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It’s a bad night for this. It’s raining, a misty sort of drizzle that dusts his hair and sticks in his feathers. They shiver and fluff up against the damp, but his wings are still pathetically small from the fight with the high-end nomu. He still looks like a half-plucked chicken that only just narrowly escaped the butcher.

And was stupid enough to hop back on the butcher’s block. He eyes Dabi warily, the street lights casting his already scarred face in a ghoulish sort of shadow. He can’t fly like this; his only defense is the single primary feather he has left, tucked carefully against his back. This is a peaceful meeting, supposedly, if any meeting with a villain can be considered as much. Trust one to pick the dirtiest alley he can find.

“I’m tired of tests,” Hawks grouses, swatting a raindrop threatening to drip off the tip of his nose.

“Impatient,” Dabi murmurs, “for someone who sympathizes with our cause so passionately.”

Eager,” he counters, “to be done with doing your job for you. I gave you the number one hero.” Something inside him twists guiltily at the memory, that day carved in the scar down Endeavor’s face. It wasn’t supposed to go like that.

“Who is enjoying more popularity than ever before.” Dabi’s head ticks sideways, and his eyes flash blue in the headlights of a passing car. The area he’s chosen is too urban, too populated. Hawks would have chosen differently, but he wasn’t given an option. As always, he’s simply rugged along like a fish on a line. “Curious.”

Yes, at least that went right. Endeavor was certainly never going to find his footing as the new number one on his own, not even he kept trying to chase the shadow of a man who was already gone. The man’s got the personality of a hot coal, but he can fight. He did fight.

Hawks nearly smiles. He knew he’d been right, bringing Endeavor. His smug satisfaction wavers. As it turned out, anyone less would have died.

“That’s what happens when you don’t follow the plan,” Hawks says pointedly, his expression flat and sardonic. “Unforeseen consequences.”

He needs Dabi to act predictably. He needs to have a firm hand on the situation. The moment he loses control is the moment innocents start to die.

He takes a step forward, his head bent low. He doesn’t like being this close. Dabi smells like ash, like his fire burns so hot it’s left the rest of him hollowed out and charred. “Listen—”

“Wait.” Dabi raises a finger.

Click.

Hawks freezes, his head going up. His feathers quiver.

Clickclickclick. The creak of metal, almost too quiet to be heard. Dabi’s eyes shift upward, and Hawks’ follow them. A truck barrels down the road, it’s headlights briefly illuminating the alleyway with searing white light. There’s a fire escape along the side of the one of the buildings. Half the stairs are gone, more of the platforms rusted out and useless. Unremarkable, except for the figure hunched on top of it, a camera in hand. The lens gleams.

Click.

Hawk’s feather whips through the air so fast it whistles, catching their guest by the collar of his shift and hefting him upwards. The man squeaks, his camera falling against his chest, saved by the strap around his neck. Hawks lowers him to the ground before he has a chance to squirm to his death. The situation has gone to hell fast enough without civilian casualties.

It’s not the first time he’s dealt with paparazzi--he’s the number two hero, and high on the popularity charts for a reason. It’s part of the job. He’ll flash a peace sign, take a photo op, let them catch him outside the grocery store wearing mismatched patterns and his hair pushed back. He likes to think of it as all part of the hero machine, easy to work if you keep it oiled well enough.

They’ve never gotten this close before, not when he didn’t allow them to. Hawks’ heart hammers in his chest as he steps forward, his feather flying back to his hand like a loyal dog. “I’m going to need to see that camera,” he says, flashing that a thousand watt grin that’s always won them over before. He’s their number two hero, bold and bright and unpredictable. They love him.

The photographer swallows, his adam’s apple bobbing nervously. His eyes shift, focused on something over Hawks’ shoulder. Dabi, scarred and lurking and very much the villain they all watched play across their television screens not that long ago. Hawks’ heart sinks. The villain the photographer just watched him meet in a dark alley, talking about unforeseen consequences and trust.

“The camera,” Hawks repeats slowly one hand held out. “I’ll give it back, promise.”

The photographer shakes his head, shaking so badly Hawks isn’t sure what he’s doing at first. He clutches his camera so hard the plastic creaks.

Hawks exhales through his teeth, frustration mounting into something close to panic. He doesn't like playing the bad guy, it’s not a good look for him, but he can’t have those pictures getting out. Even without the words filling the space between them, they’re damning enough on their own. He reaches out to grab the camera. He’ll delete them himself.

“The Cloud!” The photographer squeaks, shying backwards against the dirty brick wall. He cringes, peeking out of one eye. “You can’t delete them. They’re all in the Cloud.”

The fuck--Hawks stares, breathing hard, his primary feather held so tightly in his hand that it might snap in half. The Cloud. The fucking--

“If you’re going to do it,” Dabi says, his voice scraping against the filthy concrete and filling the narrow alley like poison, “then do it.”

Hawks comes back to himself all at one, blinking away the fog of panic threatening to overtake him. One hand pins the photographer to the alley wall, the other still clutching his feather like machete. The edge has gone sharp, the feather’s filaments pressed tightly together to form a deadly edge. Hawks takes a staggering step backwards, releasing him.

“Do it,” Dabi presses and Hawks refuses to turn around. He can’t look at him, the fanatical gleam in his eyes, unnaturally blue, as if lit from the inside. “Kill him.”

He exhales, and lets his arm drop, the tip of his feather brushing the ground. “It won’t change anything,” he says. “It’s already done.” A mysterious disappearance would only lead the police back to those photos anyways, though he can hardly even entertain the thought. His stomach flips, nausea crawling up his throat. Would he have done it, given a stronger push? Could he have?

“Tch.” Flames crackle, like striking a match.

Hawks whirls, throwing his feather like a javelin. It strikes between Dabi’s fingers, only briefly pinning his hand to the wall. Just enough time for the photographer to scurry away, his footfalls impossibly loud. Blue flame dances across Dabi’s skin, crawling up the feather and leaving it black and ruined. There goes his last weapon until they’ve grown back fully.

Dabi tips his head back and laughs, exposing the scarred ruin on his neck. Blood drips down his chin where a staple cuts into the tender skin. “Coward,” he says. The blackened shaft of his feather clatters to the ground. It crunches beneath Dabi’s boot as he steps forward, his mouth titled in a lopsided smirk, his eyes just a little too wide. “I always knew you’d be too soft-hearted for this.”

He turns to leave, his hands in his pockets.

“Stop.” Hawks surprises himself. His voice cracks. “Come back.”

What am I supposed to do now? How pathetic, that in that moment the only person he can ask is Dabi.

Dabi stops, haloed by the street light at the end of the alley. He doesn’t turn back, only turns his head sideways in the vaguest sense of interest. “Let me know when you’re ready to be a real villain, Hawks,” he says, and he steps out into the rain-slicked street.

///

The train rattles around him, threatening to shake him apart. Rain streaks the windows, heavier now, and sinks chilly fingers through the metal of the train. The train is surprisingly full for this time of night, a handful of commuters on their way home from their late shifts and people with no place better to go, all equally as bedraggled and miserable as he is.

Hawks sinks low in the hard plastic seat, his wings pressed uncomfortably against the back. They’re small enough to hide like this. That’s something to be grateful for, at least, even if it makes him functionally as useless as he feels. He tugs the edge of his hood forward self-consciously. He’d been smart enough not to wear his hero costume, though it’ll be obvious enough who is is in the pictures.

The pictures. His heart twists, and his phone vibrates.

“Yeah,” he says, accepting the call with more force than necessary. His eyes slide down the train car. A teenager bobs his head in time with music loud enough that it leaks through the headphones. Two older women hold an animated conversation in the corner. No one is paying attention to him.

“There’s nothing we can do,” the police commissioner tells him without preamble. “I’m sorry.”

“What do you mean--” He bites his tongue so hard he tastes blood. Hawks lowers his voice. “There’s nothing you can do? File an--I don’t know, an injunction or something.” Is that what that means? His television legalese leaves something to be desired.

“The paper’s lawyers know what they’re doing,” the commissioner counters. “Trust me, I’ve tried. If we stop them from running the pictures, they’ll only run a story about the number two hero playing a double agent. They’re not going to let this go.”

The number two hero. The title mocks him now. What a fucking spectacle.

The commissioner hesitates. “This might not be the worst thing.”

“Fuck you.” The words are out of his mouth before he can taste them.

Think,” the commissioner says. “The League was always going to hold you at arm’s length. This could be your opportunity to really earn their trust.”

He thinks of Dabi, turning his back, soot still staining his hands. Worse, the photographer, trembling like a leaf. Afraid. Of him. He ducks his head and digs his fingers into his hairline, grounding himself with the pain. It doesn’t matter what the photographer thinks of him, it matters that he’s safe, he reminds himself. It doesn’t matter that he’s about to ruin Hawks’ life for a quick buck, it matters that he’s not a pile of ash in an alleyway right now.

“Hawks?” The commissioner prompts him. Of course. He needs an answer.

“Do I have a choice?” He sighs.

“There’s always a choice.” But he hesitates. Hawks snorts. There’s the wrong choice, and then there’s the right one. He can make everything he’s done so far mean something, or he can throw it all away. If it comes out he’s been a double agent all along, the League will fold in on itself and regroup, even less trusting than before. They won’t get an opportunity like this again.

“Right.” He takes a deep breath. Holds it. Exhales. His shoulders are still as tight as before. “Right. Fine.” His wings squirm unhappily where they’re pressed against the bench. They’ll be a problem when they’ve grown back to their full size, but at least he won’t be so helpless.

He can’t see the commissioner’s face, but he can imagine the relief. It’s always easier when a martyr goes willingly. “We’ll be with you every step of the way,” he promises, whatever that means. Hawks isn’t counting on anything. Not after tonight. Again, the commissioner hesitates. “I advise you lie low tomorrow. It’s going to be bad for a couple of days.”

“Yeah.” It’s all he can say, though he has a couple more expletives lined up for later. He ends the call and drops his hands into his lap, his phone dangling from his fingertips. All he wants to do is sleep, right here on this train if necessary, but there’s no time. He has maybe twelve hours before the story breaks—less, depending on how quickly they get the story online. The moment it hits Twitter, it’s all over. There’s still so much he needs to do.

His phone buzzes again. He musters a smile before he realizes Miruko can’t see him. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Miruko says, always just a little too loud. Her voice presses against the headache budding behind his eyes. “What are you up to?”

“Working?”

She snorts. “With wings like yours? Tell me a lie I might believe.”

Hawks cracks a smile that’s real this time. He likes Miruko. She works hard and she doesn't do bullshit, which makes it surprising they get along so well. It feels like bullshit is all he ever does. “Not about to go clubbing with you at eleven at night, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“You only threw up once last time.”

He closes his eyes and rests his head against the shuddering side of the train. A part of him loves the idea of losing himself in flashing lights and a strong beat for a night, like a dead man walking enjoying his last meal. But he’s still got a job to do, and he’ll regret it in the morning if he gives into dramatics now. “Hey,” he says before he can think better of it. “Can I crash on your couch tonight?”

“Yeah,” Miruko says, and somewhere between that fifth shot and throwing up in an alley they must have gone from colleagues to friends because it’s only after she agrees that she asks, “why?”

“Just…” His eyes roam around the train car. Again, he’s gripped with the urge to toss caution to the wind. He could tell her the truth. She’s the number five hero, she probably deserves to know. She’s his friend. He wonders if they’ll tell Endeavor the truth. Either way, he’s going to kill him once he connects the dots about their battle with the high-end nomu. “Going through some shit.”

Miruko laughs with her whole body, even over the phone. “What else is new?” She gives him her address, and he hangs up feeling just a little bit lighter. The press will be all over his apartment building by morning, but at least he can get a little sleep so long as he sneaks out of Miruko’s by dawn.

His apartment is quiet when he steps through the door, lit only by the warm hall light. He always feels the most himself here, sometimes in the worst way. It’s too quiet, too homey, too warm. In the outside world, on the job, he can keep moving at a near constant pace, sure of the fact that there’s always someone who’s going to need saving. Here he’s forced to stop and exhale, the mundanity of life catching at his heels like quicksand.

His cat brushes against his ankles, purring in what sounds like welcome home but actually means feed me, please. Hawks reaches down to scratch between her ears. She’s a scrawny old thing he found on the street last year, mouthy but just as content with going full days without seeing him so long as her bowl is full, but he’ll need to figure out what do do with her. The police will have to search his apartment to keep up appearances.

He doesn’t bother to tidy up for their benefit. He finds a beat up old backpack and stuffs it with clothes. His wings are small enough to hide for the moment, but his clothes weren’t built with hiding in mind. He settles for anything red instead, where his feathers might blend in against his back. He lays his hero costume at the very bottom. It’s practical, he tells himself. He’ll be able to fly again soon enough, and he’ll be grateful for the lined jacket then. That’s all there is to it.

He leaves the cat in her carrier outside his neighbors door, a bag of cat food and an envelope stuffed with cash leaning against it.

///

Miruko makes him have at least one drink, because evidently she bagged some bigshot villain downtown tonight, and it’s a crime not to celebrate. Either that or she feels bad for him, standing on her doorstep looking like someone dragged him out of the gutter.

“Must be some kind of shit if you ended up here,” she says as she tosses a pillow onto her couch, well after midnight. Every time Hawks glances at the clock he silently calculates how much sleep he might get before he has to sneak out again. He isn’t even sure where he’s going to go yet.

Miruko’s couch creaks every time he moves, but it’s almost impossible to fall asleep anyways. His mind runs through the night's events again and again, like film through his hands. What could be have done differently? Stayed home, for starters. He rolls onto his back and throws an arm over his eyes, his wings squashed underneath him. He forgot how much more vulnerable he is when he can’t fly. It’s not that the paparazzi didn’t want to follow him before, it’s just that they could never keep up.

Unless it was staged. Unless this was another one of Dabi’s tests. If it is, he suspects he’s failed.

The commissioner would scold him for that, but he doesn’t much care what the commissioner thinks right about now. It’s bad enough he’s come within arm’s reach of a villain and let him go, again and again and again. He won’t kill for them too.

He doesn’t know when he falls into a fitful sleep, only that he dreams of blue flames and burning. They turn his wings to ash and crawl up his skin, leaving ruin where they touch. Smoke darkens the air and fills his lungs, black as shadow and oily. He can’t breath, he can’t—

Hawks wakes up with a start. He jerks upwards only to be slammed back down, and abruptly everything makes a little more sense.

Miruko sits in his chest, one hand wrapped around his throat. Her thumb presses against his jugular—a warning. Her phone glows in her other hand, cutting through the gray early morning light that leaks from under the curtains. Hawks doesn't have to see the screen to know that he’s on it.

“Didn’t know you were into that,” he croaks, and he kind of deserves it when she digs her heels into his gut. He wheezes. No one has ever accused Miruko of being dainty, but she’s heavier than he would have expected. His wings squirm, trapped beneath him. It’s not as though the pin feathers he has left would do him any good anyways.

“Shut up.” Miruko punches a number into her phone, her ears quivering with rage. Is she calling the police? He would laugh if he could find enough air in his lungs.

“Double agent,” he squeaks, his hands held up in the universal signal for surrender.

“Yeah, I figured that out,” she snarls.

Not that kind.”

She hesitates, her hair falling over half her face in a white curtain. She should look ridiculous, wearing a tank top and pajama pants patterned with cartoon carrots, but she didn’t get to be number five on popularity alone. She could pick him up by the neck and throw him out the window if she felt so inclined. His wings twitch weakly. He sincerely hopes she doesn’t.

Hawks takes as deep a breath as her weight will allow. “I’ve been working to infiltrate the League,” he says in a rush. “Since after Kamino. Pleasegetoffme.”

Miruko cocks her head, considering for a moment longer before she finally climbs off of him. Hawks sits up and inhales deeply, his ribs protesting every movement. “Shit,” he coughs, rubbing his sternum. “You’re heavier than you look.”

She’s not in a joking mood. She eyes him warily, her phone still clutched in one hand, though the screen as gone black. “After Kamino,” repeats. “That means that shit with the nomu--”

“Didn’t go as planned,” Hawks fills in hastily. It looks bad, when she says it like that. “They don’t trust me yet. The villain that attacked us, the one in the photographs--he calls himself Dabi. He’s the only one I’ve been allowed contact with.”

Miruko frowns, but he can see her softening. Her ears relax slightly. “Is that what all this is?” She waves her phone, though the screen is still dark. “Some ploy to gain their trust?”

“Inadvertently,” he admits. “But yeah, basically.” His wings droop. “Do you believe me?”

She snorts. “If you were lying, I’d hope you’d have a better story,” she says. “You really are going through some shit, huh?”

Hawks actually laughs. His ribs ache in response. “Told you so.” He sits up properly, stretching his arms over his head. He feels like garbage, complete with a nasty crick in his neck that he can’t entirely blame on Miruko’s rude awakening. Is this what getting old feels like? He squints in the pale morning light. “I should get going. They’re probably going to be harassing all the top ten for a statement soon. Say something nice about my hair, would you?”

She meets his bluff with a thoughtful frown. He likes that Miruko doesn’t do bullshit, he reminds himself, but just this once he wishes she’d play along. “Hold on,” she says, and she disappears down the hall, her footsteps loud. He considers ducking out while he has the chance, but she’d probably kick his ass if she caught him.

She returns a minute later with a bundle of fabric in her arms. She shoves it at him. “Here,” she says. “You’re obvious as hell with those chicken wings sticking out.”

Hawks shakes it out. It’s a puffy white jacket with a black hood. “I didn’t know they made Thirteen merch,” he says, inspecting the cartoonish patch of the space hero sewn over the breast.

“Yeah, well, it’s limited edition, so I’d like it back someday,” Miruko huffs.

Hawks grins, and wonders if it has anything to do with Miruko getting roped into being a guest speaker at UA last month. “Thanks,” he says, slipping it on. It rustles every time he moves but it’s light and comfortable, with enough room that he doesn’t have to fold his wings to tightly against his back.

He fusses with the cuff, his eyes down. He’s grateful, but he doesn’t know how to say it. It’s not the jacket or the couch or even the fact that Miruko believed him when she didn’t have to. Maybe it’s just he’s glad to have someone else know the truth, someone who understands. Like the truth has a physical weight, and the more people know it the less he’ll have to carry on his own.

“I think you could beat Jeanist for number two, you know,” he says instead. “If you stop swearing so much on TV.” She’s only number five right now, but there’ll be a lot of reshuffling after he falls from grace. Endless opportunity.

“And get volunteered for shit like this?” She quirks an eyebrow. “Not likely.”

Smart woman. “There’s one more thing,” he says gravely. “I need you to punch me.”

Her fist connects with his face before the last word is even out of his mouth, sending him reeling backwards, bracing himself against the couch. “Fuck,” he spits, touching his lip gingerly. How did she manage to connect with both his eye and his lips? “You were supposed to ask why!”

“To make it look like I kicked your ass out if anyone sees you leaving,” Miruko says. “Obviously, dumbass. Don’t ask before you’re ready for it next time.”

///

By 8:30 AM it’s spread through the hero blogs. By 9, it’s made the morning news. By 10:30, the whole of Japan knows what he’s done.

NUMBER 2 HERO HAWKS - IN LEAGUE WITH THE LEAGUE? MORE AT 11.

Hawks watches the fight against the high-end play out on the giant screen in the center of the mall, the lesser news of the day relegated to scrolling against the red banner at the bottom. He came here because he knew it would be crowded and he could get lost in it, but there’s something selfish in it too. He ditched his phone already, in case someone outside the know gets any ideas about tracking him down, and he feels cut off without it. He buries his hands deep in the pockets of his borrowed jacket. Probably a good thing. He wouldn’t dare check Twitter right now.

Still, he wants to know what they’re saying about him. There’s no sound on the giant wall screen, but subtitles play across the bottom in white. He watches himself struggle to support Endeavor, half his face a bloody mess, and blue fire blooms across the screen. The screen splits, and on the right is a still photo. It’s grainy and dark but the photographer caught the moment that headlight’s passed down the street, highlighting the gold of Hawks’ hair from behind. They’re both looking up, Hawk’s mouth half-open, his primary feather already in the air. Dabi’s eyes gleam like a cat’s.

In the present, Hawks’ mouth twists. Well, it’s certainly not a good look. He’s hardly giving Dabi a slap on the back and flashing a peace sign, but he’s not trying to arrest him either. That’s damning enough.

Most of the people at the mall are focused on their shopping, but enough have stopped and lingered that there’s something of a crowd watching the screen, their faces drawn and worried. All Might’s retirement after Kamino changed things in a way they didn’t realize they could be changed. Their Symbol of Peace was mortal after all.

This isn’t the same thing, but it’s a blow. He can see it in their eyes, the sting of the betrayal. It makes his shoulders curve inwards, trying to make himself smaller. If you can’t trust your heroes, who can you trust?

“Is that a Thirteen jacket? Where did you get that?” A little girl with four eyes blinks up at him, all four of them wide and wondering.

Hawks flashes a smile on instinct and hopes it mitigates the effect of his black eye. “Limited edition,” he says, “but I hear they might be bringing them back.” If his reputation is salvageable after all this, he’ll see to it himself. He wonders if Thirteen knows they have so many fans.

The girl opens her mouth to speak when suddenly her eyebrows pull together, and she frowns. “What happened to your friend’s face?” She asks loudly, looking over his shoulder.

Hawks stiffens, the smile frozen on his face. “Go find your mom,” he says with a jerk of his chin. “She’s probably looking for you.”

The girl throws one last look over her shoulder as she does so, too curious for her own good. She scampers away toward a woman rifling through her bags nearby, her sneakers pattering against the cold tile floor.

“Cute kid,” Dabi says. He’s picking idly at his bottom lip, the scarred and discolored skin wrinkling grotesquely beneath his fingertips. He’s barely attempted to disguise himself, for someone so easily recognizable at the best of times. He wears a dark hoodie, the hood pulled up over his hair, but it doesn’t do much to hide the gleaming staples embedded in his face. One of his sleeves is pushed up to the elbow, exposing his scarred forearm. “You look like shit.”

As if he has room to talk. Hawks actually snorts, before he remembers where they are. Namely, standing beneath a giant photograph of their faces. He tugs his jacket closer. “Didn’t sleep great,” he snaps. “What are you doing here?”

The corner of his mouth quirks in the shadow of a smile. “Thought I’d see how life as a traitor was treating you.”

“It’s been twelve hours.” Not even.

His eyes flicker up and down. “Not a strong start then.”

“I thought you were done with me,” Hawks snaps. His eyes cut across the mall. Are they starting to attract curious glances, or is he only imagining the eyes on his back? “I’m not a real villain. I don’t have anything for you.” Not a hero, not a villain. What else is there?

“Maybe you could be,” Dabi says, and when his eyes roam the mall it’s different. His head is tilted idly, his hood threatening to fall back. Hungry and impassive all at once. “I think everyone underestimates you, Number Two. I think maybe you like that. That you’re happy to let them them think you’re just a quick smile and a pretty face.” He takes Hawks’ chin between his thumb and forefinger and Hawks’ jerks away, his heart hammering. Dabi’s skin is shockingly cold.

“Why would you think that?”

Dabi shrugs with one shoulder. “You’ve done worse for the public’s faith in heroes in twelve hours than the League has done since Kamino Ward,” he says.

“An unforeseen consequence,” Hawks grumbles, recalling their conversation the night before, “of being seen with you.”

“I guess that makes us a good team.” Dabi actually laughs, the sound too loud, bouncing off the mall’s high, glassed ceiling. More than one person casts them a startled look.

“Come on,” Dabi says, turning away. On the screen above them, Endeavor steps up to a podium. He still looks rough, half his face covered in fresh scar tissue, so new it’s barely even a scar at all. But his flames still burn just as brightly, furious to match the look in his eye. “I don’t want to watch this shit.”

Chapter Text

There’s not much else to do but follow Dabi. That’s the mission, after all, however vague the parameters have gotten.

“Where are we going?” Hawks asks for the third time, and for the third time Dabi ignores him. It’s shocking how easily they’re able to move through the city, even with his image plastered across every screen. Maybe it’s some sign of the times that they’re looking at the screens instead of the people beside them, but he’s grateful for it. He shifts and squirms, trying to inconspicuously reach his back. His wings itch like hell when they’re growing back, especially once the primaries start coming in.

“How long before you can fly again?”

Hawks eyes him warily, one elbow still in the air as he struggles to itch the place where his left wing meets his back. He wants to yank all his feathers out and stuff them in his pockets, but they grow better when they’re together. “A few days,” he says after a palatable moment of hesitation. “Fly well? At least a week.” Now that the primaries have started the rest will come quicker and he’ll start looking more like a hawk and less like a hatchling.

Dabi makes a vaguely interested sound and ducks sideways, into an alleyway. “We’d make better time if you could fly,” he muses as he pulls up a door covered in peeling paint and old graffiti.

Whose’s fault is that? Hawks almost says as much when Dabi leads him inside the dingey hallway lit by buzzing fluorescent lights, where a service elevator waits for them. He makes sure to stand at the back of the elevator, where the bar presses against his lower back, his arms folded right across his chest. Dabi snorts.

“What?” Hawks snaps.

“Afraid of elevators?” He raises an eyebrow.

“Fuck off,” he counters creatively, and he swears Dabi’s grin is smug. “What are we doing here?”

Even when Dabi deigns to answer him, it’s roundabout. “Three years ago, Harada Ryouta was charged with the kidnapping and murder of a six year old girl. Due to a mishandling of evidence, the case was thrown out.” He nods towards the elevator doors as it spirits them upward with a mechanical groan. “He works on the eighth floor now. Real estate. Every day at twelve o’clock, he takes a smoke break on the roof.” The doors slide open. “Like clockwork.”

They’re high enough that the wind has a sharp edge to it as it skitters across the roof, stirring old chip bags and cigarette butts. A man leans in the corner, his elbows on the low wall bordering the roof in. A cigarette dangles from between two fingers as he looks up. Hawks can see the emotions play across his face in real time as he registers what he’s seeing; surprise, confusion, fear.

Dabi stalks across the roof in five long strides and grabs Harada by the collar, yanking him backwards. The cigarette falls to the ground and smolders, but Dabi’s eyes burn brighter. He wraps an arm around Harada’s shoulders so he can hold him by the throat, his fingers splayed around it like a warning. One move, one thought, and he goes up in flames. Harada trembles.

“Stop.” Hawks takes a stilted step forward, his feathers trembling beneath his coat. He half-raises one hand in an aborted motion, useless. “We don’t have to do this. We’ll--we’ll turn him in. Make him confess.”

“Why are you defending him?” Dabi snaps.

Hawks stares, unable to come up with an answer. A lie or the truth or something in between. When he sees the fear in Harada’s face all he can think of is the kidnapping and murder of a six year old girl. Dabi could be lying, but he doesn’t think so.

“Still thinking like such a hero,” Dabi chides him. “Still bound to a broken system. They put him back on the streets. Do you think they’ll change their mind now? Because you said so?” He sneers, and Hawks is reminded that his name isn’t worth much these days.

But it’s still worth something. There are some places he can’t go. “I’m not going to kill him,” he says, his mouth set in a firm line. “So stop wasting our time here.”

“Thank you,” Harada whimpers. “Thank you, Hawks. Thank you--” Dabi tightens his grip and he cuts off with a squeak.

“You started your own hero agency fresh out of school. Made the national hero charts before you hit twenty.” Dabi cocks his head, mildly curious, as if he didn’t hold a man’s throat in his hand. “Impressive. Some might even use the word prodigy. I realized something this morning, Hawks. Watching the news, how eager they were, to sink their claws into you. Like vultures. That’s the thing about prodigies. Everyone assumes they already know everything. But even prodigies need to be taught.”

He twists his grip around and shoves Harada forward, so that his belly digs into the edge of the roof and his face points straight down. The man scrambles uselessly against the ledge, but Dabi has him pinned.

Dabi looks up. “Does he deserve to be punished?”

Hawks tries to swallow, but his mouths gone dry. A six year old girl.

“Does he deserve it?”

“Yes!” He almost doesn’t recognize his own voice. “But not like this.”

Dabi scoffs, and tips Harada off the roof. There’s a short scream and a loud crack, a disturbingly wet sound. Below, someone starts to yell for help.

Dabi closes the distance between them so suddenly, so violently, that Hawks reacts without thinking. By the time they’re face to face one of his nascent primary feathers has pulled free and hovers between them, the pointed shaft brandished like an ice pick. The end is bloody, pulled from his wings too soon.

Dabi regards him with half-lidded eyes, as if he didn’t just send a man falling to his death. They’ll need to move, and soon. It’ll be clear that he was pushed. “Good job,” he says.

“What are you talking about?” Hawks snaps, his nerves frayed. He failed another test.

“You could have saved him.” Dabi touches the end of his feather and Hawks’ insides go cold. The primary feather bobs in place, damning him. It’s small and underdeveloped, but it would have been strong enough to slow the man’s descent. Dabi presses down on the shaft, and a bead of blood rolls down his finger. He smiles like a corpse, his lips pulled back from his teeth. “But you didn’t.”

///

They stay in a shitty motel on the outskirts of town, the kind that takes cash and doesn’t ask any questions. Hawks would rather be on the streets than sleeping with a thin wall between them, but that’s not an option. That’s not the mission.

Still, he sleeps with his stunted primary feather under his pillow and dreams of the ugly motel wallpaper going up in flames. He tries to imagine Dabi sleeping, and fails. He’s not so much a human being as a force of nature, dark and chaotic and deadly. He wants to know how you get to that point. The point where a child becomes a man becomes a monster.

That’s also not the mission, but it doesn’t stop his mind from wandering. He doesn’t like to imagine that he ever would have been led down that path, but he can’t say for sure. He dreams of a short fall and a hard landing, the sound of a skull shattering against the sidewalk. Sometimes it’s Harada that’s falling. Sometimes it’s him.

“Do you deserve it?” Dabi asks in the dream, his skin rippling with blue fire. It circles his eyes like a mask and streams from the corners in a way he’s seen before, the skin on his face bubbling under the heat.

“Yes.” And then he’s tipping backwards, his last feather yanked out of his hand, refusing to respond to his call. He startles awake before he can hit the ground.

Or maybe not. He blinks blearily, his head heavy with exhaustion. He barely slept on Miruko’s couch, barely slept at all since that shit with the high-end, and he’s paying for it now. He feels as though he’s been dismantled and reassembled just slightly wrong. Twice.

“Oh,” Dabi purrs, looming over him, “isn’t he cute.” One finger trials down his cheek.

It’s warm, he thinks blearily. His hand wasn’t warm before.

Which means he must still be sleeping, because that’s Dabi’s voice, the same from his nightmare, but his face isn’t right. Where are his scars? He hardly recognizes him without them. His hair is red, which isn’t right either, but his eyes are the same. Hawks frowns, his nightmare nagging at the edge of his consciousness. His eyes—

Gray sludge drips off Dabi’s cheek and lands squarely on Hawks’ chin.

Hawks jerks backwards, cracking his skull against the headboard. The sludge leaves a slimy trail down his neck as he pushes himself up, watching as the figure in front of him melts. It claps its hands together and laughs.

“I told you it’d be fun.” The girl that emerges grins like a wolf. “Did you see his face?!”

“Watch it, Toga,” the real Dabi warns without much passion to it. Hawks’ head jerks sideways. Dabi stands by the window, looking through the blinds, early morning light cutting the dust motes into stripes. How did they get inside his room? He put a chair under the knob before he slept. “He’ll take your nose off with that thing.”

