Disillusionment was a slow-acting disease, instilling doubt in the faithful and infecting the bravest of hearts with cowardice. Kai had seen it take root in the minds of dedicated followers during his study, branches growing the most poisonous of fruits polluting their thoughts with disloyalty.
They were all so weak for it.
Lost in his thoughts, Kai hadn’t heard the footsteps trailing to the study room he had secluded himself in for the evening. The book he was supposed to be helping Father Kan translate from Latin was open on the desk in front of him, but Kai’s hands were idle. The pen he had gripped in one hand bleeding out ink onto the paper its tip was pressed against long ago. A silhouette stepping into the light of the candles Kai had lit snatched his attention as a brief shadow passed over him.
“You’re an interesting one, aren’t you?”
Kai looked up from his seat to see light, blue eyes staring down at him.
Of course, he thought.
“I told you not to speak to me anymore, Touya.”
Touya, last name infuriatingly unknown, was one of the most recent seminarians to join their monastery, and Kai, as much as he tried, despised him. The lanky man sauntered around the grounds as if he were a full-fledged priest already, easing himself into the spaces within the other seminarians’ conversations flawlessly, forming friendships and bubbling laughter easier than Kai had ever been able to. He leaned against Kai’s desk now, grinning as he shook his head at him.
“That’s not very Christian of you, now is it?” Touya said.
Kai swore there was something devilish about his smile.
“I’m working, what do you want?”
Touya took it as an invitation to plop down into the chair on the other side of the desk, shoes brushing against Kai’s as he stretched out his legs.
“Have you seen Father Kan around?”
Kai looked back at his book and paper, frowning when he realized the page the ink had seeped into was ruined.
“I spoke to him earlier today, he seemed ill.”
“Did he now?”
“He did. Why do you care?”
“He was supposed to help me today with some questions I had about my medicinal studies, but I haven’t been able to find him.”
Kai huffed, “Maybe he’s hiding from you.”
Touya put his elbow on top of the desk and held his chin in his hand, the same grin from before twisting his mouth again.
“Maybe he is, wouldn’t that be fun?”
Kai tensed his hand around his pen and looked over to Touya. The man was smugly looking at him, and Kai would never admit it, but he was envious of how Father Kan had seemingly taken a liking to Touya. It seemed like no matter where Kai looked, Touya’s influence was there — in the way the man lingered around him, bothering him in the halls and stairs with passing quips, in the way he called attention to himself during the seminarian’s breaks in between lessons with stories from a time before he wore his robes. Most irksome of all, in the way Father Kan would excuse himself from conversations or meditations with Kai, only for him to later find out he was tutoring Touya in something.
It was always something with him.
“If you’re going to sit there, you might as well try to study yourself.”
“Maybe you could tutor me. Sekijiro thinks highly of you, I’m sure there has to be reasons for that.”
“I’ve studied under Father Kan for years now. He’s an excellent mentor, as I’m sure you know from your lessons.”
“Well,” Touya hummed, “I’m usually distracted if I’m being honest with you.”
“Is this a joke to you?”
Touya tilted his head. “What?”
Kai placed the pen down on the desk and closed his book, resting his palm flat against its worn cover. Sometimes he found himself wishing he could just touch things and people and make them disappear, rearrange them into something useful.
“Is this all a joke to you? You showed up out of nowhere with no vouches for you, managed to convince nearly all the seminarians to like you, even the Fathers and Brothers when you clearly don’t care for any of your lessons. I’ve caught you smoking before outside by the dormitories, and even worse, I’ve seen you tag along others with you while you do it.”
“Wow, Kai, no need to be jealous, I’ll invite you out next time.”
“I’m not jealous, you idiot.”
Touya’s chair squeaked as he scooted over closer, leaning towards him.
“Yeah, sure. You know what? You like to act like you’re better than me, but you’re not. Everyone knows who you were before our darling Father Kan took you under his wing.”
“Watch it,” Kai said.
“No, I don’t think I will. I’m not stupid, and you aren’t either. I’ve made the others here like me, trust me even. You’ve made them dislike you, some are even afraid of you.”
“I don’t care what they think of me.”
“Do you care what I think of you?” Touya said.
Kai huffed. “I care about you the least.”
“Good, maybe you have a chance then.”
Touya stood up then, the legs of his chair crying out as they dragged along the floor.
“What does that mean?” Kai asked, watching him drift towards the door.
