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- 0 -

The idea of leaving the Port Mafia was wholly novel to Dazai. He used to imagine he’d die in connection to it one way or the other, and in the race to avoid being outmaneuvered he had no shortage of scenarios to dream of: getting hit by improbably angled bullet ricochets, tripping on syringes, stepping on landmines, falling off open skyrise windows, inhaling biochemical hazards, choking on cyanide pills, being tortured in interrogation, strapping on faulty parachutes, riding sabotaged transportation, getting sentenced to the death penalty.

Quick, sometimes violent, and hopefully not drawn out or beyond his pain tolerance. Gone to sleep beneath the waves after passing out from the lack of oxygen, sinking deep, deep, until the darkness and the current swept him away.

After Mimic, Ango’s departure, and Oda’s - Oda’s passing, he had a little time to think.

(He could not yet grieve in the way he wanted to, not if he wanted to create the opportunity to take Oda’s advice. And so he clung to those final words each day he forced himself out of bed. Every layer of gauze wrapped around his body was a reminder of physical reality, even as the numbness seeping into his bones rendered his form void.)

Once, in passing, Dazai imagined saying goodbye. The issue of being marked as a traitor aside, farewells were messy affairs, and the bitter taste of loss had yet to leave his tongue.

So he didn’t. Instead, he planted a bomb under Chuuya’s car, destroyed several high score records at the arcade, slipped a new scarf on Hirotsu’s coat rack, and left an urn filled with burnt suit ashes in his empty desk drawer.

Only one set remained, hanging on the wall of his apartment now devoid of the sparse personal effects he’d gained over the years. He’d dispose of it in less than twenty-four hours after this next mission, the only one in his record that would be unfinished. Easier than doing laundry.

But for now, a drink.

He sat in the Bar Lupin between two vacant stools, drinking at leisure and chatting with the bartender, counting down the minutes until the end of business hours. The liquor display still cast its amber light on the bar’s polished wooden surface, and the master had served him the same drink.

The whiskey was dry in his mouth, and its color lost its brilliance.

“It’s been a long night,” he sighed, lifting his glass. “One more, please.”

The barkeep regarded him with a patient thoughtfulness peculiar to those who listen with an open ear. Dazai was careful to not swivel his stool in any degree to the right.

“So it is,” the other man replied, setting down the retrieved glass on the counter, and held up a shaker. “Would it please you to have a change of pace?”

“...ah.” Dazai chuckled softly, his gaze shifting from the man’s hands to the kind crinkle of his eyes. Did he look that adrift between two empty spaces? “If it pleases the master. I’ve no doubt that whatever your mix will be excellent. Though I have one request: would you mind making it on the sweet side?”

“As you wish.”

 

An early Wednesday, barely a day after his talk with Chief Taneda, found him aboard the Shinkansen on the way to Aomori, where he planned to stay a week before heading for Tokyo.

(There was really little point in visiting his parents’ hometown, nor did he plan on speaking with anyone who might’ve known them.

But did a whim need to have a calculated purpose?)

It was novel, seeing in daylight the transformation from metropolis to lush green scenery with both eyes, when he’d long adjusted to only having his full sight in evenings back at his old apartment where the deception of injury was unnecessary.

Dazai still ended up closing his right eye when the strain and fatigue caught up to him, and a soft, wry laugh escaped his lips.

So much for trying to get around blind spots.

(He wondered if the sunlight could swallow him whole.)

 

- 1 -

 

He woke up an hour ago and couldn’t go back to sleep.

Shigaraki rarely had clear dreams, even when his nightmares lessened a year ago. This one, while equally vague, was different - it was too pleasant, all sunlight and care and warmth.

Tenko, a voice said, and there was a gentle laugh. Not too high, or you’ll fall.

You’ll catch me, won’t you?

(Father’s cold hand was next to the pillow when he woke up: the last stone unturned.

He didn’t want to let go. It wasn’t time.)

The pleasantness was alien. He didn’t know if he should be bothered by its alienness, and wondered if he should be disturbed that it possibly bothered him.

Shigaraki shut his thoughts away. He’d deal with them once he was properly awake, if he cared to remember.

(Tenko. Was it something or someone important?)

Tap.

With the curtains drawn, the only source of light came from the dual monitors on Shigaraki’s table. One screen was littered with browser windows showing FPS weapon skins, price trackers, and market historical data graphs. The other displayed a trading forum and several skin keys.