He looks down to find his primary feather gripped in one hand, his knuckles white. The edge left a clean slice through the sheets where he pulled it out from under his pillow.

“Only if I get to cut him back,” Toga says, a feral glint in her eye. “Dabi barely lets me taste his blood, but you…” She leans in, and he swears he hears her inhale. Is she smelling him? “I bet we could have so much fun.”

“Buzz off, pest,” Dabi says, but there’s something almost affectionate in her voice as he tousles her hair. She swipes at him with a knife but somehow that’s playful too. “I’ll meet you outside.”

“You get all the best toys,” Toga pouts, but she doesn’t deny that she’d been sent to check on him. She dances backwards, twirling with her arms spread out. “Don’t take too long, Dabi!” She wags her finger before disappearing, slamming the motel door shut behind her.

Hawks exhales, rubbing his chain where the goo left a trail. “She’s got a couple screws loose, huh?” he mutters. His heart hammers. He’s never been that close to a member of the League that wasn’t Dabi before. He’s not sure Dabi would appreciate being considered the lesser of the two evils.

“You know what they say,” Dabi says wryly, the skin stretching around the staples imbedded in his cheeks. “We’re all mad here.”

Hawks snorts, but not without a stab of guilt. That’s exactly the kind of emo bullshit Tokoyami would say. He leans back with a groan. Fuck, he’s forgotten about his intern. If the police commissioner has any decency he’ll leave him alone, but he can’t control the press. Clearly.

Something solid thumps against Hawks’ chest and drops into his lap. A roll of bills, held by a rubber band. “What’s this?”

“Your allowance,” Dabi says. He tosses a keycard onto the dresser the TV is perched on. It’s on, turned to a news channel on low volume. Every so often his own face flashes across the screen, a frame taken from the footage of the fight with the nomu, blurred around the edges and his mouth wide open as he shouts something he can’t even remember anymore.

It’s a good picture, at least, Hawks thinks distantly. Endeavor’s fire provides some intensely dramatic lighting. Very heroic.

He comes back to himself with a little shake, blinking down at the cash in his hand. He stuffed whatever he had in his bag before he left his apartment, but he’s twenty-two years old, and a nationally ranking pro hero besides--he doesn't really do cash. Half the time people won’t even let him pay for things. “You’re not leaving me behind,” Hawks says, connecting the dots in an instant. He tosses the cash back. “Give me two minutes to use some mouthwash and I’m ready to go.”

Dabi catches the cash and sets it down next to the keycard with a hollow thunk against the cheap fiberboard dresser. “Where is it you think you’re going?”

Hawks throws his legs over the side of the bed, stretching his wings and letting his stunted primary join the rest of his feathers. If he didn’t think it would end with scorched wallpaper and less feathers than he started with, he’d ask Dabi to scratch them. Eating from ancient hotel vending machines has done no favors for the growing feathers. “To meet your boss,” he says. “I think I’ve just about earned that, don’t you think?”

He’s only given up his entire life for it. Dabi might be a powerful villain, but he’s still only a rung on the latter. He needs to get to the heart of the League if all this is going to be worth anything, and he’s tired of playing coy.

“No,” Dabi says, “I don’t think.” He turns toward the door.

“Hey.” Hawks stands abruptly. “I’m not your pet canary. I can’t get you information anymore, but I still know things. The guy who’s done worse for the public’s faith in heroes since Kamino--ring a bell? Are you listening to me?” He takes a step forward, intending to pull Dabi back around. “Your boss--”

Dabi turns and grabs Hawks by the front, his hand viper-fast. “My boss will turn you to dust if he thinks you outed yourself without his permission,” he hisses, his eyes sparking blue. His hand radiates cold in a way that makes goosebumps run down Hawks’ arms. “I’m not going away to summer camp, you idiot, I’m going to play damage control. We didn’t plan for this. It’ll take time to adjust course.” He drops his hand, leaving the front of Hawks’ shirt rumpled. Hawks almost expects to look down and find it singed, despite the cold. “So do us both a favor and regrow your feathers in the meantime, so at least you won’t look like you’re halfway to a deep fryer while I’m trying to convince them that you haven’t outlived your usefulness.”

“Why bother?” Hawks snaps, his nerves more frazzled than he wants to admit. “If I’m such a fucking hassle.” It shouldn’t sting him, that the League isn’t rolling out the red carpet for him, but his pride has been more than battered lately.

“I told you,” he drawls, “I know a little something about prodigies.” Something about the way he says it makes Hawks wonder, not for the first time, where Dabi came from. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that he didn’t just appear one day, phoenix-like and scarred. But he wasn’t always that way, even if the only record of it is in Toga’s mimicry. Dabi tilts his head, his eyes half-lidded. “Sometimes what you were made for isn’t what you’re really good at.”

Poetic, he wants to sneer, but his mouth has gone dry. He can’t quite find the words to deny it.

“One last thing.” Dabi produces a phone from his pocket. It’s a couple of models out of date and scratched around the edges, but just the sight makes Hawks’ hands twitch like an addict. He hates to play into stereotypes about the youth and their devices, but he keeps finding himself patting his pockets looking for the phone he dumped in a trash can twenty-four hours ago.

“An allowance and a phone you’ll use to track my every move? I feel like a teenager again.” But no amount of quips is going to stop him from taking it. “What’s the passcode? E-V-I-L?”

“Set whatever you want—what do you think you’re doing?”

“Taking a pic for your contact profile. Smile.” One the police will be interested in seeing. Hawks has already read Dabi’s file backwards and forwards. It didn’t take long. Unlike some of the others in the League they’ve yet to ascertain a real name, and most footage of him is grainy or from a distance, distorted by billowing blue flames. A good shot of his full face might give them a decent shot at facial recognition.

Dabi scowls, but allows it. “Just stay off Twitter.”

“Mhm.” Dabi is the only contact in the phone, now with a circular icon of himself hovering over his name. Of course he had to actually set it, to avoid raising suspicion. The fact that Dabi looks like a cat with its ears back is only for his own personal enjoyment.

Dabi pushes the phone down, nearly smacking it from his hands. “I don’t mean that people will hurt your fucking feelings,” he warns.

Hawks snatches the phone away, a shiver crawling up his spine. He’s not sure he’ll ever get used to the way Dabi’s hands put off cold like they’re dead already, or the way he grabbed the collar of Hawks’ shirt like he’d rather it were his neck.

“I know what geotagging is,” he says petulantly. He's not going to be undone that easily. The last thing he needs are a bunch of pissed off fans at his door because “If you’re going to leave then do it so I can play sudoku.”

///

The first thing Hawks does is buy a prepaid cell phone. It’s cheap and plastic but the guy at the counter doesn’t bat an eye at someone wearing sunglasses paying for one with a fold of cash. Dabi hasn’t exactly put him up in the best part of town, but petty crime is among the least of his worries right now. He finds he doesn’t mind it so much anyways. The cracked sidewalks allow green to peek through and the darkened letters on lit-up signs are like gaps in a child’s smile. It reminds him of home just enough to make him look away.

He sends the police commissioner Dabi’s photo, to a rather lukewarm response. Not that he was expecting them to call off mission and send him home with a part on the back, but it’s still something. A little praise wouldn’t have been amiss.

If you’re in this for praise, you made some poor career decisions, the commissioner rebukes him dryly via text when he says as much.

“You’re telling me,” he mutters, and he stuffs the phone back into his pocket.

Truth be told, he expects to find Dabi at his door the next day, or at least Toga leaning over him with a knife. Instead he wakes up same four walls and ugly duvet alone except for the lingering smell of like cigarette smoke and mildew. When he checks with the sleepy teenager at the front desk, he finds the room has been paid for through the week.

He’s not sure he’ll make it that long. Dabi told him to focus on regrowing his wings, but Hawks isn’t someone who’s made to sit still, and Dabi isn’t the boss of him anyways. He opens a text conversation with the number Dabi left in his contacts a thousand times to tell him as much, but there’s nothing he can say that doesn’t come across pathetic, impatient, or both. His feathers are growing, but not fast enough. He’s ready to be back in business now, not benched because they still haven’t decided if they’re going to pick him for the team. By day three he’s not sure if he should be concerned it’s taking this long, or just insulted.

He didn’t make it to number two on accident. They’ve never met someone on his level before.

“Hey,” he says by the end of the third day, cradling his prepaid phone like a lifeline. “It’s me. Is now a good time?”

He can practically hear Miruko thinking. He wasn’t sure if he should call her, but it’s not like he has a lot of options for conversation besides the sleepy teenager at the front desk and the gas station cashier who doesn’t get paid enough to care who walks through the doors. He’s been rattling around the motel room like a bird in a cage, throwing himself against the bars in an attempt to burn off some energy. He may be eating like garbage, but he can still stay in shape. Sit ups turn to push ups turn to wing stretches and repeat all over again, until he realizes that his nail beds are torn, picked to ruin by his own restless fingers.

“Good as it’ll ever be,” she says at last. She sounds tired, or at least like she’s pretending not to be tired. She probably just got home. The sun is sinking, streaking the sky orange, and the night is starting to creep in. “How are you?”

Bored? It doesn’t seem a fair thing to complain about, considering. “I’m fine.”

“You seen the news lately?”

“Way more than I’ve ever wanted to.” His eyes flutter closed. He doesn’t trust his room not to be bugged, despite a thorough examination, so he climbed onto the roof instead. It’s disgusting, lying back on the ground, but the roof is warm against his feathers and it’s nice to spread out his wings somewhere he can halfway trust he won’t be seen. He’ll pick the grit out from between them later. “How bad was it?”

“No civilian casualties,” she says, and he feels his shoulders relax. “Kamui Woods lost an arm, but he swears it’ll grow back.”

Yeah, he saw. He’s become fully integrated into the twenty-four hour news cycle lately, to the point where he has favorite news anchors, largely based on how well they manage to keep the scorn out of their voices when they talk about him. It’s probably arrogant, watching them dissect his life on live TV, but he can’t look away. He dreams that he’s lying on a surgical table, the woman from channel 10 standing over him with a bloody scalpel, Endeavor watching over her shoulder. They pull years out of his chest like bloody pieces of viscera. It all makes sense, a child psychologist drones from a beige sofa in a brightly lit studio, if you just look back at his childhood—

Until that morning, when the League attacked the headquarters of a middling-sized hero agency. News cameras had watched from afar as Dabi’s fire crawled up Woods’ arm, eating away at it with a blue intensity before Best Jeanist was forced to yank him away. Hawks had thrown the remote at the wall and cursed whoever let Woods into that fight to begin with, the stupid piece of kindling. The hero charts have been reshuffling constantly since Hawks’ sudden exit, and they’re all hungry to either earn their spot or defend it.

“I didn’t know they were going to do that,” Hawks says eventually, after chewing on his bottom lip for a long moment. He’s going to end up biting that bloody too.

“Wouldn’t matter if you did.” He can hear the shrug in her voice. “You’ve got bigger fish to fry, Hawks.”

The boss he’s not allowed to see. The one he’s supposed to be ingratiating himself with.

And what’s he done? Memorize the motel channel guide? He kneads his forehead with his knuckles.

“We can handle a few fights,” Miruko adds, steel in her voice. “We’ve done this once or twice, you know.”

“I know,” he sighs, dropping his hand. “I just...thought I’d have more done by now.”

“Then do it,” Miruko says, as if it’s as simple as that. “What was that?”

It’s his second phone, chirping insistanty. He’s a firm believer of setting your phone to vibrate at any and every opportunity but he’d set what he’s come to think of his villain phone to ring, so that it’d wake him even if he were sleeping.

“Hold on,” he says, his heart pounding as he digs his villain phone out of his pocket. It’s a text message. Hawks sits up, his wings dragging against the roof behind him.

It’s a text from Dabi—of course it is, but that doesn’t stop his heart rate from picking up. His picture scowls from the bubble next to his name, taunting him. Three days since he sent the picture, three days since they last talked. How hard can it be to run facial recognition? Arrest records, school yearbooks, whatever; there’s got to be a database of this stuff somewhere, and Dabi’s scarring isn’t so bad you can’t see what he once was beneath it. He needs to know who he’s dealing with. The longer he’s in the dark, the more danger he’s in.

Not that anything about this is safe. He supposed it wouldn’t be half as interesting if it was.

“I’ve got to go.” He almost says it into the wrong phone.

Miruko understands without explanation. She knows the less she knows, the better. “Hey,” she says softly, unusually gentle. Seeing Woods lose his arm affected her more than she wants to let on. “Be careful.”

“Always am,” he says, and they both know it’s a lie, but she only gives him a skeptical grunt before hanging up. Hawks lays back against the roof, phone held up above his face as he reads the text again. There’s no greeting, no instructions, certainly no explanations.

Just a name.

Chapter Text

Iwasaki Umeko.

He considers asking Miruko, or even the commissioner, to run it through the system, but he can’t risk revealing that he might know more than he should, especially not if this is another test. He can’t afford to rely on them. He’s already dragged Miruko into enough of this shit, and he’s hesitant to go to the police commissioner with another half-baked lead. Tonight his only friends are the motel’s shitty WiFi connection and sheer determination.

Then do it, Miruko chastises him in the back of his mind.

It turns out that it’s not that easy, but he’d have been surprised if it was. Searching the Iwasaki Umeko on google produces only a handful of different social media accounts, most of them set to private. Hardly helpful, but he can see there’s one close to him, only two towns over. Close enough that it might be a lead. Or at least someplace to start.

Iwasaki Umeko is maybe sixteen years old and her facebook is private, but her twitter isn’t. She’s a big fan of figure skating and videos of fat kittens, and her quirk has something to do with light if the amount of sparkle emojis are anything to go by. Her favorite hero is Ryukyu. A good choice.

She’s also going through some shit, if her tweets are anything to go by. All the usual teenager stuff, on the surface--life is a nightmare, no one understands, her parents are so unfair--but Hawks can’t shake the idea that there’s something deeper too. It makes his feathers prickle. Something not quite familiar, but something close.

He scrolls down her profile, working backwards through time. Finally--there. A single tweet, the only one that goes into any details. A year ago Umeko was expelled from UA.

His heart sinks. He switches back to google.

Thus far the news has been an interesting cocktail of his own personal failings and the League’s latest attack, but the world hasn’t stopped spinning just because his life has fallen apart at the seams. He doesn’t pay much attention to the scrolling bar at the bottom of the screen, especially not when they’re interviewing that girl he went out with once who learned rather quickly she had a feather allergy (not his fault), but occasionally something would catch his eye.

FORMER UA STUDENT HELD AS SUSPECT IN MURDER OF MOTHER, STEPFATHER

His heart sinks. The story is easy to find when he plugs in all the right keywords, the article only published this afternoon and then hastily swept away by flashier headlines. He skims the article, but it doesn't say much the headline doesn’t already give away. Mother and stepfather found dead in their home, daughter being held for questioning. She’s a minor, so it doesn’t list her name, but being able to connect the dots is one of is lesser-known skills.

What he doesn’t understand is what Dabi expects him to do about it, much less why. Is she working with the League? A target for recruitment? His thumb hovers over the keyboard, tempted to ask, but he closes the messaging app before he can give in. This is a test, he reminds himself. He supposes he’ll find out what he’s proving once he’s passed it.

And he will pass it. When he closes his eyes he sees Kamui Woods’ arm going up in flames, sees the edge of Toga’s knife, sees the way Dabi’s eyes glowed in the street lights, daring him to kill the photographer in that dirty alley, to end it all before it could even begin.

He will will pass it. He has to.

///

Finding where Umeko is being held is surprisingly easy. He’s been subjected to enough paperwork to know his way around a couple police stations, and it’s only a matter of finding the nearest one to the crime scene. It’s been less than a day, and bureaucracy moves slowly, especially when minors are involved. There’ll be enough red tape to tie a bow on it.

Step one: done. He’d really been hoping to put off step two for a little longer.

At a young age Hawks learned that he’d be a hero. What he didn’t know at the time was that while hero is a very simple word, everyone defines it a little differently. A thousand different heroes for a thousand different quirks. Strong heroes, fast heroes; rescue heroes, crime-fighting heroes. Heroes that were subtle and stealthy--

And, well: him.

“Hi,” Hawks says with a grin with enough wattage to power a small generator. He slides his hero license across the precinct’s front desk, toward the wide-eyed officer staring from the other side of the glass. “Just a quick question. How would I go about turning myself in?”

///

They have him in handcuffs so fast his head spins.

Which is an overreaction, surely, considering he turned himself in, but maybe they’re a little suspicious that a hero playing with the League wouldn’t roll over so easily. Fair, he supposes. He has every intention of being out of here before midnight.

“Don’t I get a phone call?” Hawks complains as they install him in an interrogation room, his hands cuffed to the table in front of them. No one seems to quite know what to do with his wings, short of tying them down with duct tape, so they leave them be. Police work has come a long way in coping with quirks, but there are still a few holes in their protocol. “A glass of water?”

He watches them leave, sitting hunched over the cold metal table, his hands shackled in front of him. It takes everything he has not to tug at them until the metal bites into his skin, his chest tight. Hawks forces his breathing to steady, but the knot of tension in his chest remains tight. He knew this would happen, he reminds himself, nothing about this is unexpected. All according to plan.

He shifts his wrist, feeling the comforting press of the feather hidden in his sleeve. It’d been a flair of dramatics, choosing to wear his hero costume here, but putting it on had been the most human he felt since stepping out of that alleyway. The soft lambswool lining is warm, almost too warm, but familiar. He’s playing the villain because he’s a hero, he wants to tell them—scream it, paint it on the walls. Not the other way around.

He carefully tugs the feather forward, still hidden in his sleeve, the pointed tip of the shaft pressing against his skin. He won’t have long after he’s picked the lock, and he still has to find Umeko and get them out of here. His wings flex of their own accord, still looking a little ragged but ready for a fight. He quietly hopes they have the B team on staff tonight. He doesn’t want anyone getting hurt.

The door opens and Hawks’ head goes up, smoothing away the anxiety on his face in an instant. He sighs loudly. “I hope you brought my—”

A paper cup clunks against the metal table, water shivering with the movement. Hawks freezes.

“Eraserhead,” he says evenly. His heart gallops in his chest. There were always minor heroes puttering around a station this size, but he hadn’t expected anyone of this caliber. Eraserhead flies under the radar, never ranked on the charts at all, much less the top ten, but in a way he suspects is intentional. Anyone who works at UA is worth watching out for. “The pleasure’s all mine.”

The cup scrapes softly against the metal as it’s pushed forward, into his reach. “Your water,” Aizawa murmurs.

“Thanks,” Hawks says, his mouth suddenly very dry. Aizawa sits across from him, and only he could look like this is all just a minor inconvenience to him. Hawks isn’t sure how much of it’s real. Aizawa radiates a sense of stillness that makes Hawks want to twitch, like he can make up for the lack of movement in the room by putting in more than his share.

“What are you doing here, Hawks?” Aizawa asks.

Hawks shrugs with his whole body, turning his palms up so that the handcuffs rattle. “Is it so hard to believe I had a crisis of conscience?” He flashes a crooked smile to hide the way he wants to squirm under Aizawa’s gaze. He doesn’t have his quirk activated, he’d feel if it he did, but his stare alone is dangerous enough. He looks like he just rolled out of bed—his eyes downturned and bloodshot, his hair a mess—but he’s smart. Too smart. Hawks’ foot taps an unsteady beat against the linoleum.

“Yes.” Aizawa leans forward, one arm resting on the table but still angled toward the door. Eraserhead isn’t here for him, Hawks realizes distantly. It makes sense they’d call in a pro, but it wouldn’t be him. Even if it was, there’s no way he’d have gotten here so fast. So why was he already here? “I want to help you, Hawks. But you have to let me. There isn’t much time to get out ahead of this. They’ve already called Endeavor.” His lips thin.

Hawks’ handcuffs rattle again and his heart jackrabbits. Fuck. He knew they would—because of their history, because he’s number one, because there’s a 50/50 chance Endeavor wants to flame broil him—but hearing the words makes a future-Hawks-problem suddenly a very present-Hawks-problem.

Inhale. Count to ten. Exhale. He can see Aizawa notice it.

“I’m not one of your kids, Aizawa,” Hawks says before Aizawa can get the chance to read too much into it. A lot of heroes are young, in a taxing profession like theirs, but not many rise as quickly as he did. A prodigy. The word makes him shiver now. He laughs, making it a joke a beat too late. “You can’t save me.”

“No. You’re a pro. You knew what you were doing. You know what they’re capable of,” he says, fiercer than Hawks thought possible for someone who looks like he’s eternally waiting in line at the DMV, and he remembers that Aizawa has fought a nomu too. The sickly fluorescent lights suck the color from the room, making the scar tissue under his eye look almost gray. His phone rings, a tinny pop song that’s so utterly incongruous to everything about the situation that Hawks almost jumps. Aizawa ignores it. “You know what’s at stake here, Hawks. I don’t think you’re here because you want to do the right thing--but I’m hoping I can convince you to change your mind. Before Endeavour gets involved. Before the press. There’s damage done that can still be repaired.”

It takes Hawks a moment to identify what he’s feeling, what’s happening here at all. He’s never been on this side of the table, his hands bound and rattling every time he shifts his weight, like a cat with a bell on its collar. Heroes usually aren’t involved in this process at all, the post-arrest, but sometimes half the job is talking. Coaxing people off the ledge, convincing villains that you’re on their side, that the world might be against them--hasn’t it always?--but you’re not. You understand. You can help. But they have to take the first step.

He’s seen the headlines, read the thinkpieces, even seen some impressive fanart of what his villain costume would look like. But this is the first time he’s felt like a villain.

In hindsight, maybe he overreacts.

“Is that what you told Iwasaki?” He demands, leaning so far forward that his chest bumps against the table. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

Aizawa stiffens. “How do you know that name?”

Stupid. Sloppy. But he’s too agitated to take a stop now. “To help her,” he sneers, as if Aizawa hadn’t spoken at all. “To save her. That’s what heroes do right?”

“How do you know that name?”

“Or is it because you feel guilty?” Hawks presses on, fury burning cold in his chest. Cold like Dabi’s skin, like his eyes, everything but his fire that’s still so blue, blue, blue. All he can think about is the man on the rooftop and does he deserve it? and he’s glad Dabi isn’t here to see this. “Because maybe if you hadn’t expelled her, she wouldn’t even need your help. Maybe if you’d helped her then she wouldn’t need you now—”

“Enough!”

Hawks freezes. He doesn’t remember standing, at least as far as his handcuffs will let him. He leans half over the table, half-standing, his chair kicked out behind him. His wings are flared out behind him, nearly filling the room. And they’re heavy.

Aizawa’s eyes glow red, his hair billowing upward of its own accord. He can’t erase a mutation quirk, Hawks’ wings are as much a part of him as his hands, but he can affect how it works. Hawks never realized how much his ability to manipulate his feathers interacted with the function of his wings until it was gone. It feels like they’ve gone numb; a thousand pinpoints of light gone dark.

Hawks exhales through his teeth, holding his gaze. Aizawa won’t let it show but he’s right, he knows he’s right. He knows at least one licensed hero who still has nightmares about Aizawa kicking him out of his class. That has to be the reason he’s here.

Aizawa’s phone rings again, filling the room with a garbled beat. He doesn’t flinch.

Hawks hooks his foot around the leg of his chair and pulls it forward again with a metallic shriek. He falls into it. “You should probably answer that.”

Aizawa holds his gaze for a heartbeat longer before his hair drops and Hawks’ wings lighten so suddenly they buoy upwards. It’s not a victory, but it’s a step in that direction. Hawks’ eyes track him Aizawa stalks across the room, accepting the call with a vicious jab of his thumb. He opens the door and—

The shaft of his hidden feather twists. Handcuffs rely on a rather straightforward locking mechanism, a few minutes of googling and one WikiHow article taught him two hours previously, and are relatively simple to pick. Tricky, maybe, if you have limited access to your hands. Less so, if you have at least 75% of your feathers available to manipulate at will.

If he’s going to do this, he needs to be fast. His blood hums like a live wire, dangerous and electric. He can do fast.

The handcuffs click open and it’s like a starting gun going off. He can practically see a timer in the corner of his vision, red LED numbers chewing up the seconds as he leaps to his feet, kicking off the ground and vaulting over the table in the same fluid motion. Eraserhead is more than he bargained for when he made this plan on the train ride over, but a hero adapts, even when he’s playing the villain.

Aizawa is fast--his capture weapon is moving before Hawks’ feet even touch the ground--but Hawks is faster. He sends a feather hurtling through the air, pinning the end of the scarf to the wall an instant before his wings go heavy. He thought about that too. He takes the paper cup Aizawa brought him and throws its contents directly into his eyes.

Which--it’s water, it doesn’t hurt, but it’s enough to cut off Aizawa’s concentration, if only for a moment. He uses his wings to slam him sideways before the feeling has even fully returned. His head cracking so loud against the wall that Hawks actually winces. He can apologize later. Instead Hawks throws himself out the door, yanking it shut behind him and locking it from the outside. He exhales. Thirty seconds. Damn, he’s gotten lazy.

Overhead an alarm wails in counterpoint with his footsteps as he dashes down the hall. The hall is long and narrow. Too narrow to fly, but he doesn’t have far to go. The interrogation rooms seem to be clustered together along it, a row of identical doors on either side. He already has his target. Down the hall and to the right, where a police officer stands with his hand on the doorknob, looking stunned. People think he doesn’t notice things—because he talks too much and laughs too loud, because he’s young and cocky and never takes a minute to slow down—but there’s a reason they say eyes like a hawk. It was easy to see the patterns in the way they moved through the station when you really looked. A girl like Iwasaki, young and tragic and more than a little dangerous, leaves ripples wherever she goes.

He digs his heel into the linoleum and spins. Three feathers back the way he came, sweeping reinforcements off their feet. Another shot forward, skewering the officer through the loose folds of his shirt and pinning him to the wall. His coffee goes flying, painting the wall like blood splatter. He’ll just send the whole station a gift basket when this is all over.

Hawks shoulders the door open. He still doesn't know what this girl’s quirk is supposed to be, but it’s gnarly enough that they’ve put her up in a Quirk Containment Room. He’s always thought they look like a cross between a medieval torture chamber and a toddler’s playroom. The table is made of plastic and bolted to the floor, all the edges rounded and covered in padding. Soundproof, fireproof—just about quirk-proof, or as close as they could get. He might be insulted they thought a sixteen year old girl warranted the QCR treatment over a former pro if he wasn’t so jarred by the girl in question.

She looks younger than she did in her twitter profile, and smaller, drowning in a borrowed sweatshirt they probably pulled out of the laid and found. Her hair is metallic gold, a part of their quick, he supposes, but even that manages to be lackluster in the terrible little room. She it’s hunched over the table, her hands bound and hidden in reinforced mittens called QSD. Quirk Suppression Devices, better know as squids among law enforcement. Which only worked if the suspect in question controlled their quirk via their hands, and even then they have limits, but they help.

On criminals. Villains. Not a teenage girl looking up at him with wide eyes, scared out of her mind.

He doesn’t know what to say. Is she expecting him? Does she know who he is, who sent him, why? If she does, he wishes she’d tell him. He’s so tired of flying blind.

But Iwasaki Umeko doesn’t look like a villain, or a mastermind, of someone Dabi should ever know the name of. She looks like she’s about to cry.

“Two options. You can stay here,” Hawks says, holding up a feather. Behind him, another feather carries a police officer down the hall by his collar. “Or you can come with me. What’s it gonna be?”

///

Hawks’ internal stopwatch is blaring by the time he kicks down the door and emerges into the cool night air, breathing heavily. Normally this kind of fight would be nothing, but carrying a teenager in his arms is a significant new obstacle. He makes a note to focus on arm day a little more rigorously next time he gets the chance to hit the gym.

His instincts prickle the moment before something wraps around his ankle and yanks. His wings catch him in time to save him from totally eating concrete, but Iwasaki still goes tumbling to the ground, her hands held protectively over her head.

Aizawa. Fuck.

“Go!” He barks at Iwasaki. “Run! I’ll catch up.”

She opens her mouth to argue but Hawks is quickly preoccupied with the capture weapon trying to reel him in like a fish in a line. He yanks a primary feather of his wings and slashes downwards, the edge of the feather going as sharp as a blade. But Aizawa is too fast, and more than a little angry. The scarf whips back to its owner before he can shorten it by a few inches.

Aizawa looks like a demon, standing at the end of the street, his eyes glowing red in the pale darkness the street lamps leave behind. Hawks’ wings sag, impossibly heavy, and the edge of the feather sword goes soft. Shit. He could probably still fly without his quirk, given the right conditions and maybe a running start, but not if he’s carrying one hundred and twenty pounds of teenage girl with him.

“Hawks! Move!”

His head whips around, and for a moment Aizawa is forgotten. Iwasaki stands where he left her, her shoulders hunched, her metallic hair falling in her face. Her hands are cupped together, their middle pulsing with spikey, pulsing white light that sends ripples of energy skating across the ground, making the hair on his arms rise. And it’s getting bigger. The street lights flicker.

“Shit!” He spits. “Eraser!”

Aizawa forgets they’re not on the same team just as quickly, either that or he’s just as invested in not getting impaled by a spear of light as Hawks is. His gaze shifts and Hawk’s wings come back to him the same moment Iwasaki’s light vanishes. She looks down at her empty hands and screams in frustration, stomping her feet like an angry child.

No time to unpack all that. Hawks is already airborne when he scoops her up by the armpits, rising into the air with three powerful downbeats that strain at the muscles in his chest and test his half-recovered feathers. Iwasaki kicks, which certainly does not help, but by the time he clears the top of the building, he’s confident that Aizawa isn’t going to mess with his quirk if it means letting them splat against the concrete. Or let Iwasaki, anyways.

Iwasaki seems to realize the long drop too, because she stops kicking. The wind roars in his ears and tugs at his flight jacket as he pulls them higher, faster. Hawks takes a deep breath for possibly the first time since that night in the alley, and even the city’s smog taste sweet.

And then it’s over, his feet touching down on a gritty roof and his wings flaring out behind him to slow them down. He’d fly forever if he could, but it’s cold that high, and Iwasaki is dressed in a faded sweatshirt two sizes too big for her someone probably pulled out of the lost and found. A cartoon wolf grins from the front of it, advertising something incomprehensible.

“Why did you stop me?” Iwasaki spits like a mad cat, her hands curled into fists at her sides. It’s hard to take her seriously with her hair tangled from the wind. Or it would have been, if he hadn’t seen the light between her hands. Light quirks are usually more flash than bang, but he gets the feeling hers carries quite a bit of bang. “I was helping!”

“You were going to kill him,” Hawks snaps back. He realizes his mistake the instant he makes it. Her parents-- “Shit. I didn’t--”

But Iwasaki has already shrunk back, watching him warily. Her eyes are hollow and red-rimmed, her back pressed up against one of the sad trees populating the roof. He’d chosen this building because one someone had attempted to grow a meditation garden on top of it. They keyword being attempted, the follow-up being forgotten. But it still offers enough cover in case they send the helicopters out after them.

Hawks sighs and scrubs at his eyes. Whatever. He digs his things out where he stuffed them in the crook of a tree branch rather than let the police confiscate them and shoots Dabi a terse text and their location. Mission accomplished. He’s less satisfied than he imagined he’d be.

