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February XX, 224X

 

Tsukauchi Naomasa had expected a lot of things going into his first meeting with Musutafu's newest vigilante. Then he met with Aizawa outside the interpretation room, and he changed his expectations. According to the underground hero, he needed to brace himself for the unexpected, and that he made no sense sometimes. 

 

So he thought he was prepared when he opened the door.  

 

He wasn’t.  

 

Instead of a middle aged, bitter woman with a grudge against the world, he got almost the polar opposite. A young teen sat at the table, maybe thirteen at most. This was the infamous vigilante? What was the quirk that allowed a child to take down a Nomu?  

 

Then he looked up, and Noamasa’s breath caught in his throat. Those weren’t the eyes of a child, those were the tired eyes of a pro. In that moment, with his life on display, feeling like this kid was taking him apart atom by atom, he could only think one thing. 

 

“Aizawa, why is he out of the cuffs?” 

 

The crackling voice fills the speakers, sounding a strange mix of amused and frustrated. “Every time we put them on, he somehow gets out of them. We have no idea how.” 

 

The moment ended, and the boy rolled his eyes at the ceiling, giving off a strong feeling of apathy. “I can get the officer, but why are you here, scruffy? I doubt you’re a police officer.” His accent was vaguely European, with a tinge of otherness to his T’s and W's. Naomasa took the other man’s sputtering for the opening it was, and smoothly inserted himself into the conversation.  

 

“Hello there. I am Detective Tsukauchi of the Musutafu Police Department, and I'm here to ask you some questions. Please answer honestly. I am obligated to inform you that my quirk is a lie detector, so I will know whether you are honest or not.” 

 

A sigh. “Yeah, yeah, I will be honest. No point in lying if you can tell, detective.”  

 

Oh, good, he was being cooperative. From what Aizawa had told him, he should expect that to change soon. “Alright. To begin, who are you?” 

 

“Edward Elric.”  

 

Truth-  

 

Naomasa hummed thoughtfully as he wrote that down, careful to not move too quickly. For all the apathetic, bored air Edward had, the detective had noticed when he tensed at every movement, more alert than anyone had a right to be at these ungodly hours of the morning. “Thank you for not lying, Edward. Where do you live?” 

 

“Nowhere you will recognize.”  

 

Truth.  

 

Well, that was concerning. His hand wrote that down from muscle memory alone, the man's mind still caught on the dangerous implications both that answer and the child's evasion of it brought up. “…okay. How old are you?” 

 

He was leveled with an unimpressed look, a steely tone and clipped words following. “I am sixteen.” 

 

Truth.  

 

Apparently, his shock had shown up on his face before he could quench it, because the teenager leapt from his seat, screaming unintelligible curses and what seemed like threats in another language. It wouldn’t have been concerning, except for those unsettling golden eyes. They seemed layered, like a dragon's, shifting colors and hues in rage and frustration. It was unnerving. 

 

Edward seemed to catch on to Naomasa’s uncomfortableness, and sat back down with a smug look.  

 

They went through question after question, and the vigilante didn’t once lie, even though he refused to give a straight answer to some of the questions. Then the time was up, and Naomasa realized he didn’t have any more concrete information then they did at the start.  

 

So just before he closed his book, his eyes settled on the first note he had written, and he sat back down, once again the object of that golden stare.  

 

He sighed. “Edward, you didn’t answer my first question fully. I asked who you were, and you gave me your name. But that's not entirely correct, now is it.” He had the kid's full attention now, with his aurum eyes focused unwaveringly on the detective, like a hawk stalking its prey. He met them. 

 

“So, Edward Elric, who are you?” 

 

The boy froze for just a second too long, then opened his mouth. 

 

“I am… the Fullmetal Alchemist.” 

 

TRUTH  

 

-*-

 

XXX XX

 

The Being spread its arms. “Why, little al~chem~ist, do you not like my deal? Would you rather settle your debt with blood, or with this teensy-tiny little errand?”  

 

His boy scowled, but the Being could tell he was weighing the pros and cons. “You promise that I won’t be gone at all for them? You’ll return me to this exact time, with my arm, leg, and Al? And both of our alchemy?”  

 

It laughed. Their alchemist was so funny! “This errand is worth more than that! Your teacher’s toll, your commander's eyesight, now those as well are equivalent exchange.” It’s boy smiled with no amusement, all pointy teeth and sharp angles, a sad mirror of the Being's own grin.  

 

“You can do that? For just a small favor?” Oh, so naïve.  

 

“This isn’t just a little favor. No, in another world there is a great man, blessed with power. But he is evil, deadly, and he took too much and gave too little. He refuses to come here, even for death, and is long past his natural date. Recently, he figured out how to make homunculi without visiting me, and instead combining multiple souls to create simple, mindless creatures, much like ones you have already faced.”  

 

The boy was now frowning, running his smart, little, mortal head through the implications. His eyes widened. “You want me to destroy the research. Bring him to you.”  

 

Oh, its alchemist was so smart! The Being clapped their hands in excitement. “Exactly! For this purpose, I'll give you some more information about the world, and a few helpful arrays, the cost being your arm, which I can replace with automail. Be warned, though, I'll remove that knowledge and return your arm when you complete the task. So be prompt!”  

 

Did they scare him? No, the golden child just looked determined, though a little apprehensive. “Do you know what's going to happen?” he asked as if he feared the answer.  

 

He should.  

 

“Of course, dear little al~chem~ist! After all, this is where all stories begin  

 

-*-

 

Feb. XX, 224X

 

Shota could only look up. He couldn’t move, could feel the blood pooling in the crater his body had made, every sense was fading. 

 

But he could look, and he could still use his quirk. He could save his kids. He wouldn’t let them get hurt until he himself was dead. 

 

“You’re so cool, Eraserhead.” 

 

“Hey, asshat!” 

 

He recognized that voice. Of-fucking-course it had to be problem child #1.

 

And a hand of stone shoved it’s way out of the ground, like an eldritch god come to life, and wrapped around the blue-haired villain. It would only last a short time before it was disintegrated, but it gave Shota the breathing room to blink, focus on staying conscious instead of fighting. 

 

Did Midoriya even know he wasn’t the first problem child? He didn’t think so.

 

He felt himself being lifted, and a sad voice filtered in through the rush of blood and pain. “I’m afraid I don’t know many healing arrays, but I can temporarily close your wounds. You can rest.” 

 

He blinked at a flash of light and a ringing sound, and didn’t open his eyes again as he was set down on the edge of the stairs. Before his hearing cut out entirely, he was only able to catch a few cries of rage, inhuman bellows, and numerous crashes. 

 

He struggled against the encroaching black, ever the stubborn fighter, but eventually the adrenaline faded away and he drowned in the numbness. 

 

Truth, help him .” 

 

-*-

 

where they change  

 

-*-

 

April XX, 224X

 

Why were they fighting for him? They shouldn’t shed blood on his behalf! Tenya felt his eyes tearing up, the only part of him he could move, as he watched his friends be beaten down again and again, only to get back up and keep fighting. 

 

For him. Useless him, who got them all into this mess and couldn’t even help.

 

“Oh! It’s you kids again.” 

 

Everything froze, in a paralysis even stronger than Stain’s quirk, shock. Midoriya was the first one to break out, but he still didn’t move, staring in wary curiosity at the short figure in the alleyway entrance.  

 

“It’s you. Fullmetal, right?” Tenya finally understood. So this was the vigilante who had shown up at the USJ and fought the villains? He didn’t look like much, in an obnoxiously red trenchcoat, black clothes and boots, and pristine white gloves. The only thing vaguely menacing about him was the mask of twisted metal that covered his whole face.  

 

Or not, as it seemed to melt down his face into a half mask covering his mouth with a flash of blue light, revealing sparkling golden eyes. Was metal supposed to move like that? 

 

Even though he couldn’t see the vigilante’s mouth, it wasn’t hard to imagine the snarl, especially when an inhuman growl echoed through the alley. The piercing eyes narrowed in cold fury. 

 

“Stain. Why are you working with the League? I thought I told you how much of a bad idea that was. And attacking kids? Low, even for you.” Each word was punctuated with a step, his left leg sounding a bit strange on the stone floor. Stain took a step back, and suddenly Tenya found he could move again. 

 

Stain gave an answering glare, but very obviously didn’t attack. “What are you doing here, child? This is my territory, and I need to dispose of these fake heroes. I’d prefer not to harm children, especially one as heroic as you, so leave.”

 

Tenya tensed himself to get up, but one look at the dangerous vigilante in front of him, and he decided against it. He had obviously been mistaken before when he said that the boy seemed harmless. The color of his coat blended with the blood on the dark ground, the gloves were spotless in the dirty alley, the black clothes made him look like a demon that absorbed the light.  

 

And the mask, he just realized, looked like a sharp smile from this angle, so out of place in the murderous aura that it seemed to fit perfectly. “Killing kids, huh? Asshole, you say you’re doing good? Nothing good can ever come of death, the end never justifies the means. I won’t let you kill anyone else, Mr. Edgy Vigilante.

 

Stain took another step back, and suddenly he wasn’t the most dangerous person in the area. 

 

The hero killer lunged forward with a pair of knives, and Fullmetal didn’t even bother to move. One knife lodged itself in his right arm, and the other was caught in that same hand. His left  hand rested lightly on Stain’s face, glove off. The villain stayed perfectly still, for some reason that Tenya couldn’t fathom. 

 

Both knives clattered to the floor, suspiciously blood-free. The hero killer gaped, still held in place by the teenager. “How? I cut you, where’s the blood?” 

 

Those dangerous eyes glinted with misplaced amusement, and he set his golden gaze on the man in front of him, frozen. 

 

“Metal arm, bitch.” 

 

-*-

 

and where they end.”  

 

-*- 

 

June XX, 224X

 

Katsuki wasn’t mad because he was tied up. Backwards as it may seem, he was actually a bit impressed, if begrudgingly, at the sheer audacity his kidnappers obviously had. To tie him up was ballsy as shit, since they knew that once he got free, he was gonna blow their motherfucking faces off, but he certainly wasn’t impressed by the stupidity of his captors. 

 

He was impressed by the figure next to him. 

 

While Katsuki may only have restraints around his middle and extremities, as well as the manacles and gag (biggest mistake of their fucking lives, he was going to burn this crappy bar down when he got free), the kid next to him was absolutely covered in bindings. His hands were suspended in the air, separated, and his feet were off the ground. Plus, he was covered in bruises and other wounds. 

 

The unconscious teenager must have done something especially bad to get this kind of restraint, and judging by the bandages on Shigaraki and most of the other villains, Katsuki could tell the kid put up a real fight before going down.  

 

Things were quiet, until the seriously fucked up other boy groaned, and raised his head groggily. He looked mildly alarmed at his bonds, before rolling his eyes at the apparent overkill (Katsuki was liking this boy more and more). A few half-hearted tugs followed, before Goldilocks finally noticed him. His eyes went wide with fear that quickly turned to pure rage, which Katsuki was perfectly content to echo in his own crimson gaze. 

 

After a half-assed staring contest, the other boy sighed, turning away. “Hey. You a UA student?” 

 

“Mhmf.” 

 

“Cool, cool. You wanna leave now?” 

 

“MMHFM.” 

 

It must have been the weirdest conversation Katsuki had ever had, and that was saying a lot. Pretty boy seemed perfectly at ease being kidnapped and waking up with severe wounds, which brought up some uncomfortable questions.  

 

“Name’s Edward Elric, by the way,” the teen said as tried to roll his shoulders fruitlessly, the European accent blending strangely with the matter-of-fact tone. Like he would care about this extra’s name! Now, if he managed to get himself free, then he might be worthy of name privileges.  

 

“Aha!” 

 

And right on cue, Goldilocks’ right arm popped, and a small hissing sound came from his hand. Suddenly, there was a small blade where his pinkie should be, easily slicing through the rope. A bit of awkward and painful-looking contortions left the blade scraping up against the glove on his other hand, where he pricked himself through the fabric. The boy then began to... doodle? Was this fucker actually drawing right now? They were in the motherload of shitty situations, why the hell was this moron painting on his glove with his own blood? 

 

Why had Katsuki ever though this asshat might be a cool guy? Nevermind, he didn’t. Useless waste of trash, they should have taken-  

 

And there he stood, all 4’9” of little kid, somehow free of his bonds. He carefully removed the gag from Katsuki’s mouth, and it took all his willpower to stay quiet. If he exploded now, literally or figuratively, they would be caught before even reaching the exit to this room. 

 

When all his bonds were off, he stood and stretched, unable to prevent a manic, bloodthirsty grin from breaking out over his face. He cracked his knuckles. 

 

“Hey Elric, name’s Bakugo. I’m about ready to blow this place sky-fucking-high. Wanna help?” 

 

The teen stood up, wounds somehow almost entirely closed. He looked positively exhausted, but returned the smile tenfold, close to a mirror image of Katsuki’s own. 

 

“Oh, hell yes. These bastards have kidnapped me twice in the past two months, let’s burn this shitty place to the ground .” 

 

-*-

 

XXX XX

 

“Now, of course! Some ground rules. First, you cannot explain alchemy as a science, and your power is now called Atomic Manipulation. You cannot teach anyone alchemy, and I can help a little bit with that. Secondly, you cannot tell anyone about me or the Gate, or Amestris, nor explain how to get there. Third, you cannot take a person’s energy for yourself when coming back through the Gate. Are those reasonable? Hmm... you could be forced to tell them... Ah! I will put a failsafe so you will not be affected by compulsion quirks.”  

 

And as their boy fell, he didn’t make a sound.  

 

The last thing Truth saw from Edward Elric was a smirk, full of determination and dark humor, composed of predator-like canines and white teeth.  

 

Maybe this was a cruel joke, the Truth thought. Defeating the two people who embody the boy’s only philosophy, his whole life of give and take.  

 

All For One and One For All, they mused. How... fitting. All is one, and one is all.  

 

It (had) (has) (would have) to see this.  

 

-*-

 

XXX XX, 224X

 

Naomasa looked at the paper in his hand, then up at Nedzu. Back at the paper. 

