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the devil called a cease-fire

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Aizawa Shouta has been a pro hero for nearly fifteen years. He has worked countless missions and worked with heroes of all walks of life and areas of expertise. He has attended more briefings than he cares to recall and been forced to run lead on more than a few of them. But this. This is quickly turning into a spectacle. Shouta would know. He’s spent half of his life as Yamada Hizashi’s best friend.

Shouta knew agreeing to let All Might in on this case was going to be a mistake. And that was before two buildings in upper Musutafu were turned into so much rubble.

He stares at the file folder in his hands, like maybe if he is lucky a cure for the migraine building behind his eyes will pop out from somewhere in the pages. No such luck. He snaps the folder shut and sighs.

“Before we get started,” Shouta says, “would you mind telling me who exactly that is?” He nods at the back corner of the cramped bolthole they decided to use as a meeting space.

The man at the end of the table is hard to miss. He cuts a memorable picture, sitting with his head propped up on one fist. A black mask, almost skull-like in the way it conforms to his face, hides his features from view. Nothing about the man’s posture is threatening, exactly—if anything the line of his shoulders is too relaxed. Shouta has never been a betting man, but if he were he would wager a good amount of yen that beneath the mask that man is wearing a shit-eating grin.

Shouta doesn’t consider himself a person that is easily ruffled, either, but something about the man is...unsettling.

He turns his attention back to Tsukauchi and All Might, standing in front of him. The pair exchange glances. “He’s…” All Might hesitates. “A consultant.”

And you’re a bad liar, Shouta doesn’t say. Wordlessly, he turns to Tsukauchi.

“He’s the one who brought us the ring’s location,” the detective admits, looking like he’s halfway to an ulcer. “Being involved with the raid was one of his conditions.”

Shouta lifts his eyes up to the ceiling and slowly counts down from ten. “And neither of you thought to run that by me.”

Tsukauchi is a good man, and a damn fine detective. But sometimes Shouta thinks he spends a little too much time with the number one hero.

“Right,” Shouta sighs. He looks back over at the masked stranger, who judging by his posture is thoroughly enjoying the show. “You better not be any trouble.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Eraserhead,” the man rumbles.

“That was a lie,” Tsukauchi points out calmly.

“Oh yes, the detective with the lie detector quirk. Is it entirely passive or did you turn it on just for me?” The masked man hums thoughtfully. “Are you detecting a change in inflection? Heart rate? How does it react to half-truths, or if a truth and a lie are in the same sentence? How does this read: ‘I have no ulterior motives and there would be nothing you could do about them if I did. Your suspicions of me are ridiculous and a waste of time.’”

Tsukauchi blinks rapidly, something like horror passing over his plain face.

Shouta flashes his quirk at the two of them, like he would with his students. He’s not entirely sure it did anything, in the stranger’s case. The man hasn’t flaunted a quirk at all, as far as Shouta can tell.

“Now that is somewhat disconcerting.” The masked man inclines his head. “What a wonderful quirk. Temporary suppression of the quirk factor, yes? Does it require concentration or...ah, line of sight, of course. When you blink, the effect ends.” He hums again. “I would love to have a quirk like that.”

For whatever reason, that innocuous comment has All Might stiffening, both of his hands curling into fists. “Do NOT—!”

“Relax, hero,” the stranger says breezily, leaning back in his chair. “Here I am, assisting you of my own free will, and you treat me like a common criminal.” He places a hand on his chest. “That hurts, All Might.”

Up until this very moment, Shouta can safely say he has never seen the number one hero angry. Annoyed, yes. Grinning insufferably, naturally. But never the deep, cold anger that radiates out from All Might now. If looks could kill, the glare in those electric blue eyes would have smashed the masked stranger’s face in and left him to bleed out in a dirty alleyway somewhere.

Shouta senses a history. A very dark, bloody history.

Perhaps they used to date? No, probably not.

Silently, he adjusts his first impression of the masked stranger. Anyone who can put a look like that on the Symbol of Peace’s face should under no circumstances be underestimated. “Is this going to be a problem?” He asks flatly.

The masked man waves off Shouta’s concern. “I can behave myself if he can.”

As one, the inhabitants of the room turn to All Might. The hero looks away from them and stares pointedly at the floor. “I can behave,” he grumbles.