He doesn’t know how close Dabi is, or how long he’ll take to get here. He doesn’t even know what he’ll do, but if he pulls that shit with the roof again, Hawks will push the scarred bastard off himself. Something rises in his throat, sharp like bile, close to panic. Something he’s been ignoring for a long time now, pressing down until it became hard and impossible to ignore. Now he chokes on it.

Does he deserve it? Doeshedeserveitdoeshedeserveitdoeshedeserveit?

“Did they deserve it?” He almost doesn’t recognize his own voice, hushed, scraping against the unsteady silence like the flat edge of a knife. “Your parents. Did they deserve it?”

Iwasaki looks like a kicked puppy, cowering but defiant, her hands buried deep in her sweatshirt pocket. Her bottom lip trembles.

“Yes,” she whispers.

Hawks presses his palms against his forehead, presses until it hurts, until he thinks he might have contained the headache threatening to split his skull like an egg. Another test, another lesson. But this isn’t a pedophile on the roof, this isn’t about a broken system that failed to put away a monster.

This is about a system that failed one girl. He’s not sure how much he’s projecting and how much he’s supposed to see, but the pieces are all there. A powerful quirk. UA. Expulsion. Aizawa is a good guy—a good hero—regardless of how much he probably wants to strangle him with a scarf right now. Being a hero can take everything from you. Everything. He wouldn’t waste time with a kid whose heart wasn’t in it. You have to love the job, even when you hate it. You’ll lose your mind if you don’t.

Iwasaki stands across from him like a distorted mirror and he can think of is the way Dabi says the word prodigy like he knows how much it can weigh.

“I want to help you,” Iwasaki says, straightening her back and puffing out her chest like a little bird. “I can’t go back home, I—the police will be looking for me whenever I go. You rescued me for a reason, right? I know how to fight. Look, I can show you.”

“No.”

Dabi’s voice cuts across the roof and they both jump. The light between Iwasaki’s hands flares but dies again as she takes a cautious step backwards, closer to Hawks. Somewhere in the distance he can hear a chopper’s blade cutting through the air, but their searchlights are focused somewhere else.

Dabi stands in the shadow of the rooftop garden’s trees, a silhouette with a single gleaming eye that manages to catch the city lights. He throws something at Iwasaki’s feet. She flinches.

It’s a backpack, faded and worn, one of the straps nearly torn through.

“Take it,” Dabi says and there’s something different about his voice. Colder, maybe. Harder. “There’s an address written on the card in the front pocket. Don’t get caught and the woman who lives there can get you out of the country. Get out. Go to school. I don't care.”

Iwasaki picks up the backpack by one of the straps, staring down at it. She shakes her head. “I want to help,” she says again, more insistent. “The League—”

“Doesn’t need another fucking kid,” Dabi snarls. “Go!” Blue fire sparks at his fingertips and dances across his knuckles.

Iwasaki’s fight leaves her abruptly and she flees, the backpack swung over one shoulder. Her footsteps echo across the rooftop as she runs for the stairs.

Hawks stands frozen in place, breathing heavier than he should be. His hands are curled into fists at his side but he doesn’t remember how they got that way, only that he can’t seem to convince them to relax.

“Goob job,” Dabi drawls when the silence has stretched too far, too thin. The last dangling thread of Hawks’ self-control breaks with an audible snap.

“What the fuck was that?” Hawks demands, advancing on him. “Is this a fucking—is this a game to you?”

Dabi bares his teeth, still half in shadow. “She didn’t deserve it,” he says. “She just did what we all wish we had the stones to do.”

Is it? Would his parents deserve it? No, he thinks. No. They didn't put him on this path, they just failed to protect him from it. It's not the same. What did they do to you? He should press Dabi for information, anything that might be a hint to his true identity, but he can hardly focus.

The headache pulsing behind his eyes reaches a fever pitch. He could just as easily use a feather but there’s something viscerally satisfying about grabbing Dabi’s by the front with his hand. “I’m done with tests,” he growls, shoving Dabi backwards. His back hits one of the trees and Hawks tighten his grip curled in the front of Dabi’s ratty old shirt. One of the staples holding together his skin brushes his knuckle with a sharp edge. “I’m done with lectures. You—oh fuck.”

Dabi has let his head tilt back against the tree. Light from the neighboring building has cut across his face, revealing what the shadows hid. Dabi cuts a grotesque figure on the best of days, between the discolored scar tissue and the metal staples struggling to hold it all together, like a man made from discarded pieces, but this is different. His other scars are old and familiar, built up over years of abuse until his skin simply gave up being skin at all. This isn’t even a scar at all.

It’s a wound. His right cheek oozes where the skin has been peeled away to reveal open muscle. Spiderweb cracks radiate from the point of contact, spreading across his cheek, his eye, the bridge of his nose. He’s never seen a wound like it. It looks like his skin cracked like glass.

Dabi leers, his lips curled away from his teeth in a corpse’s smile. Blood beads in one of the cracks on his skin and slides down his jaw. “What?” He sneers raggedly. “Something on my face?”

Chapter Text

THE PREVIOUS DAY:

It’s a bad night for this. The rain always makes him feel like an open wound, which he supposes isn’t untrue. Dabi picks restlessly at a scab forming around one of the staples in his wrist. The pain is like a spark, bright against the night. The nerves in his scarred skin have long since been tortured beyond recognition, burnt again and again until the feeling is distant, if it’s there at all. It’s better that way. Logically.

His finger digs into the scab and the pain flares brighter. His cigarette hangs limp from his lips, dripping hot ash, but he barely notices. It’s just an excuse to linger outside and watch the rain drip off the edge of the faded canvas overhang that overlooks the back entrance of their latest shitty little hideout. He misses the bar. It’d been just as shitty, even before the heroes wrecked the place. A lot has changed since the Kamino Ward incident.

Toga trips out of the door, hanging off the side of it like a drunken dancer. The hinges groan. Everything in this place is falling apart, the League included. He sneers at the thought, plucking the cigarette from his lips and flicking it into the night. The glowing end pinwheels like a firefly before it snuffs out in a puddle.

“You’re hiding,” Toga accuses gleefully, grinning like a wolf. Her incisors gleam. “He’s angry. Like a little dog. Yap, yap, yap.” She spins and catches Dabi by the elbow. If she had her way she’d spin him too, but he already indulges her enough. She hangs off of him himself, her feet braced against his. It tugs on his deadened skin but he lets her swing, his gaze flat.

“Let him yap,” Dabi says. “I did what he wanted.” Make a scene, remind the world the the League is dangerous and Hawks is working with them, not the other way around. He nearly burned Kamui Woods to ash.

He was reluctant to leave Hawks behind—he likes to watch him, likes to see how he reacts as the truth slowly seeps into his brain and untwists all that hero bullshit he’s been fed all his life—but he’s glad that he did. Bird brain runs his mouth too much. He still thinks like a hero, however much he claims otherwise. He gets it. The bullshit. It’s like a drug—it’s going to hurt to come off of.

In a perfect world Dabi would have worked him a bit more carefully, milked a bit more out of that number two status while. There’s still more to learn. But it’d been worth if, to see that look on his face.

If you’re going to do it, then do it. Kill him. For an instant he almost thought Hawks might. Instead he’d let the photographer scamper off like rat, his shoulders already squared like some kind of fucking martyr. Dabi should have cut his losses then. He almost did.

The staples pull at his cheeks as he smirks. What can he say? He’s a sucker for a pet project.

He shakes Toga off. “I’m not hiding,” he says, far, far too late. “I always need a smoke before I deal with the brat. Keep my spot warm.”

Their latest hole in the wall is what was a department store once, before time and the economy and a vigorous strain of mold got to it. Even after an afternoon of watching Spinner and Mr. Compress argue over how to bleach the stuff, the place still smells like rot. It must be powerful, if he can smell it. Most of his nerves are busted in one way or another by now.

Shigaraki has made a makeshift throne out of what was once a glass display case. The glass panels on the sides are cracked, the velvet shelves inside covered with a furry layer of dust, but he’s malnourished enough that he can perch on top of it with no problem, one leg dangling over the side. The rest of the league lounges around the room like contented lions in the sun. He thinks Twice might be playing chess with himself, while one of the new guys looks on, scratching his head.

“Am I forgiven?” Dabi drawls, taking the first swing. Talking with Shigaraki is always either a fight or a dance, neither of them pleasant. “I made the news. Did you record it? I want to see if they got my good side.” He grins until it hurts.

Shigaraki pulls his cracked lips back from his teeth, baring them like a dog, though it’s hard to tell past that stupid hand he wears stuck over his face. “I told you to take the hero with you,” he hisses.

So that’s what he’s so pissed about. Dabi wishes he hadn’t thrown away his cigarette. “He’s not ready,” he says. “That shit was big leagues. He’s still playing t-ball.” The incident on the rooftop was proof enough of that, but Dabi can be patient. He’s spent years being patient. He only wishes he hadn't wasted the fucking pedophile on Hawks’ education. There are some people he prefers to watch burn.

Shigaraki’s anger simmers. “I’m working on it,” Dabi adds impatiently.

“We don’t have time for your coddling,” Shigaraki whines, as if the head of the league wasn’t a position he’d been gifted, a boy king given the throne his father carved out for him. He slouches, his hood pulled up over his hair, his fingers restlessly picking at his ruined lips. “We need to move forward.”

Moving forward is what got Magne fucking killed,” Dabi snaps, advancing. Twice gives an exaggerated wince. Shigaraki shrinks away before he gets ahold of himself, and pushes forward to meet him instead. His eyes burn, furious, but Dabi burns hotter. His quirk ripples just beneath his skin, like propane waiting for a match. “Hawks is my angle. I’m working him. He’s ready when I say he’s ready.”

“You’re working him,” Shigaraki scoffs. “Or is he working you? Do you think you’re the only one who’s learned from our mistakes with the Yakuza?” His lips curl. “Have you stopped to consider this might a trick? Isn’t it convenient that the number two hero is so sympathetic to our cause? Do you think they brought out their prettiest hero just for you?”

Dabi’s nostrils flare and his quirk burns hotter, bubbling beneath his ruined skin, begging to be let free. He could burn this whole fucking place to the ground. It’s called cremation for a reason. When he’s done with someone, there’s nothing left to recognize.

“Have you stopped to consider,” Shigaraki keeps pushing, keeps stepping forward, crowding him like a crow mobs an eagle, “that you let him leak those photographs,” he says and Dabi digs his thumb into the place where the table holds his ruined skin together. “You let him undermine us. Is he going to start deciding what we do next? You act like he’s at the end of your leash, but I think it’s clear who’s wearing the collar--”

“He didn’t leak the fucking photographs.” His thumb slips under the leathery skin at his wrist until he can feel muscle and hot blood. The pain radiates outward like an emergency flare. “I did.”

He doesn’t stop to consider why he’s lying, if he’s trying to protect Hawks or simply spite Shigaraki. He can’t think that far. All there is is the pain in his wrist and the fire under his skin and he’d tell Shigaraki any lie, if only to see that look on his face again. That split-second dumbfounded shock, like an old cartoon that’s just been smacked over the head with a bowling pin.

He can’t help it. He laughs.

Shigaraki lunges forward so fast that Dabi can’t hardly see him. Just his hand, all five fingers outstretched. Dabi jerks backwards on instinct but he’s not fast enough. He let Shigaraki get too close, too angry. His hand closes around Dabi’s face, as fast as lightning.

And then the pain hits.

Dabi is no stranger to pain. Somedays he even likes it, even if it’s just a shiver down his deadened skin. This is different. His quirk is a slow burn, curing him from the inside out like leather. Shigaraki’s is immediate. He can feel his skin cracking, shifting, falling away like tectonic plates at the end of the world. He opens his mouth and screams, and the humiliation of it is almost as bad as the white-hot pain racing through the faultlines in his skin. He never screams. Not when he burns, not when he dreams, not when his father--

“I lead,” Shigaraki hisses, bending so close that Dabi can feel the sickly chill that radiates off that fucking hand. “I lead. You’re a soldier. You don’t make decisions, you act. You follow orders, and you’re grateful that I don’t tell you to jump off a fucking cliff and hope your little bird catches you on the way down.”

Shigaraki releases him, letting him fall. Dabi hits the ground in a heap, catching himself with one arm while the other hand cradles his face. He should fight back. He should burn the skin from Shigaraki’s hands. He should do a lot of things, but all he can do is breath, his throat raw from screaming, his shoulders trembling like he’s five years old--eight years old--fourteen years old and burning, burning, burning--

Shigaraki takes a shuffling step backwards, like he’s remembered who he is again. His shoulders slouch and he retreats back into the folds of his hoodie. He sniffles pathetically beneath the hand. “Don’t get blood on the carpet,” he mutters. His feet kick up puffs of dust from the off-white-ivory-almost-beige carpet as he walks away. “It’ll stain.”

///

CURRENTLY:

Dabi squints beneath the fluorescent lights, his head aching like its stuffed with cotton. His cheek is heavy and swollen, the cracks in his skin threatening to ooze every time he so much as twitches. Figures Shigaraki would get him on the few inches of exposed skin that still have functional nerve endings. Asshole.

He hadn’t meant for Hawks to see that. It was supposed to be all cloak-and-dagger, dramatic shadows and disappearing into the night until he’s had a chance to lick his wounds and scab over. Leave it to Hawks to lose his shit and start getting handsy. Leave it to Hawks to have to play the fucking hero.

“I thought you were bad at disguises before,” Dabi mutters, picking up a package of bandages covered in smiling cartoon characters and turning it over in his hand, “but this is excessive.”

It’s not fair to say that Hawks lost his shit on the rooftop garden. It’s more accurate to say that he’s still actively losing his shit, or else they wouldn’t be standing in the middle of a twenty-four hour pharmacy, browsing the bandages like they weren’t two wanted criminals of exceptional notoriety. Hell, there were still helicopters out there looking for Hawks. Yet here he is wearing his full hero uniform, wings and all, comparing brands of cotton balls.

“Just trust me,” Hawks says. He plucks the bandages from Dabi’s hands and adds them to the pile growing in his arms. “And stop fucking picking at it.”

Dabi’s hand drops away from his cheek. “You’ve lost your mind.”

Hawks rounds on him, his eyes bright. “And whose fault would it be, if I did?” He snaps. “I told you, I’m done with tests.” So Iwasaki did strike a chord with him. Dabi knew she would--he knew there was more to the golden hero turned embittered traitor, more than Hawks was willing to say, even to sell his story. He starts to smirk, only to hiss as the soft new scabs on his face pull and crack. “And I’m done with getting left behind. Now shut up. Do you have any cash?”

So much for shutting up. “I gave you cash.”

“And I spent it. Come on.”

Dabi digs into his pocket and produces a couple of rumpled bills. Hawks balances his bounty in the crook of one arm long enough to crumple them in his fist.

The store is almost empty, except for the bored teenager leaning against the front counter, texting underneath it. Her eyes flicker upwards when they approach and stick. Dabi’s hands curl into fists, his quirk warming his palms. It only then occurs to him that they probably should have just walked out with the stuff. He rolls his eyes. Of course Hawks is paying for it. Still such a hero.

The cashier smirks. “You’re out of date, dude,” she says as Hawks dumps his bounty onto the counter. She begins to ring it up mechanically, as if two of the country’s most wanted weren’t buying cotton balls and antiseptic from her. “Hawks is a villain now. You’ve at least got to change the color pallete.”

Hawks smiles easily, but from where he’s standing, Dabi can see the tension in his wings. They’re like an open book, if you watch them close enough. “I just finished this damn thing last week, would you believe it?” He sighs. “I didn’t have time to dye it before the con. What do you think?” He tugs at his flight jacket. “Red and black?”

The cashier considers it as she rings up their purchases. The steady beeping of the scanner pulses against Dabi’s headache. “Black and blue, if you’re doing pair stuff” she says, nodding at Dabi. “Blue fire, right? It matches.”

Hawks hands over the cash in a messy pile without bothering to count it, though it’s clear he’s overpaid. “I like the way you think,” he says, as smug as a cat as he accepts the bags from her.

The automatic doors open for them with a rattle, the breeze ruffling their hair as if welcoming them back.

“You didn’t know that would work,” Dabi says, but there’s something grudgingly close to amusement in his voice.

“Nah,” Hawks agrees, handing him a bag to carry, “but I thought it might.” He shrugs like it’s nothing, like his hero costume isn’t as much as a symbol now as it was before. He thinks Dabi doesn’t see it, the way he holds himself—taller, looser, more confident. He’s a different person in the costume than he is without it. Dabi suspects that neither of them quite know which Hawks is real.

“People see what they want to see,” Hawks says. “Simple as that.”

 

///

“Damn,” Hawks says, “you live like this?”

Dabi grunts, closing the door behind him and sliding the lock into place. Toga had given him a ration of shit the first time she saw him do it--big bad villain still locks his doors at night, how cute--but he doesn’t care. His piece of shit apartment is in a piece of shit neighborhood, and he doesn’t like the idea of waking up with a pocket knife to his throat because some junkie thought they might find something interesting inside.

“I knew crime didn’t pay,” Hawks continues, “but no one warned me it was this bad.”

He’s talking too much. Dabi can see the frayed edge to his nerves from here--the restless twitch of his fingers, his wings, the funny little thing he keeps doing with the toe of his boot against the peeling edge of the carpet. For someone bitching about it so much, he’s only making it worse.

“Not all of us sleep on piles of taxpayer money,” Dabi says, but there’s not much bite to it. His faces hurts like a bitch, and talking only makes it worse.

Hawks hesitates, the bags hanging limp from his hands so that they brush the floor. The apartment really does look bad, with him standing at the center of it. The carpet a little shaggier, the couch a little more sway-backed. Even ruffled, Hawks is golden. Everything around him seems a little dimmer in comparison.

“It wasn’t about that,” he says. “For me, at least.”

Dabi watches him carefully. He snorts. “You were one of the good ones,” he says sardonically. “That’s why you’re here.” He shoulders past Hawks. It’s his apartment, why is he standing by the door like he doesn’t know what to do? “There are no good ones,” he says. “The sooner you figure that out, the better off you’ll be.”

“Maybe,” Hawks says softly behind him.

They end up in the bathroom, which is small for one person, much less two. Especially when one of them has a pair of whole-ass wings strapped to his back and is using feathers like his own personal nurses.

“Stop twitching,” Hawks says. A feather hovers next to him, cotton balls soaked with alcohol lined up like shot glasses, only significantly less fun. “The more you move, the longer this will take.”

Dabi gives him a sideways look. He’s seated backwards on the toilet, whose cheap plastic cover was not made to hold this kind of weight. Hawks is practically sitting on top of him, squeezed into the narrow space between the toilet and the wall. The shower head drips incessantly, like it always has.

“I said stop twitching.” Hawks grabs him by the chin and forces his head forward again. He inhales sharply and snatches his hand back.

His thumb and forefinger leave a warm impression behind on the scarred skin on Dabi’s chin, the ghost of real feeling. Bitterness curls in his gut. He knows his scarred skin feels—leathery and calloused, tortured almost beyond recognition—but he doesn’t have act so disgusted. As if he hasn’t seen worse, as if heroes have done worse--

“Sorry,” Hawks breathes, going pink. “Did that hurt?”

Dabi blinks, his train of thought derailed in a fiery explosion. No survivors. Hawks’ grip had been safely distance from the wound spreading over his cheek. He meant the scar tissue. “No,” he says, a beat too late, still shocked. “It doesn’t hurt.” It barely feels at all anymore. It’s only the places where the scarred tissue is stapled to healthier skin that actually hurts.

“Oh.” Hawks’ feathers ruffle like a sigh of relief. “Okay.” He takes Dabi’s chin more gingerly this time, angling his face at a better angle as he applies one of the alcohol soaked cotton balls to the wound spreading across Dabi’s cheek.

Dabi hisses as the cold alcohol burns the cracked skin. He hears Hawks smirk more than he sees it. “Guess you felt that.”

“Asshole.” But he doesn’t pull away. He sits perfectly still as Hawks cleans out the wound, his back straight and stiff, he’s hands lying uselessly on his knees. There’s something about being taken care of that makes him feel off-center, something strange but almost familiar, almost comforting. It’s not something he should get used to. He’s a feral animal, he reminds himself, his thumb pressing hard against one of the staples in his opposite wrist, caged and brought in from the cold for the night. This is only charity.

“What did you mean,” Hawks says, “about prodigies?”

Dabi’s eyes flicker upwards, but Hawks won’t meet them. He concentrates on cleaning the wound, the tip of his tongue poking out from between his teeth. Dabi suspects it’s a little more effort than strictly necessary. “What don’t you understand?”

“Who you are,” Hawks says. The alcohol burns, but he hardly feels it, even on the parts of him that are still whole. “How do I know you’re not just talking out of your ass?”

Dabi huffs a laugh. “Maybe I am,” he grunts, but there’s something about the hand at his chin, the steady strokes alone the cracks in his face. This is Shigaraki’s fault, he thinks, digging his thumb hard into the staple. Dabi likes pain he can control. But this--his face--it takes him back to a place where he couldn’t control anything. A place better left forgotten.

“Hey.” Hawks’ hand closes around his wrist and Dabi freezes, blood welling in slick red beads at the ends of the staple. They’re locked like that for a moment, like Hawks has realized he’s stepped over a line, but Dabi isn’t sure where the line is anymore. He should send fire rippling across his skin, should tear his hand away, should sneer. But he doesn’t. He pulls his thumb away for the staple, and even that stings.

Hawks drops his wrist.

“I was born to be my father’s successor,” Dabi says. He twists his hand and blue fire dances across his knuckles like a pet, leaving the skin pink and smarting. “I burned brighter, longer, hotter. I was him--but more. Except--” He snaps his fingers and the fire sparks only to disappear again. “For my mother’s poor constitution. Tch.” Rage flares, in the pit of his stomach, cold and flickering. “So yeah, I get prodigies. I was one. Until my father realized that I could still burn.” His scarred skin pulls, somehow both too tight and so loose it might fall right off, if not for the staples holding it in place.

Hawk’s feathers swirl around him, tidying up the cotton balls and fishing bandages out of the plastic shopping bag even as he stands completely still, his eyes trained downwards on Dabi’s hand, as if the fire was still flickering. Dabi used to think the black points at the corners of his eyes were part of his hero costume, when he bothered to think about him at all. From here he can see that it’s just part of his quirk, giving his eyes a permanently sharp look, like he really might be a hawk. The iris is golden.

“I was told I would be a hero from a young age,” Hawks says. He spins a feather in his fingers. Dabi didn’t see how it got there. “And I believed it. I wanted it. There was always a next step. Go to school. Get your provisional license. Become a hero.” He catches the feather between two fingers. “It’s like I thought that if I could do it fast enough, I’d be finished, and then I could be someone else. Someone I wanted to be. Like I had to earn it first. But they always want something more.” His grip tightens and the feather snaps. He looks down, surprised.

It’s like he comes back to himself. Like he remembers that he’s still wearing his hero costume, however rumpled. His eyes drag back up, away from the feather. “What’s your name, Dabi?” He asks. “Who are you?”

Dabi tilts his head back, his eyes half-lidded. “What’s your name, Hawks?”

Hawks goes quiet, exactly like Dabi knew he would. He works in silence, cutting pieces of medical tape with his teeth as he fixes a bandage over the worst of Dabi’s shattered cheek. He’ll have to take it off before he sees any of the League again, but for the moment he lets it stay. At least for the night.

“You were right,” Hawks murmurs. “She didn’t deserve it.” He pulls out one of the cartoon bandages Dabi had unwittingly chosen and plants it across the bridge of Dabi’s nose, where a thin crack extends almost as far as the corner of his eye. Hawks’ lips quirk. “Bad news,” he says. “I think it might scar.”

Chapter Text

Hawks didn’t realize anything could be worse than that shitty motel until he wakes up in Dabi’s apartment, inhaling a puff of dust straight from the couch upholstery. He sits up with a cough and a hack for good measure, better resembling a cat with a hairball than a hawk. Not cute.

Yesterday’s events hit him like a hangover and he slouches forward, his head in his hands. Did he really—

He’s not sure where to start. Let himself get arrested? Break out a murder suspect? Patch up a villain covered in so many scars already he’s barely held together? Not to mention take cosplay tips from a graveyard shift cashier. When did his life get so supremely weird?

Hawks stands so abruptly his head spins. Air. He needs some air.

“Leaving so soon?” Dabi leans against the doorframe to the bedroom, wearing the same ragged t-shirt and torn jeans he’d been wearing the night before. As soon as Hawks had finished dressing his wound he’d beat a hasty retreat, like a stray cat going to lick his wounds, and left Hawks to his own devices. Which would have been a perfect opportunity to search the place, he knows that, but he didn’t. Instead he’d passed out face first on the couch and called it a day. He doubts there’s anything worth finding underneath the dust and empty takeout containers anyways.

Until my father realized that I could still burn. Dabi’s scarred forearms had looked waxy in the sickly fluorescent light. Not quite real, except for the blood bubbling up under the staple as he’d pressed down on it.

But Dabi had been real. Not a villain, not an asset, but a person. It bothers him more than it should.

“I need to stretch my wings,” Hawks says, which isn’t a lie. Now that they’re very nearly grown back and have tasted action again, they’re itching to move. He’d already almost knocked over Dabi’s singular, sad floor lamp because he couldn’t keep them still. “Get some air. This place smells like a crypt.”

Dabi grunts. He doesn’t move to stop him, just slouches against the doorframe, his face still half-swathed with bandages. Hawks wonders if this is supposed to be a test too.

He swallows his paranoia and replaces it with resolve. No more tests. He’d said that, didn’t he? He’s an ally, not an initiate. The League will never respect him if he keeps following at Dabi’s heels like a puppy, begging for scraps. That’s not what he does. That’s not what a villain would do.

The thought makes his stomach turn. When did they start becoming the same thing? He needs to go, he needs to fly. He needs to do something ridiculously heroic, like save a bunch of schoolchildren from a burning building, to scrub the stain from his soul.

“Be back by sundown,” Dabi says. “You’re meeting the boss. Tonight.”

///

Tonight. He plays the word over and over in his head as he waits. Dabi says it differently every time, until he can’t quite remember how it actually sounded. Tonight. This is the break they’ve been waiting for.

No—this is the break they’ve been working toward. What he’s been working toward, thank you very much. Once he’s inside the League, the access he’ll have will make this all have been worth it.

It has to.

The safehouse is actually not a house at all, but an old abandoned storefront, which is almost enough to make him grateful that the commission more or less left him to his own devices after this all went south. The entire place smells like sawdust and mildew. Hawks sneezes.

“Well,” he drawls, “this wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it could always be wo—oh fuck.” Hawks turns the corner and immediately spins on his heel.

“Good to see you too,” Aizawa says dryly.

Hawks cringes and reluctantly turns back around. Aizawa leans against the wall of the grimy little office, his eyes bloodshot and his face half-buried in his capture weapon. Nothing unusual there, though there is a scabbed-over scrape on his forehead that Hawks think might be from him.

Lieutenant Nakajima sits behind the broken down desk someone left behind when the business went under and the property was snapped up by the hero commission. She’s a tall woman, made taller by the fact that she has antelope horns sloping back from her forehead.

Hawks shoots a thousand-watt grin at Aizawa. “No hard feelings?” Everything about yesterday feels like a dream now, and it doesn't seem fair that his waking self has to deal with the consequences. He’s not Hawks--traitor, defector, who kidnaps murder suspects and plays nurse with wanted felons because he doesn’t want to see a wound like that get infected.

He’s Hawks--hero, liar, spy. He doesn't get to decide who deserves it or not.

“This is a surprise,” Hawks says, his smile dimming. His heart gallops and his wings twitch, urging him to get the fuck out of there. “I didn’t know I needed a handler.” Especially Nakajima. Despite having an antelope quirk, she’s more of a shark. She’s been pushing him to act more decisively since the beginning, as if the League were a wall you could take a blunt instrument to.

“We didn’t know you needed handling,” Nakajima counters. “What the hell was that?”

“What the hell is this?” He jerks his head toward where Aizawa slouches, seemingly unaffected. “Last time I heard from you, I was on my own.” His voice comes out sharper than he meant, betraying his fraying nerves. Nakajima is one thing, the commission has had their fingers in this since the beginning, but he doesn’t like involving other heroes. It’s bad enough he’s already dragged Miruko into this.

What’s next? All Might? Endeavour? The thought nearly makes him pull a face.

“Eraserhead has been brought in as a special consultant,” Nakajima says evenly, like she rehearsed it. “As you know, we fear the League has infiltrated UA. We hope that bringing the two operations together can help us work more cohesively.”

A rare show of inter-departmental agreement. If he’d known it was that easy, he would have beat up a teacher a long time ago.

“How did you know about Iwasaki?” Aizawa asks, and despite his casual posture, his eyes burn into Hawks, so focused they might cut pieces out of him. “Where is she?”

“What does the League want with her?” Nakajima adds, leaning across the desk, her hands splayed. “If the League is recruiting children we need to know.”

“Hey. Hey! Slow down.” Hawks waves away their flurry of questions, his head pounding. He presses the heels of his palms against his forehead. “Iwasaki isn’t—Iwasaki is fine. She’s gone.”

“What do you mean gone?” Aizawa asks icily.

“I mean I let her go.” He trips over the lie, but sticks the landing. Dabi let her go, but they don’t need to know that. He doesn’t know when he started keeping secrets from the commission too, but it feels too much like tipping his hand. “She’s probably out of the country by now.”

Nakajima looks at him like he’s grown a second head, which she should be used to. He knows for a fact that Hayashi in accounting can do exactly that. “You let her go,” she repeats. “Are you—Hawks, she’s sixteen years old. She murdered her parents.”

“Sorry,” Hawks snaps, not feeling very sorry at all. His wings mantle over his shoulders defensively. “I didn’t realize she’d be better off in jail.”

Nakajima’s lips thin. “We could have protected her there.”

“You should have protected her a long time ago!” He rounds on Aizawa, his face flushed. Every feather quivers. “You knew she didn’t want to be a hero. You knew what you were sending her back to! What do you think they did after she got expelled from one of the top hero courses in the country? Whatever she did to them, they—they probably fucking deserved it.”

Shit, shit, shit. He’s said too much. All it took what a couple words and he’s on that roof again, watching himself fall apart at the seams. He wants to run away. He wants to walk off of a tall roof and not open his wings until he can count the hairs on the heads of the people below.

“You’re right,” Aizawa says softly. “I made a mistake.”

Hawks’ wings deflate. Somehow it’s worse, hearing Aizawa own up to it. How many times has he imagined himself in the same place, facing someone faceless but tall--his parents, his teachers, the monolith of the hero commission itself? He bites down on his simmering resentment and puts it back where it belongs, deep inside his heart, where even he can’t see it fully.

He shakes out his wings and straightens his back. Fuck it. Fuck them. He has a job to do.

“The League isn’t recruiting children,” he says stiffly. “It was just a test. That I passed, thanks for asking.” He raps his knuckles against the desk. “I’m meeting with the League. Tonight.”

“Good.” Nakajima’s eyes gleam. She doesn’t need to say it’s about time.

He knows. He knows. He needs to move faster. Maybe now he can. He tries to imagine himself waking up in his own bed with his cat on his chest, but it feels a lot farther away than a dust-choked old couch.

