Neito owed Itsuka free coffee for a month.
The chill of the dim room clung to her legs as she stepped into the small warehouse, passing under the heavy air curtain with a shiver. She exhaled and walked though her own frozen breath, resisting the urge to rub her arms to work up a little heat. The chilly temperature of the room set her nerves on end, a high contrast to the bright sunny day warming the concrete outside.
Despite the cold, Itsuka forced herself to focus on her surroundings. The warehouse looked to be a large open room filled with rows of high metal shelves. Each was packed with cardboard and wooden boxes kept in storage. The high ceilings creaked above her with age and the floor had a layer of dust that looked unkept.
Somewhere in this building, she’d find her partner. Neito was the latest to be assigned to look for a string of missing Pro Heroes that had vanished without a trace over the past two months. Itsuka had forced him to keep her updated on his search and this had been the location from his last text. Who knew what was lurking beyond the walls of shelves and storage to have cut off his communication?
(Wherever those missing Heroes had gone, she could only pray Neito hadn’t joined them.)
She would make sure he didn’t.
Halfway to the center of the warehouse, Itsuka pressed her fingers against an invoice taped on the side of one of the boxes: Hero merchandise. She read aloud the name in all caps just under the description.
“Are you a fan?” An excited voice chirped. Itsuka spun on her heel, putting her hands up into a defensive position. Spotting the source of the voice high above her, she saw a young man with curly green hair sitting on the top shelf near a dimmed, hanging ceiling light. He braced one foot on the shelf plank directly below him, wedged between two smaller boxes of more merchandise. His other leg bent upward at the knee to help balance the rifle in his arms. Aimed at Itsuka. He snorted and bit his lip with a playful shrug. “Oops, gave myself away.”
Itsuka stayed at the ready as the other man jumped off from his perch, landing professionally on both feet with enough slack that he’d clearly had experience. He wore bright red sneakers that looked out of place against the rest of his ensemble consisting of black cargo pants, a simple dark green turtleneck, and a black combat vest. All of it was practical gear that meant its owner didn’t like to go noticed, despite the shoes. The man straightened and slung his rifle over his shoulder on its strap while his eyes danced with delight behind his own domino mask. “I was getting bored of knocking people out with these, anyway.”
He held up a small dart with a feathered tail between gloved fingers.
Catching her surprised expression, the man grinned as he flipped the dart around in his fingers and pocketed it in the belt at his waist. “You would be amazed at how many Heroes are unprepared to be sniped with a tranquilizer dart.”
Itsuka could believe that.
More importantly, she could believe Neito had been unprepared to deal with getting sniped by a tranquilizer dart.
“I’m only going to ask once,” Itsuka said, shifting her left leg back to put her into a better sprinting position. She might only have one chance to rush this guy with his guard down and she refused to miss it. Itsuka tensed, ready to use her Quirk. “Where’s Monoma?”
“Not ‘Where’s Neito?’” the man asked. Bright green eyes slid to the side as he took a slow step to the right, placing him directly under the hanging light and revealing the freckles on the man’s cheeks under the cut of his mask. “I could have sworn you two were on a first name basis, considering how close you are...but then again, you could just be being polite. Or making the assumption that I didn’t know his full name, which would be odd considering he likes attention enough that he plasters his full name alongside every article and interview he’s in next to his Hero Name. I’m a bit insulted, honestly. Don’t you—”
“And what would you know about us?” Itsuka asked, interrupting the mumbled monologue. An unsettling feeling fell over her as she stared at her breath, still floating in white clouds around her face. The other man looked undisturbed by the freezing temperatures, but then again, he wasn’t the one wearing a skirt. Itsuka cracked a smile, forcing herself to stay alert despite the environmental distractions. “He talks himself up in interviews, but keeps his private life quiet.”
“I know a lot of things,” the man said. He swayed from one leg to the other, absently searching his pockets. Itsuka watched his face. It wouldn’t matter what he threw at her if she saw the moment he was ready to attack. The man stared in one of his utility pockets, poking around the deep space. “For example, your full name is Itsuka Kendo, otherwise known as Battle Fist. You turned twenty-three this past September and your Quirk is Large Hands. You’ve been very close friends with Neito Monoma, Phantom Thief, since your time in Class 1-B at U.A. where you were the class president—very impressive, by the way.”