 

No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t fix the circle in his mind. His instincts screamed at him, that the circle was dangerous, that he should let it go, forget about it, leave the unnatural circle behind and move far, far away. 

 

Why? He looked back up at Nedzu with a look of suspicious confusion. “What... what is this?” 

 

The rat chuckled. “Oh, just a little present from Edward. He gave it to me before he left, said that if we ever needed help, we could draw the circle perfectly, activate it, and he would know to come help us, even if it comes with a price.”

 

Naomasa looked back at the paper. “You think we need him for the 8 Precepts mission.” 

 

“I do. And that’s the Truth.” 

 

 

-*-

 

March 8th, 223X

 

Edward stood and dusted himself off. The new information sloshed around in his brain, and he had to take a moment to adjust to the... ‘off’ energy in the air. The alchemic energy he was used to feeling as an invisible pressure on his skin was nowhere to be found, and he felt exposed without it. 

 

Oh, oops, he was still covered in wounds. At least Truth had left him with a functioning outfit. 

 

Plus, he was in an alley, so he wouldn’t get too many weird looks before he could fix his cuts and bloody skin. He clapped, envisioning the skin healing array he had just gotten, and couldn’t help but marvel at the tingling energy under his skin, like the energy he was used to drawing from the Earth for his transmutations was now trapped in his bones. It felt invigorating, like he could do anything. 

 

Is this what being a Philosopher’s Stone felt like, all the time? No, it was a bit different, this energy more calm, from what he could remember of Pride’s stone. The comforting pins-and-needles sensation had faded along with his wounds, but he could still feel it in the back of his mind, buzzing about. 

 

He smiled happily. 

 

Is this what a... quirk was? The limitless pool of energy that made him feel invincible? He noticed something odd, though. He doesn’t remember learning this array, meaning it must be a new one. But what was it for? He brought the rushing, flowing feeling out to the tips of fingers, then released it without clapping, which shouldn’t have worked unless... 

 

He twisted as far as he could, and sure enough, there was now an array tattooed on his back, looking uncomfortably scar like. He could feel it, and when he touched it a jolt of energy shot through his nerves, topping off the alchemic energy pool in his soul. So this was how he was getting his energy! He fished for the array in his mind, and. Oh. 

 

Okay, so this was an array that changed any ambient soul energy (quirk energy, right) in the air and manipulated it so he could use it. That was certainly interesting, but it brought up a lot of other questions that he didn’t want to think about right now. 

 

 He stumbled out into the street, and, oh wow. It was one thing to be told about their advanced technology, and another thing entirely to be standing at the foot of a building as tall as the clouds, surrounded by people who each looked completely unique and special. 

 

Wait. 

 

Well, shit. 

 

They were speaking a different language.  

 

He disregarded the plan to avoid attention and groaned into his hands. It was so similar to Xingese that he could get the gist, but just different enough that he was having trouble ten seconds into a nearby conversation. And the writing system was completely separate.  

 

It was time to find a library, if he could. He didn’t know a thing about this place, and he needed a way to make money, a place to stay, food. Which he couldn’t do if he didn’t even know what currency they used. 

 

If worse came to worst, he could always pawn off some old ‘family antiques’. But that would have to wait, since his wounds weren't fully healed, just covered up with a thin layer of new skin. It would take weeks at least for him to be back in fighting order. 

 

At least he still had his pocket watch, the comfortable weight at his hip and in his heart was soothing after the anxiety attack he almost had in front of basically God. Yeah, that fucker can kiss his atheist ass goodbye and give him presents, but it wasn’t going to disguise the fact that he was pretty much blackmailed into helping.  

 

He ducked back into the alley he had started in, and had just sat back down when he heard a crash. Something spiked in the ambient energy, and he scrambled to his feet, sticking his head around the corner, jaw practically hitting the pavement at the spectacle. 

 

A large man stood on the high-tech train tracks, looking around wildly. Edward watched as the ‘heroes’ showed up, proceeded to beat up the ‘villain’, and then posed for the crowds with disbelief, more focused on the sou-quirk, right, quirk energy he felt in the atmosphere. When the large woman in the skintight suit had shown up, it had spiked to a fever pitch, he assumed because people were using their quirks, as it also increased when the woody boy released his ~special attack~. 

 

That was actually worth looking into. Was it possible he could permanently remove someone’s quirk and give himself energy at once by tagging them with the reverse array on his back? It would be an effective way of dealing with criminals, and was an effective way of dealing with the pseudo-homunculi. He shook his head. That would kill someone, and he refused to kill.

 

Right, focus. 

 

Even places like this had to have underground fighting rings, right? 

 

That wasn’t a terrible idea, actually. So what if Truth fucked him over with this deal? He was going to succeed. He had too, for Al. For Teacher, for the Colonel. 

 

For himself. 

 

Besides, if he could save lives while doing it, then it was worth the risk. He took a deep breath, and walked to the back of the alley. After a few moments of finding the right array, he clapped and pressed his hands to the edge of a dumpster. 

 

Dirt fell to the floor, the carved metal mask shining brightly against the grungy walls. He clapped again, and a small array carved itself right over where his nose would go, so he could manipulate it at will. He sighed, and fixed it onto his face. It fit perfectly. 

 

He would do anything for his brother. But he refused to take a life. He was here to save them, after all. He couldn’t do that just looking like himself, his features were unique even here.

 

Fullmetal stepped out of his brick-walled starting point, already planning ahead. 

 

-

 

The readings were off the chart. 

 

What could cause this much of a spike? The doctor honestly didn’t know, had no clue about the origins.It showed up in the middle of the morning rush hour, on a busy street, a few minutes before a villain attack. There was no way to pinpoint the energy readings.  

 

Unfortunately, All For One didn’t like that. 

 

The doctor had one month to deliver the cause of the spike to All For One, or… well. Not ‘or else’, exactly, his employer was much more creative and detailed than that. More like ‘or your entrails will decorate my newest Noumu's neck like festive garlands on a holiday, with your head as the present to rip the skin off of.’  

 

So, yeah. The readings. Kind of important. 

 

At least he had the ability to delegate. That brat Tomura and his babysitter have some use after all, and he could utilize the numerous other small-time villains they had acquired recently. Surely someone had to have seen something, with these readings, the doctor was surprised there weren't news reports about giant monsters tearing up entire cities.  

 

What could even rip the fabric of space and time like this though? 

 

Nothing like this had ever been recorded. 

 

The doctor turned back to his work, still contemplating possible courses of action, but couldn’t shake the unsettled feeling at his back.  

 

An inhumanly wide, white smile crept at the corner of his mind. 

 

-*-

 

March 9th, 223X

 

The first night was spent under a store overhang, before he was kicked out in the morning. Thank Truth he hadn’t been wearing his mask, or he probably would have gotten more than some disgusted looks. He cleaned his clothes with a few claps under an overpass, to hide away the bright blue alchemic light, and set out on his search, mask resting heavily in his pocket.

 

Nothing.

 

The second night, it was under the same overpass as before. The third, a soup kitchen. And so on.

 

Did these people not have libraries anymore? Edward needed somewhere to stay, but few places would keep an unaccompanied minor in a room with no pay to show for it. A few days of living on the streets was not doing him any favors in the health or language departments. 

 

He needed to find somewhere mildly illegal. Thankfully, being a State Alchemist has its perks. 

 

He always knew where to find illegal stuff. 

 

 

Dabi wouldn’t exactly consider himself a regular at the bar, but the people there knew him, and he knew them. The owner had even offered him a job at one point (as a bouncer, of course, because who would take drinks from someone as hideous as he was?), which he graciously declined. All in all, it was a nice little hole-in-the-wall place that had reasonable rates for his broke ass and a very low chance of being found by any hero other than Eraserhead, Blind Eye, Gray, or some other morally-grey underground. 

 

Honestly, if Eraserhead had found this place, he'd be more likely to sit down and get a drink than arrest any of the patrons or workers. 

 

A chair flew over his head and broke against the wall, prompting a new wave of shouts as Dabi sipped his drink. Well, maybe arrest some of them, then ask for alcohol.  

 

Just then, the door slammed open. A few people looked over, most disinterestedly, since the others were either drunk, passed out, in a fight, or some combination of the three. Dabi was still plenty sober, so he was the only one to really get a good look at the newcomer before losing interest. 

 

He did a double take once his brain processed what he had seen, and he noticed the bartender do the same. 

 

A kid stood in the doorway. A literal child had just kicked down the door with all the confidence of a top dog villain, not even flinching at the obvious violence or drinking, and the most coherent thought Dabi could put together was that he didn’t care if he was supposed to be a villain, he was not going to sit by as a baby faced teenager drank themselves into oblivion. 

 

His newest headache strode confidently over to the counter he was seated at, and began spewing barely understandable Japanese, nearly drowning everyone in earshot with his incredibly thick European accent. Dabi couldn’t quite pinpoint it though, like a mix of French, German, English, and an otherworldly sharpness.  

 

“Do you haf room me kan rhent? Me kan help as… ah, vat vas zee vord, guard? No, bounscher. Me kan fix zings ash vell.” …and seems like he wasn’t the only one feeling a little lost. The bartender, who Dabi knew was just an overworked college student whose parents had been on the darker side of the law, smiled awkwardly, like he didn’t know whether to laugh, ask him to leave, or go hide in the back room and call the owners while crying. 

 

After about a thirty-second pause of just, absolute silence, the boy rolled his oddly colored golden eyes and huffed, before turning right around and walking out again.  

 

But the boy who willingly entered a known villain hideout, wearing half of a metal mask speaking broken Japanese never truly left Dabi's mind. So when he came there a week later, only to see the squirt standing outside the door protectively, wearing an insufferably smug look, he wasn’t even surprised.  

 

He made a beeline for the counter, where Shiruko was cleaning cups, and knocked on the top. She looked up, followed his pointed line of gaze to the door, and snickered. Which was a bad sign, as she cared very little for human sanity.  

 

“Oh, the kid. Yeah, I wasn’t here when he first showed up, but according to Ijiwaru, he was barely understandable, yeah? So then he comes back in like five days later during my shift, speaking very good Japanese with not much accent at all, asking if he can work here for a place to stay and some money. Now he's our bouncer, since the last one got stabbed.” 

 

He… didn’t know what to say to that. “You're sure that he can hold his own? He looks about 90 pounds soaking wet.” Another snicker. 

 

“Nah, that kid's surprisingly ripped. Broke up a bar fight yesterday, by the end he had only gotten hit once, while all three guys, professional villains, mind you, were unconscious in the corner. Apparently he had knocked one of them out only using his legs. Squirt's got a temper.” 

 

Dabi glanced once more at the door, contemplatively. A teenager who knew how to fight, hanging out in places like this, with a shady mask on? Either a runaway becoming a villain or a homeless vigilante. Either situation isn’t good.  

 

Just as they both fell silent, the aforementioned kid strolled in through the door. “Off my shift. Hello, scarboy.” 

 

He didn’t even bother to look at the flying chair. 

 

Definitely a vigilante.  

 

Hey, kid. Your fashion sense is horrible. I mean, red coat, yellow contacts and dye, black clothes? Tell me your name so I can report you to the fashion police.” At least it got a snort out of him, muffled as it was by the metal mask. 

 

“The name’s Fullmetal, and I do not do dye or contacts, jackass.” This time a bottle came flying out of the back corner, which the boy fumbled to catch before it socked him in the head. “I will be right back, burn-bastard.” Dabi was left sputtering as the kid turned around.

 

Shiruko looked over. “Yeah, can you-" 

 

“WHICHEVER ONE OF YOU CRACKHEADS DECIDED IT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA TO LAUNCH THAT BOTTLE, PREPARE TO HAVE THIS BOOT UP YOUR ASS.” 

 

That was all Dabi caught before Shiruko couldn’t hold in her laughter, and collapsed on the floor shaking with the effort. 

 

-

 

March 15th, 223X

 

It hadn’t even been two weeks since he was dropped here like an unwieldy sack of potatoes, and yet the self-proclaimed vigilante Fullmetal had already caught on to a few very important details.

 

          1. Quirks are absolute bullshit, and he will gladly pronounce that to anyone within earshot. Hell, his current best friend over here was just a sucky Colonel Bastard when it came to power sets (and wow, wasn’t that just depressing. His new best friend was a tired 20-something year old villain with a flair for the dramatics and some messed up daddy issues [Not like Ed could complain, he’d met some shitty fathers.].).

 

          2. Memes are pure hell and the internet is the vengeful god that allowed it to exist, and trust him, he has a love/hate relationship with a vengeful god. He would honestly not be surprised if the Gate demons were whispering bad 200 year old vine quotes as he passed by. He’d originally started looking into the internet after he had walked in to see Dabi… t-posing? Is that what it was called? And made the mistake of asking about it.

 

          3. This society is even worse than Amestris’. Which was saying a lot, considering his home country was run by literal immortal monsters. Seriously though, the whole thing with heroes, and villains, and quirks… ugh. It was enough to give him a headache just thinking about it, not to mention trying to understand the clusterfuck that was Japan.

 

Well, at least he had a job now. That didn’t involve illegal fighting rings or being a repairman forever. It had decent housing, plenty of easy-access (drunk) sources of information, and a few good friends.

 

Meaning he did feel a little bad about planning to hunt down some police officers or heroes for information, and opening the risk of leading the person back to his current living quarters. If the person Ed was sent here to hunt was so powerful and evil, then someone had to have heard of them, right? Maybe some of the professional people in muted colors he saw hanging around the underground sometimes, they should have the scoop about villains.

 

All he knew was that the ‘villains’ he saw on a daily basis don’t know a thing.

 

Really, another thing he would feel compelled to fix. He stifled a groan in his head, mentally cursing his inability to leave well enough alone. Great, so not only did he have to kill an immortal bastard even trickier than Father, now he had to fix an entire society and people’s outlook on things, as well as reform the lower echelons of the ladder to erase the concept of ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ from the social structure.

 

Some of the hardened criminals he saw constantly were only forced into this by others, or had to provide for their families. Did that make them evil?

 

Ed didn’t think so.