“Have you gotten any hits on the picture I sent you?” He sinks his hands into his pocket, dutifully not looking at Aizawa. He doesn’t know how much Aizawa knows, but it must be a hell of a lot of Nakajima invited him here.

“Focus on the League itself, Hawks,” Nakajima says, a warning in her voice. “The League and Shigaraki. That’s what we need to prioritize.”

She’s right, as much as he bristles under the clear dismissal. But he still finds himself lingering, his fingers wrapped around a loose string in the lining of his pocket. “His father has a fire quirk too,” he says. “If that helps.” It might not, a lot of people inherit their quirk directly from one parent the other, and elemental quirks are far from rare. He wants to say more, but he bites his tongue. The commission doesn’t need to know the extent of that conversation.

He turns away. He’s not sure if he imagines the flickering glance Aizawa and Nakajima share.

Hawks takes a deep breath as he steps out of the gutted little shop and into the back alley. The air smells like garbage and rat urine, but at least there’s a breeze ruffling his feathers. He stretches his wings and prepares to fly, wishing he still had his visor. He’s still wearing his hero uniform, though it’s starting to smell a little musty, but his flight gear had been too unwieldy to pack. He can survive without it. He has before.

“Wait,” Aizawa says behind him, but Hawks ignores him. He’s had his meeting. He’s done now.

Hawks raises his wings--

And stumbles forward as the sensation in his feathers goes numb. He curses and catches himself against the grimy alley wall, his wings flapping awkwardly to keep from from tipping forward onto his face. He’s sure he could still get airborn like this, but it’s like having water in his ear. Everything is off-balanced and muffled in a way that feels like a precursor for eating concrete, or the side of an office building.

“Cut that out!” He snaps, whirling around. “What do you want?”

Aizawa stands on the crumbled step leading back into the safehouse, the door safely closed between them and Nakajima. Hawks twitches restlessly under the weight of his gaze. For someone who constantly looks like he’s on the wrong side of an eye exam, Aizawa has a weighty stare. His eyes lose their glow, and feeling returns to his wings like blood to a limb.

“I wanted to say…” Aizawa nods. “No hard feelings.”

“Oh.” He deflates slightly. “Great. I mean--I’m glad.” That’s twice now Aizawa’s seen him lose control. He cringes internally. “If that’s all then--”

“I’ve been undercover before,” Aizawa says, cutting him off as if he hadn’t spoken at all. He steps out into the alley, his hands in his pockets in a permanent slouch. “Days, weeks, months. It takes its toll on you. It’s bad enough when you’re on your own, but when it’s public like this? Shit’s hard. I get it. I’ve been watching the news.”

Hawks smiles weakly. He can’t imagine what his favorite news pundits had to say about his latest escapade. “I haven’t even looked at Twitter.”

Aizawa snorts softly. “You shouldn’t.”

There have been plenty of heroes who have tried to parent him, or take him under their wing as if he doesn’t have a perfectly fine pair of his own. They see a young face and a meteoric rise to the top and they think it was a fluke he got this far without them. He’s spent plenty of time proving them wrong.

But this is different. Aizawa isn’t trying to be his parent or his teacher or even his handler, and Hawks isn’t trying to be the cocksure young number two hero. At this point, he’s really just trying to hold himself together.

Aizawa punches him lightly on the shoulder, and it could be a trick of the light, but he’s almost smiling. “Remember who you are, hero.”

///

It’s well past sundown by the time they’re standing in front of the old factory. Hawks has exchanged his flight jacket for a battered old North Face with slits cut in the back for his wings, his feathers fluffed up against the chill. Dabi doesn’t seem to notice the bite of the wind. He leans against the rusty building with his head tipped back, dragging disinterestedly off a cigarette. The end glows like a firefly in the dark.

“What should I expect?” Hawks says, poorly disguising the fact that he’s restless. Not nervous so much as nervy, bouncing on the balls of his feet. This is what it’s all been for, and yet this is only the first step in a much longer game. He needs to impress Shigaraki, or at the very least convince him.

Dabi considers him through half-lidded eyes. He’s taken the bandage off his face, leaving the wound exposed to the open air. “He thinks you might be a spy.”

Hawks does the only thing he can do. He laughs.

“You think I’d be here if I had another choice?” He scoffs, kicking the ground. His heart thunders in his chest. “I know you think hero life is all gold-plated toilets and caviar, but there’s not enough money in the world to be worth sleeping on that couch of yours.”

Dabi only smirks. “Didn’t say I thought you were,” he drawls and he flicks his cigarette butt onto the concrete. “Come on,” he says and he peels himself off the wall. Hawks can’t tell if he’s responding to some unspoken signal or if he’s just decided he’s done fucking with him for the evening.

The factory reminds him of the safehouse, dusty and gone to ruin, a part of an old industrial park that’s seen better days. The air is stale and stagnant, threatening to make him sneeze. Scant moonlight cuts through the grimey windows, but otherwise the factory is swathed in shadow, turning old machinery into monsters. Hawks’ head twitches. He thought he saw one move.

“I know the aesthetic is important, but have you guys considered investing in a couple of lamps?” Hawks grumbles the third time he nearly trips over debris in his path. He’s a hawk, not an owl. Sharp vision only does him so good when he can only see two feet ahead of him. He swears and kicks it away, sending it clattering into the dark. “Dabi? Are you--”

He looks up. Behind him. Three-hundred and sixty degrees, like a dog chasing his own tail. Dabi is gone, having melted into the dark like he was never wholly real to begin with.

“Fuck.”

Dabi acts like he’s barely paying attention, but he’s thought this out. The factory is the perfect location to put Hawks for a fight, short of a fucking elevator. The ceiling is high but tangled with cabling and steel catwalks. The floor is even worse, practically claustrophobic with haphazard towers of wooden crates and hulking machinery gone to rust. Plenty of perches but no room to spread his wings. And that’s just the silhouettes he’s managed to make out in the dark. Hawks takes a step back, pressing his back against a rusted out machine, one of his primary feathers already in one hand. It’s a good place for a fight if you’re someone besides him.

If Dabi intends to betray him. He scans the dark, searching for the gleam of his eyes or one of those staples catching the moonlight. That little if is growing smaller by the second.

Something drops from above him and he crosses his arms defensively over his head. A knife flashes just long enough to cut his arm and then it’s gone again, footsteps pattering off into the dark. He throws a feather after them, but it only gets twenty feet before it imbeds itself in the side of a machine. Shit. He needs his visor. He’d kill to have the night vision function right now.

He hates leaving his back exposed, but he hates being trapped more. Hawks turns and runs back the way he came, toward where moonlight spills through the tall, cracked windows. If he can just get outside, he can fly, and if he can fly--

A figure steps out in front of him, so suddenly that Hawks has to throw himself sideways, a knife grazing his chest. Spinner. He’s read everything the commission has on the League of Villains, and with his scaly skin and frankly over-the-top hair, Spinner is an easy one to pick out of a line up.

He’s also fast, but Hawks is faster. He leaps into the air and plants a boot in Spinner’s chest, knocking him backwards. One of Spinner’s knives flashes through the air, glancing off one of the crates behind Hawks. Hawks’ feet hit the ground again with a thud, his wings banging painfully against the crates hedging in the narrow walkway. He curses and staggers back, his feather sword already held out horizontal to deflect the next blow that never comes. When he looks up, Dabi has materialized ahead of him, holding Spinner’s head between his hands. His eyes glow lightning blue, his mouth stretched into a feral grin.

“Do you want a hint?” He practically purrs. His hands jerk and Spinner’s neck breaks with a clean snap! Hawks jerks like a fish on a line, one hand thrown out on instinct, though there’s a good ten feet between them. Dabi laughs. “They’re not real.”

Spinner’s body melts through Dabi’s fingers, into a pile of gritty mud on the concrete.

“You bastard,” Hawks spits, lashing out with his feather sword, but Dabi is gone again, leaving little else but footprints in the mud. Another fucking test. How many times is he going to have to prove himself?

But this isn’t one of Dabi’s esoteric lessons on morality. The Spinner might have been fake, but his knives were real, and he hadn’t been pulling any punches. If this is a test, it’s not one he can afford to fail.

He needs to find high ground. On the floor he’s caught in a web of darkness, every piece of machinery casting a new shadow. He uses the sharp shaft of his feather to climb onto the stack of heavy crates, driving it into the half-rotted wood and using it to pull himself up until there’s enough space to move his wings. He hops from one tower to the other, his footsteps ringing hollow as he dashes across the broad back of a piece of machinery.

Two more Spinners dash after him. Twice--Hawks knew he had a cloning quirk, but the commission didn’t know how powerful it was. Clearly a lot more than he bargained for.

Hawks spins around and throws out a leg, tripping one of the Spinners so that he falls off the machinery. The other he kicks in the forehead, using him as a stepping stone to get airborne. Hawks lands on the railing of one of the catwalks in a crouch. The entire structure groans.

Something moves in his periphery and all he thinks is compress. It’s all over if Mr. Compress lays a hand on him.

Hawks lashes out with his feather sword and takes Compress’ hand off at the wrist.

There’s a spurt of blood, dark against the red of Hawk’s feather, and then Mr. Compress melts into mud too.

Somewhere to his left blue fire sends light rippling through the darkness, making the shadows dance and jump. Hawks runs in the opposite direction, leaping over the puddle Compress left behind and taking off down the catwalk. He doesn’t know if Dabi has been copied too. He doesn’t really want to find out.

He comes to a junction between catwalks and skids to a stop.

Another Hawks sits on the railing, kicking his legs idly and sucking on a lollipop. His wings hang over the side. A copy? No, he knows that smile.

Hawks’ wings droop. He was right, outside the factory. He does not get paid enough for this bullshit. “You know,” he says. “I think I had a dream about this once.”

Toga grins, and she manages to make even Hawks’ teeth look sharp. “Oh,” she breathes. “You’re fun.” She hops onto the catwalk, spreading her wings like a challenge.

Whatever qualms he might have had about fighting himself quickly end when Toga lunges at him. It quickly becomes clear that while she has his wings, she doesn’t have control over his quirk, the feathers useless to her. She does, however, have a sizable knife. They dance across the catwalk, Hawks parrying with his feather sword as she endeavors to cut out his kidneys. Finally he manages to lock their blades and twist, knocking the knife out of her hands. He knocks it over the edge of the catwalk with his foot the same moment he grabs his other self by the collar and shoves Toga against the railing, tipping her backwards. She might have his wings, but no way she knows how to use them. Just one shove over the edge and--

A hand yanks him back. He collides with Dabi’s chest, his wings crammed between them. “Slow down, tiger,” Dabi says in his ear. “She’s real.”

When he looks again, Toga is gone.

Hawks pulls himself free. “What the hell is this?” He hisses, rounding on Dabi. Is he real? He can’t tell. He can’t--he’s losing his fucking mind here. “Are you trying to kill me?”

Dabi only grins in response, so wide that the staples at the corners of his mouth pull. There’s a fanatic gleam in his eye, making the blue burn as hot as the fire crawling up his hands. The catwalk groans and sags as more copies climb over the side. “If you need help,” he says. “Ask.”

“Fuck you,” Hawks spits, but he throws his primary feather like a javelin, taking out a Mr. Compress copy before it can reach Dabi. Dabi laughs.

Dabi isn’t necessarily a good fighter. Hawks has never really noticed before, but fighting back to back, sometimes pressed so close that he can feel waves of heat from Dabi’s fire against his wings, it’s impossible not to see. He fights like someone who was almost trained but dropped out halfway, his stances familiar and steady but his actions loose, reckless, backed by sheer energy and power but lacking any sense of finesse. The catwalk shrieks and tilts, weakening as Dabi’s fire heats the air around it to an almost unbearable degree.

Hawks loses his footing as he throws a Toga copy, one that actually looks like the girl herself, over the side. Dabi grabs him by the front, steadying him. His hand is hot, the palm scorched red and blistered between his fingers. He looms over Hawks like a monster built from shadow, the railing digging into Hawk’s back. In an instant there’s a feather in his hands, the sharp edge pressed against his throat.

And then Dabi kisses him--his mouth is hot too, close to burning, just as sudden and reckless as the way he fights. Sudden enough that the edge of Hawk’s feather cuts a thin line into Dabi’s throat before Hawks can yank it back, his eyes going wide. Dabi laughs against his lips like he doesn't mind the blood.

Hawks pulls back, and in the moment he’s almost forgotten the unsteady catwalk under their feet or the darkness or the fact that his hair is slicked back with sweat. He blinks. “Are you real?”

The catwalk buckles with a furious shriek and Hawks’ head jerks sideways in time to see one of Dabi’s hands on the railing beside him, the metal sagging as it melts. Dabi winks, and the catwalk splits in two.

Hawks kicks off from the broken metal as he falls and catches himself on a tangle of cabling on the way down, swinging forward and using his wings to coast into an empty part of the floor, the old machinery bowed low so that moonlight can cut across the stained and cracked concrete. Hawks crouches as he hits the ground, breathing heavily, drenched with sweat under his jacket. He can’t do this forever. He touches his lips, still smarting, still tingling in a way he doesn’t want to address right now, and his fingers come away bloody. Dabi bit his fucking lip--

Hawks whirls around, the primary feather in his hand going sharp so suddenly it slices his own fingers. Blood dribbles down his wrist as he holds the edge to Shigaraki Tomura’s throat.

Shigaraki’s hand is outstretched, all five fingers splayed, a fraction of an inch from Hawks’ face.

“Hawks.” Shigaraki’s voice is like a rusted gate, and he has no doubt that this one isn’t a copy. Dabi stands over his shoulder, his chin tilted imperiously, a thin stripe of blood across his throat. “We finally meet.”

Chapter Text

The old factory is silent except for the ragged scrape of Hawks’ breath as they stand locked in a strange embrace; Hawks’ feather sharp against Shigaraki’s throat and Shigaraki’s hand so close to closing around Hawks’ face that Hawks can only see his face through his splayed fingers. He’s seen what Shigaraki’s quirk can do. The cracks in Dabi’s skin have crusted over, the scab beaded with blood where it’s broken.

But no matter how fast Shigaraki might be, Hawks is faster. One twitch and Shigaraki’s throat will open like a grin. The muscles in his arm burn.

Hawks drops his arm and lets his primary feather go back to his wing, where it joins the others gladly. He exhales slowly, trying to control his wildly beating heart. A show of trust.

A leap of faith. It goes against every instinct he has.

Shigaraki lowers his hand slowly. The palm is rough and cracked, belonging to a man three times his age. His quirk isn’t without drawbacks then. Hawks makes a mental note for the commissions file. Maybe if they lock down the world’s supply of hand cream and chapstick they’ll win this one once and for all.

“I’ve heard a lot about you, Hawks,” Shigaraki says, tilting his head like a curious cat. His eyes gleam between the splayed fingers of the hand fixed over his face. Hawks doesn’t want to know where you get that many spare hands. “They were so quick to turn on you, weren’t they? Like they’d just been waiting for something like this.”

Yeah, he knows. “You have to admit,” Hawks says. “It does make good TV.”

Other members of the League watch from perches on the machinery around them. Toga tips a knife back and forth like a pendulum, back in her own shape. For now.

“Dabi says that you were useful. Once.” The word hits like a raindrop in a bucket, sending ripples in every direction. Hawks’ wings tense, every feather vibrating gently. Once. When things were easy and he still thought they were hard, the hero playing the villain when no one but Dabi was looking. Now his life has spun upside down and it’s the other way around. Remember who you are, hero. Aizawa made it sound so easy.

“What I’m not sure of is what you think you can offer the League now.” Shigaraki slinks around him, circling, sizing him up. Hawks’ eyes dart to Dabi’s and away again, refusing to track Shigaraki’s movement but keeping tabs on his position all the same. The shuffle of his feet against the concrete, the way his body stirs the air when it moves. The way a hawk tracks a field mouse through the tall grass.

“You had to recruit copies to take me in a fight,” Hawks says, “and you still lost.” The mud-like splatter on the floor still makes his skin crawl. They hadn’t been real, but the moment before they fell apart, it still felt like they might be. He’d almost pushed Toga over the side of the catwalk, knowing that her false wings wouldn’t catch her, before Dabi stopped him. “That’s got to be worth something.”

“I have fighters. I have nomu.” Shigaraki stops in front of him again, and somewhere along the way, he pulled the hand over his face free. His cracked lips are peeled back, not quite a grimace but far from a smile. His eyes burn, but there’s something strangely fragile about him, like a grip so hard it’s about to snap.

It hasn’t escaped Hawks’ notice that every member of the League is a little bit broken. They lurk behind their leader, a band of misfit toys. The real Mr. Compress has what looks to be a prosthetic arm, his knuckles flashing metallic. Twice is muttering to himself, clutching at his head. Spinner gently rubs a long scratch on his reptilian nose, which makes Hawks think he might have gotten a hit on the real deal during the fray. Toga is either a literal child, or does her damndest to look like one.

“Tell me why I need you,” Shigaraki barks. Hawks’ feathers stir, every edge razor sharp. “Tell me why I need a hero now when I never needed one before.”

Dabi stands with his shoulders loose, his hands in his pockets, as if he couldn’t care less how this ends. He smiles crookedly, almost to himself, and the movement tugs at the staples holding him together.

Shigaraki leans forward. “What can you give me,” he hisses, “that no one else can?”

Hawks’ eyes stick on Dabi, over Shigaraki’s shoulder, as reality slowly crystallizes around him. His heart is still hammering from the fight, or maybe from the kiss, or maybe just because he’s about to do something very, very stupid.

“You took out All Might. You almost took out Endeavor,” Hawks says, tearing his eyes away and fixing them on Shigaraki. “Hell, you took out me, I guess. That’s the top three heroes, right there. And what’s changed?”

People are afraid. They watch the news and scroll through Twitter and wonder who is going to let them down next. They wonder when this is going to all fall apart. They wonder what the last straw will be.

Hawks is most afraid that it might be him.

“Nothing,” Hawks says. He leans forward, crowding Shigaraki right back. He hasn’t gotten this far by being demure. The world likes heroes that are bright and gregarious, who shine so bright and so immediately that you think you might actually know them. People that can’t be ignored. He tips his head forward, narrowing his eyes. “Nothing has changed. Heroes retire every day, and there’s always someone to replace them. Why do you think that is? You keep looking at the now when you should be looking at the future.”

Back when he was in school, when he was feeling rebellious and it all got to be too much, he’d fly up, up, into the endless sky, where no one could follow him. Few in the school could fly, and none as fast as he did. He’d climb until the air grew thin, until frost formed on the tips of his hair, until his wings trembled like they might fall apart. He could lose his wings today and he’d never forget the dizzying rush of the blood pounding in his ears and the howl of the wind, sharp enough to bring tears to his eyes.

That’s what this feels like now. The climb. The moment before he turns and tips downwards, back toward the earth waiting for him below.

“I can give you the place where heroes are made,” Hawks says. “I can give you UA.”

///

Aizawa slams Hawks into the wall, his hand curled in the front of his shirt. The entire building trembles.

“What were you thinking?” Aizawa snarls.

Hawks winces as his wings squash awkwardly between his back and the wall, but he doesn’t fight back. That’s fair. A lot of things aren’t right now, but Aizawa’s anger is justified.

But it’s much too late to turn back now. That’s been clear since the beginning. Hawks went to sleep expecting to wake up from a bad dream, but in the light of day, nothing has changed.

“Shigaraki didn’t trust me,” Hawks says. He doesn’t think that Dabi would lie about that. Anything else in the whole world maybe, but not something that’d give him the opportunity to see Hawks squirm. “I had to give him something he couldn’t turn down.”

Nakajima inspects her hoof-like fingernails in a show of boredom as she waits for the scene to play out and get back to business, but he’d seen her eyebrows jump when he gave his report. She’s intrigued.

“This is a joint operation, right? Right?” Hawks holds up his hands, palms out. It isn’t as much a show of harmlessness when you have hundreds of razor-sharp feathers at your beck and call, but the intention is there. “This could be where it all comes together. We can flush out UA’s traitor and scope out the League’s strength. They’ll pull out all the stops for UA. I’ll make sure they will. And when they’re all in one place, we’ll arrest them. Once and for all.”

And then it’s over. Without its core, the League will fracture, and all that will be left to do is mop up the mess.

Aizawa’s expression is hard, his lips curled halfway toward a snarl. It’s as much emotion as Hawks has ever seen him express. “The students aren’t involved,” he says. “The League has already targeted one of them before. I won’t put them through that again. There’s no All Might to get him back this time.”

The name All Might drops like a bomb, and in the wake, even Aizawa looks like he regrets it. He drops Hawks’ shirt and steps back, giving him room to breathe again.

“I’m afraid the students are involved whether we like it or not,” Nakajima finally steps in. “The League are hardly going to attack an empty school.”

“They’re children,” Aizawa retorts.

Something deep in Hawks’ chest, some sense of grace and composure and meticulous compartmentalization, that he’s been holding together since his meeting with Shigaraki splits down the middle. “They’re heroes,” Hawks snaps, pushing off the wall. This time he’s the one crowding Aizawa. “This is what they signed up for.”

Aizawa’s voice goes cold. “You’re out of line, Hawks.”

Hawks freezes, realizing just how close he’s gotten, his eyes narrowed and dangerous as if he’s standing in front of Shigaraki again, trying to convince him that he’s a friend worth having, or at least an ally too valuable to let go. He swallows hard and steps back, lowering his wings. He’s not a villain here.

“Nothing is happening today,” Nakajima says, waving away the tension in the air. Or trying to. Aizawa still eyes him carefully, making Hawks’ wings hunch. At least Aizawa hadn’t used his quirk on him. He’s not sure he could recover from that sharp an admonishment. “Or tomorrow. I still have to discuss this with the commission before we move forward with anything.”

It’s a dismissal. Nakajima is fond of them. Hawks scuffs the toe of his boot against the safe house’s bare concrete floor, feeling like a reprimanded student. He hadn’t expected anyone to like the idea, but they don’t need to act like he’d been chomping at the bit to endanger the lives of children. It’s about making sacrifices. Isn’t that what they’ve always told him? No one has ever hesitated to sacrifice his safety for the greater good.

Hawks bites down on his resentment, but this time some of it slips out. “You weren’t there,” he says stiffly. “I had to make a choice.”

///

It’s another bad night, not quite raining, but close. It reminds Hawks of the night this all came to a head, the camera flash like a lightning strike, cracking his entire life in two. He trudges up to Dabi’s apartment building, his hands sunk in his jacket pockets and his hair frizzing with humidity. The League still doesn't trust him enough to take him back to wherever their evil lair or whatever is, but Hawks is okay with that, at least for the moment. He’d rather crash on Dabi’s smelly couch than have to wonder if he’s going to wake up to find Toga sitting on his chest with a knife in her hands.

Which still might happen, but at least he’d probably hear the door open first.

He’s about to take the stairs when he looks up, his instincts prickling. It’s dark, an almost moonless night, and the light from the flickering street lamps doesn’t reach as far as the roof. But he can see the burning end of a cigarette, like a much closer star.

He should probably take the stairs. But--

But it’s been a long day, a long week, a long year, and he doesn’t want to play by the rules right now. He wants to do what he was made to and fly.

He doesn’t actually fly, but it’s close enough. He uses his wings for a little extra lift as he jumps and catches the edge of the outdoor stairwell, swinging his body upward and gaining his footing on the little ledge before going for the next story. The strain pulls on his muscles still sore from his fight with the League copies the night before, but he likes the feeling. It reminds him of when he was young and first conditioning his body so that it would be strong even without the telekinetic nature of his feathers. So that so long as he had his wings, he’d be able to fly.

So maybe he cheats a little to nail the flip over the edge of the roof, but this isn’t the Olympics, there are no rules against using your quirk to show off. His feet hit the roof and he immediately sweeps into a bow, one hand extended to receive any and all applause.

Dabi raises an eyebrow, cigarette dangling lazily between two fingers. “You’re in a good mood,” he says.

Hawks comes out of the bow, ruffling his feathers primly. He’s not sure how he’s supposed to act around Dabi anymore—a lot has changed in the past twenty-four hours, with not a lot of time left in between to process it. But he’s not about to show it, not if that means Dabi wins whatever weird game he hasn’t told Hawks the rules to yet. Hawks strolls across the rooftop and leans backwards against the edge next to where Dabi leans forward, his elbows resting on the low wall. Hawks drapes his wings over the side, trusting the dark and the fact that no one in a place like this is about to call the police.

“A terrible mood, actually,” he says, “but I’m trying to make the best of it.”

Dabi considers him silently for a moment, his eyes electric blue even in the half-light, before he snorts softly. He silently offers Hawks the cigarette.

Hawks wrinkles his nose. “Are you kidding?” He scoffs. “Sorry, I’m only allowed one vice and I chose fried chicken a long time ago. The body is a temple and all that jazz.”

“Temples get desecrated all the time,” Dabi says in a way that makes Hawk’s cheeks grow warm. Dabi pretends not to notice, but Hawks catches a smile at the edge of his mouth as he puts the cigarette back to his lips. “Suit yourself.”

“You need two working lungs to be the fastest airspeed hero on record, you know.” His bites his tongue a second too late, cringing inwards. Hero. He considers how to dig himself out of this one, and ends up ducking his head. The best lie is the truth, he reminds himself. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

Dabi exhales, smoke trailing from his mouth like a dragon. “Old habits die hard,” he says.

Hawks swallows hard. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, they do.”

He peeks up, watching Dabi out of the corner of his eye. He’s an adult, he reminds himself. He’s a professional, even. He can have this conversation like a normal person. “What was that about?” He asks. “Back at the old factory.”

Dabi shrugs with one shoulder. “Shigaraki and his gamer shit.” He scratches idly at the scabbed over cracks stretched across his cheek. The scab is patchy and crusted with dried blood where he’s picked at it to the point of bleeding, but this time he’s careful to scratch around the wound instead of right through it. Like he knows Hawks might pull his hand away if he did. “He wanted to scope out what level you were or something. I stopped listening.”

Weird. Definitely weird. But not what he meant. His wings rustle as they shift, loud against the soft night. “Not what I was asking.”

Dabi tilts his head, considering. “Why don’t you tell me what you think it was?” He says. “Come on, hero. You can read a crime scene.”

Hawks falters. “You’re not a crime scene.” Or maybe they all are. Dabi’s staples glow faintly in the dim, gauzy light. His seams are more obvious than the rest, but Hawks can feel his own pulling more and more, like old scar tissue threatening to split.

Dabi’s smile tilts, but he doesn’t respond. He just waits.

Hawks leans forward, his arm against the edge of the roof. Dabi smells like cigarette smoke and cold ash. Dabi leans against the wall, lanky and languid and lazy, but beneath the folds of his coat, he’s tense like a garrote wire. This close, Hawks can feel it.

Hawks grins to hide the way his heart is pounding in his chest. Why is he doing this? He’s had his meeting with Shigaraki and the rest of the League, he’s got his hands on his half-baked plan to end it all. For the first time in a long time there’s something of an end in sight, and he doesn’t necessarily need Dabi to get to it. He doesn’t have to do this.

He doesn’t have to think about about scars and fire and who deserves what. He just has to do his fucking job, just like he always has. It should be easy.

Instead he leans in a little further. “I think,” he says, teasing, “that you might actually like me.”

Dabi’s eyes shift, like he’s searching for something in Hawks’ face. “Don’t count on it,” he murmurs, but he doesn’t move away. He grinds his cigarette out against the wall.

It’s not raining, but almost. A light mist makes the world hazy, turning the street lamps to soft yellow halos below. Hawks feathers shift and fluff unhappily against the moisture, trying to remind him that he’s not a duck. He ignores them. The moment is delicate, like the edge of a knife. One wrong move, and it’ll cut.

Maybe that’s okay. He reaches out and brushes the thin scab across Dabi’s throat, where his feather had accidentally cut into skin when Dabi kissed him. For a moment back there he’d thought that Dabi was just another copy, but there it is, one more seam on his broken doll body. Dabi’s skin is always a little bit cold, but maybe that’s just the rain.

Dabi’s wound extends across his cheek and down his neck, where the already scarred skin split. He still hasn’t asked why Shigaraki gave it to him. Because of him? He can’t ask that. The thought that Dabi might have taken a risk for him--might have suffered for it--makes the delicate thing in his chest tremble and threaten to crack. I’m betraying you, he wants to say, if only to remember what the truth tastes like. This is a lie. Everything’s a lie. The man you know isn’t real.

Is he?

Hawks’ lips part. He looks up--and freezes.

Dabi is taller than him, even with the way he slouches. He has to angle his head downwards to meet Hawks’ eyes the way they’re standing--too close, Hawks shivering as the damp seeps between his feathers. Beads of water collect on Dabi’s hair. His eyes are blue.

Electric blue. Heart-of-a-fire blue. The wound from Shigaraki’s quirk extends upwards, across one eye to cut through his eyebrow. He’s seen eyes like that before.

“Oh fuck.” He jerks back, tripping over his own feet. His wings flare out to catch him.

There’s an instant, not even a full heartbeat, where Dabi’s eyes widen as if he’d been slapped. And then they narrow, his shock hidden behind a carefully choreographed sneer. “It’s worse up close, isn’t it?” Dabi leers. “Well, I’ve never been the belle of the ball.”

“No, it’s not--” Hawks reaches out as if to grab him, but he can’t complete the movement. His hands are shaking, his blood racing with adrenaline he doesn't know how to spend. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Those eyes. How did he never notice those eyes before?

Dabi glares and he looks entirely himself again. His eyes are a deeper shade of blue, his wound a half-healed scab, not a scar. But Hawks can’t shake the phantom image he saw overtop of Dabi’s face, so familiar it was like looking into another time. His thoughts race.

Maybe it doesn’t mean anything it all. Maybe he’s losing his mind.

But--

There still hasn’t been a hit on facial recognition from the picture Hawks’ sent the commission, and Nakajima had brushed it off so easily when Hawks tried to inquire about it. Maybe the commission really does think its a waste of time. Maybe they don’t care who the League is, so long as they’re apprehended.

Or maybe there’s something they’re not telling him.

He takes a step back, his boots crunching against the gravel of the roof. “I just--I have to go. There’s just something--I need to think.” He takes another step back, pulling away reluctantly, looking back, almost pleading. He doesn’t want to leave, but he can’t stay. “Okay?” He wants Dabi to understand somehow, but Dabi only watches him, his eyes narrowed like a cat’s. One step forward, two steps back. He’s not sure Dabi will forgive him for this.

But he needs to think. He needs to be sure. He can’t ask Dabi himself, because he already has once.

What’s your name, Dabi? Who are you?

What’s your name, Hawks?

Hawks raises his wings and throws himself into the air, leaving the roof behind as the mist steadily turns to rain.

///

It’s pouring by the time he lands on Miruko’s balcony, soaking his wings to the bone and plastering his hair against his skull. He must look like a half-drowned kitten begging to table scraps as he knocks on the sliding glass door.

He doesn’t care. His lungs burn from the flight over, giving him something to focus on besides the fact that he can’t seem to catch his breath. He fucked up. He know he fucked up, but he doesn’t know what else he was supposed to do. Dabi is probably telling Shigaraki what happened at this very moment. The tentative trust they’ve built, crushed. Months of work, wasted. He’ll be lucky if the League refuses to speak to him again. He’ll be lucky if they don’t kill him.

He doesn’t feel very lucky right now.

