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Shrike

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The villain’s name was Okubo Shinzaburo, although he went by Axel (“Axel,” he had said proudly by way of introduction, a goofy grin on his face and a wicked gleam in his eye, “get it? Because my Quirk is Accelerate. Axel -erate, ha ha!”). If Hawks employed brutal honesty―which he did, whenever possible, as a policy―then he would say that this Axel character was more of a lackey than a villain, and his disposition skewed more towards a hero than the other end of that spectrum. He was friendly and silly and always telling jokes that weren’t funny; he never took anything seriously, even if the topic was, in Hawks’s mind, of dire importance; he had an unwaveringly optimistic can-do attitude that was rare to find in anybody, let alone someone committed to dismantling the current state of society as it was known. There was an undercurrent there that Hawks would glimpse every now and again, present and then gone in a flash, a sudden bitterness of voice or shuttering of the light in his eyes that spoke of some internal battle, some tragic past or some emotion securely locked away, that Hawks had naturally assumed was the catalyst for turning Axel onto the path of villainy.

But then, Hawks had to remind himself, sometimes people were just plain evil, much as it pained him to admit. It was a lesson he had learned, since he had been set the task of acting the double agent: sometimes there was no underlying reason for someone to want to see the world burning, or to cause chaos or harm to others. He couldn’t give everybody the benefit of the doubt, couldn’t attempt to unravel the secrets that formed the tangled web of villainy and wrongdoing in every villain he met. That hardly served his purpose, and it distracted him from his goal more than anything else. It wasn’t as if he could try to help anybody, anyway, not while he was working undercover. Not while he was pretending to be one of them.

Axel was the one Hawks had been in contact with for several months now, and even Hawks could tell that this boy was a low-ranking member of the League, or maybe even just a League hopeful, not yet fully indicted into the inner workings of the group. Perhaps he was even as clueless as Hawks was in that regard, or close to it. But nobody had fooled Hawks into thinking this mission would be an easy one or a short one. He was in this for the long haul, whether he liked it or not.

Before Axel, it had been a woman who went by Fumi, a self-proclaimed “villain for hire” who had evidently slipped through the cracks of society. None of Hawks’s bosses had any information on her, could not pin down an identity or origin: she was what the higher-ups referred to as a “Shadow Villain.” In Hawks’s experience, the Shadow Villains were the worst ones to interact with, no matter which side of the game he was playing. They were unpredictable, and unpredictable was the scariest thing that a villain could be. 

Hawks had never even found out what Fumi’s Quirk was before she had hooked him up with Axel, who claimed to be somehow connected to the League, and the relationship he’d built up with Fumi in their sporadic encounters was such that he had learned to trust her judgment. It had taken many many weeks of careful prodding, posing his questions in just the right way so that she would actually believe that the Number Two hero wanted to get in with the League of Villains and not bust their whole operation. Finally, she’d sent him to an address that lead to a dubious-looking apartment complex in a shady part of town, where Hawks was well aware many drug dealers and other connoisseurs of black market goods were known to dwell after dark. He’d had to go heavily disguised to ensure that the wrong person didn’t see him there and blow his cover just when it was getting started. 

And that was where he’d met Axel for the first time: golden skin, shaggy brown hair pulled back into a messy and barely-contained ponytail, sparkling green eyes, an easy smile, a kid barely out of high school (if that), completely incongruous and not at all what Hawks had been expecting to see when he’d walked in. Hawks had wanted to shake him. He’d wanted to scream at him: What the hell are you doing in a place like this?!  

He couldn’t do that, of course, so instead he’d cultivated what he hoped was a positive relationship with Axel over the past half year. He figured if he could get Axel on his side, regardless of how he was ranked within the organization itself, it could benefit him down the road. He needed as many allies as he could get. And he had grown to genuinely enjoy Axel’s company, even if he was goofy and frequently irritating (irritating mainly because he reminded Hawks so much of himself, at that age). 

But it was still frustrating. He’d been dealing exclusively with Axel for six months, and he felt as though he’d made absolutely no progress at all. He’d been patient for so long, had played nice, had been the yes-man. He didn’t know what he had to do at this point to get deeper into the League, but it was abundantly clear to him that Axel was not in any kind of hurry to speed up the process. 

Currently, his tactic was to help train Axel to strengthen his Quirk. There was very little else to do most of the time he was meeting with Axel: perhaps a couple of sentences of intel apiece, and no more. And Axel had been practically begging Hawks to help him improve his Quirk (“Come on, man, you’re the Number Two! There’s gotta be some pointers you can give me!”), so Hawks thought: fuck it, why not? He figured that actively helping a villain to improve his Quirk was as good a method as any to prove he was not aligned with the heroes. 

So that was what Hawks was in the middle of when he met Dabi for the first time. 

