It’s five minutes past three in the morning, and Shouta’s just beginning to finally drift off to sleep, when there’s a knock at the door. The sound of the rain pouring down outside that had plagued him so thoroughly on his earlier patrol is still drumming against the windowsills, low and constant and usually comforting, but not tonight.
Who would be out on a night like this?
Certainly not Hizashi. Even if Shouta didn’t know for a fact that he was at work right now anyways, trying to get that radio show of his off the ground, he has a key, and he’s never been a knocking sort of person. Not Nemuri either- it’s a Friday night, which means she’s definitely at some club somewhere doing something that will probably get her a place on a Wall of Shame.
Nobody else knows where he lives.
The knock comes again.
Shouta does not want to get out of bed. Ame is a soft heat pressed against his side, gently purring, and the blankets are warm and dry after the soaking wet of the night, and all he wants to do is sleep for a year.
Maybe it’s a mistaken address- but at three AM in the pouring rain? Who would even be out? It seems unlikely, but what other option is there? A villain followed him home? That would be more plausible, if not for the fact that Shouta is the most private and paranoid person he knows, and he has always been exquisitely careful to maintain the safety and secrecy of his personal life (what little there is of it) in the two years since he’s become a proper hero.
It’s an achievement he’s actually rather proud of, considering who his best friend is.
So. A neighbor who’s found their way to the wrong door. It must be. Maybe if he ignores them, they’ll go away eventually, and then he can finally sleep.
They do not go away, and when the knocking comes a third time, Shouta hisses in exasperation and throws his blankets off, ignoring Ame’s mewl of complaint, stomping through his apartment to the front door and throwing it open before he could think better of it.
For an exhaustion-hazy split second, he thinks there’s no one there.
And then his eyes adjust to the thunderstorm darkness outside the door, and he realizes that the clot of darkness that’s a little bit purpler than the surrounding night is a nearly featureless head, and what he’d momentarily taken to be a distant pair of glaring streetlights on the wet street below are actually eyes, gold and glowing. The hazy silhouette is largely defined by its clothes- white shirt, black vest and pants- and as Shouta is noticing that, he registers that the man is not soaked through, despite the downpour outside.
The next thing he registers is that the man is carrying a child.
The boy- Shouta thinks it’s a boy, but it’s cradled protectively against the shadow man’s chest with its head tucked in his shoulder, so he can’t be sure- looks to be maybe seven or eight, and apparently asleep.
“Are you Shouta?” the shadow-man asks, and his tone is polite but there’s something verging on almost desperate behind it.
Shouta considers. He’s unarmed, facing an unknown person who knows his home address and his first name, he hasn’t slept in thirty-six hours, and he’s wearing kitten-patterned pajama pants. Despite all of that, he’s still confident in his ability to handle himself in a fight, but nothing about this situation is making sense, and it’s sending him slightly off-kilter.
Starting with how the shadow man knows his name.
“Maybe,” he says, after his silence has dragged on a beat too long. “Who’s asking.”
For some reason, such a basic question seems to fluster the man, and he hesitates, shifting on his feet. “I’m-” he starts, and then pauses, and even though Shouta can’t read any real expressions in that shifting black mess of fog, he seems frustrated. Eventually he sighs, and says, “You can call me Kurogiri.”
It’s obviously not his real name, but- whatever. Pressing matters. “Why are you here,” Shouta says, and then clarifies, “how do you know where I live.”
“I need… help,” Kurogiri says carefully. “For the child. And… I didn’t know where to go.”
“I don’t know you,” Shouta says, voice flat and tone arctic.
“No,” Kurogiri agrees. “I’m- I have trouble with…” he trails off, shifts the weight of the child in his arms slightly so he can free one hand and gesture towards his head. “I just… knew I needed someplace… safe. I knew this place was safe.” The pauses between his words are long and difficult, and Shouta wishes he had a face to read.
“This place,” Shouta repeated. He lives in a shitty apartment on the third floor of a mediocre complex in the middle of a bad part of town, and for all his neighbors know, he’s just an eccentric social incompetent with bad hygiene who keeps weird hours. He can’t fathom how a stranger with a child in need of help would ever wind up at his door, and say with such conviction that it’s the right place to be.
Kurogiri sighs. “I… apologize. I wish I had an explanation. I don’t know- why I’m here, I don’t know- anything-” he raises his free hand to claw into hair that isn’t there, and as his voice grows tighter and more frustrated his body seems to go blurrier and sharper all at once. For half a moment Shouta almost thinks he can make out the outline of actual features through the mist, but then it’s gone again as Kurogiri visibly draws a breath and calms himself down.