Itsuka lowered her arms just the slightest. She really hated dealing with talkers; they did everything possible to weasel their way out of a fight. Maybe all that combat gear was just for show. Itsuka called his bluff. “Am I supposed to be impressed? All of that is common knowledge from interviews.”
“Fair enough.” The man laughed, wiping away at the sides of his eyes through the black mask. He dropped his hand and went back to looking through pockets in his vest. He let a small “Ah, hah!” as he tugged out a small notebook. He flipped through a few pages before pausing on one with his thumb. “I always have to try a bit harder to impress the smart ones. How about this for a fun fact: For your seventeenth birthday party, Phantom Thief got you a package of imported coffee from Vienna.”
Itsuka froze from something other than the temperature.
Neito threw his charity gifts in the faces of anyone who’d look at him. The Phantom Thief loved to make it known that he was a man of generosity and played it up for the cameras. That man loved attention from anyone who’d give it to him and his Hero career had been no exception.
But acts of genuine, personal sincerity he guarded close to his heart.
Publicly, Neito had gotten Itsuka a flashy, expensive piece of jewelry with a rock almost the size of her Quirk fist in the
center. People had teased her for weeks over the object and Neito pestered her into wearing it at school. Everyone had known about the necklace. Her closest friends still brought it up from time to time as a joke.
No one had known about the package of coffee Neito had slipped into her apartment for her to find after the party.
“Who are you?” Itsuka asked.
“Nobody important,” he answered. He stuffed his notebook back into his pocket and pulled out a small remote. Itsuka made a run across the room, enlarging her fist. The man dodged to the side and clicked it, turning off all the lights in the cold warehouse. He threw his elbow into Itsuka’s side, knocking the air out of her lungs. “And neither are you.”
That had been rude.
Izuku jumped back and away from the Pro Hero who’d come after Phantom Thief. Hand to hand combat he could handle, but without the element of surprise she was better at it—that meant running. Battle Fist kept up, of course, and reinforced that Izuku had been unnecessarily rude. Everyone who was a Pro Hero was a “someone.” That’s why they were Heroes! Battle Fist was no exception. Izuku turned a corner, listening to her heels on the concrete floor as she chased him. The formidable Hero had quite the resume under her belt taking down minor Villains and saving civilians.
But she wasn’t his Hero.
Which meant she might as well have been nobody.
(But that was no excuse for saying that to her face!)
Izuku truly wished there was a way to express disappointment that the person who came to foil your plans wasn’t the one you wanted without making them feel like they’d been handed a Second Place ribbon. Izuku slid under the next shelf, using the slick portion of the floor to carry him under the shaking plank attached to the metal frame. Battle Fist hit the ground to see where he went, but didn’t follow.
Smart on her part.
Izuku chuckled under his breath and enjoyed the rush of blood reaching every one of his limbs. Battle Fist wasn’t the one he wanted to see, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have some fun while she was here.
(Besides, Izuku could never have enough bait.)
The man—no, Villain—took the chase up as he hopped onto the nearest shelving unit and climbed.
Itsuka heard the whine of the metal under his weight and the crunch of bent boxes as he stepped on them without care. When he reached the top, The Villain ran through the warehouse across the tops of the shelving units occasionally jumping between them like a wild hare. The metal shelves clanged under each hit, ruining any attempt at stealth as they rattled and the dart gun clicked against his back adding to the noise and easy trail.
She followed below, sticking to the ground and careful to keep him in sight in case he had something up his sleeve. The small windows only provided a few shreds of light that didn’t quite cover the room, but it was enough to find his silhouette and that was all Itsuka needed.
“It’s always fun to see the similarities in Hero Partners,”
the Villain said, swinging around a corner. “Phantom Thief— sorry, Monoma, managed to avoid the tranquilizer dart, too.”
Itsuka really, really hated the talkers.
They always thought they could distract you with conversation at their best (a tactic she could almost appreciate) or just wanted to hear themselves talk, feeding an endless ego like a pig at an overflowing trough (far less tolerable). Itsuka powered through, concentrating on the flash of his shadows in the dark as they raced through the aisles of Hero merchandise.
“Not many people manage to do that, so you two should be proud,” the Villain said.
