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“He’s such a sore loser,” Dazai snickered, flicking the rim of the Old Fashioned glass in front of him. The ball of ice floating in his whiskey clinked in suit, its gleaming surface gently reflecting the amber lamps hanging over the bar. “Worse than Chuuya sometimes, and that’s an accomplishment! I don’t know how his babysitter keeps up with him.”

To his right, Oda Sakunosuke took a sip from his own drink. For as long as he’d known Dazai, the brunet had a knack for finding distinct people (though Oda excluded himself from that count), and this Shigaraki kid was no exception. “You went to the arcade at Kamino again?”

“Mm-hmm! Broke all his high scores in the Initial D games this time, and got a looooot of tickets from it, too!” Dazai gleefully spun around on his stool, the empty sleeves of his coat swaying with him. In this bar, where the three friends left the protocols of organization hierarchy and rank outside the door, the teen could afford to show a little more of his boyish side. “Ne, Odasaku, what prize do you think I should get?”

Oda shrugged. “The battery-powered mini fans.”

The teen complained about the humidity on occasion. Must be extra difficult to handle thanks to the layers of gauze wrapped all over his body.

“But aren’t those a bit noisy?” Dazai wrinkled his nose, arms crossed in thought, “A blender?”

“That’s even louder,” Oda said, and avoided thinking about just how Dazai would go about washing the rotating blades. It wasn’t that the teen was careless - his capacity to survive was far from a fluke - though Oda had seen the brunet lost in thought before, his lone visible eye drawn to the bartender slicing lime wedges for the occasional cocktail.

The bandages wrapped around his torso and arms peeking out from his collar barely hindered his range of movement, and the cuffs of his sleeves, and the cotton patch over his right eye had only served to train the brunet’s spatial awareness instead of handicapping him. Oda could think of several reasons why Dazai maintained the appearance of injury long after his recovery from mission-related wounds, and, to Oda, all of them had the same underlying commonality: the youngest Executive’s terrifying ability to adapt during conflict.

As Dazai rattled off several other items (What was that, Odasaku ? A fuel lantern I can use for carbon monoxide poisoning?), Ango, seated on Dazai’s left, pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off an oncoming headache.

“And you wonder why the Boss doesn’t let you drive,” he muttered. Having Dazai in the driver’s seat was not something he wanted to experience again, ever. The memory still gave him stomach cramps. "Back to Shigaraki. What did he try to do this time?”

Dazai’s lips curved in a sly smile as he spun again on the stool to face Ango. “Well,” he said, “It was a nicely wrapped box sent through the mail, about this big -” he held his hands in parallel in front of his chest, leaving around two feet of air in between “- with a springy ribbon and all. But you know what it turned out to be?”

He gestured for Ango to lend him an ear, eyes sparkling in mischief, daring the other man to lean closer.

Ango looked at him in askance, brow raised and chin propped on the back of his hand, already sensing the set-up for a joke. A stare-off between the two held, until Dazai started snickering. The spectacled man shook his head and huffed, pointedly taking a sip of his Bloody Mary in dismissal. To his surprise, Dazai chose that exact moment to lean forward, the teen’s mouth too close to his ear for his liking, and -

“A bomb,” he cried with dramatic flourish, pulling away to grin widely as he was treated to the sight of a startled Ango covering his mouth in a valiant attempt to breathe, a quarter of his drink spilled down his shirt.

“What?” Ango choked out, though it was difficult to tell if it was in reaction to the news or Dazai’s delivery, and irritably accepted a clean handkerchief from a resigned Oda with a nod of thanks.

“I know,” Dazai said sagely, crossing his arms and nodding as he ignored Ango patting down his mouth and the collar of his shirt. “He didn’t even bother sending it to a better address, either - could’ve been my apartment, you know? Besides, who knew he could get ahold of one those in the first place, but mmm, maybe his babysitter ordered it for him? Ah, but don’t worry, headquarters is still standing… oh.” Dazai tipped his head sideways innocently, finally looking at the shaking Ango.

“Ango?”

“Third shirt this month,” Ango glared at Dazai, pushing up his glasses and waving Oda’s handkerchief threateningly. The tips of his hair near his cheeks were clumped together, still wet with alcohol.

Dazai laughed in delight and clapped. “Of course our Information Officer keeps count!” Then as a concession, “You should frown less, you know, or your forehead’ll wrinkle faster.”

Oda exhaled softly, anticipating a long lecture from their bespectacled friend, and sent an apologetic look to the amused barkeep before sliding over a pile of tissues between the two, movement smooth on the counter's polished wooden surface.

“Now, now, it’s still a bit early, nothing a little water can’t clean up. Let’s enjoy the rest of the evening, yes?”

Chapter Text

three years ago

 

Dazai Osamu was fourteen when Mori Ougai became the boss of the Port Mafia with little ceremony. There was a lot of work to be done in the wake of Mori’s predecessor’s untimely death, internal audits and bookkeeping and inspections and dispute settlement. It wasn’t every day, after all, that a previously non-affiliated back alley doctor was named successor to one the largest surviving criminal organizations in Yokohama, and the severity of the secrets he held over his previous patients was nothing to scoff at.

While Mori was no stranger to being on the wrong end of a would-be assassin’s gun, the delicacy of handling internal affairs was tedious, and so he happily handed off the subjugation of the more disposable and irrational nay-sayers to his protege and the newly-formed Black Lizard guerrilla squad. It was good exercise for the teen, not to mention a fair opportunity for some of the older elite to acquaint themselves with Dazai.

Mori was confident that his student would succeed in gaining the confidence of his new subordinates and enemies alike, even under such strenuous circumstances.

A month into their new life, it became necessary to survey the various organizations and affiliates that had settled in Yokohama in the years of the previous boss’ madness. No doubt some of their old allies had concerns when the previous Boss had made very questionable destructive decisions towards the end of his life, and wouldn’t it be unfortunate if some of them had plans to take advantage of the Port Mafia in their time of mourning and reorganization? That simply wouldn’t do.

And so Mori made his rounds in Yokohama to re-establish connections, accompanied by selected body guards. Dazai, his protege and living anti-Quirk threat, went with him.

It was on the way to Kamino Ward that Mori told Dazai of a special case.

“An actual super villain,” Dazai repeated in disbelief. It was quite telling that a single being had somehow obtained that dubious distinction in Yokohama’s particularly bloodthirsty criminal underground, where the various organizations flocking to the area tended to either recruit or silence the noisier newcomers and solo operatives. This was especially true for aspiring villains who fumbled about with their Quirks and left damning evidence, rank amateurs that they were. Quirk-related crimes meant the arrival of heroes, followed by a ravenous horde of media and hero fans. No self-respecting competent criminal, organized or otherwise, wanted that kind of attention close to their base of operations.

To that end, there was an unspoken truce to avoid having too many Quirk users go on a rampage in the city again. The infamous Yokohama Incident from seven years ago was more than enough for everyone.

“A great and terrible monster,” Mori confirmed, smiling in amusement at his young protege’s put-out expression, “powerful enough to take on entire organizations by himself in an outright fight. There are even rumors that he’s been here longer than the previous Boss was alive. It’s unfortunate that he’s chosen Yokohama as a base of operations when he has no reason to move away for the foreseeable future. As silent as he has been in the past few decades, there is the possibility that a pro Hero will meddle will come across our affairs, or that his mere presence will draw a Hero to himself.” Mori raised a hand in lieu of a shrug. “Quite the conundrum.”

“He sounds more like a myth rather than an actual person,” Dazai hummed absently, looking out the car window to watch the foot traffic as he mulled over the new information, tapping his heel at the bottom of the car seat to a rhythm only he knew of. “Though you say someone like him tends to draw in heroes, well - they are useless for sniffing out this deep of a problem, aren’t they?”

“They’ll certainly have a hard time digging,” Mori chuckled, “when the industry itself discourages subtlety and lends to competition even within their ranks, even to the detriment of their so-called underground heroes. Not that we can blame them in this case - can you imagine why such a myth would haunt even organizations that have escaped and continue to survive in a world heavily scrutinized by such positively enabled law enforcement? The previous Boss’ generation was simultaneously awed and threatened by him. His reputation is not without merit when you consider the offensive power the Port Mafia of the time had at their disposal before the old Boss lost it during the Yokohama Incident.”

Dazai peered at him from his uncovered eye. There was something tense with how he cupped his cheek, the stiffness of his shoulders that even the black coat draped over them could not conceal. “They tried to kick him out and they lost,” the teen concluded, likely recalling the sheer amount of destruction and chaos from that time, all that rubble and the stench of burnt and rotting flesh.

Mori had no doubt that the memories were vivid. He, after all, had been the one who found a bruised and injured Dazai curled up in the wreckage with a bloodied knife next to him, shell-shocked and hollow, surrounded by the corpses of his parents and gutted criminals.

“It was a foolish and ultimately costly move, despite their success in recapturing part of their old territory. The sheer amount of loss alone is one of the reasons why our organization’s old business partners are so uncertain this time.” Mori laced his bony fingers together, resting his palms on his thigh. “Learn from this, Dazai-kun: as things stand, the Port Mafia gains nothing from a direct confrontation with that man. It would be more prudent instead to prepare to minimize our losses should the inevitable occur. ”Then, he chuckled. “Of course, if we find a way to undermine his strength without being noticed, so much the better.”

It was then that the car stopped next to a narrow alley. The driver got out and opened door for Mori, respectfully bowing to the man. “We’re here, boss.”

“Excellent.” Mori uncrossed his long legs as he stepped out of the car, his black knee-length coat and suit blending in with the shadows, the long red scarf draped over his shoulders cutting through the monochome like blood on a scalpel, and gestured for Dazai to follow. “Shall we?”

Chapter Text

That the Villain chose not to appear in person was not surprising - one of that person’s greatest assets, after all, was his mysterious nature. No one knew exactly how vast his resources and connections were, gathered in the span of several generations, and even fewer were privy to his true appearance. Dazai had not been wrong in describing the Villain as a mythical being: in this day and age, no one could imagine the time before this man had ruled from the shadows, the unseen conqueror of the criminal underworld even as he divided its members as he saw fit.

He was a formidable foe. That much was indisputable.

Despite the circumstances, however, this was one opponent Mori would not back down from. He had his own promises to keep beyond his current agenda, and though it rankled him that Fukuzawa had already upheld his part of the plan years ahead, Mori was nothing but patient.

What was unexpected for that day’s encounter, however, was the unkempt pale, white-haired teenager perched on the farthest bar stool, next to a widescreen flat monitor that proudly displayed the text [VOICE ONLY] in English.

The youth was furiously tapping away on an awkwardly-held portable console, cracked lips bared in a concentrated snarl and seemingly ignorant of Mori’s arrival. It wasn’t his unhealthy appearance that caught Mori’s attention - heavens knew how many people underestimated Mori himself when he was still running his underground clinic. Rather, his presence raised a question: what was he to either the Villain or Kurogiri the mediator, that he was not excused from an otherwise confidential meeting?

“Oya,” Mori said, looking at the teen consideringly before shifting his gaze to the mass of shadow dressed as a bartender. “Did we arrive at an inconvenient hour, Kurogiri-san?”

“You’re just in time, Mr. Mori,” Kurogiri replied, pressing a hand to his chest and bowing briefly at their guests before gesturing for them to have a seat at the counter. “The boss is expecting you.”

“Indeed,” came a deep voice from the bar’s speakers, as Mori slid onto one of the seats in the middle of the row, one elbow propped on the polished table surface. Dazai stood at a respectful half step behind him to the left, arms clasped behind his back and standing at attention. “Welcome, new boss of the Port Mafia. I trust you did not have problems finding the place?”

“Not at all,” Mori replied amiably. “Kurogiri-san’s description of the place was easy to follow.”

The Villain made a thoughtful sound. “It’s a convenient location in the city,” he said, and Mori could hear the underlying message: I can be at the heart of your territory, when and where you least expect. “In fact, it is rather similar to where your predecessor and his associates approached me. Was he able to tell you that story?”

“I’m afraid not,” Mori said with a touch of regret. “The Boss could not speak of the incident. He was ill and bedridden towards the end of his life.”

Calling his predecessor’s condition an illness was an understatement. The man had already been exhibiting signs of dementia in his old age prior to the Incident, which had only served to hasten his decline mentally and physically, and often the Boss had gone on long-winded rambles on killing everyone that opposed the organization.

How the mighty had fallen.

And yet, as Mori had found out after the first weeks of observing his patient after the Incident, there was, perhaps, a purpose other than humiliating the Port Mafia and stopping more meaningless assassination attempts in his returning of the old man’s living shell. Even factoring in the former Boss’s injuries, his deterioration was still too rapid to be normal, though it only started to make sense after he heard rumors of similar cases from patients who stumbled into his clinic in the aftermath of the attack

It had not been a pressing issue at the time, though he did keep an ear out for any possible related information. Today, however, the opportunity to confirm his suspicions was presented to him on a nicely loaded platter.

“Then you’ve seen the consequences of their actions.” The Villain sounded darkly amused. “Tell me, Mori Ougai: did you approach me expecting for the Port Mafia to be absolved of your predecessor’s sins?”

Mori chuckled softly and shook his head. No, he had more practical goals in mind. “Not at all - we merely wished to formally announce the changes in our organization to those in the area.I am not under the illusion that the old Boss’ mistakes had no consequences, regardless of the wishes of the remaining Executives from the previous generation, though I recognize they are also not fully aware of the situation. In that conflict, you yourself suffered a few setbacks worth decades of work, did you not?”

“My allies entrusted a great many things to me,” the Villain said gravely, “especially after the appearance of the Symbol of Peace. Things are not as they once were.”

“Losing evidence of the history between friends is unfortunate. I understand those heirlooms included their rather unique sets of skills, among other things.” Mori’s tone was mild. His smile wasn’t.

“‘Skills?’”

“Skills,” Mori purred, knowing that despite the pleasantries, the Villain had already caught onto what he was referring to. It had been a pain at the time, but his rounds at the Incident's disaster sites proved to be both informative and potentially profitable. Then, daring to twist the scalpel in the already open wound, “From a medical perspective, your research is quite… groundbreaking.”

“Shigaraki,” The Villain commanded sharply, and the white-haired teen sprang forward, console clattering to the ground. Dazai was in front of his boss in a flash, gun in hand, firing off a bullet at Shigaraki, who ducked and grabbed the barrel of the gun first. The metal disintegrated in Dazai’s hand as Shigaraki reached for his outstretched wrist next.

“Bad move.” Shigaraki grinned madly as all five bony fingers closed around the limb. “You first.”

Dazai’s visible eye widened marginally as he sucked in a breath, knee bent, bracing his weight to dodge any follow-through blows from his opponent and -

Nothing happened.

Mori raised an eyebrow at the frozen tableau in front of him. Even the dark swirling mist that had formed behind Shigaraki faded as Kurogiri gripped the bar counter edge in shock.

Dazai blinked and tipped his head, full attention focused on Shigaraki as if to question if that was all the youth had up his sleeve, and swiftly lunged forward, catching Shigaraki off-balance, ignoring the sharp crack of the back of the other’s head slamming on the wooden floor, and dug his knee a little harder than necessary on Shigaraki’s solar plexus.

“You were saying?” Dazai asked coolly.

Shigaraki shrieked, forcing Dazai to roll off as he violently pulled away, scrambling until his back hit the brick wall, sending the nearby stools toppling. He trembled, clawing at his own already scabbed neck, and slapped away Kurogiri’s shadowy hand when the bartender tried to stop him from scratching. “S-sensei! Sensei, what should I do, it doesn’t work --”

“Nullifying Quirk,” the Villain’s voice sounded from the speakers, cutting the youth’s whimpers.

“The boys have their merits,” Mori shrugged, careful to not confirm the exact nature of his connection with Dazai, who dusted himself off before returning to his position behind Mori, leaving strewn across the floorboards the fragmented pieces of the gun barrel and Shigaraki’s portable console. No need to voluntarily give away more information on the brunet when the Villain’s apparent student was already affected by the boy’s Quirk on such a visceral level, and Mori had not failed to pick up that hint of interest when the other man identified the general nature of Dazai’s Quirk.

(On another level, Mori wondered to what end Shigaraki is being used for, at so late an age. That the young man was in some sort of position of trust despite his apparent instability and disregard for physical well-being meant that there was something else of value here in the eyes of his teacher.)

There was a faint crackle from the speakers - a sigh, perhaps? “So they do,” the Villain said. “Well then. What do plan to do with what you’ve found?”

“Why,” Mori said, “the person who created the samples should be able to use them, don’t you think? Granted, of course, that this is done well away from the Port Mafia - I’m afraid bioengineering clashes horribly with our current business, and we are obligated to protect the interests of those relying on our organization. I’m sure that a being such as yourself understands the weight of that trust.”

“The organization,” the Villain repeated. “But what of your personal services, Doctor Mori? Perhaps I convince you to keep that clinic of yours open on occasion for select patients.”

“Thank you, but I’m afraid I must decline,” Mori chuckled. “There is still much to be done. If you are in need of discreet and skilled medical practitioners, however, there are several people I can refer to you.”

“Perhaps that can be arranged. Granted, however, they should understand that, ah, misplacing scalpels and syringes will be met in kind.”

“Oh, I’m sure they wouldn’t dream of it,” Mori laughed pleasantly. “The underworld wouldn’t know what to do with themselves without you and yours around.”

 

000

 

There was a faint curl of displeasure on Dazai’s mouth as the teen presented the remnants of his pistol to Mori, much later in the car on the way back to the base.

It took Mori a second to recognize that Dazai was actually pouting, and Mori couldn’t help but snicker, especially when Dazai’s expression morphed to openly indignant.

Boss.

Yes, definitely a pout, accompanied by a whine.

“You have to admit,” Mori says in between chuckles as he looks over the corroded metal, “it is impressive. The breaks look cleaner compared to ordinary rust. We can stop by the armory tonight to get a replacement, if you'd like.”

Dazai gave the ruined gun a long, considering look, and huffed dismissively. “No.”

“Oh?” Mori raises an eyebrow, propping his chin on the heel of his hand, fingers curved against his cheek. “Your Quirk does not have any explicit destructive capabilities, and while you can hold your own in a brawl, there are better martial artists within and outside the organization. What are you planning to do for your next mission?”

Dazai shrugged, flippantly letting the handle bounce on the car seat between them. “Assuming direct combat is necessary, I’ll just get whatever they have on hand. It’s not like they’ll equip something they can’t use themselves, whether it's an ordinary gun or something from an underground support company. Besides,” and the corners of his lips twitched slightly as he held up a small, black memory card retrieved from his coat pocket, “if they misplace something of personal value that easily, they don’t deserve to have it in the first place.”

Mori gave Dazai a wry look, tapping his chin thoughtfully. It seemed that young Shigaraki wouldn’t be able to return to his interrupted game after all. At least, until he retrieved his game data. “Well,” he said at length, “as long as outcome continues to be favorable, I don’t see why not.”

Chapter Text

The next time Dazai saw Shigaraki was at an abandoned warehouse. Specifically, an abandoned warehouse the Port Mafia used on occasion to retrieve contraband from Southeast Asia before distribution to their more secure storage locations.

Dazai was cozied up on a small crate some distance from the entrance, killing time with a game until his men finished taking stock of the current shipment, one leg resting horizontally on the crate’s surface, the other in a cast, sticking out straight, heel resting on the floor. Netting injuries was a risk everyone had out on the field, but a stress fracture was something he hadn’t quite expected, and it meant he was stuck with supervising annoyingly mundane work assigned to the Black Lizard rookies.

Injuries were more of an inconvenience these days instead of something to be fussed over, and his arms, neck, and torso were already decorated with those from previous errands and early missions (how it called, that cold darkness he could drown in, back when he’d push himself just to see how close he could touch Death before completing his objective, and Mori had made a side comment or two on considering acceptable risks and assessing the value of long-term plans while patching him up in the early days back at the clinic). No, it was the lack of mobility that made him itch under the bandages, because it meant he couldn’t skip out on whatever Mori was planning next.

There was an unreadable expression in Mori’s cool, dark gaze earlier that morning when it became clear that Dazai was almost recovered enough to return to regular field duty, and wasn’t it a bad start to the day when he just knew his boss was going to do something Dazai was sure he wouldn’t like?

(He’d be proven right later in the afternoon when Mori summoned him. He was accompanied by Kouyou-aneesan and a mouthy fiery-haired teen Dazai had only seen in passing when Mori brought Dazai to headquarters during the previous Boss’ scheduled check-ups. There were interesting rumors about the redhead, who Mori introduced as Nakahara Chuuya, Kouyou-kun’s ward. You’ll be working closely with him on occasion for the foreseeable future.

But that was later.)

Now, a dense black cloud materialized a few feet in front of Dazai’s crate, and he huffed in annoyance as paused his game and stuffed the handheld in his inner jacket pocket. His subordinates, he noted, at least had good reaction times as they immediately halted their previous tasks and hurried to form a half-circle around Dazai, ready to protect their commander.

It was official: today just got worse. Not that he hadn’t been expecting something like this since Kamino, but the four month wait leading to it was disappointingly long for someone supposedly under the tutelage of that man. On the one hand, it could simply just mean that their lessons were focused on different matters, but on the other, it also brought into question what Shigaraki’s personal priorities were, what resources he could and could not take advantage of, and if the Port Mafia’s newer security measures were working as planned.

The answer to that last point was apparently not, and Dazai would deal with that shortly.

 “You could’ve gone through the doors like a normal person,” Dazai groaned, mussing his unruly hair when the mists uncovered the spectral form of Shigaraki before condensing to the more gaseous form of Kurogiri. “Let me guess - it was the guy with the jellyfish Quirk over at the dock who squealed?”

“Does it matter? You need to hire better people,” Shigaraki taunted, ignoring the mass of sub-automatic machine guns pointed at him courtesy of Dazai’s men, and Dazai signaled for them to stand down. No need to draw Shigaraki’s attention to them with a stray bullet. “Maybe even a replacement, because it seems you can actually suck at fighting, you half-blind thief!”

“A thief? Me?” Dazai feigned a swoon, tipping his head back and daintily resting the back of his wrist on his forehead, one hand clutched over his chest. “Surely you jest - what would I need from an obviously mean, malnourished man and his very naked shadow?”

And for someone who was effectively a vague mass of mist with a pair of glowing yellow eyes and no other facial features, Kurogiri was rather expressive, if those menacing curls of darkness were anything to go by.

“Shigaraki Tomura,” Kurogiri began, and it was a noble attempt at reining in his charge. “As you’ve been informed, Mr. Dazai is a rather busy man, and you yourself have other things to do. Your attentions would be more suited elsewhere.”

“But Kurogiri.” And there was the obvious whine from Tomura. “We can’t just leave before completing a fetch quest. Besides, between the two of us it’ll be so easy to take out the trash mobs, and no one needs to know we were here. Just like you wanted, right?”

The mist flickered. “That’s not the discretion you promised. Sensei will not be pleased.”

“I’d follow Mr. Kurogiri’s advice if I were you,” Dazai chirped helpfully as he slid off the crate and propped an elbow on the wooden surface, shifting his weight on his unbound foot. He could faintly hear one of his subordinates shifting closer, likely with a gun prepared for Dazai’s use should be require it. “Your poor Sensei must be worried if you’re loitering about hazardous workplaces without an excuse slip to skip classes. Besides,” he shrugged, “you never said what your fetch quest was about, and I can probably spare a few hours after work to see what the fuss is. As long as you place nice, of course.”

Don’t act dumb,” Shigaraki snarled, the same time as Kurogiri’s mist wrapped around him, and the white-haired teen squawked as he sank back into the portal. “Kurogiri, you unfair bastard--

“This is far from inconspicuous, Tomura. We’ll take your offer, Mr. Dazai,” Kurogiri said as Shigaraki melted away from view. “You already know where.”

“Ah, about that,” Dazai tapped his chin. “Wouldn’t the karaoke place near the bar be more suitable?”

“That would be acceptable,” Kurogiri bowed, and ported himself out.

Dazai’s stare lingered at Kurogiri’s previous spot for a few moments before he reached for his crutch and hobbled to the warehouse entrance. The subordinate standing behind him followed.

“Dazai-san, your orders?”

“Double-time on the transfer.” Dazai said, taking out his phone from an inner coat pocket to call a second group in preparation for clean-up at the docks. "Make sure nothing's left when we leave; we're only making one trip out."

Briefly, he wondered if the karaoke place served chuka kurage. He’d have to ask their server to make it extra spicy for Shigaraki.

Chapter Text

The doctor gave him a clean bill of health, along with instructions on how to manage the rest of his recovery. Dazai went to the karaoke bar wearing the leg cast anyway, and baited his new partner to tag along (just call me Chuuya, and are you always this fucking demanding?).

It didn’t hurt that the establishment was one of those under Port Mafia’s protection, and that Chuuya was on friendly terms with the staff. They probably looked just like a couple of junior high kids from some fancy private school hanging out in a questionable part of town, though Dazai’s covered eye, bandages, and crutch garnered a few curious looks as they were guided to one of the private booths on the second floor.

They were allowed in, and Dazai left instructions to track the movements of their two expected guests before they were given a regular server to assist them.

“Just so you know,” Dazai said after he finished ordering food (and as it turns out, they did serve chuka kurage, wasn’t Shigaraki a lucky bastard today?), “this is a one-time deal.”

“Ha?” Chuuya looked up from the songbook he was perusing, tapping the back cover with a gloved finger. He looked marginally less irritated compared to when Dazai started ruining all his plans for the evening. “You meeting this guy, or going to the karaoke?”

“Both.”

“Whatever,” Chuuya rolled his eyes and returned to browsing the book. ”The hell did that guy do to you, anyway?”

“Destroyed my gun and threw a tantrum.” Dazai sighed. “He’s quite the nuisance.”

Chuuya scowled. “We might’ve just met,” he said, “but don’t take me for an idiot. I’ve heard the rumors about you, and your messed up body’s just further proof that you’re tearing through missions at the speed of light while being piss poor at taking care of yourself. Someone who recklessly shot up the ranks like that wouldn’t normally give a stuck-up brat any time of the day.”

Dazai didn’t answer.

There was a polite knock on the door. A waitress arrived, setting their drinks on the table (iced coffee for Dazai, grape juice for Chuuya), and excused herself with a bow, shutting the door behind her.

Dazai still didn’t answer.

Chuuya let out a disgusted noise and stood up, slamming a fist on the wall behind him as he did so, coat flaring around him. “You don’t get to jerk other people’s collars around and not expect them to ask questions, asshole - especially if I’m going to be stuck with you. Try pulling this shit on the field and I’ll fucking break your face. If that’s all, I’m out.”

He turned on his heel sharply, taking care to not bump the table on the way to the door. It wouldn’t do for the servers of the establishment to have more shit to clean up just because Dazai pissed him off, and they were probably going to have their hands full if Dazai’s appointment was as fun as he sounded.

There was a sound of metal shooting in the air, and Chuuya twisted to catch the long spoon flung that sailed through the air, aimed at the back of his head.

“Chuuya.” Dazai watched him, mouth curved in a not-smile, perfectly poised on the couch with his legs crossed, palm flat on the cushion, his other arm extended from throwing cutlery. “I’ll make a deal with you then. Stay a while until this is over, and I’ll tell you why.”

Chuuya narrowed his eyes. The glimmer of interest in Dazai’s eyes was far from reassuring.

Dazai gestured at Chuuya’s earlier seat with his outstretched arm in a silent dare.

“Well?”

Chuuya huffed in irritation and stepped back to face Dazai, hands on his hips. “If you double-cross me later,” he gritted, “I’ll make you regret it.”

A breath escaped Dazai’s lips, and there was a faint hint of mockery in the folding of his arm as he placed his hand on his chest. “I don’t lie during negotiations, Chuuya. It’s bad for business.”

No way around it - either Chuuya trusted his word, or didn’t.

“Tch.” Chuuya stalked across the room and threw himself back in his seat.

Not another word was said until Shigaraki arrived.

 

000

 

If the space wasn't cramped with furniture, it would’ve turned into a full brawl. As it was, Chuuya’s fist was somehow a bare centimeter from his own back, courtesy of a small shadow portal on Shigaraki’s cheek, and Dazai was stopping Shigaraki’s spread hand from touching Chuuya’s stomach.

They had a lot of apologizing to do when they talked to the manager later, and it wasn’t just for the toppled, broken glasses on the floor. Kouyou-anee was going to be so disappointed.

“You shouldn’t let him touch you, Chuuya,” said Dazai. “Did I tell you how he destroyed my gun?’

“Would’ve been useful earlier,” Chuuya hissed, withdrawing his fist, glaring daggers at a smug Shigaraki.

“He can disintegrate objects if all five fingers touch it.” Dazai squeezed Shigaraki’s wrist, catching the dry skin with his blunt nails, making the other wince. “But enough of this - we should play nice. Isn’t that right, Mr. Player Character?”