“...but I needed to bring the boy somewhere safe, and I know I trust you,” Kurogiri finishes, gaze lowered. “I don’t know why. But I do.”
Shouta considers the boy. He doesn’t look healthy- he’s too small, all limbs and bones. His hair hangs uncut and unwashed, greasy greyish-white strands dangling over his sleeping face. His lips are badly chapped, and there’s bandages wrapped around his neck and up his left warm. Shouta can see the red of irritated, inflamed skin peering out at his elbow. He’s wearing a pair of soft grey gloves with two fingers cut off of each hand, and the nails on his visible fingers look bitten and raw.
“He’s hurt,” Shouta says, nodding at the bandages.
Kurogiri’s eyes tighten in something that might be a grimace. “He scratches himself when he’s anxious. I’ve been trying to get him to stop.”
“Is that why he’s in gloves?”
“No,” Kurogiri says. “Those are for his quirk. It’s… extremely destructive.”
“I see,” Shouta says. For a long moment, he’s quiet.
Then he sighs, and steps aside, and isn’t quite sure why he says, “Come in, then.”
To his eternal credit, Kurogiri doesn’t stare, or ask if he’s sure, or stammer out grateful platitudes. He only bows in silent gratitude before stepping over the threshold and closing the door behind him.
“You can put the boy in my bed,” Shouta tells him, in a tone that leaves no room for argument. “It’s through the door over there. And then you will tell me everything about who you are, what you’re running from, and why. You will answer my questions honestly and to the best of your ability and if you lie I will have you arrested immediately. Understood?”
“Understood,” Kurogiri agrees immediately. He disappears through the door to the bedroom, and Shouta takes advantage of the reprieve to start the coffee maker and dry swallow a pair of ibuprofen for his headache, because it’s becoming rather evident he won’t be getting that sleep anytime soon.
There’s a small, soft startled noise from the direction of the bedroom, and for a moment Shouta thinks that maybe the jostling has woken the boy up. He listens, but there’s no further noise- but neither does Kurogiri emerge.
After waiting a couple minutes and nearly falling asleep against his counter, he grabs himself a fresh cup of coffee once it’s ready and goes to check.
His eyes go first to the bed, where the boy is indeed tucked in and still apparently sound asleep, curled into a tight ball. In the gloom of the room, it takes a moment later to spot Kurogiri.
He’s sitting cross-legged on the carpeting at the foot of the bed, looking down at Ame, who’s curled up in his lap and purring so loudly that Shouta can hear it from the doorway. As Shouta watches, Kurogiri carefully lowers a hand to to pet her, and Ame leans enthusiastically into his touch, rubbing her head against his hand.
“Interesting,” Shouta says, when what he means is odd. “She’s not usually very social.”
“She was rubbing at my ankles as soon as I came in,” Kurogiri says absently, scratching behind her ears. “What’s her name?”
“Rain?” Kurogiri repeats. “Interesting name for a cat.”
Shouta leans against the doorframe, taking a long drink of his coffee. “She belonged to a friend of mine. He had a cloud quirk and a bad sense of humor, and he found her in the rain, so…” he trails off, and takes another sip of coffee.
“Hm,” Kurogiri hums. “I see. He couldn’t take care of her any longer?”
“In a way,” Shouta says. “He died.”
“...ah,” Kurogiri says. “My condolences.”
Shouta shrugs a little. “Hero work is a dangerous occupation,” he says, because it’s enough of a neutral statement that it doesn’t make the jagged glass in his chest dig in any deeper.
“He was a hero?”
“A hero student,” Shouta says, and the glass cuts deep.
Three years ago, and yet it feels like forever and yesterday all at once.
Kurogiri doesn’t say anything in response to that, which is probably for the best. Silence hangs in the room for a long moment as Shouta downs the rest of his coffee before he breaks it by saying, “Come on,” and turning towards the living room.
He glances back over his shoulder as Kurogiri moves to stand, only to be thwarted by Ame’s stubborn refusal to leave his lap. Shouta has no doubt Kurogiri could dislodge her if he really wanted to, but he seems reluctant to do so. After a moment of hovering uncertainly, the other man carefully picks her up and cradles her close to his chest as he stands, which she appears to accept.
For a second it’s so familiar that Shouta almost has to look away, but it’s only a second, and then it’s gone.
Shouta leads Kurogiri back out to the small living area, and wordlessly gestures him towards the sofa as he moves to the kitchenette to refill his cup of coffee. “Coffee?”
“I don’t have cream or sugar, so you’re taking it black.”
“That’s fine,” Kurogiri says as Shouta passes the mug to him and sits down. “Thank you.”
