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Stab My Back

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“It has recently come to my attention that you’ve complained about not being offered hero training coursework,” Mr. Ectoplasm said.

Fukami, I’m going to kill you. Dabi tried to keep his tone neutral as he responded. “I don’t really recall...they were private conversations.”

“At any rate, that’s why you’re here today...step over here and face me,” Ectoplasm said...no, taunted.

As Dabi did as he was bid, Ectoplasm’s eyes seemed to shine above that mocking, static grin. The rest of Ectoplasm's class were gathered around them, wearing their hero costumes. Dabi just wore a UA PE uniform. “Let’s have a look at Endeavor’s legacy…”

“His legacy...will be the last fight I was in,” Dabi said, glancing back at Fukami (who he was going to kill) an Amachi (who looked politely concerned for his well-being). Another one I knew I was going to lose, more or less…

The inevitable defeat would still be interesting. What did Ectoplasm hope to gain from this? He’d just pointed out that Dabi was untrained, and he was woefully under-protected as far as clothing went. Amachi's costume in particular made his PE clothes look flimsy, a full suit of samurai-inspired armor, but her Quirk wasn’t really combat-suited. If he’d had his way, Dabi would have been looking for something that could at least protect him from flame...whether it was being hurled at him from someone’s hands, or deflected from his own…

But he wasn’t fighting Endeavor here, or Naoko Bakin. When Ectoplasm’s first duplicate sprinted for him, he lifted one hand and burnt it to a smear of ash on instinct. But that in itself made him think of Twice, who he hadn’t seen or heard from since the day he left the prison, but was almost certainly out there still…

Thoughts of the past hung heavy, and by the third duplicate reduced to ash they had gotten better at evading his opening—and finishing—move.

The sixth got behind him and delivered a savage kick to his kidneys. Dabi crumpled, and for a moment, it was as though he were locked in a moment in between blows from Endeavor’s fist.

But when hands touched him next, it was to restrain and not to punch. Small blessings.

The entire encounter had taken less than two minutes.

“Do you see why you’re being directed away from my lessons?” Ectoplasm asked as his duplicated released Dabi, vanishing one at a time.

“No…” Dabi said, rubbing his side and turning to glare at Ectoplasm. “Why don’t you teach me?”

“Because you aren’t fighting at a third year UA student’s level. In fact, I think you’ve been beaten by some of our first years in the past.”

My little brother could kick your ash any day…that’s a compliment to them, not an insult to me…

He was still very much prepared to take it as an insult coming from Ectoplasm, however.

 


 

“Cheer up!” Amachi said as she stripped off her armor piece by piece, now dirtied and worn down by her own (much more balanced) match. “The first few, you vaporized. Which is way cooler than holding your own for a few minutes without taking any of them out.”

“I think you did well,” Dabi said, not bothering to point out that he’d been killing Ectoplasm’s clones in the hopes that it caused him pain, not because he thought it was a viable strategy in the long run. (Too villainous.) Without cover, he’d been a goner.

Guys,” Fukami yelled as he collapsed dramatically to the ground beside Amachi’s armor, “That was way hard. No cover, no assistance…”

“It was a lot like the Sports Festival,” Amachi pointed out. “And close quarters single combat is a skill that we need to perfect.”

“Well, true, but to have it be Dabi’s first physical training exercise?” Fukami said, sounding genuinely bleeding-heart about it. “Completely unfair!”

I’ve fought heroes before, Dabi thought sullenly. And villains. “Hey Fukami, has everyone figured out that your hero costume is basically a cosplay of Neo from The Matrix?”

“It’s Trinity ,” Fukami said indignantly, as Amachi stifled a laugh behind his back. “Honestly. They never put Neo in latex...have you even seen the movie?”

Okay, so he’d picked the wrong place to probe for self-consciousness. “You didn’t last much longer than me, anyway. I wouldn’t worry about me if I were you.”