Touya glanced at him from the doorway, only one of his eyes visible from the angle. His hand rested against the doorknob as he spoke, “What does anything mean, at the end of the day?”
So many damn riddles, Kai thought.
Touya continued to stare at him, and Kai looked back, illuminated by the yellow candlelight while Touya was shrouded in its dancing shadows.
“If you smoke tonight, I’ll tell Father Kan.”
Touya turned his head away, shoulders hunched up as he laughed. It was unsettling to Kai how humane the sound was. He rapped his knuckles against the doorframe once before walking out into the hallway, his voice carrying in the space expanding between them.
To Kai’s surprise, Touya did not smoke that night, or the next, or the one after. Instead, it seemed almost as if the dark haired man was avoiding him. Two, nuisance-free weeks passed blissfully before Kai stumbled into Touya again.
While walking over from one of the monastery’s dining spaces to their living quarters, Kai nearly fell when someone knocked into his shoulder roughly. He whipped his head around, glaring, and blue eyes suddenly met with gold. Kai felt his hands twitch.
“Oops,” Touya said, rubbing at his shoulder.
“Watch where you’re walking,” Kai said. He turned on his heels to leave, only to feel a hand grab onto his shoulder, pulling him back.
Immediately, Kai slapped Touya’s hand away.
“Don’t touch me.”
Touya put his hands up in the air between them, eyes watching Kai carefully.
“Right, Mr. Personal Space, how could I forget?”
Kai heard his jaw click with how hard he clenched it, “What did you just call me?”
“Mr. Personal Space,” Touya repeated as if Kai hadn’t just spoken venomously, “don’t get mad at me, I’m not the one who came up with it.”
“Then who did?”
Touya tapped his tongue against his teeth, slipping his hands into his pockets.
“Everyone, I guess? Can’t really think of one person, but I know it's what they all call you.”
Touya motioned to their right with a tilt of his head, and Kai’s eyes followed. A group of seminarians, some whom he recognized from lessons, were grouped together playing a game of basketball. One of them noticed Kai and Touya watching and quickly looked away, leaning in to say something to the person nearest to them, who glanced at Kai directly after.
“They call you other things too, you know.”
“And you don’t?” Kai spat.
“I’ll call you whatever you want me to, Overhaul.”
Before he could think, Kai had moved his hand toward Touya's face, palm open to slap him. He was stopped when he felt Touya grab his wrist, blunt fingernails digging into Kai’s skin.
“No-one gets to hit me anymore unless I want them to, understand?”
Kai’s hand dropped limply once Touya let go of it.
“Where did you find out about that name?”
Touya shook his head. “Did you really think your past was kept a secret? From the stories I’ve heard, you still act the same. Just as high and mighty as you were when you were with your little gang.”
“Answer my question. Who told you? Who knows?”
“Those were two questions, but I’ll play nice,” Touya said. “I imagine almost everyone here who knows you, knows. Why do you think they’re scared of you? The only reason you’re even allowed here is because of Father Kan. You can try to be one of them, but you’re not. They know it, I know it, and I’m starting to think you’re the only one who doesn’t.”
Touya clicked his tongue against his teeth again, louder. “You were given a second chance, right? This place or jail? Maybe it's about time you actually put it to good use and do something.”
Kai took a step towards Touya, voice low when he spoke.
“What the fuck do you want from me? Stop speaking to me in riddles.”
Touya took a step closer to match Kai’s, head tilted as he leaned in to speak. Kai could feel his breath graze his skin, taste whatever Touya had to drink earlier in the air.
“I want you to be different, to stop hiding what you really are.”
“And what would that be exactly?”
“A leader, maybe an icon. Some would even call it being your own god.”
“That’s sacrilege, Touya.”
He barked out a laugh, leaning away from Kai as he did so. Kai took a deep breath, annoyed at how his heartbeat stammered with Touya so close. He was infuriating.
“Sacrilege would be the least of our sins, don’t you think?”
A basketball dribbled between the two of them, stilling against Kai’s leg. They both looked to their side to see one of the seminarians playing from before near them, his hands anxiously toying with one another.
“Sorry about that, could you pass me the ball?”
Kai couldn’t remember his name, but the seminarian knew him, or at least, of him. It was obvious in the way his eyes avoided meeting with his, flickering to Kai’s hands nervously and then back to his face.
In reality, the seminarian didn’t know Kai. None of them did.