Five keyboards in varying states of wreckage were stuffed under his desk. On the table was a notepad with the login information of several smurf accounts. His poster on the wall was joined by two printouts showing steep price drips of two items, the ink and images covered with notes in angry red marker.

Tap.

On the bed was Shigaraki himself, idly scrolling through a tablet unconnected to the network, mindful of the USB sticking out of its side. The rectangular screen displayed the results of his second medical exam, notably less extensive than the first one he had a year ago after Dr. Nagayo isolated the essentials that needed monitoring.

A notification appeared onscreen. He dismissed it, ate the banana resting on his side table next to his water glass, disintegrated the peel, reached under the bed for a small plastic utility case, and uncovered the blue pill organizer hidden at the bottom.

Months of caffeine-fuelled trial and error in learning the game community-based market, only for him to sink the majority of his earned funds in tests and meds. The inconveniences of not wanting to gain Sensei’s attention and not being covered by national health insurance were no joke. Not that he could complain, when this was the likely outcome of him asking for a neutral, discrete doctor who could keep their mouth shut.

He swallowed his morning pills with a mouthful of water, replaced the container with the contents of the utility case, and slid it back under the bed.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The sound was coming from window and not a weird off note from the music playing on the PC.

Shigaraki glanced at the upper right corner of tablet display. Ah. Right. Sideline number two, for his other fund.

(Finder’s fees were expensive, and Shigaraki was well on his way in discovering just how particular he could be in picking people.

He’d let Kurogiri have his silence for whatever plausible deniability schtick he needed to do, but that didn’t mean Shigaraki was content with that sort of arrangement. No - if he needed someone to go around when he wasn’t in the mood to talk or play nice, it might as well be a person who wasn’t under Sensei’s thumb.)

One step at a time, with the time and non-attention afforded to him.

He stood up and pushed the curtain aside. Tachihara Michizo, newly promoted Black Lizard commander, was on the opposite building’s railing, looking expectant and irate, a hand on his hip, tossing a few pebbles in the air with the other.

Shigaraki lifted his open palm in greeting, raised his other hand to signal he’d be out in around ten, and shut the window.

 

“Seven in the morning,” Shigaraki said blearily, biting back an insult as he pulled his hood up, his voice muffled slightly by a thick, plain facemask. It more of an empty complaint than anything, seeing how Tachihara himself was equally unenthusiastic. “Told ya to tell your folks to set it to later in the afternoon.”

“Chuuya-san’s orders,” was the curt reply. “Said to tell you about the time limit.”

Figures.

Well, whatever. Might as well get it over with.

Shigaraki merely grunted as Tachihara escorted him to the car a few blocks down, and let himself be blindfolded once he was seated. It was funny how, before his meds kicked in to even out his mood, he would’ve lashed out to this kind of treatment. The temporary loss of sight and the locational disorientation of being driven around was still uncomfortable, but not to the point of triggering a flight or fight response now that he could get behind the necessity of the procedure.

(It wasn’t as if he cared to poke around Port Mafia territory uninvited these days. Not for a year now.)

An hour and a pile of pulverized crates later, Tachihara handed him a sealed envelope. Shigaraki checked if the cash was inside before pocketing it. Short, profitable, and mildly therapeutic - the best kind of property destruction that his Quirk afforded him. No drama attached, no over-complicated thinking needed beyond the guidelines of being an outsourced contractor.

A neat, tidy transaction. He’d miss this simplicity once the Doctor pronounced the Noumu prototype completed, or if All Might did something that made it easier for him to track. Whichever came first.

(He also had no doubt that guy’s old boss was aware of this exchange. It’s been years since his first and last encounter with Mori Ougai at the bar, but his clearer memory afforded him a better recollection of the man.

If Mori was a shrewd as he remembered, Shigaraki was sure he already had several contingency plans for whatever Sensei was about to do next. Maintaining amicable relations with Shigaraki, more for his role as Sensei’s student rather than anything he presently brought to the table, was likely one of them.)

Tachihara replaced his blindfold and guided him back to the car, his hand curled around Shigaraki’s elbow.

“We’re heading back to the usual,” Tachihara said.

This time, Shigaraki couldn’t help but snort. “That fancy French cafe again?”