“The teachers don’t care that much if I don’t perform well in one-on-one combat...if I mess up, I could kill someone so very easily, so they appreciate my caution…”

“You do need to practice more,” Amachi scolded him, dropped the last of her costume on his long latex coat, making him yelp indignantly. “You’re not always going to want to kill the person you’re fighting...rarely will, actually. I’ve told you in the past that I’d help you...and that extends to you, Dabi.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah—there’s some paperwork that needs to be filled out, and you need faculty approval, but if you wanted a chance to work on that stuff on your own time, Fukami and I would be happy to train together with you.”

“You’re just going to volunteer me like that, class rep?”

“Okay, then I—”

Of course I'll do it.” Fukami said indignantly, whipping his sunglasses off. 

The ghost of a smile crossed Dabi’s expression. “Thanks, Amachi.” 

I don’t think you’d ever get permission...but thanks. Both of you...it means a lot.

 


 

“Guys...what is this about?”

“C’mon...just trust us,” Kaminari said, dragging Dabi by the hand across campus. Every so often, when he lagged, Shoto would give him a push from behind. Shinso was walking alongside him, far more dignified than either of them, carrying what appeared to be a picnic lunch.

It was baffling. First and foremost, Dabi had spent most of his time with either Shoto or Kaminari, not the two of them together. (It seemed they had separate groups of friends, Shoto’s centering around Midoriya while Kaminari somehow operated in Bakugo’s orbit.) Secondly, Dabi had agreed to drop by Shoto’s dorm room on the condition that it would be brief, as he had homework. And thirdly—

“Todoroki!”

The hands left his back. Dabi stopped, too, though he hadn’t quite gotten used to answering to his family name yet. It wasn’t for him, anyway—Tenya Iida was bowing to his brother,  speaking through tensed features. “...I’d like a moment to speak to your brother.”

Welp. Dabi turned fully, waiting for the guy to straighten up from his right angle bend. He looked angry. And probably tearful.

In that moment, he remembered preparing to descend on UA’s training camp, with Spinner going on about wanting to kill the glasses-wearing boy who Stain had tried and failed to eliminate.

This was him, then.

“Todoroki…if that’s what I should address you as…”

“That’s fine.” What do you want?

“...it has weighed heavily on my mind that you, a former follower of Stain’s ideology, has come here to study…”

Yeah…’former’...about that, buddy… But that sort of things would be stupid to say! He had the vague sense that Iida here represented hero society as a whole. He must make amends to him if he wanted any sort of chance at integrating back into society.

But DO you have a chance? Some sinister voice whispered in his head. It sounded like Shigaraki Tomura...or maybe Twice, though Twice would never be so decisive. The heroes don’t seem very willing to help you on your journey here. This is what they want you to do...to apologize, and give information, and give up your freedom, and give, and give, and they will never stop taking and you’ll never get anything out of it…

But no. Though this whole experience had renewed the bitter taste in his mouth at the thought of heroes, it was still the old guard who kept the doors locked in front of him. Amachi, Fukami, Kaminari and the rest... they would be the pro heroes, some day. So maybe he’d have to wait a little while to be accepted...but it would happen, when the new replaced the old.

He could be the new, if he tried hard enough.

“I’ve seen for myself the corruption of our top heroes,” Dabi said, trying very hard not to sound like a man giving a speech from the shadows behind a podium. “—from a very young age, I was disillusioned. And...I still am. But...I’m not ignorant to the fact that Stain wasn’t just hurting people like my father.”

Did that sound like an excuse? Would it make Iida angry? His fist was still clenched at his side, shaking gently, but when Iida replied his tone was even. “My brother was one of the best heroes I’ve ever known. He took on a massive number of sidekicks every year, to help new heroes find their way in a competitive market. The good he did for the world was cut short to everyone’s detriment.” He inhaled, bringing his fist up, eyes gleaming with determination. For a split second, Dabi thought he might intend to fight. But no—he came with a different challenge.

“I’d like you to meet with my brother.”

“...what? Ingenium?”

“Yes.” Iida pushed his glasses more firmly onto his nose. “You still consider yourself a follower of Stain, don’t you?”

“Dabi—” Behind him, Kaminari reached out and took his hand again, giving it a gentle tug. “Iida, I don’t think—”

“If I answer that honestly, I risk my position here.” Dabi said, eyeing Iida up. “...but I imagine that answers your question.”