They knew Overhaul.
They only saw Overhaul, the teenage delinquent who became a gang leader at 14 and skipped out on actual jail time when he was arrested at 17 by devoting himself to God, shedding behind his bloodied knuckles for clasped hands and psalms. Touya was right, and Kai knew it. Blending in, becoming one with the rest of the spineless herd, was never an option for him, and Kai realized as he bent down to pick up the basketball, he had never really wanted it to be.
“What’s your name?” Kai asked.
The man hesitated, and Touya watched.
“And what's my name?” Kai said.
The man looked over to Touya, and Kai could see his grin from the corner of his eye. He felt his own lips twitch with amusement.
“I-I don’t know, I don’t think we have a lesson together.”
“We don’t, but you’re lying anyway. I’ll ask again, what’s my name?”
“Chisaki,” the man confessed, “it’s Chisaki, right?”
Kai launched the ball at the man, hard enough for him to stumble a couple of steps backward before falling, landing on his ass. He stepped over towards him, a foot placed down between his legs.
“I know what you and the others call me. If I hear you said any of those names again after today, I’ll make you regret it.”
“You can’t do that, Father Kan and Aizawa would punish yo—“
Kai lowered himself to the man’s level, crouching by him.
“You don’t think I can get to you in time before they find me? Before they find you?”
The man’s eyes widened. Kai straightened himself out, standing upright again.
“Go. Leave us alone.”
He scrambled up quickly, clutching onto the ball as he ran back towards the other seminarians who were now grouped up, watching.
None of them came to help, Kai mused.
As soon as the man rejoined them, urgent words were whispered to one another. They left after, retreating to one of the dormitory buildings. When Kai turned around to look at Touya, the man was beaming, a thumb pressed against his lip as if he were considering something.
“I could ask you that, what the hell was that?” Touya said.
Kai glanced down at his hands, clenching and relaxing them.
“They have no idea who I am but they’re scared of me, you said it yourself. I’ll give them reasons to now, I’ll show them who I really am.”
“And who is that exactly?”
Who do you want to be? Kai thought, who does he want you to be?
He looked up at Touya, at the mischievous glint in his eyes clearly waiting for an answer. He felt the urge to grab hold of his face, to press his fingertips into his cheeks until they hollowed out and his lips parted for him to spit his answer into his unholy mouth, but instead he turned around and began to walk in the direction he had come from.
† † †
Three more weeks passed.
Kai had slowly grown into himself during that time, his skin straining against the beast he had kept sedated for so long. He fed into the fear the other seminarians felt for him, grounding their gossip-fueled whispers and inquisitive glances with glares and words of his own. Quiet Chisaki Kai who kept to himself and trailed along behind Father Kan was gone, engulfed by the person he was before. And yet, Kai did not claim the name Overhaul for himself again. No, Overhaul was a thing of the past, an overzealous version of him who had been arrested right before turning 18, who had been afraid of punishment and chose to throw himself into holy hands rather than justice.
Kai was slowly becoming his own god.
He would receive portions of other seminarians’ received donations, and even gifts from their families if he liked them enough. Sometimes he would see a spark of rebellion and hatred in some of their eyes and made sure to remind them of what he could do, of what he had done in the past. One seminarian, in particular, threatened to tell Father Kan, even made a motion to flee the bedroom he, Touya, and three others were in. Kai had moved instinctually, lunging for the man’s arm and yanking him back, throwing him onto the floor. The man’s eyes were wide, and Kai stepped to the side to avoid his miserable attempts at kicking him.
“Get away from m—“
The man’s voice was cut off by the sound of Kai’s hand slapping over his mouth. The other men in the room had shuffled backward, hiding by their beds. All except for Touya, who was watching Kai with the same hellish smile as always. Kai adjusted himself, straddling the man as he moved his hand off of his mouth, only to press fingers into his cheeks hard enough to hurt his jaw, the man’s mouth opening reluctantly.
“What were you going to tell Father Kan?” Kai asked.
When the man tried to speak, his words distorted by Kai’s applied pressure, he used his other hand to grab a hold of his tongue. The man whined and tried to push him away, but Kai dug his nails hard enough into the man’s tongue that beads of red began to gather.
“I’ll cut it out if I hear anything about them knowing about this. Do you understand?”
Tears began to collect in his eyes, but he nodded quickly regardless, wincing when Kai finally let go and stood up. Kai looked over to the others in the room and motioned for one to step closer. When they did, he used the front of their shirt to wipe off his hands.