“Yeah.” A shift in the grip on his elbow - the teen had shrugged, and couldn’t really provide personal comment about the Executive’s tastes without fearing if his actions reflecting poorly on himself.

Shigaraki rolled his eyes from behind the blindfold. Really, it wasn’t as if Nakahara trolled people into fearing him, unlike that bastard. Or maybe the kid hasn’t settled in yet.

As for him, at least he was also getting free breakfast for having to sneak out at an annoying hour.

 

- 2 -

 

“Nakahara. It’s five in the afternoon.”

Not that Shigaraki hadn’t expected this, when it was around the time that dodgy bastard left. He hadn’t even needed to ask a year ago when, after radio silence, the same name was displayed on the arcade console scoreboards above his. Soon after he was visited by a very pissed off Nakahara, who demanded to know if he had anything to do with his car exploding.

Oh please, Shigaraki had said as soon as he could get a word in edgewise, do you honestly think I can break into your building’s basement parking solo without anyone figuring it out? A crumbled wall would’ve been a dead giveaway.

Well. If Nakahara hadn’t figured it out, Shigaraki wasn’t about to give him a clue.

On top of defecting, Dazai didn’t want anyone trailing after him. Shigaraki still wondered what had been strong enough to jolt the brunet to drop everything. If Nakahara knew, well - he wasn’t talking, and Shigaraki didn’t ask. Despite being occasionally commissioned by them, Shigaraki wasn’t part of their group, and Nakahara was even more careful in maintaining that divide between work and not work.

Shigaraki understood, even if it was bothersome to think about. Betrayal was a bitch all around, and as far as he could tell Nakahara was picking up the slack.

“Yeah, and it’s my day off.” Nakahara took a breath. He’d traded in his formal attire, save for the hat, with a loose button-down shirt and dark brown slacks. There was a subtle shift in his expression, present for only a fleeting moment. It reminded Shigaraki of Ozaki-aneesan at the garden with the spider lilies, the same dark crimson flower that decorated the hem of her kimono. “Can’t believe you only started drinking last year. Fuck’s sake, you live on top of a bar.”

“So sorry for not picking up your bad habits,” Shigaraki rolled his eyes. “‘Sides, you know I can’t always get smashed - on meds, remember?”

“Ah. Yeah.” Nakahara peered at him over the rim of his glass. “Speaking of - you never said the last time what name you settled on.”

“‘Shigaraki’ still works,” Shigaraki said, and took a swig of his beer, sleeves rolled up to his elbows to expose his still pale yet firm skin. It was weird to think of himself as Furusato Tenko [1] after years of not remembering. No, that name was as dead as the ink it was printed on, in that impersonal document on the family registry. “Old names don’t fit well, y’know?”

“...I guess.” Nakahara continued watching him from the corner of his eye as he took another sip of brandy.

Shigaraki idly peeked at the mouth of the beer bottle. The redhead’s words brought to mind another fragment of memory, one had taken a while for him to untangle from endless walking along alleyways.

Shimura Tenko. The name Sensei called him when he found that scared, hopeless little boy with dried blood on his hands.

Father’s records on the family registry noted the adoption, but there weren’t any records on the circumstances of his orphanhood. Why Sensei was confident in using the name Shimura, Shigaraki could only guess.

(The implications only served to twist the knife of uncertainty in an already festering wound. Did Sensei know Father? Were they on friendly terms? If they were, what would Father think about how Shigaraki grew up?)

A sharp whistle in his right ear brought him out of his thoughts, and the loud noise coupled Nakahara’s sudden proximity almost made him lose balance.

“Fuck. Ow.” Shigaraki scowled as he rubbed his ear. “Did you need to do that?”

“Nah, but it’s better than watching you space out.” Nakahara mockingly clicked his tongue. “Rude of you.”

“Sure, I guess it’s educate the heathen day.” Shigaraki vaguely waved his bottle at the redhead’s direction, still clutching his ear with the other hand. “Don’t tell me even this has some convoluted etiquette thing so obscure no one remembers it.”

Nakahara’s smirk was wicked, and Shigaraki found himself jerking away in alarm, unwilling to listen to yet another talk on proper behavior. “Well, since you asked --”

Stop.

 

- 3 -

 

There were rumors that the traitorous Demon Prodigy was spotted in Yokohama.