“It does.” Iida looked from him to Kaminari, and back. “My brother was a good hero. He didn’t deserve to be singled out. Maybe none of them did, at the end of the day. That’s why our society needs heroes—not vigilantes. At the end of the day, force must be backed up with a robust and fair legal system.”

“So you’re hoping, if I speak to your brother…”

“That you’ll see the error of Stain’s ways? Yes. It’s heavy-handed, I know. But I’m taking the advice of a very good friend...and I’m not sure my spirit can rest easy unless we reach some conclusion here. This is UA, after all...but they’re also capable of making mistakes.”

So, I’m a mistake if I don’t bend to your demand, is that it? Has my privilege of getting to clean up after you heroes and be shuffled among the most boring classes imaginable here been so great that I have to grovel to men I’ve never met to continue to earn a place here? In some ways, I’d prefer p—

“I think you should.”

He looked over at Shoto, eyes narrowed. “Oh?”

“Yes. Iida was with us for Bakugo’s rescue...and when I helped him at the Hosu incident, I saw the true measure of his inner strength. He’s someone it will be worthwhile to have on your side, in the future.”

Baby brother...who knew you were so into making friends these days?

“Fine,” Dabi said.

“Fine?” Iida repeated, as if unsure whether Dabi had been speaking to him or to his brother.

“Fine. Tell me a time and date, and make sure the teachers will let me off campus. Or—give me enough warning and I’ll do that myself,” he said, after a hard look from Shoto.

Iida’s expression was still tense, but some of the lines on his face smoothed. “—thank you. I will speak to my brother, and facilitate this meeting.” He bent in another hurried bow, and left without another word.

Dabi exhaled. “What a pain…”

“He has a point.” Shoto said, as Dabi let Kaminari resume dragging him out to some giant field on the UA campus, with a circle painted on the ground. PE grounds, maybe?

“At least he wasn’t rude, but c’mon, do you really think this is necessary?” Dabi watched as Kaminari dropped his hand and reached for his bag, pulling it off his shoulder unceremoniously. “I know that Stain hurt people who fell short of my definition of evil…”

“He’s one of the people you have to smooth things over with,” Shinso pointed out, “Why not be glad he started things?”

“Fine.” Dabi watched the three of them moving around, Shoto unzipping his jacket to reveal a sleeveless shirt. “...are you going to tell me what we’re going to do now, or…?”

“Yes,” Shoto said, without actually elaborating. Shinso seemed too distracted checking his boyfriend out to answer, so Dabi turned to his own.

“Kaminari?”

“Oh—you and Shoto are going to spar!” He beamed, pulling books out of Dabi’s bag in a careless way that was VERY concerning.

“...I have homework.”

“That’s why I’m here! I’m going to do your homework for you. It’s stuff we’ve seen before, at any rate…”

“Kamianri, that’s sweet, but I have basically no faith in your ability to do your own work, let alone mine—”

“That’s why I’m here,” Shinso added, with a rueful smile, tearing his gaze away from Shoto. “I’ll help him. You wanted to actually get a chance to use your Quirk, right? Go have fun.”

His expression said ‘have fun without hurting my boyfriend’, but he probably had enough faith in his boyfriend to not add that last bit. Dabi had enough faith in Shoto to not point out that he wouldn’t, anyway.

Even though...it was weird. The last time he’d fought someone with a powerful emitter Quirk, he had been aiming to kill. He was basically an idiot when it came to these things, but Shoto didn’t seem concerned, having abandoned what could have served as protective outer layers as he put a moderate distance between them, backing across the field. “How far is your average distance? Or your maximum…”

“I haven’t measured either,” Dabi said, pushing back the sleeves of Kaminari’s jacket. (Mirai had brought it for him after a sheepish text—thanks, Mominari.)

“Alright, then...aim a little high if you’re unsure,” Shoto said, with that same air of casual unconcern. He placed one arm across his body, stretched, and then extended his left hand before him.

Before he felt even the slightest lick of heat, Dabi mirrored him by instinct and sent an explosion of blue flame roaring from his palm and arm, crashing against orange flame to tangle with and consume it as both fires choked the other.