“I’m sure the rest of you will keep this in mind,” he said.
Ghastly silence answered him, and Kai decided it would be enough for the night. After all, fear was a leash difficult to pull against once it was around your neck. He heard footsteps follow him as he exited the room and already knew who it was before feeling an arm brush against his.
“Same spot tonight?” Touya asked.
Kai glowered at him, but Touya was unaffected.
This had also become a new development for Kai. He and Touya would find one another almost nightly, the two hidden by the lack of light when they sat outside behind the dormitories. The only light illuminating them coming from the frames at the ends of their lit cigarettes. They never shared words, an unsaid, mutual agreement between the two. Kai would smoke two cigarettes, watch Touya finish his third, and then head back inside to sleep.
It vexed him that Touya seemed to have begun to think of it as a commitment, but it bothered him even more that he didn’t want it to stop.
He was about to take a left to head to his own room when Touya stepped in front of him.
“Let’s not tonight.”
Touya’s face was expressionless, “You’re sick of riddles, aren’t you?”
“Then tonight, wait for me in your room.”
With nothing else, Touya turned and left Kai behind, his silhouette slowly swallowed by the darkness of the unlit hallway as he walked away. Kai frowned and headed towards his own room, his solitary footsteps echoing as he did so.
What is he up to?
Once in his room, Kai felt unease. Touya had always been a morbid curiosity. Although he befriended the others easily when he joined after Kai, other seminarians had slowly grown anxious around him, and Kai had taken notice in the past few weeks. In fact, even Father Kan had begun to act strangely around Touya, his red eyes filled with an emotion Kai couldn’t place. Some nights, he thought the priest almost looked guilty.
He lit candles throughout his room and settled onto the edge of his bed, hands clasped over his lap. There was a mystery in the air around Touya that Kai had wanted to unravel. Why push him so far into becoming Overhaul once more when he was gaining nothing from it? Although it was true Kai had not touched Touya’s belongings, he still hadn’t shared the bounty he had collected from the others. The man even sat by him silently while Kai studied, his interests moving on from aiding the others in translations and scripture to books centered on leaders of organized crime and religion, and would also leave when Kai would finish. Part of him wondered if this was Touya’s pathetic attempt at befriending him, but it didn’t fit who Touya had become in his mind.
Three knocks on his door pulled Kai out of his thoughts.
“It’s open,” he called out.
The wooden door creaked open and a Touya in casual, loose-fitting sleeping clothes stepped in. The wavering candlelight blanketed him in sharp, glimmering shadows and Kai watched as he stepped closer, his hands at his sides.
“No more riddles,” Kai said.
Touya nodded, “I promise.”
“That doesn’t mean much.”
Touya smiled and rolled his head side to side to crack it.
"Leave only one candle on, and close your eyes.”
“You heard me.”
Kai pushed himself off of his bed and stared at Touya, the two at a standstill. Reluctantly, Kai was the first to succumb, turning to blow out the nearest candle. He paused between each, the process taking a minute as various candles lined his desk, nightstand, and bookshelves. He left one candle lit on his nightstand, sitting on the bed near it. He looked up at Touya, who still hadn’t moved from his place by the door.
“No deal if you don’t close your eyes.”
“This is stupid.”
Still, Kai closed his eyes, a new wave of anxiety washing over him the moment it all went black. Touya had the upper hand, and it was not something Kai took lightly. Regardless if Touya’s plans were just to make a fool of him or actually harm him, Kai had stupidly placed some of his trust in the man. He was about to open his eyes when he heard shuffling. Something rotten harassed Kai’s nose then, but the sulfurous scent soon melted away into something hazy, almost like smoke.
“Open your eyes.”
Kai’s expression faltered at what he saw when he opened his eyes. Touya’s sleeping garments were gone, instead replaced by large patches of dark, scarred skin meeting pale. The scars spanned over both his legs and crawled up his arms and disappeared, only to reappear partially on his shoulders. They consumed his neck, dipping into the swell of his bare chest mercilessly. His pointed ears were the same plum color as them, his cerulean eyes nearly glowing in comparison to the scarred crescents hung underneath them. Staples and stitches seemed to keep him together, tugging at his unblemished skin harshly. Two ribbed horns sprouted from his forehead, guiding Kai’s eyes to the tips of what appeared to be black, bat-like wings tucked behind him. Touya grinned at him, the dim light in the room glinting off his small fangs.
