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the devil called a cease-fire

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The girl is younger than Toshinori’s pupil by at least a couple of years, with long dark hair that drapes in front of her face. Her face is thin, eyes almost too wide. The face of someone who has seen far too much in her short life. She sits in the chair they gave her with her spine rigidly pressed against the seat back. Her mother sits quietly beside her, gripping her small hand tightly.

Tsukauchi sets his recorder down between them on the conference table. “Whenever you’re ready.”

The girl stares at the recorder, then glances up at her mother.

“Mayu, sweetheart,” the mother murmurs. “It’s okay. Tell the nice detective what you told me.”

“Go at your own pace,” Tsukauchi offers.

“You’ve been very brave coming here,” Aizawa adds, his voice low. “We can wait to hear what you have to say.”

Toshinori agrees with the words themselves, but the ball of dread that has been building in his gut for the past two days has no such patience. The longer this takes, the more likely it is that young Midoriya is moved somewhere far away where Toshinori can’t reach. There is a distinct possibility, Toshinori admits to himself if only in his own mind, that he has gotten attached. Perhaps Aizawa had something of a point before. Toshinori keeps to the back of the conference room, lingering on the edge of the proceedings. He may be a hero, but Tsukauchi has far more experience working with witnesses.

Or at least, more aptitude.

His eyes snap to young Mayu as she finally begins to speak haltingly, her eyes fixed to a point on the table. “It was two nights ago. I’m not sure what happened. I walk the same way home every day, but someone bumped into me and for a minute I got all turned around.” She pauses for a breath, her eyes fluttering shut. “I didn’t know where I was. And then this guy was there, asking me if I was lost.”

Aizawa leans forward in his chair, his hands folded underneath his chin. “Can you describe him for us?”

“He was big, with little scales all over his…” Mayu moves a hand in front of her face in a circular motion. “They were peeling. It was gross.”

Tsukauchi pulls a photograph out from the file folder sitting open on the table in front of him and holds it up. “Was this him?”

Mayu swallows visibly. “Yes, sir. He started asking me all sorts of questions, how old I was, where I was going. What my quirk was. I...” She stares down at her lap. “I didn’t answer. That just made him smile.”

“I was so scared,” Mayu admits, her voice small. Her little limbs are trembling. “But then that boy walked up and said if they were gonna pick on quirkless kids they might as well pick on him.”

“This boy,” Toshinori quietly interrupts, the first time he has spoken up since young Mayu and her mother entered the room, “did he have dark green hair like…” He holds his hands up around his head, unsure of exactly how to pantomime his student’s unruly locks.

Young Mayu nods. “I couldn’t see the color, but it was shaped kind of like a bush. And he had freckles.” She taps an index finger at each of her cheeks. “Here.”

Toshinori breathes a soft sigh of relief. That was definitely young Midoriya.

“He shoved me behind him,” Mayu continues. “He tried to punch the scaly guy, I think, but he hurt his hand.” Toshinori winces at that. Perhaps, at some point in the past ten months, he should have worked in showing young Midoriya how to throw a punch. “He told me to run. So I ran and ran until I couldn’t breathe anymore.”

“Mayu-chan,” Tsukauchi says softly,” is there anything else you can think of? Anything at all that could help us find the people that tried to take you.”

“I think they might’ve been following me for a couple nights,” young Mayu confides, worrying at her lower lip with her teeth. “I...I thought it was just...Inaba-kun does that sometimes, to scare me, so…”

Mayu’s mother gives her daughter’s hand a little squeeze that doesn’t go unnoticed by any of the men in the room. It seems young Mayu and young Midoriya may have more than one thing in common.

Tsukauchi reaches for the recorder and clicks it off. “Thank you, the both of you.” He nods at Mayu’s mother. “We’ll call you if we have any further questions.”

They all rise from their seats, one by one. Mayu’s mother gently leads her towards the conference room door, murmuring a constant stream of encouragements into her daughter’s hair.

As the pair passes by Toshinori, Mayu pauses in her steps, causing her mother to glance down at her in confusion. The young girl seems to gather herself for a moment, still biting at her lip, before she finally speaks. “Wh-when you find that boy, could you tell him thank you for me?” Mayu’s eyes glimmer with unshed tears. “He’s my hero.”

“He’ll be overjoyed to hear that, young Mayu,” Toshinori tells her, his own eyes starting to prickle with heat. “Thank you, for all your help.”