“I’m going to kill you,” Shigaraki vowed as he struggled to get free from Dazai, heels digging on the floor.

Kurogiri, who had only intervened to stop a direct hit to Shigaraki’s face that would’ve resulted in more violence, spoke up. “How did you figure out his Quirk?”

Dazai shrugged and suddenly released Shigaraki’s wrist, causing the other to fall soundly on his ass with a curse. “It’s why he was holding that console awkwardly at the bar, yes? Painful to watch, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to the ability lottery.”

In that moment, watching Shigaraki rant as he repeatedly tried to hit Dazai, only to be foiled by more of Kurogiri’s portals that extended down from the ceiling like a reverse game of whack-a-mole, Chuuya frowned darkly. His new partner seemed to have the shittiest hobby of unsettling people, but was this newcomer even aware a small scuffle like this could be seen as picking a fight with the Port Mafia?

Did Shigaraki even know he and Dazai were in Port Mafia?

Fuck Dazai for even stringing this guy along, too. Chuuya would find out the details later, but first he had to stop the pissing contest from getting out of hand if Dazai wasn’t willing to do so.

“Oi, bastards.” Chuuya stuck his thumb to the direction of the doorway. “Leave if you’re going to just make a mess and stop giving the poor staff more misery. All this yammering about quests and NPCs - just shut up and play a game already if you’re that eager. Jeez.”

There was a pause as three heads turned towards him.

Shigaraki was wide-eyed. Kurogiri had a shadowed hand over his face.

And Dazai. Dazai with his strange, twisted smile that sent a shiver of dread down his spine.

What had he gotten himself into?

“Why,” Dazai said eagerly, “does that also mean I can slack off in an assignment while you do all the work? That sounds like an excellent plan, Chuuya!”

“....I’ll fucking kill you.”

This time, it was Shigaraki who scowled, though he stalked to the farthest couch with a warning glance from Kurogiri. “Get in line, shithead.”

A round of bickering started. At some point, Dazai force fed Shigaraki the chuka kurage, to which the latter protested at having to chew horribly spicy jellyfish, and tried to chuck the rest of the dish at Dazai's face.

No other glasses, at least, were broken this time.

 

000

 

It was late in the evening when they made their way back to Port Mafia territory. Chuuya made it a point to position himself at the very edge of the back seat, away from Dazai.

“So,” he said, gloved palm cupping his cheek. “Spill.”

Dazai gave him a sidelong glance, an eyebrow raised, as if questioning his lack of finesse. “Just wanted to confirm something. He’s an anomaly.” A heavy, brief silence, as if Dazai tested the word on his tongue. “You stepped in because noticed it too, didn’t you?”

“He’s an ignorant waste of talent, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Chuuya huffed in irritation. “Don’t know why that shadow guy puts up with him unless he’s high up the ladder, and even then they aren’t making full use of him. Acts like some bratty heir from a third-rate yakuza clan who hasn’t been disciplined properly, and isn’t that a rare sight these days when screwing up and getting caught can be a death sentence for a criminal organizations with all the heroes and police on our asses. Even the rowdier VIP guests at the hanamachi know they can’t go all out without consequences.”

“Mm-hmm.” A small smile played on Dazai’s lips. “Though isn’t that last part more of anee-san managing her business well?”

“That too, but mostly no one wants trouble.” Chuuya sighed, drumming his fingers on the car seat. “Don’t tell me you’re making pals with or, heaven forbid, recruiting him.”

“You’re joking.” Dazai made a face. “I’m not that generous, and he’d be dead in less than a week if people aren’t careful. Besides, his… guardians are protective of their precious child.”

Chuuya snorted. That was definitely an insult, considering that Shigaraki looked a few years older than the both of them. “No shit.”

“On the other hand, that doesn’t mean he should be allowed to freely move against us. Did you know he had Kurogiri transport him to one of our warehouses earlier in the middle of a transport operation?”

“Well, shit.” Chuuya had his knife pointed at Dazai’s throat the next moment, pinning the taller teen to the car seat with his weight, his other hand grasping Dazai’s jacket. The other didn’t even have the courtesy to flinch, and just looked at him straight on. “You let him live? And the boss knows?”

“Don’t get your ugly hat in a twist, I informed him before you and anee-san arrived.” Dazai ignored Chuuya’s squawking defense of his hat and lowered his voice, forcing the redhead to fully focus on his next words if he didn’t want to miss any details. “Shigaraki has absolute disregard for politics. Considering who he’s called his teacher, it doesn’t make sense, unless there are other factors we aren’t aware of.”

Chuuya’s grip on the knife tightened. Apart from the clean-up at the dock, anee-san hadn’t mentioned the mobilization of other assault squads earlier. Shigaraki mentioned no organization names and wore no emblems (he looked too casual even, next to the tailored clothes Chuuya, Dazai, and Kurogiri wore), but if Dazai, who that mastermind Mori brought with him, found it suspicious, describing Shigaraki as an anomaly might be an understatement.

“Dazai. Who is it?”

The expression on Dazai’s face when he turned was unusually grave. From that close, Chuuya could see the faint movements of Dazai’s eyebrow, the crinkle of his visible eye, the down turn of his mouth -

“The Yokohama Incident,” Dazai breathed, and slammed his palm flat on Chuuya’s face to push him away, before carrying on with his regular tone. “Or, rather, the person they came after that started it.”

Fuck,” Chuuya groaned, clutching his face, and gave Dazai an injured look between his fingers. Nee-san hadn’t been an executive yet when that happened, but even she couldn’t ignore the tensions that had run high in the organization during their preparation for the attack, and the fallout had been devastating. “If that’s how it is, clean up your own damn mess next time, bandage dispenser.”

Dazai blinked.

“Why, Chuuya.” Dazai leaned in close this time, deliberately invading the other’s personal space. “You’re really okay with being left out?”

Chuuya absolutely wanted no part of whatever Dazai was planning, if tonight’s affair was an ominous indication of how the future would pan out, and punched Dazai rather emphatically. “Yes, dammit, really sure!”

Dazai wheezed, clutching his stomach, and tried to catch his breath.

“Too bad,” he laughed softly, and refrained from saying that Chuuya didn’t have a choice.

 

 

It was rare enough that Dazai encountered someone of the same age in the mafia who was of a rank similar enough that they could wave off the usual hierarchical formalities, but to be openly called out on his scheming and given a unique, derogatory nickname?

Pure novelty.

Chapter Text

The delicate sound of glasses clinking in a toast was audible in the small yet cozy space of Bar Lupin.

“And that,” Dazai said cheerfully after sipping his drink, “concludes today’s work. I don’t think I’ve waded in so much sewage in my entire life!”

“At least the conflict’s over,” Oda agreed. “Though it’ll take a while for business to go back to the usual.”

That was an understatement. The conflict, referred to in the future as the Dragon’s Head Rush, brought a few careless organizations to their knees - if not by a competing organization, then by law enforcement with the aid of a few heroes. It was a sorry state of affairs for the criminal world, but the fifty billion yen that one heirless criminal left behind was nothing to scoff at. At the end of the day, money was power, and people killed and died for it.

Ango, their reluctant third drinking buddy that they had to drag out from one of Port Mafia’s accounting firms, sniffed haughtily. “Finally. I could have gone on the rest of my life without the both of you stinking up the records room. The stench might have already sunk into some of the files already, with the number of times the both of you turned up like that.”

“Now, now, Mr. Bookkeeper,” Dazai laughed and waggled a finger at Ango. “You should be thankful. If Odasaku and I hadn’t come along to rescue you from that stuffy place of yours, you would have eventually gotten a heart condition from all the stress. That’s an incredibly slow way to die! If you want something faster -”

“Keep your hobbies to yourself, Dazai.” Ango pushed his glasses up his nose bridge. “No one aspires to be a suicide maniac like you.”

Dazai gave a helpless little shrug, undeterred by Ango’s usual stiffness. “Your loss. Ah, but speaking of hobbies - anything interesting new life excerpts, Ango?”

Ango levelled Dazai with a flat stare, clearly remembering Dazai’s remarks on Ango’s personal obituary project. Oda was probably thinking about the same thing, if him hiding a fond smile behind his own glass was any indication. “Your kind of interesting, or in general?”

Dazai shrugged. “Interesting.”

“Helpful description,” Ango said dryly, finishing off his glass and asking the bartender for a refill. “Let’s see - you know how only select people in the organization are permitted to use their Quirks in combat of this scale?”

“Well, yes,” Dazai said, resting his chin on the heel of his palm. “They’re strictly trained to be efficient to avoid drawing unwanted attention, with and without the aid of support items. Everyone else is issued a gun for anonymity. Not that it mattered in the end for this case - a surprising number of people crawled out of the woodwork to compete for the prize. But what does this have to do with your story?”

A troubled expression crossed Ango’s features. “I’ve just finished tallying this afternoon. Of the forty-seven authorized Quirk users whose belongings you retrieved, eleven support items were not returned. Normally, one could assume that they were lost or destroyed in the fighting, but nine of them had transformation types. The remaining two were from scouts that used emitter types for gathering intel.” He glanced at Dazai, his hand curling around his whiskey glass. “It could be a minor issue in the end, but reviewing the MIA list might also yield more information.”

Oda glanced at Ango. “Aren’t there support companies that specialize in equipment theft and copying?”

“They aren’t below scavenging,” Dazai agreed evenly, “but we would have met them at some point during retrieval, and they wouldn’t risk their necks to go through a warzone like this.” He sighed, giving Ango a measured look, and pouted. “It might be worth looking into, but you’re also just giving me more work. Is this how you get people to sympathize?”

Ango snorted. “Oh, please. If paperwork is that detestable to you, perhaps you should reconsider your candidacy as an Executive and make a return trip to the sewers. Something toxic down there might be enough to kill you.”

To Ango’s annoyance, Dazai looked intrigued instead of disgusted. “Really?”

“...no.”

 

000

 

“Don’t act so high and mighty,” Shigaraki said once. “For someone who despises being called a villain, you’ve committed enough atrocities to be one and land you in a maximum security prison.”

“It’s an unimaginative label,” Dazai replied calmly, and smoothly sidestepped to avoid Shigaraki’s punch to his face, extending a leg to trip Shigaraki with his own momentum. He slammed his foot on Shigaraki’s back, restraining him on the ground and making him cough out the air from his lungs. “Besides, you’re missing the point.”

Shigaraki wheezed and tried to get on his knees, his bandaged wrists peeking out from the long sleeves of his tattered shirt. “Don’t think so. You just like complicating things.”

“Not at all.” Dazai cocked his head as he kicked him down again. “Our views are just irreconcilable. By the way - are those injuries new?”

Shigaraki stiffened. “None of your fucking business,” he growled, striking his palms on the floor as he pushed himself up violently, forcing the other teen to move back, and pivoted on a bent knee to make a dash for Dazai.

 

000

 

Dazai’s fifteenth year of existence went like this:

He was sent to where the Port Mafia needed him to investigate, infiltrate, manipulate, Having grown up with Mori when the man delicately balanced being a neutral underground doctor and an information broker had given him the unique and dubious benefit of being able to observe to all sorts of people, from petty criminals to the yakuza to refugees to the innocent yet impoverished. The mask of polite sympathy was simple enough to slip on when questioning the civilian widower of one of their assassins whose remains were found floating in the bay, and easy enough to dismiss when he apathetically interrogated and eliminated the hot-headed aspiring vigilante who just wanted to make a name for himself by offing the “last traces of organized crime.”

Oh, if he only knew.

With the Black Lizard squad, he removed the remnants of old grudges that refused more amiable negotiations, and newer disputes from deals gone wrong, threats to the boss, territorial conflict, and assassination attempts. When he turns in for the evening, he imagined he could hear the faint ring of gunfire, the tinkling of bullet casings, bodies hitting the floor.

Corpse upon corpse upon corpse, their blood seeping into the soil and turning black. The bed he sleeps in has changed, but everything is the same as it was eight years ago.

Four in the morning, on occasion, was a perfectly acceptable time to break out the sake. Every time before his first sip, he raised his cup in silent gratitude to Kouyou-neesan, who taught him how to hold his drink (though she hadn’t intended for him to drink alone), and exposed how much of a lightweight Chuuya was.

 

Dazai wandered to Kamino on occasion, on dark nights when no one would miss him slipping out. The present company didn’t care for organizational loyalty, and thus didn’t call him out on voicing thoughts that, to anyone connected with the Port Mafia, would have been considered questionable.

It wasn’t that he begrudged the Mafia for existing, and he was neither discontent nor grateful that he was part of it - things just were.

However, knowing just how low humans could go didn’t bring him any closer to grasping why people still struggled to live.

 

On occasion, Dazai was given assignments with Chuuya - payback in the form of two people, designed to punish and set an example for traitors and enemies that deserved special attention. The duo tolerated each other on the basis that, above all, getting the job done was important, but that didn’t stop them from arguing. If anything, the banter caused their enemies to underestimate them. The night they decimated an enemy base just between the two of them and earned the moniker “Double Black” was no different.

Mori, for one, found the obvious bafflement of law enforcement rather entertaining as he, Kouyou, and their two proteges watched the morning news over a light brunch.

“That’s one way of collecting payment,” Kouyou remarked, the both of them enjoying the pot of Gyokuro tea and leaving Dazai and Chuuya to bicker. On television, one crime analyst estimated that, since there was no evidence of gigantification or flashy element-based Quirks in play, the resulting death toll and property damages might have been the work of around fifty people, with their objective and means of infiltration still unknown.

“Turnabout is fair play,” Mori replied pleasantly, closing his eyes and savoring the flavor of the tea lingering in his mouth.

 

As immature as it was, Shigaraki’s darkness was also rawer and more honest with itself, unfettered by the copious rituals and euphemisms of organized crime. His own rage fuelled his craving for wanton destruction and, in the same breath, afforded him the space to remain ignorant of certain agendas.

 

Dazai trained his squad to never leave obvious traces of their presence, and Quirk-based attacks were made to look like everyday hazards. The Port Mafia’s cleaners also became incredibly efficient as a result, in both removing and planting evidence. Stealth and efficiency were woven into protocol, mission plans adjusted to account for the strong and weak spots in police and hero patrols.

If law enforcement was taking that long to catch up, perhaps they deserved to die ignorant in their complacency.

Small-time criminals and independent operatives were asked to remain polite and not cause trouble Port Mafia territory, lest their antics serve as hero fodder in other parts of Yokohama, or worse.

As the society fostered by the Symbol of Peace’s ideals grew brighter, so did the shadows it cast on the underworld. Mori’s Port Mafia never really cared about the whole hero and villain conflict, and took advantage of the resulting discontent to take in the disadvantaged and aggrieved with useful Quirks.

 

It was as childish and charming as a person’s first rebellious thought, the exact step at the middle of the boundary with the doors of the abyss flung open. Pure, unrefined, and stubborn, yet ever in danger of subtle captivity.

 

Towards the end of the spring when the Dragon’s Head Rush broke out, Dazai met Oda Sakunosuke, the sole member of the Mafia who refused to kill, and Sakaguchi Ango, accounting helper and unofficial biographer of the deceased. They drank on occasion at the Bar Lupin and talked freely: a rare, amiable companionship that ignored age and rank. These memories Dazai preserved in petrified whiskey-coloured amber deep in his mind, already nostalgic even as they happened.

It was a warmth that was not meant to last.

 

That fragile allure made Shigaraki’s conclusions on change all the more disappointing.

 

000

 

“They’re all fakes that should go die in a fire,” Shigaraki said darkly, hands stuffed in his front pocket as he slouched on the bench. He looked more like a malevolent corpse with his uncombed silver hair and bone dry skin peeking out from the shadows of his hoodie. Even though they had the relative privacy of the sparsely crowded game bar they were at, neither of them wanted to be recognized on accident.

These days, Shigaraki actually took pains to give Kurogiri the slip. Dazai found it amusing since Shigaraki had no assurance that a tracker hadn’t been planted on him, but staying at a game cafe wasn’t too out of character for the older teen.

Such a treasured child. Dazai was willing to bet he had a curfew, too.

“It’s a farce,” Dazai agreed distantly, using minute wrist movements to control his character in the bullet hell machine they were taking turns at to note each other’s high scores, the tip of his tongue sticking out from the corner of his lip as he concentrated. “But just destroying things is just a waste of resources.”

They agreed the world wasn’t the virtuous place that people on the surface made it out to be. They disagreed what to do about it.

“So says the one always on the attack team,” Shigaraki murmured, careful to avoid potential eavesdroppers. “Never defense, never escort.”

Shigaraki wanted destruction, pure and simple. Dazai didn’t care either way.

“You don’t do co-op,” Dazai snorted, ignoring Shigaraki’s reference to his role in the Black Lizard, as he did a little twist to avoid the pixels raining down on his character. “You’d flood the chat with salt and get your account suspended in half an hour, if you don’t destroy the keyboard or controller first. Now, shut up a bit.”

There were occasions when Dazai had to drag Shigaraki to a back alley to continue the discussion, because Shigaraki had yet to learn the fine art of threatening without acting on physical violence, and neither of them wanted to get banned from the game cafe or any of the other establishments they visited.

It was one of those days.

 

000

 

“Oi, Mackerel.” Chuuya chucked a small box at the brunet’s head on the way to a briefing for another joint mission. “Tell that psycho to quit already, and fucking stop encouraging him. What ever happened to one-time deals?”

Dazai caught offered item and curiously peeked inside. There was a bag of mixed bitter almonds and apricot kernels. Not the poison of choice for an assured assassination, but mildly entertaining for attempted suicide.

Shigaraki’s clumsy attempts to find a way around his inability to use his Quirk, weapons, and close combat to kill Dazai were both interesting and rather exhausting to watch. Then again, it was the initiative that counted.

“You’re the one who told us to settle it with a game,” he hummed, and pocketed the box for later inspection. “He tracked you down?”

“Unfortunately.” Chuuya laced his fingers behind his head. “Lurked outside one of the hidden casinos while waiting for me. What a creep.”

 

000

 

When Dazai turned sixteen, he became the youngest Executive in Port Mafia history. Mori gifted him a long, black coat in congratulations.

He easily grew accustomed to its weight.

 

000

 

“Troublemaker Dazai Osamu forced to act as the one sane man.” Ango smirked, faintly amused. It was only the two of them that evening, as Oda had yet to show up. “Small mercies do happen every once in a while.”

“Sure, laugh all you want,” Dazai’s voice was muffled by his sleeve, his face buried in the crook of his elbow as he slumped on the bar counter. “Why can’t I just make his hands useless and get it over with.”

“You know why,” Ango huffed, and asked the bartender for another round.

“Unfortunately,” Dazai groaned, lifting his head and stretching his arms, nodding in thanks for the fresh drink. “At this rate, it’ll be a never ending argument.”

“Who knows,” Ango said thoughtfully in a measured tone, the amber lights of the bar glinting off his eyeglasses, “when things might change in the future. Isn’t yesterday’s foe today’s friend?” [1]

“Who knows, indeed,” Dazai said, giving the man a long, hooded glance.

Ango returned his gaze evenly, and raised an eyebrow.

The stillness stretched on.

Ice clinked in Ango’s glass,

The moment was broken.

Ango shrugged and took a drink. “Even you have to admit he’s beyond being a mere acquaintance of yours. You’re being indecisive about the outcome.”

That was probably the closest Ango went to commenting on Dazai’s personal matters.

Dazai stared at the bottom of his glass. He sighed. “We’ll see. But that kind of thinking, Ango, is why you’re now one of our esteemed Intelligence Officers, and why I’m stuck as an Executive.”

Ango sniffed. “If you say so.”

For a while, the sat in companionable silence. Then, Dazai remembered something.

“Say, Ango - you recall mentioning that a couple of support items never returned?”

“Yes. You found something?”

“Mm-hmm. Turns out we’re not the only ones missing corpses.”

Chapter Text

They were back at the game cafe, playing Street Fighter on two fight sticks plugged into a PlayStation. They’ve won two matches each and were on round one of the fifth. Shigaraki was annoyed with Dazai’s Ibuki zoning and set-ups, while Dazai was sure that Shigaraki chose Karin partly because of that ojou-sama laugh on top of having a good footsie game.

”Oi, Dazai.”

“Hmm?”

“Heard you guys have a new kid who keeps trashing the place wherever he goes.” Shigaraki chuckled mockingly. “You approve of this ‘waste of resources’?”

Of course Shigaraki would remember that conversation, and of course he’d bring it up now in an attempt to make him lose focus. Dazai twisted the joystick and tapped several buttons in succession, blocking Karin’s footsie game and had Ibuki dash to the space behind Karin, confirming a hit with a punch and kicking Karin upward.

“Must you mention this now?”

“Fuck, yes.” Shigaraki’s smirk was malicious as he gleefully punched in a down kick and two punches, all blocked by Dazai, and added a throw to get space between them. The both of them pressed a few jabs, baiting each other to move, before Shigaraki had Karin flip in the air for a kick as a gap closer. “You can’t control him, can you?”

“That’s assuming I’m his boss,” Dazai said, programming another dash to try to get behind Shigaraki, who already anticipated this by flipping backwards. “Besides, I never said that applying force was useless, only that you were getting nowhere with it.”

“Yeah?” There was an undertone of warning in Shigaraki’s casual tone, and he activated Karin’s critical art. “There’s not much of a difference if everyone ends up dead anyway.”

Dazai’s chuckle was not at all pleasant. “If that’s the case, why did you spend time to memorize the hitbox and frame data?”

 

 

000

 

 

Mori agreed that the matter should be looked into. Thus, Chuuya was assigned to investigate further, and Dazai to Europe for negotiations.

For all of Dazai’s misgivings on the man, Mori could be relied on to characteristically advance in the most optimal manner. As Mori’s protege and current right hand, it fell to Dazai to see Mori’s plans through. However, as someone who was curious to find out who would take advantage of the Dragon’s Head Rush, this turn of events was dissatisfying.

Still, he could appreciate Mori’s rationale in having Chuuya poke around instead of him. Having an Executive do an official inquiry would give the impression that the matter was of urgent and grave importance to the Port Mafia, something that Mori would want to avoid. On the other hand, the MIA list was diverse enough to include some of their elite fighters, and the Port Mafia had not survived this long by sloppily leaving loose ends.

Chuuya, as the other half of Port Mafia’s Soukouku, would be respected enough to not be brushed aside while conducting discrete inquiries should he also approach the other organizations and villains on their missing people.

One benefit of growing up with Kouyou was that, where Dazai’s reputation as the Demon Prodigy served as Mori’s weapon to threaten with, Chuuya was on friendlier terms with the patrons of the hanamachi, which was treated as a neutral ground for criminals, villains, and even corrupt politicians.

If there was only one person or group behind the disappearances, they either were careless with their selection of victims, or they were confident that they would either not get caught or that they could handle the retaliation. What was more alarming was that even after a year, there remained a portion of the MIA list unaccounted for, and this was considering that the Port Mafia guarded the back doors of the city.

(There was one other possible route of transportation Dazai knew of. Deep in his gut, he knew better than being optimistic about the chance he was wrong.)

Given the circumstances, Mori was leaving no stone unturned, and it was Chuuya’s turn to tap into his own network of connections without raising alarms. Such was the reach of a sincere, relatively well-adjusted man in any form of society.

Perhaps that was the way the future lay. Perhaps.

He’d spare a thought for it later.

Mori’s intentions for specifically sending Dazai to Europe were also worth questioning. If the main purpose was to truly establish communications, another Executive or even an Intelligence Officer like Ango, who already had connections in the continent, could have been dispatched. Yet during afternoon tea thinly disguised as a briefing, Mori spoke with him alone, remarking that it would be good to see how their friends were doing at Europe, and mentioned that he was free to use Port Mafia’s resources as he saw fit while abroad. Several oblique references to urban legends and rats hiding in the deepest of sewers were also mentioned.

As it turned out, Europe’s underground communities were well hidden. Some of their groups were almost a myth, unless one knew where to look.

And so it was in Russia that he encountered a Devil who seemed to dutifully carry on and dispensed death as reward and punishment to the deserving,

The Devil’s name, pried from a captured enemy mole previously planted in Moscow’s law enforcement, was Fyodor.

Their clashes were covert, each action a revelation and a lie of intention, Fyodor covetously guarding his advantage of being in his home territory and not allowing Dazai to gain ground in Russia, Dazai forcing Fyodor to weaken his hold on select groups and individuals while covering more ground. Each blow was delivered with bribes, information leaks, paper trails, diversive attacks.

By the end of it, Dazai got the contracts he wanted, but Fyodor took out two of their key informants. Tit-for-tat.

It was a merciless winter for the both of them.

 

 

Throughout the entire affair, they only met once face to face.

The Kotomin House along Nevsky Prospekt had a wonderful cafe, the warm red walls, green tablecloths, and golden yellow curtain accents making for a cozy atmosphere. [1] Violin music serenaded guests as they dined on proudly Russian dishes. Dazai, for once, let the bitter taste of coffee linger in his mouth as he listened to the conversations around him, opinions traded back and forth in blunt speech on a wide variety of fields.

It was an enlightening lunch in more ways than one, and Dazai committed the faces of certain patrons to memory.

On the way out, he passed by a man around his age, pale against the light snowfall, a white ushanka-hat covering his dark hair and framing his sickly features. Their eyes met for a moment, and the stranger gave him a slow smile upon seeing him, which was alarmingly unusual for a local. [2]

“We’ll meet again,” the Devil said in English as he passed by Dazai, and headed inside.

Dazai narrowed his eyes as he turned, observing the cafe’s facade speculatively.

Engaging skirmishes aside, that was not the kind of trouble he liked inviting to Yokohama.

 

 

He sees darkness poorly masked behind a sickly pallor, and a ravenous penchant for destruction that ate away at the city’s foundations, each vicious bite as calculated as the next. Nothing would sate that hunger, and oceans with beaches of powdered bone would sooner be filled with blood than the vengeful spectre of justice would hang up his scythe.

Ah, but who was he referring to - Fyodor of the present, the potential Shigaraki of the future, or Shigaraki’s shadowy mentor of the past?

Dazai laughed softly to himself in the empty hotel room, wishing he was drinking back at the Bar Lupin with Odasaku and Ango, where they could pretend that the world stood still.

It was inevitable he’d face those three in the future: at the core, their final goals were in opposition to the Port Mafia’s, and it was but a matter of time before the countdown started to tick. Mori, whether by deliberate design or sheer proximity, would involve him. They would wage war, and the world would still continue spinning on its axis.

(Growth lead to many trajectories, and the Shigaraki of the present was a wild card. To take away what was not cared for - that was half a step. Where it lead to was partially dependent on the results of Chuuya’s investigation.)

Dazai was neither discontent nor grateful that he remained part of the mafia. Violence was their currency as Mori had explained it, and for Dazai death and pain were natural consequences.

Everything still looked bleak to him.

 

 

He’d get Odasaku and Ango vodka and sweets before boarding his plane tomorrow.

 

000

 

 

"Dazai-san. Here are the profiles you requested."

The speaker was a middle-aged man with swept back silver hair and a well-groomed moustache and goatee. He wore a monocle, unusual these days,and his black coat and white dress shirt were well-pressed, the very image of a dignified gentleman.

That this person lived through the previous boss' insanity and still maintained such a polite calmness about him spoke volumes of the strength of his character. The Black Lizard should be thankful that they still had a thoughtful commander in one Hirotsu Ryuuryou.

Dazai gave a grateful nod and took the offered tablet.

"Thank you, Hirotsu-san. Did anything happen while I was away?"

Hirotsu stood at attention, hands clasped behind his back. “The young man you mentioned visited several times, as you predicted. Per your instructions, I asked him to seek out Nakahara Chuuya.”

“Is that so.” Dazai swiped through the presentation, skimming through the write-ups and zooming in on one or two photos. They showed the faces of the newer heroes assigned to Yokohama. Enthusiasts were not the only ones who gathered at the spectacle that was a hero fight to get information.. “What do you think of him?”

Hirotsu cleared his throat. That he took a moment to gather his thoughts betrayed his caution. “He is passionate, with the gaze of one who carries resentment,” he said. Then, “May speak plainly?” He waited for Dazai’s nod of approval before continuing. “He seems to be, ah, quite appreciative of being shown politeness from mafiosi, going so far as to comment on it even when he looked quite agitated with another issue.”

Dazai made a thoughtful sound. “Agitated?”

“Aggrieved as of late,” Hirotsu clarified. “He has no means of expressing it other than violence.”

“I see.” Dazai stood up and stretched his arms. “Where is Chuuya now?”

Hirotsu gave him the location of the casino, and added “I believe he also has an exercise of sorts later at warehouse sixteen, though I am not privy to the details.”

“Got it.” Dazai tucked the tablet in his arm. “I’ll take this with me for now.”