Axel’s Quirk, at first glance, was not particularly powerful, and it was a very difficult Quirk to figure into an offensive role: when he moved, he could leave behind an after-image of sorts, giving the appearance that there were multiple different Axels―the faster he moved, the more after-images he could leave behind at once, until it created a kind of funhouse mirror effect, an optical illusion that could very quickly become confusing or distracting to the beholder. Hawks knew a thing or two about speed, so his priority was to teach Axel how to move faster, to get as much out of his Quirk as he possibly could, but he also wanted Axel to learn how to hold the illusion for longer―right now, his after-images lasted for about three seconds before they started to fade away, and Hawks was positive that with concentrated and consistent training (“ Consistent , Axel,” Hawks found himself reminding the junior villain on multiple occasions, exasperation in his voice―”If you only practice when I show up, you’re never going to get better”), he’d be able to increase that duration considerably.

Because his Quirk wasn’t an ideal offensive Quirk, Hawks had also been teaching Axel how to fight. It was a basic skill that all heroes needed to have in their arsenal because there was no telling what could happen in confrontations with villains, and it was imperative to be able to fight your opponent in more ways than just the one they were expecting. Hawks wasn’t by any means a master of physical combat, but he was good enough at it that he felt confident in teaching Axel the basics. 

They were sparring, and Axel, who took his sparring training very seriously at least, had just landed a pretty solid punch to Hawks’s face, when the door of the abandoned warehouse they had set up their meeting in tonight creaked open, the hinges protesting loudly the movement. Hawks was instantly worried that it would be a hero, someone he knew, someone who would catch him, and the charade was going to be over with very little results, and Hawks would likely get thrown in jail for consorting with the enemies, regardless of the fact that this was what he had been ordered to do (those words always coming back to him, haunting him at the worst moments, taunting his moral compass: Whatever it takes, Hawks ). His heart rate skyrocketed, his breathing turned hollow, he could feel his pulse jumping in the vein in his neck. He turned around, felt like he was encased in Jell-O, slow motion and horrible. 

The person who had just entered the warehouse was definitely not a hero. It was no one Hawks had ever seen before.

Before Hawks could so much as take in the appearance of this new person, Axel, from behind, jumped onto Hawks’s back, so unexpected that it actually knocked Hawks over, sent him tumbling to the floor, hissing in pain when Axel planted a firm knee into the middle of Hawks’s back at the root of his wings, one hand to the nape of his neck to hold his head down, another keeping an arm down, a foot bearing down painfully on one of his ankles. 

When Axel spoke, his voice was bright and a little proud, like he was perhaps trying to show off his skills to whoever the newcomer was. “Never let your guard down, Hawks, no matter what! You taught me that one yourself!” And then, to the other man: “Mr. Dabi, look! I took down the Number Two!” 

Dabi . That name was familiar. It was one of the names the Commission had given him, as a known figure involved with the League of Villains. Unfortunately, much like Hawks’s pal Fumi had been, Dabi was a classic Shadow Villain. Nobody had any information on him, not his real name or where he came from, not even a tiny hint of his past. They had had no picture in his file, no age: all anybody actually knew about Dabi, for sure, was that he was a male, that his Quirk had something to do with fire, and that his name was associated with the League. 

Fantastic , Hawks thought with a twinge of irritation. Out of all the villains associated with the League that he’d been so thoroughly briefed on, they’d had to send him the one who he knew the least about. 

Still, it was a good sign. A great one, actually, that they’d send anybody to Hawks at all. That meant he was making progress, finally.

Or it meant they were about to kill him once and for all. But Hawks was nothing if not optimistic. He liked to think of himself as a glass-half-full kind of guy. So: good sign.

“Get off of him, Axel.” The voice was flat and unimpressed. It was also deep, resonating and carrying even though the words had been spoken relatively softly, a heavy weight in the timbre like he thought what he was saying was more important than anything else anyone else in the room could possibly say. There was also a slight underlying rasp, as if he was a regular smoker. His voice reminded Hawks of sandpaper, or that time he’d gone to the beach and dragged his hand through the sand by the shore that was not quite wet but not quite dry, a damp roughness that got stuck in between his toes that he couldn’t dislodge no matter how hard he tried to scrub it out.

Axel removed himself from Hawks as quickly as he had attacked. Hawks stood up considerably slower, raised his eyes to Dabi to get his first good look at the villain, and had to suppress an audible gasp. 

Hawks wanted to ask: Who did this to you? He wanted to ask: What happened to you? He wanted to say: I’ll help you, I’ll make sure nobody hurts you this way again .

But, of course, he couldn’t say any of that.

Dabi was tall, several inches taller than Hawks, and skinny to the point of scrawniness. He, like Axel, was younger than Hawks had expected, probably not much older than Hawks himself. Black hair, startlingly bright blue eyes that Hawks could see even in the dim light of the warehouse, framed by hooded lids like he was either supremely tired or supremely high or maybe a combination of the two. Piercings: several in the cartilage of both ears, three in the nostril. Scoop neck shirt, tattered-looking jacket, pants that look just a tad too short for him, black shoes. But none of this was what struck Hawks as so appalling. No, what struck Hawks was the patches of purple skin decorating his body like patchwork, disfigured and grotesque and terrible, attached to his otherwise pale skin by what looked to Hawks like surgical staples or a continuation of his piercings. Hawks wondered, for the briefest moment, if perhaps this mutilation was a form of body modification taken to the extreme―it was obvious enough that Dabi had no objections to body modification, after all. But somehow Hawks found it hard to believe that such awful scarring was in any way intentional. 