The door slides open and Miruko yanks him inside by the front of his shirt. He has to squeeze his wings close to fit them through the door, and immediately bite back the urge to shake them like a dog. Instead he drips miserably onto Miruko’s kitchen tile, his wings sagging so low they rest against the ground. He sways.

Miruko holds him by the shoulders, as much keeping him upright as she is taking in the sorry sight. She’s still wearing her hero costume, with a windbreaker thrown overtop. The back advertises some health food store. Marketers love the whole rabbit schtick. They don’t know that she subsists mainly off of protein shakes and dry cereal.

“What happened?” She asks.

She thinks it was the League. She thinks he’s in danger. Maybe he is.

“I need your help,” he says. His lips are numb, the words far away. He’s cold down to the bone, his clothes hanging off of him like a circus tent. He misses his costume.

“Okay,” she says, without missing a beat.

His heart twists guiltily. “It might cost your job.”

“I said okay, didn’t I?” Miruko says. “What are we doing, and can it wait until it’s stopped raining?”

Chapter Text

A hot shower and a change of clothes washes the rain off of him. It makes him feel a little closer to human, even if he ends up in shorts and an oversized UA sweater.

“You definitely own something that fits me besides booty shorts,” Hawks complains, tugging on the hoodie’s strings until the hood threatens to close over his face.

“But then I wouldn’t get to see those beautiful chicken legs,” Miruko says, pinching at his calves until he squawks and kicks her away. She’s trying to make him feel better. It’s not working, but the effort has to be worth something.

Her smile flags, her ears twitching backwards. “You’ve got to stop beating yourself up over this, man,” she says. “We don’t know anything yet.”

Hawks’ wings hunch, casting him in shadow. Miruko’s apartment is comfortably humble for someone who ranks in the top ten. On one of the upper floors, with an expensive security system for some degree of anonymity, but otherwise it might have been the same as if she were a 9 to 5 on the street hero still trying to make it big. He’s never felt quite right in his own apartment, like it was someplace he was just watching for someone else. The walls made him feel trapped, the blink of the digital clock a reminder that the world was still outside, moving forward whether he was watching it or not. It was like being grounded, his wings useless on his back.

Now he feels the opposite. It’s like the gravity has been pulled out from underneath him, and he can’t tell which way is up. He wants to go home, but he doesn’t know which direction that is either. His impersonal little apartment or Dabi’s ancient couch? His dorm at school that was always too cold, or the room he grew up in that was always too small?

He supposes it doesn’t matter. All he has is Miruko’s living room floor and the familiar comfort of his own feathers brushing his shoulders.

Hawks tips his head back against the coach with a groan and scrubs at his face until it hurts. Alright, pity party over. He doesn’t sulk, he reminds himself. He acts. That’s what heroes do.

Heroes. Fuck. He needs to stop thinking about that word.

“I need to get into the hero commission offices,” Hawks says, trying to order his thoughts into boxes, but his train of thought has always been a bullet train, or maybe a bundle of them, moving at a thousand miles per hour, just barely avoiding collision. It’s why he rarely bothers with sidekicks or interns. It’s easier just to act than to try to explain it all. They just can’t keep up.

But he can’t do this one alone. He would if he could.

“Alright.” Miruko rests her chin against her knee, her rabbit ears perked. That’s what he likes about her, besides the fact that she’s saved his ass twice. That’s what’s gotten her so high on the charts too. She’s always down for a little rumble. “Do you have a plan?”

“Well,” Hawks says slowly, “plan might be a generous word.”

///

The regional headquarters for the hero commission is an unassuming office block near the city center. People love heroes—the charts exist because people love heroes—but most of them aren’t really interested in the nitty-gritty details. The paperwork and the paper pushers and policy. The hero commission could be called the unsung heroes of the hero community.

A lot of the time they could also be called a pain in his ass.

But they have a nice roof, at least, he has to give them that. Flat and sun-bleached, with a stairwell back into the building. No cameras. Even knowing that flying quirks exist, people still don’t tend to think about up as a vulnerable spot when they’re making these decisions.

All the better for Hawks. He doesn’t fly so much as hop from one building to the next, his wings hunched close to his back. It’s the best he can do. He loves his wings—really, he does—but a stealth hero was never in the cards for him. Red wings combined with unruly blond hair and a propensity to say whatever’s on his mind, and he has a knack for being noticed. Usually he likes it.

He gives himself a little shake, his feathers all itching in anticipation. He doesn’t intend not to be found out, he’s not that optimistic. He just needs to find what he’s looking for before they find him.

And then he does a lot of talking very fast, but somehow that part worries him the least. What are they going to do? Arrest him? And lose their only successful contact with the League?

The hero commission is proud, but more more anything, they’re practical. They’d sacrifice anything to get to the League once and for all. Even their pride. Even UA.

Even him.

He punches his code into the door and it unlocks with a click.

His footsteps echo loudly in the cold concrete stairwell, but he’s alone. No one ever uses the stairs except for during fire drills, or the time Endeavor lost his temper next to a smoke detector.

Miruko meets him on the landing leading to the tenth floor, leaning against the railing like she just hangs out in empty stairwells in her free time. It doesn’t escape his notice that her top is just on the interesting side of revealing.

“You don’t need to seduce her,” he hisses. His voice scrapes against the concrete and rattled down the stairs.

“It’s not up to me if she gets seduced or not,” Miruko counters. “I can’t help but look good.”

Fantastic. His best friend and his handler, just what he needs. He’s not sure when Miruko became his best friend, but he suspects it was sometime around the time she agreed to risk her entire career to entertain his harebrained scheme.

“Just get Nakajima out of her office,” he says. “And then get out of there. If all goes well, I’ll convince her I broke in to give her pressing news about the League.”

Now there’s some optimism. When’s the last time things went well?

“And if they don’t go well?” She asks, as if reading his mind. “If you find what you think you’ll find?”

He hesitates. He hasn’t told her exactly what he suspects, it’s better that she doesn’t know, especially if he’s wrong. But she can tell that it’s bad. She can see it eating at him, rotting away at already shaky foundation. It feels like he hasn’t slept properly in a year.

“Then it’s better you’re not a part of it,” he says. He’s already involving her too much already.

She doesn’t like that, but they’ve already wasted too much time to argue now. She nods curtly and smooths back her long white hair.

She winks. “Give me five minutes.”

Hawks waits, balanced on the balls of his feet, his entire body tense as he counts down the seconds in his head. He feels like he’s in the abandoned factory again, in the police station. Trapped between concrete walls and glass, his wings pressed uselessly against his back. He wasn’t made for this, he thinks again. He wasn’t made for sneaking or waiting or lying. He’s not sure who decided that he was.

He rushes through the last few seconds, impatient. Showtime.

The hall on the other side of the door is deceptively plain. Thin industrial carpet and beige walls, potted plants wilting without the sun. On the second floor there’s a quirk-accommodating gym, the fourth floor a colorful open-concept office dedicated entirely to marketing, but the tenth could easily be mistaken for the accounting department. You wouldn’t guess the kind of decisions that are made behind the closed doors lining the hall.

Or the information they might hide. Might. There’s a flash of movement and Hawks shifts backwards, his wings opening slightly of their own accord, as if there’s anywhere to fly to. But it’s only Miruko’s tail flashing white as she rounds the corner, one hand resting lightly on Nakajima’s arm. Hawks rolls his eyes.

Nakajima’s office is halfway down the hall, a dark wood door and a wide window with the blinds drawn. All the offices on the tenth floor are open by keycard tapped against the beige pad
next to the door, but Miruko has come through for him there, too. He presses his fingertips against the door and finds it just barely ajar, close enough that from the outside it looks closed. It creaks open.

There are footsteps down the hall, muffled by the carpet, and Hawks ducks inside, closing the door carefully behind him. He leans against it, and exhales. He’s been inside Nakajima’s office once before, back when she was only part of the team handling his mission, and not his out-and-out handler. She was never among his favorites, which is probably why they chose her to try to keep him in line. So much for that.

The entire northern wall is a window, looking out over the city, the sky taunting him through a glossy pane of glass. The office itself is rather conservative. A desk with a carefully arranged inbox tray, a desktop computer with two monitors. A couple of framed diplomas on the wall. An elegant bookcase against one wall.

And a bank of filing cabinets against the other. Hawks smirks to himself. Lieutenant Nakajima is a blunt-object, straightest path to results kind of a person, but she’s also paranoid. They had a whole meeting about his cell phone and communication and what was safe to communicate to the commission through digital means. Despite the fact that the League has yet to show they have anyone with a technology based quirk, or possibly even phones at all. It was three hours long, and he spent the entire time playing sudoku on his phone under the table. Of all the risks he’s taking today, it had been a relatively safe bet assuming that she keeps hard copy backups.

Hawks pulls out a feather and gets to work on the lock at the top of the cabinet. It’s more complex than the simple stab and twist of the handcuffs back at the police station, but a couple more WikiHow articles and he’s fairly confident he can pry it open. Or at least break the lock.

He breaks two feather shafts and stabs himself in the hand once before the lock finally gives, the filing cabinet groaning as the tumblers reluctantly turn. Hawks exhales slowly, trying to calm his rankled nerves. He didn’t have a backup plan if that didn’t work, short of tearing the drawers from the cabinet.

The drawers are meticulously filed, though under some system that no one short of Nakajima herself could parse out. He ends up with all four drawers pulled open, combing over the files looking for something familiar. He has to assume the League will all be grouped together. He thought they’d be in the top drawer. What case is she working on that could possibly be bigger than infiltrating the League of Villains? Unless they’re in fucking chronological order.

His fingers trip. One of the thicker files stares back at him.

Pro Hero: Hawks. His birth name is printed next to it.

Hawks looks up at the door instinctively, and he feels like a kid again, guiltily looking at the door every time someone on TV swore, even though he knew there wouldn’t be anyone to scold him for it. Of course the commission has a file on him--it probably spans most of his life. He doesn't need to relive his shitty grades from his rebellious phase in second year. It’s probably nothing interesting anyways.

Probably. He makes a decision before he can think better of it, pulling the file out and stuffing it inside his jacket. He zips it up to his chin, the bulky file a strange, guilty weight. He doesn’t have time to look inside of it now, or wonder what exactly he expects to find. He’ll have to unpack all that later.

Instead he keeps looking, until he finds the League, clustered together like he expected to find them. He hesitates on Villain: Shigaraki Tomura--what else could Nakajima be hiding? what else should he know--but decides against it. His own file is already heavy against his chest.

He finds Dabi’s instead.

Villain: Dabi. And then, handwritten next to the label: Todoroki Touya.

He’s on the roof again, standing so close that he can feel Dabi breathe. Blue eyes and a scar still struggling to heal making him look like an overripe fruit, sickly sweet and split open. Dabi’s face is sharper than Endeavor’s, his smile more feral, but now that he’s seen the resemblance, Hawks isn’t sure how he didn’t see it before. Dabi is his father’s shadow--darker, skinnier, stretched by the glare of the noonday sun, and always following a step behind him.

Hawks exhales shakily.

Endeavor has a son--well, another one. Hawks isn’t sure what that means yet. Endeavor has never talked much about his children--talked about his personal life much at all, really. It makes sense that he would be embarrassed, heartbroken, probably, to know that one of his children is a villain. If he knows at all.

It makes sense, he thinks. It makes sense that no one knows about Touya. The public’s faith in their heroes is already on shaky ground without this.

It makes sense. It has to make sense. He doesn't know what he’s going to do if he can’t make it make fucking sense.

He leans forward on the balls of his feet and flips the file open on the floor. Nakajima turned off the lights on her way out, but the wall of windows bathes the file with sunlight, so bright the white paper almost glows. The picture he took of Dabi is paperclipped to the top page, enlarged and grainy. Underneath it is a picture of a boy, maybe fourteen years old, glaring at the camera from beneath a shock of fiery red hair. Pink skin puckers at the corners of his eyes, half-healed but unlikely to get any better. Shadows of worse scars still to come.

Attached to them is a report.

NAME: TODOROKI TOUYA
QUIRK: CONFLAGRATION
STATUS: MISSING, PRESUMED DEAD

He’s shaking now, his whole body trembling like it might fall apart. His feathers prickle and shift, but there’s nowhere to send them. It makes sense, he reminds himself desperately as his eyes run down the report. His eyes skip over words too fast to catch them all, half of them falling apart into nonsense. It’s always harder to read like this, when his heart’s in his throat and his instincts are screaming at him too loud to slow down and focus.

He is focused, that’s what he always tried to tell his teachers, just on other things. Like the pounding of his heart in his ears and the minuscule vibrations in his feathers from the voices in the office next door. He sees the stroke of ink and the texture of the paper and somehow the word itself gets lost.

But he understands enough. Earmarked for future heroism at a young age. A powerful fire quirk, bound to flourish under his father’s tutelage. Mentions of sealed hospital records, discussing potential scarring. And allegations, brought forward to the commission by Touya himself. A quirk marriage. Abuse. Unlawful quirk usage of a minor. Each one of them bears the same ending.

Dismissed. Dismissed. Dismissed.

Then a house fire. Todoroki Touya disappeared. A body was never recovered.

I get prodigies. I was one, Dabi whispers in the back of his mind. Until my father realized that I could still burn. Touya stares up at him with those same hellfire eyes, looking so young it takes Hawk’s breath away. He can almost see him there, in a ruffled school uniform, the sleeves pulled down to hide the rough skin around his wrists.

Did I deserve it? Touya asks. He sneers, and the skin around his mouth splits into a corpse’s grin.

Hawks curls inwards, the back of his hand pressed against his mouth as bile rises in his throat. Does he deserve it? Doeshedeserveitdoeshedeserveitdoeshedeserveit? He can’t breathe.

Hawks’ phone vibrates and he closes his eyes, screwing them up so tight they hurt. One heartbeat. Two. He fumbles for the burner phone, dropping it twice before he can open Miruko’s message.

Get out. Now.

Fuck. Nakajima must be on her way back. He wasted too much time. Hawks stuffs Dabi’s file back in the drawer, not caring if it wrinkles. He can’t relock the filing cabinet, even if he had the time, but at this point he doesn’t really care. If Nakajima wants to call him out for snooping, she can fucking go ahead.

They didn’t tell him this for a reason. Why? The thought pinches at him, like a needle to the brain. Why? Because they’re ashamed? Because they regret it? Or because they knew it might break him?

Hawks takes a deep breath, and then another. His own file crinkles inside his jacket.

Hawks ducks into the hallway, letting the door close behind him with a sharp click. He almost immediately regrets it. Voices float down the hallway. In the direction of the stairwell. Fuckfuckfuck. He darts across the hall and swings a left, his wings pulled close to his body as they rebel against him. He’s never wanted so badly to fling himself into the open sky and forget that there’s an earth to fall back to. He should have just gone to the stairwell. Too late now.

He walks briskly, his chin up, one hand pressed against his middle to keep the file in place. He probably looks like an idiot. He more likely looks like a wanted criminal. He passes people in the hall and he can tell who’s in the know based on if they give him a double take or a triple take. He flashes them a grin. Someone spills their coffee.

Just a little bit farther. Just a little bit faster. There’s another stairwell on the opposite side the building.

The hall dumps him into the floor’s lobby, a stylish open-concept layout that immediately makes him feel exposed. The outside wall is made entirely of glass, like in Nakajima’s office. Outside, the sky burns so blue it hurts to look at.

“Hawks.” Nakajima’s voice is like the crack of a whip behind him. He walks faster.

“Hawks.” He look back despite himself. Nakajima stands at the end of the hall, her antelope’s horns brushing the ceiling. She looks apocalyptic--for Nakajima, which means that she’s frowning tightly, her eyebrows pulled together. But she’s not giving chase.

Good. She knows he’s faster than her, he’s faster than everyone. They can’t stop him, they know they--

“Hawks.”

Hawks has to flare out his wings to stop so abruptly. Endeavor doesn’t look much different than when Hawks saw him last in Fukuoka, except that the wide scar down his face has gotten darker, less of a wound and more of just another part of him. He’s wearing his hero costume, but the flames aren’t lit. He’s not wearing them around his face like he usually does either. He stands between Hawks and where the elevator and the stairwell stand side by side.

Blue eyes. Hawks’ heart trembles.

Around them, the entire floor seems to be holding their collective breath. “Come with me,” Endeavor rumbles. “Quietly.”

Does he know? It’s the first thing on his mind, despite himself, despite everything. Did Nakajima tell him about the mission? Did they call for him, the moment they realized Hawks was in the building? Because who better to contain the former number two hero than the current number one, maybe. Or maybe just because they know that Hawks will listen to him.

And he would have. Once. The Endeavor he thought he knew--gruff and inelegant but a hero, the hero they need to pick up the pieces after the fall of All Might--superimposes over the one he’s just getting familiar with. Quirk marriage. Abuse. Unlawful quirk usage of a minor.

Dismissed. Dismissed. Dismissed.

Hawks takes a step back.

“Hawks,” Endeavor says again, sharply this time. “Do not embarrass yourself.” He reaches forward as if to take him by the arm. Hawks trips backwards, his wings flared so wide that people jump out of the way.

"Don’t touch me,” Hawks snarls, a near hysterical edge to his voice. “Don’t fucking touch me.” His skin feels too tight, every nerve alive, as if he were the one burning.

“Hawks,” Nakajima barks. “Stand down.”

Why is she treating him like this? Like he’s a wild animal. Like he’s a criminal. He hasn’t done anything wrong. He doesn’t know when his primary feather made it to his hand, the edge stiff and sharp. He’s aware of people moving around him, shifting their weight, raising their hands. They’re going to try to take him down.

Try. He remembers what it was like, sitting across from Aizawa in that interrogation room. Standing in front of Shigaraki, trying to prove himself. They’re looking at him like he’s a villain. If that’s what they want, then he’ll put on a show.

Endeavor’s eyes burn and flames lick his costume, the temperature in the room ticking upwards. “I’ll give you one last chance,” he says, “to make the right decision.”

Hawks raises his feather, starting down the length of it like a sword. A challenge. He’s breathing heavily. The tip trembles. He can’t stay here any longer. “I already have.”

Everyone moves at once. Hawks leaps backwards, settling into a crouch, his wings hooded over him as he sends a spray of feathers into the crowd that’s formed to watch them. People shriek and protest as feathers lodge themselves into the walls next to them, pinning their clothes in place. A few struggle, but it distracts them enough to keep them on the periphery. Hawks has seen Endeavor fight. He’s been there for it. His fire is hardly a precision instrument.

But he can’t use it to its full capacity anyways, not without burning the whole building down. He’s still about three times Hawks’ size though, with the kind of punch that would hurt even if it weren’t on fire. Hawks leaps up, cupping his wings so that the punch passes underneath him. The office building is even worse than the old factory in terms of aerial maneuverability, but at least he can see where he’s going. There’s no Dabi to watch his back here though. He's not sure when having a villain at his back became a good thing.

His foot connects with Endeavor’s nose with a sick crunch, the force sending Hawks flipping backwards again. His feet skid against the thin carpet as he lands.

Nakajima is barking orders--at him or the others, he can’t tell. Hawks barely hears anything over the roar of his heartbeat and his own momentum as he throws himself sideways to avoid a burst of fire. It hits the wall instead, and the sprinklers come on with a hiss as the fire alarm wails. The water pops as it connects with the fire billowing from Endeavor’s shoulders, evaporating in an instant.

Endeavor swears, clutching his bleeding nose and there’s a path to the stairwell now. He can kick down the door--if he’s fast enough, and he’s always fast enough--and drop down the last nine flights of stairs, even if he bangs up his wings a little on the way. They can’t lock down the building with the fire alarm going like that. He’ll be gone before anyone can even think to pursue him.

Sweat beads his forehead. Make a decision--now. Now.

Hawks darts forward and Endeavor catches him by the neck like a rabbit in a snare.

His whole body jerks as it tries to move forward only to be yanked back by Endeavor’s grip around his neck. Hawks gasps, except he can’t breathe, he just gapes, his fingers scrambling uselessly against Endeavor’s hand. His hand isn’t on fire, but it still burns as if it was, blistering Hawks’ skin where it makes contact. He meets Endeavor’s eyes--gold on blue--but Endeavor isn’t really seeing him. He’s seeing the high-end. He’s seeing Touya. He’s seeing his own fucking pride. Maybe Endeavor does know the truth about Hawks’ mission, whatever the status of it may be now. Maybe he just doesn’t care.

Hawks grabs Endeavor’s broken nose and twists.

The resulting scream cuts through the air, louder than the fire alarm. Endeavor’s grip loosens just enough that Hawks can plant his feet against Endeavor’s chest and push, breaking free so that his wings can catch him again. There’s no time to breathe, only to act. The stairwell isn’t going to happen.

Hawks flips around and dives, feet first, toward the wide wall of windows. A feather streaks ahead of him, the shaft burying itself in the glass. The heels of his boots strike the spiderweb of cracks still splintering off around his feather, and the windows shatter around him with a crash that sounds like the end of the world. Shards of glass bite his exposed skin and cling to his feathers, but his wings catch him, like they always do, and the open air is there to meet him.

Behind him, Endeavor roars.

Chapter Text

PREVIOUSLY:
Dabi goes to the roof when he wants to be alone. It’s an old instinct, going up. He used to climb trees when he didn’t want his father to find him, hiding among the foliage and nursing his smarting skin. His father’s training was always hardest on his forearms and chest, the delicate skin around his neck puckered and mottled with old burns. By a young age his palms were calloused against the flames, but when they vented back and crawled up his arms, they ate away at him like kindling.

The roof of his apartment block isn’t the tree overlooking his father’s house. He burned that down a long time ago.

So there’s nowhere to hide when Hawks appears over the edge of the roof, flipping around like a trained monkey. He should have known better, going up when the one person who might follow him has wings. It’s not Hawks’ fault he’s in a mood, shockingly. Or maybe it is, but Dabi can’t justify blaming him. He can’t even blame Shigaraki, the little creep. If the League can deal a blow to UA, to the heart of the school itself, then it’s not an opportunity that can be passed up.

But it’s not what Dabi wants. The attack on the training camp had been fun, but it was a distraction. He didn't recruit Hawks just to waste him harassing a bunch of school kids. They could burn UA to the ground and there’d still be other schools, little hero factories flooding society with pillars of justice crafted entirely to their liking. More broken cogs in a broken system, serving a broken king.

He exhales smoke into the night. Ah, he’s thinking too much again. Actually, maybe it wouldn’t hurt, just razing one to the ground. It might clear his head.

His head is a mess tonight, and ugly snarl of thoughts that go nowhere but dead ends, made worse every time Hawks stands a bit closer. Hero. Hawks winces when he says the word, but Dabi wants to hear it again. It feels like pressing on a bruise, only he can’t tell if it belongs to him or Hawks. If he feels the sweet, satisfying sting of pain or just imagines it. Hawks leans closer.

Hawks is so bright sometimes that it hurts to look at him head on. Dabi sees why the public loved him. It’s like looking at the sun. But he’s not their golden hero, and Dabi thinks that might be what it is he likes. What kept him listening in the first place, that first meeting, when he probably should have watched every one of those stupid feathers burn.

Even then, he could see the cracks underneath the gilding. Most people wear the word hero like a costume, a mask, a shield. It’s something they take off at the end of the day and throw on the ground until it’s time to step back into it again. But Hawks is real. He holds every ounce of that weight on his shoulders, and he’s cracking underneath it. A perfect hero in an imperfect world. How sad.

It makes Dabi want to dig his fingers into the cracks and pull him apart, break open the scar to see the wound underneath. He likes seeing the person he might have been in a different world. He likes knowing that he would be just as scarred as he is in this one.

Hawks really is like the sun. One moment he’s there, too close and too warm and Dabi thinks he might burn alive. Even the deadened skin on his neck seems to have remembered it’s human where Hawks touches it, brushing against the thin cut his feather left behind. Dabi leans forward like a plant toward light. He’s not used to a touch that doesn’t hurt, in one way or another.

And then Hawks is gone, throwing himself into the air and Dabi is left colder for it.

///

CURRENTLY:
“Where is he?” Shigaraki hisses, pacing like a caged lion. He’s wearing that stupid hand on his face again, which means he’s anxious. Dabi doesn’t care if he’s got the fucking butterflies--if Shigaraki gets within arm’s reach of him again, they’ll find out if his quirk works without any skin left on his hands.

Dabi scratches at his face, his fingernails cutting through the scabs ruthlessly. Shigaraki hasn’t even gotten within five feet of him since that day. Instead he sulks, his eyes half-hidden by that fucking gross hand, or the long tangle of his hair, like a child that’s broken a toy in a fit of rage and doesn’t know how to undo the damage. It’s disturbing sometimes, how much it reminds Dabi of him and his sister when they fought as children; too proud to apologize, too reluctant to give up the ounce of control they had in the world. He shoves the thought away.

“How should I know?” Dabi grunts, picking blood out from under his nails. The stupid bird isn’t his responsibility anymore. He expected Hawks to come crawling into his apartment the first night after the news broke over the attack at the hero commission offices, but it’s been four days now, and even the press has run out of ways to repeat the same information over and over again. No one’s seen him.

And Dabi keeps catching himself staying out on the roof longer, until his cigarette has burned down to his fingers. Finds himself accidentally-on-purpose forgetting to lock his front door. Sentimental idiot. When did he let himself get so attached?

“I can’t believe he didn’t take us with!” Toga sighs, draping herself over an old display case. She kicks her legs out behind her, her chin propped up on her fists like this is a slumber party. “Stupid hero commission. All the cute ones are at UA.” She grins, baring all her teeth.

Right, right. UA. He almost forgot. That’s what’s got Shigaraki all testy then. Hawks is good--if he wanted to endear himself to Shigaraki, he’s done it, at least before he fucked off. Ever since Hawks said the word UA, Shigaraki has been obsessed with it, like it’s his fucking white whale or something. Dabi wasn’t a part of the League when they attacked the USJ, which is probably why it crashed and burned with nothing to show for it except one less nomu. Tch.

“Then find him,” Shigaraki says, “before Endeavor does.”

Dabi had watched the footage from the attack on the hero commission, they all had. Attack was a generous word, though the shaky amalgamation of cell phone footage lent it a dramatic flair. He laughed hard enough to split one of the staples on his cheek when Hawks’ boot connected with Endeavor’s nose, but it felt forced, like he was trying to mask the uneasiness in his gut from himself. But now the laughter has died, and the uneasiness remains.

There’s one shot, out of all the footage, that shows Hawks’ face. He looks lost. He looks like he did on the rooftop, the moment before he ran away.

He knows, something whispers inside of him, something small and young and afraid that should have been turned to ash a long time ago. He knows.

“Fine,” Dabi says, unfolding himself from the ragged old chair he’d been sprawled in. “But don’t hold your breath.”

///

It occurs to him, not for the first time, that the League has a poorly stacked deck when it comes to quirks. Namely in that they have a guy who can turn people into marbles and...well, whatever the hell Spinner is supposed to do, but not someone with any sort of tracking quirk. Dabi considers the fact that maybe he should start quizzing low lifes on the usefulness of their quirk before he burns them alive.

Hm. Nah.

It’s late into the day by the time Dabi finds Hawks’ old apartment building. It’s a long shot, but there aren’t many places left to look, if Hawks is still in the city at all. It’s easy to sneak in through the back service entrance--he used to do this all the time when he was a teenager, crashing in empty apartments when their tenants were away on vacation. Becoming a proper villain was really only a minor upgrade. You get to play with the nomu every now and then, but mostly the tools of the trade are about the same as when he was just another kid trying to live on the streets.

He’s been here once before, when Hawks first came to him singing his little song about how the hero commission did him wrong, when Dabi was still deciding what he wanted to do with him. Dabi snorts softly. How far they’ve come since then, only to end up in the exact same place.

There’s still police tape on the door. Dabi tears it down and stuffs it behind a fake potted plant. He doesn't intend to stay long, but there’s no reason to be as suspicious as possible if he doesn't have to be. There’s a possibility that the police still have eyes on the place, but he doubts it. Hawks would have to be an idiot to come back here.

Which is what he’s counting on, he supposes.

Dabi deftly picks the lock, his lips twitching at the satisfying scrape of metal on metal. Just like the good old days. Maybe he’ll sneak in a nap before he leaves. The stupid bird owes him that much, after sending him running all over the city looking for his sorry ass. He hasn’t slept right since Hawks went off the grid. Hard to, with his door unlocked. You never know who might come waltzing in.

So why hasn’t he yet? The voice at the back of his head nags him. Even Dabi’s texts have gone unanswered. He hesitates, his hand on the door.

Because he knows, because he can’t look at you, because sometimes you can barely look at yourself.

He pulls his lips back in a sneer. Shut the fuck up.

Hawks’ apartment is cold in more ways than one. It reminds him of his childhood home, and they way they’d tiptoe around it, as careful as mice. Their home had to be clean, traditional, beyond reproach. The only person who could break the fragile perfection was his father. It wasn’t a place people lived, it was someplace people existed.

The floor creaks as Dabi steps inside, closing the door behind him. Hawks’ apartment has the same hollow feeling, the eggshell thin veneer of normalcy. The furniture looks like it was picked straight out of a fake room in a catalog photograph, all neutral tones and bold pops of color that are supposed to say modern but timeless, or some shit. The real spots of color are the isolated patches of messiness, little hints that someone actually lived there. Fan mail sits in a sloppy pile on the coffee table, a manila folder fat with paperwork, a jacket slung over the back of the couch so he can see the long slits in the back to accommodate wings. Dabi wanders further into the apartment, his hands in his pockets.

Aw. There’s a crayon drawing of the hero himself stuck on the fridge with a magnet shaped like All Might. Not very good--the wings look like red blobs floating behind his back. Dabi brushes his fingertips against the bottom edge. It would only take a thought to watch it burn. But even he’s not that much of a villain.

The rest of the kitchen isn’t that exciting. Hawks definitely isn’t hiding under the sink, but at this point Dabi is just enjoying himself. He rummages through the fridge--mostly leftovers, mostly rotten by now--and pulls out a soda. He cracks the top and wanders back into the living room.

Eugh. Dabi stops mid-sip. Seltzer water? What the fuck? He takes another sip anyways.

And freezes, his eyes on the door. There’s a single red feather laying on the floor in front of the door back into the hallway, small enough that Dabi must have stepped right over it. It makes sense there’d be feathers lying around, considering how many of them Hawks carts around. Birds molt don’t they? He probably sheds them wherever he goes.

Probably. But Dabi has yet to see him leave behind a single one.

“I was wondering when you’d notice,” Hawks says, his voice rasping. He leans against the wall, half-hidden by the cut of the light and the angle of the hallway back into the rest of the apartment. He looks like shit, his hair messier than usual, his hands stuffed into the front pocket of the oversized hoodie he’s practically swimming in. He holds out his hand and the feather comes zipping back. “This guy senses any vibrations in the room. Footsteps. Voices. Better than a security system.” It floats back to join the others, and Hawks’ smile slips off his face. “How did you know I would be here?”

Dabi’s teeth click, and he realizes that his mouth has been hanging open. He recovers quickly. “Well,” he drawls, “it wasn’t the first place I looked.” Clearly it should have been. “Shigaraki is pissed.”

“Sorry.” Hawks ducks his head, running a hand through his hair. “I just needed time to--”

“Think,” Dabi says. “I know.” Anger curls in his belly, mostly at himself. Why is he standing here like a teenager that’s been stood up on a fucking date? It’s business. It’s always been business. He should call Shigaraki to come pick up his pet and call it a day. If he’s quick he might still catch something good on TV.