 

-

 

“I think I should go to U.A. The entrance exam is in, like, nine months, right?”

 

Dabi spit out his drink.

 

“... uh, kid, you do know that not only will you be a wanted felon in a few weeks, you don’t have any papers, still haven’t told us what your quirk is, and are living with straight up criminals. You wouldn’t get through the door before being arrested.”

 

Fullmetal pouted, mumbling something about doing it anyways, before straightening up. “Hey, Dabi, you know what I realized recently? If I do actually start vigilant work, I'm going to need backup sooner or later.” The golden-eyed boy gave him the most shit eating grin he had ever seen on a child’s face, the request evident.

 

Yeah, he wasn’t buying it.

 

“No way kid. Just because I’m not your stereotypical villain does not mean I’ll ever be anyone’s hero.”

 

“Oh? Then why have you been coming here more recently, huh? It couldn’t have been just to see little old me.” He had to hand it to him, only a few days of perfecting the language and the kid had the inflections almost perfect. Ha! Jokes on him, Dabi lost his feelings years ago.

 

But on the other hand, this was one of the first people (no, straight-up villains didn’t count) who didn’t immediately flinch away from his burned features and abrasive personality. He didn’t want this tiny buff child to die.

 

Damn it, he planned this, didn’t he? Dabi groaned and put his head on the table, ignoring the smug snickers next to him. “Bastard,” he huffed into the table, and the snickers turned to full on whoops of victory.

 

He threw his hands up. “Fine, fine! I’ll help you, at least until you figure out a way to get into U.A., which I don’t doubt you will.”

 

They both quieted down, listening to the background bar noises, before Fullmetal turned to face him, face completely serious. “Hey, Dabi?” He nodded cautiously, telling him to continue.

 

“If you go in the ocean, will the salt water corrode your staples and make your face fall off?”

 

-

 

“IF NOT FOR THE LAWS OF THIS LAND, I WOULD KILL YOU RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW.”

 

“COWARD, DO IT, I DARE YOU. WHAT LAWS? WE ARE VIGILANTES, WE DO NOT FOLLOW LAWS.”

 

“... oh, yeah. Okay then.”


No no no I take it back shit SHIT SHIT -”

Chapter Text

April XX, 224X

 

This damn brat…

 

Despite himself, Shota couldn’t help but smile at the boy in the interrogation room as he continued to be an unrelenting jackass teenager. He seemed to understand what was going on, and yet proved to be as unhelpful as possible.

 

He was distracted from the immensely amusing scene of Tsukauchi getting stared down by a petulant child by his phone buzzing, and he carefully maneuvered his bandaged hands to grab it. When he saw the message, he felt like laughing and crying all at the same time.

 

King Rat: He’s the one. Ran it through our application database, 99.9% positive match.

 

Oh, it felt so good to be right. Imagine if they had really… yeah, that would have been a disaster. 

 

It wasn’t that he wasn’t thankful to the kid, the boy- Edward Elric, was it?- had saved his life back there. It wasn’t even really the illegality of it, and although that was a pretty big sticking point, at least he could relate a little bit. Shota was borderline illegal anyway. No, it was the whole thing about how, you know, this was a child. 

 

It didn’t matter how skilled, how good his quirk was. How good of a fighter he was, how used to situations he was. None of that mattered, because last he checked, training child soldiers went against so many war codes it wasn’t even funny. Some of the reactions and answers Elric was giving were like he was used to giving mission reports and spoke with the same flatness Shouta sometimes saw in police officers. The whole thing screamed of military. Which military, he wasn’t sure, but it was still very much a war crime.

 

The country thing was bothering him too. How did a foreigner get into the country without leaving any record of it? They hadn’t run the name or the face yet, but he assumed there wouldn’t be any record of those either. Whoever trained this kid really wanted him off the grid. His quirk seemed immensely powerful, and well controlled. They could be dealing with a human weapon situation, meaning the government could not, under no circumstances, find out, or it would be anarchy as they try to find answers. Or worse, use the kid for themselves.

 

No, that wasn’t a solution.

 

He tuned back into the conversation absentmindedly, bandages itching. Tsukauchi was asking a question, and Elric seemed really serious. From the answer and the pause afterwards, he could guess that the detective had asked something about the name. 

 

Oh, no.

 

Fullmetal.

 

That was what they had called him, that man and the others. The only people who had those types of names underground were either villains, assassins, or legends. Normal vigilantes tended to have less outwardly aggressive names, especially those as young as this. Tsukauchi’s expression said it all, and Shota resisted the urge to sigh.

 

Child soldiers, human weapons.

 

This was bigger than they thought.

 

-*-

 

XXX XX

 

“There once was a boy who flew too close to the sun, on wings of wax.”

 

The listener looked up sharply, the storyteller giving him a side-eye grin as he continued. 

 

“He tried to reach the sun, tried to reach for what wasn’t his, and paid the price for his insolence, for daring to disobey his father’s warnings and doing what he thought was best. His wings melted from the heat of the sun, and he fell into the water and drowned. The story is meant to be symbolic, you know.”

 

It was quiet, peaceful even, and so bright. He couldn’t help but glance up in time with the words, imagining the boy falling from the heavens he put his innocence on the line to reach.

 

“... but in my personal opinion, the symbolism is a little misplaced here. Is it the boy’s fault, his naivety and curiosity that killed him? After all, the sun did nothing wrong by existing. The boy paid his price for the trespass he made, and he will feel the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life. It was, in the end, his own foolishness that allowed him to even be high enough to receive punishment for the transgression.”

 

-*-

 

March 31st, 223X

 

The alley was dark and foreboding, perfect atmosphere for his debut. The mugger had absolutely no clue that he was there, and there was no one else around except for a camera on the corner.

 

Absolutely flawless.

 

Problem was, he needed to be closer to catch the guy correctly. He didn’t think he was faster than the cheetah legs this guy had, and he was trying not to use his alchemy (Ugh, quirks were such bullshit . The first time Ed had finally found a bookstore, he must have spent over 48 hours in there reading up on the world and the language, and some of the stuff had made him double check that people weren't just creating chimeras out of half the people they met) on camera or in front of anyone, so that left a surprise attack.

 

Now, the famed Fullmetal Alchemist may be the perfect man for almost any situation, but there was a definite almost there. He was great at explosions, weapons, researching, threatening people, etc., but stealth was not on that list.

 

Seriously, Colonel Bastard, how in hell was he supposed to be quiet with two automail limbs and a penchant for frontal assault? And Al was even less stealthy, bless his armored heart, meaning he had very little practice with this.

 

To be fair, he had never expected he would be in this situation.

 

He carefully stepped around a small crinkly wrapper partially hidden by shadows as he was, and took a moment to assess the absurdity of it all. Here he was, in a different country in a different world, speaking a different language and becoming a ‘vigilante’ in order to beat information out of villains about the criminal equivalent of the bogeyman.

 

Yay for him.

 

On the outside, he was silent as he could be, but on the inside he had just finished up cursing out the Truth in Aerugonian and was moving on to what little Xerxsian he understood. Every now and then his leg or arm would make a little clanking noise, and he would freeze up for a tense moment before he noticed that the figure counting bills hadn’t heard a thing.

 

He slipped behind a dumpster, directly behind the man now, and felt almost giddy that he had managed it. He carefully tensed up his lower body, gathering up the pure explosive power needed to catch this guy unawares, bringing himself low to the ground in order to spring at him and catch the dumbass.

 

And then his leg squeaked. Loudly. Like it was screaming.

 

Karma’s a bitch. He knew he shouldn’t have chased those pigeons earlier.

 

The guy- gosh, this guy was old , must be in his sixties or something, Ed was actually kind of impressed- snapped his head up fast enough to look like it hurt, whipping himself back and forth from the sheer urgency in his movements. He obviously didn’t see anything, since Ed was hiding behind the dumpster (no, he wasn’t short, he was quite the perfect size, stop thinking he was short, Mustang you absolute insufferable bastard).

 

Ed’s target bent down to pick up the few bills he had dropped, probably intending to get the hell out of there before some upstanding citizens came to investigate. Honestly, Ed should do the same, because any sane person walking into a dark alley would certainly call for whatever passed for the cops here, if they saw him in a mask standing above another guy down for the count.

 

Yeah, going to jail is a big inconvenience. Honestly, he just needed to beat up the right people to get the right info, drag this world’s equivalent of Father back to Truth, and reap the benefits of having his brother back, helping Teacher, keeping their alchemy, etc. 

 

No way some low-life mugger was going to take that away from him.

 

Ed exploded into motion, going straight over the dumpster and tackling the criminal to the ground, where they tussled for a moment. Unfortunately, for all of his experience fighting, this dude had about a hundred pounds and two feet on Ed,and managed to get free and figure out how to stand.

 

Those damn legs-

 

Another mad leap to try and slow him down, but he was already in motion and the only thing Ed could do was try and chase after him before he got to a crowded street. This was the first lead he’d had since coming here (perks of working in a bar, and one for villains at that) and he was not going to lose it. But again, quirks were absolute bullshit, and this dude was seriously fast.

 

Ha! They were turning into a dead end, and Ed could see the exact moment the guy realized it. He was going way too fast to slow down, and he was about to hit the wall… before claws dug into the brick mortar and hauled him straight up it, just a complete spit in the face to gravity.

 

Quirks. They sucked. They made no sense.

 

Cheetah-man managed to stop himself on top of the wall, where he sat for a moment, assuming Ed couldn’t reach him. Which he totally could, but the missed tackle had reopened one of the wounds from the Promised Day and he was really starting to feel it, something the criminal noticed if the taunting was any indication.

 

Or maybe he had just noticed that Ed was below his height level, which was stupidly freaking tall and in no way implied that Ed was anything more than average tall-ness for his age. There.

 

Right as Ed had finally pinpointed the array he wanted to use, the quirk-user decided that he shouldn’t make himself an easy target for more than the two seconds he had already spent and turned around to jump off the other side.

 

No, no no, no. Ugh. Argh. Why was everything in his life such a mess?

 

A thump sounded from the other side just as Ed had finally gotten around to the few curse words he knew in this new Japanese, which startled him enough that he used the array he had gotten ready and shot himself up to wall height.

 

“Good thing I was helping you, huh? ‘Thank you Dabi, you’re the best!’ Oh, it’s no problem at all, my good friend.”

 

Of course.

 

This world’s resident pyro stood holding the unconscious mugger on the other side of the wall, looking way too casual and pleased with himself, even if it was a little hard to tell behind the vaguely apathetic air he kept up. Ed rolled his eyes at the drama and focused on his slightly shaky Japanese, for all of its weird sounds and unnatural pronunciations that he wasn’t used to.

 

“Dabi, you are an idiot. I thought you did not want to help me, or were you just being an asshole and making it hard on purpose?”

 

The flame-boy coughed, a little sheepish now. “Actually, I was just walking by and saw him, and remembered that he was the guy you were looking for. Why do you need him?”

 

“I need him to talk.”

 

Ed focused on the carved array on his mask, moulding it with a little blue flash of light so it only covered his nose and mouth. He stepped forward and Dabi backed up, obviously a little unnerved by this literal child looking so eager to threaten someone into giving information.

 

The guy talked.

 

-*-

 

XXX XX

 

“Or was it the sun’s fault, for being oh-so tempting, for seeming to a lost child to be within reach? Can any person really be blamed for instinct? People are drawn to the unknown, just as they are afraid of it. It’s simply human nature to reach for the stars, to find out what makes them what they are. Is a child’s mistake worth the ultimate punishment of death?”

 

The storyteller held a pale hand above his head, looking up at the underside of it thoughtfully against the backdrop of the light sky. The hand-shaped shadow flickered on his face, the light fading in and out due to the changing light. 

 

He sank into the empty, train of thought completely forgotten as he listened attentively to the unraveling tale.

 

-*-

 

April 2nd, 223X

 

“Who are you even looking for?” Dabi brought up the next day as Elric came in during a break. The younger of the two slipped into a seat, gently removing his mask and putting it in his pocket. He looked at Dabi with an incredibly deadpan expression, golden eyes as flat as he could make them.

 

“It is none of your trade.”

 

Dabi pulled a magnificent spit take at both the words and the delivery, coughing for at least a minute while the bartender on duty just laughed, the shithead. “Fullmetal, I think you meant ‘none of your business ,’” he managed to wheeze out after his lungs stopped trying to tie themselves into knots.

 

Elric threw his hands up, muttering in that odd language of his until the bartender gained enough motor control to get off of the floor. Before anyone could say anything, the door opened and in stepped a shady figure in black, making Elric rush to slip his mask back on. Everyone else went right back to their conversations after a quick glance over, in this part of town people looking like that were practically common. 

 

“-and I don’t know what you want me to do, exactly, asshole, because I literally started learning this language like- mmph!” The bartender had quickly silenced Elric, taking one for the team, as the new figure took a seat at the bar right next to them.

 

“... can I have the most caffeinated thing you have?” The scruffy-looking man asked, and the bartender cautiously released their death grip over Elric’s mouth to get him what he asked for. While he was waiting on the drink, the newcomer looked over to where Dabi and Elric had started a silent argument. A few seconds later, the owner popped her head out and gave a scathing glare to both of them.

 

“Hey, boy! I’m not letting you stay here for free, you get up off your ass and go do your goddamn job for once. Get away from the bar and stop talking to customers on work, you imbecile!” Everyone at the bar winced at the volume, and some of the regulars sent Elric a few pitying looks, as if Dabi should be planning his friends funeral. 

 

Elric caught his alarmed glance. “She’s not gonna kill me, relax. She’s too much of a softie for that.”

 

A very obvious cough sounded from the back, and his face went three shades paler. “O-on the other hand, I do like having all of my limbs attached.” The little lunatic chuckled under his breath and murmured something inaudibly, before turning around to go back to work.

 

Dabi had almost forgotten about the stranger, but right then the bartender returned with something probably radioactive, judging by the expression on their face. Either that or it was straight snake venom, or a pumpkin spice latte, or something equally as bad. 