And Shouta thought he spent enough time surrounded by children at his day job. “See that you do,” he warns, “or I will not hesitate to throw you off of this case.”

All Might pouts—and that’s not something Shouta ever thought he would see, the number one hero, pouting—and takes his seat at the conference table. Tsukauchi gives the hero a single comforting pat on the shoulder before trudging up to the front of the room where a digital projector sits ready and waiting. Masked stranger looks entirely too smug.

Eventually, the meeting’s other attendees begin to arrive, mostly officers and technicians. For a case involving human trafficking, the investigation has been relatively hero-light. Up until All Might blundered his way in, Shouta had been the only hero willing to take on the case. Purportedly it had been offered to the Endeavor agency at one point, but the number two hero had turned it down, claiming it was ‘a waste of resources.’

While Shouta agrees that Endeavor would have been a poor fit for the case, in his own humble opinion, nothing involving finding missing children can be remotely considered a waste.

Tsukauchi grabs the remote off the top of the projector and turns on the display, currently showing a detailed map of the city. “Let’s get started,” he announces. The officers immediately give him their full attention. At least someone in this room still has their professionalism. “Our target this evening is a human trafficking ring that has been active in Tokyo for the past three months. We suspect they have at least three captives at the moment, based on missing persons reports—”

“Five,” the masked stranger speaks up, “according to Kawaguchi.”

“Five captives,” Tsukauchi corrects. Shouta suspects that won’t be the last time someone gets interrupted during this travesty of a briefing. “According to the intel from Kawaguchi Kenta, confirmed by our investigative team, the captives are being held…” He presses a button on the remote in his hands and the digital display zooms in on a point on the map. “...here. By the waterfront.”

“The building is an old fish processing plant with water access, which possibly confirms our suspicions the victims are being moved by boat. We’ve contacted our friends with the coast guard,” Tsukauchi pauses to nod at a captain seated near the middle of the table, “to discreetly set up a perimeter.”

Tsukauchi presses another button and the display changes to that of a cutaway floor plan. “The captives are likely being held in the cellar...only one door in or out. Guards are posted here,” he points to the water access, “with a rotating patrol here.” He gestures to the street-facing entrance. “We expect less than a dozen traffickers inside.”

“The leader of the ring is this man.” The display changes once again, this time to a photo of a plain-faced man with wispy dark hair and empty eyes. The collar of his coat is stained with soot. “Watanabe Kousuke. The registry has him listed as quirkless.” A sharp hiss sounds out from the far end of the table. Shouta doesn’t disagree with the sentiment. What a small-minded person this Watanabe must be, to capitalize on the misfortunes of his peers. Tsukauchi clicks another button on the remote and Watanabe’s photo is joined by an image of two women, both with distinctly squid-like mutations. “These two are Watanabe’s partners, the Shimizu sisters. We’ve confirmed the presence of all three of them onsite.”

Shouta briefly glances back out over the table. No glazed eyes...good. He turns back to the display but a flutter of movement from All Might’s side of the table draws his attention. Sure enough, his future coworker is glaring down the table at the masked man, who is sitting with his hands folded in his lap in the most laughable imitation of innocence Shouta has ever seen.

Children. He is surrounded. By children.

He wishes he’d thought to bring his sleeping bag. Or that Hizashi hadn’t taken it from him on his way out the door.

“We’ll take two teams,” Tsukauchi continues. From the expression on his face, he is a man desperately praying for patience without particular care for who answers. “One through the back, led by Eraserhead. At the front, All Might will draw their attention. The priority here is the safe retrieval of the victims.” Tsukauchi exhales, his dark eyes sharp. “Does our ‘consultant’ have anything to add?”

Heads turn in near unison to the end of the table. The masked man takes his cue and rises smoothly to his feet. He is tall and broad—not quite as defined as All Might’s muscle form, but his figure still exudes a quiet power. He is the type that demands respect with his presence alone, regardless of whether or not he deserves it.

“I believe you’ve about covered it, detective,” the stranger says smoothly. “Though with the ratio of thugs to captives, I would expect at least one of the traffickers to have a powerful quirk that excels at zone control.”

“Alright. Then if there are no questions…” Tsukauchi eyes each face at the table. “We move out in two hours. Let’s bring these kids home, everyone.”

A chorus of voices answers the detective in a rousing cry.