Himiko honestly didn’t get what the fuss was about when the Mafia’s usual MO was to hunt down and kill traitors - not that she expected the assignment to be easy given the guy’s reputation, nor have any actual orders been given out.

Sure, she got why Chuu-san was all pissed off when the guy, his former partner and all, just up and went and left him hanging. But for even broody Aku-sama to be twitchier than usual?

“Ne, Gin-chan,” she said, nudging her fellow assassin, the navy blue of her seifuku sleeve blending with the other girl’s black coat. “Is it really that big of a deal?”

Gin shot her an impassive look, obviously unimpressed with the blonde’s assessment of the situation.

Himiko pouted. “Not fair. You know I wasn’t around when -” Here, she made a vague gesture, never mind that only the two of them were in the room with both everyone else out on missions. Early on in her recruitment (which essentially boiled down to get in or get lost before you get caught and give us a headache, and oh how she would’ve knifed Tachihara if Hirotsu-san hadn’t stepped in), she learned that even the slightest hint of asking about that person was enough to rile up Aku-sama.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like seeing her boss’s wonderful and versatile Quirk in action - the rivers of blood he drew from his enemies were absolutely breathtaking - but having that ire directed at her wasn’t high on her priorities.

Not when she knew how Gin-chan, for all her quietude, disliked seeing Aku-sama torn up about this.

(She asked Gin-chan before if there was anything she could do to help fix it - recon? Blackmail? Murder? The way Gin-chan’s eyes narrowed and and the slight shift of her posture clearly said to leave well and enough alone.

Himiko backed off like the good teammate she was, and thought it might be more of a personal thing rather than something strictly organization-related. Still, she wondered, because seeing two of her favorite people miserable made her miserable, and she didn’t like feeling crummy.)

Gin exhaled softly, the sound muffled by her facemask and stood up. She gave Himiko a cool look over her shoulder before walking, her pace sedate instead of its usual brisk sharpness.

Oh. Gin-chan wanted to take this outside.

Himiko slipped off her chair, patted down the creases of her uniform skirt, and skipped after her partner, the wisps of blonde hair that escaped their messy buns bouncing with her movement.

(This whole secrecy thing was more annoying than it was worth, but she could still tolerate it. Sure, she missed the old days when she’d drop in on a tasty-looking target and take their blood, but the assignments given to her?

They were more thrilling to hunt down.)

 

- 4 -

 

There was a building at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue, home to several media agencies, nonprofit organizations, multinational corporations, and law firms. It was a nexus of activity, with most groups having global reach to influence millions.

On the top floors resided one man. At the present he was seated in front of several screens displaying the interior of a bar, several angles of a laboratory, and a nature documentary. His body was hooked to various medical machines, monitoring his vitals and pumping nutrition into his system.

Recovery was a tedious process. He had little to do but to sit, watch, and plan.

Presently, his attention was focused on the documentary. It was on the fascinatingly resilient micro-animal known as a tardigrade, capable of surviving extreme weather conditions and radiation with the development of its gene pathways and the production of unique proteins.

Genome sequencing of one of its most stress-tolerant species revealed that one point two percent of its genes were the result of a horizontal gene transfer -” [2]

The man rested his chin on the back of his hand. Interesting, how the many forms of the natural world continued to evolve and propagate themselves in the bid to win natural selection. Even co-dependent viruses, such as the Mimivirus and Sputnik, had their own curious way of spreading.[3]

Movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention. The man switched off the documentary as a lanky teen stepped into the screen showing the bar, slouching on a stool and resting his forearms on the counter.

Resilience against and adaptability to change. The boy’s biological gifts aside, he possessed potential for the latter in spades, even as his aversion of unwanted complications worked against him.

To destroy this fake, rotten society. Oh, he doubted that Tomura-kun, still sheltered as he was despite the growth he's shown, truly grasped the full depth and breadth of that oath. For most, change was permissible only as long as it fit their perception of improvement. However, to see beyond the tidy boxes of heroes and villains, to dissect and grasp the connections and balances of power that held together civilization and its desire for stability, was to see the axle the world turned on.

Even as mankind praised its own virtues, it cannot escape the darkness of its heart.

Would Tomura-kun end up regretting his wish?

(Would this be yet another echo of the ghost of a conversation from long ago between two brothers?)

It didn’t matter in the long run.

Even if his student faltered when he amassed his forces and the world unravelled, All for One would remain.

As it always has.