Hawks was good at hiding his emotions, good at putting on a mask, shielding his true emotions in favor of what suited his situation at any given moment. It was one of the reasons he’d been chosen for this job in the first place. But he was so thoroughly startled by Dabi’s physical appearance that he must have let something slip because Dabi scoffed, low and derisive.

“Like what you see?” There was a biting undercurrent of deprecation in his voice. He didn’t give Hawks a chance to answer―thankfully, because Hawks had no idea what he was meant to say to a question like that―before he turned his attention to Axel, now standing somewhere behind Hawks’s right shoulder, and snapped his fingers at him once, in an irritated fashion, as if they were stage actors in a rehearsal and Axel had missed his cue. “Did you bring my shit?” 

“Oh, yeah, absolutely!” There were some shuffling noises, some rustling, things being moved around behind him. Hawks was tempted to look over his shoulder, to see what Axel was doing, but he was reluctant to take his eyes off of Dabi. He could tell that the feeling was mutual: Dabi was watching Hawks through narrowed eyes, appraising him, as if trying to guess his flavor without taking a bite. 

A few seconds later, Axel pushed in front of Hawks, closed the distance between himself and Dabi, and thrust a plastic grocery bag into Dabi’s arms. Dabi accepted the bag, untied the hasty knot at the top, peered inside for a moment, seemed satisfied, and retied the knot before tossing it carelessly aside on the dirty warehouse floor. “Now scram. I gotta have a couple private words with our esteemed hero.”

“Got it!” Axel darted for the door, pausing for long enough to shoot Hawks a quick glance over his shoulder as he left, a glance that Hawks interpreted as Good luck, man!

“Takami Keigo,” Dabi drawled in a voice that said I know more than you do . “Born on December twenty-eighth in Fukuoka. Twenty-two years old. Quirk: Fierce Wings. The Number Two Pro Hero in all of Japan. Am I forgetting anything?”

Hawks had a split second to decide the best way to respond to a man he knew absolutely nothing about, and he found himself falling back on his tried-and-true philosophy of cracking a bad joke in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. He pasted a grin onto his face and said, “I see you’ve been browsing my dating profiles.”

Dabi’s eyes narrowed further, head cocking to the side, like a predator sizing up its prey. He was clearly unamused. “What I don’t understand, though,” Dabi continued, as if Hawks had not spoken at all, “is what the Number Two hero is doing seeking out the League of Villains. And the only conclusion I can come to, time and again, is that you’re some sort of spy.”

Hawks felt the blood freeze in his veins, but he forced a vacantly baffled expression onto his face. “I don’t follow your logic.”

“You must think we’re all stupid,” Dabi said, taking a couple of steps closer to Hawks, not close enough to be within reaching distance, but it still made Hawks uneasy, every inch that was erased between them. “Right? You and Endeavor or whoever else is running this operation. You must think we’re just dumb kids, right, that we don’t know what we’re doing? Think it’s so easy to infiltrate what we’ve got going on here, huh?”

Hawks would be lying if he said he wasn’t terrified in that moment. Dabi was a lot closer to the mark than he probably even realized, and Hawks knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that if he gave Dabi any reason, no matter how small, to think he was on the right track, then he’d be dead. He wasn’t foolish enough to think that Dabi came here to meet the Number Two hero for the first time without backup. Hawks was good, but he didn’t know how much success he’d have against several villains whose Quirks he had very little information about.

And even if Dabi didn’t bring backup, there was really no telling how powerful his Quirk was on its own. Maybe powerful enough to take down Hawks. He was humble enough to admit that though he had mastered his own Quirk to such degrees that he felt pretty confident facing off against nearly anybody, that didn’t mean he was unbeatable. 

“You’ve got it all wrong,” Hawks said, in a lazy tone, half-careless and half-offended. He hoped the nonchalant façade and the unimpressed expression spoke louder than the pounding of his heart. “I came here on my own. For myself. Nobody knows.”

“Why?”

Hawks rolled a shoulder in a half-assed shrug. “Why does anyone shun hero society in favor of villainy?” 

Dabi’s face remained impassive, but Hawks had the distinct impression that this answer did not impress him. “I want to hear from your lips, hero .” This last word spoken with so much scorn that Hawks was under no illusion as to how Dabi regarded him. “What would cause the young Number Two hero, with such a bright future ahead of himself, to give up all the luxuries of heroism in favor of―” Dabi gestured grandly around the abandoned warehouse with an arm, indicating the haunted house quality of it, the broken windows and resultant shards of sparkling glass littering the floor like Christmas lights, old furniture that was moth-eaten and dusty and smelling vaguely of mold, large metallic boxes that contained god only knew what―” this ?”