“We only have one shot at this,” Shouta warns the table. “With what happened in Musutafu the ring is likely on edge. Anxious. They’ll try to move the captives tonight. If we let them, that’s it. We’re done.”

“That will not happen,” the stranger says, a hauntingly cold edge to his voice. Great, this one has some personal stake in it, too. Just what Shouta needed.

A few more words are exchanged, last-minute confirmations of details, and the officers begin to trickle back out of the rundown apartment. Two hours isn’t a lot of time to prepare for a sting, but Tsukauchi’s team is a dedicated group. They’ll pull it together. Shouta remains seated and watches them go, idly flipping through the contents of the file in front of him.

He lingers on the list of potential abductees, each name accompanied by a small portrait. Kids, all of them, ranging from elementary school age to just starting college. He tries to memorize their faces, each with the same vacant expression. Even Midoriya, who seems to be the least photogenic kid Shouta has ever seen, manages that hollow fish-eyed stare.

All Might sighs gustily, breaking the silence of the emptied room. “Waiting is the hardest part.”

“Nothing left to do but make sure we’re ready,” Tsukauchi agrees with a solid nod. He takes a seat at the table next to All Might.

“Speaking of.” Shouta closes the folder and glances back down the table. “What are we going to have this one do? You didn’t mention him in the brief.” It occurs to him, then, that no one has at any point mentioned this man’s name. He can’t quite muster up the energy to wonder why.

“I will go with Eraserhead, of course,” the masked stranger decides.

All Might slams his palms down on the table so hard the light fixtures rattle. “Absolutely not!” he bellows.

“Oh? Are you worried about me?” The masked man leans forward conspiratorially. “I assure you, I can play nice.”

“Yes, with your food before you eat it,” All Might snaps. “You’re with me or not at all.”

“You’re letting him get to you,” Shouta hears Tsukauchi murmur. “Calm down.”

“Very well.” The man in the mask rolls his shoulders. Through the mask, Shouta can just make out the shape of the man’s raised brow. “Is it always like this on the other end of the table?”

“Not a regular with hero work then, I take it,” Shouta huffs.

“Ah, not in the way you mean.” The man lets out a dry chuckle. “Quirks have always been my passion. I think hero work suits me though, don’t you? Perhaps I should make a career change.”

All Might makes a noise like someone is trying to strangle him with that stupid cape of his.

“I won’t have you in the field if you’re a liability,” Shouta says firmly.

“There is no need to worry. I have practically centuries of experience. And of course, I will have the number one hero watching over me.” That deep voice turns sly. “If I were you, I’d be more concerned about him. He might lose his temper and bring down another building on someone’s head.”

“I’m not the one who regularly ruins people’s lives,” All Might shoots back, the muscles in his neck as taut as a wire.

Tsukauchi has apparently given up all attempts to mediate between the pair and instead sits with his head in his hands, his eyes squeezed shut in exasperation. Shouta can’t rightly blame him.

“Alright, that’s enough from both of you.” Shouta would activate his quirk again, if he wasn’t mildly concerned over the effect it would have on All Might. Would the man instantly deflate like a sad balloon? Best avoid finding out. “You want to bring this Midoriya of yours home, All Might? Take the baggage and stow it.”

All Might turns to stare at Shouta in horror, his face paling drastically. One would think Shouta had just divulged the man’s real name, birthday, and the truth about his time limit.

As if in answer to Shouta’s silent question, the masked stranger jerks forward slightly in his seat. “...Midoriya?”

Ah. Was All Might trying to keep his student a secret? Illogical. If that was the case, he should have said as much earlier.

“Could it be you have found a successor, All Might?” The stranger’s words are light, but there is an odd tension to his shoulders that wasn’t present before.

All Might doesn’t seem to notice. “That is none of your business.”

“Well. I hope this young man is made of sturdier stuff than your predecessor was.”

“How dare you—!” In an instant, All Might is lunging across the table with one arm raised.

Shouta has had quite enough of this. With a twist, he snaps out his capture weapon and snags All Might around the bicep. He has no illusions it will actually hold the older hero, but with any luck it will serve as a physical reminder of where exactly they are. “What did I just say.”

The number one hero forcibly relaxes, dropping back into his chair. “You’re right, I am sorry.”

“It won’t happen again,” the stranger offers, surprisingly somber.