 

He paid and sniffed the drink, cringing in that special way that only teachers, insomniacs, and new mothers can. A ‘this may kill me but if I don't get the caffeine then I’ll kill myself anyway’ kinda charm. A glance at Elric as he walked outside was enough to get him to turn to Dabi questioningly. 

 

“You seem to know that kid.” Dabi nodded, not seeing where he was going. “Why is a kid working in a bar in this side of town? And a foreigner at that?”

 

Huh. He… hadn’t really thought about why Elric would go straight for the area of the city that had a big red sign pronouncing ‘ILLEGAL STUFF HERE’. If he needed a place to stay, why didn’t he get a room somewhere nice?

 

“I… actually don’t know, really. Kid’s mysterious, but he makes a good bouncer.” The hobo-man looked displeased with that answer, but he knocked back half of his pond sludge with a grimace and Dabi couldn’t help but feel mildly impressed with that, so all was cool on his end. The bartender finished cleaning one of the cups and leaned on the bar, looking questioningly at the newcomer.

 

“Oh, you talking about Fullmetal? Yeah, the squirt’s real foreign, didn’t speak a lick of Japanese when he first came here. Few days later, he was practically fluent!” They laughed at the confused face of the man in black. “He’s a real smarty, and boss has taken a liking to him. Got some serious height issues though.”

 

Why did this dude look so familiar? It was nagging at the back of Dabi’s head, just something about this guy… maybe he was a big time villain? Nah, seemed too concerned about Elric working here to be really evil.

 

Before he could figure it out, the newcomer paid in cash for his drink, then ambled away from the bar.

 

Ah, well. It would come to him.

 

-

 

It was a bar.

 

It wasn’t enough that Shota was dragged out of bed at the ass crack of dawn to chase some new vigilante, nooooooo, of course the video trail lead him straight to a bar. Not only was the headache bad enough already, the first people he saw upon entering just so happened to match the basic descriptions of his perps. And they were both kids. 

 

Okay, maybe the scarred one might be an adult, but he was younger than Shota and thus that argument was invalid. Speaking of argument, why was the kid shouting? Really, must every blonde he will ever meet be obnoxiously loud? It didn’t seem that unusual to the patrons, which was upsetting because this child was like twelve why was he here seriously.

 

And yeah, he had some doubts. You’d think that anyone trying to be a vigilante would know how to accurately avoid cameras, and for this guy to get caught, then either this dude knew absolutely nothing about technology or did it on purpose. The first means… well, not anything good, but not earth-shattering. On purpose, however, means that this is probably a trap.

 

Goodie.

 

He was not awake enough for this.

 

He sat by quietly as the kid got yelled at by someone telling him to go back to… wait, did he work here? Shota really didn't like that. He also really didn't like the mask this boy was wearing as he walked by, which implied a lot of things that he didn’t have the time to go into. Most importantly, that was the mask caught on film.

 

Why was it a kid? He taught people older than that, he knew just how terrible teenagers can be.

 

The bartender seemed willing enough to share basic information, but the scarred man seemed a bit more wary, almost as if he recognized Shota. The suspicion was worth it though, and he got a few good tidbits he could share with the police. For example, the man sitting next to him was obviously the closest to the kid, and everyone at the bar knew him as Fullmetal, for some reason, but this dude seemed to know a different name, seeing how he needed to correct himself everytime he talked about him.

 

If this child’s best friend was an angsty college dropout who practically lives in a bar, then there was no hope for him. Nevertheless, his teacher instincts were screaming at him to at least try, and after a minute he forced his aching limbs to move again and paid in cash before slowly walking outside. 

 

“You are new?” 

 

He wasn’t startled by the kid (a bright red coat will have that effect, seriously, why was it red?), but the very noticeable accent still caught him a bit off guard. Not many people here tended to have such a blatantly european accent. 

 

“Yeah, I guess. Who are you?”

 

The teenager gave a little sigh, very obviously unhappy with having to talk to someone. “My name… no, it really does not matter. Who are you?”

 

“I’m Shouta... Yamada.” He cringed internally at having to use Mic’s name, but whatever. “I assume you work here? How did that happen?”

 

A shrug. “I was down on my… luck, I suppose, and the owner was very kind enough to offer me a job and place to stay. What brings you here?”

 

“I’m new to the city, just exploring.” The boy was matching him question for question almost offhandedly, like he subconsciously refused to let Shouta have the last word. “How long have you been here?”

 

“Not very long, I am new here as well. As you can see, I am really not from around here.” He stressed the really, but without seeming embarrassed. They stood in silence for a moment, except it was more contemplative silence than awkward, both sizing the other up. Shouta hadn’t seen the boy without the mask, and he was really itching to see, but he realized he had already intruded far too much. He turned to leave with a muttered goodbye, and was halfway out the alley before the boy’s voice made him stop.

 

“Hey, wait a minute. Do you know anything about…” Shota turned back in time to see the kid pull out a slip of paper from some unseen pocket and frown at it. “... some villain named All For One?”

 

He could honestly say he hadn’t, but the name was certainly ominous enough. “Can’t say I have. I’ll keep a lookout, how about that?”

 

-*-

 

XXX XX

 

“Maybe neither of them are to blame. Perhaps the guilt rests on the father’s shoulders. Yes, he gave warnings, but children cannot be held accountable for mistakes they make without knowing any better. The father should have talked to his boy, should have guided him and told him of the dangers and watched him and caught him when he fell and carried him to land. All of it could have been avoided if the father hadn’t given his son the wings in the first place.”

 

“Are you speaking of anyone in particular?” he laughed at the listener’s sour look.

 

-*-

 

April 6th, 223X

 

A quiet breath cut him off mid sentence, but the man wasn’t stupid enough to try to continue.

 

“Are you telling me that you haven’t found anything , even after the month I have so graciously given you? Even after I allowed you to use new recruits as searchers? That you have absolutely nothing?”

 

“W-well…” He licked his lips nervously. “We did get an abnormally high reading on someone who came in recently, meaning they probably spend a lot of time around the anomaly. I-I have set someone up to tail him… Master.”

 

All For One eased himself back gently, seeming a little less mad, but also much more distracted. He waved at the doctor, who let out a silent sigh of relief. “I expect constant updates. Just because I can’t kill you doesn’t mean you get unlimited time. If this… anomaly is as powerful and slippery as I believe, then I give you until our planned attack at U.A., whenever that may be, is.”

 

The most dangerous man in the world leaned forward, scarred face wrinkling at the edges. “By then, doctor, I expect to have them either working for me, or dead after I take their power. This is your job, I hope you realize what failing entails for you and your family.”

 

The doctor whimpered out a hurried affirmative and scurried out the door. All For One scoffed. How such a proud man could become so cowardly when faced with someone stronger, he would never know. The door clicked shut behind his subordinate, and his multitude of sensory quirks slowly whirred to a halt and he was once again left in pitch blackness. It was a shame he couldn’t kill the man for not meeting his deadline, but the Nomu he was creating were quite incredible and thus he was far too valuable.

 

Originally, the supervillain had been planning to simply experiment with the amount of quirks he could make a single person have, which in turn would create mindless beasts to do his bidding. But the doctor and he had realized that certain people and parts of the city were extremely high in ambient quirk energy. They had begun to monitor it in curiosity, and the doctor’s research had yielded fantastic results, with the new Nomus being able to maximise their quirk’s power.

 

It was, quite honestly, groundbreaking.

 

By increasing quirk factors in various ways, a person could be genetically modified to successfully hold multiple quirks and their sanity. More and more quirks were required to make a good Nomu, but he had quirks to spare and they were the most powerful yet. Better yet, one of his quirks was perfect for breaking down genetic and atomic codes to make each generation better than before.

 

All For One leaned back, satisfied. When an enormous spike had shown up in the ambient quirk energy readings, he figured it had been some type of rogue Nomu, or maybe someone with a quirk similar to his own. Only someone with ridiculously powerful abilities or an immense amount of quirks would create that kind of disturbance, and he was sure that they could work something out, either a partnership or a new quirk for him. Either way, a success.

 

After all, that level of power would be enough to reshape the fabric of the world.

 

-

 

Dabi slammed down his glass. “Never heard of him. Why?”

 

Elric sighed, sliding down in his chair until his heels scrapped the old wood paneling. “That is the person I am looking for. Have you really not heard of him?”

 

The man shook his head, then paused. “Say…” he wet his lips cautiously, leaning forward amid the general chatter. “I haven’t heard that name before… but I have seen the posters, so I checked up on those.”

 

“Posters?” Elric looked surprised, which was odd. With the amount of small-time villains and criminals he talked to on a daily basis, Dabi thought that he would have at least heard of them.

 

“Oh, yeah, the posters. Honestly surprised you hadn’t heard of ‘em yet, with how much they get passed around this part of the city. Posters, um…” he racked his brain for words that weren’t more than ten letters long, “... for hiring people? Do you know recruitment or propaganda? Yeah, those. They were put up long before you got here.”

 

The teenager wrinkled his nose in distaste. “And what do posters have to do with my looking for someone?”

 

That brought a small laugh out of him, and he lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Possible everything, if I’m right. So I went to check this thing out, as one does, and guess what I find? Practically no one. This big warehouse down in Kamino, complete with rooms and beds and a whole bar. But there’s not a soul there, except for a few guys who flit around during the day. I stayed for two nights, and not once did I see a leader.”

 

“But you would need some type of a leader in order to organize something that would require… recruitment posters.”

 

“Exactly. So I started wondering where this guy could be hiding. I go in, just to look around. This big burly dude comes up to me and starts rambling about me being a new hire or some shit, so I play along and eventually I con him into giving me a tour. Still no boss.” Now it was Dabi’s turn to make a face. “But we did find one other guy, this little crusty hand boy who acts six but looks fifty, with the body and temperment of a college freshman during exam week. So now I’m listening to Hands McGee go a little cuckoo and rant about some guy he called Sensei. Ultimately, still no leader.”

 

Elric frowned in confusion, leaning back a bit to avoid Dabi’s now wildly swinging hands. “So… nothing. Then who would organize this… unless-”

 

Dabi grinned. “Yep. Turns out I was right, since this nice lady eventually took pity on the ‘new hire’ and explained some things. They were hiring for an attack on a hero school, specifically U.A. High.” His audience looked a bit confused, and he elaborated. “Heroics high school, famous for a lot of things, not really important. What is important is that they said they were attacking All Might.”

 

He paused for dramatic effect, but a slight narrowing of the kid’s golden eyes was all he got. “Oh, really? You don’t know All Might?!” He was fixed with a deadpan stare at that, and he huffed in annoyance. “Have you never gone on the internet?”

 

“Actually, I have,” he said, way too proudly for a teenager. “I do not have a computer or cell phone though, and so I had to use the library’s.”

 

“...you know what, I’m not getting into this. We are not talking about him today. The only thing you need to know is that he’s ridiculously powerful, and villains have been trying to kill or defeat him for literal decades. If they want an army to defeat All Might, then its a disposable one. And a-”

 

“-disposable army doesn’t need to see the leader, so they can’t give up any info if they’re captured,” Elric finished with a calculating look in his far-off gaze. It wasn’t hard to forget how smart and analytical the kid was when he screamed at milk, but now it was really showing through. “I would bet that most of those people do not even know where the base is.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

“So you think this ‘Sensei’ guy is the person I am looking for?” He shot Dabi an intrigued look. “As in I might be able to discover him if I can follow this group of his?” The scarred man only nodded, and Fullmetal murmured something in his language with a heavy exhale through his nose, rubbing his arm as if in pain.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“Oh, um, yeah,” the boy said, looking a bit startled, before relaxing a bit with a little wince of pain. “Just an old injury, acts up in bad weather.”

 

It was silent for a moment, both watching the first little raindrops begin to pitter against the grimy windows.

 

“...I actually meant to- well, to ask you this earlier, but I got sidetracked. I mean, we know, like, nothing about you. Why are you looking for this guy?”

 

Elric coughed a little sheepishly. “I- well, he-,” he started haltingly, then paused as if gathering his thoughts. “... I am working for someone, you could say, and I need to bring them this man in order to be… paid.” He looked a little awkward saying it, and he chose his words very deliberately, but Dabi couldn’t be sure if that was due to the language differences or not.

 

“Oh, so you’re on a job, then,” Dabi said, trying very hard to not ask who would employ a kid to be a hitman, or why they would choose a kid in the first place, even though it did explain the ‘old injury’. “Where are you from?”

 

He looked a bit frazzled at the sudden change, but answered soon enough. “Amestris.” Dabi had never heard of it, and it must have shown on his face judging by the huff he received. “... I suppose you would call it Germany.” Now that made more sense, just from the coloring alone.

 

He was about to ask another question, but Elric’s head shot up like a startled rabbit as a woman all dressed in grays walked in, which was a bit odd since they were about ten minutes from closing and people had already started to leave en masse.

 

Nope, sorry, girl dressed in gray, with blond hair and a nasty grin. She didn’t even look twice at the bar area and the people sitting there, just striding straight to the back and letting herself onto the roof. Judging from the shouts outside, she must have been escaping someone, and Dabi had to give points for creativity.

 

“Thank you for the tip on… what do they call itself?”

 

“Oh, yeah!” Dabi snapped in remembrance, turning back from staring at the door, and almost missed how Elric flinched at the sound. The boy was standing with his mask on, probably to go outside and scare away some loiterers and drunks who tried to stay past closing, which meant he needed to go soon too. “I almost forgot to tell you, because it was so stupid. They called themselves the League of Villains.”

 

-*-

 

XXX XX

 

The storyteller sighed heavily, sitting down to look down on his listener.

“In the end, it doesn’t matter. That tale is just a story, a cautionary tale for mothers to tell their children when they misbehave. ‘Don't end up like him,’ they say, and the kids become still with fear until they forget and go right back to playing their carefree games.”

 

The listener sits up too, sending one last look at the glowing sky. “Why doesn’t it matter?”

 

He turned to him, face somewhere between a smile and a grimace. “The story is false, anyway. The closer to the sun you get, it actually gets colder in our atmosphere. His wings would only have failed if he flew too close to the water. The higher you fly, the safer you are. No one can touch you, everyone always watches the one who flies the highest and dares to go where none have gone before.”