“I’ve personally witnessed the inner workings of this so-called hero society,” Hawks said, the words coming to him easily, so easily it was almost frightening, his ability to lie through his teeth, his ability to spit on something that meant so much to him. He knew as well as anybody else that the current state of hero society wasn’t perfect, not by a long stretch, but it was a hell of a lot better than the alternative. “I’ve seen the corruption up close and personal. I think I actually have more reason than anybody else to want to see it collapse.”

A beat of silence, like Dabi was trying to weigh the truth of his words. “And how are you gonna prove that to me?” 

Whatever it takes echoed in the back of his mind. “Whatever it takes.”

For the first time, Hawks saw the corners of Dabi’s mouth stretch into a tiny smile: wry amusement, as he thought. “I’m going to make sure you regret saying that, Hero.”

Chapter Text

And then, immediately afterwards, as if to illustrate his point: “Take off your clothes.”

Hawks blinked once, twice, three times, feeling a little slow on the draw. “Excuse me?”

Dabi stared at Hawks like he thought Hawks was simultaneously the stupidest person on the planet and also the absolute least valuable to Dabi’s time. “Are you fuckin’ deaf? Take off your clothes.”

“What―” Hawks spluttered, more than a little embarrassed and thoroughly uncomfortable. “What for?”

Dabi scoffed again. Hawks had a feeling he’d hear that noise from Dabi a lot, in the future, if Dabi was Hawks’s new contact, which he correctly assumed he was. “You deaf and an idiot? Jesus Christ.” Hawks watched warily as Dabi moved around the room, almost circling Hawks without ever actually getting a step closer to him. He moved his body with Dabi’s, never letting the villain out of his sight. Dabi critically inspected what looked like an old dining room chair, the cloth cover torn and the stuffing exposed and filthy with dust and so dirty that Hawks couldn’t tell if it had originally been brown or green or yellow. Finding the chair apparently satisfactory, he sank into it, crossing an ankle over a knee, and stared at Hawks with a bored gaze to match his bored voice. “How the fuck am I supposed to know you’re not wearing a wire or some shit? Take off your clothes, or we’re not having any conversations. Now or ever.”

Hawks stood there, stiff as a statue, blank as a piece of paper. When he realized how serious Dabi was, he tried laughing the entire subject off, although it sounded forced even to his own ears, like he knew he wasn’t going to get himself out of this one: “Is that really necessary, man? Come on.”

Dabi was not laughing. He said nothing at all. Just continued staring at Hawks, expression progressing from deadly serious to vaguely threatening.

“Look―” Hawks started, trying again to steer Dabi away from this tactic that felt as though it came straight from an HBO crime drama, but Dabi interrupted him before he got more than the single word out.

“This is going to happen one of two ways, Hero.” It was the same as before, his words soft yet strong and authoritative and as loud as if he had been shouting in Hawks’s ear. “Either you undress, prove to me you’re not wearing a wire, and we have a nice, civil conversation before I let you walk out of here in one piece. Or.” Here, Dabi paused for long enough to activate his Quirk, a bright blue flame exploding from his palm, casting Dabi’s features in a ghastly, glowing turquoise radiance that created a spooky Halloween effect. “You don’t do that, and I don’t let you out of here alive.”

Hawks didn’t know what to say, so he thought it wise to say nothing. He knew, obviously, that he had to do it. He couldn’t not do it because that would only make Dabi unreasonably suspicious, when it would take only a couple of awkward minutes of undressing for him to see that Hawks was not wearing a wire. Still, Hawks found himself irrationally hesitant. He didn’t exactly have any qualms about nudity, and, while he was under no illusions that he had the physique of Zeus or anything, he wasn’t really self-conscious about his body. But putting himself on display in such a way, making himself physically vulnerable, with Dabi―a dangerous villain―staring at him intently all the while? It was not Hawks’s idea of a fun way to spend his Friday night.

“You need help or what?” Dabi asked, irritation leaking into his voice. “You’re acting like you’re a prostitute and I’m your first client. It’s pathetic.”

Hawks glared at Dabi before resolutely shrugging off his jacket and dropping it onto the floor (dirty, gross). He grabbed the hem of his t-shirt and pulled it over his head, struggling a little bit, as he always did, to get his wings free, tossing that on the ground with his jacket when the feat was accomplished, pretending like he couldn’t feel the weight of Dabi’s gaze on him as he did so. Next came the tank top, and then his chest was completely bare, and Hawks found himself resisting the inane urge to cross his arms over himself, to shield his skin from Dabi’s eyes. It was cold in the warehouse; it was a November evening, after all, and though it had been unseasonably warm thus far, it still got chilly when the sun went down, especially in a warehouse that had no heating. He felt the goosebumps rise on his flesh.

Because Hawks was supremely uncomfortable, and because Dabi was just sitting there staring at him with his heavily hooded eyes and not saying a word like Hawks had somehow been set a test and had come up miserably short, Hawks snapped at Dabi, “Like what you see?” 