Shouta releases the capture weapon with a flick of his wrist, smoothly winding it back around his neck. “It better not.” He trudges back out of the apartment, huffing to himself. If he didn’t know any better, he would say All Might had brought a goddamn top-tier villain into a police-sanctioned hero operation.

But of course, that can’t be. There is no way the number one hero would be that stupid.

He’ll continue to keep both eyes on the situation. Just in case.


-


It is February 24th, two days before U.A.’s entrance exam. Four days since Midoriya Izuku went missing.

The traffickers’ hideout is unassuming, easily overlooked amongst the dozens of buildings just like it sitting along the pier. It’s a sad, weathered thing with wooden slats and a salt-stained tin roof. Two men, both shabbily dressed as security guards, prowl the perimeter. Someone has smeared some sort of black paint around the building’s foundation, though to call it graffiti would be an inaccurate assessment of the vandal’s artistic skills. From the looks of it, the whole building is either two strong storms away from collapsing or will remain stubbornly standing until the heat-death of the universe.

The sun hasn’t quite set yet and already the streets have taken on a dark and claustrophobic air. Down the block, a single street lamp flickers on, the half-dead bulb struggling to light. A breeze drifts in off the nearby ocean waves and the chill of it sinks through All Might’s suit and settles deep in his creaking bones.

Or maybe that’s just the suffocating aura of the man standing to All Might’s left.

All Might does wonder what exactly the ring did to offend his nemesis, that he is willing to set his grudges aside like this. All Might worked hard to earn the villain’s wrath. Months and years spent dismantling All for One’s operation piece by piece, until the villain was practically on the run by the end. What could a small group of human traffickers—though the lowest of the low, in terms of criminals—have possibly done to earn the ire of the Symbol of Evil?

It wasn’t like All for One actually cared for anyone or anything. Only his power, and how he could expand it.

“Didn’t Shimura ever teach you it’s rude to stare?” All for One doesn’t turn, simply finishes adjusting the cuff of his sleeve with one hand. Toshinori hates how composed he looks, how unaffected. The villain’s tone is almost conversational. “Another way she failed you, I suppose.”

All Might sucks a deep breath in through his nostrils. He is not going to compromise this mission or his integrity more than he already has. He is not. No matter how much he wants to tear off the villain’s jaw, pulverise it, and feed it back to him intravenously.

Maybe Tsukauchi’s quirk was wrong for once. Maybe All for One doesn’t have any vendetta against the ring at all and is purely here to pick at Toshinori’s psyche until he finally snaps under the weight of his own guilt and neuroses. Because this entire situation is very rapidly devolving into Toshinori’s own personal hell.

Behind them, Tsukauchi directs the police in forming a perimeter down the block. More of a backup measure, than anything, but it will be good to have emergency services on hand. As much as the idea of actually needing them turns Toshinori’s guts.

“The use of police seems...unnecessary,” his nemesis comments. “Won’t they just get in the way?”

All Might grinds his teeth together. At the rate he is going, his back molars will be little more than stubs by the end of the day. “We need to set some ground rules.”

“Will that make you feel better about this little arrangement? Let you feel like you’re in control?” All for One sighs. “Very well, tell me how to avoid offending your hopelessly fragile heroic sensibilities.”

“No stealing quirks,” All Might says immediately. “No killing, no aimless destruction.”

“Well. You are no fun at all.”

All Might folds his arms in front of his chest.

“Fine, fine,” the villain concedes, palms raised in a pacifying gesture. “I can play by your rules.” He inclines his head. “Not that you could stop me, if I decided otherwise.”

“I could certainly make you regret it, All for One.”

“All Might,” Aizawa’s voice sounds over the receiver. Something about the other pro’s tone makes Toshinori feel like a scolded child, but he quickly shakes it off. “I’m in position.”

“Copy that, Eraser,” All Might replies. He bounces idly on his toes in an effort to get his energy back up and glances back at his erstwhile partner.

All for One bows his head, one arm extended in invitation. “After you.”

Toshinori reminds himself that this is an important role to play. The more the traffickers keep their eyes on him, the more time Aizawa has to infiltrate and secure the captives. As much as Toshinori wants to rush in and find young Midoriya, his time is better served out here.

He tells himself that, but he isn’t altogether too sure he believes it right this moment.

All Might steps up to the warehouse entrance, gravel crunching beneath the boots of his uniform. “I am here!” he booms at the top of his remaining lung and barely gives the guards enough time to do a double-take before he dashes forward in a burst of wind.

