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Ryū

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“Hey, guys,” Michiko chirped when she and the rest of 1-A finally trudged into the cafeteria, a bare fifteen minutes before the bell would ring for their next class. There were tiny specks of mud on her cheek and in her dishevelled silver hair. “Sorry we’re so late! Oshiro-sensei worked us hard in Hero Training today.”

“We had to run twenty laps around the whole school,” Tokoyami moaned, knees shaking as he collapsed at the table. His forehead thumped against the top. “I threw up twice.”

“It was gross,” agreed Michiko. She seemed in much better spirits than Tokoyami, nearly bouncing right out of her seat. “But the running was fun, I think.”

Ryū and Kagami glanced at one another. There was something off with her. Very off. They’d have to confront her about it later, when there was less going on.

“You psycho,” mumbled Tokoyami. “You and Amajiki both.”

“He was like a tank, right?! It was amazing!”

“You’re just saying that because he ran with you the whole time,” Tokoyami glanced up slyly with a crooked smirk. “You looked pretty cosy.”

Kagami gasped. “Michi-kun, is this true?”

Her cheeks flushed and she averted her eyes in a truly telling way. Ryū raised his eyebrows at Kagami, who gaped back at him. “Well, I guess if you want to put it like that, then sure. But we were just evenly paced - it made sense for us to run together.”

“Sure. Just like it made sense for you to give him your phone number after we got changed.”

“Michiko!” Kagami exclaimed, throwing his arms up. “And you thought you could hide this from Ryū-chan and I, your best friends?! The nerve of it all! If you have a boyfriend now -“

“He is not my boyfriend.”

“- then we wanna meet him!”

“No way!”

“Yes way!”

“No, Kagami; quit it!”

“Ryū-chan, back me up!”

The table turned to look at him with anticipation.

Ryū looked back with dead eyes. “Yes.”

Kagami cheered and Michiko groaned and she would say no more on the subject no matter how much everyone pestered and wheedled. Ryū thought it was obvious she had a crush on Amajiki now, just from the way she stammered and blushed. Whatever. He didn't have time for his friend's romance right now.

 


 

The rest of the afternoon went by relatively peacefully. Ryū took good notes and remained undistracted by Kagami’s whispers, and even put his hand up once to answer a question in math with Creati. When the bell rang, he packed up his things and walked with Kagami out to the bike rack.

“Do you want a lift to the train station, Ryū-chan?” Kagami asked as he swung his leg over his bike, wheeling it carefully around another student trying to do up their shoelaces. “It’s not too far and I need to go to the store anyway.”

“No, I have to wait for my brother.”

“Oh, yeah! I’m such a wet-brain sometimes. Anyway, the twins are having friends over tomorrow so my mom said you and Michiko can come too if you’re up for it?”

“I’ll think about it,” Ryū said, which really meant ‘if I’m not too busy being blackmailed into joining a weird cult, murdering and then cannibalising people with my Quirk, or being tossed around from shitty relative to slightly less shitty relative by my social worker, then sure’.

Kagami’s smile slipped into something softer. “Well, if you ever need to talk to me, then here I am, okay?” He nudged Ryū’s shoulder with his fist. “I know Michiko’s closer to you than me, but -”

What? “No, she isn’t.” Where had that thought come from? “We’re...the three of us have known each other since we were babies. Why would you be different than Michiko and I?”

“It’s just, you guys hang out more and I know you stayed at her house last night. Look, Ryū, I get it - she’s good at emotions and stuff and I’m more of the comic relief -”

“Stop. This is bullshit. You’re not comic relief, you’re not even that funny -”

“Thanks.”

“- and we wouldn’t keep you around for that even if you were.”

Contemplatively, Kagami sat back on his bike seat, balancing one foot on the floor and the other on the pedal, which span lazily at the increased pressure. “Really?”

Despite himself, Ryū felt a bubble of irritation. Since when was Kagami this sensitive about their little trio? Their confident, well-adjusted friend...questioning where he stood, whether he was wanted, or needed? It didn’t suit him and why was he coming to Ryū of all people for reassurance? Surely the other boy knew he was not that best at anything emotional.