Dabi smirked. He unhooked his ankle from his knee, set both his feet flat on the floor, sat forward a bit, and started rooting around in the pockets of his oversized black coat. “Touché,” he muttered as he did so, and finally found what he was looking for, pulling a small rectangular object out of his pocket. Hawks had tensed, waiting for Dabi to produce a weapon of some kind or something of a similar nature, as if his Quirk wasn’t lethal enough. He knows , Hawks thought in a panic. What did I do wrong? What gave it away?

But then Hawks realized what the object actually was, as Dabi flipped open the top of the box and pulled a cigarette out. Hawks immediately recognized the brand from the teal and black stripes, the inverted white check mark in the corner and the plain white top, the golden accents―Newports. The same brand his father had smoked.

Dabi stuck a cigarette in between his teeth and deftly lit the end of it using his own blue flame. An awkward, tense silence blanketed the space between them. At least it was awkward and tense to Hawks. It was probably just another Friday night to Dabi. He watched as Dabi took a puff of the cigarette: deep inhale, eyes fluttering shut as his body absorbed the nicotine, deep exhale that doubled, as Hawks thought, as a sigh of relief, the smoke drifting from his nostrils like a mild dragon. He slumped back in his chair, like a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders, irreverent and unconcerned. When he opened his eyes again to regard Hawks, it was with a burning annoyance that he didn’t even bother to attempt to conceal. “I said to take off your clothes, Hero. I don’t got all day to sit here and babysit your ass.”

What? “What―”

“Look, are you a moron or what? I didn’t know they let people this stupid become heroes. Don’t you gotta pass an intelligence test or something?”

“I don’t―” Hawks cut himself off this time, unsure what to say, baffled and frankly offended. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had insulted him so ceaselessly, so many times in the span of about thirty minutes, let alone someone he was supposed to be trying to impress ( let alone in such a casual way, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, tossing out degrading insults). He’d been able to cultivate such good relationships with Axel and Fumi, relationships that had come relatively easily, that he’d (erroneously) believed he’d be able to create that same type of relationship with every villain he interacted with, or something close to it. It was more than evident to him now that he had been woefully wrong in this assumption.

“I don’t know what kind of bougie tech they got over on your side to fool us into trusting you,” Dabi said around another drag of his cigarette. Even from here, Hawks could smell the menthol smoke, a scent all too familiar, an unpleasant reminder of his childhood. “Or what unorthodox tactics you might use.”

“You think they taped a wire―what, to my junk?” He tried to imbue levity into his voice, but he was good and truly uncomfortable now, uneasy in a way he hadn’t yet been with any villain he’d dealt with in this operation up to this point, and he was certain his voice came out just as astounded and incredulous as he felt. He didn’t want to get completely naked in front of Dabi, for fuck’s sake. It was already bad enough being halfway there.

“It’s not like I want to see you naked. Jesus. Are all heroes so prudish?” 

“Stop calling me that.” 

A slow smile stretched across Dabi’s features, pulling at the staples lining his face in a gruesome fashion reminiscent of the Black Dahlia, giving him the countenance of the smugly grinning Cheshire Cat. “What? Hero?” Inhale of smoke, exhale of smoke, lazy shrug. “You haven’t proven otherwise.”

“That’s not what I am.” How it pained Hawks, to lie about an aspect of his identity that felt so very integral to him. What was he, if not a hero? Who was Takami Keigo, if not the Pro Hero Hawks?

Double-agent. Traitor. Villain. Each word rattling around his skull with all the force of a gunshot.

“Well, I have good news for you,” Dabi drawled, very obviously tired of this conversation and trying to steer them back on track. “All you have to do right now to get on my good side is take off the rest of your clothes. That’s literally it. Couldn’t be more simple.”

“So this is what the League has you doing for them?” Mocking, teasing, because he was really in absolutely no rush to take off the rest of his clothes and thought that maybe, somehow, he’d be able to talk Dabi out of this request, he’d be able to prove himself some other way. He knew, though, that the chances of that happening were slim, but he figured slim chances were better than no chances. “Stripping people naked and searching them for wires? And here I thought you were of a higher authority than Axel, but it seems like I was wrong.”

It was the wrong thing to say. 

In a flash, Dabi was across the room, right in Hawks’s face, closer than he’d been thus far, so that Hawks could not only count every individual pore in Dabi’s pale face but also the crusted flakes of dead, dry skin that made up the purple patches of his body, wrinkled and decayed-looking. But Hawks barely had time to feel any anxiety about the sudden proximity before a burning pain made itself known in the middle of Hawks’s chest, just to the right of his heart, so unexpected and painful that Hawks’s vision went spotty for a few seconds. Instinctively, a couple of his feathers broke free to protect him, fashioning themselves strong enough to push Dabi out of arm’s reach. Hawks felt a little dizzy from the pain―it wasn’t the worst pain he’d ever been in, not even close, but the problem was the unexpectedness of it. Pain always seemed worse when you didn’t see it coming, and Hawks had done the one thing he was not supposed to do: he’d let his guard down around the enemy. When he glanced down at his chest, he saw, to his complete astonishment, a perfectly circular mark on his skin, slightly red around the edges, white in the middle, the beginnings of a blister.