Most mid-to-low tier villains are little match for the number one hero, even in the wake of his injury. The members of the ring are no exception. It obviously wasn’t their strength that kept them well-hidden for so long. All Might quickly disables the first guard with an open-handed jab to the neck and is about to turn and bolt for the second when he hears an awful, bloodcurdling scream.

He turns. Behind him, All for One has the second guard pinned to the ground with his heel nonchalantly grinding into the man’s kneecap. The poor man’s leg is bent entirely the wrong way, the femur likely snapped clean in half.

“Wh—you didn’t have to maim the man!”

“I don’t recall that being one of your stipulations.” The villain removes his foot anyway. On the ground, the guard continues to sob. “Besides, it got their attention.”

Sure enough, more criminals emerge from the warehouse. Three of the four are massive, each with an obvious aquatic-based mutation. The fourth is scrawny and plain-looking and completely unprepared. Upon seeing the identities of their opposition, this last member immediately breaks from the pack and takes off at a run down the street.

All Might is willing to let the young man go—one less criminal to worry about, and he’s heading straight for the police perimeter anyway—but All for One has no such compunctions. Red-black tendrils extend from the villain’s outstretched fingers and wind themselves unerringly around the runaway’s ankles, dragging him kicking and screaming back into the conflict.

Is All Might living in a nightmare? He tears his eyes away from the sight and decides to throw himself bodily at the nearest thug, the one that looks uncannily like a marlin.

“An interesting quirk!” All Might hears All for One crow from over where the villain is toying with his prey. “The ability to create air pockets, isn’t it? Which I would imagine you use exclusively for underwater transport.” The villain absentmindedly ducks around his opponent’s ineffectual blows, cheerfully ignoring the man’s building frustration in favor of continuing the one-sided conversation. “How disappointing. You haven’t considered the offensive applications. Tell me, are you familiar with the concept of an air embolism?”

‘Horror’ is not a strong enough word to describe what Toshinori feels after hearing that.

The rapid-fire observations do remind him of young Midoriya and his muttering, to a degree. Thankfully, young Midoriya has never been that...macabre.

All Might grips his current opponent by his long, pointed snout and with a half-spin hurtles him across the lot like a javelin. The thug collides solidly with the man currently in All for One’s clutches, sending both individuals careening halfway down the street. The pair collapse in a pile of limbs, out cold.

All for One sighs, the tendrils of his hand retracting. “You are being childish.” He steps smoothly out of the way of an opportunistic trafficker with a hammerhead shark quirk and watches absently as the thug barrels right into a wall.

“You are the one toying with people.”

“Don’t these ones deserve it?” The villain suggests slyly. “Preying on children and the so-called ‘weak link’ of society the way they do? Don’t tell me you don’t want to see them hurt for that.”

“Do not pretend you care!” All Might roars, just before he punts a still struggling trafficker into a nearby wavebreaker. “You are just as soulless and self-serving as you have ever been!”

“And you are still a fool trying to paint over this world’s broken parts with candied optimism and sunshine naivety!”

A throat clears. Both hero and villain turn at the sound.

“You two look like yer in the middle of a spat or somethin,” the hammerhead and lone-remaining trafficker says sensibly. He jabs a thumb off to the side. “So if it’s all the same to you…”

All Might lurches forward and catches the last thug with a hard uppercut to the underside of his oddly-shaped jaw. The man goes flying upwards, only to be caught by a hovering All for One and relentlessly kicked back down to the ground. The criminal’s body impacts the cement with a meaty thud and shatters it, sending chunks of dirt and stone rocketing up like a meteor storm in miniature.

All for One floats back to the ground behind All Might and brings his hands together in a slow, methodical clap. “Well done,” the villain says, drily enough that Toshinori doesn’t need Tsukauchi to know not to take the compliment earnestly. “You almost had me believing you’re competent at this.”

All Might forces himself to laugh it off, painfully aware of how strained he sounds. “Maybe if I didn’t have to keep an eye on you the entire time.”

“Ah, yes, blaming your mistakes on others. Very heroic.” All for One hums. “Now that we have a moment, about this successor of yours.”

All Might stiffens. Damn Aizawa for mentioning young Midoriya and damn Toshinori for not taking the proper precautions to stop him. “That isn’t up for discussion.”