“Yes,” he said and Kagami’s entire face lit up, hair bubbling from its usual pale pink to a sort of deep reddish tone Ryū hadn’t seen before. Usual red just meant he was angry.

“Ryū-chan, you’re so sweet, and you always know just what to say to make me feel better. I don’t think we give your comforting abilities enough credit.”

Ryū, privately, thought they gave him far too much, actually. Giving people ‘support’ to ‘help’ with ‘issues’ was not something he wanted to do. Or could do.

He was emotionally stunted.

“Thanks,” he said. “What were you saying about tomorrow?”

“Oh, right! You and me, my house tomorrow night?”

“And Michiko?”

Kagami grinned lopsidedly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Oops, yeah, of course!”

“What about the others?” Ryū asked reluctantly. He didn’t really like them much yet, but he knew how most friendship groups interacted with each other; sleepovers were par for the course. “Iida and Matsumoto and Shiomi.” Etcetera, etcetera.

“Well, I mean, we can ask them if you want? You, uh, have anyone particular in mind?”

Ryū grimaced. Did he? He was trying to get closer to Ishikawa to gain access to his father’s job, but was it worth spending time with the other boy outside of school hours?

He thought about the rapid and intense developments with regards to his Quirk - the new and unknown, potentially dangerous, Quirks Kiyo had stolen from those homeless people. The ones he knew next-to-nothing about and could use to take down the man who’d sent those vile text messages. The man known only as J.

“Ishikawa,” he said. “We should invite him.”

Kagami’s brown eyes went round in shock. “Really? I didn’t know you guys were...friends.”

“Friendly.” Definitely not friends in any stretch of the imagination.

“Friendly, right.” Why did he sound so bitter? Ryū avoided most social interactions, sure, but Kagami had been around long enough to see him occasionally touch bases with someone when they impressed him or he needed them for something. Those never lasted long, but still. “Fine,” he said stiffly. “Invite him if you want.”

“Okay,” Ryū said. “I will.”

“Good,” Kagami snapped, hair fading a dark brown. “That’s just great.” He swung his leg over his bike and wheeled around to face the gate. “I - I have to go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Hang on -” Ryū said, annoyed at the brusque dismissal, but by then Kagami was already pedalling away, red tie flapping over his shoulder. He watched that head of chocolate hair disappear and then frowned to himself. That had been...out of character, to say the least. He was just about to think deeper on the topic, go back over the conversation in his mind, when someone cleared their throat to his right. It looked like Kagami would have to wait.

“You summoned?” Akio raised a sarcastic eyebrow. “So, are you talking to me now?”

Don’t let him get to you, Ryū, he thought. He’s trying to rile you up; stay on target!

“I guess so,” Ryū said cooly.

“Well, couldn’t it wait? I was heading to Obaa-san and Ojii-san’s anyway. I need to pick up my spare guitar for practice tomorrow.”

“I’m staying at Michiko’s house tonight, so no.”

A smirk. “What, again? Are you sure she’s not your girlfriend?”

Ryū chose not to deign that stupid fucking question with an answer. “I want you to take me to see Ground Zero.”

Akio’s face, smooth and tanned, went flush and twisted up in confusion. “Er, what? You wanna - am I going crazy, or did I just hear you say you want to talk to Dad of all people?”

“You heard right. I need to talk to him. Tonight.”

“Why so soon?” Akio asked and then he shook his head. “No, wait, is everything okay? I can’t imagine you ever wanting to talk to him or Baba unless something was really wrong.”

Don’t react, Ryū told himself, tense at the mention of Red Riot. “Everything’s fine,” he said. “It’s about...” Shit, what should it be about? “It’s about my Quirk. I thought, since we’re got similar ones, he might be able to help me train.”

Akio frowned. He didn’t look convinced yet. “Oh. I mean, why not just ask one of the Pros here? Who’s your homeroom teacher? Uravity?”