Hawks looked at Dabi, angry and disbelieving and more than a little dazed. Dabi did not appear in the least bit ashamed or rueful. “Did you just burn me with your fucking cigarette?”

“That should teach you not to talk shit about me when you don’t know shit about me. Got it?”

“You asshole, you just burned me with your cigarette!” 

Dabi rolled his eyes, as if Hawks was a child throwing a temper tantrum over something silly, like his mother refusing to buy him candy from the grocery store checkout line. Then Dabi looked at the cigarette in question and, casual as can be, relit it with his Quirk, as though he hadn’t just utilized it as a weapon. “First of all,” he said, voice low and dangerous. In an irritated fashion, he swatted away Hawks’s blood-red feathers, which were now hovering around Dabi’s person anxiously, expecting another surprise attack. Hawks called them back to him, hesitantly. He had no intention of letting his guard down around Dabi for a second time, but it was evident that it would only anger Dabi further if he was so obvious about this fact. “Don’t presume to make assumptions about the inner workings of the League. We’re not a strict hierarchy like your precious hero society is.” 

Because you’re completely lawless! Because you don’t need a structure when you fantasize a society without rules!

“The fact that I’m the one tasked with recruiting, that Axel is tasked with recruiting, means we’re trustworthy. Means we’ve more than proved ourselves. I sure as shit would rather be burning down cities, but these things take time. It would be in your best interest not to underestimate me or anybody else based on your perceived and imaginary hierarchical ranking of us. Especially when that perception is itself rooted in the way your so-called hero society functions. Got it?” Dangerous words, spoken dangerously, full of derision, a clear threat lying hidden underneath the rasping syntax of his speech, like those cone snails Hawks had once watched an Animal Channel documentary about, the ones that appeared harmless and even beautiful on the surface but that could kill you in less than a second with a single sting and little provocation. 

Not that Dabi was exactly Hawks’s idea of harmless. Or beautiful.

“Now.” Dabi was standing close enough that when he breathed out his cigarette smoke, it wafted into Hawks’s face. The gesture brought back an unwelcome swell of memories: empty forties littering the floor of his apartment, his father’s voice raised in unwarranted anger, random women scampering in and out of the apartment at all hours of the day and night, Hawks locking himself in his bedroom and clutching his Endeavor toys closer to his chest, chanting to himself over and over again: I will overcome this .

Dabi’s deep rasp brought Hawks back to the present.

“You can either take off the rest of your clothes and cut out this modesty bullshit because it’s not winning you any points with me. In fact, it’s only annoying the hell out of me. Or, I can set you on fire, which, believe me, will make that cigarette burn feel like a mosquito bite. But it’s your choice, of course.”

Hawks allowed himself an indulgent moment more to glare all his enmity at Dabi before bending over to remove his boots.

Dabi did not resume the seat he’d been in previously, instead chose to remain standing right where he was, barely two feet away from Hawks, but Hawks honestly couldn’t find it in himself to care anymore. All he wanted, at this point, was for this meeting to be over, and if stripping naked in front of this sadistic villain was what it took, then he’d strip quicker than a man with his clothes on fire. 

He wondered if Rumi would be down to get wasted tonight. Hawks desperately wanted to get wasted tonight. 

He unbuckled his belt and tossed that onto the floor as well, then pulled off his pants, and then, without allowing himself to second-guess what he was doing, without thinking too much about it, desperately trying to filter out any humiliation he may have ordinarily felt, refusing to look anywhere near where Dabi was standing (staring at the broken glass scattered at random intervals on the floor, the way the dim light reflected off the metal boxes in brilliant golden rays, examining just how dirty the floor really was and realizing it was even worse than he’d first thought), Hawks resolutely tugged his briefs off and added that to the pile (careful to make sure these, at least, did not make contact with the disgusting floor). 

And then he was completely naked, in front of a villain who he was positive would have loved nothing more than to see him reduced to a pile of ash. 

Hawks wanted to make something abundantly clear: This was the absolute last scenario he had ever imagined he’d be in when he agreed to this job. 

“I see why you were so reluctant to get naked now,” Dabi said, a wry smile in his voice. 

Defiantly, Hawks met Dabi’s eyes, glared at him, wanted to spit on the amusement that had made itself known in his features: the glint in his eye, the corner of his mouth quirked upward, an expression that clearly said I have all the power here, not you . Dabi, for his part, did not appear much interested in the more intimate parts of Hawks, for which Hawks was minutely grateful. 

And then the implication of his words sank in, and Hawks scowled at Dabi. “Fuck you.” He had never had much of a size complex, despite the fact that he was not as physically large as most other top heroes (Endeavor’s bulk came first to mind, and All Might too). He had come to terms with his slightly smaller stature years ago, had learned to use it to his benefit, had become the fastest hero instead of the strongest. Similarly, Hawks was very much comfortable with his dick size, alright? It wasn’t Eighteen-Year-Old-Gets-Pounded-by-a-Monster-Cock!- big, but it wasn’t small by any means, either. He had never had any complaints, at least.