After Officer Sansa escorts Mayu and her mother back out of the station, the two pro heroes and the detective reconvene at Tsukauchi’s desk to discuss the case.

A large, detailed street map of Musutafu covers the board above Tsukauchi’s desk. A bright green pushpin marks the alleyway where young Midoriya’s backpack was picked up, courtesy of Musutafu Police. Tsukauchi tosses his suit jacket over the back of his office chair and rolls his shirtsleeves up to his elbows. Aizawa stands beside him with his hands in the pockets of his suit. Toshinori watches from a chair set up behind them, his hands folded together in his lap.

He knows where his strengths are. Investigation is not one of them. It’s one of the many reasons Mirai worked so well as his sidekick.

But Toshinori would rather not think about Sir Nighteye.

Tsukauchi retrieves the case folder from his desk and tacks the photo he showed to young Mayu to the upper-left hand corner of the board. A broadset young man with tiny black scales over his jaw and cheekbones glares balefully back out at them. “Our suspect is Kawaguchi Kenta,” Tsukauchi announces, tapping at the photo with the back of hand. “Quirk: Shed Skin. He’s in his late twenties, with a record that includes petty theft, breaking and entering, and at least one case of assault.”

“I find it unlikely Kawaguchi is working alone,” Aizawa says. “Let me get a look at that file.”

Tsukauchi wordlessly passes the folder over and steps back to observe the whole of the board, arms folded. “Musutafu is a large place,” he comments. “With a pretty sizable industrial area.”

“Yes. Plenty of holes to hide in,” Aizawa mumbles into the folds of his capture weapon, his eyes fixed on the file in his hands. Halfway down the page, he makes a noise low in his throat and snaps the folder shut.

“You’ve got something,” Tsukauchi guesses.

Aizawa sets the folder down and picks up a marker from Tsukauchi’s desk. He rolls it between his fingers and narrows his eyes at the map. “According to Midoriya’s notes, Kawaguchi is more likely to hide out in warm, humid places, thanks to his quirk.”

Toshinori blinks. “And?”

“Mayu-chan took the same route from school to home everyday.” Aizawa uncaps the marker and turns to Tsukauchi. “May I?”

Tsukauchi gestures at the map. “By all means.”

With a nod, Aizawa draws a thick red line on the map, connecting Mayu’s school with her family’s housing development. “There happen to be two bathhouses along this route. One of them…” He sticks a dull yellow pushpin on the map. “...Is right next door to an abandoned factory complex.”

“The perfect place for a villain to lie low,” Tsukauchi remarks.

“Not all villains stick to empty buildings, but there is some truth to the cliche,” Aizawa agrees. “Kawaguchi moves around a lot. We haven’t been able to pin his activity to any one district. He finds a place like this, someplace quiet and abandoned where he can stay comfortable. He spends a few days narrowing down targets.”

“Then once he has a target, he corners them and carries them away.” Tsukauchi nods at Toshinori. “Only this time, your student got in his way.”

“Young Midoriya has a good heart,” Toshinori sighs. “Also a reckless one.”

“You should train that out of him,” Aizawa grumbles. “It’ll get him killed one day, if it hasn’t already.”

Toshinori turns to look at Aizawa sharply. While the man might have a point, he needn’t put it so bluntly. The idea that he could already be too late to help young Midoriya tears into Toshinori’s chest with icy-cold fingers. He rises, shaking, to his full looming height. His mouth drops open to say...well, he doesn’t rightly know what.

Tsukauchi, thankfully, intervenes before either pro can start a full-blown argument. Once again, Toshinori is glad he can count the man as a friend. “I’ll get a team together, confirm that Kawaguchi is still in the area. Then we move.” The detective catches Toshinori’s eyes. “We’ll get Midoriya back, Toshinori.”

Yes, Toshinori thinks, the memories of Inko’s tear-stained face and Mayu’s soft plea at the front of his mind. They will.


-


On the evening of February 23rd, three days after Midoriya Izuku’s disappearance, All Might and the police prepare to make a move on Kawaguchi Kenta’s location.

Eraserhead, unfortunately, has U.A. business to take care of, preparing for the entrance exams. All Might would be there as well, but he had purposefully stepped back from acting as a proctor out of respect for young Midoriya. One pro hero—especially the number one hero—should be more than enough to handle whatever is waiting inside that warehouse.

