Hawks has an experiment to run. This definitely isn't something Hawks should be doing, so much as it's something he just wants to do. On a whim. No real reason why, it's just curiosity. After all, as he's gone over with himself repeatedly, Dabi is a criminal. A villain--one of the top ranking of the League of Villains, in fact--with blood-drenched hands and a murder count under his belt. Hawks is a hero in reality, no matter how their current deal is catering to a different image. Dabi is, first and foremost, an enemy. But Hawks is curious .
He’d seen it from a distance, the last time they’d met; the tall young man, violent killer of heroes and villains alike, shifting the toe of his shoe left and right in a very shallow, jerking pattern while a ratty little ball of fur wiggled its butt (and therefore its entire body) while it tried to aim its attack. The smile on Dabi’s face when it pounced was unlike anything he’d ever seen from the man. Despite the distance in proximity as Hawks had been observing, he could feel the difference in intent from his usual hazardous grins and ice-cold gaze.
The chance encounter had inspired no small amount of interest in Hawks, and somewhere deep and hidden, in a place Hawks couldn’t quite reach to snuff it out, the tiniest bit of hope had been born. Not that hasn’t stopped him from trying for weeks now, though if he spent a few minutes longer examining his thought patterns surrounding it, he might be a little more concerned about the effort he’s going to to justify it. It’s just a side-effect of the curiosity, of course. Dabi will kill it all on his own, you see. It’s not a big deal, since it’ll go away on its own over time.
He’s never been this lazy about something so important.
But here he is, still thinking about the way the scarred skin doesn’t look so grotesque when Dabi properly smiles, and how he’s never actually seen his eyes light up, and how he’s hoping that this time--because there’s a “this time” now--he’ll be able to see it. So he’s putting this little plan into action (even if he himself isn’t really a cat person, as a bird man), and if the squirming inside his jacket is anything to go by, he’ll get found out before long; hopefully he’ll get his wish soon.
They’re meeting to discuss the next course of action--or rather, to discuss if there is one yet, as Hawks understands it. They’re meeting in a new location, probably to be sure that they can both find it safely, and Hawks doesn’t expect the meeting to last much longer than a slight information exchange to keep things up to date. When he turns the corner in the network of alleyways, and finds Dabi there looking just as bored and put-out as always, his suspicions cement into fact. The man looks like he’s waiting to be told he can go home.
When Dabi does look up from where he’s leaning against the wall, he sees his much shorter companion, and takes his sweet time straightening up. He’s the first to greet with a nod of his head, keeping his hands pocketed. Hawks knows he doesn’t favor weaponry, and that he telegraphs his attacks fairly loudly. Concealing his hands is more of an unguarded stance than having them exposed, for Dabi. Hawks, likewise, has all of his feathers in place on his back, though they both know that can change in an instant.
All in all, the most amicable meeting yet. Dabi’s clearly starting to stray from believing their relationship to be in its “infancy,” as he’d put it before.
“You took so long I thought I was going to wither away out of boredom,” Dabi drones at Hawks, canting his head to the side as he approaches him with that languid walk of his. Hawks keeps his stance casual, but not quite predatory like his partner, as unperturbed by the way he moves as he always is.
“I’m barely late. Besides, you’re the one who sprung the change in location.” Hawks conveniently leaves out the fact that it takes some time to get stray cats to like you enough that they’ll let you carry them inside your clothes. Perhaps more than he anticipated, even.
“Aren’t you supposed to too fast for your own good?” Dabi quirks an eyebrow at him, gaze holding a fleck less chilling cold than it did when they first met. In comparison, it’s a practical wildfire.
Hawks is a fan.
“How do I know you weren’t just early? Time is just a construct, isn’t it?” Hawks shrugs, knowing he’s just waiting for the shoe to drop here. It’s all witty banter until the kitten decides to move.
“So are laws. You’re supposed to be a hero, right? Where’s your sense of professionalism?” Dabi seems perfectly happy to continue sniping at him, but something catches his eye. There’s a lump under Hawks’ closed jacket, which he’s currently noticing is not something he does often in the first place; he always has it open when he’s out on patrol. His eyes narrow in true suspicion, like Hawks might be hiding a weapon. His voice drops to a more serious tone. “What is that.”
Hawks, on the other hand, despite catching the train of thought, does nothing about it. His eyebrows both raise, though his gaze stays even. He shrugs, and the lump shifts. “What’s what?”
Dabi’s about to accuse him further, but then the lump seems to be disturbed by Hawks shrugging, and starts... squirming. Moving. The slightly alarmed and very confused look on his face is priceless, as evidenced by the light in Hawks’ eyes starting to form. This is the first time anything other than “crazy murder” has broken through that aloof persona of his.
“What the fuck is in your jacket,” Dabi demands, and he looks like he might set Hawks on fire to kill both unknown parasite and host alike.
Hawks keeps his face as straight as he can manage, which is slightly less than he’d like to as he watches Dabi’s eyes follow the path of the lump under the fabric making a break for the collar. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He’s insistent, despite knowing he’s got more than one little puncture wound in his torso right now from the kitten’s needle-claws.
“Stop fucking with me.” Dabi’s attempt at venom falls short at the absurdity of the situation.