“As you wish. And, Dazai-san?”

“Hmm?”

Hirotsu placed a hand on his chest and bowed. “Forgive me for being presumptuous, but if I may offer a suggestion?”

How rare. Dazai looked at him keenly. “Go on.”

“It is no secret within the Black Lizard that you have diverted that young man’s attention several times from our operations. As someone who is privy to his destructive nature and as your subordinate, I am grateful. However, I also understand that this situation is delicate.” Hirotsu paused, as if waiting for Dazai to comment, and resumed when the other merely continued to observe him. “Which brings me to this recommendation.”

Dazai listened as HIrotsu outlined his points. When the older man was done, it was as if the silence of the room had held his breath for him.

“Please take that as you will,” he finished.

Dazai hummed. “You are aware of the implications of what you just said?”

“Yes.”

Dazai studied him, the curious tilt of his head akin to a fox contemplating a benign creature.

Hirotsu, in contrast, was still. The faint stiffness of his posture was the only indication of his discomfort, and the formidable resolve hidden within. It was a fascinating proposal, dangerous to the one who made it. However, Hirotsu was someone who lived through the turbulent times of the Mafia, one who served as a parent to his men and granted them stability in this madness.

A soft chuckle escaped Dazai’s lips, and soon he was laughing heartily “What a bold statement,” Dazai said almost fondly. “What would we ever do without. Hirotsu-san?”

The older man had not dared to look up. “Yes, Dazai-san?”

Dazai flashed him a small smile and clapped him lightly on the shoulder as he strode off. “Thank you for your wisdom and discretion, as always.”

 

 

000

 

 

From what Dazai could gather from Shigaraki’s uncoordinated shrieking ramble in the middle of lashing out, Shigaraki’s teacher was in critical condition, dire enough for the white-haired teen to be distraught and develop deep, seething hatred for All Might.

The clock started ticking.

Shigaraki’s knuckles bled from where he’d punched the floor when disintegrating and trashing the empty abandoned crates around them wasn’t enough. He had curled in on himself, the bandages around his wrist peeking from the hems of his sleeves, a dead, dismembered hand cradled against his chest as a child would hold a treasured toy in times of fright.

Chuuya returned Dazai’s hooded gaze from above Shigaraki’s mess of silver hair from where he had an arm around the grieving man’s shoulders, the both of them seated on the floor. It was full of unspoken questions and an accusation.

What are you planning next, Dazai?

 

000

 

 

“Tell me of your friend,” Mori said, and there was laughter in his eyes. “The one who claims to thrive with death in their grasp.” [3]

Shigaraki.

Leave it to Mori to make wordplay out of that name.

Dazai breathed and looked at the older man steadily. There was bound to be movement at Kamino soon, and Mori made it a habit to familiarize himself with everything that went on like the back of his hand.

“He’s only started to wake up.”

(But there were things Mori could do without, too.)

Chapter Text

"They were gross," a twelve-year-old Chuuya groused as he combed through Kouyou's long, scarlet hair with practiced ease. "If they had even half a brain, they'd know this isn't the red light district! And you're definitely strong enough to beat them up so they won't do it again, anee-san."

Kouyou looked at his reflection fondly, the ever-present hat on his head at odds with the dark striped jinbei he wore as a rare concession to Kouyou's more traditional aesthetic. Seated as she was, dressed in a light cotton yukata, her face clean of the make-up that hid her youth and with Chuuya standing beside her, they could be mistaken for siblings if the boy's fiery locks were a shade closer to her own scarlet.

Perhaps it hadn't helped that in the years before, she also tucked Chuuya to bed when she wasn't out on an assignment, and they would read together before they needed to sleep. That changed when Chuuya insisted he was already grown up, and their nightly ritual shifted to grooming each other's hair instead as they traded stories.

"They were undeniably crude," Kouyou replied, keeping her hands on her lap as Chuuya placed the brush on the dresser and started a braid over her shoulder. "However, we must still abide by decorum in showing them out the door. It's part of our famed hospitality, after all."

Chuuya wrinkled his nose as he finished the braid with an unadorned hair tie. He had always been an honest child, and Kouyou couldn't fault him for that. "Wouldn't it be easier to just tell them they're jerks to their faces? I mean, I don't think they even understood that you were already threatening them."

Kouyou laughed softly, remembering how one of the boors from earlier kept on stammering and stuttering, and slid out of the stool. She guided Chuuya to sit in front of the mirror and placed his hat on the dresser.

"Oh, my child," she murmured, undoing the redhead's pony tail and picking up the brush to smooth the tangles of the day. "It is but but a small trifle compared to many other things. This life of ours would lead us to paths we would have avoided otherwise." Kouyou exhaled softly, placing her pale, slender hand on Chuuya's shoulder. The soft smile that graced her lips only served to illuminate the sadness in her gaze. "I do not wish to give you false hope, young one, should you choose a course similar to mine. This is simply the kind of world we live in."

Chuuya bowed his head a little and looked to the side, frustration creeping into his features. It was not the first time they've broached the topic of necessity, nor would it be the last.

"I understand, anee-san," he said, reaching up to clasp her hand, and didn’t say that he wished things were different.

Kouyou gently squeezed Chuuya's shoulder. At sixteen, all she could do was to kill as directed, and guide for the ones placed under her care. The path of joy and freedom had been carved from her early, and she could only nurse her hatred and resentment in silence.

"I know."

 

000

 

All things considered, Mori's Port Mafia was miles better than his predecessor's.

Sure, Chuuya still got shitty jobs like clearing out entitled punks who thought they could use one of their underground casinos as a drug den, and he had to make sure their visible offices were routinely squeaky clean when brown nose police officers got too enthusiastic in their inspection of the Forest Security Agency and the dozen other front businesses they had running, but it was more palatable than the paranoia-fueled audits the old boss ordered, where one wrong move would send anyone literally biting the pavement and executed in short order. Kouyou looked more content these days too, the role of an Executive suiting her more than high-risk eliminations.

Not that she let her blade dull with the transition. It was through her fearsome reputation and sensible nature that the hanamachi remained unscathed during the power shift. True, there were still those who refused to play nice in her territory and plenty more that still bore grudges against the Port Mafia, but that's what the back alleys were for.

Chuuya huffed at that last thought as he ducked into one of the teahouses, nodding at the servers and patrons he recognized as he made his way to one of the private booths where his contact was waiting for him. Giran himself avoided making trouble - on the contrary, the broker conducted himself well and was a decent conversationalist. Some of his associates, however, tended to be problem magnets, and Chuuya hoped they didn’t show their faces today.

Thankfully, that was the case.

“Hey,” Chuuya greeted the older man when he got to the room, sliding the door shut behind him and sitting at the zabuton across the low tea table. “Been a while. Glad you could make it.”

Giran smirked around his ever-present cigarette. “So am I, Nakahara. Your side’s awfully busy these days. Not that it’s any of my business.”

Chuuya snorted. On top of meddling with the distribution channels for black market items, Giran made a living out of keeping up with gossip and insider information. Even if it wasn’t his business, he’d still be all ears.

But that was part of why the man was so effective with his job.

“Of course,” Chuuya said instead, taking a brown envelope out from his inside jacket pocket, not missing the look of interest that garnered from the other man.

“Straight to it, eh?”

“Can’t really stay long,” Chuuya said in apology, and slid the packet across the table. “This is for today and the finder’s fee for the month. You know what type we’re looking for.”

“Yeah,” Giran replied as he examined the contents of the envelope and pocketed it, before handing Chuuya a binder from his suitcase. “Your list of names and their profiles. They’ll show up on Monday at the location you specified.”

“Perfect.” Chuuya leafed through the folder. Once he was satisfied, he placed it beside him. “Now, what do your pals have for me?”

Giran flicked his cigarette at the ashtray next to him and leaned forward. “Goes without saying that you didn’t hear this from me. Your friends from the Shinichi group turned up in a DNA match from an American police database. Listed as John, John, and Jane Doe, found comatose in an abandoned farmhouse with camping gear, no relatives found. Better get to ‘em before they decide to notify the likes of Interpol or another group.”

Chuuya resisted the urge to groan. Giran probably wasn’t aware they weren’t exactly on friendly terms with the solitary Shinichi group, and he didn’t want to know how Dazai fished out a list of names from them. Trespassing, most likely.

Mori would be interested to figure out how three people with distincty identifiable features thanks to having mutation-type Quirks had slipped through their net and ended up in America.

“Just great,” he muttered. “Any leads from the support companies you mentioned?”

“None at all,” Giran shrugged. “If it makes you feel better, there aren’t new trends at all from that front either, unless you count the usual attempts at hacking the legal side for schematics.”

At this point, Chuuya was willing to eat his hat to just get it over already. The missing equipment were wired together from cannibalized old models, and the amount of customization would have been indicative of the needs of the user. If their remaining MIA guys needed to either repair or upgrade their gear, they would have gone to one of Giran’s contacts if they didn’t want shoddily welded work blowing up in their faces.

That nothing’s turned up after all this time either meant they’ve betrayed the mafia through either abandonment or joining a group with a lot of hush money, or that they were dead.

(But a group of at least thirty people, including the ones from other organizations, don’t just disappear overnight, and Chuuya was obliged to track down their own men, at least. Not all of them could have been traitors either, not when at least two of them had vulnerable families they had to feed.)

“Alright,” Chuuya huffed. “Thanks, and let me know if you hear anything else.”

“Pleasure doing business with you as always, Nakahara.” Giran gave him a lazy salute, cigarette dangling from between his fingers. “Please give my regards to Ozaki-san.”

 

000

 

His luck at not encountering problems ended the moment he spotted a ghoul of a man lurking near the parking lot. Chuuya cursed under his breath and marched towards the waiting shed, where an impatient Shigaraki was clearly idling.

“Look, bastard,” Chuuya scowled, poking Shigaraki’s thin chest with a gloved finger. “Just because the Mackrel’s away doesn’t give you the right to stalk me. Every single goddamn time, I swear! Does he always put you up to this?”

“He’s not my boss,” Shigaraki sneered and curled his hand around Chuuya’s wrist, sleeve sliding back to reveal a bare wrist, keeping his middle finger lifted, and smirked when Chuuya narrowed his eyes and dug his finger in Shigaraki’s chest in warning. He waited another beat, until he could see a vein pop in the other’s temple out of genuine ire, and declared the intention for his visit: “I’m bored.”

Chuuya took a deep breath and counted to ten. He recognized the timing of that delivery, the mocking childishness of that tone.

Really. Of all things for Shigaraki to pick up on, it had to be that guy’s habit of picking on people.

As Dazai’s work partner, it was hard for Chuuya to miss how Shigaraki pestered Dazai and the latter’s bizarre tolerance for it. It was equally unavoidable for him to avoid Shigaraki, who took to learning the art of tracking people like a fish in water once he found the motivation to learn - and the opportunity to bash Dazai’s face in was, apparently, a good enough incentive, never mind that, as far as Chuuya was concerned, both Dazai and Shigaraki were still sloppy in hand to hand combat. However, knowing that Shigaraki made for a quick study and continuously seeing signs of the other’s attention to detail were two different things.

Shigaraki was now past being an ignorant waste of talent, as Chuuya had described him two years ago. He still had misgivings on how Dazai probably thought this would benefit him.

In all honesty, he could do without this shitty route those two had signed themselves up for. Chuuya didn’t need to be an expert in strategic conflict to know that something bad would happen, one way or the other.

He wondered why Mori had yet to intervene.

Well, whatever. Those two tended to plan things out to an almost supernatural degree. Chuuya hated Dazai’s slimy way of going about things, but the bastard was undeniably effective when he wanted to be, and Mori had been the one to raise Dazai.

(A world that neither Mori nor Dazai would find winnable - the thought chilled Chuuya to the bone, more than he liked to admit. No one wanted the Port Mafia to revert to the old ways. Not if they could help it.)

When it came down to it, Chuuya was also not in the position to question their Boss’ wisdom in letting Dazai do as he pleased. Necessary damage control was the least he could do.

(He remembered how many of their allies’ lives Q’s Quirk had claimed as collateral damage, and it burned.)

“Bored. Right. Not my fucking problem.” The redhead extracted his wrist from Shigaraki’s grasp and turned on his heel sharply, giving him a lazy wave. “Go bother someone else, like your bartender guy. I’m busy, you freeloader!”

“Too bad, shorty.” It took Shigaraki a only a few long strides to catch up to Chuuya, intending to use his head as an armrest. At almost seventeen years of age, the redhead was nearly doomed to never grow taller, something that both Dazai and Shigaraki never failed to rub in his face on separate occasions. “It is now. Kurogiri’s busy.”

“It’s not.” Chuuya ducked and batted Shigaraki’s arm away, careful to avoid grazing the other’s fingers. “Piss off already, dustball.”

“Or what?” Shigaraki gave him a smile too wide and cracked and scarred to look traditionally sweet, the crinkling at the corners of his eyes emphasizing how sunken and dry the skin of his face was. “I know you guys don’t like me messing around with your silly little negotiation bullshit, but I can always drop by to see if your friends need a hand.”

Chuuya wanted to yell at him. He settled for viciously stomping the ground between an unfazed Shigaraki’s feet, and resisted using his Quirk to disintegrate the pavement.

Deep breaths.

Fuck Dazai for stringing this guy along. Fuck Shigaraki for being an ungrateful hellish mess of a bastard. Fuck Dazai and Shigaraki for being socially incompetent jackasses, and fuck himself for becoming all sympathetic with the other idiot who got caught up with Dazai’s half-assed attempts at familiarizing himself with people while keeping them at arm’s length.

“I’ll kick you out on the highway if you destroy anything in my car,” Chuuya threatened, and stalked off to where he was parked, neatly sidestepping Shigaraki’s lazy kick of triumph to his back. “And hands off my coat and hat this time, or I’ll kill you.”

“You never do,” Shigaraki cackled as he followed Chuuya to the vehicle and clambered in the passenger’s seat once the doors were unlocked.

Chuuya glared daggers at him, sitting on the dossier from Giran to keep it out of reach from Shigaraki and buckling up. He sent a quick text to Kouyou, apologizing for the new circumstances and suggesting a new venue in consideration of their extra guest before starting the car.

“Don’t give me a real reason to, and I won’t.”

“Promises, promises.” Shigaraki snickered and settled for propping his heel up on the car seat, ignoring Chuuya’s offended squawk and the punch to his knee. “Be thankful it’s not your dashboard. Where to next?”

“You’ll see,” Chuuya muttered darkly, hitting Shigaraki’s calf for good measure and maneuvered the vehicle out of the parking slot. “Don’t you dare regret tagging along.”

 

000

 

“Tomura-kun.” Kouyou was as pleasant as ever, though the turn of her wrist, ring and pinky fingers securing the hem of a billowing sleeve to her palm, as she gestured to the empty chair beside her held a rebuke. “You do make a habit of dropping by at the most inconvenient times. Still, it is good to see that you are well.”

Shigaraki dipped his head stiffly and awkwardly shuffled to the proffered seat. “Ozaki-aneesan. Thank you for having me.”

He shot Chuuya a betrayed look. The redhead smirked wickedly in return as he took his place across Kouyou.

Two years of pestering Chuuya when Dazai wasn’t around lead to Shigaraki meeting Kouyou on occasion for afternoon tea. Needless to say, Shigaraki learned quickly to mind his manners before Kouyou subjected him to learning the full traditional Japanese tea ceremony while commenting on the importance of etiquette and making good first impressions, complete with Kouyou’s Golden Demon acting as the Jikyaku. Neither Sensei nor Kurogiri were mentioned, but Shigaraki felt her lecture was also meant as a slight against their perceived faults in raising him. [1]

Dazai already mocked him for being an ignorant bumpkin in the ways of organized crime and Chuuya scowled at him to take a hint already, but Kouyou had a way with words that made him feel painfully young.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be taken against anyone considering the circumstances, Kouyou commented mildly at the time as she turned the bowl with precise movements and gently placed the perfectly whisked matcha on the tatami mat before addressing Shigaraki, whose legs were numb from having to sit in seiza. You barely have the chance to interact with anyone, do you, Shigaraki-kun? And don’t slouch. Bad posture will be detrimental to your health when you grow older. Now, as the Shokyaku... [1]

Then there was that one time when Kouyou made him walk with her to a botanical garden. Shigaraki didn’t need to know every inane detail on plant symbolism, Ikebana, and their role in expressing subtlety, but Kouyou’s sidelong (mercilessly and cruelly amused) glances made him keep his mouth shut before they could attract unwanted attention from other visitors.

The discomfort he felt then was similar now, when Shigaraki couldn’t make a scene to protest. The three of them made for an odd picture at the French cafe they were at, with Kouyou in her elegant kimono, Chuuya in formal Western attire, and Shigaraki in his casual black attire and red sneakers.

“I suppose it can’t be helped,” Kouyou said, giving the waiter that approached their table a regal nod and waiting for their coffee and pastries to be served before continuing. “Chuuya mentioned your guardian is busy.”

“Yeah, but he’s not my guardian.” Shigaraki narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Even if I knew what they were up to, I wouldn’t tell you.”

Kouyou picked up the elegant rose-patterned cup served to her to hide a small, approving smile, folding back the sleeve of her kimono with her free hand. “As you wish,” she said, and took a delicate sip. “Chuuya, my thanks for your suggestion.”

Chuuya gave her a wry grin as he cut into his pastry. “Least I could do, anee-san.”

 

000

 

The tenuous semblance of order in their lives came crashing down one day, when a sluggish Shigaraki thoroughly disintegrated the entrance of the warehouse Chuuya was using to talk to a new batch of recruits. The teen’s trembling palm was still resting where the door had been when Chuuya got over his shock, the other hand loosely tucked in the front pocket of his black jacket, wild eyes and hair peeking from the shadows of his hood, shallow breaths audible in the succeeding silence.

Chuuya hadn’t seen Shigaraki this dangerously off-balance for quite some time. The sudden change made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

Taking control of the situation became all the more important.

“What the fuck,” Chuuya snapped, sprinting forward with the help of his Quirk and sending Shigaraki crashing to the far end of the warehouse with a sudden turn and vicious kick, clearing the exit. “Everyone, dismissed. We’ll reconvene same time tomorrow. Now, out!”

“Sir!” The newbies bowed and made their way to the door, one young woman trailing behind.

“Should I call for back-up, sir?” she asked timidly.

“Nah,” Chuuya grounded out, keeping a wary eye at the slumped form of Shigaraki beneath the fresh crack on the wall, the pale teen’s broken, breathless giggles echoing eerily in the open space. “I can take care of it. Leave.”

“Sir!” The girl bowed again and sprinted out.

Once Chuuya could no longer hear her steps, he tossed his coat over the folding chair left out for him earlier and stalked towards Shigaraki, cracking his gloved knuckles as he went.

“Goddamn idiot,” he hissed, hauling up Shigaraki by the collar and slamming his head back to the wall. “You know you can’t do shit like this, so why?

Shigaraki lifted his head, eyes wide and swollen and unfocused. He blinked slowly, as if registering for the first time who was in front of him, and a hysterical sob bubbled up his scarred mouth.

“Nakahara,” he croaked, and if it wasn’t for the clear absence of the scent of alcohol Chuuya would’ve thought he was drunk, “Nakahara… Chuuya.” He reached up, as if to grab Chuuya’s collar, and the shorter man grabbed his wrist, squeezing painfully.

“Shigaraki,” Chuuya said testily, eyes narrowed as he took in more of the other’s appearance: dried tear tracks, disheveled clothes, dirtied shoes. The tell-tale tremble of exhaustion in his limbs. Bandages, far from fresh, soaked in sweat. Shigaraki’s other hand lay limply at his side, and the edge of something made with smooth, worn metal peeked out from his front pocket. Did Shigaraki walk all the way here? “Get ahold of yourself.”

Shigaraki froze. Apparently, that was the horribly correct thing to say.

“Oh,” he breathed, expression clearing for a moment. He curled in on himself, one arm protectively wrapped around his belly, shoulders shaking. His next exhale was halfway between a laugh and a sob. “Oh. Not a dream.”

Chuuya bit a curse under his breath, recalling from a few weeks before that Kurogiri was supposedly busy - that had to be it. This couldn’t be anything caused by Dazai as the Mackrel was still alive when his plane landed the other day, and Dazai hated having to handle this kind of emotional response. Shigaraki was also likely unaware of Dazai’s return if he’d wandered off to Chuuya. Not that he wanted to know what went on in that messed-up mind of his.

He sighed and marginally loosened his grip on the other’s shirt. Chuuya really didn’t want to deal with this shit right now.

“You’re wide awake, dustball.” He crouched in front of Shigaraki and flicked the other’s wrinkled forehead to catch his attention. “Let’s start from the top, yeah?”

"...I'm not supposed to know," Shigaraki croaked.

 

000

 

“Kurogiri.”

“Sensei?”

“Call Shigaraki to me once he returns from his walk at the port.” The rattle of labored breaths could be heard over the voice call. “We have much to discuss.”

Chapter Text

“Odasaku.” Dazai placed a hand on the taller man’s shoulder, his gaze earnest. “I understand that this is important information, but I have one request: let us not speak of this again. It’s too prolonged a cause of suffering, I can’t stand it.”

Oda looked from the hand on his shoulder to Dazai, and made a thoughtful sound. “You find injuries acceptable to discuss,” he inferred, “but not medical conditions related to neurotransmitter imbalance?”

“Yes.” Dazai made a face. “Do you know just how many studies there are available before you get sick of it? And they're so insidious! It’s a reminder of how horridly delicate human biology is. Wounds clearly come from outside sources, but the possibility of suffering through those kinds of illnesses is just inconvenient!”

Oda huffed, smiling fondly in spite of the grim topic. For someone who bore injuries from committing murder, espionage, and coercion, Dazai’s professed attitude towards experiencing certain kinds of pain was still occasionally childish.

“Do your best to be vigilant then,” Oda said warmly, and resisted the urge to ruffle Dazai’s hair when the younger man’s brow creased. It went unsaid that unless they were arrested, mafiosi were more prone to dying in a ditch somewhere rather than being confined to a bed for terminal illness. A life of violence lead to nowhere but a puddle of blood.

Oda also didn't ask what Dazai delved into this research for, despite knowing that the brunet had referenced poking around old medical books before, claiming it was out of boredom. Perhaps there was something he needed to recall?

“Hey, Odasaku.”

“Yeah?”

Dazai’s focus was on his precariously tipped glass, his slender fingers its only support, empty but for the ball off ice he was seemingly content to roll around for now instead of ordering another drink. Pensive moments like this weren’t new, though Oda had noticed that Dazai lapsed into them more often since his return from Europe, shoulders tensed in a way they hadn’t been before.

The teen sighed.

“What season do you prefer, spring or autumn?”

“Autumn,” Oda replied stoically. Not the question he was expecting, though if Dazai didn’t want to talk about what was on his mind, it wasn’t Oda’s place to pry.

“Ah.” Dazai smiled wistfully at the ball of ice. “I thought you’d say that.”

 

000

 

There were many things Shigaraki wasn’t supposed to know.

It was the little details he took notice of, pieces of a hidden object game that he found himself in the more he questioned why two brats from a supposedly defunct way of life with all its pathetic obligations were more genre savvy than him, the ward of a villain so strong that the world bowed to him.

Unlike them, he was special. Sensei himself had chosen him, one of the few he found worth saving these past few years, and Sensei’s doctor friend heartily agreed whenever he visited for Shigaraki’s usual medical check-ups.

Underweight and dehydrated, but nothing more fluids and a good diet won’t fix, the Doctor always proclaimed, applying salve and bandaging his arms to protect his drier than normal skin that day. Young Shigaraki stubbornly looked around the room instead, the walls lined with metal cabinets, various anatomical diagrams and shelves bearing various-sized bottles and corked tubes. Two freezers stood tall next to a door leading to a smaller room that, for reasons Shigaraki didn’t understand, blew air at people who entered before they proceeded to a really cold room that Shigaraki wasn’t allowed in.

The Doctor’s private clinic was a far cry from his tidy regular consultation room at the hospital, which Shigaraki had only been brought to once by Kurogiri when the child burned with an unusually high fever..

Do you still get nightmares?

At Shigaraki’s reluctant mumble of sometimes, the Doctor scribbled something on a pad, and tore off the paper for him to give to Kurogiri.

Take care of yourself, Shigaraki-kun, the Doctor encouraged him, his smile puffing up his already round cheeks. You’re very important to your Sensei, after all.

Shigaraki believed him.

After the accident, he could only rely on Sensei, Kurogiri, and the Doctor. Strangers were frightening nuisances, people he couldn’t trust, those who would take him away from Sensei because of his Quirk.

They won’t see you for who you are, but they would fear you for your gifts, Sensei said weeks after his rescue, when Shigaraki had finally gathered the courage to step out the confines of his new room to look for Sensei instead of him waiting for the man or Kurogiri to check up on him. Shigaraki had yet to start speaking again, unable to get the words he couldn’t find past his throat, but this, too, was progress. Sensei was busy typing away at his laptop, but welcomed his approach anyway, angling his chair and placing a comforting hand on his head. Despite your helplessness, they will blame you for what happened. Just as they did all those years ago, when they hunted down their innocent neighbors who manifested Quirks because they weren’t normal enough.

Shigaraki pressed his face on the man’s dark blue blazer, mindful to ball his fists at his sides to avoid accidents, and tiredly squeezed his swollen eyes shut.

Do you think it’s fair?

The child emphatically shook his head, his face remaining hidden, his nails digging marks into his palms as he shook. Nothing was right about the situation. He didn’t ask to have this Quirk, he didn’t want his father to --

I don’t think so, either. They don’t want to get along with people like you and me.

Startled, Shigaraki looked up at Sensei, and was greeted with a solemn expression. For all intents and purposes, Sensei was a kind, hardworking man, more caring than what heroes said villains were like. He didn’t want to believe it - weren’t smart, industrious, successful people considered important?

(Did heroes still have the right to judge others if they’d imprison Shigaraki for causing a disaster because he couldn’t control his abilities?)

His throat felt raw as he tried to breathe.

A broad, calloused hand carefully pushed away the hair from his face, and Shigaraki’s thoughts stilled.

But you know what, child? Sensei opened the drawer on the other side of his desk and took out something wrapped in black silk, holding it in front of Shigaraki. You won’t have to be afraid of them, for I am here.

Sensei unravelled the cloth. There, with pale, dead skin stretched out on bony knuckles, standing out against the fluid darkness, was his father’s clean, preserved hand.

Your Father is also here.

 

 

For Sensei’s sake, Shigaraki tried his best to follow the doctor’s dietary instructions, Kurogiri helpfully supplying him a lot of fresh food. The fruit juice stung his chapped and scarred lips and he hated the bitter taste of vegetables, but Sensei had chided him before when he got sick from staying up in the roof in the chilly breeze for too long, and Shigaraki hadn’t wanted to worry him again. He tried getting as much rest as he could before the same nightmare chased the darkness of sleep away, and he napped at the bar on lazy afternoons to make up for the difference.

Only the faintest of impressions were left with him when he awoke, a haze of bright lights and white walls and solid, cold steel supporting his weight. Bright red blood stained his too-small hands, rapidly drying into a coat of rust-brown that caked his fingers and crumbled to nothing. He hadn’t wanted to bother Sensei and told Kurogiri instead, interrupting the bartender as he took stock of the remaining liquor after closing shop for the day.,Kurogiri merely nudged a cup of yoghurt from the kitchen in his direction.

Nightmares are not worth remembering, Shigaraki Tomura, he said. They do not serve any practical purpose.

Shigaraki had begrudgingly took the snack and loaded his most recent Neverending Fantasy Tactics file, safely balancing Father’s hand by his knees, and resolved to play until exhaustion or until Kurogiri nudged him to return to the apartment upstairs to rest. It wasn’t as if he had school to worry about, though Kurogiri also served as his politely naggy home tutor.

Truth be told, he was content with his life then, even if Sensei was away most of the time on business, and occasionally required Kurogiri’s assistance. Shigaraki was taken care of, safe and away from losers who covered their eyes with their fragile peace.If they only knew how powerful Sensei was, far beyond the reach of heroes, they’d run around like headless chickens, the government that caged them in unable to respond properly.

It would be the funniest thing ever, and when Sensei decided the time was ripe (always when in his mind, not if) Shigaraki would follow him, laughing himself sick. He would not be taken away and locked up, because Sensei was the law. Heroes would never have the chance to ruin the fun - once Sensei got rid of the obstacle that was the so-called Symbol of Peace, everyone would follow.

What use was a hero who couldn’t save anyone? Absolutely none.

Chaos everywhere, and every person for themselves. Structure, tradition, and hierarchy - they would become a thing of the past, along with peace and order. Above it all would be Sensei, just as he was supposed to be. Just as he always was.