A box landed in Itsuka’s path, shattering on impact. Itsuka slid to a stop as the wooden shards exploded from it, spilling the contents across the floor. Itsuka avoided tripping over the loose t-shirts by the skin of her teeth before searching the shelves for her target. She cursed under her breath, realizing she’d lost sight of him in the dark.
But she could still hear him; Itsuka closed her eyes.
To the left—a metallic clink of two joined shelving pieces.
Itsuka dashed after it, rewarded by the Villain’s continued dialogue: “Shame it didn’t help him much since I still caught him off guard.”
Stopping in the center of the next aisle, Itsuka searched the upper shelves as best as she could for any sound or movement. Keeping to the high ground would be to his advantage, which means despite not being able to see him, he likely had still taken up camp on a higher shelf. Itsuka enlarged her fist and readied it. They didn’t have the time to keep playing chase while Neito’s wellbeing was at stake.
Knocking over a shelf ought to scare him out.
The Villain’s laugh rang out, amused and mocking. “When he went to use his Quirk your Phantom Thief found nothing to copy and it left him a little stunned.”
Itsuka stopped. Her shoulders dropped as her brain caught up with what that could mean: “You don’t have a Quirk?”
Her world went white as a hot pain sliced though the side of her qipao just under the corset. A hot breath wormed down her neck and the knife twisted upward in time with a click of a tongue. “It’s almost upsetting that works more often than the darts.”
Stabbed. She sucked in a breath. Bleeding. Itsuka turned on her heel, throwing her enlarged fist toward the Villain aiming straight for where his face should be. She used her free hand to twist his wrist and get it away from the knife. Flesh impacted, he knocked back with a grunt and the smack of flesh against concrete.
Itsuka grabbed the knife handle.
Careful to keep it in the wound to help stop the flow of blood, she made a dash away from the Villain getting to his feet. Itsuka had underestimated the other man and anything was on the table now, Quirk or no Quirk. This was his home turf, there was still no light, and she was wounded. Back up. Itsuka needed back up and something to control the bleeding.
Straight ahead, illuminated by a thin window, she saw a
set of double doors. Hoping for an exit back to the warm sunlight, Itsuka slammed her shoulder into it throwing them open. She stumbled past the threshold and came to a dead halt in the brightly lit room.
Warm blood continued to trickle down her side, but she barely felt it. Neito hung on a hook, strung up by a rope that tied the back of his arms together. He swayed back and forth in the breeze of the heavy air conditioning, feet high above the ground in his rumpled tuxedo. Itsuka didn’t see any visible injuries, but his unconscious state worried her more than the bars of the cell he had been locked in.
Itsuka rushed toward him when a flash of metal caught her eye.
Her steps slowed one at a time until she stopped again near Neito’s bars, and she took in the rest of the room. Cell upon cell ran the full length of the open back section of the warehouse and all of them were occupied by a Pro Hero, restrained and confined in various levels of gear and chains.
“The missing heroes,” Itsuka whispered. Neito had found them and now he was one of them and so was—
Izuku caught Battle Fist before she could hit the ground, careful of the knife wound. He checked her head where he’d whacked it with the butt of his rifle. The lump didn’t look too bad, but he’d have to wake her up in a minute to make sure the concussion wasn’t more serious than it looked.
Bait didn’t work too well if they’d been run through the wringer once or twice—his Hero collection needed to be in good shape for the future cameras.
(Izuku probably should have thought that through before he stabbed her.)
Itsuka woke to smelling salts and the Villain crouched in front of her. Her waist felt tight like it’d been wrapped and her hands were weighed down with something she couldn’t place. Itsuka focused on the Villain as he watched her, a small rag and jar in his hand.
“Hey there, don’t move too much,” he said, putting the small bottle in his packet. His voice sounded light and friendly; Itsuka struggled to place it through the headache. “I hit you pretty hard there and I don’t want you to hurt yourself even more.”
“Who are you?” she asked, testing her arms.
“Ah, I did hit you too hard,” the man said. Loose curls of hair fell across his face as he looked between Itsuka and an area with a sink in the corner. “You’re repeating yourself. Hold on. And seriously, don’t struggle. If you activate your Quirk it might take your hands off.”