It won’t, Tsukauchi’s team is sure, be the abductees. The intel suggests they will be in a different, more secluded location. But Kawaguchi will know where they are being held.

He has to.

“We’ve established a perimeter,” Tsukauchi informs All Might, ready and waiting in his muscle form. “Ready to move on your mark.”

“Hold for now,” All Might says. He slips the police radio receiver into his ear and carefully adjusts the microphone taped at his throat. “This should be quick.”

He dashes around the side of the building. Probably not as stealthy as Eraserhead would have preferred, but this late very few people are lingering on the streets. There is no light or movement through the complex’s tiny windows that All Might can see. He easily hoists himself up onto the half-height stone wall that surrounds the place and vaults himself through the nearest window. That the window is not quite large enough to smoothly permit him is nothing to a man that regularly bursts through solid brick walls like they’re made of wet tissue paper.

He lands on the warehouse floor in a practiced squat, glass and brick dust showering down around him. He rises to his feet, preparing to announce himself with his usual panache. “Never fear, for I am he—”

All Might freezes, his pupils shrinking to tiny blue pinpricks.

The scene inside the warehouse is like something out of Toshinori’s nightmares, the ones that still leave him sweaty and screaming and make his insides ache with phantom pain. The ball of dread in his gut rises up his throat and explodes.

There are bodies everywhere. A man with a shark mutation lies broken near in half, fins torn apart. A woman lies off to the side, eyes wide open and limbs twisted. The quirkless abductees are blessedly absent. Standing at the center of the room, holding Kawaguchi suspended in the air, is a figure All Might hasn’t seen in five years. One he had hoped to never see again. A strange black mask covers the man’s features, but All Might would recognize that stifling aura of power anywhere.

“Ah,” All for One says, his deep voice tinny through the respirator but no less intimidating. He releases his grip on Kawaguchi, the terrified man dropping to the floor in a slump. “You’re late.”

And just like that, the dread in All Might’s throat dissolves into pure, incandescent rage.

He doesn’t think. He blasts across the room, arm pulled back for a smash. The flame of One for All leaps inside of him.

His nemesis easily catches the blow. The blast of air pressure from the impact blows outward, shattering every window in the building and cracking several cement supports. The infrastructure of the building creaks and groans overhead.

“All Might!” Tsukauchi’s voice exclaims. “What is happening?”

Remembering himself, Toshinori jumps backwards, one hand pressed to the radio receiver in his ear. “Tsukauchi,” he rasps out, “pull back and evacuate the immediate area. He’s...that man is here.”

Whatever his friend’s reply, it is lost in the rush of air as All Might darts forward once more, the cement cracking under the force of his leap. But All for One is one step ahead of him, countering the blow with one of his own. The hit connects with All Might’s ribs, right on the edge of his injury. Blood spurts from between All Might’s lips.

“As charming as this is,” All for One says, the snide tone of his voice boiling All Might’s blood like nothing else can, “I did not come here to fight you.”

“As if I would believe that!” All Might roars and aims another punch at the villain’s head.

The top of the mask shatters under All Might’s fist, revealing the scarred smear of what used to be All for One’s face beneath it. Even his eyes are gone, only the barest outline of sockets visible in the poor light of the complex.

The villain wraps the fingers of one hand around All Might’s wrist in a bruising grip. “Make no mistake, I hate you,” All for One hisses through the respirator. “You took nearly everything from me. But you are not going to be the reason I lose what little is left.”

All for One pivots sharply, arm muscles bulging under the crisp lines of his dark suit. He pulls, and with a flick of the villain’s wrist All Might goes flying through the wall of the complex and into the building next to it.

All Might picks himself out of the rubble and wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand. A light fragrance lingers in the night air; the bathhouse must have been running a medicinal bath today. All for One walks sedately through the newly-opened hole in the complex and out into the alleyway, bits of glass and concrete crunching beneath his dress shoes. “I seem to remember you hitting harder than that before,” All Might says through bloodied teeth. “Have you lost your touch?”

“Do not bait me, hero,” the villain warns coldly. “You will find I am not in a forgiving mood.” He flicks his fingers in a show of sheer power, cracks running up the side of the cement wall beside him.

“You never are.” All Might steadies his feet beneath himself and barrels forward. Already, after only a couple of minutes, All Might is starting to feel the strain on his body. He needs to finish this as quickly as possible and keep the fight from spreading into inhabited areas. All for One has always been more akin to a natural disaster than a man.