“Kobayashi, but that’s not the point. I want to talk to Ground Zero. Give me your address.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea...” Akio hedged, averting his eyes. “Dad says they have a guest over so I’m not allowed back yet, so I doubt they’d be pleased if you just turned up.”

“Akio, come on,” Ryū said, a little annoyed now. “Just give it to me. I won’t tell anyone I got it from you. I’ll just say I knew from my social worker.”

“And that’s another thing! Obaa-san and Ojii-san said you weren’t supposed to see them and they were already breaking the rules when we came by to get my stuff. I don’t want to get them into any trouble.”

“They wouldn’t -”

“No, Ryū! I’m not going to risk that! Now, stop asking.”

“But -”

“Stop. Asking.”

He gritted his teeth so hard he was sure they’d crack and grunted his acceptance, shoving past his brother and out the gates. He slumped against the front wall once he was sure he was out of Akio’s line of sight and sighed angrily. Stupid Akio. Why had Ryū ever thought he could be of any help? He was just as dumb and useless as everyone else at this stupid Hero school.

“Ryū-kun? Are you okay?” Ryū scraped his nails down his palms. Sasuke, standing a good twenty centimetres taller when standing, looked at him in concern, a chunky black bag clutched at one side. “Did something happen in class?”

“Fuck off.”

Sasuke held up his hands in surrender. “Woah, okay. I was just trying to help.”

Ryū analysed his face. Sasuke had green hair that brushed his shoulders in loose waves and dramatic, attention-grabbing eyes - the left a deep red and the right the same colour as his hair. He had freckles, lots of them, and, upon looking closer, Ryū realised they too were split evenly down his face - red and green respectively. He looked a bit like a strawberry, Ryū thought privately. Did he get that heterochromatic split from Frostburn?

Underneath his strange, but pleasant, features, however, was pure concern and no malice. Ryū was sure he really did well-meaningly want to help - to know why Ryū was sulking outside U.A. after classes were over.

He sighed. Sasuke was a lot more bearable than any other innumerable amount of people who could have bothered him instead. Like his evil brother. Or his arrogant parents. “Fine,” he mumbled, allowing the older boy to hoist him back to his feet and then quickly jerking his hand away. “It’s just my dumb brother.”

“Ah,” said Sasuke. “I get it.” He glanced over his shoulder. “I was going to go in town and get some coffee. Want to come? We can talk brother drama if you’d like.”

Ryū paused, but he didn’t really have to think about it. Sasuke was nice enough for the son of Deku and Frostburn and pairing that with anything that would really annoy Haruka was a big bonus in his eyes. “Sure,” he said. “But you’re paying.”

 


 

Sasuke led him on a quick twenty-minute walk into the city centre. Ryū didn’t often go there simply because he wasn’t a fan of the crowds, but today it wasn’t very busy and he couldn’t find much to complain about with regards to the weather either. Pretty damn sunny for an typical April day. That meant the small café they ended up in was mostly deserted save a few older ladies and a couple with three young children in the corner. Ryū took a seat by the window whilst Sasuke went and ordered himself a coffee and cake, as he wasn’t feeling either hungry nor thirsty. It was hard to when life sucked so much you wanted to just curl up and die.

“Okay,” Sasuke said when he sat down, coffee steaming in front of him. There was a little cat swirled in the froth and Ryū stared at it contemplatively. “So. Let’s talk business.”

“Business?”

“Of course. It’s not often I meet someone who hates their sibling as much as I do.” Sasuke took a demure sip of his coffee. “I think it must be taboo to talk about.”

“You hate your brother?” Ryū asked, thinking this over. It was weird to hear someone else say out loud how he really felt. “Both of them?” Even that little white-haired kid? Even Ryū hadn’t thought he was annoying when they crossed path at that hideously awkward dinner with the Midoriya family.

“What? No! I love Ikumi.”

“Oh.” Love. How disgusting. “So only Haruka then. Is it because he’s...” He searched for an appropriate word to describe Haruka’s personality. Was Sasuke actually being genuine? Did he really dislike Haruka enough to bad-talk him to a near-stranger in a public setting?