Itsuka paused, turning to look over her shoulder. Her hands were locked behind her inside two metal balls with cuffs at the wrists. Her hands were in fists but she stretched out a finger to touch the edge of and winced as something pricked her finger. “What did you do?”
“It’s hard to keep someone captive if they break out using their Quirk so I have to make sure I’m prepared for anything,” the man said, licking his teeth and laughing. It came out strained and nervous—almost jittery. He stepped back into the cell with a glass of water and grabbed Itsuka by the shoulder. As he sat her up, she realized her ankles were bound as well and she was in the cell next to Neito’s. “Let’s just put it this way: If you use your Quirk, it’s going to hurt.”
“You’re not going to get away with this,” Itsuka hissed, refusing the water.
The Villain put the glass down and opened her eyes up, checking her pupils with a pen light. Itsuka jerked away from his hold and he snorted. “I sure hope not. All this work would go to waste if I just...get away with everything.”
“What are you talking about?” Itsuka asked. She rested her back against the solid wall, close to the bars that split her from Neito. He continued swinging lightly back and forth; still unconscious like everyone else down the rows. “Why am I awake when they’re all knocked out? What did you do to Neito?”
“They’re all asleep because they wouldn’t shut up, your precious Phantom Thief being one of the worst offenders,” the man said, green eyes burning as they darted to glare at her partner. He stood up and brushed off his gear before stepping outside the cell and shutting the door. “Which reminds me!”
Itsuka flinched at the drastic shift in demeanor from fury to joy.
The Villain smiled brightly and grabbed the bars of the cell. “What do you think of Ground Zero?”
“The Hero?” Itsuka asked. He nodded and she remembered his excitement over the other man’s merchandise. Upon closer inspection and with the better light, Itsuka noticed that the man’s mask rather resembled the explosive Hero’s own costume mask. Itsuka scooted closer to the wall. “Are you a fan or something?”
“Or something,” he said. He tapped his fingers on the bars and leaned on them. “But I want to know what you think about him.”
Itsuka ran through what she knew: The guy got excited about Ground Zero. Neito had lost his speaking privileges along with everyone else. Neito hated Ground Zero. Most people hated that guy. Conclusion: The Villain liked Ground Zero.
Itsuka could work with that.
She just had to stick to half-truths or the fanboy might tell she was lying through her teeth.
“Dedicated,” Itsuka said, over the “aggressive” that she thought. Truthfully, her opinion of the man wasn’t much higher than Neito’s, but he at least got the job done despite the piss-poor attitude and the unnecessary force. She avoided eye contact, attempting to look bashful in her supposed ignorance. “I don’t really know him personally, but he seems like someone who doesn’t stop until his assignment is done.”
“I know! He really doesn’t get enough credit,” the man said. He let one arm hang loosely through the bars and exhaled with a delighted sigh. “It’s so nice to meet someone else who likes him, too! Ground Zero is highly underrated in the Hero community. The higher ups just refuse to acknowledge him!”
For good reason.
Itsuka shifted, testing the inside of the cuffs again. The cell bars would go down easy if she could get her hands free. Itsuka just needed one moment of surprise to take down the Villain while he was still confident he’d won. If she expanded her fist fast enough she might be able to break the cuffs with minimal damage, but she needed to figure out just how many spikes were inside.
That meant stalling.
Itsuka asked, “You think so?”
“Of course! I mean, that’s what all this is for!” The man shouted, throwing his hands out. He turned and signaled down the row of Pro Heroes. “Kacchan’s reputation is a disgrace and I’m going to fix it.”
“The world just needs to see what an amazing Hero he is and then he’ll get more work! More work means more attention and more fans. Kacchan’ll get the spotlight meant for him and finally be the number one Hero he deserves to be!” The man giggled under his breath and put his hands over his mouth as he swooned. “It’ll be so perfect.”
“What will?” Itsuka asked.
“Just picture it,” the man said, spinning back around to face Itsuka. He held his hands forward and tapped back to the cell. He grabbed the bars and jumped, sticking a food on the cell door to prop himself up as he hung off the bars. “Pro Hero Ground Zero rescues the lost Heroes! What a PR boost that’ll be! The only thing better than rescuing children and civilians is rescuing stupid Heroes who got their asses handed to them by some Quirkless bad guy. Not even Kacchan could ruin that good press.”