So why were there people who acted like dead traditions and social norms were still important while committing villainous acts? Who did they think they were trying to fool, dressed up to the nines while merrily slaughtering the opposition and claiming it was for the sake of their so-called order?

There was nothing wrong with calling a spade, a spade. No matter how much they pretended otherwise, the mafia were also villains who also used power to subjugate and destroy.

And yet --

You were saying?

Dazai’s cool, disinterested regard at their first meeting rankled him more than he liked to admit, moreso when the bastard later on had the gall to call his Quirk useless. Weak, said the boy permanently swathed in bandages, who claimed that the difference between heroes and villains was childish, yet despised being called a villain himself despite perfectly fitting the bill, acting indifferent to the mafia that he was part of. Caring about the application of force? Maximizing resources? Needing allies? What was this, the real life equivalent of Nobunaga’s Ambition? Shigaraki barely had the patience for it - why bother pretending to get along with other parties at all?

You’re missing the point.

What point?

Shigaraki hated Dazai for trying to confuse him, but the need to prove the other teen wrong, to crush him and to win crawled under his skin not unlike an ant’s nest. It was the stupidest thing to lose more sleep on, but being on the backfoot did not sit well with him, either.

Kurogiri started giving him questioning looks when he had to buy a jar of antiseptic cream and cotton earlier than usual. That was when Shigaraki, with his throat burning, marred with cracked scabs and torn skin and scratch marks, decided that enough was enough.

And so he watched and observed, scraping together his almost non-existent patience to understand what all the fuss was about.

Yokohama seemingly transformed into a vast maze, its plentiful landmarks, alleys, and side streets opening up to him now where before he hadn’t bothered remembering they existed.

Around three times a week there would be street performers setting up some distance from the subway’s station entrance under the watchful eye of the officers assigned to the area, their performances drawing loyal and new fans alike. Elementary school children went to parks after school, and some junior high kids like playing hookey and hid under the bridge during class hours near the river. Certain blocks were full of completely modern buildings, while others were undergoing lengthier renovations in the interest of preserving traditional architecture. Shopping districts had a mix of establishments that sold custom and mass-produced clothes and furnishings, ubiquitous hero merchandise, and food from various cuisines.

Normal people living normal lives, happy in this age of peace and abundance, furthering complacency and ignorance.

The tableau was awfully fake for Shigaraki, who by that point was painfully aware of the different elements that played away and bid their time away from their imaginary status quo.

Sometimes it was easy to find places where assorted villains and mafiosi frequented during their down time, dressed in their tell-tale suits passing themselves off as salarymen and office workers getting together for a late dinner at an udon stand, a few stools away from regular civilians who hunted for relatively less crowded dining spots. There were bars and nightclubs with unclear membership requirements, maritime shipping agencies with too vigilant security guards, unmarked container vans with curious stop-overs. Innocent-looking shop owners gossiped with their customers, mixing euphemisms in regular speech for select individuals (fucking stereotypical, that).

It became a habit for him to hide his distinct silvery hair to avoid the annoyed all too knowing gaze of the people he followed, and he treated it like an improvised open world stealth game with a ban on weapon use.

Shigaraki got no closer to figuring out the puzzle presented to him.

”Perhaps you won’t find answers,” Dazai contemplated one day, rudely calling attention to the shadow his security escort had valiantly ignored for the better part of an hour when it became clear that Shigaraki’s presence was at fault for their meandering path around various side streets. “I haven’t either, Mr. Stalker.”

Shigaraki scowled at him and stomped off in the opposite direction.

Bullshit. (And not that he cared, but he also doubted Dazai had the same question to begin with.)

Shigaraki found answers alright, but they were to questions he had never wanted to define, and he despised it when the situation just wouldn’t cooperate to help him get that he wanted.

Dazai had a competitive streak that was at odds with his purposefully failed suicide attempts. Chuuya was actually the stronger fighter between the two, and his interactions with Kouyou were markedly different from Shigaraki’s talks with Sensei. The bar Kurogiri managed had a slowly increasing amount of guests, and not all of them were there for a drink. Kurogiri himself was good at diverting his attention when the shadowed man had to talk to Sensei, and when Shigaraki’s curiosity got the better of him he tried to figure out how to listen into those conversations, which turned out to include Shigaraki’s health. Sensei talked an awful lot about All Might’s strengths and weaknesses. The Doctor’s immunization shots and nutritional guidelines merely prevented his dehydration from getting worse, but Shigaraki couldn’t feel himself improving.

(It wasn’t as if Shigaraki cared for his appearance, but windburn was annoying to deal with, and his reliance on long-sleeved shirts was horrid during humid summers.)

They were all small details, but they added up over time, grains of sand trickling into a thin glass jar that would burst over time. More importantly, they distracted him too much from his original reason in playing this game in the first place.

(If anything, he thought as he studied the lines on Father’s hand, it made him want to kill Dazai more.)

 

000

 

Kurogiri made himself scarce again in the past month, the prepared meals left for Shigaraki’s on the bar counter and the halls reeking strongly of bleach and disinfectant the only signs of him popping back in to check on his ward. The meals were constant in his disappearances, but returning to bathrooms cleanly scrubbed every day of the week outside of schedule wasn’t, and Shigaraki more often than not found himself either stepping out or playing an RPG in his room to avoid the offensive smell.

To say he was surprised to find the man himself in the kitchen, uncharacteristically slumped on the table with the single column of buttons of his freshly-pressed vest partially undone, cuffs hanging loose, was an understatement. Next to the dozing man was an almost empty glass of water.

“Kurogiri.” Shigaraki poked the man’s arm. Annoyed at the lack of a response, he jabbed again with more force. “Oi, Kurogiri!”

Kurogiri jolted awake, the force almost unbalancing the chair, and two shadowy hands grabbed the table ledge to steady himself.

“Shigaraki Tomura,” Kurogiri said, glowing eyes uncharacteristically wide until he took stock of his surroundings, glancing at his watch and then looking at the wall clock that declared the time (1:32 AM) in bright red. “You’re awake.”

“Was in the middle of a playthrough, wanted a drink.” Shigaraki shrugged and padded to the refrigerator, taking out a carton of apple juice. “If you’re back, does that mean Sensei’s no longer busy?”

The man’s glowing yellow eyes flickered. “He’s resting. Please try to sleep, Tomura-kun.”

Shigaraki’s eyes narrowed, and he unscrewed the cap, taking a long swig. Kurogiri must be really tired, if he failed to keep that brief moment of hesitation at bay.

There was also only one reason why Kurogiri had checked the time twice after returning to the bar from wherever Sensei was.

“Alright. Tomorrow, then.”

Instead of returning to his room, he locked himself in the bar’s washroom instead, keeping the lights off, and waited, pinching his arm on occasion to stay awake.

After what felt like forever, he could hear the distinct sound of Kurogiri’s shoes faintly through the door, followed by the hum of the television turning on.

It was not Sensei’s voice that came through the speakers, however, but the Doctor’s.

“Kurogiri.”

Equally unexpected was Kurogiri’s question.

“How is he?”

“We’ll have to wait for him to recover for the next few procedures,” the Doctor said, the clatter of a keyboard a steady noise in the background, “but he’ll pull through - in fact, he should be awake tomorrow. All Might did a number of him, and we can never thank you enough for finding him when you did.”

Shigaraki felt his back slide down the tiled wall, a distant reminder of where he was, that he could get caught if he was too loud. He bit into his sleeve, the hot air of his mouth seeping through the cloth, his breaths painfully loud in his ears.

“If it’s for Sensei’s sake,” Kurogiri said, exhaustion evident in his voice, “it’s of no consequence. Thank you for your hard work, Doctor, and please continue taking care of him.”

“Naturally. Please don’t tell the boy yet, by the way - we don’t want to unnecessarily worry him. Now, you better get some sleep yourself; you look dead on your feet.”

There was a faint chuckle from Kurogiri. “So your assistant told me earlier when she asked me to return home. Good afternoon to you, Doctor.”

The television was shut off, and Kurogiri’s steps grew fainter, until Shigaraki could hear the opening and closing of a door.

It was then he finally allowed himself to breathe, the sound bouncing off the tiles, Yet he did not move until his joints protested and the feeling of pins and needles crept into his calves, forcing him to stumble back to his room, dropping himself on the bed and blindly searching for Father’s hand above his pillow.

The Doctor’s words repeated themselves in his mind until he fell into an uneasy sleep.

 

 

The light of the midday sun made it impossible for him to put off waking up, Shigaraki groggily sat up, reaching for Father’s hand for reassurance out of habit, and padded out of the room for a shower, grabbing his towel along the way.

Cool, clammy sweat on dry skin was not the best sensation, and he wanted to scrub it off.

(The Doctor’s words were clear. Shigaraki ducked his head as he washed his scratched hands in the sink, his palms rubbing against each other as if he tried to futilely heat them under the steady trickle of water from the faucet, and he avoided looking up for fear of seeing his reflection.)

He mechanically went through the motions of showering, towelling off, brushing his teeth, and trudging to his room to get dressed, tossing his soiled clothes in the laundry hamper.

Ordinary water, ordinary toothpaste, ordinary post-shower fog coating the mirror’s surface. He would go downstairs and eat whatever he’d find in the fridge, unless Kurogiri had prepared something, and the shadowy man would strongly remind him that it was inadvisable for him to neglect the regularity of his body clock, or something of the other. Sensei would call them in the afternoon, and life would be back to normal.

Everything was fine.

Then Shigaraki made the mistake of peering into the basket’s other contents, and spotted Kurogiri’s rumpled vest.

An image of Kurogiri slumped over the kitchen table flashed in his mind. The man had been wearing a vest with undone single column of buttons instead of his double-breasted one.

He’s resting.

Dare he look?

He should be awake tomorrow.

With a trembling hand, he picked it up, the heavy gray cloth smooth beneath the pads of his fingers, and he was careful not to destroy the item. Though similar in appearance, the thickness of its layers meant that this was not part of Kurogiri’s normal bartending outfit, but the customized one with puncture resistant fabric. It smelled faintly of hydrogen peroxide.

All Might did a number on him.

When he checked the threading under the buttons, the threads were stained with a familiar rust color coating.

If it’s for Sensei’s sake, it is of no consequence.

(All Might was the only one in the world who could threaten Sensei.)

His grip loosened, and the vest fell back into the hamper.

Everything was not fine.

 

 

He tucked Father’s hand in his front hoodie pocket, the first in a long year and a half that he risked taking it out of the apartment in his long walks, and raised his hood before stepping out the apartment door.

(Father was still with him.)

The world around him faded away, shades of people and buildings passing by him as he drifted, his legs heavily numb. The rustle of feet steadily hitting the pavement and cars speeding by blended into a muffled symphony, syllables and sounds ceasing to have meaning as Shigaraki could only but focus on the Doctor’s and Kurogiri’s conversation.

Before he knew it, he was in front of the older man Dazai had left his squad to, a single sentence and a heavy nod their only exchange before Shigaraki stumbled off again, this time to Warehouse Sixteen.

 

000

 

“Done ranting now?”

“Fuck you,” Shigaraki replied hoarsely through clenched teeth, giving Dazai a baleful glare from beneath messy silvery hair, unwilling to raise his head further and expose his tear-streaked face. It was mortifying enough that Nakahara had taken to sitting beside him when the last of his adrenaline left his system and forced him to his knees, but he also had let slip that Sensei, the man who saved him, had almost died.

Nakahara had slung an arm around his shoulders, and the quieting gesture was alien to Shigaraki, as was the intensity of Dazai’s steady, ruthless stream of questions with no hint of his usual roundabout sarcasm.

Neither of them, thankfully, had yet to ask about Father’s hand.

However, even that was only a small mercy. The brunet messed with him again, fully taking advantage of his state to provoke answers out of him after he clammed up, his thoughts were jumbled somewhere between his raging headache and the back of his skull. Shigaraki’s knuckles still burned in the aftermath of his lashing out, moving with the rage and fear that poured out as Dazai dug deeper, the dryness of his skin lending them to tear and break and bleed easily, and he ached down to his bones.

The pain was inescapable, and Dazai’s inquiry had done its job in hammering the reality of the Doctor’s words home.

Sensei almost died. Sensei almost died, and it was because of All Might.

The sunset bled into the warehouse from its destroyed doors, bathing Dazai’s back in amber and scarlet light, The shadow he cast as he walked towards them was long, enveloping them at first, slowly shrinking until he was kneeling before them.

"Shigaraki Tomura," Dazai’s gaze was unreadable, his tone sombre. "You should already understand that your teacher is not infallible. The closer you are to him, the closer you come to a time when you cannot turn back. There’s nothing normal about this, if that’s what you’re hoping for."

What.

"Har har, " Shigaraki sneered. "I know your side’s still in the dark on what he's been through. How can you think you understand what he’s about?"

Sensei would recover. All Might had failed to kill him, and Port Mafia’s previous generation hadn’t even come this close - that much, he knew.

"Hmm?" Dazai tipped his head, a merciless glint in the dim light entering his eyes his focus strayed from Shigaraki’s face, down to his hands. "Shouldn't you be asking yourself that question?"

What the fuck was Dazai trying to imply?

“Stop messing around!” Shigaraki tried to lunge at him, but was stopped by Chuuya, and he struggled to get free out of the shorter man’s headlock. "Let go, Nakahara! You know he deserves at least a punch."

“Idiot,” Chuuya said, sharply rapping his knuckles on Shigaraki’s temple, away from the mild cuts on his scalp. “Stop getting baited so easily.”

Yeah, right. As if Chuuya himself was successful with that one.

Dazai huffed and made to stand up, dusting his coat. "Your funeral."

 

000

 

”He’s only started to wake up.”

“I see.” Mori gestured at the seat to his right. The long, sturdy dining table was conspicuously absent of the sweets and pastries Elise favored, though a tray bearing an ornate tea set was placed near Mori’s elbow where the man was at the far end. “You’ve had a long day, it seems. Tea, Dazai-kun?”

It wasn’t an invitation he hadn’t been expecting since he and Chuuya had parted upon their return to the base.

The polished wooden floor was uncluttered with Elise’s drawing pad and crayons, giving Dazai the undistracted opportunity to study Mori’s amusement as it give way to calm acceptance. This was a long overdue conversation that started with Dazai, not long after their meeting with the Villain, looked over the collection of loose leaf notes and electronic files Mori had hunted down back from their days at the clinic, when Dazai had yet to made up his mind on whether or not he would stay with Mori, or if he'd resign himself to seek sanctuary with his father’s uncomfortably ambivalent side of the family, or if he wanted to bother his mother’s sister with an additional mouth to feed.

(His aunt was kind, if not a bit overbearing in her attempts to make up for her own perceived faults. His cousin found her blameless and his own mother practically had to beg his aunt to accept her assistance, but even her situation as a single mother at the time had not deterred her bullheaded independent streak.

Dazai caught that trail of thought, and huffed.

It’s been a long, long while since he thought of his aunt and cousin.

What a time to remember such sentiments.)

The older man hummed as he poured the steaming tea into both porcelain cups. The fragrant scent of Earl Gray wafted throughout the room, and Mori leaned back in his high-backed chair, lazily draping his wrists on the armrests.

Dazai peered back straight at him from his one visible eye

Seconds turned into minutes as the liquid cooled enough for consumption.

It wasn’t as if they had a lack of observations about the Shigaraki development. Rather, settling on which topic to start with became problematic on occasion, when too much familiarity with the other gave way to predicting what the other would say.

Mori didn’t need to remind Dazai that digging through old files would only serve to reinforce the kind of possibility that awaited them when the Villain recovered, the drastic shift that would grant Shigaraki the attention he craved from his teacher.

Dazai wouldn’t have to remark that Shigaraki, at this point, would remain willingly blind to his own fate, trapped in the contradiction of his own thoughts until it was too late.

Still, starting a conversation would boil down to choosing words.

“Witnessing growing pains can be terrible for the uninitiated,” Mori said simply, and picked up his cup of tea.

Dazai shrugged and reached for the milk and sugar. “An expert, are you?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Mori smiled and sipped his drink. “You allowed yourself to be raised by me, after all.”

 

000

 

Motivation and method, Mori said, his doctor’s coat folded and draped over a chair as he tucked a well-worn primer under the corner the pillow of a young Dazai, who picked up the booklet and tiredly furrowed his eyebrows at the title as Mori continued talking. Interpreting events is a task for the living, yet we may borrow from long dead thinkers to examine how they arrived at their conclusions and discern whether or not they are apt for the situation.

This is a shogi manual, Dazai pointed out blearily, the slight inflection of his tone indicative of his disbelief at Mori’s play on air-headedness, and dropped the primer back on the bed. The boy was pale and obviously exhausted, the clumps of his sweaty, tousled hair splayed on his still damp pillow.

Well, yes. The doctor was perhaps a bit too perky for Dazai’s tastes in two in the morning, hints of irritation bleeding into the boy’s expression. Hadn’t you said you’re still unable to sleep properly because you’re still making sense of the Incident?

The question was followed by silence, but the tug of blankets covering Dazai’s hand was telling. Mori huffed. Oh, this stubborn, precocious child.

If non-admittance was the game Dazai wanted to play, that, too, was fine with Mori.

Seeing as you’d also prefer figuring out what happened yourself instead of merely going with other people’s conclusions, this might prove to be a useful starter exercise. What better use of a game that demonstrates, among other things, how action betrays intent?

Dazai glared up at him, his cheek puffing into an unintentional pout, no doubt already foreseeing the kinds of antics Mori would pull. Do I really have to?

Learning anything is entirely your prerogative, as is pointlessly combing through what you already know by heart with only one style. Ahh, but you need to try to sleep, Mori teased, or else you won’t grow any taller. Deciding what to do about it can wait until the sun’s up. Now, would you want me to leave the door open for the hallway light? Should Elise-chan watch over you again?

I’m not seven anymore, Dazai grumbled into his pillow, and resolutely twisted around to face away from Mori, pulling the blankets with him.

You’re not, Mori agreed indulgently at the boy’s curled up form, and flicked off the light switch before stepping out the room, taking his coat with him.

The door remained unclosed a few inches wide.

Chapter Text

Nakahara booted and shoved Dazai out of the passenger’s seat window the moment they arrived at the basement parking of the Mori Corporation’s central tower. Shigaraki, huddled in the back with a long black coat serving as a blanket, feet tucked under him and barely responsive for the entire ride, watched the scene with dark hooded eyes, absently stroking the underside of Father’s wrist with his thumb.

“This is a new low even for you, Chuuya,” Dazai wheezed, arms straining, his hands and feet the only things saving him before he tumbled out and landed ass first on the cement. As it was, his folded form had barely fit through the window when Nakahara pushed him out, and had he been wider or any less flexible the muscles of his hips would have been in a world of pain. “You usually wait until the door’s open.”

“Can it, you limp noodle,” Chuuya grumbled, working on prying off Dazai’s fingers a knuckle at a time. “If you want, I can roll up the window and turn you into fettuccine.”

“Uwaa, what a generous offer!” Despite his precarious position, Dazai snickered. “Helping to free me from suffering, wanting to patch up street urchins - are you trying to become Yakushi?” [1]

The lighthearted mood was unreal to Shigaraki, when their exchange in the warehouse kept on playing over and over in his head like a broken record, punctured with the shrapnel of taunts and laughter happening before him. He was too weary to stop the flood of his thoughts, and for the first time in a long while he resisted giving into his drowsiness, afraid of what he’d find in his dreams.

All that was left of him was hollow. Around him, time continued.

“Sayeth the idiot who tried invoking Omoikane,” Nakahara mocked pointedly, flicking a gloved finger to the brunet’s exposed ankle. [1]

Dazai cocked his head, the side of his face visible to Shigaraki hidden by bandages and a fringe of hair. Almost imperceptible, the rhythm was broken.

“Oh, fine! Fine, I see you’re eager to crash your car somewhere,” Dazai said, and neither of the vehicle’s occupants didn’t need to see his face to know he was pouting. The brunet let go with his hands first, allowing himself to dangle from the window before flattening his palms on the pavement, ending up with a ridiculous wobbly handstand as he eased his legs out the window. His feet bobbed slightly as he took a few steps away from the car before he let his feet touch the ground, and let himself collapse with a sigh.

“Have a wretched time,” Dazai called, lazily waving a hand from where he lay as Chuuya sped off. The redhead rolled down his own window to give a one fingered salute.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” Nakahara huffed as they merged back into the sparse nighttime traffic. He adjusted the rearview mirror to peer at Shigaraki as he drove, only to find sunken eyes staring emptily back at him. (It was a look he’d seen before on countless other faces, but the first on Shigaraki.) “Had to get him out or he’d do another round of twenty questions. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”

Shigaraki shrugged nonchalantly and closed his eyes, letting out a long breath as he uncoiled his limbs and stretched his long legs out on the backseat. Chuuya had yet to yell at him for the shoeprints he’d leave on the covers, and even with his fried brain he knew it was something he should take advantage of.

“S’quiet now,” he mumbled, letting Nakahara’s long coat slip from his shoulders and pool on his lap, covering his palms cradling Father’s hand. Despite his distraction, it hadn’t escaped his notice that the two twisted their phrases earlier on occasion, perhaps even deliberately using references that Shigaraki wouldn’t get. It only served to highlight his own ignorance, a gap that should not exist.

Neither mythology nor pre-Quirk history had been covered in Kurogiri’s tutoring, and he barely looked up game lore inspiration factoids during or after playthroughs.

How big it was, the world beyond the streets he haunted.

 

(At some point, Nakahara flicked on the music player, and the smooth notes of jazz filled the silence. Shigaraki couldn’t find the words to give his routine complaint on the redhead’s music choices, and settled for huffing instead.)

 

000

 

They parked the car near Ishikawacho station, close to the trendy Motomachi shopping district. Chuuya stepped out and stuck a hand under his car seat, making a small noise of triumph.

“The fuck,” Shigaraki muttered when he saw the unopened bandage rolls, a first aid kit, and water bottle Chuuya pulled out before sliding into the back seat himself, folding a leg in front of him to keep anything from falling off.

“That piece of shit likes sneaking them in to annoy me,” Chuuya explained, mildly irritated at the small pile of bandages that somehow got past him. “Be glad I didn’t have the car cleaned out yet.”

“I’m not using that guy’s leftovers,” Shigaraki scowled, wrinkling his nose.

“Too bad, they’re the ones available. Just be glad they’re unopened.” Chuuya frowned. “C’mon, pull your sleeves up and give me your hands. The sooner you’re cleaned up, the sooner we can eat without you screaming bloody murder if anyone stares at you funny.”

Shigaraki stared at him, and Chuuya returned the gaze with a stubborn one of his own. Not that he could blame the other for being suspicious, but he wasn’t in the mood to go through the full mistrust stare-off routine Shigaraki did whenever he wasn’t in control of the situation.

“Feel free to explain to your babysitter how you ended up like this.” Chuuya pointed out briskly, a hand on his hip. “It’s not like you can clean this up properly, butter fingers, and I don’t want him poking around. One creep’s enough, thanks.”

Shigaraki grimaced and fidgeted in his seat, clearly uncomfortable, teeth worrying his lower lip as he weighed the pros and cons of the situation. Chuuya waited patiently until the white haired man bit down on his chapped lips and yanked his sleeve up to his elbow, offering his left hand first.

With practiced ease, Chuuya unravelled the bandages covering Shigaraki’s forearm, leaving them to pool on the floor. The skin underneath was dry and irritated, unmarred save for the lines of his veins and an old, faint incision that ran from his wrist to the crook of his elbow.

“You shouldn’t keep your arms wrapped up this much, you know,” Chuuya said, pouring some water from the bottle on a clean handkerchief before wiping down Shigaraki’s forearm and hand, pressing down on the other’s little finger with his thumb as he worked. “Bad for your skin.”

Shigaraki snorted. “Doctor makes me use this cream every now and then for the dryness,” he muttered. “Have to make do since I can’t go out with short sleeves, either.” He jerked when the felt the sting of the ointment Chuuya cottoned onto his chafed knuckles, and scowled when the redhead pressed down on his little finger in warning.

“Fat lot of good that does,” Chuuya said, wrapping up Shigaraki’s left hand before repeating the process to his right. The arm was in a similar condition to its partner, down to the visible web of blood vessels under his thin skin and the faded, surgically precise incision. Chuuya tipped his head downward, long strands of hair covering his face. “The good Doctor mention why your skin’s fucked up?”

Shigaraki shrugged his left shoulder. “Nah. Wasn’t this bad before, but he stopped it from getting worse. I figure it’s my Quirk.”

Chuuya harrumphed and dumped a pack of tissues and the water bottle on Shigaraki’s lap. “Right. Clean your face.”

The withering look Shigaraki sent Chuuya could have corroded steel, a reaction to being bossed around than anything else. True, the other teen was more impulsive than the average guy and lethal without a nullifying ability to keep his Quirk in check, but In Chuuya’s line of work, the threat of death was nothing special.

“If you want to stop being babied,” Chuuya said, unimpressed, “quit looking like you can’t even dig yourself out of the trash heap you lost yourself in. It’s not like the world’s ended.”

“Well, shit,” Shigaraki grounded out, squeezing the pack of tissues with his trembling left hand and letting it break apart into fine dust. “News flash - no one invited you to the pity after party. Why the fuck are you even doing this, anyway?”

Why oh why indeed.

Dazai’s insidious comment from earlier wormed its way into his ear, and Chuuya felt his blood boil.

Are you trying to become Yakushi?

Hopeless fuckers. Even a Buddha would have problems in teaching basic human decency - small acts with no strings attached - to these two socially inept idiots.

He ran a gloved hand down his face. Why he bothered - a question for the ages.

“Okay, first: you’re the one who crashed in,” Chuuya reminded him tartly and flicked his forehead, causing Shigaraki to yelp indignantly. “Get the facts straight. Second: you’re more trouble than you’re worth, but I’d hate to send you back looking like crap, especially when you said you weren’t supposed to know what happened. Something like this isn’t a problem to deal with as long as you aren’t working against us, and it’s not like you heard anything important earlier. Last: you’ll owe me.”

“You’re too soft, Nakahara,” Shigaraki snapped, eyes narrowed, his back firmly pressed on the car door, as if it would create distance between them. He had yet to pull his hand away, however, and Chuuya’s returning grin held a glimmer of teeth, the red hair framing his face gleaming like fire even in the street light.

“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Chuuya said and finished applying the ointment. “In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re still getting kiddie treatment. Nothing personal, but if we had to, you’d be dead right now.”

Shigaraki’s fingers twitched, and he sullenly stared at Chuuya, his face half-hidden in shadow. “So I’ve heard. Not that you guys get off scot free.”

If.” Chuuya smiled grimly, his hold on Shigaraki’s knuckles firm as he wrapped fresh bandages around his hand. The strips were stark white, concealing the delicate skin underneath. He was reminded of the heel of an elegant palm draped with fine silk, slender fingers curled around a katana’s hilt with ease, the controlled flick of a wrist that could herald compassion or violence. Yet again, he couldn’t help but wonder what form this potential would take.

Certainly Dazai had seen it too: the bastard had a knack for spotting raw talent that could blaze bright with the inferno of a strong will - the retempering of the Black Lizard was proof of that - but in Shigaraki’s case he seemed more interested in seeing the struggle of growth. Always goading but not to the point of no return, ever precise in directing the flow of words, a keen eye never missing the subtlest changes of expression and body language.

Anyone worth their salt in conflict must know how to identify an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses to exploit them, and both Chuuya and Dazai were taught well by two masters of the art.

Oh, how he hadn’t lied that Shigaraki got the kiddie treatment. Still nestled in the folds of Chuuya’s coat next to the water bottle was a rectangle of polished metal that protected a preserved hand.

A person didn’t need to stop breathing in order to die.

“Don’t mess things up,” Chuuya told Shigaraki as he fastened the bandage with a metal clip, “and we won’t have any problems.”

 

Without his blazer and with his sleeves rolled up, Nakahara looked closer to his actual age, perhaps even younger because of his height. Shigaraki, tall and lanky beside him, silently trudged along, hands in his front pocket, his face clear of the grime from the day.

The flophouse town of Kotobukicho, within walking distance from Ishikawacho station, looked marginally less miserable over the years since several low-rise apartments were refurbished for cheap tourist rental. There were still people living and sleeping out on the sidewalks, covered in week-old newspapers and ratty blankets, surrounded by empty beer cans. One corner housed a crowded yakitori joint. Patrolling heroes made sure the area was undisturbed. Come sunrise, their agency would assist the soup kitchen next door in distributing subsidized meals.

Shigaraki kept his focus on the pavement, presumably not to trip. This was one of the areas he normally avoided, rife with the unemployed and the defeated.

(Even in a world with Quirks, miserable problems like this persisted.

He didn’t want to see - didn’t want to acknowledge it existed.