“Heh. A jerk?”

“Yeah.”

“Well...yes. I see what he does to my dads, how much they worry about him, and it drives me crazy! He sneaks out all the time to see that - that Tezuka boy, and he thinks they don’t notice him climbing out his window. That we’re all blind morons.”

Ryū tried to think of something to say to that, but what options were there? ‘I’m sorry’? ‘That sucks’? He got the feeling those platitudes weren’t what Sasuke were after, seeing as he’d dragged a boy he barely knew to a café to vent about his brother. This was clearly more of a...therapeutic venting.

“My dads are Pro Heroes; they don’t have the time or energy to spend worrying about my stupid younger brother, but, every night, without fail, they sit up and they wait for him! And - and when he comes home, he doesn’t even care! Doesn’t care that he’s driving us all CRAZY!” Sasuke, whose voice had been rising further and further as he got more incensed, slammed a fist on the table, causing it to rattle and slosh his coffee in all directions.

A trio of old ladies shot them dirty looks across the room and Ryū shot one right back again. Like they wouldn’t be just as interested in the gossip if they knew Ryū and Sasuke were talking about the sons of the top two Pro Heroes.

Sasuke laughed a little nervously, splayed fingers of one hand covering his tomato-coloured blushing face. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I think I got a little heated there for a minute.”

“It’s fine,” Ryū said, because it was. “I get what you mean.”

“Really? Sometimes I feel like I’m being overdramatic about it...”

Ryū took a moment to consider that. Was Sasuke being overdramatic? Worrying for his parents, as he clearly cared about them a great deal, and being concerned his brother was endangering their health? “No, I don’t think so. It sounds reasonable to me, at least.”

Red eye and green eye peering between his fingers, Sasuke cocked his head. “Really? My friends usually just tell me I’m getting worked up.”

“Hm,” Ryū hem-and-hawed, taking Sasuke’s sweet vanilla cupcake and peeling the wrapper down to take a bite. “I’ve met Haruka,” he said after he’d swallowed. “And I know how much of a fuckface he is, so maybe that’s the difference.”

“Yeah, I noticed he was interested in you. And vice versa. Don’t think I don’t remember you turning up on my grandparents’ doorstep looking for Haru. What was that all about?” He didn’t seem to even notice Ryū had stolen his cupcake, eyes laser-focused on his face, wide with interest and curiosity.

“He,” Ryū tried to decide what he wanted to admit to, “wanted me to go along up a lie that he was tutoring me to give him a cover story for being out late or all day on the weekends.”

Sasuke frowned down at his coffee, the froth now puddled across the table and liquid probably less-than-hot now. He took a sip anyway. “That sounds like something my brother would do,” he replied. “I should have thought of that. No offence, but I don’t think you would have caught his attention otherwise. Your Quirk isn’t powerful enough.”

Ryū stared at him and, then, stunned with himself even as it happened, found himself letting out a loud and unfiltered laugh. He laughed, chin tucked to his chest, and shoulders shaking for several seconds, then glanced up at Sasuke, snickering. “Sasuke-senpai, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.”

“What’s so funny?”

 


 

Ryū left Sasuke over an hour later. He’d sat, mostly mute, listening to the older boy ramble on about his family, occasionally adding in his own two-cents, and had only left when he realised what the time was. Sasuke had thanked him, patted his shoulder and headed off home. Ryū, on the other hand, had cut across town to the Onderū District.

Once, Onderū had been a bustling area of Musutafu, with an up-and-coming shopping sector, a large city-point bank and dedicated sky garden set centre-stage atop the 400m tall Kanbara Building, the someplace of Kanbara Industries, the company behind a lot of the high-spec military technology used nowadays.