True to form, the villain ignores him. “I wonder, have you told him about me?” All for One muses. The setting sun sits at his back, silhouetting him in drips of blood orange light. “When you offered him that quirk, did you tell him about the skeletons that come with it? Or did you make it out as a blessing, a gift, instead of the curse it is? Did he cry, when you told him?” Sweat begins to bead along Toshinori’s brow. That deep voice continues, sickly sweet and deathly cold. “Did he drop to his knees and thank you for the power that will one day be the death of him at my hands? Did you tell that boy’s parents, that you were offering their son up as a lamb to the slaughter? How noble. How heroic. Yet another of this country’s godforsaken child soldiers, marching on towards pointless martyrdom—”

The image to follow is one Toshinori will cherish for a long, long time.

A bright purple tentacle appears out of nowhere and socks All for One right in his stupid monologuing face.

A lithe young woman with squid tentacles for hair swings down from atop a nearby lamppost. She quickly turns the momentum of her swing into a hard kick, her booted foot catching All Might’s nemesis right in the solar plexus.

All Might vaguely recalls the young woman’s face from the presentation during the briefing. Though the smears of paint over her forehead and cheekbones had been absent in the photo. One of two sisters named Shimizu, both with squid-like mutations. He wonders, absently, where the older sister might be.

He receives his answer seconds later, when an electric blue tentacle winds itself around his throat and attempts to crush his trachea.

All Might tries to pry the appendage loose, but its grip only tightens. He grunts and changes tack, instead using the tentacle as a rope to pull in the rest of the older Shimizu’s body. She fights him with a surprising amount of strength, using her remaining tentacles to buffet him anywhere she can reach. He drives his knee upward into her gut and she gasps, her hold on his neck loosening just enough for All Might to catch a breath.

“Did you need assistance?” All for One calls out. The younger Shimizu is a puddle of sobbing limbs on the ground beside him. Though she should count herself lucky she hasn’t been turned into ikameshi, all things considered. “Not that I am offering, just thought I would ask.”

Almost on impulse All Might turns his head; whether to snarl out a quip of his own or what he isn’t certain. Shimizu takes advantage of his split-second of inattention and spits a glob of something dark directly in his eye.

All Might reels back on reflex and it’s only his years of experience that keep him from loosening his grip on Shimizu’s arms. He manages to wipe some of the black substance off on the shoulder of his suit. It doesn’t burn, whatever it is. He is about to write the whole experience off and knock Shimizu unconscious when a strange foggy sensation creeps in on the edges of his awareness.

Ah. He made a mistake in thinking Shimizu’s squid-like mutation was the only aspect of her quirk.

With the fog comes a complete lack of direction. His limbs no longer move the way he thinks they should. Left is right, up is down, and before All Might can begin to gather his thoughts together he has been flipped face-down in the dirt with his hands pulled tight behind his back.

“Didn’t think we were big enough fish to get the attention of number one,” Shimizu coos into his ear, her knee digging hard into the low of his spine. A few wisps of fog still linger at the edges of his vision. He blinks.

Toshinori is laughably off-kilter today. He would like to blame that on his nemesis, but while the man truly is infuriating he is, ultimately, an excuse. Toshinori needs to stop listening to All for One and get himself together. He thinks of ten months ago, of a young boy running to save someone when no one else would dare to move. A young boy who ignored the harsh words both internal and external and ran forward anyway. That boy is counting on him. Young Midoriya and his mother and the other captives are counting on him.

“Those people you prey upon will never have to worry again,” All Might intones. “Why? Because I! Am! Here!” Straining his already-battered abdominal muscles, All Might pushes his upper body off the dirt and rams his skull back into Shimizu’s nose as hard as he can.

He hears a crunch as the cartilage in Shimizu’s nose crumbles. His old teacher did always say Toshinori had a hard head.

The force of his headbutt causes Shimizu to again loosen her grip, giving All Might time to get his feet back underneath him. With a practiced grab, All Might hooks Shimizu under the arm and tosses her up over his shoulder, tentacles streaming behind her like ribbons. She hits the ground hard. She doesn’t get up again.

Toshinori breathes a sigh of relief.

He staggers to his feet, uncannily aware of his remaining time. Shimizu lies off to the side, a colorful bruise blooming across her forehead. Numerous other bodies dot the courtyard, some completely unconscious, some moaning in pain.