This wasn’t his problem. Not now, not ever.)

“Why here,” Shigaraki muttered.

“Seemed liked that kind of night.” Nakahara turned away. “I used to see places like this more often before I met anee-san. The Mackerel too, if I’m guessing right.”

Shigaraki looked at him, surprised with the information freely given, but Nakahara briskly walked ahead.

They ended up at an udon stand without incident, sitting between a tanned elderly man in a dark blue polyester jacket and a Western backpacker. The foreigner, upon learning that Nakahara could talk in English, briefly struck up a conversation. Shigaraki, only able to understand the language but not speak it, silently listened in as Nakahara pretended to be a cram school student aiming to get an International Studies degree, utterly sociable and down to earth.

Normally, he would have found amusement at how easily fooled civilians were as they lived on the knife’s edge, when the breakout of a fight would result in them getting caught in the crossfire.

Now, he was just tired.

“And your friend?”

Shigaraki started, focused as he was in deciphering the man’s accent (English? Australian?), flinched at the sudden attention and scowled into his bowl. Under the table, Nakahara lightly dug his heel into his sneaker-clad foot.

“Don’t mind him,” Nakahara said, waving a hand dismissively, a subtle cue to redirect the foreigner back to himself. “He’s had a bad day. Family matters.”

Shigaraki pointedly looked away as he continued to eat his udon, ignoring how the broth messily coated his chapped mouth. Family matters his ass - would Nakahara give some sob story that his father was hospitalized?

...ah. Fuck.

He rearranged the contents of his bowl with the tips of his chopsticks, the thick noodles mixing in with the soggy vegetables.

It was a sour reminder that he didn’t even know how to act normally around Kurogiri. The uncomfortable weight of secrecy weighed heavily in his gut, and he couldn’t even pretend it was the broth. Despite being able to ditch Kurogiri and dodge his questions in the past, Shigaraki had not been faced with the prospect of having to outright lie to the man. If Sensei -

If Sensei called for him, he was so screwed.

Shigaraki morosely picked up a string of udon with his chopsticks, staring at the pathetic thing as it hung limply between the two shaved pieces of wood.

He finished the rest of his bowl in silence.

(Why was he so bad at this?)

Nakahara mildly kicked his shin, breaking the chain of thought. It was then he noticed his hand was shaking, and he’d almost disintegrated his chopsticks and the bowl.

He was so stupidly off his game today, wasn’t he.

Well, whatever. He could always just avoid the situation by sleeping in late as usual and loading up a musou game. Maybe that would take the edge off, if not buy him more time to think of something.

Next to Nakahara, the foreigner had apologized, and switched the topic to something about finding budget-friendly places in Tokyo. The elderly man beside Shigaraki, who had been quietly drinking from a can of beer the entire time after having emptied his bowl, suddenly piped up with a few recommendations in slow, measured syllables, and he had been included in the conversation after that.

As it turned out, he had stopped a few units short of earning a postgraduate degree in his home country and migrated to Japan for work, only to get blinded by his sudden wealth and gradually burying himself in gambling debt.

That was twenty years ago. More time than Shigaraki had been alive.

“Study well, young ‘uns, and work hard.” The elderly man finished his drink and left money at the counter, ending with a round of polite bows and stumbling away from the bench. “Don’t end up like me.”

Great, just what he needed - more useless sob stories. Shigaraki propped his elbow on the counter and restlessly scratched the skin just behind his ear, harsh enough to scrape and bleed, the motion concealed by his mop of hair. He knew he avoided this place for a reason.

How in fuck did guys like that live with themselves?

 

000

 

They were on their third cup of tea, and Dazai kept a pleasant expression firmly in place. Having one eye covered helped. Sweetening his drink too much, however, hadn’t been the best idea. With the prolonged conversation, it was only a matter of waiting before his awakeness from the sugar high plateaued.

Allowing himself to get caught in an unfavorable situation like this - it’s been a while. Mori undoubtedly knew that, too. His question affirmed it.

“Why did you agree to this meeting, Dazai-kun?”

The corners of Dazai’s mouth tipped upward in lieu of a smile. “Weren’t you the one who called me here?”

“There is such a thing as postponing,” Mori said, as if he was commenting on the weather. “Denying yourself the chance to examine the ups and downs of the situation doesn’t suit you, as much as you’d like to believe otherwise.”

Ah. There it was, the reason why Mori had dragged out their talk long after they had concluded their original business, citing the excuse that they needed to finish the pot lest it go to waste. Far be it for his astute mentor to let a perceived blind spot go unchecked.

Defeat or victory is apparent to everyone well in advance of any confrontation: a lesson that was drilled into his head. [2]

In relation: the worst calamities arise from hesitation. [3]

Despite appearances, this wasn’t just about their current discussion.

Based on how the statement was phrased, Mori seemed to be under the impression that Dazai was in denial over something.

Being raised by the paragon of logic was never without risk. Dazai knew this even before he shed his old name, and Mori’s actions never failed to remind him of that fact. Too much familiarity - that also meant the things they also meant to keep to themselves, knowingly or not, were always in danger of being brought to light.

(What was the sort of choice that counted, if everything was a foregone conclusion?)

Mori, seeing in the silence that his question had been delivered, hummed, and the sound dug its claws deep. “Think about it,” he said, and stood up with a groan, stretching his back with a satisfying pop, and saw himself out. “Good night, Dazai-kun.”

Chapter Text

“You were out late,” Kurogiri observed the following day, placing a plate of sandwich triangles on the clean bar counter. He was once again wearing his typical double-breasted vest, his shirt neatly tucked into ironed trousers, tie properly knotted, sleeve cuffs tidily buttoned up.

Nothing was out of place. It would have been easy to pretend that he had not seen the man slumped over the kitchen table two nights ago, had it not been for his question.

He’d take it, this farce. Anything to distract him from thinking about the Doctor’s words.

Shigaraki made a non-committal noise and scratched his abdomen as he dragged his feet across the floor to reach his usual stool. Even the sandwich was cut and plated impeccably, now that he saw it up close. The bread was lightly toasted and sliced cleanly down the middle without visible finger indents, slotted in place over and underneath layers of fresh tomato slices, hard cheese, folded ham, and crisp lettuce. Toothpicks with crowns of plastic held the composition in place.

If he was admiring a sandwich so soon after waking up, it was safe to say that he shouldn’t have fallen asleep to YouTube clips of cooking contests on autoplay after going through three chapters in the musou game’s story mode.

Never again.

Hopefully, it was just his hunger talking.

“Shit happened,” he muttered, picking up a triangle and taking a large bite. Mustard coated his lips, and a trail of tomato juice dribbled down his chin. With a squeeze of two fingers and his thumb, the lettuce was bruised, the ham’s fibers torn and frayed, bits of cheese falling off the sides. More tomato-diluted mustard dripped from the lettuce, soaking the edge of the bottom bread slice and spattering onto the plate. Now the sandwich’s perfection was in mutilated ruin, and he chewed slowly, savoring the small victory for what it was worth.

There was a clink of porcelain on the counter. He ignored it, focused entirely on his - late lunch? Afternoon snack? Meal for whatever the time was. All he knew was that on his way down, the sun was high up on a disgustingly clear blue sky.

When he got halfway through his lazy conquest of the plate, he heard Kurogiri clear his throat.

“Tomura-kun,” Kurogiri said. “You usually eat with enthusiasm. Are you not feeling well?”

The pale teen paused mid-bite and scrutinized his sticky fingers. He didn’t want to think about talking just yet, while he wasn’t properly awake. Grumbling, he gave Kurogiri what he hoped was a sullen look. “Coffee.”

Kurogiri gestured to the plain white mug sitting next to his left elbow. The warm brew was light brown, mixed with creamer and two spoons of sugar.

Shigaraki rested the pad of his finger on the side. A smear of yellow-orange-pale red remained on the porcelain when he withdrew his hand. Finding the temperature satisfactory, he took a mouthful, and carried on with his meal at leisure.

After a few moments, a cabinet was opened. Kurogiri brought out a couple of glasses and a dish towel, busying himself with wiping them down.

Keeping his head tipped downward, the fringe of his hair shadowing his eyes, Shigaraki snuck a curious glance at the man from the corner of a sunken eye.

Kurogiri’s misty features barely gave anything away, his shoulders squared as he worked. His hands, however, polished the glasses with too many twists of the towel, and he was slower than usual in going through the already clean set.

“Tomura-kun.” The shadows around Kurogiri’s form flickered. Shigaraki stared at him from the corner of a sunken eye. On the edge of the plate, his little finger twitched. “It seems I have been remiss in my duties to you as of late, when going through adolescence is typically a trying time. Perhaps this is why you are upset?”

Shigaraki took another bite and kicked his own shin under the table, his mind racing to come up with a suitable excuse. If Kurogiri thought he was just going through a typical adolescent problem, maybe this would be easier than he thought. Except, what did most teenagers go through?

He couldn’t say he was worried about failing grades as he wasn’t in school, and his only aspiration in life was to become a villain. Appearances and popularity weren’t high on his list of priorities - he’d be feared and respected, once Sensei revealed himself at the top. There were no hobbies he had other than gaming, and he wasn’t one who participated in fan events or community bullshit. Drama in connection with other people made him want to puke. Basic necessities were always given to him, and he didn’t have to bust his ass for anything.

The concerns of normal people living normal lives in a tableau that would soon come down crashing on them.

The commonplace meant nothing to Shigaraki Tomura. Everything he had ever needed and wanted was taken care of. All that was left for him to do was -

(In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re still getting kiddie treatment.)

...no.

No.

Nope, Fucking hell, no. Not here, not now.

His thoughts were still jumbled, blacks and grays and whites and reds all tangled and knotted, He imagined himself tossing the pieces in the washer and watched the folds of his brain come undone.

(He shouldn’t have gone with Nakahara yesterday.)

Without noticing it, his hand was back under his ear, fingers desperately clawing at the scabbed skin, and his chest heaved as he breathed heavily, gasping for air.

With deliberation, Kurogiri placed down the glass he was holding and spoke in slow, measured tones. “Be as it may, for you to resume your old pastime of walking around in the city - especially within questionable neighborhoods - well past midnight is not a productive activity.”

Shigaraki’s eyes widened, and the remains of his soggy sandwich dropped from his loose grip onto the plate. The toothpicks clattered from the impact and rolled off the edge. Questionable neighborhoods past midnight. It was as if the ground had fallen from underneath him, and his back broke out in cold sweat.

This was not what he expected. He forced himself to breathe.

“Kurogiri -”

“Were you harmed, Sensei will be disappointed.”

Kurogiri.

“Now, should you need me to lend an ear I will happily assist -”

KUROGIRI.

The barstool clattered to the ground when Shigaraki shot up abruptly, reaching to grip the man’s tailored vest. The cloth dissolved into ash, and he was left with holding but air.

“Stop messing with me.” Shigaraki’s breath rattled from his outburst as he braced himself on the counter with the heels of his palms. His unruly, silver hair covered his face, the ends brushing irritatingly on his cheeks and jaw.“You were busy doing things for Sensei, and I was bored. You don’t get to order me around. How the fuck did you know where I was?”

That was not the question he wanted to ask, and he knew from experience never got the explanation he wanted. That wasn’t about to change now.

“You are important to Sensei.” The black mist held himself still and impassive, and his next words were meant to soothe. “He was looking forward to speaking with you when you returned, and he has much to tell you. If you are afraid that you’ve displeased him, I believe he may find your trip excusable. After all, it was only for one night.”

“I... see.” Shigaraki exhaled and curled his hands into fists. Sensei valued him, and he was taken care of.

Deflecting his attention no longer cut it, not when Shigaraki had begun recognizing it for what it was. Kurogiri’s non-answer pissed him off.

“You may want to get yourself cleaned up after eating,” Kurogiri said. “Later this evening, we shall call him.”

Seeing the opportunity to leave, Shigaraki downed the rest of his coffee and abandoned the remains of his sandwich, briskly walking out. The bar top was marred with fingerprints of tomato and mustard.

One night, Kurogiri had said, the phrase echoing in his head, only competing with his footsteps as he stomped up the stairs. When he got to his room, he slammed the door shut and locked it before throwing himself on the his bed.

It wasn’t as if they had agreed on a curfew - he would’ve thrown a fit . If he had gone out, he usually was back around seven or eight, ten at the latest, a couple of hours before Kurogiri’s report, unless he was tempted by one arcade game too many - it wasn’t his fault that the facilities were open 24 hours and got less crowded the longer he stayed.

Still - one night. Too specific, one instance out of many.

Maybe he was overthinking things.

Your old pastime. Kurogiri’s deft hands were slow in cleaning those glasses. Questionable neighborhoods.

Shigaraki hissed and slammed his fist on the mattress, using a pillow to muffle a scream. Father’s hand, which he’d left before going down, remained still at the head of the bed.

The possibility of being tracked was something he hadn’t considered before.

(He felt like an idiot.)

He wasn’t dense or slow or stupid. He wasn’t.

There were no places to hide surveillance equipment in his room - he learned how to check for those, after Dazai snuck a coin-sized wireless mic in his pocket one day and proceeded to do the most embarrassing impersonation of Kurogiri, citing each nagging line word for word, the next time they bumped into each other at the game cafe.

The walls were relatively bare save for two game posters that Shigaraki glued to the surface. They remained flat and slightly crooked, no air bubbles or bumps to show anything underneath, the edges well-preserved with no nail marks. The lone shelf he had was lined to the brim with game disc cases, and he had the PC camera and microphone unplugged. Anything planted into his clothes would just be ruined by constant washing.

On top of it all, he was tracked yesterday. That took the cake.

Someone was messing with him.

(Did he want to know?)

Shigaraki tore through the shelves.

 

000

 

“Shigaraki Tomura seems to be indisposed at the present. Please pass my apologies to Sensei for the delay, and inform him that we can proceed in your morning.”

“Oh? He did not look ill when he ate. Should I head over and check?”

“No need, Doctor. It seems to be a personal issue.”

“Was that why he made such a mess? How unusual. Very well. Please look into it,”

“It’s been taken care of.” A pause. “He explained his poor judgment as an act of boredom.”

The Doctor gave a hearty laugh. “Well, that is not so surprising - he’s around that age. Not to worry, Kurogiri. He’ll have something else to do soon enough.”

 

000

 

“Hey, Ango,” Dazai called when their third arrived. “Which do you prefer - spring or autumn?”

Ango raised an eyebrow as he took his usual seat and briefly glanced at Oda, who shrugged.

“Dazai seems to be surveying people as of late,” Oda explained.

“I see.” Then, to Dazai, “and you omitted summer so he couldn’t pick the one with the most festival food stalls?”

Dazai just snickered and clapped Oda’s shoulder conspiratorially when the other didn’t deny the accusation. “That’s how it is. Your answer to the five thousand yen question?”

“Worth a few drinks, hmm?” Ango ordered his usual from the bartender and tapped his finger thoughtfully on the counter. “Let’s see. Both have their merits, but if Odasaku’s chosen Autumn, I’ll go with Spring. Your turn.”

“Ahh, how to choose.” Dazai hummed. “It’s as you said. Imagine if we could combine hanabi with momijigari - we could drink outside for weeks on end! ”

“In that case,” Oda observed, “it would also be possible to have shaved ice with fresh snow during the summer.”

“Snow on the beach,” Dazai proposed, a mischievous glint in his eye.

The both of them turned expectantly to Ango, who shook his head. “The both of you are ridiculous.”

Dazai did his best kicked puppy expression. Oda had not moved.

Ango tried his best to maintain his frown, and caved when Oda’s eyes briefly flickered to Dazai’s glass, empty but for melting ice, in silent communication.

“Oh, fine, just this once.” Ango huffed. “A snowy Christmas on Tanabata.” [1]

“How mean,” Dazai said, bursting out in laughter and clutching his stomach.

(It went unsaid that given the meteorological impossibility, Dazai would likely have chosen neither, if he could not selfishly have both.)

 

000

 

They didn’t see Shigaraki in the weeks that followed that long day. Neither were there any changes in Kamino ward, though that observation was unreliable due to the existence of a certain bartender with a teleportation Quirk.

The downtime, if it could be called that, suited Dazai just fine. One stubborn child a day was enough, and Akutagawa Ryuunosuke possessed obstinacy to the point of foolishness in spades.

“You know,” he said conversationally as Akutagawa struggled to pick himself up from the floor with shaking limbs, his breaths echoing hollowly in the training area, “if I knew you were this much of an idiot, I would’ve left you to the dogs that day. Has being riddled with holes become a more attractive prospect than breathing? I’m sure we can arrange something.”

Violence: the currency of crime, a disruption of the status quo, the feast that resentment engorged itself upon. It was the trade Dazai and Akutagawa had made: the souls of Akutagawa’s pursuers, for his and his sister’s lives.

Nothing was without cost.

“N-no need, Dazai-san.” The dark-haired teen wheezed and wiped the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand, swaying as his knees supported his weight. Even with the other’s head partly bowed, Dazai could see the darkness in his eyes, a ravenous abyss as fierce as his Quirk’s capacity to devour. Akutagawa’s coat hovered about him despite the stillness of the air, its threads extended and poised to strike at a moment’s notice.

The sheer thirst for approval that could only be consummated with destruction - that was nothing new. It was a well-worn road bearing the echoing footsteps of the deceased, the heritage of those with the misfortune of falling between the cracks of humanity’s surface, ever growing closer to basic instincts.

The old boss’ regime certainly thrived on it, exemplary in the efficient application of brutality even before their decline. This, too, was the motivation of Akutagawa’s pursuers, the wish to pretend to their superiors that the shipment had gone on without a hitch, only for them to end up executed for one mistake too many.

(Each and every one, models of absurdity at its finest. May the soil that drank their blood remain parched, for the night was endless!)

Then there were those like Akutagawa. Born and raised in violence, until it was the only language that could piece through the meaninglessness of existence, spite ensnaring the very core of their being out of contempt for those that abandoned them to such a fate.

Perhaps, if Dazai was a saintly man, or if Akutagawa was any less adrift, the method of getting across the necessity of this exercise would be different, if they had ever met at all. But that was not the case, and they’d have to make do with what was.

“Then spare me the work and recover faster.” Dazai took his time to reload the cylinder of his gun. Six bullets. Six chances to dodge and remain ungrazed amidst a flurry of kicks and punches. Far better to taste fighting against the fear of death in a controlled environment, rather than freezing in its face during a crucial moment. If there was a kinder way, Dazai certainly didn’t know of it. “You believe yourself to be tough, but you are unnecessarily reckless. Out on the field, being defeated because of that will mean your death.”

Akutagawa’s eyes narrowed. The dark tendrils of his coat twisted menacingly with his agitation in silent defiance of his own frailty. Such tenacity of the spirit was a virtue, yet by allowing its demonic strength to possess him instead of the other way around, it was needlessly squandered on pointless pursuits.

The intent of a naked blade was so easily seen from afar, indiscriminate in the path it carved, leaving it vulnerable to being disarmed.

“Understood,” Akutagawa replied. The inner fire that so consumed him from the darkness said otherwise, threatening to reduce his potential for growth to ash and cinder before it could take root.

Inexcusable.

Dazai quirked an eyebrow and cocked his gun at Akutagawa. The safety was off. “Do you now,” he challenged, and fired the first shot.

(Wretched survival was not the same as living.)

 

000

 

A chilly evening found Dazai at the Bar Lupin, his elbows propped on the counter and fingers laced as he contemplated over his second drink of the evening.

Soon enough, Shigaraki would be coaxed to joining the ranks of professional violence. When they last parted, the other’s thoughts were in such a precarious state, seeking refuge in eradicating external contradiction to cope with his inability to reconcile his desires with reality, ignorant of his actual place within his supposed savior’s finely woven net.

That was fine, for now.

Questions were finicky creatures, demanding attention one way or the other once one became cognizant of them, and they didn’t take well to being ignored. All it would take was one nudge, one push to crack the thin layer that separated one set of information from the other, and Shigaraki would come hunting in desperation for closure.

All things considered, Shigaraki’s pace at going about things, despite the disadvantage of having a questionable state of health and a scrambled mind, was decent enough. It was an interesting example of how his obsessive nature worked in his favor, instead of against.

For Dazai, all that was left was to wait and see. For all the time he’d spent pondering on this situation, going over what he already knew would not yield any new conclusions.

 

 

He was brought out of his thoughts by a meow.

There was a calico cat perched on Oda’s usual stool that had not been there when he arrived. It had a large dark brown patch covering its left eye, and its fur was healthy. There was no collar around its neck, though its claws seemed trimmed.

It would not have been out of place, had they been at a park instead of a bar.

Dazai tipped his head.

The cat’s left ear twitched. It meowed again, and scratched behind its ear with a hind paw.

He reached out to scratch its chin just as Oda entered the bar, and the cat slinked off, the tip of its tail touching Oda’s ankle for the briefest of moments before padding up the stairs. The both of them watched it leave.

What a curious creature.

“You’re here early.”

He lifted his chin to see that Oda’s attention was now on the almost empty glass by his elbow. Dazai smiled.

“Do you own a cat?”

Surprise flitted across Oda’s features before he slipped off his overcoat and made himself comfortable. “Not at the present. If I were to have a pet, though, I might prefer a dog. Why?”

“That one seemed to like you.” The brunet chuckled and mimed the arm movement of a Maneki-neko. “Shall we take this as a favorable omen?” [2]

“That means our luck has left the room.” Oda requested for whiskey from the bartender. “However, we can still pray for good fortune.”

“Ah, you’re right. Then, may we never suffer from afflictions.” Dazai waited for Oda’s drink to be served and clinked their glasses together. He let the last drops of whiskey linger on his tongue, and a sardonic smile curved his lips. “They are downright terrible.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Shigaraki lay on the mattress, arms limply stretched on either side of him and one leg dangling off the edge by the knee. It was the only clear space in the mess that was his room, piles of CD cases and emptied boxes full of old books unearthed from under the bed strewn haphazardly on the floor. The swivel chair in front of his PC served to support the pile of clothes he’d raided from his closet, an assortment of casual shirts, jeans, hoodies and scarves that were mostly black, with the occasional shade of dark gray. The sunset filtered into his room from between the window blinds, leaving a dark orange glow on the opposite wall.

He closed his eyes. Without his usual music playing on the speakers, he could pick up the faint sounds of city traffic from the distance. It was easy to imagine the ebb and tide of pedestrians boarding the subway and crossing streets, of cars and trucks speeding off to their destinations, of children making home and of office workers grabbing snacks from the convenience store for the rest of their colleagues clocking overtime.

Unfortunate, how letting his thoughts wander wouldn’t bring him any closer to why he wrecked his room.

His pulse was no longer in any hurry to escape him, but the tightness in his chest remained, coiled and restrictive.

In the recesses of his mind, in that very moment he‘d gone through the last stretch of space, the unbearable etched itself in the back of his skull, tucked away from daylight, buried underneath the mass of images and colours and sound.

He couldn’t bear endangering it. The one thing that remained intact in the room.

Nothing went the way he wanted it to.

He reached above his head, keeping his pinky tucked into his palm, took Father’s hand, and carefully fitted the preserved digits on the frame of his face, the tip of his nose gently bumping on that cared for, weathered skin. Just like old times.

Shigaraki succumbed to his thoughts and let them crumble away, meaningless disjointed syllables in a swirling storm.

That was how he drifted off to the uneasy line between dreaming and waking. Human remains spilled from his hands, white walls splattered with blood, blinded by hazes of bright light, solid metal on his back, his arms heavy, breath restricted, the tinkling of glass rolling closer to his ear.

Father had looked for him that day before it all started. The sound of his shoes echoed on the wooden floor.

 

 

It was a reticent Shigaraki that met with Sensei. His hair was bedraggled, the tail of his shirt stuck out from the hem of the sweater he jammed on when Kurogiri roused him for dinner, and he had walked down barefoot in spite of the chill.

He felt like shit, and he was aware it showed.

Perhaps it was because he was drained that he got through the entire conversation without flinching, even when his supposed misdemeanor was brought up.

Kurogiri had remained silent, the mist that made up his body flickering in spite of his outward composure.

You’re a terrible liar. Sensei’s breathing was labored. It was difficult to tell what he actually thought. Idle curiosity would not have made exposing yourself to misery any more tolerable. Was there anything you hoped to find in such a place?

Shigaraki shrugged and bowed as he stared at the weathered palm cradled in his hands in recollection of fear. His younger self, unable to find solace in sleep, heart pounding in his chest as he muffled his sobs. Afraid he’d be thrown out for all his noise, his precariousness, his constant shifts between attempts at assertiveness and natural timidity. Relapsing to such behavior that Sensei had rectified - where did that leave him? Did I - are you angry, Sensei?

Anger meant so many things. Uncomfortable, but easier to live with than the specificity of asking if he’d failed to meet Sensei’s expectations.

You haven’t answered the question, Tomura-kun, Sensei replied. How do I know if I should be or not?

Shigaraki exhaled through his nose. The sojourn to the warehouse, the faint scrapes of his knuckles covered by the hem of his oversized sweater, dinner at a barely passable udon stand. The conversation between Nakahara and the two men. What could he possibly say about that?

(Family matters was Nakahara’s take on the affair. Boredom was his own just that morning, spat out in anger, a generalization of all his previous trips.

Oh. He didn’t have to lie after all…. Did he?)

I wanted to see it, Sensei, he said, the phrase spilling out of his lips, and it tasted like ash on his tongue. Why it is that the world is warped.[1]

The beeping of medical equipment continued filtering in from the speakers, Behind the bar counter, Kurogiri shifted, the faint scuffle of his shoe audible on the wooden floor.

Shigaraki dared not breathe.

Then, there was the huff of laughter from Sensei’s end.

What a nostalgic turn we’ve taken. How time flies. It seems it was only yesterday I had promised that you need not fear the people who will have hunted for you, and it was for your sake we’ve kept you away from conflict. In my absence, however, you’ve grown restless, and we should have identified the signs sooner. Sensei made a thoughtful sound. Then, I am not angry, and Kurogiri shall continue watching over you in my stead.

Shigaraki kept his head still and glanced at Kurogiri from the corner of his eye. The man was impassive, though the mist about him no longer fluctuated restlessly.

He sucked in a breath, nodded, and finally looked up Thank you, Sensei. He paused and bit his lip. Was this why you called?

Originally? No. Now he could hear the mild teasing lilt in the man’s voice. Care to guess?

Another familiar phrase, a game they played on Sensei’s rare personal visits to either the bar or at the Doctor’s office when Shigaraki was due for a check-up. Shigaraki clutched Father’s palm and allowed himself to believe that maybe, maybe the worst was over, and there would be no need to revisit it.

He tested the waters.

Did… did you find a new Quirk you liked?

No.

Shigaraki exhaled and tried again. New research?

That would be the Doctor.

New business?

In a way.

A profitable one?

Beneficial, but not with monetary value.

Shigaraki furrowed his brow, unable to think of anything else that would be relevant to a new non-profit venture that wasn’t Quirk-related. Sensei loved playing around with Quirks - the man had a lot to say about their development and biology over the years, and Shigaraki had the vague impression it was one of the reasons why Sensei and the Doctor got along so well.

He curled his lip, irritated that he couldn’t come up with an answer. Those aren’t enough clues, he protested.

Are they not? Sensei made a thoughtful sound. How about this, Tomura-kun: do you still wish to become a villain?

Shigaraki choked on air and scrambled closer to the speaker next to the monitor, Father’s hand safely tucked in his jacket front pocket. With that one question, it was as if his mind cleared, and the weight on his shoulders melted away. I can become one already?

(With this, maybe everything would go back to normal. Back to where it began, with fewer complications, untroubled by uncertainties and contradictions.)

Sensei laughed softly. Not so fast. It’s easy for anyone to become a villain, but to be one of the best and recognized as such - that takes time, and a whole lot of willpower.

Shigaraki strained his ears, hanging on to every word.

Show me your resolve, Tomura-kun. Tell me why you wish to become a villain, and I’ll give you the grandest of debuts. Here, Sensei paused, and there was a dark undertone in his chuckle. Perhaps even nothing less than the death of All Might.

There was a brief flash of white-hot pain on his lower lip, and the tang of copper covered the tip of his tongue. It was then he realized that his thin, chapped lips were stretched and cracked in a wide smile full of teeth.

 

000

 

“Good work,” Dazai said as a blonde girl wearing a middle school uniform slipped in the car, and handed her an individually wrapped green tea daifuku. “Now, what did you think of this assignment?”

Akutagawa Gin took the offered sweet and returned to him the earpiece hidden under her hair before slipping off the wig she wore. Her long, black hair spilled over her thin shoulders. “It was… uncomfortable. Sir.”