Nobody had told the prolific villain Resonate this. With the power to replicate and amplify sounds sent her way, she had been on the run for years, killing and stealing to her heart’s content before Deku cornered her near the Onderū City Bank. He’d been having trouble getting past her sound-relays and called in reinforcements. Unfortunately for everyone there that day, Present Mic had arrived and the police working the scene had incorrectly briefed him on the situation, leaving him with the impression that she dampened sound, not amplified it. When he’d let out his iconic shout...well, the entire foundation of the district had trembled and taken with it the Kanbara Inc. Building. People had been quick to leave Onderū after that, not wanting to stick around after buildings started collapsing left, right and centre without a moment’s notice. Present Mic had never been held accountable for the incident, as he was found not-liable, but had gone on to retire not two months later anyway. The fall of a Pro, any Pro, was nearly always a bad one.

After six months, Onderū was completely abandoned and the road connecting it to central Musutafu was very strange indeed to drive or walk down. One minute there were tall, modern-style white buildings and clean sidewalks and the next was rubble and overgrown, cracked slabs of concrete with weeds and garbage strewn about like stuffing from a child’s lost toy.

When they were younger, Ryū, Kagami and Michiko would often venture out into Onderū to jump through the abandoned buildings and throw rocks at rusty old cars. They hadn’t been allowed to do this, of course, and had been banned and warned and threatened from going there, but that hadn’t bothered them. He had pretty fond memories of that time, and even remembered his brothers joining them on occasion in a sort of mother-hen, but troublemakers, sort of way.

Now, however, Ryū was alone. He kicked a rock and watched it bounce off the trunk of a de-wheeled car propped up on cinder blocks, but it wasn’t anywhere near as fun as it would be if Kagami and Michiko were there to cheer him on for doing it.

He climbed over a piece of concrete about three Ryūs high by shoving his foot into a crack running along it and stared out over the Vortex Mall left to the elements near the edge of the shopping district. It was huge, far bigger than any other in Musutafu, and had fared very well from the Resonate vs. Present Mic incident. It was still standing, at least, and the big ‘WELCOME’ sign had most of its letters, though it now said ‘WECOME’ instead, which sounded much more threatening than welcoming. The stores had all been looted long ago, but the foundation and framework remained even after ten years of a solitary existence.

Ryū had heard, of course, that villains and up-to-no-gooders hung around the ruins of Onderū, but he had never seen any. Maybe they only came out at night? If that was the case, he didn’t want to stick around much longer, or the sun would be going down.

On the walk up to the doors of the Vortex mall, Ryū got the distinct feeling that he was being watched. It felt a little like knowing someone was walking over your grave. Uneasy and just plain weird. He shoved his hands into his pockets, ducked his head, and walked a little faster.

The doors were metal, relatively rust-free because of the type, but the glass was entirely gone, lying in glittering pieces scattered across tiles inside. He pulled one open and winced as said glass crunched underfoot, squinting into the dim, eerie interior of the mall. A rat scuttled past, disappearing deeper into the gloom.

“Hello?” he called just in case there was someone lurking around. The word bounced and echoed back at him. ‘Hello’, ‘hello’, ‘hello’. Ryū shivered. There was something about an empty, abandoned shopping mall that gave him the creeps. Every horror movie he’d ever watched told him that walking any further was a bad idea, but needs must.

He wandered in, then had an idea and he lit his hand with his Quirk, then shone it around the mall, which was set-up with a large atrium design open to the two floors above, stores lining each of the three walls, whilst the fourth floor was closed off and where the remnants of the food court lived. Disused and broken escalators and lifts sat in the middle, half the glass of the elevator column was shattered across the smooth white tile flooring. Some stores were left as if people would be back any minute, shutters open and displays still out, though all the inventory was either looted or scattered across the interior. Others were shut tight, seemingly untouched.

The place smelt thick, of dust and stale air and mould. He sneezed and there was a sound, the jarring screech of movement against glass and Ryū swung his lit hand, peering up at the next floor.

A set of glowing ruby eyes shone in the beam, surrounded by dead grey skin and underlined by a chilling white-fanged grin. Ryū is here.

He shook his head, trying to calm his breathing, his racing pulse. Okay. No need to worry now. It was just Kiyo, just Kiyo watching him from the dark like a fucking psycho. Nobody was spying on him. Calm down. “You scared the fuck out of me,” he muttered.