“It seems to me,” All for One comments idly, deftly weaving around All Might’s attempted grab, “that you and I want the same thing.”

All Might surges backward, burning power straining the muscles of his right arm. “What I want,” he bellows, “is you behind bars!”

The smash connects. All for One rockets backwards, crashing back into the complex. The roof of the building finally gives up under the pressure, flying clean off and raining debris down on both their heads. All for One uses some quirk to catch himself before he goes through another wall, hovering in the exposed night air.

“How shortsighted.” The villain floats back down to All Might’s level and lands with a soft ‘tack.’ He brushes a piece of mortar off of his lapel like it's a speck of lint. “The more you waste time here with me, those captives move further and further away.”

All Might falters in his march forward. “What?”

All for One doesn’t have eyes to roll, but the sentiment is there in his voice. “Now he listens. Were you always this stubborn? I don’t remember any of the previous holders being quite this thick.”

All Might ignores that. “How do you know about that?”

“Why do you think I’m here?” The villain spreads his arms gesturing at the skeleton of the building around them, now little more than a crater. “This group of nothings crossed me, and I intend to make them pay dearly for it.”

Some part of All Might, deep down, has always suspected that his nemesis was still alive somewhere out there. But he had hoped beyond hope to have a little more time. Time to save people, time to find a successor, time to retire and perhaps even to enjoy it. Just more time.

It seems he is forever running out of it.

“These people are human traffickers,” All Might growls, “petty thugs, compared to the likes of you. What could they have possibly done to cross you?”

“You flatter me,” the villain says in an amused tone that makes All Might’s skin crawl. “I doubt they even know what they’ve done. But believe me when I say it is not a mistake they will make twice.”

Toshinori could almost laugh, at the irony. He has only known young Midoriya for ten months and already his young pupil has found himself smack in the middle of a villain squabble involving the greatest enemy he will ever face.

“It seems our young friend with the molting quirk has gone and expired on us,” All for One points out. Sure enough, there is Kawaguchi’s broken body, pinned beneath the rubble of their clash. All Might swears. “Luckily for you, I managed to interrogate him before you so rudely interrupted.”

“And you’re willing to share,” All Might spits.

“Of course.” The villain’s grin is just visible over the top of his mask’s respirator. “Naturally, I expect a certain degree of reciprocation.”

All Might shouldn’t have expected any less. Deals and manipulations. That’s how it always is with the Symbol of Evil.

His disgust is either clear on his face or he made some sort of noise, because All for One raises a placating hand. “All I ask is a truce of sorts,” he explains. “You don’t try to arrest me, I tolerate you. At least until the ring is taken care of and its victims are safe back in their beds.” The ridge of his brow rises. “Isn’t that what you want?”

All Might can’t trust this. Everything about this deal is suspicious, gift-wrapped with snakes tucked in the creases of the paper where All Might won’t see. His hand tightens into a fist. He should end this now. Throw a punch at that man’s smug damaged face and go find another way to locate young Midoriya.

But there is no time.

“All Might,” Tsukauchi’s voice says in his ear. He had forgotten, until that moment, that his old friend could hear everything. “He hasn’t lied.”

Toshinori startles. “He hasn’t?”

“Not once.”

That might not mean much. The devil doesn’t need to spin lies to ensnare your soul. Sometimes the truth works just as well.

“I hate to say this...but we might just have to hear him out.”

“Listen to your friend,” All for One calls out. That is some damn sharp hearing but, All Might supposes, his enemy doesn’t exactly have eyes anymore. There had to be some compensation somewhere.

All Might fixes his nemesis with the most hateful glare he can muster and regrets that it is probably lost on the man. “I will never trust you.”

“The feeling is entirely mutual.” The villain inclines his head. “But as long as we’re both working towards the same goal…”

Shit. “I don’t like this,” All Might mutters.

“Neither do I,” Tsukauchi says through the receiver, “but I don’t think we have a lot of choice here.”

All Might glances back over at his nemesis. His master’s murderer, standing thirty feet away, free and relatively whole. A monster, in every sense of the word. The man with the information they need. Toshinori briefly lets his eyes flutter shut. Young Midoriya. This is all for young Midoriya.

“Very well,” All Might says at last. “Let’s talk.”