But. Still. When you were the only person naked in a room, and you were being stared at, and somebody insulted the size of your dick? It was a bit of a blow to his ego, was enough to make anybody feel awkward and insecure. 

A mean smirk. “Not with that dick.”

“You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

Dabi let out a single sharp laugh, humorless and jarringly loud. Hawks hadn’t realized how softly he and Dabi had been speaking until that moment. “You think I’m bad? Just wait till you meet the rest of us. If you meet the rest of us.” He took one final drag of his cigarette and then threw it on the floor, stamping out the orange embers with the heel of his shoe. When he returned his attention to Hawks, he had adopted a professional air, as if to say, Time to get down to business . “If you can’t handle me, you sure as hell won’t be able to handle the rest of us.” 

“I can handle you. I’m not scared of you.” 

He quirked an eyebrow—this pierced as well, Hawks noticed. “If you were smart, you would be.”

“You already think I’m an idiot, so at least I’m not disappointing you in that regard.” What Hawks wanted to say was: If you were smart, you’d be scared of me . If you were smart, you would have killed me as soon as you stepped into this building. 

“That’s true. Now stay still.” Briskly spoken, clearly a demand that he expected to be obeyed.

“What—”

“Just don’t move. I see the way your eyes have been following me this entire time. I’m gonna go behind you, and if you move, I will fry you, got it?”

“Why—”

“You’re really in no position to be asking me questions, Hero.” Dabi then proceeded to circle around Hawks, professional intention in his eye, and Hawks realized what he was doing: trying to see if Hawks was wearing anything. Hawks had to hand it to the League—they were a lot more thorough than he had expected. He had certainly not received this sort of treatment from Axel, at least.

He stood, alert and tense and wholly uncomfortable as soon as Dabi was out of his line of sight. It took everything in him not to turn as soon as Dabi was out of his peripheral vision, to follow his movement with his eyes, as Dabi had put it. Hawks resorted instead to staring at the shattered glass on the floor again, jaw clenched tight, tried counting the glittering shards, the cracks splintering the cement underfoot, anything to get his mind off the fact that Dabi was visually inspecting his naked body. 

Oh, yeah. He was definitely hitting up Rumi as soon as he got out of here. He wanted to drink himself into oblivion, until he forgot that this whole night had even happened.

What have you gotten yourself into this time, Hawks? 

“Hey,” Hawks protested when he felt Dabi’s fingers prodding intrusively at his wings, voice louder and more defensive than he intended, the appendage shrugging itself out of Dabi’s grip at the unwanted touch. “Don’t touch my wings.”

Instead of stopping, though, Dabi did the opposite: he gripped a handful of feathers, hard, and tugged on them, none too gently, as if trying to see how much force it would take to simply tear them off of the wing entirely. Hawks hissed, arched his back at the sensation, yanked his wing out of Dabi’s grip; once again, some of his feathers broke loose in order to shove Dabi away from him, only this time, Hawks found himself not caring if it pissed him off or resulted in a fight or injured him in any way. His wings were stupidly sensitive—they possessed an insane amount of nerve endings, something that was ordinarily extremely beneficial in that it made him much more efficient when utilizing his Quirk, his wings being able to register even the slightest change of pressure or wind pattern; but it made it so that even a small touch was enough to set his nervous system ablaze, the surplus of nerve endings immediately firing, alerting his spinal cord to the sensation, his spinal cord alerting his brain so that he was forced to feel the touch with much more intensity than if Dabi had, say, gripped his arm and yanked on him. He didn’t like it when anybody touched his wings, so for Dabi to have the audacity to grab him in such a manner, right after he had told him not to, was infuriating enough that it almost caused Hawks to lose his cool entirely. 

It had taken over half a year of hard work to get to this point in his top-secret infiltration operation, and less than an hour with Dabi had antagonized and frustrated Hawks so much that he was close to accidentally ruining the whole thing. 

This is what he wants , Hawks had to remind himself. Dabi wanted to make Hawks uncomfortable; he wanted to get on Hawks’s nerves, to get him to raise his defenses, to get him to start a fight. He was trying to provoke Hawks, the Number Two Hero—but that was not who Hawks was tonight, and he had to do whatever it took to get on Dabi’s good side, to prove to him that he was trustworthy, that he was a villain through and through, that he had no ulterior motives or secrets. 

Whatever it takes , he repeated to himself once again. That was what it came down to: whatever it took, Hawks had to do it. He had to get along with Dabi. He had to get Dabi on his good side. Dabi did not seem the type of person to like another person, in any capacity, but he obviously trusted others. He obviously trusted those in the League with him; the way he had spoken of Axel earlier made it clear that Dabi trusted him as well. That was all Hawks needed to gain from Dabi: trust, enough that he would introduce Hawks to the next person in whatever sort of strange internal system of promotion they had going on here. They didn’t need to like each other; they only had to tolerate each other to the extent that trust could be earned so that Hawks could continue to further this operation. 