All for One is nowhere to be seen.

“Shit,” Toshinori says.


-


As humorous as it is to see his enemy struggle in a hand-to-hand contest against a D-rank villain with a sub-par quirk, All for One has better things to do with his time.

He has never much cared for the bloated egos and infantile morals of heroes. The hero system is as broken as it was at the beginning and a shameless personality contest on top of that. But they are such fun to toy with. Would All for One have come as far as he has without that broken system continually pushing the underbelly of society in his direction? A thought exercise for another time, perhaps.

He flexes his left hand, crackles of energy leaping over his knuckles. It does feel good to be active again, if only in a limited capacity such as this. He can admit, if only to himself, that ‘playing nice’ can have its advantages. Slowly crushing that blonde buffoon’s spirits, for example. Gaining easy access to the ring as another.

It is times like these he laments his lack of true vision. He is sure the expressions on the hero’s face were delightful.

Of course, he could have taken down the ring on his own. Quite easily. That had originally been his intention. But then his old enemy had interrupted him in that complex.

Sometimes, when a plan goes off the rails, one has to take a running leap off the tracks with it.

He continues his sedate pace through the warehouse, his dress shoes tapping against the concrete. The few traffickers he notices pay him little mind, more focused on escaping the so-called wrath of the pro heroes. He allows them to pass him by. Plenty of time to track them all down and carve out his pound of flesh later, when he doesn’t have a cancerous tumor in blue and red tights breathing down his neck. For all his self-righteousness and grandstanding, the current holder of One for All can be infuriatingly tenacious.

From somewhere above him, he hears the whip-crack of Eraserhead’s capture weapon. Seconds later, a body goes soaring off the catwalk overhead, followed shortly by the pro hero himself. He lands near All for One in a deft crouch, capture weapon rippling after him.

“You realize the stairs are right there,” All for One points out.

“Where’s All Might,” Eraserhead grunts, because he has no manners.

At least the underground hero is semi-tolerable, as far as heroes go. And his quirk is utterly fascinating. If All for One still had eyes, he would consider taking it for himself. Alas. “He let himself get distracted,” All for One says honestly. “I am sure he will come blundering in shortly.” Hopefully after All for One has already done what he came for and is far, far away. He wouldn’t put it past the hero to have scraped together some ill-advised plot to detain him after the ring is cleared.

“Great.” Eraserhead nudges the prone trafficker beside him with his boot. The man groans. “Found the cellar. Kids weren’t in it, but there was a guard handcuffed to the railing of the stairway.”

“Someone beat us here?” If that is the case, All for One is going to murder whoever it was with his bare hands and present their mangled corpse to the good doctor for his experiments.

“I don’t think so. Guard wasn’t very forthcoming. Kept saying ‘it’s gone’ over and over again.” The pro-hero snorts. “Not a very good guard, in any case.”

Hmm. “A breakout, do you think?”

“Seems likely, but couldn’t have been that long ago, or these guys would be gone already.” Eraserhead carefully binds off the unconscious traffickers hands and retracts his capture weapon. “It’s a big place. You take a look down here, I’ll hit up top. No sign of the boss yet.”

Good. All for One has several choice words for the man, most of which should be shared out of the pros’ earshot. “If you like,” he offers amiably.

Eraserhead turns, about to run back up to the catwalk. Then the hero pauses, his breath leaving him in a gusty sigh. “I can’t keep calling you ‘masked stranger’ in my head,” he grumbles out, inclining his head back in All for One’s direction. “You got a name?”

All for One would have been reluctant to give it earlier in front of All Might and his pet detective, but he finds Eraserhead’s blunt and abrasive demeanor oddly refreshing. He can give the man this much. “Hisashi will be fine.”

“Hisashi,” Eraserhead repeats, and with a nod, leaps back up the stairs.

Hisashi lets his senses linger on the pro’s retreating form before he finally turns away and weaves back through the rows of industrial equipment lining the processing floor.

He hadn’t intended to reveal himself quite so soon. The consequences, particularly in the case of Tomura’s development, are sure to be...riveting. A young man after his own blackened, shrivelled heart, to be sure. Tomura would be restless, eager to lash out. It would be difficult convincing him to lay low for a time. Perhaps a conversation with Kurogiri was in order later.