“I insist, there’s nothing strange going on here.”
“If an alien bursts out of your chest, I’m burning every place you’ve been seen in the last twenty-four hours.”
Hawks starts out smirking, but as the little black kitten makes itself known via popping out of the collar of his jacket under his chin, he can’t help the grin that breaks out. It’s helped in no small part by the look on Dabi’s face, as full of surprise as it is resistance. Instantly, there’s a battle in the villain’s eyes, over whether or not he can let this kitten affect him outwardly the way it is inwardly with Hawks right here in front of him.
“What the hell are you doing? ” His voice isn’t as even as he wants it to be. “When did you get a cat?”
“I found it. It looked cold and hungry, and when I fed it, it started following me.” Hawks leaves out the fact that this was intentional.
“Is this why you took so long?” Dabi’s demeanor is warming in spite of himself. The kitten wriggles itself out of the jacket, and as Hawks leans back to compensate balance, Dabi takes the kitten off of his chest before it can fall. The way he holds it is practiced, supporting it without squeezing it too hard and restricting it. He brings it to his chest in his hands automatically, and it takes a moment to sniff him with extreme interest.
“Couldn’t just ignore it.” Hawks shrugs. He thinks he might not be able to ignore future kittens, either, if he gets much more of this gentleness from Dabi out of helping them.
Dabi watches the kitten with a forced even gaze until it starts purring, and seems to submit itself to the warmth of the taller man. Then the softness brings itself forth, whether he wants it to or not. Hawks’ grin falters when he sees it. That’s the look he’d been waiting for, warm and a few levels clearer than the mysterious wall he’s usually met with. It’s something unmistakably affectionate, even if it’s not something he could attribute as such on a normal person’s face. For Dabi, this is happy. It’s genuine, and no amount of hero training could prepare him for that.
In fact, Hawks isn’t sure anything could have prepared him for what he’s feeling.
Hawks’ heart is in his throat before he knows what’s happening, and the feeling startles him like a jolt of electricity from his elbows into the center of his chest. It’s like fear , gripping him in some ways he hasn’t felt in years, and some he’s not familiar with on any level.
Immediately, he’s rushing through the rationality of it, trying to talk his heart down from the ledge. This is Dabi . This is a villain, whose real name he doesn’t actually know, whose past is probably wrought with worse things than he’s been caught doing. He’s a criminal. He ought to be in jail, in fucking Tartarus , maybe. Hawks absolutely cannot afford to do this, right now or ever in the future.
But the kitten looks up at Dabi, then flops its entire little fluffy body up against his chest while continuing to purr up a storm, and Dabi smiles, and Hawks’ heart makes direct eye contact with his brain before making the jump he’d been trying desperately to keep it away from.
Hawks needs to change strategies.
Quickly, he’s doing mental gymnastics to figure out what the hell he’s going to do now. He knew better than this, than to make the villains human to him. Of course they’re human, of course they have motivations and of course they have reasons for being the ways that they are. But if he lets himself get to know them, to get attached to them, well... he’ll end up where he is right now. He considers the idea that he’s hopeless; perhaps as hopeless as Dabi.
... but that’s what this was about, wasn’t it?
Dabi isn’t hopeless, he’d quietly decided in a wish too small to shed light on, lest it grow like an invasive weed through his ability to process the job he’s doing. Hawks is still a hero. He’s still doing a job, to bring down the League of Villains. But bringing them home is still bringing them away from the darkness and into the light, even if it lacks a sense of personal justice to the victims’ families. He won’t be able to ignore that now.
As of this moment, to Hawks, being a villain no longer means a fate set in stone.
In life, man is presented with many lines, Hawks thinks. Morality, he guesses, is based on whether you cross those lines. Cross too many, and you become a villain. Kill a man, rob a bank, break a family to pieces, and you’ve fallen away from upstanding citizenry. But those things aren’t as black and white as the world treats them, either, he’s come to realize. A villain can change their ways. A sinner can repent, so to speak. Hawks is starting to believe that any person can be saved, provided they find a line they won’t cross.
Dabi’s found one, whether he recognizes it or not. And Hawks, staring at the love Dabi has for something, has decided that the line of taking Dabi’s life away from him--in whatever form he’ll eventually be pressed to do so--is one he refuses to cross without a fight.
After some moments with the cat where Dabi lets himself enjoy its affection, he seems to realize something, and his eyes cool over again. He looks up at Hawks, and there’s a dagger-like, threatening chill to his gaze.
“Don’t bring animals here. Any place we meet like this is a risk.”
Hawks looks confused for a moment while he processes what’s being demanded of him. Dabi understands that they don’t trust each other yet. What he’s asking is that Hawks doesn’t put any animal at risk of being caught in the crossfire if something happens. After it registers, he snorts quietly, and reaches his hand up, rubbing the back of his neck as he tries to keep his cool in the face of the backflips his stomach wants to do after seeing Dabi be so protective of something so small.
“Yeah, yeah.” Hawks dismisses Dabi’s worries, and quietly resolves to find as many other things to bring out that smile as he can in the future. He’ll find the reason Dabi wants to see the world burn, and give him a thousand reasons to save it instead on the way.