The nearby birds had gone silent, as had any insects. Something about the sheer power they had released, even in a tentative first blow, made a fierce smile curve across Dabi’s face.

 


 

“Do you think the teachers are going to come over here?” Kaminari asked, as another massive wall of flames collided and burned out over the field. “...this is pretty crazy.”

“Shoto got permission for this from the principal directly, and he said he’d let all the teachers know...so no one should have a reason to complain,” Shinso said, looking up from the math problems he was filling in for Dabi.

Kaminari hoped Shinso was right. He was kind of worried that they’d end up setting the grass on fire, even though both Todoroki brothers were aiming high. There was something kind of terrible and kind of amazing about watching them fight.

Dabi swung his arm in an arc in front of him, creating a shield that swallowed up Todoroki’s flames somehow, and the latter approached, seemingly with a question. Dabi moved so they stood shoulder-to-shoulder and repeated the move for his brother to imitate. He was probably explaining how it worked, too, but Kaminari was too far away to hear.

He was supposed to be helping Shinso with the math, but they both knew he was kind of terrible at it, so he didn’t feel too bad about neglecting the book in front of him to watch instead.

Now when they circled each other, their flames seemed better matched. But Dabi could send flames from both hands at once, outweighing and out-matching those Todoroki could produce, so instead of standing and meeting this attack, Todoroki fell forward into a roll and when he came back up, he reached out with his right.

Ice, now—!  

He sent out a blast of ice that was terrifying in magnitude, but Dabi had been prepared for that as well. He twisted his arm back to meet the ice halfway, with a roar of flames that cradled and consumed it at once. Todoroki scowled and locked his jaw, more ice streaking from his foot and hand, but they were evenly matched here.

Kaminari had never seen Todoroki’s all-powerful ice powers stopped so efficiently. Even if Dabi did look exhausted and the field was flooded with water, it was a sight to behold.

 


 

Shoto let his hand fall to his side as Dabi approached him, but he looked discontented. “You’re stronger than me. I can’t believe…”

“What?”

“—can’t believe dad didn’t see that,” Shoto said, then shook his head. “I didn’t want to bring him up. Let’s not talk about him.”

“I’m glad he didn’t, honestly…” Dabi hopped over a particularly water-logged portion of grass. “But Shoto—for the record, I’m not stronger. Using two hands against one, it’s no contest. If you were using both at once, you’d beat me into the ground. Probably would anyway eventually, from stamina or training…”

Shoto stared down at both his hands. “—I have used them at the same time, now, once or twice...but it’s difficult. “

So even the wonderkid had things he was trying to learn, huh? Dabi reached out and squeezed Shoto’s hand. “I know what you mean! But the best thing I ever found for it was practice, so it’s good you aren’t stifling half your powers anymore.”

Shoto raised an eyebrow. At first, Dabi thought he was irritated that father had come up in conversation again, but instead he asked, “—you know what I mean?”

“Well...yeah. It’s hard to get two flames going at once, whether it’s hands—” He lit one palm on fire pensively, “—or anywhere else…” Flames licked up one side of his face, and then also across one shoulder (he wanted to show off) before all three extinguished. “But it gets easier with practice. I usually attack with one hand because the precision's better, but when it comes to sheer volume…”

Shoto’s frown was deepening. “But, for me—it’s like there’s a concentrated force I have to focus on, and it can’t be too many places at once—”

“Oh for God’s sake, Shoto, I think that’s the tai chi speaking. Am I right?” Dabi shook his head fiercely for emphasis. “Using your Quirk isn’t like centering your chi or whatever. (I never paid much attention in martial arts.) It’s in all parts of your body, all the time. You just need to get your focus in both places at once. Here...try.”

He stood there, holding both of Shoto’s hands, palm up. It was so weird, as though they had stepped back in time. The height difference between them was still considerable, and except for their scars one could say they hadn’t changed that much. Funny, to think that at one point he’d believed even this small bit of familiarity with his family was gone forever.

Maybe Shoto was thinking the same thing, because there was a delay before his right hand grew cold. A tiny pillar of ice formed, crystals bending off of it, but his other hand remained unmoving.