Depending on how all of this played out, some of his plans might have to be put off indefinitely. Frustrating, but not a disaster. Not yet. He is getting rather tired, however, of One for All’s eighth user and his tendency to put his grubby mitts all over All for One’s things.

A voice calls out from one of the many rows of equipment and pulls him from his thoughts. “It’s...you…”

All for One pauses.

The infrared quirk he has been making use of since his injury is a godsend, but hardly a good substitute for actual sightedness. He misses being able to sit and read, or easily distinguish one face from another.

To compensate, he has become excellent at recognizing voices.

At the end of the aisle, the leader of the trafficking ring stands looming over a wounded child, licks of heat spitting from his mouth. The child, stubbornly, does not scream. They press themself against the wall, darting anxious looks in All for One’s direction.

“Wh-what,” Watanabe ekes out, shock tightening his muscles, “what are you doing here?”

The man sounds markedly older than he was when All for One saw him last, his voice roughened with age and cigarettes. It would have been...nine or so years? Not so long, and yet another life entirely.

“I came to see what you made of my little gift,” All for One murmurs. “And look what you’ve done with it.”

It had been one of his more magnanimous offerings, all told.

Hisashi has lived for a long, long time. Being so long-lived, he once made it a point to never let things get personal. He didn’t have the time for emotional attachments. As the Symbol of Evil, he should be firmly above them.

It is not a rule he has been particularly good at keeping.

How ironic that a deal he made back in a moment of personal weakness would backfire on him so personally as well. Somewhere in the depths of One for All, his brother is laughing at him. He can’t say he doesn’t deserve it.

All for One steps forward. His prey tries to smile, unaware of the web it is already caught in.

“Are you impressed? It’s really turned out far more lucrative than I was expecting I mean the bids on this lot alone!”

All for One crowds right into the little bottom feeder’s personal space, one hand coming to rest on the whelp’s shoulder. His touch is not gentle. “I am impressed.” A hint of pressure and the worm starts to writhe. “It takes a tremendous amount of effort to disgust me. Congratulations.”

Only now does the slime start to realize the danger he is in. His eyes bulge. “What are you—”

“It appears you have forgotten what it’s like to be quirkless,” All for One sneers. His index finger brushes against the skin of the man’s neck. The vermin’s pulse skitters like a frightened mouse. “Allow me to remind you.”

“No, no no please no,” the hypocritical waste of space begs. He smells of sweat and smoke and something sharper. “Don’t take it away.”

“You should have thought about that before you took him,” All for One hisses. He wraps his awareness around the quirk resting inside the man’s genes and yanks.

The quirk jumps like a hot coal, settling back into his collection like it never left. It was one of the very first quirks he ever claimed as his own, and he can admit to a certain attachment. He can’t use it at the moment, not with the respirator, but oh did he miss it.

“Much better.” He releases his grip and the little lamprey collapses to the floor, rendered catatonic by his quirk. Briefly, All for One considers how to put the disgusting thing out of his misery. Perhaps something painful and drawn out. He has a more subtle combination that would be perfect.

He begins to line up the necessary quirks in his mind when he hears the softest of gasps coming from the floor in front of him. It sounds achingly familiar.

He turns his senses, limited as they might be, to Watanabe’s prisoner. A boy. Young man, really. Short for his age but wiry, with his mother’s nose and round cheeks. Hisashi can’t see the boy’s eyes, though he desperately wants to. He can at least feel them watching him.

It seems killing Watanabe is firmly not on the table for today. A shame.

Instead, All for One slots a couple of his favorite enhancers into place and tosses the worm down the aisle. The body crashes through one rusted conveyor belt and slams into another, the machinery caving in around the point of impact. With any luck, the collision will have shattered more than a few of Watanabe’s bones. It will have to do.

A hospital will be much easier to break into than a prison, in any case.

Hisashi turns back to the boy. He hasn’t allowed himself to imagine this meeting once in the past five years. If he had, he thinks he would have at least given himself the ability to see. And staged it somewhere other than a warehouse inhabited by human traffickers, perhaps. In his memories, the boy is tiny and cherub-cheeked and covered in freckles much like his own. The image sits jarringly over the reality of the teenager in front of him. He really has missed so much.

He has no tear ducts. He cannot cry.

For once, he wants to.

Behind his mask, Hisashi allows himself a tiny smile. “Hello, Izuku.”