 

-*-

 

April 11th, 223X

 

It wasn’t that Shouta wanted to go back to the bar. Hell, that was one of the last things he possibly could have wanted. And yet he continued to find himself back here, even if it was chasing down a high schooler with a blood quirk and a penchant for violent murder. From a rooftop half a block down, he just managed to see the boy he had talked to a few days ago shoo away a few lingerers out of the alley, and suddenly a thought struck him.

 

He couldn’t tell exactly how old the kid was, but it couldn’t be older than the incoming first years. Pulling out his phone, he sent a quick text to Nedzu with the teen’s basic characteristics, asking him to keep a lookout.

 

He looked back, watching the other teen he’d seen leave with a wave and a laugh to the golden haired boy. Something wasn’t-

 

Ding

 

That… wasn’t good. Nedzu always took time to research, to calculate before responding with any kind of an answer. Nedzu didn’t just guess. A quick look at his screen confirmed his suspicions.

 

King Rat: That is the person who is being watched on vigilante charges? Do you have any more information? I need you to respond quickly, Aizawa. What's the quirk, the name?

 

depresso espresso: I don’t know. I haven’t seen his face at all, I only know where he’s working and living. If I get more information I will send it to you, but for now there’s nothing.

 

King Rat: Intriguing. Applications are going to be coming in soon, it’s only nine months before entrance exams. If he applies I can run a search and we could possibly get more information.

 

depresso espresso : That’s all I’m asking, thank you. Patrons at the bar he works for called him Fullmetal. I can’t get too much more info while doing my classes though, so if you need anything else be sure to tell me soon or assign someone else.

 

King Rat: It is three in the morning, Aizawa. Go to sleep. You have class tomorrow, or did you forget?

 

Shouta scoffed, silently enjoying the pre-dawn city breeze in his hair as he crouched on top of the building. Nedzu seemed to catch on to his relentless expulsion method pretty quickly, since even though he didn’t have students this year he was still teaching around the school and filling in as a substitute or tutor. It was honestly unfair.

 

He pocketed his phone, not deigning Nedzu with a reply. A glance down and across the street showed him an empty alley, so he cold assume his target had finally gone inside to sleep. Seriously, the kid must have an energy quirk with the way he stayed up all night and yet Shouta saw him wandering the streets during the day, poking into libraries and stores and other back-alley bars.

 

But however he denied it, it was still three A.M., and he did need to wake up in about two hours. Goodie.

 

-*-

 

XXX XX

 

“But wouldn’t there be less oxygen too?” the helpless the atoner the bargain the listener asked the one with a confused look.

 

“Oh, I said his wings wouldn’t fail, not that he would survive. Fly too high, and you can’t breathe. You choke yourself on your own ambition, go any further and you would no longer have the strength to flap your wings, to even keep aloft. You would black out before you hit the water. Not only that, but the higher you go, the harder you fall.”

 

“Remember, boy, being in the sky is dangerous, if you’re alone. But my little al~chem~ist will never leave you truly alone, will he?”

 

The Truth paused contemplatively. The boy had already been away for a few weeks and not much has happened, it was getting bored… “Say, Alphonse Elric, would you like to watch?”

Their guest nodded cautiously, expecting them to name a price, but when it didn't he grew more excited.

 

Huh. That was always an option. Truth had to say that they liked Edward Elric, liked his tenacity and willingness to play by its rules. It would so hate to see him die…

 

A choice, then. And wasn’t that just life?

 

-*- 

 

April 16th, 223X

 

A light knock on the wood was the only warning he got before Ijiwaru barged her way in. Edward was starting to get droopy after he didn’t sleep yesterday, but he could still make out her disapproving stare.

 

“You need to go to sleep, Elric.” At least she had the sense of mind to not scream it out for the whole city to hear. Small mercies. She was still glaring at his lack of reaction, so he forced his numb fingers to uncurl from around his pen and blearily opened his mouth to respond.

 

“No, no, you don’t get to talk. You’ve been running on empty, boy, time to go to bed. What are you even working on this late at night?” She leaned over his desk, her lavender pixie cut casting a dark shadow on his strewn about papers. Edward didn’t have much room to begin with, but he had alchemized himself a desk as soon as he could, figuring he would need it. Turns out he was right.

 

She stared with unhidden curiosity at his forms, namely the six or seven application forms for different hero schools around Japan. She picked one up, squinting at it in the low light. Edward’s back ached from the odd posture, and it protested loudly as he made an ineffective swipe for the… either the Shiketsu or Ketsubutsu one, he was too tired to tell.

 

“Gibe id baag,” he slurred, finding Japanese to be particularly difficult after so long staring at it’s unfamiliar writing systems. Ijiwaru only sighed, but she did move back far enough for him to stretch out his back and numb tailbone

 

She made no move to force him to go to sleep, so he took another look at the paper-strewn space. “You know,” she started, a bit slower than usual, “When Ryōsei told me you mentioned applying to hero school, I didn’t think you were serious. Or that you were applying to so many.” She grimaced with a distaste for paperwork even greater than Mustang’s.

 

Edward’s brain was still a bit fuzzy, but he could see the honest confusion on her pale features. “Yeah, um…” He yawned before he could finish, but she seemed to get what he was trying to say.

 

“Keeping your options open, smart,” she commented, yawning in concert with him and stretching out her thin figure until her hands brushed the ceiling. “Just get to sleep soon, I can’t have a worker who falls asleep on the job!” With a toothy chuckle she left his room, closing the door softly at her heels. He was left alone in silence.

 

He reached over to switch off his light, but paused, eyes just catching on the U.A. form he’d gotten from online. Most of it was filled out, but the clean white paper mocked him with its empty, unanswerable spaces. 

 

Name: Edward Heiderich 

 

Like hell he was going to use his real name, and a simple online search had given him a trove of common German names.

 

Place of Origin: Munich, Germany

 

Age: 15

 

That one had also taken some digging, to find the average high school entrance age, and he was already lying about his name, his age wouldn’t make too much of a difference.

 

Place of Current Residence: Musutafu, Japan

 

Quirk:

 

That one was left completely blank. He knew that Truth said to put it down as Atomic Manipulation, but for some reason that just rubbed him the wrong way. He supposed he would need to come back to that one, but it rested heavily on the back of his mind. It was left blank on every document, as was the Reason for Application and Optimal Costume Design. 

 

He groaned it frustration and slammed his face on the desk. He had not the faintest clue of what to put on either of those too, but for a completely different reason. For the reasoning, well, he can’t exactly say he just wanted the school’s resources in order to find a massive supervillain he needed to kill. That was a good way to not get accepted. As for the costume, it was simply that his preferred outfit was currently associated with a vigilante, who just happened to be very illegal.

 

Ugh.

 

After another five minutes of staring at his desk and contemplating throwing himself out the window, he finally flicked off the lights and rolled onto his bed. The dark ceiling shimmered with moving shadows from the lights outside and the hustle of city life just beyond his window. He squinted at his stopwatch, which read just after five. It was far too late- er, early?- to be figuring out his problems as he lay in an illegal bar in the middle of a city he had first laid eyes upon a month ago. Truth, his brain hurt.

 

He fingered the stopwatch as he held it over his head, getting glimpses of the cool metal as he traced his flesh fingers over the intricate military design. Even after all this, the wars, the fighting, it was still working, still chugging along with that near-silent tick tick tick and comforting weight in his pocket. His stiff right arm flopped across his forehead on top of his blankets, and he had to marvel that his automail was still working too, even as the plate connections threatened to tangle up his hair as it splayed across his rock-hard pillow. He wasn’t sure whether to thank Truth or Winry, but it was impressive nonetheless.

 

A lazy roll onto his side gave him a nice view of the cracked walls, the ones he’d promised to fix someday when he had somewhere else to stay. As much as he’d like to deny it, Edward had grown attached to these odd people and this crappy old bar. He could almost hear Al yelling at him to go to sleep, and started imagining all of his friend’s and coworker’s reactions to his situation. Havoc would be laughing with Breda at the hilarity, Hawkeye would be way too protective over him, Winry would be screaming about not breaking his automail, Mustang would be smug over how he could do a better job. ‘ Fullmetal’, he’d say, ‘ looks like you really can’t do much. Is the little Fullmetal Alchemist too proud to ask for help?’

 

He thought brought a grin to his lips, even as he dragged a hand down his face slowly until his eyes were again exposed, staring sightlessly at the walls. He let out a puff of air.

 

Fullmetal. Hagane no. Literally, it translated to steel, or Alchemist of Steel. And in Japanese, alchemy was an odd word since it was so uncommon. Full of syllables, so out of place in this era of quirks and technology. He… he was ancient, in all reality. Outdated, unused, unneeded. So was alchemy, since everything he could find showed it being a useless dead art from long ago that had little to do with Amestris’ version. There, alchemy was a commonplace word. Everyone had at least heard of it, it was essential for a lot of things, just as quirks were now but not as polarizing.

 

He sighed in the dark, as the little flashes of light from his covered window carefully illuminated his weary face. Someone shouted outside, but it faded off quickly. Almost… He sat up in bed, flicking on his light. It was almost a little too quickly. He carefully pulled his coat back on to cover his arm and grabbed his gloves, slipping them on with his shoes as he carefully looked out the window. He didn't see anything immediately, but the scream had been close.

 

A shadow flickered at the end of the alley, and Edward cursed in Amestrian as he started to overbalance putting on his shoes. The movement stopped, but now his curiosity absolutely would not let him go back to sleep. A muffled sound finally convinced him, and he sent a mental apology to Ijiwaru as he quietly opened his window and climbed out, dropping the ten or so feet to the ground with a roll. There was still a bit of a clanking, but he was really hoping whoever it was would just think it was a cat or something and not pay attention.

 

The sounds paused, and he held his breath, then released it when they started up again. It reminded him… He blanched, eyes quickly shooting open. Oh, please let it be anything but that. If he walked in on that… oh Truth, he would boil his eyes right out of his skull. Fuck the mission- gosh, why did he phrase it like that! Shit shit shit goddamn this whole thing. The only functioning part of his brain, the parts not filled with screaming sirens and a chorus of much more colorful nope nope nope ’s, yelled at him to just climb the wall again, slip back inside and go to bed, just forget about all of this.

 

He was about to do the smart thing and listen to it, but an itty-bitty voice in the very back of his head that sounded eerily similar to his brother whispered that someone might be in trouble, he should at least go check it out.

 

Ah, fuck it. The adrenaline wasn’t going to let him go back to sleep now anyway. His scrubbed at his burning face with his gloved hands, then paused in sudden realization. He didn’t have his mask. Whatever it was- stop it brain, he needed to think- was getting closer and louder, he didn’t have enough time to go back up, get it off his desk, and come back down again. Silently swearing even more profusely than before at his inner Al, he raced over to one of the dumpsters and formed a new one, jumping behind the dumpster and fitting it onto his face just in the nick of time. Two arguing people rounded the corner, and all of his mind was filled with relief that it wasn’t what he’d feared.

 

“-course he was there, dumbass! What did you expect, a fucking hero would catch the bastard before I would?” Edward was really pushing it today, the unfamiliar accent of a brand new language was certainly not doing any favors for his tired brain. The other one- a girl, maybe?- scoffed at the guy who’d spoken, as if finding the whole thing ridiculous. 

 

“I never doubted you’d get him, I just wanted proof,” she huffed out. She gave off too many Lust vibes to put Ed at ease, and he wasn’t one to underestimate women, but the guy seemed to not take her too seriously. “So, where is he? I heard a bit of the fight earlier, so I know you’re finished. You still need half the money, and I need him.”

 

“Ah, ah, ah, the money first. You really think I’d just hand my catch off to some bitch before I’ve gotten paid?”

 

“You really think that I’m stupid enough to just give my money to some back-alley murder fucker before I’ve gotten my prize? How much of a shithead can you get, honestly.” She took a drag from a cigarette, and Ed fought not to cough. He poked his head around the edge just enough to see them, and noticed a large squirming bag on the ground. It seems they both noticed it’s movement too, and the woman took a step back.

 

“Ugh, so unprofessional. You didn’t even knock him out? I shouldn’t even be paying for such a sub-par job.” And off they went again. The bag continued to squirm, and now he could hear muffled shouting. The woman walked closer to where he was hiding while the man kicked the bag. He started saying something, but Ed was more preoccupied with watching her then figuring out his accent.

 

She gently brushed the ground as she passed him, rippling the concrete as she coaxed it to move. A small briefcase was pushed to the surface with a little shudder, and she came to a stop right underneath his window. He couldn’t see her face, but her high-heeled boots clicked ominously across the pavement as she strode back to the bag and it’s watcher. She dragged the back of her uncovered hand over the bag, and it stilled.

 

Ed hated quirks with a burning passion.

 

She reached up and touched the man’s arm, but Ed couldn’t see much after that since they 

moved a bit more towards the mouth of the alleyway, probably to talk about prices. Fortunately, that meant they left the bag unattended. Why was it always stealth with these things? Maybe he could ask someone to make him a muffler for his arm and leg… No, focus. The sun was going to be up before too long, he didn’t want more people coming by and seeing this kidnapping in progress. And judging from the arguing, this could turn into a fight and get ugly real fast. He felt like bashing his head against the wall. Fine, fine.

 

Creeping forward, he inched his gloved hand toward the bag carefully. Neither of the villains noticed, too busy getting more and more heated in their discussion over price. He gently wrapped his left around a corner, getting ready to drag it back over to him. But there was a problem.

 

Ed was crouched down. The bag held a fully grown man. Ed was not a fully grown man. There was a logistics issue here, as in it was very difficult to drag or lift someone much heavier than you with any type of speed or stealth. It wasn’t impossible for him to lift, but it wouldn’t be fast or quiet or easy, and more importantly it would be very hard for him to lift it through his second story window. Solution: take out the man and woman first.