He turns away, dropping his can on the nearest decorative table. Guy has shitty taste in soda anyways.

“Dabi,” Hawks says softly. What’s wrong with him? It sounds like every word hurts.

He knows. Look at him. He knows and he pities you. He knows and he wants to fucking save you. His palms burn, his quirk simmering beneath his skin like a parasite.

“What?” Dabi snaps, looking back, his mouth already pulled into a snarl.

He stops, the snarl dropping. Hawks has stepped closer, out of the soft shadows and into the dying sunlight that stripes the apartment with gold. He really does look like shit, but somehow he makes even that look halfway intentional. Maybe it’s just the light against his hair, his eyes--gold on gold on gold.

Dabi’s eyes drop to his neck, and his breath catches.

Second degree burns ring Hawks’ neck like a collar. His skin is mottled red and blistered, some of blisters so dark they’re nearly purple. Some of them have scabbed over where they burst. No wonder he sounds like every word has to be torn out of him. No wonder he’s stayed away.

Time slips sideways and takes him with it, two distinct images overlapping over one another. Dabi is there, in the cold little apartment, rooted to the floor.

And he’s in his childhood bedroom, staring down at his forearm, his sleeve pulled back to bare the tortured skin in the shape of five fingers curled around his wrist. He couldn’t let his mother see, he couldn’t let Fuyumi either. She’d do something stupid if she knew and he’d have that on his conscience too. She was always trying to protect him, but she shouldn’t have to. He shouldn’t have burned in the first place. His father told him that much. He should have been stronger.

He burned, he’s burning, he will burn again. Like a phoenix, flames are his past, his present, and his future. No matter what he does, where he goes, his destiny will always end in ash.

It used to be comforting, the certainty of it. Now it rises in his throat, panic turned to inky black claws, and he can’t breathe. He doesn’t know what’s changed. He doesn't know how to go back.

“Dabi.” Hawks’ fingers brush his elbow, yanking him back to the present. He can feel the floor underneath his feet again, the tingle in his fingers and the harsh scrape of his breath against his own ears, but all he can see are those burns. They didn’t show that part of the news, but he knows them the way he knows the backs of his hands. Only hellfire burns like that. Only he burns hotter.

He knows! the voice screams, less a doubt at the back of his mind and more a certainty at the front of it. Why else would Hawks look at him like that? Why else would he risk breaking into the hero commission office, when there was nothing for them to gain there? Who else would know the truth? He’s not sure even his father knows who he really is, willfully ignorant or not, but the commission does. The commission sees everything.

They just don’t care.

Dabi’s hand is between them, reaching out in the way Hawks’ did on the rooftop--tentative, trembling, his mind somewhere else and yet so caught up in the moment he’s afraid he’ll never escape it. His fingers stop short of Hawks’ injured neck. Hawks doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t lean away. “Say it,” Dabi says. His voice is as raw as if it was his throat that was burned. His skin feels tight. He supposes it was, once. No part of him is truly unmarred. “I know you want to.”

Hawks meets his eyes steadily. “No,” he says.

The single word is like a jolt of shock, jarring and sickly. “Say it,” he hisses again. “Say my name.” He knows. It’s an accusation now. He knows, but he won’t say it. Dabi is ready for him to throw it back in his face, he’s been braced for it ever since the first suspicion wormed itself into his head. For so long Dabi has enjoyed the upper hand--toying with him, pulling him forward, trying to teach him in a way that Dabi had to learn all on his own--only for Hawks to snatch it back. This is his trump card and they both know it, they can both see it in his hands.

And he won’t fucking say it.

Just say it. Do it. What’s stopping you?” Dabi snarls like a cornered animal, his face contorting so hard that it yanks painfully on the staples holding it together. His hand closes around Hawks’ throat.

Just lightly, just for an instant, his hands cool and his quirk tamed, but it’s enough to make Hawks’ eyes widen. A familiar sort of fear flickers through them.

Dabi yanks his hand back, stumbling backwards. For an instant his hand was bigger, unscarred but calloused on the palms, licked with orange fire. Hawks won’t say his name, but the truth is there all the same.

Todoroki Touya, you’ll always be your father’s son.

No. No, he’s more than that, he’s always been more than that. More this his father, more than the person he was born to be. The ugly thing that lives in his chest opens its mouth and roars, the sound shaking his bones to ash. Ash, always ash. He can’t breathe. It’s like he’s choking on it.

Flames crawl up his arms, hungry and outside of his control. It’s all he can do just to keep his heart from tearing its way out of his chest, slimy and bleached white, like anything left in the sun to rot. His entire body shudders and he’s never flown, but he thinks he understands what it means to be caught in a tailspin, to see the ground rushing up toward you and know that there’s nowhere else to go.

And then Hawks’ hands grab his, holding them together, two spots of simple warmth against the fire dancing across his skin, so hot that it’s almost cold. Dabi struggles, trying to free them, but Hawks holds tight, even though the contact must be burning his palms. Dabi stares at their interlocked hands, his pupils still wide with terror.

“It’s okay,” Hawks says softly. He leans forward and their foreheads are pressed together, so that all Dabi can see are his eyes, fierce and sharp, gold ringed with brown around the pupil. There’s a thin cut under one of them, probably from flying through shattering glass. “He can’t hurt you.”

“No one can hurt me,” Dabi snarls, but he doesn’t try to pull away. The flames dancing on his arms gutter and go out. No one can hurt him if he hurts himself first. That's how it's always been. Eventually he just won't be able to feel at all. Fuck, he’s shaking. This isn’t supposed to happen. No one is supposed to see him like this, but Hawks won’t look away.

“It’s okay,” Hawks repeats. “It’s okay, it’s okay.” Like he’s not sure if he’s saying it to Dabi or himself. His hands are on either side of Dabi’s head now, cradling his face, laced in his hair. Dabi’s hands curl loosely in the front pocket of Hawk’s oversized hoodie. They tighten possessively. It’s warm underneath Hawks’ hands, the world narrowed down to the space between them and the steady sound of his breath. Dabi is either cold or he’s burning. He’s never warm.

Hawks could hurt him. He doesn’t know what that happened, only that he’s here now, cradled in Hawks’ hands, shaking like he might fall apart, and he’s not doing any of the things he’s supposed to. He should pull away. He should remind Hawks that he may know his name, but he doesn't know who he really is. He should burn this place to the ground and leave nothing to remember him but the ashes. But he doesn't. He can't. Hawks knows his name, but he won’t say it. He has the knife, but he won’t put it in Dabi’s heart. Hawks could hurt him, but he doesn’t. That hasn’t happened in a long time.

He doesn't know what to do with that. He doesn't know what to call that besides love.

Chapter Text

It’s a familiar scene, the bathroom-turned-ER. Except this time it’s Hawks sitting backwards on the toilet, his wings resting against the cold tile floor, curved just enough that it feels like they’re in a bubble of soft red feathers. He sits with his chin tilted up, his eyes on the ceiling as Dabi bandages his neck.

There are some other key differences. The bathroom off of his bedroom is twice the size of the one in Dabi’s apartment, and about ten times cleaner. Dabi is too tall, so he has to stoop, leaning over Hawks in a way that makes his heart go a little faster than he’d like. There’s also the fact that none of this is strictly necessary—Hawks knows first aid, both in rescue situations and his own personal physiology. Having a mutation quirk makes you especially good at that kind of thing.

But it seems to set Dabi at ease, his hands moving like it’s familiar, methodical work. It’s worth a little unnecessary TLC. The memory of Dabi standing in his living room is still too fresh, the flames licking off his skin, wild and uncontrolled. He doesn’t want to see that look in Dabi’s eyes again. That kind of fear. Once he wouldn’t have thought it was possible for someone like Dabi to look like that, but now he thinks Dabi spends more time being afraid than he’d ever admit.

Hawks lets his eyes drift shut. Dabi’s hands are cold against the blistered skin on his neck, an unexpected relief. His own hands are already bandaged, his palms aching from where Dabi’s burning skin had seared him. It could be worse. Given the opportunity, he’d do it again.

What am I doing here? The thought sinks deep into his bones, but he hardly has the energy to entertain it. His life has already spun wildly out of control. He doesn’t see why it can’t land here, just for a minute.

Does that make him a bad person? Does that make him a villain too? He doesn’t know anymore, and he doesn’t know who to ask. Something inside of him broke that day at the hero commission offices, and the jagged edges are still tender to the touch.

Dabi is a villain. Dabi works for the League. Dabi has killed people. He knows that. He knows that.

But--

Can’t I have something? Just one thing of my own? Can’t I have this?

“It won’t scar.” Dabi’s voice breaks through the muddle of his thoughts. “Not badly.”

“Damn,” Hawks murmurs before his brain can catch up with his mouth, “I thought we could match.”

Dabi snorts softly, but he doesn’t move away. He’s like a cat, Hawks thinks, marveling at the revelation. Usually Dabi holds himself aloof, separate from the rest of the world with a surgical precision that he tries to make look casual. Hawks had been afraid that he would retreat back into that shell after letting his composure break so messily, but he hasn’t, not quite. It’s not the kind of affection that Hawks is used to, but he can still tell that’s what it is.

Hawks reaches out and touches the back of Dabi’s hand, just to see what happens. His fingers twitch, flexing so that Hawks can feel the delicate bones of his hand moving under his skin, but he doesn’t pull away. The skin on the backs of his hands is pale, but it’s not unscarred. Faded pink scars dot his wrists where old staples bit into them. Hawks runs his thumb across them, Dabi’s pulse steady beneath it.

Just Dabi standing here so close, existing in the same space, is an act of trust.

Trust. That was the mission once. Gain the trust of the League. He’d always known it might come at the expense of everything else.

But he never expected it to feel like this.

Hawks lets his hand drop and exhales slowly. This isn’t a moment they can live in. There’s a whole world out there waiting to see what he’ll do next. “I should talk to Shigaraki,” he says. “Beg forgiveness. Crawl on my knees. That sort of thing.”

Dabi hums noncommittally.

“He’s pissed, huh?” Get in fucking line. Shigaraki and Nakajima can take turns punching him in the gut.

“More like pissy,” Dabi says. “He’ll get over it.”

It’s Hawks turn to hum. He looks up, the angle making the tender skin on his neck protest, his eyes searching Dabi’s face. “Are we gonna talk about this?” He asks softly. About Dabi. About Todoroki Touya. About whatever’s happening here. They can’t just pretend like none of it ever happened. There are scorch marks on his living room ceiling.

“You’re right,” Dabi says, tugging his hand away. “Shigaraki won’t shut up until he’s heard from you.”

It’s so clearly a deflection that Hawks has to bite his tongue to keep from calling it out. Later, then. Dabi didn’t promise him that, but Hawks is holding him to it anyways.

///

The League’s current hideout is what might have been a department store once, if the small army of mannequins lurking around means anything. Someone has drawn faces on them in marker, with bug eyes and wonky mouths. Hawks pulls a face at them as he walks past, sticking out his tongue. They don’t respond.

He’s nervey, more so than usual. Usually when he’s patrolling he’s in his element, his blood up and aware of three hundred and sixty degrees around him. But this isn’t a typical mission, it hasn’t been from the start. Dabi seems convinced that Shigaraki will forgive his detour outside of the League’s interests, but Hawks isn’t so sure. He was reckless, he knows that. But it had felt like the only option available at the time.

“Hawks.” His name scrapes against the air. Shigaraki’s voice is as tortured as his skin. It makes his feathers shiver. The rest of the League is there, lingering just far enough away, watching him curiously. “About time.”

He sounds...annoyed? Not really what Hawks had been expecting.

“Sorry for the no-call, no-show,” Hawks says, burying his hands in the pocket of his hoodie. At least his staycation back at his apartment meant he could grab some of his own clothes again. Having to rip things apart just to accommodate his wings was getting old. “I had some business to take care of.”

Shigaraki cocks his head. “Business?”

Hawks winces internally. The League is supposed to be his business now. “Personal business,” he says firmly. He refuses to look at Dabi, no matter how badly he wants to.

There’s a single moment, frozen in time, where Hawks isn’t sure what’s going to happen next.

“Any business that involves kicking the number one hero in the face is good with me,” Spinner snickers and the tension in the air loosens. Hawks feels his shoulders relax, and he swears Shigaraki actually smirks. He’s not wearing the hands today, thank God.

And that’s it, apparently. He’s forgiven. The rest of the League emerges and suddenly it’s like being at the center of a pack of puppies, each of them vying for a better position to say hello. Dabi snorts and side steps the tangle of humanity with his usual air of indifference.

“I want to go with next time!” Toga crows, her knife coming uncomfortably close to his more vital organs as she leans in. “I’m really good at sneaking. Really, really good. So maybe you wouldn’t get caught again.”

“Bonehead move, getting that close to Endeavor,” Twice scolds. “But totally awesome!” He enthuses a heartbeat later.

“Let him breathe,” Dabi grouses, the only concession that he’s paying attention at all. He leans against an old display case, one ankle crossed over the other.

It’s surreal, being surrounded by wanted villains, all of them trying to either get tips on how he broke into the hero commission offices or give him tips on how to do it better next time. If you’d asked him how he thought infiltrating the League of Villains would go a month ago, he wouldn’t have said like this.. Actually, he probably would have said badly. Now he gets the feeling this is a little more success than he bargained for.

Later, Shigaraki catches his elbow with one hand. Hawks’ breath hitches, but it’s only two fingers, curled around the crook of his elbow. All available intel says he needs to place all five before decay takes effect. His eyes flicker upwards to find Shigaraki’s watching him. The skin around his eyes is creased and cracked like old leather, a scar cutting across one of them. Dabi’s scars might be the most obvious, except for perhaps Compress’s prosthetic, but none of them have gotten this far unscathed.

“We all have shit to deal with,” Shigaraki murmurs, and though his voice is low, there’s a warning in it. “Just don’t track it back with you.”

“I won’t,” Hawks says, just as quietly. He knows his secrets aren’t behind his eyes, a book waiting to be read, but he still desperately wants to look away and hide them.

“Good.” Shigaraki releases his elbow. “Because we have work to do.”

///

No one questions the arrangement when Hawks follows Dabi back to his apartment. He still feels a bit like he’s being babysat, but he finds that he doesn’t mind. The sight of Dabi’s apartment building is more welcome than he expected it to be, down to earth in a cracked-concrete kind of way, after three days spent holed up inside of his old apartment. Hawks is exhausted, but he’s still too wired to sleep. His entire body buzzes.

“Wait,” Hawks says, stopping short of the apartment building. Weeds grow through the cracks in the sidewalk under his feet. “C’mere.”

Dabi gives him a sideways look, his keys in his hand. It’s such a mundane image that Hawks almost laughs. Dabi looks like such a villain, between the scars and the staples and the don’t-talk-to-me expression he’s patented. He doesn’t look like the kind of person who pays rent. Then again, maybe he doesn’t.

“What?” Dabi asks, but he drifts closer. Not close enough. What’s with the hard to get all of a sudden?

“Come on,” Hawks says, gesturing impatiently. Dabi scowls and steps closer, close enough for Hawks to put his hands on Dabi’s hips. Dabi goes very still.

“What are you--” He cuts off with an undignified squawk as Hawks spreads his wings and hefts them both into the air.

Hawks laughs. The first flight is always like a personality test. Tokoyami had been an opossum, his limbs dangling downwards like Hawks had just picked his carcass up off the road. Miruko was a princess, though she denies it. Dabi, as he suspected, is an octopus. The instant they leave the ground all four limbs are wrapped around him, turning Hawks’ laugh into a wheeze. He’s stronger than he looks.

It’s a short flight to the roof, barely worth flying at all, but Hawks stretches it out a bit unnecessarily. You only get your first flight once.

Dabi drops like a rock when they finally land. Classic octopus.

Hawks brushes off his sleeves, preening just a bit. It’s his one trick, he’s a big proud of it. Sue him. “Tada--where are you going?”

Dabi staggers across the roof and retches over the side, his hands planted on the low wall meant to keep people from falling off. Hawks desperately hopes there’s no one trying to enjoy the fresh night air down below.

“You alright?” Hawks asks tentatively.

Dabi spits and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “I get motion sickness, you dick.

“Oh,” Hawks says lamely. His wings sag. “You should have told me that.”

Dabi glares. “You should have asked.” He sits on the ground, his back against the low wall, an unexpectedly vulnerable position that sends a ripple of surprise through Hawks. His long legs stretch crookedly out in front of him. “We could’ve taken the stairs.”

Hawks drifts closer, his hands in his pockets, going for casual and not quite hitting the mark. Honestly, he’d half-expected Dabi to just leave. “I’m not really a stairs guy,” he says. Dabi is waiting for him to explain himself, they can both feel the unasked question in the air. Hawks should just say it, rip the bandage off and get it over with, but instead he digs the toe of his boot into the gravel of the rooftop.

Dabi lights a cigarette, his eyes trained on Hawks over the glowing ember at the end. “What are we doing here?” He asks when Hawks has stalled long enough. That’s fair. They don’t have all night. It’s late enough that it’ll be morning soon.

Hawks swallows his nerves and forces his foot to go still. “I thought we should talk,” he says. “About your name.”

The transformation is instantaneous, like turning on a light. Dabi tenses, his whole body going rigid. He pushes off the low wall to get to his feet, the cigarette dangling forgotten between two fingers. “No,” he says, his eyes averted. “We don’t.”

“Wait.” Hawks catches him by the arm and he remembers Shigaraki’s two fingers against the crook of his elbow, unbidden. Dabi’s hand twitches like he might hit him, but he never completes the movement. “I want to tell you that I’m sorry.”

Dabi barks a laugh, so harsh it sounds like it was forcibly pulled out of him. “What?”

Hawks wets his lips, his pulse fast and shallow. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I shouldn’t have gone looking into your past. It wasn’t my business. If you wanted me to know, you would have told me yourself.”

And he never would have. Dabi holds his armor too close, so that no one can see through the cracks. But that’s his right, one Hawks took away. Sometimes the truth is all you have left to keep for yourself, when the world has taken everything else.

“I’m sorry,” Hawks says again, softly.

Dabi is watching him in a way that Hawks has never seen before, something he doesn’t have a name for. Vulnerable, almost. Shocked, but not quite.

Fuck, why isn’t he saying anything? He’s supposed to have said something by now. If Hawks had known he was going to look like an idiot spilling his guts to a brick wall, he would’ve written a letter.

“I thought we could have a do-over,” Hawks says. “You and me. Up here, I mean. One where I don’t freak out and leave. Unless you want me to.” He’s rambling now. Holy shit, this was not how this was supposed to go. Why is he afraid now? Shigaraki Tomura? No problem. Endeavor? He can handle it. But Dabi, looking at him like that, the silence so thick he could probably swim in it? Terrifying. “Because I could. I’m actually really good at that. I don’t know if you’ve seen the news lately, but it was really one of my all time best freak outs--”

“Hawks.”

“Yeah?”

“Shut the fuck up.”

Hawks makes an undignified sound as Dabi takes him by the face and kisses him. His hands aren’t touching Hawks neck. For some reason the thought is crystal clear, at the forefront of his mind. Dabi’s hands are careful to avoid the bandages on his neck.

It’s not like the kiss during fight with the League’s copies. It’s not stolen. Or maybe it is, but at this point it doesn’t matter. He’s okay with that.

Except--

Hawks pulls away sheepishly. “Sorry,” he says for maybe the thousandth time that night, “but I did remember that you just threw up over the side of a building, so maybe if you had some mouthwash--”

Dabi laughs with his whole body, the tremors rattling through where his hands still hold Hawks’ face.

///

Aizawa Shouta is tired.

He’s always tired, to be fair, but some days feel longer than others. Like if he doesn't close his eyes before he sees another human being, he’s going to lose his already very limited amounts of cool. Not for the first time, he considers moving to the general education course. What problems must those teachers have? Late homework? Tardy students? He can only dream.

Speaking of dreaming. He fumbles with the key to his apartment, a plastic grocery bag hanging off of one arm. Is it just him, or are prices going up? Sometimes he wonders if being an underground hero is worth missing out on all the discounts.

Aizawa steps over the threshold--and freezes. The grocery bag barely rustles as he slides it to the ground.

That’s the thing about being an underground hero. He’s used to moving in the dark. And he knows when he’s not alone. His hand curls around his capture weapon slowly.

“Close the door, Eraserhead,” a voice says from the kitchen. “It’s just me.”

Aizawa’s hand briefly tightens around his capture weapon--considering--before he lets it drop. He closes the door behind him. “Hawks.”

Hawks appears in the doorway to the kitchen, Aizawa’s cat in his arms. “I used to have a cat,” he says wistfully. He sets Aizawa’s cat on the counter. The little monster purrs happily and Aizawa scowls. She knows she’s not allowed on the counter. “What’s the commision saying about me?”

He says it so casually, like it’s passing gossip. There’s a fresh white bandage around his neck, hiding whatever damage Endeavor did to it. Hawks has the hood of his hoodie half-pulled up, so its folds almost hide the bandage entirely, but Aizawa’s seen the footage. Everyone has.

“That you’ve gone rogue,” Aizawa says, settling on honesty. Hawks is too smart to play bullshit with, and Aizawa isn’t interested in trying. If Hawks is here, it’s for a reason. He wants to know what that is. “That no one’s seen or heard from you in days.”

“I’ve been busy,” Hawks says with a shrug. “Personal business.” A funny little smile tugs at his lips, a joke only he’s in on.

“Is it true?” Aizawa asks. He resists the urge to grab his capture weapon again. His quirk can take Hawks’ feathers out of the equation if need be, but he’s already found out the hard way that he’s still a formidable opponent without them. The coffee table is new. He really doesn’t want to break it.

Hawks’ good humor slides away. “Well,” he says. “I guess that’s where things get a bit complicated.”

Hawks pushes off the doorway. “I found something interesting, when I was visiting the commission office,” he says. “I probably shouldn’t have taken it, but, well--it did have my name on it.” He tosses a fat manilla folder onto Aizawa’s beloved coffee table.

Aizawa knows a dossier when he sees one. He has one for each of his students, though they’re still thin. Shit. He doesn’t know what’s in Hawks’ file, but he knows well enough that you never want to read your own. He doesn't even want to know the shit that Nedzu must have on him. Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.

Hawks makes himself comfortable on Aizawa’s couch, his elbows resting on his knees as he flips open the file. “There’s the usual stuff,” he says. There’s a picture of Hawks paperclipped to the top piece of paper, a little younger and a little more carefree, grinning for the camera. “Name, birthplace, professional analysis of quirk--incomplete, I might add, but we’ll keep that to ourselves.”

He flips past school grades and medical records, stopping on a chart with a generic man-shaped figure with wings drawn on behind it. “This one chronicles every major injury I’ve ever sustained. Interesting. Especially this part.” He taps the figure’s right hand. “There were these street lamps with spikes meant to deter pigeons, you know? Right outside my family’s apartment building. I wasn’t supposed to try to fly on my own, but you know kids. I ended up falling and catching myself on the spikes. It went clear through my hand.” Hawks rubs at his right hand, his thumb pressing into a pink scar on the palm. “I never told anyone about that. Even my parents didn’t notice.”

They didn’t notice a kid with a hole through his hand? Aizawa’s teacher senses stir and bristle, but whoever Hawks was as a child is long gone now. He only has the man, sitting on his couch, staring down at the file like he’s forgotten Aizawa is even there.

“Where are you going with this, Hawks?” It feels like he’s grading an essay, reminding his students to stick close to the point. He’s already taking a risk, standing here in the first place. Nakajima had been crystal clear in that she was to be the first person he called if he had any contact with Hawks. He shouldn't be listening to this at all.

He’s such a fucking softie. It’ll be the end of him someday.

Hawks gives himself a little shake, as if grounding himself in the present again. “Right, right,” he says, flipping through the file again. Past dry reports of battles and villains and so much paperwork it almost gives Aizawa flashbacks. Finally Hawks pulls a stapled sheaf of paper from the pile and holds it out.

Aizawa takes it hesitantly--and pauses. “Your mission is called Operation Longshot,” he says slowly. Hardly flattering, but when he’d first heard it, he had to admit it was apt. No one really thought the solution would be as easy as simply infiltrating the League. Clearly it wasn’t.

“It is,” Hawks agrees, his gaze unwavering.

That’s not what the paper says. Operation Icarus is printed in bold across the top.

“Read it,” Hawks says.

He’d really rather not. He’d rather climb into his bed and hope that Hawks is gone in the morning, or at least making breakfast. But his life is never that easy. Aizawa’s eyes reluctantly return to the page.

After the events in Fukuoka it is apparent to the commission that Operation Longshot is moving too slowly. Pro Hero Hawks has gained a degree of trust among the League of Villains, but has yet to make contact with their leader, Shigaraki Tomura, or make headway on the creation of the nomu or how to counteract them.

The commission and Operation Longshot team leads, Nakajima and Oshiro, have come to the decision to activate Operation Icarus, the exposure of Pro Hero Hawks’ cover as a traitor within the commission in order to drive him closer to the League of Villains. The commission has at this time chosen to withhold the information about Operation Icarus from Pro Hero Hawks. It is imperative that Pro Hero Hawks’ infiltration of the League of Villains be as convincing as possible, even at the cost of public opinion and personal reputation.

Lieutenant Nakajima will henceforth be assigned to Pro Hero Hawks as his personal handler, to maintain confidential contact with the Operation Longshot team and monitor for signs for defection or sympathy towards the League of Villains.

Fuck. Fuck. Aizawa is aware of Hawks standing, the file abandoned on the coffee table. Maybe he doesn't want it anymore. Maybe it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is crinkling in Aizawa’s hand.

Aizawa looks up. Hawks is standing with his hands in his pockets, still playing at casual, but his face is somber. “I can’t stop you from telling Nakajima I was here,” Hawks says flatly. “Do whatever you want. Tell her whatever you want. She’ll believe what she wants to believe. But I want you to know: from here on out, this is a solo mission. Let them think what they want. I do this my way, or I don’t do it at all.”

He turns to leave, scratching the cat’s head on his way out.

Aizawa tosses the paper back onto the file. “Why come here?” He asks. Clearly not to ask for help. Aizawa isn’t even sure how he would give it, though a piece of him feels like he needs to. Hawks isn’t a kid, he reminds himself, not for the first time. He’s a pro hero. Or at least he was. “Why tell me?” He had been under the impression that Hawks didn’t even particularly like him. Aizawa isn’t sure he likes him either.

Hawks shrugs, his back still turned to him. “I don’t know,” he confesses. “I guess I just thought someone should know the truth.” His hand rests heavy on the door knob. The grocery bag is still forgotten on the threshold. “Nothing’s changed.”

“Nothing?” The word slips free. He doesn’t believe that. Not after the information on that file, or the look on his face; distant, disconnected, like a piece of him is somewhere else.

“Nothing,” Hawks says.

Chapter Text

Hawks isn’t sure what to do with comfortable. He’s just not made for it. He’s always been moving, always been reaching forward. School. His provisional license. His debut. There was always one thing after another. There was always someone to save.

He never stopped to consider he might have to save himself one day.

Because he’s an idiot, Hawks concedes, sitting among villains like he’s one of them, watching Twice argue some circular kind of point partly with himself. Because he trusted the hero commission and never considered why he wouldn’t. He presses his thumb into his palm, against the scar where the spike went through his hand a lifetime ago. He always thought of it as a memento of his own hubris, a wry little souvenir. Hawks, always leaping before he considers that what goes up has to come down.

Operation Icarus. He presses his thumb down until his bones start to ache. The commission never forgot that little lesson.

Dabi’s knuckles brush the back of his hand and Hawks loosens his grip, his eyes flickering sideways. For all appearances, Dabi is more or less ignoring the meeting and everyone in it, playing on the phone he gave Hawks and absolutely ruining his sudoku game, but something has changed since their kiss on the roof. There’s an unspoken sort of body language, loud enough now that Hawks wonders if it was always there, he just wasn’t listening.

Are you okay? Dabi is asking, knocking his knuckles against Hawks’.

Lieutenant Nakajima will henceforth be assigned to Pro Hero Hawks as his personal handler, the Icarus report read, to monitor for signs for defection or sympathy towards the League of Villains. Hawks’ heart flips.

“Tired,” Hawks murmurs. He’s getting better at reading Dabi’s silent language, but he can’t speak it yet.

Dabi hums softly, the only evidence he heard. The meeting carries on for a couple minutes longer, going nowhere, before Dabi tosses the phone on the table carelessly. “I’m bored,” he says. “Either figure it out tomorrow, or figure it out without me.” He shrugs on his tattered jacket and makes for the door.

Hawks blinks, surprised enough to be stunned for a moment, though the rest of the League doesn’t even bat an eye. Clearly Dabi doing what he wants is nothing new. But that’s not what catches Hawks off guard.

Dabi pauses at the door, looking back over his shoulder. “You coming?”

It’s that. “Uh. Yeah,” Hawks says, glancing at Shigaraki. Shigaraki doesn’t even seem to notice, much less case, but Toga is doing this weird thing with her eyebrows, smirking. He feels his ears start to go red. “Yeah, I’m coming.”

Dabi drapes am arm over Hawks’ shoulders as he meets him at the door, as casual as can be, as if Toga’s eyebrows aren’t positively jumping now. His arm radiates cold, pleasantly cool against Hawks’ neck, where a headache has been crawling up his spinal column for the past hour.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Hawks says, nudging him in the ribs with his elbow. His left wing shuffles just slightly, just enough to cover Dabi’s back.

Dabi shrugs. “I was bored,” he says simply. “I wasn’t lying.”

“Uh huh,” Hawks says, pretending like his heart isn’t sinking, like the reality of his life hasn’t been settling piece by piece onto his shoulders, alongside the comfortable weight of Dabi’s arm. It’s too easy, walking like this. It’s too easy to look past Dabi’s unreadable facade and find everything written underneath.

You’ve done it now, Hawks, he thinks. You’re in deep.

///

“Well?” Hawks says, standing at the door. “You coming?”

Dabi looks up from where he’s hunched on a rickety barstool, a sewing needle held between his lips. It’s one of those painfully human moments, the ones that always strike Hawks right in the chest and take his breath away. He’d caught Hawks taking a knife to a jacket to make holes for his wings and subsequently taken both the jacket and the knife away from him. Evidently leaving an edge unhemmed is some sort of crime, which seems rich coming from the guy who habitually wears a coat half in tatters.

“Where did you learn how to sew?” Hawks had asked, peering over Dabi’s shoulder as he threaded the needle with more care than Hawks thought possible. Dabi always seemed more of a burn the world and sort through the ashes kind of guy than one who knew how to do something so delicate.

“Picked it up here and there,” Dabi said vaguely. He elbowed Hawks away, uncharacteristically flustered. “Don’t watch me, you’ll make me fuck up.”

At least Hawks has a little more variety to his wardrobe now, though he wishes he’d grabbed more from his closet before they left his apartment. Dabi’s makeshift adjustments are serviceable, but he’s used to a little more careful tailoring, and sizing up to account for his wings left everything fitting a little baggy and a lot awkward. He misses his hero costume desperately.

But he’s glad not to be wearing it tonight. They’re going someplace that existed long before Pro Hero Hawks did.

Dabi spit out the sewing needle. “Where?”

Hawks shrugs, overcome with a wave of nerves. What the hell? He hadn’t been this nervous when he met Dabi for the first time, and there had been a significant chance that meeting would end with violence. “It’s a surprise,” he says.