Kiyo is…sorry. Kiyo was excited to see Ryū after being alone all day. This place is very empty, you know. Very lonely.

“Yeah, I see that,” he said, lifting his hand-torch over the trash and bricks, the broken glass littered across the atrium. “This place is eerie.”

I kind of like it.

Ryū shook his head, rolling his eyes. “Why am I not surprised? So. Um, where is he?”

She hopped up onto the railing, looming over him like a hellbeast thirsty for blood, eyes glinting and toothy smile widening even further across her ghoulish face. Follow me. Quick, come on!

Ryū followed her deeper into the mall, trying to avoid stepping onto the trash acting as a makeshift obstacle course whilst also keeping his lit hands focused on his fast-moving Quirk as she jumped and ducked above his head, even leaping onto the stationary handrail of the escalator once they reached it.

Up up, come on! You’re going to be so proud of Kiyo! Very proud, she chattered and Ryū carefully climbed the escalator, finding the second floor just as dark and dirty as the first.

Kiyo scampered into an open store-front and Ryū came to a stop as soon as he saw the sign above it. “You’re fucking with me.”

There was something very blasphemous about this, Ryū couldn’t help but think. What would his friends say if they could see him now? Sneaking into the Vortex Mall with the terrifying creature that had attacked them and several Pro Heroes in public.

His Quirk stuck her head back out. Ryū. Ryū, come on!

He sighed, glanced around just to completely reassure himself that no one was following him or spying from the shadows, and then followed her into the musty, destroyed interior of ‘HERO MEMORABILIA’. Fuck. Even thinking of the store name made him feel guilty. He flicked off his Quirk.

The store was set up with the displays taking up the main floor space and the checkout counter against the back wall. Most of the inventory was gone now, looted by fans or simply opportunists; though a few collectables and some dusty merchandise had been forgotten and now lay crumpled or broken on the floor. Ryū stepped over a Tsukuyomi t-shirt in size XXL, then let Kiyo eagerly guide him through the door behind the counter and into the stock room, which was small, dark and packed tightly with abandoned boxes. There was a second door with a shelving unit shoved in front of it, that he presumed led out into the employee hallway.

“…Hello?” a small voice called, hoarse and cracked. “Is somebody there?”

Ryū stopped in the doorway, heart beating fast in his chest. Okay. They were really doing this. This was a real situation. At school, it had been easy to forget and pretend nothing was going on, that his Quirk wasn’t off somewhere doing something highly illegal, but now? Now there was no denying it.

A pipe, a good thirty centimetres around, ran along the ceiling and down the far wall. Slumped against it, hands behind his back and shoulders pulled tight, was a man. His chest was sweaty, shirt covered in grime and dripped with brown bloodstains on one shoulder, trouser legs hiked up to make room for thin chains wrapped tight around both ankles. His head, raised and tilted alertly in their direction, was pressed against the pipe, red hair held down by the dirty, makeshift blindfold tied around his head.

No, there really was no denying it, huh? They’d kidnapped Red Riot.

“Hello?”

Ryū shook his head clear of thoughts and stepped closer. His toe knocked an empty soda can and Red Riot jumped, shoulders hunching at the sudden noise.

He opened his mouth, got about one sound out, and then snapped it closed. How stupid would that have been? He looked to Kiyo, who was also watching Red Riot, though with a particularly more…hungry expression than Ryū’s clear panic.

I can’t talk, he thought. He’ll recognise my voice right away.

“I know somebody’s there! I can hear you breathing!”

Ryū retreaded back into the main store, shutting the door right in Kiyo’s confused, angry face. She phased right through it, leaping up onto the counter.

You’re…you’re not happy? I did what Ryū asked, though.

“You did,” he whispered. “Thank you. But…but I just - that’s Red Riot! We kidnapped him!”

We had too. He was going to take us to the police, remember? He was going to get us arrested. She leant forward, staring at him with those ruby red eyes. We would have gone to prison, been kicked out of U.A., and never would have made it as a Hero. All because of him. We couldn’t let that happen, Ryū. What other choice did we have?