 

He couldn’t let her touch him, that much was obvious, but he really had no clue about what the man’s power was. And he couldn’t endanger the victim either, so he was at a severe disadvantage. But on the other hand…

 

His head poked over the edge of the dumpster to pinpoint his attack, then ducked down again and he clapped. The usual blue light and clapping noise drew their attention, but it didn’t matter as two stone hands flowed their way out of the concrete. The newly-formed fingers curled around the shocked villains and the woman dropped the briefcase in surprise. Before it could hit the ground, a gloved hand snatched it away. It was heavy enough, so he transferred it to his right arm.

 

The wide-eyed woman screeched at him behind the stone finger as Ed stalked forward, still annoyed by these idiots not letting him sleep. Her hands were pinned at the wrists and unable to touch anything, so she was safely secured. As for the man, whose quirk was still unknown, Ed had covered him up to the eyes in concrete, completely immobilizing him and hopefully neutralizing his quirk. Even so, he walked forward carefully with his hands inches apart and an array shining in his mind. The guy looked normal enough, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.

 

“Look, guys. It is almost sunrise. I do not know how long you have been awake, but for me it has been several days since I have slept. I am quite pissed about you fuckers making me get up when I was just about to fall asleep.” He paused a few feet from the now furiously screaming woman, but she fell silent when he shifted his arm into a blade that stopped inches from her exposed throat. He would never kill her, but she didn’t have to know that.

 

He paused for effect, as both the villain’s eyes were now pinned on the sharp, gleaming metal. “So. I suggest you work with me, before I do something I might regret.”

 

-

 

He flopped into bed- finally- about thirty minutes later, after scaring the absolute shit out of both of his captives and then taking all three people involved and dropping them off nicely in front of a police station. He’d set the man in the bag free, and boy was he not happy about being kidnapped. Ed had left both of the now thoroughly tied up people with him, figuring the dude would help police with filing a report. He had been very thankful to Ed, which was very appreciated, but had also promised not to give too many details about his savior.

 

He paused. That… that was his first actual vigilante-ish act. Huh. The one from last week didn’t count, not really, since that was just for information (And cash, but he needed food money. That was a fun conversation, when Ryōsei had to explain their currency to him.). 

 

Really, Al. I wish you could be here, since when I come back for you, you’ll never believe me if you don’t see it for yourself.

 

As the boy rolled onto his back and stared with tired golden eyes up at the ceiling, the sun just cresting the horizon and beginning to paint the new buildings in pinks and blues, another set of sleepless eyes fills out a U.A. application on a desk halfway across town, green irises bouncing with excitement even as he gets ready for his morning jog.

 

Two bloodshot eyes blink tiredly at a phone screen in a small apartment next to the school building, just now falling into bed only to awaken an hour later and get ready for his job with a steaming pot of coffee at the ready.

 

A pair of cerulean eyes look out a window into the rural countryside of her hometown, clueless about the shifting paths, clouds casting dimply shadows on the rolling green hills as the sun and moon still in their path across the blue, blue sky.

 

Black irises freeze in place at the moment of activation, faded from their usual rich color by the lifelessness of the blind and exhausted, as his subordinate with her own grievous wounds holds him up, her mouth spread wide in an agonizingly still imitation of a fearful scream. Both of them were bathed in frozen blue light that crackled harmlessly across their skin in a gentle hold, his face twisted in confusion and dawning horror, hers in the fear and anguish that mirrored many others’.

 

A matching golden set, more bronze than his brother’s, flit back and forth as if watching a tennis match, seeing what has happened and what is happening and what will happen with a broken expression as he watches his brother’s trials to return him to his rightful place.

 

And watching over them all was an eye-less face that held a perpetual grin, seeing everything play out, never ending and yet never beginning, as its favorite puzzle pieces slipped together like gears in their vast white machine.

Chapter Text

Jan. XX, 224X

 

Tomura watched on silently (as silently as he could, at least) from the cameras. Sensei requested that he leave, but he’d never said he couldn’t eavesdrop.

 

The golden-eyed kid was standing now, mask on the floor, making blindingly obvious the young age and lack of experience controlling his emotions. His pale features were narrowed and pinched into an impressively animalistic snarl that would have made any lesser man flee from those sharp canines and cat-like golden eyes.

 

“Fuck no! Bastard,” Fullmetal growled out through gritted teeth. “Even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you, jackass. Let me. The fuck. Go. Before I make you.”

 

Sensei looked on calmly, undisturbed by the loud and brash threats. “Ah, my boy. Don’t be so crass. You’re free to leave at any time. Besides, it is… unwise and unbecoming of you to make threats you can’t follow up on.”

 

“Liar. I’m not stupid. If I leave now, you’re just going to follow me home and catch me later, maybe kill some of my friends in the process.” Those eyes narrowed even further, just little rage-filled slits. “And you’re right, I shouldn’t write checks I can’t cash. Good thing my bank account is full then, huh?”

 

“Hmm. True, but I doubt you have quite near enough money to cash that particular one. Looks like it will bounce after all.” The vigilante was quiet, and Sensei smiled as much as he could. “See? A nice, civil conversation. At least hear me out before you go.”

 

The boy sat down warily, but he was much calmer than before. Tomura was glad for that, at least. He knew Sensei could take care of himself and he would never dream of trying to protect him, but he’d rather not deal with a fight.

 

“Let’s see… you’re a vigilante, right?” The kid nodded, obviously willing to listen at least. “May I ask why that is, before we begin?”

 

“It’s simple, really. Becoming a hero takes too long and is far too restricting, but being a villain is very… is edgy the word? Yeah, edgy, and I refuse to kill.”

 

All For One cocked his head a little bit in though. “I see. Well,” and here he paused to gather his thoughts, “what do you think of this society, this world, my little anomaly?”

 

The vigilante was more loose now, and answered after a second to think over his answer. “I think that it’s… stifling, I suppose. Unjust. Unfair.”

 

“There you go.” Sensei spread his arms magnanimously. “Now what if I gave you a way to change that, without killing? Or maybe just disposing of one person. One false symbol to create a new world. How about it? With your obvious power you can help me fix everything. Be a true hero.”

 

There was a moment of silence. Tomura was ready to turn away from the cameras, having seen this many times over. A wonderful deal to someone pushed out of society, and they always took it. But then there was laughter.

 

“Oh, man. That was the most fun I’ve had in ages,” the kid said, still chuckling. “Alright. A few things to thank you for, before we begin. First, thank you for letting me know why you were after me; second, that you are in fact who I’m looking for; and third, telling me just how much you know about me.”

 

In the blink of an eye he was standing, the crackle of sparks highlighting the sudden blade where his arm had been. He took a ready stance.

 

“But I think you misheard me, you baked-potato looking fuckmunch. The only reason I'm not a hero is because becoming one takes too much time, and I don’t give two shits about your society. I’m here to kick your ass, drag you back to face Truth, and go home. Let’s start the first step, shall we?”

 

-*-

 

April 17th, 223X

 

A stack of papers slammed down onto his desk before he had even sat down, and Naomasa raised an eyebrow as he settled into his chair. He blew over his coffee to cool it off, and looking over the top page, he almost regretted coming to work today.

 

“An incident report? This early in the morning?”

 

Sugara collapsed into the chair opposite and slammed her head into the desk with enough force to shake the whole thing in lieu of a response. Judging from the timestamp, the poor woman must have been woken up before dawn to come deal with it, and he knew for a fact she had been on late shift last night, too. She probably hadn’t slept a wink. He silently held out his coffee, and she eagerly lifted her head to drink about half of it before burying her face in her arms again. Naomasa took a small sip in understanding. So it was one of those.

 

Her voice was muffled by the wood, but he could still hear her tired voice well enough. “Two kidnappers and a kidnap victim were dropped off at the station very early this morning.” As she spoke, he picked the first sheet off the pile and began to read. “The kidnappers were restrained, and the kidnap victim denied any involvement in detaining them. He said… he said he was rescued, but we’re absolutely positive that no heroes were in the area at the time when he said he was attacked.”

 

“Have you checked with the underground heroes?” he asked with a frown, finishing off his first cup. Judging by the way this was starting today, it wouldn’t be his last.

 

She lifted her head just enough to give him a sleepy glare. “Of course we did, idiot. My team isn’t that incompetent.” He coughed sheepishly, and she huffed, slamming her head back into the table before continuing. “So, yeah. That’s a thing. Now everyone’s thinking vigilante, but the dude refused to give any details on appearance. Probably thankful to whoever it was that saved him.”

 

At this part she shifted so her chin was resting on the crowded table, giving him a small relieved smile. “Thankfully, the kidnappers weren’t so reluctant.”

 

“So you got a description?”

 

“Um…” Now it was Sugara’s turn to look sheepish. “Not- not exactly.” Naomasa gave her a look, and she frowned at him. “They were willing to talk once they regained consciousness, of course, but they didn’t have much of anything useful. Said they weren’t sure if it was a boy or a girl, just that they seemed young. Apparently wearing a mask, so nothing on eye color or skin, and no way for us to get a sketch artist out here anyway, so-”

 

He held up a hand to stop her, staring intently at the papers he was holding. “You said… unable to determine gender?”

 

“Yeah. Both witnesses said that they were very short, but with long blonde hair tied back in a braid. I think the term used by the woman was ‘golden’, actually, but same thing. The voice was deep enough to be a teenage boy, or a college-age, early-twenties girl. Costume was red coat, black clothes, white gloves, and boots. Mask was metal and intricately made. No skin was shown, so that’s out, and while they supposedly have an accent, they didn’t speak enough to determine exactly where it was from.”

 

Naomasa listened intently to her statement, but his eyes were fixed onto the report in front of him. “What concerns me most is the… well, the quirk aspect. This report says that neither of the witnesses discussed the quirk, and when asked about it, were noticeably hesitant to talk and didn’t go into much detail. Is there a reason for it that we know of?”

 

She sighed again, long and heavy. “I’m afraid not. The only things we know are that they’re skilled enough to capture two adult villains with dangerous quirks-”

 

“Hang on. What I’m looking at here doesn’t mention the perps’ quirks.”

 

“That’s odd…” she said with furrowed brows, skimming the page. “Yeah, that… shouldn’t happen. I’ll work on that, but for now I know that the woman has a powerful touch-based persuasion quirk that even works on inanimate objects. The man has poisonous darts on his shoulder blades that can extend at will and contain a dangerous neurotoxin. The kidnap victim, meanwhile, has a much less powerful jump boost. I really don’t know why it wasn’t put on file…”

 

He waved her off. “It’s fine, Sugara, I can take care of it. You look dead on your feet, go take a nap in the breakroom. I think Shironoto left a pillow in there, you can probably use that.”

 

“Aw, that’s sweet of you. Good luck Nao-chan.”

 

As she left with a tired thanks and a yawn, Naomasa couldn’t help but feel a little anxious. Both of the attackers had extremely dangerous quirks and were regular villains. From the report, while the kidnappers had skipped the details of the quirk that took them down, they had both complained at length over the fact that they were immobilised before they even noticed the vigilante. Musutafu had tons of vigilante reports every year, but most of them were one off things. Not only was this guy skilled and had a good quirk, the costume made him think that maybe this one might stick around.

 

Which meant more time in the station trying to hunt them down. Absolutely fantastic.

 

Naomasa got up to get another cup of coffee, a newly-formed headache already pounding at his skull. The percolator whirred to life, and before long the scent of coffee filled the air. Waiting for the machine to pour him a cup, the detective cast his gaze around the room, and since not too many people were in yet, it was still blissfully quiet. 

 

After about five hours and four cups of coffee, a new pot was done brewing just before lunch break, and a few officers wandered in to grab a cup for themselves. Naomasa slipped out of the group and back towards his desk, leaning against the edge of the old wood as he stole whatever time he could out of the chair. His papers lay scattered around after a few hours of frustration at his newest headache, and he put his mug (It said #1 Dad-tective on it, it was a joke gift from the archive room for christmas two years ago. At first he had hated it, but now he found himself using it more and more,) down so he could tidy up a bit. The room was starting to fill up with a bit more chatter as more and more people streamed in to leave for lunch.

 

One of his newer papers sat delicately on top as he tapped the pile against the desk to straighten all the pages out. He glanced over it curiously, not fully remembering it, but after a moment paused. It was a vigilante report from a few weeks ago that had been caught on camera with no eyewitnesses. The footage was grainy and colorless, but he had printed out a few screenshots that had the best view of the incident and attached them to the file. 

 

His eyes widened. The pictures may have been black and white, but the person in the picture was wearing a blurry cloak, dark underclothing… He flipped through a few more pictures before stopping on one. It was the vigilante mid-tackle, braid straight out behind them and metal mask gleaming with-

 

Half of his newly tidied up papers flung themselves off his desk to get away from his mad dive across it as he frantically shuffled through papers to get the new incident report from this morning. Sure enough, the descriptions matched, and Naomasa felt his face split into a wide and uncharacteristically goofy grin.

 

The chatter in the room had stopped abruptly, and in the near silence a timid voice called from the back. “Uh, Tsukauchi? You… you okay, dude? You seem…” They left the sentence unfinished, but he felt a bit too giddy to care. He knew that Eraserhead was working on the other case, so if they were connected then he might be able to just pass it off to him.

 

And if Aizawa had a lead, then they had struck gold. 

 

The noise in the room slowly started up again as he hurried away towards the front. Naomasa was silently praying that Aizawa had a lead (or could just take the case, why were the vigilante cases always given to him?!) and the free time to pursue it. The detective knew that Eraserhead didn’t have classes, so he could just call now.

 

He slipped into a little unused break room that was fairly quiet, but just as he hit the call button he realized what time it was, and resisted the urge to slam his face into the refrigerator.

 

-

 

“What.”

 

Okay, so maybe Shota wasn’t having the best morning. He probably deserved the migraine from getting a grand total of two hours of sleep and then having to deal with kids, so he wasn’t going to complain (too much) about that, but how the fuck did he deserve getting an obnoxiously loud phone call on his lunch break?! It woke him up for fuck’s sake. Fuck.

 

This time not being around students has really dumbed down his repertoire of swear words. It was both a fact and a running joke among U.A. faculty that teenagers were the most creative people on Earth when coming up with insults. 