C’mon, Shoto… “It’s not fire and ice...or mom and dad...it’s just one of your hands and the other, okay? They’re both stuck on your body, and work the same way…”

Unless they didn’t, and there really was some fundamental difference that he couldn’t understand as someone with a single Quirk, but just as Dabi had that thought, a small flame guttered in Shoto’s hand. The ice had frozen, so to speak, no longer growing, but after a moment Shoto’s expression tensed and it began to grow once again. The flame didn’t die.

Dabi made a small, embarrassing noise of pride moments before applause from the edge of the field yanked them both from the moment.

“That’s my boyfriend!” Shinso hollered, clapping with the math book settled on his lap.

Kaminari was also clapping across from him, looking more than a little confused. “And my boyfriend...is helping! I think…”

Dabi snickered, and they dropped their hands. “—it’ll take more than that to make you an expert, though,” he said. “Practice. You don’t even need me—you just need to do it over and over again, until it’s second nature, and then you can learn to do really cool things with it.”

“Cool things?” Shoto asked, glancing up from staring down at his hands.

“Aw, c’mon Shoto...don’t tell me you’d master two powers at once just to use them a little more closely in succession? Think about it, you could do so much! Like…” Like...okay, so I might be able to come up with something better not on short notice… The ground squelched beneath his shoe and he looked up with a triumphant grin. “Water!”

“...water.” Shoto did not sound impressed. Because he was woefully unimaginative.

Dabi could fix that. “Well, for one, it can put fires out…”

“Ice can do that.”

“Okay, Mr. Smartyboots...but if you freeze a tree to save it from the flames, you’re really just killing it another way, right? It’s still going to die. And maybe that’s not important in the big scheme of things for a hero, but what if you wanted to put out a person that was on fire? Or...move them out of harm’s way? Seems like ice is better for immobilizing a foe than shoving someone out of harm’s way.”

This, at least, seemed like it caught Shoto’s attention. Good.

“Look...let me show you.” Dabi took Shoto’s shoulders and marched him a little deeper into the field. “...this is going to be weird with the height difference, so I’m going to crouch when the time comes. On the count of three, I want you to send a blast of ice, not at the ground but into the air…”

Shoto didn’t look entirely convinced, but he did as he was told. Dabi stood behind him, and as Shoto raised his right hand to blast a sheet of ice into the air, Dabi fell into a crouch beside him and lifted his own arm mere inches beneath Shoto’s.

For one person to do this, it would take more coordination...but as the ice fell, down through a bloom of blue flames, it hit the ground with a thunderous liquid crash. Both Shinso and Kaminari looked up, utterly confused at the light mist of water that dusted them.

Both Dabi and Shoto looked at the (now even more) soaked field, and maybe it was the look on his brother’s face, but Dabi couldn’t help a single, delighted laugh. “So much for hot and cold! They’re going to have to start calling you icy-hot-and-wet once you figure out how to do that on your own.”

Shoto grinned, and shoved him. “Ew.”

“Ew yourself...I can’t believe someone who placed second in a UA sports festival even needed my help figuring out something like that. They might as well make me a teacher, here!”

Shoto didn’t respond right away, but Dabi was going to assume from the peaceful look on his face that he felt at least a little elated, like Dabi did.

He hadn’t thought...hadn’t really expected, ever, to get a chance to stand as Shoto’s equal...no, as his brother again. It was like teaching him how to open a soda bottle on a street sign all over again.

And this was one more way that Endeavor would watch his prized son turning his flame power into something else, something far less harsh and punishing. And Dabi would take that pleasure to the grave…

...but thinking about Endeavor so much today put a bit of a damper on things, so the feeling burned off as he and Shoto sank back to the grass beside Shinso and Kaminari.

“How’s it going, guys?” Shoto asked.

Shinso had been doing something on his phone, but he put it down in a hurry. “It’s...fine! Yeah, the problems are taking a little longer than I expected...so I’ll take them back to my room, Dabi, and get them to you tomorrow morning.”

His smile seemed a little forced, and Dabi couldn’t shake the creeping feeling that had begun to grow.