“Tell me about the boy,” Shouta says.
Kurogiri nods. “His name is T-” he starts, then pauses and corrects, “Tenko. His name is Tenko Shimura. But he answers to Tomura Shigaraki, most of the time. He’s… seven, I think. He’s been in my care for two years now. I don’t know… everything about what happened to him. He can’t speak about it, and the only person who knows it all, I never… asked.” He sounds troubled, digging ghostly fingers a little deeper into Ame’s fur. “Why didn’t I ask?”
After a moment, he shakes his head, seeming to bring himself back to the present. “It can’t be helped now. But I know he lost his family when his quirk came in- it’s a five-point disintegration quirk. After that he was… taken in by a villain known as All for One, and given into my care.”
“All for One?” Shouta asks. The name isn’t familiar, but he makes a note to search every database his pro hero status gives him access to as soon as possible.
“A very old and very powerful villain, who works by puppeteering others from the shadows,” Kurogiri says. “I don’t… know much about him. I was… he had… he orders me to do things. And I do them. Unquestioningly. I don’t know… why. But he… Tenko… I couldn’t- he was hurting him and twisting him and I needed to help-”
As Kurogiri’s halting speech grows more agitated, the smoke of his body starts to waver and blur again, and Shouta catches another half-glimpse of the maybe-face. The brief glimpses of what might be features don’t appear all at once, and not long enough to coalesce into a real visage, but Shouta’s left with the vague impression, nonetheless, that Kurogiri is younger than his formal dress and manner had originally led him to guess, possibly no older than Shouta himself.
He certainly sounds young, sitting on Shouta’s secondhand couch and half-curled around Shouta’s cat, desperately stammering for an explanation for his own behavior. Shouta remembers a case, not long after he graduated UA, of a villain with a compelling quirk. Kurogiri’s rambling rings rather similar to the victim testimonials from that case, the I just did it and I don’t remember why, I don’t remember why-
“...and now we’re here,” Kurogiri says quietly. “I should… warn you. All for One will want Tenko back, and likely myself as well. We are both… very valuable to him. I’ve brought considerable danger to your door, and you should be aware… if that changes your-”
“Shut up,” Shouta says sharply, and Kurogiri does. “Don’t do that. This isn’t charity. I’m a hero. You’re people in trouble. This is my job.”
“...of course,” Kurogiri agrees. “But this is your home.”
“It is. Which is why I get to decide what to do with it, including this,” Shouta says. “I do expect a certain level of responsibility from you, though. I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to keep my home secret and safe. So long as you aren’t seen entering or leaving, it’ll remain that way.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Kurogiri says. “I have a teleportation quirk. I can transport myself directly.”
Which answers one lingering question Shouta had, at least- the lack of rain soaking through Kurogiri’s clothes when he’d answered the door. “Range limitations?”
“None, so long as I know the coordinates.”
Shouta is reluctantly somewhat impressed. “That’s a powerful quirk.”
“You see why All for One will want me back, along with Tenko,” Kurogiri says, and Shouta does see. He can see very, very well all the reasons a villain could have to want a limitless teleporter at his beck and call.
“Yes,” Shouta agrees, and pauses before saying, “This arrangement is only temporary, of course. I’ll need to contact some fellow heroes and we can begin a proper investigation.”
Kurogiri looks hesitant. “Do… what you must, of course, but All for One’s range of influence is… very extensive. There’s a reason I didn’t just go to the police station with Tenko. He has had generations worth of time to accrue connections and power and he will not hesitate to wield it.”
Shouta considers. It’s a valid concern. “I have people I know I can trust,” he says, thinking of Hizashi and Nemuri. “I’ll proceed with caution.”
Kurogiri inclines his head. “Thank you,” he says. “That’s all I can ask.”
“You said generations of time,” Shouta says, ruthlessly pushing back to the prior point. “What did you mean?”
“All for One has lived for a very long time,” Kurogiri says. “I… don’t know precisely how long, but from what I’ve heard him say… he’s been active as a villain for a century, at the least.”
Shouta has to stare at that, just for a moment, head briefly spinning from the magnitude of that timespan before his thoughts start working again. “...a longevity quirk, then?”
“All for One’s quirk,” Kurogiri says, “is the ability to steal other quirks.”
“I see,” he says, carefully calm.
“So you see,” Kurogiri murmurs, “why I feel the need to apologize for pulling you into his line of sight. The magnitude of the danger is-”
“I told you not to do that,” Shouta cuts him off flatly.
“Ah, you did, didn’t you? Apologies, Shouta.”