 

Cementoss was currently winning from when he overheard a second year call a villain ‘an elementary school water fountain that spews fucking Drano, you lima bean looking fuckmunch’ after they blew up the train station and made her late to school. With more profanities.

 

Fuck. The phone. Was still in his hand. There was someone calling him. Why were they calling him. They needed to stop.

 

“What. The fu-...hell do you want.” He just barely stopped from swearing (too badly) at someone who might be a parent, because he kind of needed his job. Unfortunately, he got someone both better and so, so much worse than some entitled parent. 

 

“Oh, sorry if I woke you up.”

 

Yes, you woke me up, asshat,” Shota growled into the speaker, and there was no reply. Fair enough, he had been just a touch rude there. He forced himself to breathe and think rationally for a moment. He really shouldn’t just swear at Tsukauchi, this might actually be important. “... I apologize, that was unbecoming of me. Why are you calling.”

 

A light hearted chuckle filtered over the speakers, and he relaxed a bit. Seems the police officer wasn’t deterred by his rudeness, thankfully. “Then I apologize as well. I’m actually going to make this as fast as possible, as I’m sure such a busy man as you has a lot to do.” The teasing tone shifted a bit as the voice paused, seemingly collecting his thoughts. “Look, Aizawa… Right now I’m sending you a few files from an incident this morning related to a case you’re on.”

 

One of his most used burner phones buzzed right on time, and he fished it out from his pockets. He knew what was coming next and he stayed on the line, as much as he wanted to toss the phone off the seventh floor balcony.

 

“Let me guess. It’s the new vigilante, isn’t it?” Tsukauchi made a small sound of agreement with the tone of someone glad there was another person sharing his pain. Shota may have borrowed a bit from that second year in the impressively long obituary he was composing in his head, but who could blame him? Only a few incidents and this was already a major thorn in his side. He almost wished he had students this year so he could pass off the investigation with a good excuse.

 

His phone buzzed again, and he reluctantly opened the email. This time he was the one to draw in a thick breath to collect his thoughts. Bloodshot eyes scanned the incident report once, then twice as he fully processed the situation.

 

“So you’re assuming this isn’t just a two-off thing then.” When he spoke, all the light-heartedness was gone. This just wasn’t a time for playing around. Vigilante acts were surprisingly common, but a regular vigilante was extremely dangerous, for more than one reason. The detective seemed to share his opinion.

 

“I’m afraid so. Our only chance right now is to get a pin on them and catch them before the media finds out. If that happens, we might as well give up. There are more vigilante supporters in this area than police officers, and most wouldn’t hesitate to withhold information or help them escape,” Tsukauchi confirmed. “Do you have any leads at all? I heard that you tracked them the first time because you were in the area, did you find out where they’re living or operating from?”

 

“Better. I actually interacted with them, and… they’re young. I’m assuming teenage boy, but I could see early-twenties woman too. Definitely foreign. I didn’t get to see the eyes, but the other patrons at the bar they supposedly work and live at called them Fullmetal. The pronouns used by the bartender were male, but we can’t be positive those are correct.”

 

The police officer sighed through his nose. “So pretty much nothing. Our witnesses said pretty much the same thing. And we can’t just storm in there either, they’re at a serious flight risk. Can you at least keep a lookout, try to… I don’t know, you said you’ve interacted with them? I guess just keep doing that.”

 

Shota rubbed at his face with one hand. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll call you back in a few days if I get anything more, but for now…” he lifted the phone away from his cheek to check the time, “... my lunch break is almost over.”

 

The detective said his goodbyes and the call ended with a final beep. He sat down heavily, pillowing his head with his capture weapon and staring into the fake wood grain of the table. It was a bright, hot day outside, so the industrial lighting was faint against the off-white tiles. He could hear the door gently creak open and Ectoplasm’s distinctive footfalls. They paused after a moment before slowly getting louder.

 

He lifted up his head and mustered up one of his best glares, which according to Nemuri was somewhere between Endeavor getting ranked second for the seventeenth time and her mother. The fellow teacher wisely backed up and hurried out of the room, closing the door with a soft click.

 

He needed another nap.

 

-*-

 

April 30th, 223X

 

The phone rang a few weeks later, and Shota didn’t even bother looking at it as he answered, eyes either glued to the screen or searching desperately for his house keys. The blaring noise of his bad-quality television was not helping, and he could barely hear Tsukauchi’s voice over the ringing in his ears.

 

He wasn’t surprised. There had been reports of at least six more incidents since the first public case.

 

“Eraserhead, you need to turn on the news.”

 

-

 

“-shit shit shit fuck- up and over, oh fuck no , god fucking damn it, you bastard of a- yep thats another one, holy mother of- ah shit that can’t be good-”

 

Edward slingshotted himself around a streetlight with one hand, kneeing the… was that a man? Whatever, kneeing the man in the solar plexus. The dude behind him tripped over the gagging body, but recovered quickly enough to hurriedly roll right, just narrowly missing the gloved fist where his head had been only seconds before.

 

Another one of the guys still standing growled at him from where his goons were loading up the van with cash, abnormally large eyes locked onto the swiftly moving blonde. Ed’s rapid fire cussing in Amestrian, a few Japanese swears thrown in there for some extra flavor, probably wasn’t helping.

 

He ducked and flipped backwards, landing on his hands so that shark-head just missed grabbing him by inches. Another quick push off of his palms slammed his feet into the stomach of a neon-orange guy behind him, who dropped to the ground like a rock, wheezing. His closest attackers dealt with, Ed took the opportunity to catch his breath and wipe the sweat off his brow.

 

Teacher would kill him if she saw how out of shape he was, but in his defense, he was used to using alchemy to detain people. It was a lot harder forcing himself to not use it, but it was necessary since he was in plain view.

 

Of course it was just his luck that he had been working at the time when someone tried to rob a bank in broad daylight. He was technically a vigilante, right? So he had just thought ‘fuck it, I’ll go check it out.’ Now the police were on their way, judging from the slowly increasing sirens, and two heroes were already hovering around the edges of the fight awkwardly as they made him deal with their problems.

 

Truth he wanted to hit something. Good thing there were about three convenient faces to smash up. He lowered himself into a fighting stance, double checking that his mask covered his eyes, and began to stalk forward towards the now quite terrified boss and his two remaining minions. 

 

The sun was positively beating down on him, and his thick trenchcoat and black clothes were actually getting pretty hot, but he’d rather be sweaty and uncomfortable than get burned by his own right arm.

 

The remaining goons and their leader didn’t even try to fight him, which was honestly a bit insulting, and simply continued packing up the truck at a frantic pace, trying to stuff it all in before they had to leave. Law enforcement wasn’t here yet, but it wouldn’t be long, and the streets were still full of civilians. He needed to end this fast.

 

The claw-fingered guy flung himself in the driver's seat and started the engine, to which Ed bolted forward. He dug his metal fingers into one of the tires, easily deflating it. The next one was about to get the same treatment, but he felt more than heard the neon-orange eyesore come up from behind him and ducked to avoid the sloppy punch. 

 

They traded blows for a few moments, before Ed realized he was just trying to buy time and knocked him unconscious with a well-timed roundhouse. Keeping the spin going, he crouched to knock the feet out from underneath shark-head, who was a bit more competent and managed to leap over his feet. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t fast enough to dodge the resultant elbow to the groin and he collapsed like a wet sack of potatoes.

 

The squeal of rubber on asphalt interrupted him as he was busy choking out the last minion, so with a muffled curse he swung off the guy’s back and pulled them both to the ground. He hit the concrete with a roll and discreetly clapped his hands, pulling a pair of knives out of the cement. The truck wasn’t that far away, so he judged it carefully and threw both of them. The wings on the handles probably didn’t help with wind resistance, but one just narrowly missed the leader clinging to the back and the other shattered a taillight. Damn it, he had been aiming for the tires.

 

Either way, they fulfilled their role, and the truck swerved just enough to clip a light pole and spin out. Most of the civilians were evacuated to a safe perimeter by now, and a few heroes were cautiously walking forward to detain the ones he had already incapacitated.

 

Ed stalked over to the leader, who was lying sprawled on the ground a ways from the crash. The one who had been driving scrambled his way out of the car, which was a fantastic choice since he hadn’t made it ten feet before the thing exploded, lighting up the already sunny day even more and sending everyone nearby to their knees. 

 

He held up a metal hand to block the searing light from his spotty eyes as he tried to blink the aftereffects away. The general murmur of bystanders increased at the explosion, a wave of heat and paper ash washing over the crowd and blowing Ed’s bangs straight away from his mask. Little burnt pieces of paper flitted through the air like raindrops from the still-flaming truck, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight so the soot would probably stain the streets for weeks.

 

See, none of this dimension-hopping stuff, just straightforward fighting. Nothing like the scent of a good explosion in the morning.

 

Ed looked around, rising slowly off of his knees-

 

Ah, shit. 

 

The bug-eyed leader wasn’t as much of a slouch as he thought he was, and managed to completely topple the disoriented vigilante, who managed to roll away and stumble to his feet as the villain tried to stomp his face in. A blade extended from his metal hand with a flash of light, and he charged in, staying low to the ground. 

 

So did the leader, who didn’t have much of a defense after Ed brutally slammed his outstretched knee with a devastating axe kick that had the dude flailing backwards in pain. His flesh arm wrapped around bug-eye’s neck to swing himself onto his opponent’s back and wrap his mismatched legs around the robber’s torso. The weight of two metal limbs and another whole body was enough to tip the guy onto his knees. 

 

Edward gently placed the razor-sharp edge of his blade just hard enough to draw blood from his jugular, and the dude went deathly still.

 

A police officer cautiously crept forward-ah, so they were finally here- and handcuffed the bank robber none-too-gently. Ed moved the blade so the officers could search him, and backed a few feet away, standing by awkwardly as a few other heroes flowed onto the scene to help the first responders take away the villains and stop the fire.

 

One of the officers turned to him with a smile on her face. “Are you a new hero? Awesome debut, you took out these guys all by yourself. We can’t thank you enough for stopping them.” 

 

It was pretty common back home to be thanked, but the gratitude in her voice caught him off guard, and he blushed under his mask, nodding as professionally as he could.

 

He slowly turned to leave, but as he glanced behind him he could see the female officer tilt her head a bit, a crease in her brow as she looked at him curiously. 

 

“Hey- you look familiar. Are you really a new hero?” He frantically nodded his head, braid bobbing at the nape of his neck, but she frowned anyway, not looking convinced. “That’s odd… could you be-”

 

He couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment she realized it, since he had taken off the moment he had seen her eyes go wide. A click from behind him alerted him to the gun pointed at his back, so he did the impulsive thing and rolled sideways before darting onto a sidestreet and down a back alley.

 

The street he had just left was in uproar, police swarming the area as the crack of gunshots faded away. As much as Ed liked fighting, he really didn’t want to go toe to toe with the military, or pretty much anyone with a gun that was any type of good shot.

 

Getting shot fucking hurt, and he hadn’t gained a healthy respect for Hawkeye for nothing.

 

He took a breather in a nearby sidestreet, reducing his mask to half its size so he could actually, you know, see. At this point he was less concerned with someone seeing him than getting shot, and he turned his right hand back into a hand with a clap.

 

But the thing is, while Ed may be smart, he was also a colossal dumbass, and forgot all about the bane of his existence. Namely the fact that, here, it wasn’t guns he had to worry about.

 

His feet flew out from under him like he’d slipped on a rug, and he was greeted with a disappointed face.

 

“Got you,” said what was possibly the most dead-inside looking person he’d ever seen, and if that wasn’t saying something then Edward would eat his boots.

 

Oh wait, been there, done that. He couldn’t stop himself from snorting at the thought, and the guy gave him just the pinnacle of ‘are you shitting me right now’ expressions. Which was fair, since it must have looked absolutely bonkers from the other point of view.

 

Just this upside-down vigilante hanging by his feet, wrapped up in what felt like a scarf, staring into the red eyes of what was apparently a pro-hero and laughing.

 

Eh, he had laughed in the face of God, this wasn’t anything new.

 

Either way, it was not fun to be hanging like this, and once the shock of the situation and the coping humor had worn off, Ed started to thrash around. He knew he wasn’t going to get out like this, but might as well make this guy’s job even harder, yeah?

 

His efforts were not appreciated, and the hero made sure to show this by continuing to carry him around by the feet.

 

They made it back to the main street with no casualties (shame), and the bystanders and police officers all gawked at the site. Another hero grabbed Ed around the middle, and the man that had caught him blinked, his hair settling down around his shoulders.

 

Ed narrowed his eyes. That hair, those eyes, that dark outfit that was just no fun at all… he looked eerily familiar.

 

The dude locked black eyes with hi exposed golden ones, and his voice came out as a tired rasp. “What do you want.”

 

Oh, so that’s where he knew him from. Ed bared his teeth, causing the edges of his mask to dig into his nose. “You see, fucker, where I’m from it’s considered rude to agree to help someone with a problem and then tie them up.”

 

Fuck he hadn’t meant to say that much.

 

An eyebrow rose, unamused. “Well, where I’m from, it’s rude to break the law multiple times and then evade capture,” and there really wasn't anything he could say to that, was there? “Oh, and before I forget: thanks for showing me your eye color, confirming you’re a foreigner, and double confirming that you’re the same vigilante that goes by Fullmetal, even if you’re not much of a vigilante.”

 

“Not much of a vigilante?!” Ed felt his blood pressure rise at the jab to his self-proclaimed title, something he had spent three hours at the library choosing. You needed a license to be a hero, and that took too long so he would have to work on that later; villain was too dark and evil, fun as it sounded; and being a regular civilian was just plain untrue, even if it led to the least documentation of his existence here.

 

Besides, he liked a good fight.

 

“I guess you’re not much of a hero then, trash bag! I’ve only been here for a few months, but that’s plenty long enough to know all about the top heroes or whatever, and you aren’t even in the top one hundred. How many people do you save, asshole?” Oh, his accent was getting better. He really hadn’t noticed.