“Better not be a jail cell.” Hawks flinches, but Dabi only huffs a laugh, putting aside what he was working on. “Alright, I’ll bite.”

They’re not really the height of subtly, the two of them. Hawks used to like the way his wings made him stand out, but back then he never considered that he might ever be on the other side of the law. He can only pass them off as cosplayers so many times before the ruse wears thin--laypeople might be willing to believe they’re not actually seeing two of the country's most wanted fugitives riding the train, but he can’t rely on the hero commission to watch his back any longer. He’s not sure he ever could.

“It’d be easier if you let me fly us,” Hawks offers lightly.

Dabi snorts and tugs his hood up. He’s put on a beat up black ski jacket, with a flap buttoned up over the lower half of his face. Not exactly the height of fashion, but Hawks has seen weirder. “Not likely,” he grunts. He still hasn’t gotten over their unceremonious flight to the roof. A bit dramatic, considering all the shit he’s put Hawks through. But who’s counting?

“Just take a dramamine or something,” Hawks says, leaning heavily against his shoulder, as if he could press him into submission with sheer dramatics and body weight. Dabi doesn't even sway. Maybe it would have worked better if he weighed anything at all. “C’mon, it’s fun once you get used to it.”

Dabi’s hand moves as fast as a viper, grabbing him by the chin and pulling him in for a kiss. Hawks’ wings flutter, surprised. Dabi drops his hand again. “Not likely,” he repeats with a smirk that says he’s clocked just how flustered Hawks is, and he’s enjoying it. “Stop dawdling. This surprise shit was your idea.”

///

It’s not raining, just gray, with a damp chill that makes him envious of Dabi’s ski jacket after all. Hawks is wearing a hoodie almost the same shade of red as his wings, enough to more or less miss them from afar, if he folds them tight enough. He’s tired of hiding, but there’s something unexpectedly enjoyable in not being seen. It's been a long time since he was anonymous.

The apartment block is a utilitarian shade of beige, little more than a big rectangle set among the scrubby grass, as dull as the gray sky stretching behind it. It’s quiet this time of day, on a weekday, but there are spots of life if you know where to look. Flowers sitting in a window, toys on porches. Street lamps sit silent sentinel beneath them, pigeons nestled smugly among the spikes meant to keep them away.

Hawks sits on one of the swings in the modest little playground opposite the apartment block, the chains creaking softly. Dabi takes the one next to him, the heels of his boots digging into the soft sand.

“I’ve had better surprises,” Dabi says, unzipping his ski jacket just a little. There’s no one around to see them. If anyone’s in the apartments, their shades are pulled tight. He pauses, considering. “But not too many,” he concedes.

Hawks huffs softly, but he keeps his eyes trained on the apartment block, his thumb gently massaging the scar on his palm again. “This is where I grew up,” he says without preamble. He isn’t sure how else to dive right into the heart of it without chickening out first. No one knows about this--no one except his parents, and the hero commission, who knows more than they should. It had been like being cracked open, reading about his own life in black and white print, his heart exposed to the open air. Some things are never meant to be removed from their cage.

A damp wind ruffles Hawks’ feathers and he looks up, the gray sky still bright enough to hurt his eyes if he stares too long. He never thought of his life as a cage before.

Dabi has gone quiet beside him. “If you’re still trying to fucking apologize, don’t,” Dabi says in a low voice, hot with a strange kind of anger. “You know who I am. Who I was. Whatever. It doesn't matter.”

But it does. He talks about it like it’s a bruise that Hawks keeps pressing on, but he can’t help it. He can’t forget the name Todoroki Touya, the same way he can’t forget the Endeavor doll, well-worn and well-loved, until the felt flames on his shoulders started to fray. He can’t forget the tender skin around his own neck, still carefully bandaged by Dabi’s hands.

“It’s not an apology,” Hawks says softly, grappling with the tumultuous emotions at war in his chest. Words are easy when they’re slick and candy-coated. Words are hard when they’re real. “I just--I thought you should know me too. Who I was.”

He knows who he was. Who he is now is a different subject.

Dabi hums softly. “Alright,” he says, and Hawks nearly laughs. Only Dabi would consider refusing to hear his troubled backstory. He’s probably just afraid that it’ll mean he has to cough up his in return. Hawks isn’t sure that’s necessary. Dabi has always, quite literally, worn his past on his face.

Hawks is a little better at hiding it.

“I know it doesn’t look like much now, but it used to be worse. Way worse.” He clams up before he can say more than he meant to. He can still see it, the past superimposed over the present. Peeling paint, broken glass, used needles. Not the kind of place a kid should be, but he never knew that then. Then it was just home, and he was frequently reminded that he should be happy just to have one. “I bought it with my first paycheck, after I debuted as a hero. The very first thing.”

Dabi stirs next to him, surprised. “I’ve never heard that.”

“What? You’ve googled me?” Hawks shoots him a glowing grin to hide the fact that he’s internally scrambling to hold the pieces of himself together. He shakes his head. “I did it all through a proxy. Hired new management, had it cleaned up. Nothing fancy, just livable, you know? But I didn’t want anyone to know it was me. I didn’t want it to turn into some big PR stunt. I just wanted to do what was right.”

That’s all he’s ever wanted. It was supposed to be easy--save the day, how much more straightforward could that be?--only he’s not sure what the right thing is supposed to be anymore. As long as the League of Villains is active, it puts civilians in danger. So? Do what you have to do to protect the innocent population. Easy.

Except he made a mistake, didn’t he? He thinks about the sink of his heart as they left the League, Dabi’s arm around his shoulders. He got too close. The League isn’t the League anymore. It’s Shigaraki and Spinner, Twice and Mr. Compress and Toga. It’s Dabi. They have names, faces, pasts. They didn’t end up where they are now on accident.

Hawks’ wings droop, subtly forgotten, until they brush the playground sand. That’s it, isn’t it? He didn’t end up where he is now on accident either. Operation Icarus. The words scrape him raw from the inside. From the beginning there was a failsafe, not in case he failed but in case he didn’t succeed fast enough. They only had one shot at infiltrating the League, one that couldn't be wasted. It’s what he told himself that night when he was posed with a choice--reveal himself to be a double agent, or continue to play along, even at the price of his career. His reputation. His life.

And somehow, all that time, he’d convinced himself that there was still an ending where he got to go home.

“You made their lives better,” Dabi says and Hawks blinks, surprised. Dabi isn’t an optimist. You don’t join a terrorist group because you look on the bright side of life. But he’s not done. “For a little while. Some kids get to grow up in a place where the roof doesn't leak. Some old ladies get to grow flowers outside their windows, pay a fair rent. Maybe the rest of the neighborhood improves, with the riffraff moved out. The roads get repaved, the streetlights get fixed. Rent goes up. Suddenly it’s not so fair anymore.” Dabi snorts softly. “Suffering never disappears. It just goes somewhere else.”

Into the shadows, into obscurity, into villainy. Suffering like a physical thing given shape, like a disease rotting society from the inside out.

“You can’t save the world, Hawks,” Dabi says fiercely, like it’s something he doesn’t want him to forget. It reminds Hawks of a parent warning a child away from something dangerous--that’s too dangerous a road to follow, you’ll only find your ruin there. Dabi gets to his feet, the swing creaking.

Absurd laughter threatens to bubble up in his throat. Dabi, of all people, is warning him away from the path of self-destruction? “I know,” Hawks says, more harshly than he means to.

“You’ve got to stop thinking like such a fucking hero.”

“I know.” They’ve had this conversation before--does he deserve it? I know a little something about prodigies--but it’s not the same as it was before. Hawks looks up and is surprised to find Dabi watching him intently, something close to concern on his face. “Why do you care about me? You don’t care about anything.” Or he tries his damndest not to. The man on the roof. Iwasaki. Hawks himself. Does he deserve it?

For a moment, Dabi actually looks afraid, like Hawks has reached up and exposed something vulnerable before he could stop him. “Would you rather I didn’t?” He says, too quickly. Hawks just raises his eyebrows, and Dabi shifts his weight, his hands in his pockets. “Because you’re...I don’t know, you’re real. Stupidly real. I’ve been fucking around with you ever since you showed up, waiting for you to fold. But you didn’t. And then you figured out about--about Touya--” He says the name like it hurts, his lips curling in a grimace. “--and you didn’t do a damn thing with it. You should have. I would’ve deserved it.”

Hawks blinks, stunned. He remembers Dabi in his apartment, blue flames curling off of his shoulders, his hands shaking and his eyes far away. His past, Endeavor, the burns on Hawks’ neck--they’d all obviously triggered something, but he never assumed he played a part in it. “You didn’t,” he says softly.

Dabi shakes his head, ignoring him. “You’re not like anyone else,” he says. “No one does that shit. No one apologizes. No one takes me to their shitty childhood home because--”

“Because you deserved to know?” Hawks raises his eyebrows.

Dabi snorts at the use of his favorite word. “Exactly.”

Hawks gives him a lopsided smile, something fluttering in his chest despite himself. Not really the stuff of movies, but for someone like Dabi, that was practically a speech. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Dabi grunts and holds out his hand. Hawks takes it, and lets Dabi pull him to his feet. “Haven’t decided yet,” Dabi says, but he turns away quickly to hide his smirk.

///

It’s drizzling by the time they make it back, which makes it easier to linger, dawdling as they walk down the street. The streets are empty except for people just like them, their heads bowed, their hoods pulled up. Hawks wings gladly pull in tight against his back, his feathers shifted to try to keep out the wet. Dabi’s shoulder bumps against his as they walk, the only thing grounding him in the present. His mind is still turning, twisting itself into knots looking for a solution that might not be out there. Society or the League. He can’t save them both. He can’t not try.

You’re real. Stupidly real.

“Oh shit,” Dabi says, abruptly turning on his heel. “I almost forgot.”

Hawks squints in the rain. “Where are you going?”

Dabi waves him off. “Just wait,” he says, jogging back up the street.

Dabi returns five minutes later with a plastic bag from the corner store up the street, the plastic already beaded with water. He turns into the alley beside his apartment building and Hawks follows him, curious.

The bag rustles as Dabi pulls a squat can from it, and there’s immediately a rusty meow from the shadows next to a dumpster. Dabi pops the top off of the cat food and crouches, setting it out as a gray cat slinks out. It sniffs Dabi’s knuckles before bumping its head against them, its tail swaying.

Hawks laughs, surprised. “You feed strays?” So much for you can’t save the world. He extends one wing, sheltering them from the drizzle. The cat looks up like it’s considering if it could catch a canary that big.

Dabi glares up at him, his eyes narrowed. “She has kittens,” he says defensively, and there’s a tiny chorus of smaller voices as three kittens toddle out after their mother, tumbling over their own stubby legs.

Hawks watches as the cats descend on the can of cat food, the kittens jostling each other for the best position. “You could take them in,” he says. Not that Dabi’s apartment is much better than an alley, but it’s significantly less damp.

Dabi strokes one of the kittens on the head with two fingers. Gentle, but still enough to make its little head bob. “Nah,” he says. “Better not.”

Hawks almost forgets the rain starting to soak into his feathers. He’s never seen Dabi be that gentle with anything before, except for when he was bandaging the burns on his neck. It’s almost enough that he doesn’t notice the scratch at the back of his mind. Almost.

Dabi goes to stand, ducking to avoid hitting Hawks’ wing, but Hawks holds out a hand, catching him by the shoulder. “Wait,” Hawks says, his senses suddenly alert. His feathers quiver eagerly, each of a pinprick of light on the outside of his awareness, waiting to be dispatched. “Were you expecting guests?”

Dabi’s gaze sharpens, the guy who pets kittens gone and replaced by the villain again. Or at least the guy who's accustomed to fighting tooth and nail to scratch out a living. “What do you think?”

“Well, you’ve got company,” Hawks says, dread crawling up his spine. “I left a feather by the door before we left. Just in case.” Distance makes his awareness of them fade, but now that they’re this close he can feel it in full. No voices, but the vibration of footsteps, too close to be coming from the apartments around it. Someone is inside.

Blue flames crawl between Dabi’s knuckles, the rain hissing as it hits. Hawks grabs his wrist now. “Wait,” he says. “Let me go first.”

Dabi narrows his eyes. “They’re looking for me.”

“Exactly,” Hawks says, “and some of us have quirks that don’t involve burning the whole place down.”

Dabi’s eyes go to the building, considering. “Might be worth it to just burn it down now and spare everyone the trouble,” he says. “I can find a new place.”

“Wha--No. There could be kids in there,” Hawks says, disgruntled. “Yeah, yeah, spare me the you sound like a hero shit. They don’t deserve it.”

“If you ever say that word again, I’ll kill you,” Dabi growls. “Fine. Five minutes.”

“I’ll do it in three.” Hawks winks, uneasy behind his grin. They could be looking for Dabi. They probably should be looking for Dabi. But that doesn’t mean they are.

He takes the stairs two at a time. He’d like to go through a window, but they’re all painted over, and it would take more time and make more noise to break into one than would be worth it. Better to go through the front door and play the fool, exactly like they expect. He’s good at that.

The door is locked, but that doesn’t mean anything, not if they know what they’re doing. Hawks slips a feather up his sleeve, not a sword like his primary feathers, but more like a knife, and steps over the threshold. The apartment feels smaller than it did before, darker. He needs to stop picking fights in confined spaces.

He goes still, holding his breath, and his senses expand to fill the empty space. He can hear the hum of the refrigerator, the mumble of the TV next door. He subtly shifts his weight, widening his stance. Breathing. He can hear breathing.

“Alright,” Hawks says. “I’m bored now.” He rolls his shoulders, loosening his wings. He’s so tired of cat and mouse, secrecy and shadows. What he wouldn't give for a good old fashioned fight. “Are we gonna do this, or are we gonna do this?”

Somewhere in the apartment, there’s a shuffle of movement. The edges of his feathers tighten and sharpen reflexively.

“I agree, Hawks,” Lieutenant Nakajima says, leaning against the doorway to Dabi’s bedroom. Her antelope horns brush the ceiling, her arms folded over her chest.. “Let’s cut to the chase.”

Chapter Text

Hawks exhales, the breath ripped from his lungs. His senses narrow and focus, staring down Nakajima like the sight on a rifle. It’s always like this before a fight, the rush of blood in his ears and the way the world sharpens into beautiful, almost painful detail. It’s part instinct, part training, part adrenaline-laced thrill. He’s done this dance a thousand times before.

But not like this. One foot slides backwards, not losing his firm fighting stance but drawing away, stung. The last time he saw Nakajima, it had been at the commission offices, Endeavor’s hand burning against his neck. She looks exactly the same as she always does--her hair swept perfectly into place around her antelope’s horns, her suit a wonder of monochrome bureaucracy. This could be any other meeting, harping on him about his progress or lack thereof.

Except that he knows about Todoroki Touya. He knows about Operation Icarus. Except that they’re standing in the middle of Dabi’s shitty little apartment, staring each other down from opposite sides of a chipped formica countertop. Nakajima looks like someone cut out of a magazine and pasted there, her colors off and her edges wrong. She doesn't belong there.

It’s stupid, to be more defensive over Dabi’s apartment than he ever was over his own, but Hawks bristles anyways. “What are you doing here?” He asks tersely. Did Aizawa tell her about his visit? He can’t decide what he wants the answer to be. He wants to think that Aizawa is different, but he can’t be sure. He used to think he was different once too.

But he wasn’t. He wasn’t a hero, he was a tool. A weapon, with Nakajima’s finger over the trigger.

“You’ve had your temper tantrum,” Nakajima says coolly. “I’ve even let you have your little honeymoon, but it’s over now. You still have a job to do.”

Hawks flinches. How much does she know? He should have known better--kissing Dabi on the roof, taking him to his childhood home. His eyes dart to the door. How long has it been? Five minutes had been more than enough when he thought he was going in for a fight. But Dabi can’t see Nakajima here.

“I’m not having this conversation with you,” Hawks snaps. He hesitates. He told Aizawa he was doing this his way, alone, and he meant it. But there are still too many things that need to be said. A part of him--a small, childish part of him--wants there to be answers for the things he knows now. Explanations. There has to be something that would make the terrible things he knows now make sense. “Not here,” he adds reluctantly. “How did you know I’d be alone?”

“I know you, Hawks. Better than you know yourself.” She inclines her head slightly, a shallow smirk quirking her lips. “The feather trick is very clever.”

His jaw tenses. There’s probably an entry on that in his file too. Dammit. They know he’s...gotten attached. Nakajima knew he’d go in first. Still such a hero, Dabi sneers in the back of his mind, but in Hawks’ imagination, his tone is almost soft.

“If he sees you, he’ll kill you,” Hawks says, hoping it’ll scare her away. She knows that Hawks won’t hurt her, not unless he has to, but Dabi is another story. Dabi wanted to burn down the whole damn building as a matter of convenience. “Go. Get out. You’re not my handler anymore. I’ll come to you when I have something I think you should know.” Or more likely he’ll go through Aizawa again. Aizawa might be trustworthy, which still puts him ahead of Nakajima, who absolutely is not.

Nakajima’s smirk drops. “No,” she says.

His wings ruffle, startled. “I--”

“No, Hawks,” she repeats, her voice forged from iron. “You seem to have forgotten that this isn’t your show. You seem to think that you’ll be forgiven for every time you’ve strayed from the path, like the fucking golden child.” Nakajima’s professional mask slips, revealing a festering kind of resentment beneath it. It’s like turning over a log to see the decay underneath. “You have vastly overestimated your importance,” she spits. “You were a longshot. From the very beginning. No one will be surprised if you fail, but I will not allow you to embarrass me any more before you do.”

A deadly sort of quiet settles over the room. The ancient refrigerator hums, filling the silence. “Are you going to arrest me, Lieutenant?” Hawks is shocked by how calm he sounds, how matter of fact. The short feather in his hand is as sharp as a knife. Or kill me?

Nakajima takes a deep, steadying breath and smooths down the front of her suit jacket. “I won’t have to,” she says, looking up again. “You’re a good soldier, Hawks. You’ll remember that.”

Hawks opens his mouth, anger rising in his throat like poison, but Nakajima cuts him off with the efficiency of a blade.

“Or I will personally make sure your new friends know exactly who you really are,” she says, her gaze unwavering. “You will fall in line, Hawks. Or I’ll feed you to the fucking wolves.”

Hawks stares at her, eyes wide as if she’d reached out and slapped him. Would she do that? Would she really tell the League he’d been a double agent all along? It would burn any hope the commission might have of planting another one in the future, but maybe they’ve learned their lesson about wasting their ammunition on longshots. Bitterness twists in his chest, a lot like grief. How many heroes could they have who would fill the role like he did? How many willing to risk their lives, their careers, their reputations for the greater good?

He’d done it. He’d paid the price. He’d do it again, despite everything, he would, except right now all he can think about is—

He’ll hate you. He’ll hate you if he knows the truth.

The feather is heavy in his hand. His fingers tighten reflexively.

He’ll never forgive you. And then what will you have?

No one is faster than him. Not even Nakajima.

Nothing at all.

“Time’s up,” Dabi’s voice scrapes against the silence.

It’s like coming back to himself, a spirit slammed back into its body, and he breathes again. Hawks spins on his heel, faster than his heart can jump to his throat. “Don’t!” He says, one hand going up, but it’s too late. This time, he’s not fast enough.

Dabi stands in the doorway, one hand pressed against the wall, his shoulders hunched like a revenant still trailing grave dirt. Hawks doesn't remember the door opening, but he’d been so focused on Nakajima that anything could have happened. Stupid. His teachers were always chastising him for that, back in school. The same hyper-focus that made him relentless also made him a target. Sometimes being fast wasn’t enough. Something always catches up to you eventually.

Dabi meets his eyes and there’s a split second where Hawks’ heart drops again, before blue fire blossoms from his hand. It catches, crawling up the cheap drywall and fanning outwards, buffeting Hawks with scalding hot air. In an instant everything, very literally, goes to hell.

Nakajima takes a step back, her eyes wide, her mouth pulled into a perfect circle. One hand is to her ear--an earpiece, connected to backup outside. Of course she didn’t come alone. How many heroes are on call tonight? How many operatives waiting outside? He imagines them watching from the shadows, observing that last tender moment with the kittens in the alley. Hawks grits his teeth. They should have stayed there. They should have turned around and left.

He should have let Dabi burn this place to the ground.

They ended up there anyways. Hawks moves without thinking, colliding with Dabi in the doorway, his hands balled in the front of his coat. Dabi stumbles backwards, into the open hallway connecting the adjoining apartments. Dabi grabs onto Hawks’ hands to steady himself, their legs tangled in a messy dance to stand upright. Dabi’s hand is no longer burning, but the fire is rapidly spreading behind them. The apartment belches dark smoke, the heat making his skin tight and his lungs ache. It’s raining in earnest now, spraying them with cold mist, but it’s not enough to stop the fire. Not even close.

“Didn’t you hear her, Hawks?” Dabi leers, half a laugh, so that his hot breath fans across Hawks’ face. He smells like burning meat and hot metal, flames flickering at the corners of his mouth like a dragon. His eyes are wild, burning blue, boring into his but focused on something far away. “I’ve never been called a wolf before.” He laughs, and the sound is raw and bloody. “Better a wolf than a soldier.”

How much did Dabi hear? Too much. Enough. Hawks’ entire body trembles. Nakajima got what she wanted after all.

“Hawks,” Nakajima cries after him, her fury as bright as the flames. Or maybe she’s just afraid. Part of the ceiling collapses, embers falling like shooting stars. Can Nakajima get out? Or is she burning? He’s not sure. He can hardly see, hardly even think. Smoke detectors from a dozen different apartments chorus discordantly. People stream out of the apartments around them, their shirts pulled over their noses, their faces streaked with tears.

Instinct demands he do something, but he only has time to save one person tonight.

Sirens wail in the distance, growing louder. Nakajima’s backup is probably already there.

Fire behind him. The law in front of him. Nowhere left to go but up.

“Sorry, princess,” Hawks said, the only warning before he kicks Dabi behind the knees and scoops him into a princess carry. Lift with your legs, he thinks grimly as he spreads his wings, hefting them both over the balcony railing. He’s finally grateful that Dabi is built like a malnourished scarecrow.

Dabi’s eyes go wide, his fingernails digging into the back of Hawks’s neck--but he doesn’t let go. Probably a good idea. “Let me go,” he hisses anyways. His bare skin burns against Hawk’s neck, still tender from Endeavor’s own burning hands. Usually Dabi’s skin is cool to the touch. The flames are gone, but he’s still burning.

“Careful,” Hawks says, “I think you’re about to change your mind.” He spreads his wings and kicks off the railing, pushing them out into the open air.

///

They can’t stay in the air for long. Nakajima will be looking for him--assuming she makes it out alive. The thought makes his stomach turn, the burning walls still seared into his eyes, flickering blue every time he blinks. There are already officers on the ground, swarming around the burning apartment building like flies on a carcass, dressed in anonymous black uniforms. Hawks thinks a couple actually take potshots as he struggles to gain altitude, but it’s hard to tell over the roar of the wind in his ears and the drum of the rain, soaking him to the bone.

But luckily they’re not equipped to track someone like him, not with blue flames threatening to jump to the neighboring buildings and any patrolling heroes at least two minutes out. They might be fast, but he’s faster. Even with Dabi breathing harshly in his ear. If Dabi hates him, he’s decided to put it on hold until his feet are on solid ground again.

For a single lightheaded moment, Hawks considers never coming down at all. Why should he? Gravity has only ever pulled him down. If reality is waiting for him, then he’s not interested. Something stirs in his chest, too strangled to be a sob. He grits his teeth, his eyes narrowed against the rain.

There--a park, dark at this time of night, big enough to easily get lost in. Hawks banks, his grip on Dabi tightening as inertia tugs against him. He kicks out his legs to come to a running landing, his wings cupping the air to slow him down, when one of his wings crumples abruptly.

Shit. Hawks falls, careening sideways as his good wing tries to compensate. Trees reach out and grab at them, their branches razor sharp. Hawks bares his teeth and forces his wing open again, his quirk pulling at the feathers as his struggles to right himself. Pain lances up his wing, threatening to pull it closed again.

He’s still coming in too fast. Shitshitshit. Either he needs to pull up, or prepare for a hard landing. Hawks axes option one immediately; he can’t fly, not on this wing. Adrenaline took him this far, but now he can feel hot blood running between his feathers. One of this potshots didn’t go wide after all.

Alright, he decides, watching the ground rise up to meet them. A hard landing it is. His back has never been very good anyways.

“Hold on,” he warns, an instant before his feathers yank him backwards, ignoring all the laws of flight as his quirk takes over. The muscles on his shoulders scream like his wings are about to tear themselves free. He’s done hard landings before--way more than he’s ever wanted--but rarely with a passenger, and never with an entire wing out of commission. The extra weight throws off his calculations and he hits the ground much sooner than expected, feet-first when he had every intention to roll.

He’s lucky, all things considered--his feet his the mud and slip rather than take the full force of the impact. It probably saves him from shattering his tibias, but there’s still a sharp stab of pain as his ankle rolls violently. Hawks and Dabi are yanked apart by the impact, thrown in opposite directions like by the hand of an unamused god. Hawks goes skidding in the mud, his bad wing crumpled beneath him. A broken toy, forgotten in the rain.

Not too far from the truth. Hawks immediately pushes himself up onto his elbows, his entire body shaking. He doesn’t want to move, he doesn’t want to do anything at all, preferably ever again, but instinct and a decade of training demands that he take catalog of the situation. Bullet hole somewhere in his right wing, still bleeding freely. A twisted ankle; probably sprained, possibly broken. His career over, if it wasn’t before. If he even wanted it back.

Nakajima: unknown. Dabi: unknown.

Hawks raises his head, blinking rain out of his eyes. It’s pouring, fat raindrops hitting his back only to find him already soaked. He drops it again, pressing his forehead against his closed fists. Grief wells up in his throat like blood in a wound, like a dog that’s snapped its leash. He wants to go home. He wants to know where home is even supposed to be.

Something collides with his shoulder, flipping Hawks over onto his back before he can recover. Hawks gasps as his injured wing twists again, burning as mud works into the wound, but all he can do is stare upwards, despite the rain. Dabi stands over him, one foot planted on his chest. The rain has plastered his hair against his skull, making him look skeletal, his scars like shadows. He’s holding his left arm awkwardly, like a bird carrying its broken wing.

“What are you doing?” Hawks asks, his voice hoarse. He’s not trapped, no matter what Dabi might think. Even like this, even injured, the fact of the matter is that Dabi is built like a matchstick doll and Hawks once did a promotional campaign for activewear. He doesn’t need photoshop to put Dabi on his ass.

But he’s wet, but he’s bleeding, but he’s tired.

The feral energy in Dabi’s eyes has dimmed, but they’re still just as blue. “Would you have done it?” He asks as if Hawks didn’t speak at all. “Would you have killed her?”

Hawks’ blood runs cold. Dabi saw that—the feather in his hand, the moment where Hawks tallied up what was at stake and weighed it against his soul. “Does it matter?”

“It matters,” Dabi says, “when I’m trying to decide if I should let you live.”

Bull-fucking-shit. Hawks is surprised by the rush of anger, but it’s sweeter than pain. He wraps his hand around Dabi’s ankle and yanks, viciously enjoying the look on Dabi’s face right before he falls—on top of Hawks. Hawks wheezes and Dabi yelps, clutching his arm.

“Get off of me,” Hawks gasps. He’s about to pull his own wing off with his bare hands.

Dabi rolls free, breathing heavily as he lays on his back in the mud. “It’s your own fucking fault,” he snarls.

“What are you going to do?” Hawks sneers. “Kill me?”

Dabi wheezes—it might be a laugh, but Hawks isn’t joking. He rolls onto one elbow, dragging himself through the mud so that he leans over Dabi, his injured wing trailing behind him. “I mean it,” he says. He grabs Dabi’s hand, tightening his grip when Dabi tries to snatch it back. He wraps it around his own throat, over the still-healing scar Endeavor left behind. “Don’t make threats you don’t mean to see through.” Dabi’s eyes flutter, shocked, but Hawks holds his hand in place. Even if it means Dabi can feel his wildly beating pulse. Especially so.

“The hero commission ordered me to infiltrate the League of Villains. They wanted to find the source of the nomu. How they’re made. How to stop them.” Hawks swallows. This isn’t how he wanted to have this conversation--bloodied, in the mud, with Dabi’s hand around his throat. He hadn’t wanted to have it at all, but in retrospect it feels like an inevitability now. He told Dabi that he wanted him to know the real Hawks. It’d been a lie, taking him to his childhood home and thinking it was enough. That Hawks wasn’t real.

This one--broken, bleeding, ready to shake apart--is.

“I chose you because you we knew you were trusted, but not much else. I was ambitious.” Hawks huffs softly, almost a laugh. “I wanted to find out more about you. Show them that it wasn’t so hard. But it wasn’t that easy. You scared the shit out of me with the high-end.”

“It was supposed to,” Dabi murmurs. “It was a test. You failed it.” His hand tightens, as if he’s just remembering that he’s supposed to be furious. But it feels like an afterthought.

“I know,” Hawks says. “I always fail your stupid tests.” His wing flutters weakly.

“Because I knew you didn’t want to fucking be here,” Dabi says, a slight curl to his lips. He falters. “Why are you still here?”

Because it’s the job. Because they’re relying on him. Because there are people to save. Easy answers, once. Now the words won’t quite come. This is honesty, stripped down to its raw bones. He can’t bring himself to lie. “I don’t know.”

Dabi’s hand drops, and Hawks lets it. “Would you have killed her?” He asks, and this time it’s not a test. They’re beyond tests.

He can feel the weight of the feather in his hand, the steady beat of Nakajima’s heart in his ears. He’ll hate you if he knows the truth. For an instant, Hawks would have done anything to keep what little he had. Maybe he would have, if Dabi had interrupted them. But here they are anyways, bleeding in the rain, the truth like broken, mangled thing between them.

And Dabi doesn’t him hate him. Or maybe he does. Maybe he can’t tell the difference between hate and love anymore. Hawks isn’t sure he can either.

Hawks lets his head drop to Dabi’s chest, his entire body shaking as the rain seeps between every feather, running pink with blood. “I don’t know,” he whispers. “I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

There’s a bathroom at the park, a singular brick building with a stained porcelain sink and a leaking toilet, but at least it’s dry.

Or at least it was, until they drag themselves into it, soaked to the bone and dripping. Luckily there’s a drain at the center of the floor, probably so they can hose off the blood when people get murdered there. Hawks has seen too much late night true crime not to know what goes in a place like this.

An appropriate venue then. Great.

Hawks ends up propped against the wall next to the sink. The pipes are exposed and rusty, but the painted brick looks slightly cleaner than the wall opposite it. Dabi doesn’t seem to care. He leans against it, framed by overlapping graffiti, his long legs stretched out over the cold concrete. His eyes are closed, and Hawks takes the time to study him. For a moment, Hawks thinks he can see Touya. It’s something about the way his hair is plastered against his skull, making him look younger, the flickering fluorescent light making everything just look jaundiced. He looks tired. He doesn’t even have the energy to scowl.

Dabi opens his eyes before Hawks can look away again. Hawks tenses, but Dabi just watches him back. Even his eyes, usually so terribly blue, look washed out, like they lose all their color in the rain.