There it is again- his name, his first name, spoken with such familiar ease by someone he’s never met before in his life. It should put him on edge- should immediately raise his hackles and his guard against this stranger who knows entirely too much about him- and yet it doesn’t, and that’s perhaps even more unnerving.
For some reason he simply cannot bring himself to think of this man as dangerous.
Kurogiri had told him that he trusted him, that he didn’t know why or how but he did. That had been strange, in and of itself, but what is far more unsettling is that Shouta trusts him back, and he doesn’t know why.
“Tell me everything you know about what quirks he has, then,” Shouta says, forcibly wrenching his thoughts back on track again.
Kurogiri nods, and does.
He talks for a long time, detailing everything he knows about a man who sounds more and more like a nightmare the longer he goes on. Now and then he stumbles, stuttering over some frustrating blank spot he can’t seem to fill. Shouta keeps his interruptions to a minimum, only speaking up in to ask clarifying questions or pull Kurogiri back on topic whenever he gets stuck in one of those spirals.
Shouta doesn’t write anything down. This is the kind of information that doesn’t go on paper, he knows, and the kind of situation where stealth is paramount. If what Kurogiri says is all true, then right now their best- their only defense is that All for One has no idea he exists, and he’d like to keep it that way. He’s always thrived in anonymity, when he’s unexpected and unforeseen.
Shouta loses track of time, as the caffeine wears away and his bone-deep exhaustion starts to make itself known once again, making the seconds and the spaces between Kurogiri’s words start to blur together. At one point, he blinks, and when he opens his eyes again, there’s a careful hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently.
For all he looks like he should have no substance at all, Kurogiri’s hands are warm.
“Shouta?” Kurogiri is saying. “Did you fall asleep?”
“No,” Shouta lies, leaning out of Kurogiri’s grip and shifting slightly away from him. The other man lets his hand fall without complaint or resistance.
He’s always had trouble sleeping, and it’s always been even worse when someone is with him. When was the last time he was able to sleep in the presence of someone who wasn’t Hizashi? He genuinely can’t remember.
“We should probably continue tomorrow,” Kurogiri says, looking sideways at Shouta with a look that isn’t quite worry. Shouta… might call it fondness, if he was even remotely prepared to consider the implications of that, and if Kurogiri’s face was a little more readable.
“...Alright,” Shouta concedes. “Tomorrow.”
For a second or two, he doubts himself. This is out of character for him, he knows, letting two strangers into his house, the place where he’s most vulnerable, the place where he sleeps, in the middle of the night despite the lack of answers as to why they’re here, specifically, but-
But one of them is a child who deserves to be safe, and the other one is desperate and trusting and something inexplicable about him tugs at Shouta’s chest in a way he can’t explain, and for some reason the thought of throwing them out doesn’t even really cross his mind.
“You can stay with the boy in my bedroom for tonight,” Shouta says in a tone flat enough to preemptively forestall any argument, pushing himself to his feet. “If his quirk is as volatile as you say, you need to be there when he wakes up.”
“Right,” Kurogiri says, absentmindedly gathering Ame up in his arms again as he stands. She still seems absolutely disinclined to be separated from him. “And you…?”
“I have a sleeping bag and the couch is soft. I can sleep anywhere. Don’t worry about it.”
“If you’re certain-”
“I am,” Shouta says bluntly, standing to fetch his sleeping bag from where it’s draped over a nearby chair and laying it out on the couch. The exhaustion from earlier, momentarily forestalled by the coffee, is catching up with him again. “Unless there’s anything else that can’t wait until tomorrow?”
“...no,” Kurogiri says, but he stays lingering at the edge of the living room, body language still a little uncertain, until Shouta irritably waves him off in the direction of the bedroom door, and then he goes.
Kurogiri pauses once more halfway through the doorway, one hand on the light switch, and glances back over his shoulder. When he speaks, his voice is soft, and so familiar it hurts.
Something clicks into place, and Shouta blinks, his fingers tightening in the soft fabric of his sleeping bag.
The lights click off and the bedroom door clicks shut, leaving him alone. He stares at the blank white wood of the door for a long, long moment, his breath stuck in his throat and his heart cracking in his chest with a sudden surge of something- hope or shock or grief or confusion, he couldn’t say.
Who else called him Shouta, besides Hizashi and Nemuri?
Who else knew where he lived?
Who else did Ame love?
“...Shirakumo?” he asks the dark and empty room, voice soft and broken and seventeen all over again, and of course there is no answer. All of a sudden his legs don’t want to take his weight and he sinks down all at once onto the couch, sleeping bag rustling beneath him.
It takes him a very long time to fall asleep.