Hawks had a terrible feeling that getting Dabi to even tolerate him would be a challenge in itself. Dabi appeared much more interested in provocation and violence than cooperation and harmony. 

Dabi, to his credit, only looked amused by the razor-sharp feathers circling his person in what should have been a threatening manner, only Dabi did not seem in the least threatened. Hawks may as well have showered him in newborn kittens for all the concern he displayed at being manhandled and then surrounded by a surplus of deadly feathers. “You can put your clothes back on,” he said, lazily, as he reached out in an attempt to pluck a feather out of the air, only Hawks moved said feather out of his reach before he was able to do so. Dabi quirked an eyebrow in Hawks’s direction.

Hawks didn’t need to be told twice—he very hurriedly threw his clothes back on, not taking as much care as he generally did when tugging his shirt on over his wings, crushing them slightly against his body before succeeding in pushing them through the holes in the back. He had started shivering from the cold in the warehouse, and even his coat was not enough to bring him very much warmth.

“How can you do that?”

Hawks spared a quick glance at Dabi, brows knitting together, confused, before focusing all his energy back into yanking on his boots. “Do what? Get dressed? Because it’s cold as fuck, and you’ve made me very uncomfortable.” 

“Your feathers,” Dabi corrected, clearly agitated about Hawks misunderstanding him. “You’re not even paying attention to them, and they’re still poised for attack.” Dabi didn’t sound impressed, exactly, but the disdainful tone he’d been using to address Hawks this entire time seemed to lessen, a very little bit. 

“Oh.” Hawks shrugged, finished doing up his laces, straightened himself, felt a lot more confident now that he was dressed again, like he and Dabi were on more of a level footing. He called his feathers back to himself again. “I’m used to them. You don’t have to think about using your fire, do you?” 

“That’s different.”

“How?” 

Dabi opened his mouth like he was going to say something but then shut it again just as quickly, deciding to make a noise of derision in the back of his throat instead. “Nevermind. So you control your feathers with your mind, like telekinesis?” 

Hawks narrowed his eyes at Dabi. It was one thing to try to build trust with him; it was another thing entirely to spill all the secrets of his Quirk to a villain. There was a very fine line here that Hawks would have to learn to tread with the utmost care. “Something like that.” 

“What else can they do?” 

“That’s pretty much all there is to it.”

Now it was Dabi’s turn to narrow his eyes, like he didn’t believe this assertion. Thankfully, he didn’t press Hawks on the matter. “Whatever you say, Hero. This meeting is over. I’m bored with you.” Dabi moved to where he had tossed aside the grocery bag Axel had given to him earlier and picked it up. 

“That’s it? You don’t—I don’t know, want any information or anything?” 

“This meeting wasn’t about getting information. It was about seeing whether or not I wanted to move forward with you.”

“And—do you?”

A smirk. “You’re still alive, aren’t you?” 

Right. Okay. Well, Hawks supposed that meant that this was a success, but he wasn’t entirely sure. He hadn’t given Dabi any information, which was always a good thing, but neither had Dabi given him anything to go on. “So I can expect to hear from you again?”

“You’ll hear from me when I need you.”

“But how will you get into contact with me? With Axel, I had—”

“I don’t give a shit what you had with Axel,” Dabi said, frustration leaking into his voice. He was standing right at the threshold of the door to the warehouse, one foot bouncing up and down impatiently, like he really was entirely over this meeting with Hawks. “You’ll hear from me when I need you.”

“But—”

You’ll hear from me when I need you . Got it?” 

It was plainly evident that Dabi would entertain no more questions from Hawks, so Hawks put a lid on all of the remaining queries he had. “Got it.” 

And then Dabi was gone, and his first meeting with the villain was over. He waited a few minutes, his body still tense, as if waiting for some sort of sneak attack, but slowly, he relaxed, his muscles unclenching, his heart rate dropping. He expelled a breath of relief—this meeting did not go in any way the way Hawks had anticipated it would, when Dabi had first walked into the room, but it went about as well as it could have, Hawks thought. 

He pulled out his cell phone and sent a quick text to Rumi before exiting into the chilly nighttime air. U busy? Wanna get some drinks?

Her reply came almost instantaneously, before Hawks had even stepped out of the warehouse: Fuck yeah!! Patrolling right now, be free in about an hour. 

Hawks smiled at his phone before pocketing it. He stepped out into the night, breath pluming in the cold air before him as he exhaled, mind a frenzy of frantic possibilities regarding Dabi. But despite it all, despite the odd turn of events throughout the evening, despite Dabi’s unpleasant personality, despite the potentially fatal avenues this mission could very quickly find itself set on—despite it all, Hawks felt optimistic. Finally, progress had been made. Finally, he had something new to tell the Commission. Finally, it felt like this mission was on the right track, going somewhere fast.

He did not know it then, but it would be months before he saw Dabi again.