He holds his left arm carefully against his chest, his right hand resting protectively against his elbow. Is it broken? Sprained? Sorry, Hawks thinks grimly. The hard landing hadn’t been his idea either.

Hawks reaches forward. “Can I--?”

Dabi flinches away before he can even finish the thought, even though there’s a good six feet between them. The only sneak attack that’s happening right now is if Hawks decided to touch ankles, and considering one of his is definitely sprained, he’s not planning on it.

Dabi grunts as the movement disturbs his arm, his nostrils flaring. His eyes flicker up and down. Alright then. Maybe Dabi has decided not to kill him, but whatever trust they’d built is gone now. Hawks tries to ignore the pang in his chest.

“Don’t you have your own problems right now?” Dabi says, pulling Hawks out of his own head. It’s the first time he’s spoken since they dragged themselves to the bathroom and out of the rain, reluctantly propping Hawks up to accommodate the sprained ankle. As soon as they were inside, Dabi had dropped him like a hot potato.

Hawks laughs, startled. “Yeah,” he says. “A few.” His wings take up half the bathroom, as much as he tries not to. The left stays folded obediently, but he can’t even close the right one all the way anymore. The bleeding has slowed down, but there’s still a pink puddle of rainwater dribbling down the drain. The blood has matted the feathers together around the bullet hole. He should clean them now, before it dries, but something about digging a bullet out of his wing in front of Dabi in a disgusting public bathroom is distinctly unappealing. He’s just weird like that.

Hawks’ head thunks dully against the wall as he lets it fall backwards, the impact reverberating through his skull and pressing against his headache. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do about that. Find a vet that’ll work under the table? That’s what they do in the movies. And they are wings…

His boots slip on the slick concrete a few times as he struggles to stand. His entire body feels like its been cast out of lead, but he can’t stop moving now. He can sleep when he’s dead or in jail or whatever. All very likely options at this point.

“Where are you going?” Dabi’s voice startles him and he slips again, catching himself on the wall with his shoulder. His wing spasms painfully.

Hawks grabs the sink for balance. He doesn’t wonder why it feels weirdly greasy. It’s better not to know. “Leaving,” he says, avoiding Dabi’s eyes. “Time isn’t really on my side here. Once the fire is under control the heroes will be looking for me.” If Nakajima is still alive. He swallows a surge of nausea. If she’s dead--well, he’s surprise they haven’t found him already. “And I doubt it’ll take the League very long to join the hunting party so--you could say I’m pretty fucked.”

Not to mention a useless wing, a bum ankle, and nowhere to go, but he doesn't think it’s necessary to mention all that. Overkill.

He takes a step forward, and his ankle rewards him with a stab of pain. Fu-u-u-ck this is going to suck ass.

“Sit down,” Dabi snaps.

“It took me this long just to get up!” Hawks snaps back without thinking.

“Just do it before you fall on your ass!” Dabi shoots him a withering glare that doesn't quite match up with the show of concern. “The League isn’t going to be after you.”

Hawks lets himself slide back to the ground, biting back a whimper of relief as he takes the weight off his ankle. Not a dignified sound, and right now he’s putting on his best game face as he eyes Dabi warily. “What are you saying?” Hawks says cagily, trying to smother the spark of hope trying to kindle despite all the rain. “You’re not going to tell them…” That I’m a double agent? That I’m a traitor? That I lied and I kissed you and then I lied again? “Everything?”

“No,” Dabi says after a long moment. He looks away, glaring at the toilet. “I’m not going to tell them.”

Relief hits him like a sucker punch, followed swiftly by terror. Dabi, for all his standoffishness and lone wolf tendencies, is loyal to the League. The idea that Dabi would put Hawks before them--after everything he heard, after their fight in the mud--is dizzying. What’s he supposed to do, with that kind of...maybe trust isn’t the word. Devotion? He can’t think straight right now.

“Why?” Hawks asks before he can think better of it.

“Because I don’t want to see you die, you stupid fuck,” Dabi snarls, and Hawks catches a glimpse of how angry he is, hidden behind the exhaustion and the pain. Angry he was fooled, angry he cares so much, angry that he can’t do what he probably should and kill Hawks himself. “Your side sure as hell isn’t going to take care of you, so I guess that leaves mine.”

Dabi stands awkwardly, still favoring his left arm carefully. He closes the gap between them and offers Hawks his hand. Hawks hesitates, and takes it like an olive branch. Hawks is surprised to find Dabi has a sort of wiry strength to him, as he helps pull him back to his feet. He thinks back to the way Dabi fought, back in the warehouse, during Hawks’ audition with the League. Loose and reckless, but with a structure to it that suggested formal training. Endeavor must have trained him himself, once upon a time.

Hawks tightens his grip on Dabi’s forearm as he steadies himself, putting as little weight as possible on his bad ankle. It brings them close enough that their noses nearly touch. For an instant, Hawks thinks that Dabi is going to kiss him again.

“You’re bleeding again,” Dabi says instead, and Hawks curses softly. He can feel it dripping between his feathers. “Come on. I know someone who can help.”

///

They take the train, which feels devestatingly stupid, considering the likelihood they’re presently all over the news, but this is Dabi’s show to run right now, and Hawks is too exhausted to argue. They hop the turnstile and shuffle on board with the rest of the dripping, miserable night commuters. It reminds him strangely of the night everything came apart, post-photograph but pre-discovery. Sitting on the train, staring at the world moving on around him, as the commission told him that there was nothing they could do.

Lies, lies and more lies. He probably should have seen that coming. He was never the only liar on the payroll.

Hawks sags against the ugly vinyl seats. Dabi leans against him, their arms pressed together, as if sucking up his warmth. They’re shockingly not as conspicuous as Hawks expected, which isn’t saying much, considering his expectation was to get arrested on the train platform. They’re both plastered in mud, which is starting to dry and crack in unpleasant ways. His wings are more brown than red now, except for a couple fresh streaks of blood, and as long as you don’t look too closely, you can’t even tell Dabi has scars.

It’s not really the kind of look you expect from wanted criminals. Too pathetic. Still, Hawks catches a kid, maybe ten, giving him the side-eye from across the train. He catches the kid’s eye and raises his eyebrows, and the kid looks away sharply, his ears going red.

He doesn’t pay attention to where they stop, just drags himself after Dabi up the stairs and back out into the rain. Maybe Dabi is taking him back to the League, to kill him or otherwise, but he doesn’t think so, for a lot of reasons. The streets don’t look familiar here, though a lot of things don’t look familiar from street level when you’re used to flying, and he doesn’t think that Dabi is ready to go back to the League yet. There’s still too much they haven’t talked about, and a lot of things that haven’t been decided.

Hawks isn’t sure how they’re supposed to move on from this--from the lies, from Nakajima, from the fire, but without Dabi, he doesn’t have a home to go back to. Not anymore. If Dabi wants to keep these holding pattern for a little while and pretend they can suspend time in amber, then Hawks is happy to indulge him. But they can’t do it forever.

Tomorrow’s problem. A tomorrow where hopefully his wing hurts a little less. He holds Dabi’s good arm to steady himself as he hobbles, his ankle reprimanding him every time he thinks it might support a little more of his weight.

Dabi leads them to an impersonal little apartment building. Nice, in a bland kind of way; the kind of housing usually reserved for students, who aren’t going to be there long enough to care about the beige walls anyways. Hawks is relieved when Dabi makes for a door on the ground floor. He’s never been so happy to keep his feet on the ground.

But he’s nervous. He hasn’t been this helpless since he lost almost all of his feathers to the high-end, and at least then he could still fucking walk. Not just nervous--he’s anxious, the way he hasn’t been in the better part of a decade. He’s mostly trained himself out of it, but his extroversion wears off like a thin coat of paint if he lets it go too long without maintenance. It probably speaks to a childhood largely spent alone, but that’s the last thing he needs to think about right now. Deep-seated emotional trauma can fuck right off, he’s busy.

Instead he just stops, until Dabi is forced to stop with him. “Are you sure about this…person?” Dabi has afforded him absolutely no details, but considering everything, that's actually kind of fair.

Dabi cocks his head, considering. “Are you nervous?” He says, a funny little smile pulling on one corner of his mouth. Is he laughing at him?

“Are you not?” Hawks counters, incredulous. “Because I’m pretty sure we made the eleven o’clock news.” Again. “I’m not really up for any more daring escapes tonight.”

“Good,” Dabi says a little too vehemently and Hawks rolls his eyes. Is he still upset about the flying thing? What a fucking baby. “Chill. He knows how to be discreet.”

Hawks lets Dabi tug him back into motion, his ankle kicking up a fuss again. “Why do I feel like I’m about to meet your drug dealer?” He mutters.

Dabi snorts. Each apartment face looks almost exactly the same, except for a little potted fern sitting on the windowsill next to the door they approach. Dabi raps on the door with his knuckles, looking entirely out of place against the beige backdrop. It’s late, but the buzzing porchlight bathes them in flickering yellow light.

There’s a pause, and then the scrap of a lock. The door opens.

And Todoroki Natsuo stands on the other side of it. Hawks stares. Natsuo stares back. Dabi picks at a scab at his wrist.

“Hey,” Dabi says.

“Fuck,” Natsuo replies.

///

“Hold on,” Natsuo says, holding up a hand. “I have to make sure my roommate doesn’t come home.” His nose is buried in his phone, his thumbs flying as he rapidfire texts.

“What do you tell him?” Dabi asks. Meanwhile, his head is buried in one of the cabinets, rustling through bags of chips like a raccoon in a dumpster. They’d already been corralled off of the carpet and into the kitchen, where they can drip freely.

“Hm? Oh, that I have a skin condition I need to air out every once in a while, so I walk around the place naked,” Natsuo says, distracted.

Hawks laughs, startling himself. It’s been like walking through a fog, sitting inside Todoroki Natsuo’s apartment, getting mud all over his chair, as Dabi rummages around like he owns the place. No one has made any introductions, but at this point, Hawks knows the spawn of Endeavor when he sees one. He’s still kicking himself over not realizing the truth about Dabi for so long.

Natsuo glances up, a surprised little smile on his face, like he hadn’t expected Hawks to laugh either. “He’s a bio major,” he explains. “Just not a very good one.”

Hawks rubs at his eyes with his cleanest fingers, trying not to add mud in the eye to his list of problems. He’s definitely not dreaming this, but it still kind of feels like it. “So, what’s going on here, exactly?” He says, sounding exactly as lost as he feels. “Are you…? I mean… you know about…” He gestures helplessly toward Dabi, who still has his head hidden behind the cabinet door, but has conspicuously gone still. “Everything?” He doesn't want to say it if Natsuo doesn’t already know. Though either he’s in the know, or else he’s remarkably cool with two wanted criminals crashing at his place for no apparent reason. Stranger things have happened.

“Um.” Natsuo’s eyes dart toward Dabi, like he’s not sure if Hawks is totally in the know and as the same reservations.

“He knows,” Dabi says shortly, and Hawks can’t tell which of them he’s really talking to. He closes the cabinet and leans against the counter, still holding his left arm at an angle gingerly. His eyes find Hawks’. “My quirk fucks me up. Obviously.” He tilts his head sardonically. “Sometimes I need something to take the edge off. Natsuo helps.” He holds up a pill bottle Hawks hadn’t seen before and give it a little shake. “Want one?”

Hawks can feel clarity dawn across his face. “He is your drug dealer!”

Dabi snorts, and tosses Hawks a pill. Maybe he expects Hawks to drop it, but his wing is busted, not his eyes. He plucks it out the air and considers it, hesitating. He’s not really in the business of accepting strange pills--not after that one time Miruko had to carry him out of the club on her back--but fuck his wing hurts. He hesitates for a moment longer and then swallows it dry.

“I know...know some people,” Natsuo says cagily. “I can get what I need to get, for the right price. But I’m not a doctor. Or a drug dealer. Strictly speaking.” He shoots Dabi an exasperated look, and Hawks gets the idea this is an argument they’ve had before. Just how often does Dabi come here? “I told you, I’m studying medical welfare, it’s different--”

“We don’t have anywhere else to go,” Dabi says bluntly. “Can you help him or not?”

Natsuo holds his gaze for a long moment, before he sighs gustily. “Alright, alright,” he says. “You’re such a pain in my ass.” He turns and disappears into one of the rooms across the apartment.

Hawks eyes dart back to Dabi immediately. He has too many questions, and not a lot of time. He didn’t expect this. Any of this. When Todoroki Touya’s file said presumed dead, he took it at face value. Off the grid, new name, new life. He didn’t expect to find out his brother knew he was alive, and was dealing him opioids.

“Does your sister know?” Hawks asks, his voice hushed. “Does the kid?” Fuck, what’s his name again? “Shouto?”

“Shouto is his father’s son,” Dabi answers with a sharp, venomous edge to his voice. Hawks isn’t so sure that’s true--the UA Sports Festival feels like it was a long time ago now, but he remembers being surprised by the youngest Todoroki. He wasn’t what he’d expected. “Fuyumi’s got enough to worry about.”

There’s more to it than that, but Hawks doesn’t get the chance to press further before Natsuo is back with a folded stack of clothes. He throws them at Dabi, forcing him to catch them against his chest. “Go take a shower. You’re gross.”

“You’re gross,” Dabi counters lazily, more at ease than Hawks ever would have expected. He throws back one of the pills, leaving the bottle on the counter, and disappears into the bowels of the apartment. A moment later, he hears the faint hiss of water.

“Okay,” Natsuo says stiffly, not quite meeting Hawks’ eye. They’re alone now, and the awkwardness is palpable. Again, Dabi didn’t do any introductions, but Hawks gets the feeling this one wasn’t really necessary. “Lets see what I can do.”

///

Hawks ends up sitting backwards on a kitchen chair, his bad wing spread over the table. He’s also stripped down to the waist, which feels a little unnecessary, but at least the wet fabric isn’t sticking between his shoulder blades anymore. Natsuo is armed with a first aid kit and a tablet that he’s consulting with a concerning frequency.

“Do you have a healing quirk?” Hawks asks, his wing twitching nervously. That wouldn’t make sense--their father had fire and their mother had ice, but, y’know. Surprises happen. He hopes.

“No,” Natsuo says. “I don’t have a quirk at all.”

Oh.

“Is that a problem?” There’s an edge to Natsuo’s voice that sounds a lot like his brother’s.

“No.” Hawks blinks owlishly. “I mean, I’d love if you had a healing quirk, or a bullet removing quirk, but that’s more of a I-have-a-bullet-stuck-in-me-thing. Call it a personal problem.”

Natsuo laughs, looking startled. He gives Hawks a sideways look, and Hawks can almost see the equations behind his eyes, recalculating. “You’re not what I expected,” he says after a moment, busying his hands in the first aid kit.

“Really?” Hawks rests his chin against the back of the chair, tilting his head so he can still see Natsuo out of the corner of his eye. “I thought ‘jackass’ was always my defining feature.” Which came naturally, but it didn’t hurt to play it up. It was better when people thought they knew what to expect from you.

“All heroes wear masks,” Natsuo says, suddenly very serious again. “I thought you were a lot like him. Number two hero from a young age and everything.” It takes Hawks a moment to realize, with a jolt, that he means Endeavor. “That’s all Dad cares about. That’s all he’ll ever care about.” He shakes his head. “It made sense you’d all be the same.”

“No, you’re right,” Hawks says softly, without entirely meaning to. “All heroes do wear masks.” He never would have guessed the truth behind Endeavor. He should have, maybe, but he wouldn’t have. The same way Dabi never should have trusted him, never should have let him get as close as he did, and look at them now. Both worse for wear because of it.

Lies, lies, lies.

Natsuo gives him a searching look. “I’m not a villain, just so you know,” he says, fussing with his tablet again. He seems to be picking up a lesson in triage from YouTube. “I don’t approve of all the shit Tou--all the shit my brother does, or agree with it, or whatever. I just want to keep him alive. Which is pretty fucking hard, as you might have noticed.”

Hawks snorts softly. Yeah, he can see that. Then again, he’s the one bleeding here.

“So what I’m saying--” Hawks yelps and startles as a sharp stab of pain races up his wing. Natsuo has started cleaning the bloodied feathers with a warm cloth--and pressing a little harder than strictly necessary. “Is that I hope I can trust you to watch his back. Because I can’t always be there.” Natsuo’s eyes flicker upwards and then back again quickly when he finds Hawks watching him. He feels helpless. Because he’s quirkless, or because Dabi won’t let him? “And he cares about you. I can tell,” he adds a little smugly.

“You think?” Hawks says lightly, trying to make it a joke. Trying to ignore the fierce pounding of his own heart.

“He’s not as heartless as he looks,” Natsuo says instead of answering. “At least, I don’t believe he is.”

Hawks looks back toward the wall, the back of the chair digging into his chin as he tries not to think about Natsuo’s crash course in bullet removal. There’s plenty of other things to think about. The fact that Dabi cares about his brother, even if he can’t admit it; that he cares about Hawks, even if he shouldn’t; that he cares at all.

Once, Hawks thought he could save the world. It was predestined, written in the stars, and, well, if he didn’t, who would? Now he knows that he can’t. Maybe Dabi is right, maybe the world doesn’t want saving. Or maybe it’s just that Hawks can’t even save himself.

He closes his eyes. He can hear Dabi walking around the apartment, the familiar press of his footsteps and the rustle of his clothes.

But maybe I can still save you.

Chapter Text

Hawks doesn’t ask what kind of fungal emergency Natsuo has to come up with to scare his roommate off for the night, but whatever it is, it works. The apartment is safe for them to stay, if only for the night. Their presence puts Natsuo in danger, but Hawks isn’t proud enough to turn down the offer. By the time the bullet is out and his wing is haphazardly patched up, Hawks doesn’t have much pride left at all.

Natsuo gives him his room, where the bed is big enough for him to lay on his stomach and spread his injured wing out over the mattress, a towel laid underneath it in case he bleeds through the bandages. It had been hard enough trying to bandage a wing. Evidently YouTube tutorials only go so far.

Hawks buries his face in Natsuo’s pillow. His wing aches in time with his pulse, the edge dulled by whatever pill Dabi gave him. He could probably use another one, but he doesn't want to ask, and some stupid part of him is still clinging to the idea that he should keep his wits about him. As if he didn’t lose his mind days ago, when he kissed Dabi on the roof.

When he broke into the her commission office, when he stole the files, when he broke Endeavor’s nose. On second thought, most of recent memory has been a series of one bad decision after enough.

But at least they were his. He can’t say that about a lot these days.

The door creaks open, and Hawks recognizes the shuffle of Dabi’s steps. Asshole doesn’t know how to pick up his feet.

“You look dead,” Dabi says conversationally.

“Wishful thinking,” Hawks mumbles, reluctantly shifting his face/pillow configuration so that he can breath again. The room is dark, lit mostly by the halo of light around the door. Dabi looks like a piece of shadow wearing his brother’s sweatpants. Hawks shifts again, lifting his head to see better. Dabi still holds his arm at an awkward angle, though it’s almost swallowed by the volume of Natsuo’s hoodie. “Did he look at your arm?”

It’s too dark to see, but Hawks can feel his suspicious glance. “It’s fine,” Dabi says grudgingly. Meaning no. Meaning no, I’m a stubborn ass. He shouldn’t be surprised.

Hawks hesitates, and then pulls back his uninjured wing, folding it against his back and opening one side of the bed in an unspoken invitation. “Where did Natsuo go?” He asks as if he hadn’t done anything at all. Dabi won’t accept anything if he has to acknowledge its actually being offered to him.

“Girlfriend’s place,” Dabi says. “Guess he wanted to sleep in a bed without any feathers.”

More like he wanted to give them some privacy. Hawks presses his nose into the pillow, unsettled. Does Natsuo expect him to save his brother in a single night? Or maybe he just doesn’t want to implicate himself in their various crimes any further. Hard to say.

The bed creaks as Dabi finally settles onto it, sitting propped up against the headboard. It should make Hawks feel exposed--laying on his front with his back vulnerable and his injured wing spread out--but the dark is strangely comfortable. His good wing twitches, wanting to to spread out again, over Dabi’s legs like a blanket, but he keeps it folded tight. He isn’t quite sure if their boundaries extend that far at the moment.

“Your brother seems nice,” Hawks says. The drugs pull at his senses, tempting him toward sleep, but he doesn’t want to go. Tomorrow is another day, one with infinite potential to be worse than the one before it. He doesn’t want to arrive there any sooner than he has to. He wants to stay in this room, in the dark, with Natsuo’s pillow mashed under his chin and Dabi’s presence making the sheets cool.

Dabi snorts softly. “He was trying to impress you,” he says. “Usually he hits me when I show up on his doorstep covered in blood.” There’s a fond streak in his voice that Hawks isn’t sure he’s aware of.

“He loves you,” Hawks says. “He’s probably just worried one day you won’t show up.”

“He doesn’t love me,” Dabi says, so suddenly and so poisonously that Hawks’ wings twitch. Dabi looks away, and Hawks can see the movement of his hands fussing with the staples at his wrist. “He hates our old man. He’d let me burn down an orphanage if I told him it’s because one of the children reminded me of him.”

“No one can just care about you?” Hawks says before he can stop himself. “There always has to be an explanation?”

Dabi says nothing. Clearly he’s touched a nerve.

And something about the moment dares him to press harder, like a finger against a bruise. He’s seen the way Dabi picks at his scars, working his fingers into the seams until he bleeds. He’s accustomed to pushing the hurt just to see how far it’ll go.

“Tell me about Touya,” Hawks says into the dark. “What was he like?”

He expects Dabi to snap, or at least serve him with the silent treatment again. For a long moment, it seems like he’s going to. “He was sad,” Dabi says. “And when he wasn’t sad, he was angry. Like a bomb that never got to go off. The pressure just kept ticking upwards.” Tick, tick, tick. Dabi’s fingers tap against the bed. “That’s all he was. There wasn’t any room for anything else.”

“You tried to tell them,” Hawks says, and it isn’t a question. He read Touya’s file at the hero commission offices. They knew about Endeavor’s crimes long before Hawks did. Long before it was too late to do something about it. “You tried to save him.” Him, like Touya is dead. To Dabi, he might as well be.

“I wanted to save my mother,” Dabi murmurs, and whatever he took for the pain, he must have taken a little more of it. His fingers are gentle as they slip into Hawks’ hair, and Hawks goes perfectly still, afraid that if he moves, Dabi will realize what he’s doing. He hasn’t noticed that he’s already slipped into the familiarity of talking about Todoroki Touya like they might still be the same person. “Back when I still thought people could be saved.”

Dabi’s hand is methodical, working out the tangles in his normally windswept hair. It’s easier to focus on them than the ache in his wing.

“Are you still sad?” Hawks says softly. He sounds so childish, but there’s no other way to ask it. He knows that Dabi is still angry, angry makes sense, but he’s never thought that a villain might be sad. It doesn’t feel right.

Again, Dabi pauses. “No,” he says at last. “I’m not much of anything now.”

Hawks buries his face in the pillow, Dabi’s hand a comforting weight on his head. His heart constricts painfully in his chest, too heavy to bear. He wants to go to sleep for a hundred years and wake up in a different world.

But he can’t. He has to do what he always does--move forward, move faster, fly higher. The moment he slows down is the moment he gives up.

And he’s not ready for that yet.

Hawks lifts his head. “Promise me something,” he says into the dark.

“No,” Dabi says without hesitation.

“Why not?”

“Because you’re a liar, Hawks.” The words are harsh but he says them almost gently, his knuckles grazing Hawks’ cheek as his hand drops away. He says it like it’s just a fact, one of many that can’t be avoided anymore.

He’s right, but not tonight. Not right here. “You haven’t heard what I’ll promise you,” he says.

Dabi’s head twitches. He’s listening, even if he doesn’t want to. He’s curious, even if he knows he shouldn’t be.

The bed shifts and creaks as Hawks pushes himself up. His injuries protest, one wing hanging heavier than the other, but this feels important. It is important. He kneels, his sprained ankle folded carefully underneath him.

“Promise me you’ll forget Shigaraki,” Hawks says. “Forget villainy. All of it. Just leave, and don’t look back.”

It’s the only way. Hawks has run the numbers, again and again, waiting for them to come to a different conclusion. Dabi isn’t a villain who fights for something--he might talk about who deserves what, but at the end of the day, he believes that he deserves this. In every scenario, every future, Dabi will always burn.

Except maybe this one.

“And I promise…” His heart thunders in his chest. He can feel his wing bleeding again, blood trickling between red feathers. There’s always one flaw in the equation, one thing that throws the whole thing out of whack. Dabi loves him, or at least Hawks thinks he does. But it’s not enough. Not while he still hates. “I’ll help you kill your father.”

Dabi moves like lightning, instant and deadly. Suddenly they’re chest to chest, Dabi’s hand curled loosely around his throat. He must have meant to go for his collar, but Hawks’ shirt is a pile of bloody rags in Natsuo’s garbage can. His fingernails scrape against skin instead.

“I don’t need your help,” he snarls, his breath hot, and Hawks thinks he must imagine the blue ember that sparks between his teeth.

“Yes, you do,” Hawks counters, his hand on Dabi’s wrist, but he doesn’t pull him away. They’re back in the rain again, locked together. If Dabi could do this on his own, he would have done it a long time ago.

Dabi doesn’t bother to argue. His mind is moving too fast, his eyes darting over Hawks face like he’s trying to read the truth on his skin. “You’re a liar,” he says.

“Usually,” Hawks says, “but not tonight.”

Dabi is breathing heavily, his whole body shuddering, as if Endeavor already in front of him. “You promise,” he whispers.

Hawks holds his face, and his palms are calloused, but he can still feel Dabi’s entire life written across his skin. Scars upon scars upon scars, barely held together. “I promise,” he says. “I promise.”

///

The League has a crappy little TV in their latest base. The sound sucks and Twice changes the channel on an almost constant basis, but Hawks catches enough of the news broadcast to piece together their side of what happened last night. Luckily, it’s all they seem to be playing. Dabi’s apartment, burning. Civilians, huddled outside under flashing lights. Hawks himself, on shaky cellphone footage, flying off into the rain, holding Dabi against his chest.

Miruko, her face streaked with ash and her ears pinned back furiously, shoving a camera out of her face. “No comment,” she growls before the reporter wisely makes a hasty retreat.

There’s no word about Nakajima, nor any casualties, which means she’s alive. Or at least that’s how Hawks chooses to interpret the silence. The commission knows him, for better or for worse. If he’d killed Nakajima, even indirectly, they’d never let him forget it.

They know he wouldn't be able to live with the guilt.

Hawks runs his hands through his hair, scrubbing at his scalp with his nails. Give. Take. Gain. Lose. That’s some sort of law of nature, isn’t it? Some fact of life. You get what you pay for.

Either he loses Dabi, or he keeps him. Either way, there’s a price.

“Turn that trash off,” Dabi says, drifting behind the ratty old couch Hawks shares with Twice. Natsuo convinced him to put his arm in a sling before they left, but only after Hawks ratted him out in the first place. Dabi taps Hawks on the top of the head. “C’mon. Boss wants to see you.”

Hawks flexes his hands, strangely nervous. When he went into the mission, he’d been confident he was doing the right thing. That leant his act strength, even if Dabi would have him believe he’d always seen right through it. Now he’s uncertain about everything, the League most of all.

It’s not a betrayal. He keeps reminding himself of that, over and over, as if he hasn’t been betraying them from the very beginning. Shigaraki still gets what he wants, at least in the immediate scale. All Hawks ever promised him was a way into UA.

After that--he’s done. After that, this is over.

Hawks’ stomach churns. He wishes he could believe that.

“What’s up?” Hawks says, hooking his thumbs in the pockets of his hoodie. God, he’ll never stop missing his own clothes. He hasn’t stopped to consider how he’ll find decent clothes once they leave the city--the country, probably. He’ll be stuck wearing awkward coats and chunky sweaters for a while, if he’s going to lie low. Hopefully somewhere cold. His wings twitch, as if they know they should be enjoying their last moments of freedom for a while. Things are moving quickly. It won’t be long now.

Shigaraki gives him a scrutinizing look, his eyes narrowed as he looks him up and down. Hawks pins his easy smile in place, ignoring his nerves. “You can’t go around looking like that,” Shigaraki says gravely.

Alright, not really what he expected from getting called in to see the boss, but he’s starting to get used to the fact that the League doesn’t function like most other people. “I didn’t know I’d been nominated for Queer Eye,” Hawks says, equally grave, and he hears Dabi wheeze softly behind him.

“He’s trying to be nice,” Dabi mutters, loud enough that Shigaraki can hear him and glare appropriately, “he’s just bad at it. Show him, twerp.” He nods toward where Toga bounces eagerly on the balls of her feet, smiling from ear to ear. It’s disconcerting. A happy Toga was usually...well, a violent Toga.

But there are no knives (in sight, at least) when Toga bounds forward and shoves something into his hands. It’s warm and soft and just heavy enough to be a pleasant weight in his hands. Hawks stares down at it, hyper aware of everyone watching him with varying degrees of visible enthusiasm.

“Dabi said you weren’t goth enough for our team,” Toga says, which seems like paraphrasing, but Hawks can’t say for sure. “So I we got you this, so you can stop looking like such a hero all the time. Or homeless. Not that it’s totally untrue, since you let Dabi burn his place down.” She laughs like she’s recounting a delightful evening and not one the worst nights of Hawks’ life.

Hawks runs his hands over the fabric. It’s a flight jacket, not unlike his hero costume, but appropriately dyed entirely black. The outside is vinyl and waterproof, but the inside is insulated with dark sherpa trim. He runs his fingers through it.

“How did you afford this?” Hawks asks, trying not to sound suspicious. The League isn’t exactly rolling in cash, and this isn't the sort of thing you can just steal off a mannequin.

Toga grins. “Twice is a really good pick pocket,” she says, and Twice flashes him an enthusiastic thumbs up. “And Dabi did the back.”

Hawks turns the jacket over in his hands, and there on the back are two slits, their seams sewn with Dabi’s careful little stitches. He runs his fingertip over them, emotion welling inside of him like blood in a wound. When did Dabi find the time to do that? When did any of them? He knows what it’s like to have nothing, and they still went out of their way to give this to him. His grip on the jacket tightens.

“Try it on,” Dabi prompts him.

The wing slits are a little small, but he manages to shed a few feathers and squeeze them through, even with one of them still bandaged awkwardly. The jacket fits well, if differently than his hero costume. Tighter in the shoulders and the wrists. He turns his head reflexively to bury his face in the collar, the warm sherpa tickling his nose. He breathes in.

He meets Dabi’s eyes. Dabi was impossible to read once, but now Hawks sees too much. His eyebrows tick upwards, barely noticeable at all, and Hawks’ heart constricts. You don’t have to leave, he’s saying. This can be yours too.

But Hawks already made his promise, and Dabi did too. He intends to him him to it.

“Thank you,” Hawks says. He smiles despite himself. “I feel...very goth.”

Toga laughs and claps her hands and Twice slaps him on the back, making his wing twinge, and the atmosphere in the room is intoxicating. Spinner looks pleased and Mr. Compress spins a marble between his fingers and even Shigaraki isn’t scowling. Dabi’s eyes burn into him.

“Now,” Shigaraki says, standing. “Back to work.”

Hawks’ mood falters, his hands still curled tight in his new jacket. Back to work.

Promises, promises, promises. Shigaraki will have UA. Endeavor will die. And he’ll be gone.

He really thought freedom would taste sweeter than this.