Dazai hummed. The siblings shared that distinctive forthrightness expressed through action. As with her older brother, Gin would not stand to be what she did not identify as herself. “Alright, then. Let’s cross espionage from our list. In the end, it is better to play to one’s strengths.” His gaze lingered in the alley she emerged from, a shadowy strip between two buildings bathed in the afternoon sun. “Your brother will not thank you for following him to the trade, you know. He didn’t ask us to train you, only that we protect you in our territory.”

Gin nodded. Her slender hands were neatly folded in her lap, and her bony knees, covered with black leggings, showed from the hem of the borrowed uniform skirt. “I am aware.”

“And what will you tell him when he finds out?”

The girl’s soft, high-pitched voice belied the steel of her intent. “That I will do as I always have.”

Predictable, yet it was not blind devotion nor simple familial piety that motivated her. She was much too clear-headed for that. “Even with the corpses he leaves in his wake?”

“Even to hell.”

Dazai’s lip curled. A bold declaration, from one who was not lost. Neither of them needed to say that the pits of society afforded no one the innocent fancies of childhood once they became cognizant of the sickness and death so close to where they slept. Still, this early exposure served not to rattle the girl’s thoughtful awareness, but to strengthen it. Her reserved nature, that constancy and resoluteness unfettered by rage or despair - those were her assets.

In this way, Gin was wiser than her brother. Instead of resigning herself to being collateral insurance should Akutagawa risk failure, she chose to unburden her brother by having the Mafia treat her as an operative independent of her brother, gaining combat capabilities along the way, and eliminating any potential communication or information clearance gap between them by entering the same space he now walked.

It didn’t matter that she was Quirkless, not with how the organization currently operated, and she would subtly carve her place. Neither sibling would be able to leave the Mafia - Akutagawa’s steadfast nature and growing desire to prove himself through bloodlust made sure of that. Yet, Gin would make sure they both weathered the storm intact.

It was a clever plan that sliced through several obstacles in a single stroke, making the best out of what many would consider a losing situation. Mori would approve of the conscious exercise of thought.

Dazai smiled. “That’s that, I suppose. Now, as promised, our kind driver will take you to see your brother.” He opened the door on his side and stepped out. “It’s his day off today. He should be resting, though it’s more likely he’s sparring against Tachihara. Do try to get along with him. Or not, if you don’t want to.”

Gin nodded, despite not knowing who Tachihara was. She’d meet him soon enough.

Dazai grinned and gave her a cheerful wave before shutting the door.”

 

000

 

That was a month ago, and Sensei had given him time to think about his response. It was only in hindsight, the more he dwelled on the question Sensei had given him, that he realized it was a test. He hadn’t come any further in his reasoning than wanting to fuck shit up.

The teen grimaced as his character respawned at a bonfire and exited to the menu screen. Attempting a Souls SL1 run while he was bogged down wasn’t doing him any favors. He set down the controller on the floor and picked at his ankle, tracing the dry skin stretched thin across the bone’s apex with the edge of his thumb nail.

Why wasn’t wanting to become a villain enough? Did Sensei want him to describe in graphic detail how much he wanted to rip apart and turn the world inside out? Being recognized as a villain meant that a person was known a scourge against society by committing crimes and destroying things, and Shigaraki was obsessed with the desire to tear everything down - wasn’t that enough of an expression of willpower?

Wasn’t that kind of simplicity the purest expression of intent?

(Would Sensei have posed this challenge if Shigaraki hadn’t been caught out? How much did Sensei know? His younger self would have revelled in the thought that Sensei cared enough to personally watch him from afar, but a year’s worth of eavesdropping made him wonder why Sensei would do that and have Kurogiri make all those calls. Wasn’t that redundant for a busy man?)

Why was everything about becoming a villain suddenly complex?

(Why did Sensei make this complicated?)

Shigaraki’s fingers viciously twitched as he shoved the unwanted thoughts away.

His eyes strayed to the mild burn on his ankle, and he cursed, picking himself up from the floor to grab a band-aid from the box Kurogiri hid away behind the medicine cabinet. Chafed skin on that spot was a bitch to walk around with.

 

 

The second month had him going so far as to seek out privacy in an internet cafe that the cyber homeless frequented while he looked up how the government identified a person as a villain. [2] It was either he deliberately commit a single, devastating act that threatened public safety, moreso if it resulted in high casualties and property damage, or became a repeat law offender.

(There was another section on how cases involving accidental Quirk use were treated. Shigaraki skipped that part entirely, thinking he already knew what he’d find.)

All that only accounted for the shmucks that they either caught or had evidence against. Right at that moment, Shigaraki could just disintegrate people off the street to make the announcement himself only to get arrested -

(The aimless application of violence. How the words from that shitstain left a sour taste in his mouth. Shigaraki wanted that phrase to burn.)

Among them, there was no doubt Sensei was the greatest villain of them all. Yet in the eyes of the public he only existed as a rumor that persisted in an online forum’s urban myths section.

(They don’t want to get along with people like you and me, said the man who had lived at a time long before Heroics was an actual profession, when he gathered the disenfranchised and gave them the feared power of newly emerged Quirks to fight against people who discriminated against them. Shigaraki could admit to himself now that Sensei’s origin as a villain came across as something akin to a present day vigilante’s, and by government rule even a vigilante was seen as a repeat offender of law - a villain.

Bullshit.

It wasn’t that he cared about public morality or the people Sensei had worked with at the time. What mattered more in Shigaraki’s eyes was the incongruity. Sensei had to go underground to destroy those who turned against him out of fear, and Shigaraki wanted to tear down those who made it necessary for Sensei to hide him away in the first place.

Fear. Everybody played pretend nicely, bowing their heads and ignoring what they were afraid of. That was fine; Shigaraki would be happy to turn everything inside out for them.

No hero, even that bastard All Might, would not be able to save a society that drowned in primal terror if they all deteriorated at the same time.

How useless.)

Sensei wanted him to be recognized as one of the best villains, and offered to give him a large debut to declare his presence. The possible involvement of All Might meant that, one way or another, it was going to be public, and not limited to the awareness of the criminal underworld.

To kill All Might - Sensei surely had a plan. That was Sensei’s, and Shigaraki had no problems with using it.

However, it would only come after Shigaraki figured out what kind of resolve Sensei meant.

His thoughts led him once again to replaying old discussions with Dazai on the purpose of violence, and the man’s rejection of being called a villain. Just dwelling on it left him with an itch he wanted to scratch. Intent didn’t matter - the world dealt with and ran on actions and consequences.

(It never had occurred to him at the time to ask what Dazai’s understanding of being a villain was.

Did it matter now, when Shigaraki would show society how far it could crumble?)

 

 

The end of the third month found Shigaraki outdoors. The Osanbashi Pier was more crowded than usual, tourists and locals alike flitting about the various stalls selling Hawaiian goods inside and out of the terminal building, carrying on despite the summer humidity. Speakers were set up around the venue to carry the music of whoever was performing, and the air was abuzz with guitar strums, conversation, and laughter. [3]

Shigaraki, seated on one of the steps that led down to the outdoor stage, stuck out like a sore thumb in the sea of color and gaiety, with his all-black ensemble and his hood up to hide his scarred and wrinkled features. Yet, no one seemed to pay attention. In a crowd, he was just one more face obscured in anonymity.

A public declaration of villainy by destroying all these smiling faces - that was what he wanted.

He still couldn’t express why if it was a soliloquy that Sensei wanted, and maybe he was the one overthinking it, in the aftermath of chasing after questions and answers. There was only his fundamental need to wreck everything he found disagreeable, and for him it was enough of a resolve.

There was no longer a real need for him to wander. All his walking around was more out of habit than anything.

(See, Dazai? There is no point.)

Shigaraki sipped his drink from a straw, letting the cool liquid wash down his parched throat, and closed his eyes to block out the sunlight. On the platform below, a solo performer, far enough that Shigaraki couldn’t see his face, was seated on a high stool, talking a little about his experiences in Hawaii before starting his next song.

A bead of sweat rolled down his damp back. He stifled a groan and tugged at his shirt to unstick it from his skin, and the weight of the hand in his front pocket bumped his abdomen.

Evening would’ve been a better time to go, were it not for Sensei’s call. The man was no doubt anticipating his answer.

Below on the platform, the singer’s voice was pleasant, and his strums rang clearly. The notes mingled in perfect harmony.

Too bad it wouldn’t last.

 

000

 

“I want to destroy this fake, rotten society, Sensei.” Shigaraki’s voice was clear, his eyes dark and determined. “Stupid, meaningless things - I’ll tear them all down and show them what they’re really afraid of.”

Short, sweet, and straight to the point.

Sensei accepted it.

(What sort of test was it meant to be, if Sensei had only asked a few cursory questions to clarify his understanding? Used as he was to things not going the way he wanted it to, he waited for the other shoe to drop.)

“Time to take your place in the world, Tomura-kun.” There was a calm, malicious satisfaction in his tone. “I’ll see if I can find another suitable Quirk that will aid you. In the meantime, the Doctor will introduce you to Nomu.”

 

 

 

 It was later.

"There are ways to test Quirk compatibility, Tomura-kun," the Doctor said. "You need not worry yourself about that. Sensei already knows your aptitude for it."

(The good Doctor mention why your skin’s fucked up?  Nakahara had asked.

Nah. Wasn’t this bad before, but he stopped it from getting worse. That was Shigaraki's reply. I figure it’s my Quirk.)

The other shoe dropped.

 

000

 

A worn flat pot planted with stripped twigs was delivered to the security guards stationed outside of Mori Corporation’s ground floor lobby. It was addressed to one Dazai Osamu, who they called while their specialists scanned the arrangement for anything suspicious.

“Just send me the photos, Hirotsu-san,” Dazai instructed over the phone as he browsed through a forum thread loaded with speculation on underground heroes, “and leave it in the lobby. I’ll have someone pick it up later.”

When he got the sound notification after the call ended, he opened his email and downloaded the image files. What he saw made him grin in amusement.

The thin branches were made to look like a clump of dead trees, their leaves plucked, the bark roughly sliced off and sanded in some places. At the center of the grove, surrounded by the soil that covered the floral foam the wood was sticking out of, was a gashapon bust of Karin in her iconic pose, the back of her hand tucked under her chin, her other arm wrapped around her waist.

“Well, what do you know, anee-san,” Dazai murmured to himself as he studied the invitation. “Your reluctant listener seems to have picked up something, after all.”

Going through the month’s intel on hero movements could stand to wait. He picked up his phone and made three calls and two text messages. One of them read as such:

On second thought, give the pot to Chuuya. Please and thank you ☆ ~('▽^人)

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Keenly interested in this, are you?”

“Of course.” Ango’s face was angled towards Dazai, the bar’s backlight illuminating half his face and glinting off his glasses. “Perhaps it’s from my time at the firm, but I find irregularities like that irksome.”

“You would.”

Paper scraped across wood, and there was a light bump on Ango’s right elbow. He made a sound from the back of his throat, and looked down to see an envelope the size of a greeting card. Ango broke the tape sealing the flap and took out its contents.

They were photographs, the top one showing the interior of an old warehouse through a glass pane. Workers were shown bearing several large tanks, long pipes, and various pieces of equipment. A fifth of the righthand side of the image was unnaturally dark. The other photos were captured from the same angle. He blinked and glanced at Dazai, who was still nonchalantly swirling his drink, gaze affixed at some point beyond the liquor display.

“Dazai?”

“Think of it as payback for the amount of poking around you’ve had me do.” A soft, distant chuckle escaped his lips, and there was a crinkle in the corner of Dazai’s visible eye. “I imagine you won’t be able to sleep tonight, and you’ll be fairly cranky in the days ahead. Tell me: when you brought it up the first time, did you know that we’d end up with something that sounded like an urban legend?”

“Specifically? No. If it must be a ghost story, I’d rather have it confined to paper.” Ango paused. “Why give these to me, though?”

“It’s nothing the boss isn’t aware of.” Dazai waved a bandaged hand languidly. “Besides, who else can I show this to, but you? You’re the one who made us aware of the problem, and sooner or later you’d encounter it.”

“I see.” Ango tucked the envelope in his inner coat pocket. As the mafia’s intelligence agent, he reported directly to the Boss. For these to be handed to him sideways, outside of formalities and without specific instructions - well. It was food for thought. “I’ll make sure to review them carefully, then.”

“By all means,” Dazai murmured, and sipped his drink. “They are a rather slippery group.”

In that fleeting moment, with his visible eye sliding shut, he looked at peace.

 

000

 

Shigaraki entered the game cafe that evening, keeping his hood up as he made his way to the consoles. It was more crowded than usual with most schools having no classes for the summer holiday, and he grimaced when he passed by a particularly rowdy group that kept egging on two of their friends engaged in a 1v1.

The arcade was probably noisier.

To his surprise, he found a thoroughly vexed Nakahara straddling one of the chairs instead of Dazai, arms gripping the backrest in front of him, lips drawn in a scowl. The moment the redhead spotted him, the short man jabbed his thumb in the direction of the empty seat to his right.

Shigaraki sat down. Before he could ask what the other man was doing here, Nakahara yanked him by the collar of his shirt to hiss in his ear, bracing his elbow on Shigaraki’s shoulder to mask it as a friendly gesture to anyone passing by. “Explain why you showed up when the Mackarel asked me to wait for a wrinkly Sephiroth wannabe going through an early quarter-life crisis.”

Shigaraki scowled and struggled over which part of that stupid sentence he should shred first. “I don’t look like -”

“Your mug’s uglier,” Nakahara cut in tartly, and pushed him back, tossing a controller in his lap, and started ticking off the points from his fingers. “What else was there - you’re shit at calm and collected, any hits you’d take would cripple you, like hell can your body have enough power for a sword swing to cut through a building, you can’t even hold the hilt properly, and any theme song made for you would be sang by yowling cats to the tune of an off-key vuvuzela.” The redhead stared at his fingers and nodded to himself. “Yeah, that’s it.”

“Forgot to mention I don’t have his height, but that’d mean calling attention to how short you are,” Shigaraki muttered, his mind caught somewhere between the vuvuzela comment and recalling Sephiroth’s backstory. Dazai, that fuck, was taunting him with information even when he wasn’t physically present, and Shigaraki wanted to sock that smug face of his. “That shitty list barely scratches the plot. Did you just grab that description off some cutscene video summary?”

“Fuck you,” Nakahara shot back. “‘Sides, why would I slog through a hundred hours controlling a pixelated blob when I can kick ass on a daily basis?” He glanced at the screen in front of them, which proudly displayed the Street Fighter main menu screen. “No, don’t answer - if you two morons think playing that’ll help you in an actual brawl, I’ve got news for you.”

“I know the difference,” Shigaraki sneered and jabbed the keys to select challenge mode for a warmup. “Is that asshole even heading here?”

“After a while,” Nakahara grumbled, and didn’t offer further explanation.

Somewhere around the third trial, Shigaraki asked, “Why do you put up with it?”

“Could ask you the same question, dustball,” Nakahara shot back, rolling his eyes. “You willingly hang out with him, but I’m stuck with that selfish bastard.”

“You don’t let anyone else mess with you.” Shigaraki’s sunken eyes were focused on the screen, his fingers dancing on the controller with well-practiced motion. “Why’s he different?”

Why should he be trusted?

“Why in fuck.” Nakahara sighed and traced the backrest of the chair. “He’s a slacker and I hate his guts, but he’s effective when he wants to be. Whatever his messed up mind cooks up works, and anyone trying to pull a fast one only realizes it’s the other way around after the fact. I’d have to be stupid to ignore that.”

“Isn’t that giving away a secret?” Shigaraki felt the corners of his mouth tighten. He swapped characters. “You’re telling me this because…?”

“Don't be dense.” Nakahara ran a gloved hand down his face. “It’s nothing new - they even have a saying for it and all. Hasn’t it been obvious from your following around?”

He gave the shorter man a dark, flat stare. Ever the outsider he was, peeking in what seemed like an exclusive club where everyone apparently knew everyone else, Shigaraki had only gleaned general euphemisms for actions and groups from eavesdropping. He hadn’t gone so far as to actually converse with anyone, and meatier information that required calling out specific names and monikers were usually reserved for more secluded areas - not, say, a restaurant’s dining area. Or a game cafe, for that matter. Either Nakahara thought otherwise, or he was confident no one listening in would be able to understand who they were alluding to.

Then again, neither of them had outright referred to Dazai throughout the conversation. Shigaraki didn’t want to dwell on if it was just him used to the other’s style of talking, or if somewhere along the way he started picking up their manner of indirectness.

“Figures.” Light blue eyes bore into him in assessment, and Nakahara leaned closer, voice dropping in volume. “Look, back to your question - we both know he’s a dick. Now, it’s not any of my business if you guys crash and burn or whatever, though it’s about goddamn time you're wondering why he picks on you. Hell, you’re not sure if everything he’s said and done up to this point was made to leave you high and dry. Despite that, you still want him to spill on whatever the fuck he has, because you know there’s a line on the kind of bullshit he spews. He’ll hit you where it hurts, maybe make fun of you while he’s at it, and it sucks, but it’s the punchline you’re after since that’s the bit he doesn’t fudge. That’s the actual gist, yeah?”

It was, down to the last stinking letter.

(Was he this transparent?)

Without breaking eye contact, Shigaraki thumbed the menu button and set down the controller on his lap. “How much do you know?”

“Next to nothing.” Nakahara made a disgusted sound. “That guy plays his cards close to his chest. Nah, I can only guess, and if you look that serious it must be pretty bad. Probably for the best if I don’t poke my nose in.” There was a slight, almost imperceptible breath. “Unless you want to share. Not that you have to.”

“Goddamn softie,” Shigaraki muttered, head bowed. HIs hand snaked up to dig his nails at the side of his neck, the outward lift of his elbow covering the gesture. Something clicked in his head between his last line and Nakahara’s, and he stilled his fingers before he could break the skin of his nape. Shigaraki looked back up warily, unruly silver hair shadowing his gaunt features. “That why he made you go?”

“Who knows?” There was a wry, almost bitter smile on Nakahara’s face. It was a touch off from the redhead’s usual lively irritation, and Shigaraki got the inkling it was part of an unspoken disagreement - or a bad joke. “We get along with people differently, he and I.”

Or both.

“Kinda obvious,” Shigaraki said after a while, and paused. “Don’t tell me you play good cop, bad cop on the job, too.”

There was a subtle shift in Nakahara’s expression. It reminded Shigaraki a little of Ozaki-aneesan at the garden, the subject of a colorful woodblock print from bygone times made flesh, her slender fingers ghosting over soft petals, as if they were always out of reach. She only looked like that with the white anemones and spider lilies. [1]

“You don’t have to worry about that yet,” Nakahara replied, tugging down the brim of his hat. “Unless someone majorly fucked up.”

Shigaraki considered his circumstances. No, as far as he knew, Sensei’s activities were independent of the Port Mafia. “Nothing to do with you.”

“There you have it,” Nakahara said in dismissal, propping his chin on his arms, tension bleeding out of his form.

Anemones, then. Fucking soft-boiled idiot.

(Worse was the awareness that Shigaraki couldn’t muster the energy to get pissed off at the sentiment.

He kicked that thought far, far away.)

Seeing that the other was done for now, Shigaraki unpaused his game and finished the set before going back to the character select menu. This time, he chose Karin, and her appearance filled half the screen.

Nakahara choked.

 

000

 

Back at Kamino Ward, a get-together between two people was occurring. It had all the smoothness of a bouquet of thistle flowers in a Victorian arrangement: prickly and tightly bunched, with too many rules of engagement.

“I see,” the older man said in reply to the waitress’s description of the drink he pointed out on the menu. “Then I’ll have -”

“You must try their coffee,” the younger suggested serenely as he skimmed through the songbook, tapping his index finger on the page when he saw the entry he was looking for. “They have an excellent blend. Quite the kick for staying awake.”

Kurogiri gave Dazai a long look, having already heard the brunet’s order of cold decaf with milk and a lot of sugar. Still, he nodded in acquiescence, and ordered drip brewed coffee.

The waitress bowed and headed out the room, sliding the door shut behind her.

Dazai picked up the remote and plugged in the number for a song. He proceeded to queue the same sequence eleven times. In short order, Otsuka Ai’s Pon Pon energetically blared through the room’s speakers. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Kurogiri barely reacted, likely too used to years of exposure to Shigaraki’s erratic behavior.

That was fine.

He set down the songbook on the empty length of the couch beside him, and tossed the remote after it.

“So, Mr. Kurogiri,” he said, cheerfully clapping his hands together. “You’re looking well. Has it been three years already?”

“It has been,” Kurogiri replied, attire and posture as impeccable as ever, hands neatly folded on his lap. About him, his form flickered. “In that span of time, you have not become someone with the reputation of calling old acquaintances out of the blue for friendly chats, Mr. Dazai.”

Aware and attentive of the trade, unused to speaking in the roundabout exchange at the beginning of the game, masking the unease of unsanctioned agency with polished formalities. Apart from Kurogiri’s usual subservient, unintrusive role in such power plays, Dazai supposed it also came with the Villain’s probable tendency of personally charming people to his side, only leaving harmless minutia to his followers. How unlike Mori with his calculated delegations, cultivating his people in spite of his ever lingering questions on trust, and reaping the outcome of their improved strength.

It spoke volumes on the differences of how they treated power.

(Was there such a thing as a universal purely good choice for the flawed thinking creature that was the human? That was not to say that there were no upright and altruistic folk, though they were more of an exception than a norm, and Dazai had yet to encounter such a person. Back to the matter at hand - does the divisive nature of moral judgment serve any role in this day and age other than for people to console themselves that they’ve chosen the lesser evil and to reaffirm their position through some form of righteousness? Oh, but he assumed no authority in such matters. He could only be but his own twisted self, watchful and ever adrift until his own weight bore him beneath the tides.)

“I don’t really care about my reputation,” Dazai said with a lazy shrug, “so you’ll have to update me on the latest gossip some other time.”

“I see.” Kurogiri cleared his throat. “Still, why trouble a young lady to run errands for you? Though you had concealed your invite, this part of Kamino is not a safe area for her to be in.”

“She’s home safe if you’re so worried about that.”

There was a soft knock on the door. The waitress arrived with their orders, taking care to properly set Dazai’s cold glass on a delicate paper doily, and Kurogiri’s cup next to a small ceramic cream jug and a selection of various packaged sweeteners. Once they were satisfied with the serving, she bowed politely and stepped out of the room.

“As for me,” Dazai continued, as if they hadn’t been interrupted, “I’m really only here for a chat,” He slid over next to the other man, drink in hand. “You see, I’ve had something on my mind for a while now, and I believe that you’d be able to help me figure it out.”

“...go on.”

Dazai took a long, slow sip from his coffee, watching as the shadows about Kurogiri’s head flickered. He sighed morosely. “I’ve been thinking about taking a weekend off, and my original plan of rappelling down the mouth of Mt. Fuji was vetoed. What should I do?”

He’d rather sleep in on weekends. However, the topic of tourist spots popped up at one point in a conversation between him, Oda, and Ango, and he’d mused whether or not he’d make it through Aokigahara before continuing his pilgrimage to the pinnacle of Mt. Fuji. [2] Oda told him in not so many words that, if he truly intended to go up the mountain, the Yoshida and Fujinomiya trails were more apt, as they were actual passages. [3]

Poor Kurogiri, he looked like his brain froze. “Might I suggest visiting a travel agency -”

“Oh! No, no, that won’t do at all.” Dazai smiled and chidingly poked Kurogiri’s arm. A few drops that had condensed on the base of his glass splattered on the other’s vest with the movement. “I’d end up in the usual spots, and I’m quite bored of those.”

“I don’t quite believe I’m the best person to address your question.”

“You don’t?” Dazai blinked owlishly. “You mean you haven’t travelled around the world with that Quirk of yours?”

Kurogiri swallowed. “It would be inappropriate given travel restrictions -”

Laughter bubbled from Dazai’s lips. “I see. Travel restrictions. Of your Quirk, or the legal variety? Because I could’ve sworn that someone who identifies as a villain wouldn’t really bother with pesky things like passports, permits and all that rot if it isn’t necessary. Getting forged documents past the immigration bureau isn’t exactly a cakewalk these days.”

“There are… ways around that.”

“So there are,” Dazai crooned, watching those expressive, glowing eyes. “I bet you know all about it. Now, you don’t look like a nature sort of guy, but does hiking sound like a good idea?”

Kurogiri’s exhaled slowly. “Surely you don’t mean to visit protected wildlife areas?”

Dazai grinned. “Aren’t you curious? Parts of the Amazon, for example, remain off limits to everyone save for researchers and indigenous groups despite its successful recuperation when global climate finally stabilized, thanks in part to good conservation efforts, the decline in the worldwide population and vastly improved technological efficiency. After all that time, I’m sure nature has come up with better, more interesting ways to be lethal, and I look forward to seeing what will kill me first.”

“Er.”

“No?” Dazai pouted. “Fair enough. Being covered in mud after a failed suicide attempt is too messy. How about something with a different set of animals like an American state park? I believe some of them allow camping.”

There it was - the beginnings of realization and panic. A slight widening of glowing eyes, the faint rattling of breath. Kurogiri was silent, and Otsuka Ai continued singing in the background. Good to know they were now on the same page.

“That fun?” Dazai took another long sip of his drink and set the glass down, freeing his right hand. “In that case, I could opt to make it a road trip for the full experience. Even if there is a shortage of fancy hotels along the way, I’m sure there are quaint, well-maintained farm houses that have been refashioned for tourist stays. Barring that, abandoned ones would do.” He hooked his left arm loosely around Kurogiri’s shoulders. It would have been a friendly gesture, had it not been for the gun tucked away in the holster beneath his coat. “Should I chance it?”

How unfortunate for Kurogiri that Dazai’s Quirk countered his.

(How entirely predictable yet unfortunate that this tête-à-tête was necessary at all. Still, it was better to clear the air, so to speak, now rather than later in the future.

Knowing how steadfast the other players of the game were to their own motivations - that was invaluable in assessing their movements on the field. By himself, Kurogiri was entirely predictable, Yet, there were other factors to consider.)

“Where are you going with this?” To his credit, Kurogiri maintained his posture.

“Where, indeed.” Dazai tipped his head. “What kind of network do you think we have in Yokohama, Mr. Kurogiri? People from your side don’t appreciate the old systems of the mafia or the yakuza since Quirks have conveniently given individuals and smaller groups improved means of achieving their ends without having to rely on such institutions, but even they would extend an alliance given a perceived common cause.”

The ends of Dazai’s lips curved up in a knife-like smile as he continued. “Three bodies left in that campsite, and a possible cause that gave normally irreconcilable groups reason to form an alliance that would trigger the Yokohama Incident - your leader is, among other things a rather enthusiastic Quirk collector, and he has the habit of taking advantage of little squabbles here and there to grow his hoard. I’m sure he has other hunting grounds, and that makes his choice to search the Dragon’s Head Rush for carrion all the more unfortunate. It’s rather inconsiderate to those under our protection, and the Port Mafia takes its obligations rather seriously.”

To put it another way: in this day and age where having flashy or useful abilities can give someone a shot at prestige, the meaning of having a Quirk had transformed from being a mere bodily function into a bid for the arms race. The means of conflict had evolved, and international agreements such as the Geneva Convention had to be updated in recognition of the possible disasters inherent with Quirks. The face of war had changed, first falling off from global priority when matters of national security turning inward in response to the immediate threat of the rise of villainy. The final nail in the coffin came with the emergence of professional heroes and the values they claimed to uphold.

All of that was merely on the surface. Any criminal worth their salt went underground, where they encountered more parties with a variety of personal interests, and a different sort of rule that guarded the status quo.

Perhaps over the course of time, the Villain had become too attached to his role as a one-man nuclear deterrent against whomever he defined as his opposition, regardless of his original intent in seizing control. It was no longer a question of defending himself from anti-Quirk groups if rumors of his origins could be believed, but of creating and perpetuating the conditions that allowed him to maintain power.

(At the end of the day, Heroics are but a stop gap measure.)

In what was effectively an absolute monarchy, the Villain was unique. He required nothing more than himself to legitimize and defend his rule, no one knew how deeply his influence ran, and the sole commonality in everyone’s idea of his identity was his Quirk. It was all too easy to imagine him pulling strings on both sides of the coin, for very few knew his face, much less his original name.

(Violence and power: both currencies, the means to an end. If an individual held the world in the palm of his hand, what was it that he sought?)

Quite literally, it was the stuff of legends. Shigaraki had inadvertently done them a favor in letting it slip that his Sensei was not wholly immortal, and that All Might possessed enough raw strength to go toe to toe with him.

A direct confrontation between the Villain and the mafia was still out of the question, but they now had more options to deal with the situation.

Kurogiri’s eyes narrowed. “Why wait until now to confront me?”