“But. But he’s still…”

Either way, it’s too late to go back now. He’ll know it was us, he’ll tell everyone and we’ll be seen as villains forever. I know that’s not what you want.

“Of course not!” He snapped, then quickly lowered his voice. “I want to be a Hero.”

Then this is what we have to do. Nobody needs to know about it, Ryū. It can be our secret. Just us.

“But one day we’ll have to let him go, Kiyo, and then what? He’ll still snitch then.”

I have a plan.

Ryū scoffed. “You? A plan? Hit me with it then? And don’t say ‘let’s eat him’ because that is not a plan.”

Nooo. Kiyo glared right back at him, long tongue flicking out of her fanged jaws to clean her sharp, grey face. Ryū, what is your Quirk? Tell me.

What? “Well, I’m not too sure. I think I have two. Magma, it lets me produce heat and light from my skin, and also makes me fireproof. And then there’s you. Kiyo. We…we eat people. Or, you do. And then we get their Quirk.”

Exactly. That tongue slithered out a little more and caressed his face. He shivered at that horrible slimy sensation but didn’t pull away. Kiyo was his Quirk. He could never be disgusted by her, not really. Even with all the awful things she did. Just think about it. All we need to do is find…somebody and take their Quirk. A person with a memory-erasing ability. Maybe we already know them.

Ryū’s entire body went cold, skin prickling uncomfortably. “You’re - you mean - Kurou-sama?”

He deserves to die. He HURT US. Are you saying you want him out there, maybe hurting other defenceless children as we had been?

“Of course I fucking don’t,” Ryū snarled right back. “How could you ever think I did? I want him gone. I want him wiped off this stupid planet forever.”

It’s the perfect solution. We find him, we find that monster, and you let me kill him. We eat his disgusting corpse and get his Quirk. Then we can let your Riot Man go. And everything will go back to normal.

“Back to normal?” No more Kurou-sama, no more Red Riot being tied up in some abandoned mall. Just classes and Hero training and his friends. A normal teenager’s life. “You make it sound so easy.”

It is easy. Besides, what other option do you - do we have? Think about it, Ryū.

Ryū did think about it. And the idea was sounding more and more appealing with each passing moment. Normality. Kurou-sama, gone. Surely that was all he needed to think about.

“Okay, but how? We don’t know where he went, Kiyo.”

You’re befriending that puddle boy, aren’t you? To find out the Quirks of those disgusting street rats. We can see if this…Kurou is on record. Maybe he has a house we don’t know about. And with your grandparents with him, surely he can’t be too well-hidden.

Obaa-san, Ryū thought. Ojii-san.

“Okay,” he replied. “What now? Red Riot will recognise my voice.” Even if they were going to erased the Pro’s memory, he still wouldn’t be able to talk to him and reveal he was the kidnapper behind it all. His skin crawled at the thought of doing so.

She laughed, loud and grating, and Ryū glanced at the door of Red Riot’s prison, but there was no responding noise. He guessed Kiyo was doing that thing she did where she spoke solely to him in his mind.

Haven’t you noticed? she asked.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

Take a look. There’s a mirror over there.

Ryū saw said mirror, over by the clothing merchandise section, and walked over to it. He looked at his reflection, swore and scrambled away. “What the fuck?” he repeated. “Why do I -?”

There’s another one we’ve figured out, Kiyo observed casually. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.

Hands shaking, Ryū touched his cheek, his nose. “I look like my brother.”

“I don’t see it.”

“No, my other brother. Like Raiden.”

His face, arguably, was sort of similar. Same skin colour, same nose. But his eyebrows were thinner, more angled, and his eyes…his eyes were blue. Still shaped and placed the same, but a bright blue that was definitely the same as Raiden’s. His hair was basically the same, but shorter, shaved into an undercut, and…

“I’m blonde!?”

A shapeshifting Quirk, Ryū. That’s how you looked when you met that man and his spawn. They wouldn’t recognise you as yourself.