He reached for his own phone, but was stopped halfway when Kaminari more or less dove on his hand. “So...dinner? Or...lunch? Guys?”

The feeling...was worsening. He turned from his phone to Kaminari. “If you’re hungry, the lunch room is always—”

“Oh, no!” Kaminari righted himself, still clinging stubbornly to Dabi’s hand. “—I was thinking—we were thinking—that maybe today, to, uh, celebrate, we could get food from off campus! —of course, you can’t go, and neither can Todoroki, but I can go get something for all of us….what do you want?”

Hm. “...it’s really up to me?”

“Yes.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Mm-hm.”

O...kay. Those were three very prompt, very similar responses. “...kake-soba. Or, soba in general, since Shoto likes his cold…”

Except Shoto had seemed willing to agree wholeheartedly, even before that last little bit was added.

Flaming weird…

“Okay, then. I guess...you’re gonna go get that?” Dabi raised an eyebrow at Kaminari, who seemed to be just standing there until Dabi put his phone into his pocket and shouldered his bag.

“Yeah, I’m just...going to walk across campus with you guys,” Kaminari said, pulling a soda from their picnic basket and offering it to Dabi.

Well...weird, but whatever. Dabi glanced at Shoto and Shinso, who seemed to be sharing some kind of weird look as they lagged behind. Wrapping his arm around Kaminari’s shoulders, Dabi pulled his boyfriend close. “Hey...what’s up with those two?”

“Oh, um…” Kaminari glanced back at them, and then back at Dabi with a look of anxiety that seemed to confirm his suspicions. “They...uh...it’s hard to explain, but...I think it’s about Todoroki using his flames. Shinso, uh, doesn’t want him to Endeavor—UM—use his flames, like, at all…”

Really.” Was Dabi going to have to have a talk with this guy? He’d seemed so perfect, on the surface! But...that just seemed weird, given his clapping and such, earlier. But everyone was acting weird as skit and Dabi couldn’t shake that awful, awful feeling.

“You four—where are you going?”

Stopped once again—this time, by Eraserhead. 

“We’re going to get food—” Shoto said, wrenching himself from whatever intense discussion he was having with his boyfriend.

“...is that so,” Eraserhead said, eyeing Dabi in particular, for some reason.

He’s getting food,” Dabi said, pointing to Kaminari and feeling efficiently singled-out. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“That’s a relief to hear. I hope you understand, your position with us hasn’t changed…”

“......whatever that means,” Dabi said, as he walked away. “That was weird, wasn’t it? Don’t you guys think?”

Both Shinso and Shoto seemed happy to ignore whatever issue they were having to agree with him, and by the time Kaminari left them at the school gate, Shinso had probably said that Ectoplasm was a dick at least three times.

“So, if you’re doing my homework…” Dabi gave Shinso a sideways look, “...what are our plans for this evening, Shoto, did you have something in mind?”

About a billion years of sleep would be nice, though…

“Yes,” Shoto said, at once and abruptly enough that Dabi squinted.

“Oh? What is it?”

Shoto seemed stuck, and at that moment, Dabi saw through his charade. ‘Yes’ hadn’t been yes until he asked. As much as Kaminari and Shinso, Shoto was off-balance...and trying to keep his attention fixed firmly on them.

Shoto must have seen the suspicion settle over Dabi’s features, but he still gave it a try anyway. “—whatever you want. You deserve a break, you know, they’re working you too hard…”

“The teachers would never have given you permission to practice with me,” he said, with more harshness than he intended. “I know they already told Amachi and Fukami no. And—hot soba? You hate hot soba! And Kaminari was tripping over his words...what’s going on?”

Neither of the other boys said anything, but the look they exchanged suggested a form of camaraderie that would probably be lacking if they actually were fighting.

“...c’mon, Shoto,” Dabi said, with a forced laugh and a growing sense of panic. “—you’re acting like we all did when Fuyumi’s cat died, trying to make sure she had a great day before she found out—”

No answer came, so he plunged his hand into his pocket. Kaminari had stopped him from doing that, before...it might have answers.

Shoto spoke before he could light the screen up.

“Touya—we didn’t want you to find out, right away, after such a hard week...dad got his hero license back today.”