“It’s simply the most opportune moment. Besides, what makes you think this is about you?” Dazai’s visible eye was dark. “You aren’t the one calling the shots. The fact that your boss has some form of presence here regardless of your involvement is enough to risk a repeat of the Yokohama Incident, and we’d rather not waste all our hard work.”

“Are you asking for another meeting with him?” The mist surrounding the older man’s head flickered in noticeable agitation. “As with the first time, a phone call to the bar would have sufficed to arrange it. Not that he’ll receive your message well.”

“I can imagine. But we’re not going to talk with him - you are.”

“....I beg your pardon?”

“Your ears are functioning just fine.” Dazai tapped his chin. “Not that a loyal man like you would make it easy for us, which brings me to this next item - how valuable do you think you are to him?”

Kurogiri shifted. The brunet’s arm around his shoulder kept him still. “I’ve been informed my services are commendable.”

“I see. Would that approval extend to excusing you from, among other things, allowing your charge roam the streets unsupervised?”

No response. Kurogiri’s misty hands rippled.

Dazai airily gestured with his right hand. “Do tell. Frankly, I hard to believe that someone who nannies him while enduring his ill-tempered ingratitude would fail to miss his occasional disappearance from home. Surely the lack of whining would have clued you in?” He hummed thoughtfully. “Unless your care for him is out of spite -”

“No.”

How interesting. “No, what?”

“With all due respect, Mr. Dazai, keep him out of this.” There was a hint of menace underneath that polite tone. “He is not involved.”

Not yet.

(And that’s the thing, wasn’t it - a serious confrontation was inevitable, now sooner rather than later. Their little talk in a few hours would determine the quality of their future interactions.

Knowing one’s opponent was a condition for victory. Dazai knew Shigaraki, though it was to an extent he didn’t want to really acknowledge.

The things one meant to keep to one’s self, knowingly or not, were always in danger of being brought to light.)

“He is blameless for your actions,” Dazai agreed calmly. “That includes his ignorance of our politics, and his lack in fully grasping the scope and burden of his Sensei’s role. But you are quite right that he’s not involved in this discussion - your negligence is. So, back to my question: will you be absolved? This is simply too much effort in keeping him a liability. A pet would’ve been cheaper and easier to train.”

If Kurogiri had a shorter temper, that would’ve been the moment for physical retaliation. But he didn’t, in spite of the slight tremble of his body that revealed his agitation, and the light dig of his fingers on the cloth of his pressed trousers. Ah, if only the other hotheads Dazai encountered could take a leaf from this man.

“My removal, should it come to that, will not change your predicament. Your threats will not ensure my delivery of your message, either.”

“Correct. But you will do as I say regardless because you won’t risk your charge’s wellbeing, moreso as your paternal nature contradicts your previous passive complicity with what’s been done to him.” Dazai’s expression was unreadable. “You had your own reasons for turning a blind eye and encouraging his awareness. Based on what I understand from a subordinate of mine, parenthood is troublesome that way.”

Kurogiri closed his eyes and let out a breath. “How did you arrive to that conclusion, and how much do you know?”

“I’ve seen and heard enough,” Dazai shrugged. “So, are you in or not? Don’t worry, it’s not that complicated.”

Kurogiri bowed his head. “What do you want me to say?”

Dazai leaned close to whisper in Kurogiri’s ear. The older man’s eyes were wide when he finished, and he clapped that vest-covered shoulder. "Do we have an accord? Or would you prefer I take this choice permanently from you?"

A moment's silence. The older man nodded, looking much like a candle that had been snuffed. "Your terms are... acceptable."

"Excellent." Dazai stood. “And that’s it for today. Don’t worry about the bill. Just relax, and enjoy the coffee.”

 

000

 

“All done?” Oda looked up from his book to greet Dazai as the other man slipped into the room. It was another booth in the karaoke bar.

“Here, yeah.” The brunet stuck a hand into his blazer and took out the gun, handing it to Oda grip first. “Not a shot fired, as promised.”

Oda wordlessly took the weapon, giving it a cursory inspection out of habit before sliding it back to his own holster. He hadn’t expected to find anything unusual, and he didn’t.

He’s heard talk of Dazai waltzing out of T&I with a detainee’s confession without ever having added to the marks of the original interrogator. Oda wondered what soul merited such treatment today, if that was what happened,  and if his friend always looked this unwell after such sessions once no one else was around.

As soon as the gun was out of his hand, Dazai slid off the coat from his shoulders and sprawled on the empty couch adjacent to the man. “‘M tired, Odasaku,” he said in a muffled, piteous whine. “And I have another meeting after this.”

“Can't you move it,” Oda asked.

“Nah. Too inconvenient.” Dazai’s voice had dropped to a mumble. “You don’t have to stay, you know. It’s your day off and all.”

Oda shrugged and held up his reading material. The silent apology was unnecessary. More to the point, Dazai very rarely imposed on him, even to call an establishment for room reservations and borrowing his gun, as what occurred that afternoon. Was it a precaution to keep this matter out of the rumor mill? “It’s fine.”

“Alright.” Dazai turned over, toed off his shoes, and slung an arm over his forehead to block out the light. “Wake me up in an hour.”

“You’ll feel groggy later,” Oda reminded him, though he was already looking for the paragraph he stopped at.

“I know.”

Nothing more was said after that.

 

000

 

Elise was hanging misshapen origami on an assortment of branches in flat earthenware when Kouyou came across her on the way to the sitting room. There was a plastic figure lying face up by her stocking-covered knees.

“Amusing thing, isn’t it?” Mori was leaning on the wall next to Elise, watching the girl fondly. "Chuuya was about to throw it out when Elise spotted him."

Kouyou critically examined the haphazard, clumsy arrangement. “Understandable. It’s certainly non-traditional, if not a poor beginner’s parody of the aesthetic. You can’t even tell what poor trees these were hacked from.”

“Shall we find out?” Mori had a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he reached in and plucked away the thickest branch, pausing their conversation to placate Elise by pointing out she had a lot more to play with. The fibers sticking out of the soil-stained uneven end would have made a plant enthusiast cry.

Elise was still pouting and pelting crumpled paper at Rintarou, you meanie! when Mori took out his scalpel to slice away the exposed fibers and check its core. It was still white, surrounded by a ring of green.

Smiling, he handed over the branch to an unamused Kouyou, who likely already knew what he was up to. “Grafting is a practice in bonsai, is it not?”

“Yes,” Kouyou sighed, holding out her hand to accept it, “though not knowing what this will grow into may ruin the composition. I’ll have one of my practitioners work on this, but that tree is ending up in your office even if it turns out unsightly.”

“That’s fine,” Mori said, chuckling. “I look forward to seeing how it flourishes.”

Chapter Text

They were in the middle of bickering over how irritating fighting a real life version of F.A.N.G. would be an hour and a half later when Chuuya’s phone rang. The mafioso took out his phone and glared at the device when he saw the display name and the time, both irritating reminders of how he wasn’t back home and unwinding from the day.

Not that Shigaraki’s earlier subdued mood made it difficult for him to deal with, save for the fact that Chuuya couldn’t shake off the feeling of its similarity to watching a bomb ticking down to whatever he and Dazai were going to talk about.

He remembered them still, the dark veins and the faint incision that stood out against the other’s sickly pale skin, even in the faint glow of the car’s dome light. For Shigaraki to mention being given a salve and having to speculate on the reason for his own condition despite supposedly having a doctor was beyond fucked up, when even the medical practitioners in underground clinics prattled on, sometimes in morbid amusement, the many ways in how their patient could have died. To their face, no less.

The whole situation reeked of something nasty.

(There was only so much that a person can get away with under the notion of “personal matters,” and neither of them were truly distant enough from their respective leaders for their actions to slip under the radar.

This was why getting involved with people outside the business was such a headache. The non-aggression stance the Mafia had with Shigaraki’s Sensei’s group meant that they should not interfere with each other’s plans, but Shigaraki’s ambiguous status and appearances made it murky. It was too precarious a situation when a flimsy excuse was all that Villain needed to start a fight.

Nakahara Chuuya was a mafia man, through and through. Should conflict break out, he would affirm his loyalty to the organization and follow his Boss’ orders to the end, even if he found some of them quite detestable. Necessity and circumstance. Suck it up, kick their enemies’ asses, and move on.

It was the price he paid, for the lot in life he chose.)

“Pipe down a moment,” he told Shigaraki, who rolled his eyes, before answering the call. “About damn time, shithead. Where are you?”

“Around,” Dazai chirped from the other end of the line, faintly above the sound of other pedestrians. “Contemplating death by traffic accident. A pity it isn’t raining. You parked at the usual?”

“Not much of an accident, is it,” Chuuya groused, standing up and beckoning Shigaraki to wrap up and follow him before gathering his coat and heading for the exit, walking past the now sparsely crowded aisles of seats. “There aren’t wheels wide enough to make sure there’s nothing left to scrape off the pavement. And yeah, I did. You’re seriously dead if there’s so much as a single scratch on my car.”

“I’m not the one you should be saying that to,” Dazai chided. “Oh, and Chuuya? Remember what we talked about, and don’t make such a grumpy face. The world isn’t ready for your impression of an angry imp.”

“Ha fucking ha.” The redhead slung his coat over his shoulder when he reached the cashier. He hadn’t forgotten, not when Dazai had put on such a terribly sombre face before pulling him aside when Chuuya had made an offhand remark on Shigaraki’s skin on their way up to Mori’s office the following day, the latter scheduled to report Giran’s intel. “You owe me big time for this.”

“Oh?” There was a dry lilt in that reply. “Didn’t you already agree earlier to reserve your verdict on whether or not it’s an equal trade until after?”

“‘After’ was supposed to be an hour ago,” Chuuya grumbled. “If this blows up in your face, I’m pissing on your grave.”

“No chance of that then.” Dazai’s reply was quiet, and Chuuya had to strain his ears to hear it above the garble of background noise. “Maybe when poor lonely little goldfish evolve to survive in saltwater.”

Chuuya cringed at the memory, embarrassment flooding his system (why oh why had anee-san shared that story?). He yelled into the phone, the outburst startling even the passers-by outside. “I was eight you ass -

Dazai chuckled and ended the call, leaving Chuuya to stare at his phone, the device tightly clutched in a gloved hand.

The redhead seethed, caught halfway between loudly continuing his rant and slamming his phone on the ground. Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and he spun around to see a highly amused Shigaraki, who tipped his head at a rather flustered cashier before nudging him out the door and onto the sidewalk.

“Lemme guess,” Shigaraki said once they were a few paces away, Chuuya glowering beside him. “Was that about the time you got gum stuck in your hair and had to give yourself a haircut?”

This time, Chuuya couldn’t stop the high-pitched noise from slipping past his mouth, and he stomped his foot on the ground. “NOT YOU TOO!”

 

 

"C’mere for a sec."

That was all the warning Chuuya had before Dazai grabbed his shoulders and marched him back down the corridor and away from the elevator. They ended up in the otherwise empty men’s toilet, and Dazai locked the main door.

“What in fuck, Mackarel,” Chuuya hissed, keeping his voice down in spite of the lack of an audience. If there was one thing that colored their interactions within Port Mafia’s main buildings, it was the organization’s strict adherence to hierarchy. While he had a bit of leeway as Dazai’s occasional work partner, the other was still an Executive, regardless of Dazai never bothering to shove his rank in Chuuya’s face. “The Boss won’t be happy if we’re late -”

“And you dragged me all the way here too early, diligent bee that you are. Now shush.” Dazai waggled his finger, his other hand on his hip. In contrast to his blank expression earlier, his smile was crooked closer to a frown, making the lightness of his voice distinctly fake. It made Chuuya want to chuck something at his face to wipe it off. “I’ll say this only once: if you hear the rest of that story, you’ll end up finishing the rest of your wine, and I know you only have five bottles of your precious 1998 La Mondotte left.” [1]

“...ha?” The redhead narrowed his eyes, features shadowed with the brim of his hat. That was way too specific, and since when did Dazai deign to keep track of that particular vintage out of everything else in his collection? Did he suspect why his stock of it lasted that long? “Did you break into my apartment?”

“What, and blind myself with your garish decor? No, thanks.” Dazai lazily waved a hand. “You bragged about ordering a case, and there are seven peeled labels in your desk drawer. Really, someone who doesn’t know any better would think it’s a budding investment for the wine fraud business.”

Chuuya reflexively elbowed him in the gut. Dazai’s palm slid to the crook of his arm to redirect the impact, sliding a foot back on the dark marble floor for balance and twisting his torso with the movement. The bandaged fuck was fully aware how much he detested spotting fake wine bottles at auctions. “I don’t want to hear about my drinking habits from you, Dazai,” he scowled. “You’re shittier than I am.”

“Jealous I’m not a lightweight?” The brunet dodged another swipe to his side, the second time he avoided meeting Chuuya’s attack head-on. “So feisty today, Chuuya! Don’t worry, I know better than to start a drinking contest, seeing as you’ll pass out fast. Not that I’ll need to wait long to make fun of your hangover.”

It was really too bad they were at the base, and Chuuya couldn’t use his Quirk to slam Dazai against the wall and maximize the impact. He opted to jab his hand forward, faster than Dazai could block, and harshly yanked down his collar. “Keeping me out of this now after you’ve made me put up with all this shit?”

“And here I thought you liked being forewarned with all the times you’ve complained.” Dazai looked at him steadily, dark eyes shadowed with the fringe of his hair. “Be my guest, if you wish for a repeat of what happened to you after they finished counting all the bodies that one time Boss unleashed Q.”

The words hit him like a sledgehammer, and his grip slacked for a second before he remembered himself. Q’s rampage wasn’t something he took lightly. He opened his mouth to give Dazai a piece of his mind -

“I wouldn’t bring it up if it wasn’t serious,” Dazai murmured, clearly having anticipated what he was supposed to say. “You’ve been in the mafia long enough to know that people like his Sensei don’t raise kids in glorified cages for no reason, much less to that extent. Still care to guess why?”

The shorter man let out a breath and closed his eyes, tipping his head forward, his fisted hand trembling. The brim of his hat bumped against the other’s chest, hiding his features. Of course it would go back to the ugly anomaly that was Shigaraki’s undefined involvement with villainy. In hindsight, it stood to reason that Dazai, who heavily relied on understanding the motives of potential threats, would scrutinize that man’s supposed student in the absence of an overt presence.

(What was striking, however, was how invested he was in this case, when he had other means of gathering information at his disposal, and when Shigaraki’s own behavior was predictable. Served him right for drawing an aspiring villain’s unwanted attention, when he could’ve left it well and enough alone.)

Still, there were a couple of things unclear to him, and the awareness that Mori was waiting for them prickled at his nerves.

“Why mention this now when you could’ve waited? And why bother stringing me along to clean up this mess when you always think you have all the answers, Dazai?”

“Tsk. So slow, Chuuya.” The brunet gripped his wrist and made to peel off his fingers one by one with his free hand. Chuuya tightened his hold, and the other gave a mirthless laugh. “You’ll have to pay attention to your own report later. For the latter - what is the one thing tying him to his Sensei?”

“His devotion,” Chuuya scoffed, ignoring the dig to the results of his assignment for now, “for a fat lot of good it’s done to him. Why do you care about it?”

“I don’t, not really.” The sardonic smirk on Dazai’s face was enough to make Chuuya anticipate he wouldn’t like what was next. “You do.”

Ah. Chuuya stilled as he absorbed the implications of that accusation, and Dazai pried off his index finger. That’s why. This man was always, always an inconsiderate, demanding bastard.

Dazai had capitalized on Shigaraki’s obsessive nature for him to learn from and potentially trust people outside of his Sensei’s sphere of influence. It had paid off somehow, if his coming to them on the verge of a breakdown was any indication.

Knowing his sympathies were taken advantage of as part of a scheme didn’t make him feel any less used. It was a sensation both familiar and unwelcome, harkening back to their earlier paired assignments before they got their act together and became known as Double Black.

Chuuya exhaled shakily, still reeling from the realization. “You said you weren’t recruiting him.”

“I’m still not,” Dazai snorted. “He’s not made for the mafia.”

“So why does he matter in all this?”

“His Sensei will have him become a villain, one way or the other.” Dazai uncurled his middle finger. “There are things I still have to confirm, but one thing is certain: if he almost died, he won’t make physically make appearances any time soon.” His ring finger was next. “But that won’t prevent him from doing what he wants, even indirectly. His anonymity protects him from exposure.” Finally, his pinky. “With no possible threat to his estate, he’s free to think of payback - but that’s irrelevant to us. What matters more is that if he decides to consolidate power and minimize threats to himself, it would be rather convenient to use an ignorant, indoctrinated pawn who won’t have ambitions of overthrowing him.”

Chuuya hissed, his thumb still tucked on the inside fold of Dazai’s blazer. His stomach churned. “That’s nothing new, and the Boss might not play along with it.”

“Precisely. Shigaraki, however, is not his Sensei.” Dazai removed his thumb and guided his arm to hang limply back at his side. “Until that man actually starts something, this is still a sideshow. Just keep on doing whatever sentimental bullcrap you pride yourself in doing if you want, and it’ll still be fine.”

Dazai slipped away and smoothened out the wrinkles on his tie and blazer before unlocking the door, leaving Chuuya to stew in his thoughts and a desire to strangle the bandage-covered man.

(Something still didn’t add up.)

 

“You lied, by the way.”

“Oh?”

They were leaning on opposite walls of the elevator, carrying on as if they hadn’t taken a detour.

“Didn’t you say knowing each other well comes with a partnership?” A bitter, sardonic smile crossed Chuuya’s face as he remembered the subtle ways the brunet had egged on Shigaraki to watch him struggle, and how the idiot took it as a challenge to get one over him. The taunting way he cautioned Shigaraki of his Sensei back at the warehouse, when he could’ve said something more damning, For all that talk in pushing Shigaraki away from his Sensei’s plans, spurning on his development hadn’t needed to be part of it.

And here I thought you liked being forewarned with all the times you’ve complained, said Mr. Suicide Maniac earlier, as if he wasn’t aware he’d already shot himself in the foot. Even if Chuuya didn’t know half of what Dazai hinted about the situation, that didn’t mean he was blind to everything that happened in front of him. Sorting through the Mackerel's irritating bullshit to get to what he wasn’t saying outright was migraine-inducing, but it did pay off.

Sentimental bullcrap, his ass. If there was one thing he could hold above Dazai, it was the difference in how they related to other people.

Chuuya took off his hat when a chime announced they were on the top floor, the chain on its side swaying with the movement. “Why did you really choose that hotheaded Akutagawa kid as a protege, Dazai?”

The doors opened, revealing the long corridor to Mori’s office, where two bodyguards were stationed.

From that point on, it was back to business.

Chuuya vindictively relished Dazai’s fleeting sour expression before he could put on a more neutral face.

(And when Dazai shot him a knowing look after his report later, after Mori listed offhand that bartender’s transportation Quirk as a possibility - well.

If this didn’t end on a decent note, it looked like he was going drinking.)

 

000

 

The city’s seedy underbelly had different kinds of people.

There were those who reveled in its darkness, those who were born in it, those who walked alongside it.

Those who died living it.

For Dazai at the beginning, it had its macabre allure, an encounter with a murder of crows picking apart a corpse clean until only the ivory honesty of blood-spattered bone was left to weather the cycle of the seasons. From a body’s remains, it was easy to discern the cause of their demise, the final sum of a series of decisions that a human made throughout the course of their existence.

(It was said that a person’s life flashed before their eyes just before the end, and they would know with absolute clarity the intent and consequences of their actions. Dazai had yet to experience it for all his close calls and suicide attempts. Such a life review was closer to the realm of superstition, yet he always wondered.

Serendipity was not in his favor.)

A body did not hold their memories, their thoughts, their dreams, fears, and desires. A single bullet was not the same as its indifferent gunner, and a knife in itself didn’t speak of the depraved frenzy of its wielder.

Dying was inevitable for those who were born - that was an easy conclusion to make. Humans continued to exist for as long as they could breathe, eat, and sleep. The why of it was more elusive, a collective personal history in the past that was ever at risk of being proven or betrayed in the present, weaving in and out of the humdrum of daily routine.

Would it have been easier if he died with his parents? Perhaps, though his hands had acted on their own to ensure his survival as he clung to his own breath. Had the Incident not happened, would he have ended up with the mafia? Maybe, if he had grown disillusioned enough.

(Something told him he would be.)

The longer he stayed in the Mafia, one thing became clear: in seeking the meaning of life in the darkest pits of despair, of violence and suffering, he had become full of it. It clogged his vision, choked his throat, pervaded his nose and covered his ears. What he sought was elusive, and yet he drifted on with the hope that he’d stumble upon something that would give meaning to this senselessness.

A life ungrounded by meaning, and he could not delude himself into attaining a purpose that did not truly matter.

Dazai was neither discontent nor grateful that he was part of the mafia. But he tired of its transactions, just as he was resigned to the role of perpetuating it until permanent sleep took him. And so he watched others struggle, and contemplated on what they could possibly find along the way of that very long, dark road.

What a damnable nightmare it was.

It was not living.

The sheer weightlessness made him more susceptible to forgetting himself in melancholy, and the constant routine of fighting with only the thought of finishing it distanced him from the original reason why Mori seized control of the Mafia. Why Kouyou, who hated the ruthless cruelty of the previous generation, remained. Why Chuuya had toughened up and somehow retained his sanity, stubbornly refusing to let go of his caring nature where others would see it as an exploitable weakness.

(Violence was not meant to be an end in and of itself, but a means to a goal that should not be forgotten, lest those who wielded it grew addicted to its inherent insanity.)

In time, his own lack of stability would take its toll on him. Perhaps it had already started.

(He still had Oda and Ango, many a carefree night spent setting aside grim reality. How long would it last?)

If his tolerance of Shigaraki’s warped nature hadn’t tipped Mori off, his training of Akutagawa would. Or his extreme proficiency in carrying out his duties, which granted him more time to laze about. Or a dozen other things. He imagined it as a pile bodies in a mass grave, full of death and decay, with a few barely breathing their last.

Knowing the essence behind it was different from carrying it out.

Here was one truth of the matter: Dazai was no longer a mere member of the Mafia, but one of its executives - Mori’s own protege. Thus, the risks he carried with him were amplified. It wasn’t even a question of succession as Dazai didn’t care for the post. He already held a considerable amount of influence that he never wanted to begin with, and he had the authority to decide on matters that didn’t require a top-level decision from Mori.

And the illustration of this risk - this was partly why Mori had not stopped Dazai’s exposure to that volatile influence known as Shigaraki Tomura, stepping in only to remind Dazai of the cost of that association if it did not change.

The first nihilistic thought - it was no mistake that he had thought of Shigaraki that way in those early years, before Mori had brought Chuuya in partly to curb Dazai’s brand of calculated recklessness that ended up in a dance that toyed with the line of life and death. Under different circumstances, a discussion with no conclusion would have been harmless, yet Dazai was slowly approaching the point where he could not find even respite in the solitude of his mind.

What, indeed, had Dazai come to expect from a meeting between one man who was obsessed with life and death, and the other with violence and eradication?

There was a point to living and dying, creating and destroying. At the same time, there wasn’t.

What was to be done, other than to watch humans grapple with it?

 

000

 

Dazai was leaning on the hood of Chuuya’s car when they arrived. As soon as he saw them, he sprouted off nonsense about getting distracted by all the cats along the way, ending with “and Chuuya’s tagging along because he believes nothing should be done, and I quote, ‘half-assed.’”

Chuuya rolled his eyes and unlocked the doors, starting the vehicle briefly to roll down the passenger’s side window halfway for air before turning it off. “Stuff a sock in it, Dazai. You can be as foul-mouthed as the rest of us if you put your mind to it.”

“Oh?” Dazai laughed. “But apart from calling you names, changing my speech pattern is too much work! How am I supposed to remember to swear every other sentence, much less punctuate every feeling with a curse?”

“It’s easy, Mr. I’m-Such-A-Soulless-Demon.” Chuuya’s grin was shark-like, even as the brim of his hat covered his eyes. “You just gotta expand your horizons and feel more. As a yuurei in the afterlife, you’ll be able to dispense actual curses. Lucky you.”

Shigaraki made a disgusted noise. It was doubtful Dazai would want to stick around after successfully dying, and if he had the misfortune of doing so he’d have more cause to give everyone misery before he lapsed into boredom and depression. “You just made it worse, Nakahara. If that happens, walls won’t save you.”

“They won’t,” Dazai hummed. “That means I can invade Chuuya’s wine storeroom and break all the bottles. No rest for the wicked and all.”

“Wine?” Shigaraki asked, glancing at Chuuya.

“Rather pretentiously expensive wine,” Dazai said serenely, and got in the back seat.

“Ah.” Shigaraki smirked and followed him in. “If he’s willing to drink away his money, I’m sure missing them has pretty much the same effect.”

Chuuya elbowed Shigaraki’s side. “Don’t you dare, you dried piece of bird crap!” he warned, before shutting the door and walking around the car. The vehicle dipped slightly when he sat on the hood, leaning back and sliding his hat down his face to presumably take a nap.

“And that’s that,” Dazai said, crossing his legs and leaning on the opposite door to face Shigaraki. “Now, what did you send that invite all the way for?”

“Yeah. That.” Shigaraki leaned back on the opposite end and loosely crossed his arms, hooking one knee on the seat. “A car, really?”

“We aren’t leaving anytime soon, and no one can listen in if you don’t raise your voice.” Dazai laced his fingers and looked at the white-haired man expectantly. “Well?”

Whatever angry outburst Shigaraki would have had earlier should have dissipated with the long wait. As it was, the other made an irritated noise, and settled with a wary glare. “You hinted at knowing something about Sensei that I don’t. What is it?”

“Intel doesn’t come for free,” Dazai said, a small smirk curving his lips. “You insinuated you were privy to his past. Was three months not enough to dig up more dirt?”

“Obviously not if I’ve gone to you,” Shigaraki said sullenly. “Don’t pretend you don’t want me to find out, bargain or no. Even if I said from the get-go I’d offer you information in exchange, you’d give me some line about not being sure if what I’d say is actually new or something you’d already guessed. The only actual value of this conversation to you is to confirm your suspicions and to mock me while you’re at it. So cut the tripe and talk.”

“That’s not how you make a deal when you’re at a disadvantage.” Despite his words, Dazai’s dark eyes were alit with interest. “Alright, let’s settle what we both know first. If there’s anything beyond a confirmation of what you or I know, we’ll have to strike a bargain. Are you ready?”

The corner of Shigaraki’s lip curled. “Fuck. Fine.”

Dazai chuckled. “Basics first - what is your name?”

Shigaraki snorted. That one was easy. “Shigaraki Tomura.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Who named you?”

“My parents.”

“Absolutely certain?”

Shigaraki’s fingers twitched. “Shit. Yes.

Dazai quirked an eyebrow. “Then why are there no records of a Shigaraki Tomura?”

“Identities can be erased,” Shigaraki said flatly. “You and Nakahara don’t have documents either. Kurogiri checked.”

“There’s a difference between not being entered into and being deleted from the system,” Dazai countered. “Chuuya and I naturally won’t have any records. Not everyone in the slums gets into the family registry. You, on the other hand, should have traces of an identity as your Sensei took you in from an actual household. Even if a fixer was employed to clean up your records, you can’t stop a well-meaning relative, family friend, or neighbor from checking in. For that reason, it would’ve been less suspicious to have you remain as a missing person.”

Shigaraki’s eyes narrowed. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

“Occasionally, when I had nothing better else better to do in between planning suicide attempts,” Dazai said flippantly. “So are you really sure your parents called you Tomura and nothing else? What were their names for that matter, and where did you all live?”

“...I see.” Shigaraki shook, his shoulders tense. Even with his sunken gaze shadowed by his long hair, there was no mistaking the ugly snarl on his scarred, chapped lips. “You’re saying I’ve been messed up to that extent.”

“No, that was your own admission. I only have guesses to go by.” Dazai rested his palms on his knee and observed the other man's form. “You look like a sorry mutt right now. What made you want to ask me outright when you hate listening to me?”

“I still hate you for screwing with my head.” Shigaraki stuffed his hands in his jacket pocket and turned sideways to look out the window. His teeth worried his lower lip, splitting the dry skin. A drop of blood welled out, and he licked it away. “You made thinking about the things I wanted to do too fucking complicated. But not once did you try to make me forget anything, and it was still up to me whether or not to believe whatever you spewed. They messed with my memories, and the Doctor didn’t do anything Sensei wasn’t aware of.” He begrudgingly looked at Dazai’s shadowy reflection on the glass. “That answer your question?”

“Indulging your curiosity was entirely your choice. And not quite.” Dazai tipped his head. “You haven’t said how you figured out your memory was altered, or why you’re protesting this much when you were quite happy in that bubble you were in.”

“That’s the thing,” Shigaraki ground out. “You made me find holes in it, bit by bit. So when the Doctor said -” He cut himself off and released a breath to steady himself. “No, you sly fuck. Your turn to talk, and don’t you dare laugh.”