“A shapeshifting Quirk?” Ryū echoed, still prodding his new face. “This is so fucking weird.” Was this how Kagami felt when he changed his appearance? Ryū felt much more respect for the other boy now. How alien it felt. “So, this is what Yamada and his son saw. When I introduced myself as Ren.”

Ren Form. Kiyo said. That’s what we should call this Quirk. I think it might solve all your worries about your Riot Man.

“My voice? But it sounds the same. My face may be different, but my voice? Not so much. He’d recognise it in a heartbeat.” His voice, not his face, because he had a new fucking face, how weird was that - “Wait.” Was he really that dumb? “Hello,” he said, deepening his voice as he stared at himself in the mirror. “Hello? Hello. Hi, my name is Ren.”

You sound stupid.

“I sound too similar, is what,” he replied. “Hello? Hello, hi. My name is - hu-hem, my name is - my name. Ugh! This is so fucking dumb!” Ryū glowered at himself, then froze. “I got it.”

Hm?

“Red Riot recognises my voice, sure but also my tone. He knows how I talk, my mannerisms. That I’m pretty flat and monotone. If I talk like,” he cleared his throat, then put a forced, stretched smile on his face. It looked ridiculous, but Red Riot was wearing a blindfold. He’d never had to see Ryū’s stupid facial expressions. “Hiya! My name is Ren-kun!”

Kiyo hacked a laugh, deep and rumbly. That’s perfect, Ryū. Will you be able to keep it up?

“Of course,” Ryū said flatly. “Ren-kun is the kidnapper, not me. Let’s do this.”

He took a deep breath, then kicked open the door to Red Riot’s room and walked in. Red Riot jumped, head swinging. His chained legs crunched up a little closer to his chest. “You’re back,” he panted. “Hey, h-hey, man. What’s this all about, huh? Are - “

“Shut up!” Ryū snapped, kicking the soda can from earlier so hard it bounced off the wall with a rattling noise. Red Riot flinched at that. “Stupid Hero,” he went on. Er, what did crazy kidnappers say? “I can’t stand to hear your voice.”

Ren, Kiyo said, and Red Riot went completely rigid, head swinging left and right in a panic. Let’s eat him.

What was Kiyo doing? Was she serious? Had she not heard - Ryū saw the pleased curl of the grin on her snarling face. Oh. Ohhh. She was giving him an opportunity for good-cop, back-cop. “No way,” he replied. “We can’t…” Shit, shit, what could he call her?

Hime, she whispered in his mind.

“We can’t, Hime! He’s more useful to use alive than dead.” Ryū looked back at Red Riot, trying not to feel bad. This was all Red Riot’s fault, just like Kiyo had said. He’d brought this on himself. “So, Red Riot. Are you going to confess?”

Ryū tried not to cringe. He was winging this; there hadn’t exactly been much time for making up some sort of logical ruse, had there?

“Confess?” Red Riot repeated. “Confess to what, man? The last thing I remember is being with -” He went rigid. “My son. Ryū! Ryū; what have you done with him!?”

Throat a little tight at that - because since when was Red Riot worried about what happened to him? -, Ryū shook his head. He had to stay focused. “Ha,” he said. “Haha! Like I’d tell you! Maybe when you’re a bit more cooperative, I’ll listen to your begging.” He checked his phone, which said it was now close to five in the evening. “But since you seem unwilling to talk right now, I’ll be off.”

“Wait!” Red Riot called. “Wait, man, please! Just tell me if he’s -”

“Shut up!” Ryū yelled and the noise bounced around the room. Boy, didn't that feel good, yelling at his deadbeat father? “If you’re good, I might bring you something to eat and drink tomorrow. If not, I’ll leave you to waste away and no one will ever find your body.” He looked at Kiyo. “Hime! Stay here.” And don’t hurt him.

Then Ryū left, slamming the door behind him.

Almost immediately, he dropped his head into his hands. Oh fuck. He’d done that. He’d really - really gone in there, under his ‘Ren’ persona and threatened Red Riot, a Pro Hero. There was no going back now. No changing his mind.

The point of no return.