There was always something so devilish about his smile, wasn’t there.
“Will you believe me if I said I’m not surprised?”
Touya laughed, and Kai watched the way the staples dividing his face into two pulled on his skin.
“It’s been hard not to show you this form ever since you’ve started this chaos.”
Touya tilted his head and placed a hand over where his heart would be. Kai’s eyes followed the motion, watched the way his claws looked in the light.
“The fear you’ve stirred up, the power you’ve gained. I’ve been fed so well by you.”
“I didn’t do any of this for you.”
“Exactly, that’s what makes it so damn good. You did this all of our own free will.”
“What do you know about free will, demon?”
Touya stepped towards him, leaning in to press his claws into the edge of Kai’s bed.
“I know we all have a hand in deciding our own fates. You think I was born a creature of the night?”
“I was wronged by my father. I offered all I had for revenge years ago.”
Kai blinked, “You offered your soul?”
Touya stood upright again, his wings shifting behind him. Kai heard them bump against something.
“It wasn’t worth much to begin with honestly, but here I am, and he isn’t.”
“Yes,” Kai said, pushing himself off the bed and standing up, “here you are.”
Touya’s glowing eyes watched him as he stepped closer to him. Up close, Kai could see the scarred skin resembled burns, and the ashy scent from before infiltrated his senses again. He slowly placed a hand onto Touya’s chest and was surprised to feel the warmth radiating from the man.
“Just like a person.”
“But you’re not a person,” Kai said, removing his hand, “you’re a demon.”
“And what of it?”
“I’ve been speaking to a demon. I’ve been listening to a demon.”
Touya inched forward and leaned his head towards Kai.
“Don’t give me that crap, I’ve only told you what you knew already.”
Kai glared at him, and Touya took it as an invite to continue.
“You’ve felt the tides begin to shift, I know you have.”
Touya placed a hand on Kai’s chest and shoved him back, watching as he stumbled. Kai bumped into the nightstand behind him, knocking over the lit candle. It rolled onto the floor, its flame fanning out into blue for an instant before going out with a hiss. The unfamiliarity of fear tasted bitter in Kai’s mouth.
“People are worshipping new gods,” Touya said. “Idols and unworthy men are praised and venerated, followed by thousands. It isn’t weakness to adapt, Kai.”
“No, but it would be weakness to fall for your words.”
“I think arrogance would be a better word,” Touya said.
The candle suddenly lit itself in front of Kai, floating in front of him, but Touya was gone.
“You said no more riddles,” Kai said, unable to mask the frustration in his voice.
The sensation of hands pressing into his shoulders startled him, but Kai made himself stand still. He felt the tips of claws press into his clothes, slowly dragging up towards his neck. Touya had started to smell like the incense Kai lit in the chapels, and something rotten under the pews.
“You could be more than all of this. You could have true influence and power. You saw for yourself how easily I manipulated the others. They’re weak, but not you.”
“What do you want from me?”
One of Touya’s hands loosely wrapped around Kai’s throat, “I want you to become what you’re meant to be. I want you to take control of this excuse of a monastery and show them a true idol to follow.”
“You want me to become God?”
“No,” Touya’s other hand slid down, caressing his chest, fiddling with the rosary dangling from his neck. “Gods are overrated. You don’t have to be divine to have followers. Let me help you become a leader. Respect, power, anything, and everything could be yours.”
“What do you get out of this, Touya? Why do you care?”
Touya grinned, and Kai felt it against his neck. “My name is Dabi if you must know, and I’m an agent of chaos, Kai, you don’t have to give up much.”
“Is my soul not worth much?”
“We both know the answer to that, Overhaul.”
Kai twisted around, ready to push the other away, but Touya had already disappeared. He reappeared as Kai turned again, watching him from the desk his books were scattered on top of, legs crossed as he grinned at him. Part of him was lost to the shadows in the corners of the room.
“I can help you, but I need an answer. What is it?”
Kai thought of the way the seminarians kneeled for him so easily, of the way he heard them whisper over rumors and gossip involving Touya and others, involving Father Kan. He thought of the power he had at such a young age, wielding vicious pawns ready to die at his command, only to have it taken away by the police. He thought of how right it felt when Touy-Dabi had called him Overhaul.
There would always only really be one answer.
“Yes,” Kai said. “My answer is yes.”