed to be good for.

“They’re engaging the enemy,” Shouto relayed. “Just one figure, as far as I can tell. The fire user we’re after. I’m sending in a tip to the police.”

“One way or another, it will be too late by the time anyone responds, but police will definitely want to inspect the area after this.”

Shouto didn’t like the finality in his voice. Shinsou had never been what someone would call ‘high energy,’ and even sprinting along rooftops he sounded disinterested. Like he had already written off their odds.

“They’re fighting back defensively. Amalgaknight isn’t much use against flames, but- yeah, Deku put an ice wall up. I don’t think it stands a chance- no, they’re melting through. He can’t make ice faster than this opponent can make flames.”

“I’m less than a minute away.”

“Can’t you go faster?” Shouto growled.

Onscreen, he watched as Midoriya used a spire of ice to shove Amalgaknight out of the way of an oncoming attack. Moments later, the very ice he used collapsed into a steaming lump under a barrage of fire. And here Shouto was, able to do nothing but watch. Useless.

If...if Midoriya has any final words, I won’t be able to hear them.

I’ll never get the chance to tell him how I feel. I wasted too much time being a coward.

A blast of fire was aimed in Midoriya’s direction. He fell to his knees, wrapping himself in ice. Shouto imagined the sting as it heated up and evaporated off him. He would have burns.

“About to get in range,” Shinsou said.

“They’re both standing. Amalgaknight is trying to flank the villain, but there’s a huge swatch of fire blocking his line of sight.”

“Perfect,” Shinsou gloated. Then, in Amalgaknight’s voice, he called out, “Hey! What do you have against my friend?”

If the stranger responded, Shinsou’s mic didn’t pick it up. From Midoriya’s perspective he could see the figure, wreathed in flames so bright they were just a silhouette, turn to to face away. Midoriya thought that was his opening to charge forward, and Shouto wanted to scream at him.

Even though Shouto could hear nothing, the villain picked up on the oncoming charge. They whipped back around, hands lighting up as they fired a shot at close range.

The hit missed. Or rather, Midoriya was yanked away.

“Mr. Villain isn’t feeling chatty, and I’m pretty sure he can burn right through these capture weapons, so retreat it is,” Shinsou explained.

Shouto watched as Midoriya was tossed onto a roof, Shinsou following shortly after with Amalgaknight in tow.

“Thanks for saving my ass again, boss,” Amalgaknight said, close enough Shinsou’s mic picked it up.

“I’m going to start charging a fee,” Shinsou growled. “Now come on, before he sets fire to this building. We’re retreating.”

If there were any protests, Shouto couldn’t hear them. The three made their escape while Shouto collapsed in a bundle of nerves, hating himself for being so incredibly impotent.