Itsuka glanced down the row, noting some fairly prominent and strong Heroes restrained. “What makes you think Ground Zero can beat you when all of us failed?”
“I’m going to let him win,” the man said, dead serious. He hopped off the cell door and wrung his hands together as he mumbled under his breath. “I mean, I have to make sure he can’t tell I let him win—and whoo boy, is that going to be tough—but if it looks like he can’t take me out on his own, I’m going to throw the fight. The whole point of this is for me to lose and for all of you to be rescued so Kacchan looks good or it’ll all be pointless—”
The Villain stopped himself mid rant and winced. He looked at Itsuka and rubbed the back of his neck. “Ah, but don’t tell him I said that when he shows up. Kacchan gets angry if you let him win at things.”
“I won’t,” Itsuka lied. However, there was a big flaw with this plan of his: “You do know that Ground Zero never gets search and rescue missions, right?”
The man was rude, violent, and was pretty much only good for beating up violent Villains. No one let Ground Zero within ten feet of a job that required sensitivity.
The Villain’s face fell, turning cold once more. The lines under his dark green eyes grew more pronounced, even noticeable past the black fabric of his mask. “Oh, trust me. I know.”
He walked to a table near the double doors to the back room and clicked on a television on the table. It showed a split screen of security cameras watching the merchandise warehouse.
Itsuka lost count at ten spikes on the inside of her cuffs and gave up. She needed to trust she was strong enough to snap the metal open and be prepared for it to hurt. Itsuka kept him talking while she braced herself. “What makes you think he’ll get assigned to look for us?”
“I know for a fact he’ll come,” the man said. He took his dart gun off his back and set it on the table counter. He opened a drawer and hummed under his breath as he tapped his fingers on the table’s surface as he searched. “There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Kacchan will show up. He’s proper Hero, though and through. The absolute best.”
Itsuka felt her blood run cold as the stranger pulled out a hand gun, shining and clean. She activated her Quirk, spikes be damned but could only cry out as the metal refused to budge around her expanding limbs. She dropped her Quirk, shifting her legs as she hissed through the pain from her hands slicing on the metal.
“I told you not to do that,” the man said, sighing as he checked a round was in the chamber. He released the slide as he walked closer to the cell bars with a meek smile. “At least it won’t hurt for long.”
“Don’t,” Itsuka said, scooting back. Her cuffs filled with blood and she felt her anger grow. “I thought you wanted us to be rescued!”
“I do, but I made a mistake and let you know my plans for Kacchan and then you lied to me about keeping it a secret, so here we are,” he said, shaking his head as if that explained everything. Itsuka couldn’t breathe. The man aimed the pistol at her forehead, his manic expression warped as he shot her a crooked smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure someone else finds you first so Kacchan won’t look bad.”
Itsuka shook her head, eyes darting to Neito. She wanted to scream for him to wake up but her pride wouldn’t allow it. Itsuka wouldn’t give this bastard the satisfaction.
“Oh, I can send him with you, too, if you want,” the man said, turning his head toward Neito.
“No!” Itsuka screamed, jerking forward. “Don’t you touch him!”
The man jerked back, surprised by the force of her yell and held his hands up.
“Okay, okay. I’ll leave Phantom Thief alone.”
Itsuka relaxed a fraction and prayed that would stay true.
“You still have to go though,” he said “I am sorry about this,”
She heard the click.
Izuku shoved his gun into the empty holster hooked to the back of his belt. He hadn’t wanted to do that, but it wasn’t worth the risk.
All of this would have been for nothing if Kacchan blew the entire gig out of some messed up sense of pride. His ego looked good on him, but right now Kacchan needed all the help he could get and Izuku was going to make sure he got it.
He hummed as he opened the cell door and moved to collect the body. He’d have to dispose of it somewhere far away to keep it from being connected to him and his kidnapping operation. It wouldn’t look too great if Kacchan “Saved all but one!”
That would make him look sloppy.
“I wish you’d hurry up, Kacchan,” Izuku said, watching the still monitor as he hiked Battle Fist’s body higher into his arms. The warehouse remained still on the monitor, empty once again. Izuku hugged the cooling body closer to his chest like an old toy, thinking of his dear friend. “I’m getting tired of waiting.”
And he would show up.
Eventually, Kacchan would be the only one left who could.