“Should I not when it’s one hell of a joke?” Dazai smiled darkly. “An orphaned boy kept like a prized fish on display and distracted with toys, now given his dreams on a silver platter when his master nearly died and switched to Plan B. As you’re now able to suspect, saving you wasn’t something he did out of the kindness of his heart, and keeping you ignorant isn’t the most stellar of childrearing practices. That doesn’t even cover the shadier aspects of the medical malpractice that you were involved in. And oh, here’s the best part - you don’t even know his end game yet. Such an exciting mystery. Aren’t you glad I lured your attention so you could appreciate this moment, To-mu-ra-kun~?”

“I wish you hadn’t,” Shigaraki seethed bitterly, turning back to the other man to meet his gaze. Inside his jacket pocket, his fingers dug into his palms. “Got it in one, but you’re no saint yourself if you’re able to imagine that something like this isn’t impossible. Why did you?”

“You were an anomaly, Shigaraki.” Dazai shrugged, a feint at helplessness. “If you want to quit being a villain, I’m sure you’d fit right in a horror-themed carnival. You wouldn’t even need prosthetic makeup! Ah, but now that I’ve given my piece, do share what the Doctor said.”

“That’ll cost you.” A dangerous glint entered Shigaraki’s eyes, scarlet irises ontrasting sharply with his sclera. “Betraying an ally is a huge no-no for you guys, isn’t it?”

Dazai blinked, and he stared at Shigaraki for a few good seconds. Slowly, a chuckle escaped his lips, and soon his shoulders were shaking in laughter. “Oh my, Shigaraki’s baby steps in using the tools of the trade are growing. Does this mean you plan on sticking with them after this?”

“No thanks to you,” Shigaraki scowled, moving to kick Dazai’s shin wit his outstretched leg, only for Dazai to slam his heel on the sneaker-clad foot. There was little space for them to move in the car as it was, and his hips had slid forward on the seat when he moved. “What I’ll do about it is none of your business.”

“We’ll see,” Dazai said, pulling back his leg to sit more comfortably. “Fine, let’s set aside your Doctor’s words for later. Anything else?”

Chapter Text

They talked through the night. It was a settlement of accounts, dredging up old arguments, retracing past conversations.

It didn’t surprise Shigaraki in the least that Dazai mocked his life choices and old mistakes now that he could appreciate it. The experience was similar to being a highschool girl getting blackmailed for her middle school diary entries.

Not that he had personal experience with diary keeping or being a high school girl. Everything he knew on those subjects came from RPGs, overheard conversations on the street, and Kurogiri’s romcoms.

“Ever think you weren’t cut out to be a villain if you can’t pull off something as simple as data theft?”

“You know I can’t hack for shit,” Shigaraki grumbled, “and not everyone’s a scammer like you.” It wasn’t as if he had funds to hire a hacker either, and Sensei probably kept tabs on the stupidly skilled ones.

Funds. Another issue he’d have to look into later.

Shigaraki left out just how much he relied on in having Kurogiri transport him around, to the point that sometimes he only vaguely knew the general area of the Doctor’s non-hospital clinic. (It was likely a security measure. His ignorance ate at him anyway.) He had an inkling that Dazai suspected anyway, given their grand entrance at the Port Mafia’s warehouse three months after Dazai’s boss’ talk with Sensei. Dazai had a stupidly sharp memory, and an equally shrewd mind to piece together salient details.

On top of that was the inconvenience of him needing to figure out how to get to the Doctor’s facility the hard way, when it was located in an entirely different timezone. [1]

“Excuses,” Dazai said with a dismissive wave of a hand. “You’re a growing boy; I’m sure you can come up with something. Unless the pressure’s getting to you?”

The three months he wasted on Sensei’s question drove him up the wall, but he hasn’t completely lost it. Not when he was on a mission to find out what kind of piece he was on the playing field. Not when he’s been messed with.

His frustration tolerance levels were admittedly shit with the exception of two things: playing games on hard mode (bugs aside), and getting payback. Now that he could no longer ignore the hot mess he was in, he figured he’d treat this like a multiplayer sandbox, complete with the potential for randomness from other douchebags.

Multiplayer hell was far from his favorite, but he’d roll with it for now.

(It was less stupid than the stealth genre comparison he made three years ago. The memory made him cringe, and he was thankful he wasn’t the type to blog. Disintegrating the platform’s server wasn’t enough to permanently erase online posts, and he knew how incredibly efficient the online community was with doxxing and harassment.)

“Nah,” Shigaraki said. “At least I’m motivated.” Unlike you.

“You were driven with all the puff-cheeked rage of a toddler,” Dazai replied, nodding sagely. Unlike me, the motion seemed to say. “In a showdown with a hero, will you do that annoying monologue thing and berate them for being failing to save each and every person who ended up in a bad spot?”

Shigaraki’s fingers twitched, the words making him recall the state he was in when Sensei found him. The gleam in the brunet’s eyes told him something in his expression gave him away, and he firmly set his lips to a scowl.

“Too typical, and what’s with the lame sob story?”

“It’s no less true for someone who used to kicked a fuss,” Dazai smirked. “To think your old tantrums rivalled that of an entitled customer demanding entrees not on the menu. Don’t deny that your hatred of society and heroes originally stems from having a villain save you. Kids are exposed to the ideal that heroes are the epitome of goodness and safety, and what their personal experiences influence whether or not they believe that standard is met. Is the selective amnesia acting up again?”

The white-haired man felt his jaw tighten, and he forced a breath between clenched teeth. He had to choose between defending his pride and going off on an unwanted tangent, or focus on squeezing out more information.

(To destroy a fake and rotten society - that was his aim as a villain, wasn’t it? A society that preserved its peace and worshipped the heroes who protected them, ignoring their inconvenient faults.)

He went with the latter.

“It’s more than that now. If we’re going with comparison, at least I never had to nick someone’s game data to get their attention. That’s about as mature as pulling pigtails, Mr. Gangster.”

“Idiots who fall for something so transparent have no right to complain,” Dazai pointed out. “Worked better than a starved horse chasing after a carrot. Didn’t your minder try to dissuade you?”

No, it was far from obvious at the time.

For the record, Kurogiri had tried. Unfortunately for him, Shigaraki wasn’t in the mood to truly play nice after weeks of obsessing over the theft even after he got a replacement for the memory card. It was a matter of pride.

“He’s not my boss,” Shigaraki replied sullenly. “And just so you know, if Kurogiri’s Quirk wasn’t so useful I would’ve killed him already. Not as if everything else he’s doing can’t be done by your average masochistic martyr.”

“Your words, not mine,” Dazai said, picking out the dirt from under his fingernails. “Speaking of Mr. Kurogiri - is he always such a stick in the mud?”

“Mostly.” The upward curve of Shigaraki’s mouth didn’t reach his eyes. The shadowy man was another unknown for him - he was loyal to Sensei for sure, and yet the subtle anxiety he displayed the night Sensei called the teen out for being a shitty liar, dissipating only when Sensei said there was no need to separate Kurogiri from him, didn’t add up. Why would it matter to Kurogiri, when previously he’d always been neutral in his interactions with Shigaraki? “The most I’d seen him freak out was over the loss of his apron.”

“Hmm? What did the poor apron do to you?”

“It was neon green with yellow stripes. Couldn’t stand it at one in the morning.”

Dazai chuckled. “Phosphorescent cloth?”

“He DIY-ed the damn thing,” Shigaraki said in disgust. “Thought it was funny and charming. Should’ve just left the kitchen light on.”

“I’m sure he would’ve made quite the profit if he made it available for retail,” Dazai said wryly. “The latest fashion trend for preschool teachers, nightshift traffic controllers, and E trippers.”

“More like 2chan meme fodder,” Shigaraki muttered. “That dork.”

“Says the game geek,” Dazai sang, and dusted away the piece of lint that was flicked at him. “So he’s a dork. That’s it?”

It was an open-ended nudge towards a tangent. Was it even relevant? A distraction? A joke on sheltered upbringing at his expense? The last one was beyond stale.

“He sometimes goes shopping when he visits the Meiji era to teach etiquette classes,” Shigaraki said sardonically.[2] A deflection. “Wore gloves, a face mask, a wig, and sunglasses to blend in. You know how it goes.”

“A top hat wouldn’t do much when he’s the picture of a dodgy aristocrat, would it?” Dazai rested his chin on the back of his wrist, clearly amused. “Any souvenirs of note?”

“He could’ve brought back a t-shirt, but those weren’t in style,” Shigaraki said, and moved on to another topic.

 

 

 

The problem that became apparent was figuring out what he could barter with, if he wanted to move past their original agreement for a transaction.

All the more reason for him to test the waters.

“The name Sensei gave his Quirk, for what you think his grand Plan B is. How does that sound?”

“How unbalanced. Isn’t it an empty label?”

For all intents and purposes, just knowing the name was a tip-off, and already Dazai was trying to understate its value. Was it that big of a secret? Likely, when most of the underground were aware of how Sensei generally used his Quirk, just not what it was called.

On a personal level, however, it wasn’t as big as the bombshell the Doctor had unknowingly dropped. That’s what made it easy to ignore the slight twinge of guilt.

(It wasn’t easy, throwing away years of unquestioning trust and admiration for his Sensei despite the confusion and betrayal he felt. How could he even decide what to do about it when he was sure there were connections he was missing? In what way should he begin reconciling the kindness the man showed him as a wide-eyed child with the discovery that it all possibly started with a lie?)

“Nah.” Shigaraki smiled wide. “At the very least, you’ll have something else to call him. It’s about the same level as Nakahara pretending he has a strength-enhancement Quirk. Before you ask, I don’t know what it truly is, except that for all his muscle he’s not as bulky as he should be for the needed shock absorption.”

A bluff. The worst that could happen was he’d be laughed off. Nakahara had never used his Quirk in front of him. However, he remembered the kick that sent him flying across the warehouse. Whatever the redhead’s actual ability was, something along the lines of a strength Quirk would be the easiest coverup. The mafia were secretive of their own assets, after all.

“Pipsqueaks like him would still get crushed by a falling building, with or without the extra power,” Dazai said with the languidness of a house cat grooming the back of an untrimmed paw. “Imaginative scrape at the bottom of the barrel, but extracurricular efforts won’t score you bonus points.”

A faint whiff of cigarette smoke drifted in from the open window, and Shigaraki didn’t have to turn his head to know that Nakahara was already awake, if he had been asleep at all.

Odd moment to announce his awareness, if it was intentional at all. Did Shigaraki get a near hit on the pretense or something else? Not that he really cared. Nakahara’s ability could be as mundane as blowing bubbles, with how little he used it in daily life.

“No, but it does net me a stat boost.” Shigaraki drummed his fingers on his knee. “That’s half of how you’ve buried entire groups before, isn’t it. Should I throw in what exactly Sensei wants me to do next for you to see if you were right on the money?”

He had zero patience for long drawn-out mind games; the setup was too long for him to fully enjoy gambling for the payoff. However, that didn’t mean he couldn’t see their value, and in front of him was a person who could bullshit his way through where and when and how he got his intel from that wouldn’t compromise either of them.

Heroes, villains, criminals, civilians. Shigaraki could now acknowledge that thinking beyond those terms was what made Dazai such a skilled manipulator. It was twisting conventional knowledge, the deliberate trick of utilizing the interplay of boxed expectations and fluid reality.

“You could,” Dazai acknowledged, “but that’s still a lowbie item. Don’t you want the gear to go with your imaginary level up?”

Raise the stakes, really?

“Bring a poker table next time,” Shigaraki said derisively. “Better than having to worry about inventory management.”

“Oh? But that’s part of bartering,” Dazai said brightly, clasping his hands to parody a shop keeper. “You already said I’d mock you. Why shouldn’t I oblige?”

Shigaraki hissed and ran a nail down the side of his neck.

Expectations, indeed. Of course Dazai would make this more difficult, and he couldn’t tell if this was on a whim or not.

 

 

 

As it turned out, it was costly for a reason.

The picture of his life that emerged made his skin crawl.

Shigaraki Tomura, real name forgotten, presumably in his late teens. Special to his Sensei for nothing else other than his malleability and another undetermined purpose that called to his ego, a child no one was technically obligated to save. His grand debut against All Might possibly motivated in part as revenge for almost killing Sensei.

(They could only speculate on why Sensei chose not to personally confront the hero himself.) [3]

One more subject in a series of experiments that was supposed to have been suppressed in the early days when Quirks first emerged, when both pro- and anti-Quirk groups demanded answers from the still developing branch of Genetics that culminated in the destruction and shut down of laboratories by extremist groups.

Publicly, the study only had resumed after the courts had finally outlawed Quirk discrimination, but Sensei clearly had the resources to pursue his research regardless of legalities or medical ethics. The old records Dazai’s boss had found were part of this body of work, abandoned by the Doctor’s team in their haste to evacuate the hidden facility they were working in at the time of the Incident.

Government-sanctioned genetic manipulation was a benign, recovering field, extending to only agriculture and experimental physical rehabilitation, with a strict ban on anything lending to eugenics lest the nightmare craze of Quirk marriages returned. Sensei’s twist, on the other hand, let him play god.

There was no need for him to bring up the initial stages of the Noumu project. However, it became all the more evident that were it not for Sensei’s personal interest in keeping him relatively healthy, he could have ended up as a lab rat fit for only dissection or Quirk harvesting.

He hadn’t quite decided how he should feel about that and the possibility that the Doctor likely still had samples of his DNA and other body tissue, waiting to be used for whatever reason they saw fit.

“The Quirk Factor is still an anatomical function, no matter how outlandish some of its manifestations are,” Dazai was saying with a languid wave of a hand. “Unlike your Sensei, whose Quirk is supposedly designed to amass everyone else’s abilities, your physique can’t just adapt that easily. Now, everything we are capable of - stuff like digestion, respiration, cognition, mood - is governed by the nervous system. It isn’t a stretch to assume that the tests run on you jeopardized the normal operation of your nerves and the associated neurotransmitters, synapses and receptors - I recall there was a note that some individuals receiving or giving Quirks straight up ended in comas. It’s a low bar for unintended success, but I suppose congratulations are in order for not ending up as a senile vegetable. As it is, you seem to have chronic dehydration and slightly erratic behavior. It’s difficult to determine at the moment if your memory loss is a side effect of the experiments or intentionally inflicted on you, and there’s no certainty you won’t end up with some form of disorder like schizophrenia or an early onset of Parkinson’s disease.”

In other words, he was massively fucked if more proof surfaced that he was far gone. Even in this day and age, brain damage was one of the worst maladies to have. On another note, having his memories scrambled was not enough to stop them from bleeding into his nightmares, nor was it enough to stop the effects of testing Quirk compatibility showing up on his body.

He should’ve guessed. The sound of tinkling glass and the feel of a metal surface on his back were out of place in his childhood home, with its polished wooden floors and creamy wallpaper. The flare of bright light in his dreams was too harsh and close to be sunlight, and where his entire body would’ve been numb, his arms were heavy.

“Of course they hadn’t fully fixed it,” Shigaraki muttered, irritatedly scratching at his neck, propping his foot on the car seat to lean his knee on the backrest and ignoring the dusty prints that stood out on the black leather. He never had questioned what all those shots the Doctor gave him were actually for beyond the general claim of immunization, and he doubted the man would just hand over his file if asked. Having Kurogiri pilfer them was also out of the question.

How could he have been so stupid?

“Either they were only able to mitigate the worst effects, or leaving the mildest of symptoms was a convenient excuse to continue your appointments.” Dazai fixed him with an unreadable look. His pale face and the bandages that concealed his right eye and neck stood out, the rest of his suit and coat blending in the darkness. “I’m no medical expert, but I’m sure that having a degenerative condition isn’t a nice way to go, old man.”

Shigaraki turned both lines over in his head and let it them sink in. The first one was easier to connect to his own situation - Sensei mentioned looking for suitable Quirks for him, and the Doctor had been busy since the near-death scare to schedule a “check-up”. Regardless of if they originally had other trials to run, maintaining Shigaraki’s current state of health possibly gave Sensei more leeway on what kind of Quirk to give him permanently. As for the second...

He was far from old, joints far from creaking and brittle, and he was still able to move fast. Dazai’s line of logic was clear, and yet he couldn’t envision himself being diagnosed with the conditions mentioned earlier. He exhaled, and slid a hand out of his front pocket, examining the thin skin of his palm and the network of veins that stood out on his wrist. Where had the brunet drawn those conclusions from?

The memory of their first meeting flashed in his mind, of a younger, less expressive version of Dazai accompanied by an older man equally dressed in black. Port Mafia’s boss, Mori Ougai.

If there was anything Dazai specialized in, it was the opposite of health improvement. While both murder and medicine required knowledge of the human body, the latter didn’t require in-depth mastery. Mori, on the other hand - Sensei had called him Doctor Mori, hadn’t he? Even if Mori’s field wasn’t in Quirk biology, he probably suspected something was off.

Fuck this. Dazai worded it so gloomily as he was prone to thinking of worst case scenarios, but Shigaraki’s body was still functioning. Until he got actual confirmation from the results of an actual medical exam conducted by someone who wasn’t the Doctor, his supposed chances of early demise weren’t worth stressing over.

(A decline in health could also mean he was expendable after Sensei was done with him, but that entirely depended on what Sensei’s aim was.)

He wasn’t going to kick the bucket just yet. Wasn’t planning to.

(This was still speculative. In the context of this conversation, would Dazai hold Shigaraki’s inability to affirm those suspicions over his head?

Likely. The other was too skilled in spotting and maximizing his advantages.

What would the actual consequences be for the both of them?)

And underneath it all was a message - a sentiment the other dared not speak of. Dazai was not fully the smug tease he usually was, opting instead to pepper his words with shots here and there to pretend this was just another normal discussion for him. Neither was this the same Dazai from that night in the warehouse, who efficiently goaded him for answers.

The kiddie treatment, Nakahara had called it. The mafia had a reputation for violence and blackmail. Apart from the usual taunts, no physical or psychological nooses had graced his neck. Yet.

Something was off. What was Dazai really after, if this was more than a mere exchange of information? Why bother mentioning the potential long term consequences of the experiments, when all Shigaraki originally needed to know was how much Sensei’s plans screwed him over? Hell, why did he even blatantly point out his various fuck-ups in negotiating?

In the course of constantly being pulled to redefine what he did and did not know, Shigaraki was forced to watch more closely and break through his own previous assumptions. It not only meant re-orienting himself to who he was, but also re-examining what he thought he knew about everything else.

Defining what wasn’t was normally easier - all he had to do was to take apart the bullshit and dump it in the discard pile. The problem, however, was when he ran into ambiguous elements designed to play on his expectations and to provoke him into responding.

Having to catch himself in the moment, especially if he was too caught up or pissed off, was difficult. It meant getting over tunnel vision and restraining his own obsessive tendencies, a reminder to himself that he was the one supposed to control his impulses, even with the possibility that his brain’s wiring hasn’t caught up with the rest of the program.

He absolutely hated it, when at that point his own instinct was the one thing certainly and honestly his.

And when he took that moment to think over what Dazai had said, from the words down to the inflection used, his gut feel that there was something else at play hadn’t changed.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and Shigaraki had definitely on the receiving end of that tone before. He had been distracted then, his focus caught between Dazai’s teasing and the occasional cryptic statement, the game they had elected to play that afternoon, or his own competitive urge to wreck Dazai. The brunet casually hid it with an ever-present smile and a slight tilt of the head, weaving in commentary on the nature of crime, violence, and how both related to people in one breath, and dropping a joke in the next.

Dazai Osamu, a few years younger than him in appearance, already one of the top members of the Mafia despite having no ambition for it and being indifferent to the organization itself. Surrounded by many, yet ever alone. One of the most hypocritical people he had the displeasure of ever knowing, and the likeliest person to have a love-hate relationship with the art of killing time known as boredom.

An odd man out, never lending himself to other people’s understanding.

Avoidant of it.

We get along with people differently, he and I.

The more you know.

Maybe there was more to Nakahara’s earlier taunt to Dazai than he’d thought. It wouldn’t have been a proper barbed dig otherwise.

“Funny how you’re giving me health advice, brat, with all the times you tried killing yourself,” he said, surveying the other’s expression. “Didn’t you think I was a nuisance?”

“Absolutely not worth the amount of property damage you dream of causing,” Dazai replied, the ghost of a smile on his lips. “But you’d prefer going down fighting.”

There it was, a rippled reflection in water.

Regardless of Dazai’s original intention in grabbing his attention, getting too intrigued was the part he probably hadn’t expected to happen. Now, here they were.

Not that his own newfound discernment didn’t make him any more sympathetic. However, whatever this was and what it’d turn into still bore the weight of recognition - the mere beginning of understanding. He was quite fed up with denying what was in front of him, when he had other things to be pissed off about.

Shigaraki Tomura didn’t have all the answers in the world, but for this instance he could afford quitting being such a sore loser about it.

“How considerate.” Shigaraki slowly reached out and pinched Dazai’s necktie with his index finger and thumb, pulling it out from his vest. He kept his gaze on the other man as he deliberately curled his fist around the length of silk, dissolving it to dust, and ignored the other’s wide-eyed stare.

Live, and let live.

“Do you accept IOUs, or did you have something in mind,” he asked, an idea forming in his mind, pulling his hand back as if nothing of significance had passed.

A beat.

“Depends on what you’re asking,” Dazai said quietly, visible eye half-lidded as he rested the back of his head on the window pane.

Shigaraki told him. Compared to his original intention of squeezing the other man for more information, this was a better option in light of his current state of affairs.

“Ah. You’re in luck.” Dazai laced his fingers as he lay out the terms. His composure returned as he spoke, along with that unreadable gaze. It wasn’t a spur of the moment calculation, but something he had on the backburner.

Shigaraki put two and two together and frowned, mulling on the proposal. It was far from compromising - in fact, it was suspiciously too advantageous, and incredibly ballsy. Sensei wouldn’t say no to retaining the bar and moving old junk from old compromised hideouts to a less populated area where there were fewer heroes. In fact, the heroes who tended to go to the outskirts of major cities were the ones who didn’t want to keep up with an endless list of incidents, and it was rare for them to encounter large-scale operations. While that also meant they had more time on their hands to poke around, it wasn’t anything a business front couldn’t fix.

(He was willing to bet Sensei had a lot of experience with those. What would surprise him in the future, however, was the extent of it.)

There was no doubt in his mind that this maneuver was linked to how the Port Mafia was possessive over their territory, and he couldn’t bring himself to care all that much. Fuck’s sake, it was just a piece of land full of people and city waste. As for having strategic advantage, there were other ports closer to Tokyo.

No, his only real protest was that he couldn’t decline on principle when he was the first one to give in and ask for a favor. “That why you mentioned Kurogiri earlier?”

“It’ll work, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Dazai hummed. “I made sure of it.”

The actual reason Dazai was late, it would seem. Shigaraki wasn’t inclined to ask for details just yet when he had a bone to pick with the bartender.

“Fine,” he huffed, and sealed the deal with a lazy kick to Dazai’s calf, which the brunet returned. “You’ll know when it happens.”

“Good.” Dazai breathed softly and closed his eye. “You know normal people use handshakes, don’t you?”

“Screw that,” Shigaraki replied with a roll of his eyes. “You went along with it, weirdo.”

 

000

 

Dazai lounged on the backseat for the drive to Kamino, his shoes adding to the dusty prints Shigaraki had left earlier. That left Shigaraki to ride shotgun, his left ear fully at the mercy of Nakahara’s screeching complaints on the mess.

It wasn’t as if Nakahara couldn’t afford to have his car cleaned.

“Get a shittier car next time. It’s not as if you need an overhyped piece of trash to get around Tokyo.”

“It’s called having taste, dickhead. Not that you’d understand if I told you what it was when you’ve gone deaf from the screamo music you’re still hung up on.”

“Piss off. At least I don’t have any hang ups on learning how to dance something from the last century or so. What’s next after electro swing, the waltz or the tango?”

“Good shit gets revived,” Nakahara said loftily, swiping his gloved thumb on the steering wheel, and pointedly kept his eyes on the road. “They have character.

(There was no need for Chuuya to mention that, of the three of them, Dazai was probably more inclined to take up the waltz or the tango if he ever bothered moving his lazy ass to actually learn. The idiot had yet to shed off his last bit of fondness for toying with the romanticized nature of romance, if finding people to shamelessly flirt with before asking them to commit double suicide with him was anyone’s sane idea of a twisted manic pixie love story.)

“My footprints add character, too,” Shigaraki sneered. “It’s like stepping on a nice pair of shoes straight out of the box. I’ll make sure to bring paint next time so it’ll be permanent.”

“Fucking barbaric. No wonder yours are so ratty. And get your own damn car if you want to color it. Add one of those love and peace signs and call it a hippie van for all I care. Oh, wait, I forgot -” and here, Nakahara snapped his fingers, “- you’d make it rust when you work yourself into road rage in the middle of a traffic jam.”

“Or he could do that right now,” Dazai piped up from the back seat. “I’ll nap on the road and hope a ten wheeler passes by.”

Nakahara groaned. “Will you just quit it already?”

 

 

 

They dropped off Shigaraki a few corners away from the bar, reluctant to get close in case Chuuya’s car was identifiable.

“Apart from what you promised,” Dazai said to Shigaraki, who was standing on the sidewalk, hood drawn up, as he walked around the car to the passenger’s seat, “what are you planning to do now?”

“It hasn’t changed. Not really.” The white haired man smirked as he passed by the brunet, tucking both hands in his jacket pocket. “I’m playing by my own rules.”

Dazai watched him thoughtfully as he strode off.

(That, really, was how the best villains started out: unfettered by anyone else’s agendas save for the ones they found acceptable, carving their own niche in a world that played part in their creation. The flexibility of choice. How unlike typical mafiosi, whose ambitions were tied to the organization.

True, it was an oversimplification of all the factors involved. As a starting point, however, it served its purpose.

A moment beyond predictability. He looked forward to seeing if it was possible.)

“Got what you wanted?” Chuuya had rolled down his own window, a lit cigarette dangling from his lips, one hand on the stick shift.

“More or less.” Dazai slipped into the car and shut the door. “Looks like I reappropriated Ango’s advice after all.” He paused. “You don’t usually smoke in your car, Chuuya.”

Chuuya raised an eyebrow, looking mildly irritated at the lack of explanation on Ango’s involvement, and reached around Dazai to latch on his seatbelt. Leave it to the redhead to bother with traffic regulations; Dazai never cared for seatbelts or driving safety.

“I’ll need to have this cleaned anyway after the muck you both brought in,” Chuuya said, displeased.

“Hmm.” Dazai tapped his chin. “A two bottle night, is it?”

“Ass.” The redhead smiled grimly as he drove. “Don’t you have a different bar to get to?”

“Not tonight. I told you I’d make fun of your hangover, didn’t I?” He blocked the punch Chuuya aimed at his arm.

“Stop invading other people’s houses, bastard!”

“But Chuuya, I’m the perfect guest! I’ll even stop you from setting yourself on fire if you attempt to cook while plastered.”

Fuck off!

 

000

 

“Before you go - Hirotsu-san?”

“Boss?”

“Tell Dazai-kun his request is approved.”

“As you wish.”

A thick, sealed envelope exchanged hands. Hirotsu securely tucked it in his coat and bowed before leaving Mori alone to his thoughts.

An innocuous exchange of favors between friends would not be amiss. If Dazai wished to repay Ango for the tip-off, so be it. No, what was far more amusing was how Dazai originally outlined his points, maneuvering around the elephant in the room.

Dazai sought to preserve the farce of his ignorance as to who Ango’s true employer was, and his own awareness that Mori knew. That, too, was acceptable for now. It was not time for this egg to crack, and the young executive had done well in capitalizing on a miscalculation borne from an unfinished thought and aimless curiosity. Besides, this was a fantastic opportunity to get one over the villain who had inadvertently made his earlier work more difficult.

It wouldn’t do to let the old Boss’ sudden downturn in health go unavenged, out of respect for the work he’s put into the organization before his downfall. All for One’s theft of his Quirk had hastened his predecessor’s deterioration, and both Port Mafia and the city itself bore the brunt of the consequences before Mori got in a position where he could intervene.

For that reason, Mori was not merely content to remove the threat from his territory: he wanted the Special Abilities Division to deal with it. Wasn’t keeping an eye out for this villain partly why they remained a hidden existence long after they were officially disbanded decades ago?

The greatest victory is that which requires no battle. [4] That was not to say there was no possibility of conflict breaking out, but this movement went a long way in minimizing potential damages.

He looked forward to the day that thorn was wholly removed from his side.

 

000

 

The following year, the organization Mimic arrived on Yokohama’s shores.

Chapter Text

- 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.