 

“I better not be in the top one hundred, and more than you, obviously. I only got put on your case because you’re not big enough to need anyone better, and I have a track record of dealing with low-rate vigilantes, just like you. ” The dude was still agonizingly calm, but it gave Ed a bit of satisfaction to see him rubbing his hand where he was grabbing Ed’s metal foot.

 

And then the sentence registered, and he saw red. “NOT BIG ENOUGH?! I’LL SHOW YOU BIG ENOUGH WHEN MY BOOTS GO THROUGH YOUR CHEST CAVITY, YOU OVERGROWN PIECE OF POND SCUM! WHO ARE YOU CALLING A-”

 

The hero currently holding him proceeded to casually cover his mouth with a bit of extra material as he devolved into scattered Amestrian, and the whole procession began to shift over to the police cars on the curb. With all fairness, the paramedics and other officers were doing a marvelous job ignoring the thrashing, tied-up child screaming profanities in an unknown language.

 

Wait a quick second. He was about to get arrested.

 

He can’t get arrested!

 

Okay, okay, okay. This was fine. He’s been in worse spots before. Alright. 

 

A pale-haired officer began to read him his rights, but he wasn’t very concerned with those, seeing as he wasn’t going to jail anytime soon. He interrupted her with a laugh.

 

“Don’t bother. Thanks for the practice, but I’ll be leaving now!” He shifted through his library of circles, found the one for carbon-infused polyester, and managed to touch his fingers together. 

 

The air around him sizzled with faint crackles of energy, the power circle on his back itching with the sensation of energy flowing from the air, through the circle, then down his spine and arms to the tips of his fingers. The heroes started forward, but before they could reach him he released the energy, circle gleaming in his mind, with a heavy exhale and a toothy grin.

 

Nothing happened.

 

A few beats of silence, then the hero holding him chuckled and pushed him into the car. “What was that supposed to do? Come on, you’re not going anywhere.” The officer who had been reading him his rights laughed quietly as she got in the driver’s seat.

 

“They always think they can get away,” she agreed. 

 

A different policeman opened the door to the backseat with a pair of bulky handcuffs (Maybe quirk suppressants? He had read about those briefly.), saying something to the hobo-looking hero who had caught him. After a moment, Ed felt the cloth binding him pull away, though he was far more occupied with panic.

 

Why hadn’t it worked? The equation was balanced and there was certainly alchemic energy- it should’ve turned the fabric into dust and let him make a hasty escape. But it- oh.

 

The scarf wasn’t carbon-infused polyester.

 

God fucking damn it.

 

The uniformed man slid the handcuffs onto Ed’s hands, frowning a bit at the noise the metal made against his hand before dismissing it and closing the door. The engine started up with a rumbling purr as they pulled away from the curb.

 

Then, Ed realized there was a simple solution. “

 

“Hey, uh, these look like new… quirk suppressants. Are they different?”

 

The driver snorted. “I don’t know what you mean different , these haven’t been changed out for five years or so now.” Her partner in the passenger seat mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “god knows we don’t get paid enough for that”, and the woman snorted before continuing.

 

“Yeah, these are older models. Just the standard quirk-treated titanium… um, what was it again?” She turned to her partner, who looked deep in thought for a moment. 

 

“Uh, titanium… steel alloy, I think. Maybe not. Whatever. Why do you want to know, anyway?” he asked Ed with a raised eyebrow, but paled a bit when golden eyes crinkled up in a large, unseen smile.

 

“Oh, no reason…” with the array for a titanium-steel alloy in his head, his hands met with a resounding clap despite the bulky metal separating them. The handcuffs peeled away with crackle of electricity and reformed into a metal stake.

 

The car swerved as the driver reached for her gun, but Ed was faster. Another clap and the window sprayed outwards in an explosion of glittering dust. Before it had even settled, the masked vigilante burst out of the window and hit the ground rolling, covering his side with his arm to prevent road burns.

 

One of the cops behind him was shouting for backup, two more police cars screeching to a halt behind them. In less time than it took to say ‘it wasn’t my fault,’ he had four guns pointing at him and someone else screaming at him to stop.

 

Oh, hell no. He wasn’t just going to give up, that was plain insulting.

 

He could see another car pulling up behind the ones already there, and… aha! He just needed to stall for a few seconds. Unfortunately for him, a few seconds was a heck of a long time when four heroes were piling ou of the newly-arrived car and barreling towards you.

 

So, Ed did the smart thing.

 

-

 

Fullmetal was just standing in the middle of the road, looking calmly at the lined up officers by the time Shota arrived. He was out of the car in a flash, vaguely registering North Star and Kesagiriman next to him. They all raced forward past the gun-wielding enforcers, and were about to reach the dangerous vigilante when they held their hands up.

 

“I surrender!”

 

What. The fuck.

 

Everyone around him froze in confusion for a moment, but as Fullmetal made no move to put their hands down, they began to relax.

 

North Star walked forward, more slowly this time, towards the blonde. “Finally. You’ve caused a lot of trouble, I hope you-”

 

From this close, Shota could see golden eyes peeking over the carved metal mask, and he made a mental note of the color. And the way they seemed to be smiling. Oh shit, they were smiling, right?

 

A loud horn blared from the oncoming traffic across the median, and Shota’s eyes widened. He dashed forward, but he wasn’t quite fast enough to reach the shorter figure.

 

With grinning eyes and a goofy salute, the vigilante vaulted over the median and practically bounced off a car’s hood, landing on top of the sixteen-wheeler in the next lane over. They waved cheekily at the officers and heroes, saying something that was lost over the wind.

 

Kesagiriman growled next to him. “After them! We can’t let them get away. Send a patrol unit to-”

 

“It’s no use.”

 

The fuming hero turned towards Shota with a retort on his lips, but it died at the deadpan expression on the underground hero’s face. “You’ll never catch them, they’ve been evading heroes since they debuted,” Shota explained calmly, then sighed.

 

“No, it’s not worth the manpower. Just send a report that we lost them.”

 

-

 

The first thing Dabi said when Elric walked into the back room was, “You’re a cockroach.”

 

The kid paused in confusion, triumphant smile freezing in place, halfway through taking off his mask. “Excuse me?”

 

“You heard me.”

 

“No, I… what?”

 

From next to him, Ryōsei barked out a laugh. “Crispy critter over here means you’re impossible to kill, kid. It’s a compliment.” The bartender turned to the man. “At least, I think so. Might mean you’re a gross bug, hard to tell with this guy.”

 

“Uh, the first one?” Dabi decided to not take that as an insult.

 

“We’ve been watching ya,” Ryōsei continued, gesturing fondly towards the old, beat-up television all the chairs were arranged around. “Saw what went down. How’d you get away? Staples over here was goin’ all mother hen, worryin’ about ya and all that.”

 

“I was not !”

 

“Boys!” Ijiwaru practically knocked down the door with how hard she came in, scaring Ryōsei right off the stool. “Why aren’t you working? I don’t let you stay here so you can sit around, you lazy-ass bitches! Get up!” She paused, finally registering Dabi. “And who let him in?”

 

Their bartender laughed from the floor. “Oh, lighten up, Iji. He practically works here anyway, we were watchin’ the news. Kid over here got himself on T.V., how ‘bout that?” They picked up the remote and rewinded it, a blurry image of Fullmetal himself darting across the screen behind a speeding truck.

 

Ijiwaru paused, then scowled. “First off, I didn’t give you permission to be reasonable. Get that logic nonsense out of here. Secondly,” and at this she turned to an increasingly pale Elric, “you have two minutes to explain why you were on the news.”

 

“I… um, I mean, it wasn’t my fault, really…” he trailed off at the lack of reaction.

 

The boss rushed forward after a moment of silence, sweeping the smaller figure up with her thin figure. “Oh, I’m so proud of you!”

 

Dabi swore to all things holy that Elric pulled a very impressive bluescreen at the hug. “What.”

 

She pulled back and set him down. “Your first blatantly illegal act, and they even got it on camera! Such an achievement!” Her eyes sparkled with pride and a bit of sarcasm.

 

Elric narrowed his eyes comically. “Are you making fun of me?” he said with a bit of a growl creeping into his voice, but he too looked ready to burst out laughing. 

 

“Of course not! Repeat after me: down with the government!”

 

Ryōsei threw up a fist and repeated her loudly, Dabi did so with caution, and Elric mumbled it under his breath, smiling.

 

“I couldn’t hear you! Let’s try this again. Repeat after me: down with the government!”

 

This time everyone joined in enthusiastically, and the kid was wheezing. “Down with the government!”

 

“Fuck society!”

 

“FUCK SOCIETY!” they screamed back.

 

A knock at the door interrupted them, Shiruko poking her head in curiously, taking in the scene. Elric was on the floor crying from laughing so hard, Ryōsei was well on their way to joining him, Ijiwaru was grinning triumphantly, and Dabi must have looked about five seconds away from a heart attack.

 

Shiruko ignored this, like only a worker at an illegal back-alley bar or a Walmart's employee could do.

 

“Iji-san? There’s someone out front asking for you, and I need Ryōsei to take their shift soon.”

 

“Yes, yes.” The owner sighed, turning back and meeting Dabi’s eyes. “I do need you all to start working soon, though. I mean it. I will only hesitate a little bit to kick you out, and that’s final.”

 

Both women left, leaving Dabi wondering just where the hell he went wrong in life. Suddenly Ryōsei stopped laughing and turned to Elric. 

 

“Your accent’s been getting better. When did you start using the contractions I was teaching you?”

 

The boy blinked in surprise. “I don’t know, it just kind of happened this morning.”

 

“Well, whatever.” The bartender threw one arm around Elric’s small shoulders and another around Dabi, the third snatching their apron off of a nearby chair and tying it on with the ease of practice. “How ‘bout I show you boys how to whip up a nice cocktail, in celebration of the kid’s first ‘blatantly illegal act?’”

 

-*-

 

June 14th, 223X

 

It had only been two weeks since the bank robbery. Yes, Naomasa counted. Yes, that was the only thing keeping him sane.

 

“What do you want,” he mumbled face first into his desk, but looked up just in time to catch Muramatsu raise an eyebrow.

 

“Yeesh, Nao-san, hell warmed over for you, huh?” The fellow officer said with a wry grin, holding out a steaming cup of coffee. Naomasa took it gratefully, barely waiting for the cup to cool before downing it, scalding his tongue along the way.

 

He hissed at the pain, then paused. “This… isn’t coffee. What is this?”

 

“Oh, yeah. Chief said we were going through too much coffee, so he cut our supply for the week. All we have left is decaf.”

 

“Decaf?!” The detective just barely managed to swallow the mouthful he had, looking at the cup with a new level of disgust. 

 

Muramatsu, the asshole, snickered. “Yee-ep. Looks like no caffeine for you, not until Monday!”

 

Naomasa stared at the mug, looking just about ready to cry. “But… I can’t drink… decaf…” his bottom lip trembled. “It’s so gross…”

 

Sugara laughed loudly from across the room. “Mura, you know Nao-chan can’t function without his coffee in the morning! Give him a sip of yours.” Tamakawa nodded next to her.

 

The other officer sighed. “You’re no fun. He could stop being such a child about it, and it’s not like I was lying about the decaf thing.”

 

“Yes, yes, but you don’t have to tease the poor man.” Naomasa looked up as she walked over. “This idiot is just being a bully. Yeah, Chief’s cutting our coffee, but we still have some left before we run out. Besdes, Aruma’s cousin runs a cafe near here and she offered to bring some in for us once we run out.”

 

“Ah, you’re a lifesaver.” And just like that, the tears were gone. Muramatsu turned to Tamakawa.

 

“See? This man is a manipulator! Breaks out the crocodile tears to get every kind soul in the office to give him what he wants!”

 

Sugara chuckled under her breath, reaching up to grab the complaining man by his fourth ear. “Very funny. You’re just jealous you can’t do the same thing.” She began to pull him away, but looked back over her shoulder at Naomasa. “Oh, and a few more papers came in for that case you’re working on. The press wants to finally cover the story.”

 

Naomasa blinked, and groaned. “Those vultures. I knew the gag order Chief had on these vigilante cases wouldn’t hold forever. It was all we could do to have them limit talking about any sort of vigilante when they covered the attempted bank robbery.”

 

“Well, didn’t you get a basic description out of it? Golden eyes, right?”

 

“No, I’m pretty sure it was yellow, get it right Muramatsu, you idiot.”

 

Tamakawa sat down next to him quietly as the two arguing officers left, giving him a concerned look. “You’re doing okay, right? You’d tell me if something was wrong?”

 

“Yeah, I’m just a bit tired. The Fullmetal case is bigger than I expected.”

 

“Well, as long as you’re fine…” The sentence trailed off, but the meaning wasn’t lost on him. The cat-headed officer leaned back to watch the comings and goings of other officers, the little bell around his neck jingling softly at every movement, almost unheard under the morning hubbub. 

 

“Have you heard from Eraserhead in a while?”

 

“No… I wonder what he’s up to…”

 

-

 

What Shota was currently up to, in fact, was not fun. Correction: Nedzu was not fun. None of this. Was fun.

 

“I’m just asking if you could check the upcoming applications, maybe ask a few informants at other schools, just the usual.”

 

“Hmm.” Nedzu sipped his tea agonizingly slowly, and Shota fought to keep his expression neutral. “And what, perchance, makes you think that this Fullmetal person is of school age?”

 

Calm. Rational. “The obvious lack of height, the accent, the high pitched voice. Most of the investigators on the case have tentatively settled on a teenage boy, although the possibility of a late-teenage woman is possible. Besides, checking can’t hurt.”

 

“You’re right, it can’t…”

 

Nedzu set down his cup with a definite click, pulling out his tablet. “I can look, but I’m not promising results. Applications are only starting to come in, I suggest you come to see the exam, maybe administer it, that should help more. Until then, good day.”

 

It was a clear dismissal, but not an unkind one, and Shota bowed thankfully, leaving and closing the door behind him with a soft click.

 

Maybe he should go visit that bar again. They didn’t have terrible drinks...

 

-*-

 

Sep. 3rd, 223X

 

It was a shaky video on a bad quality camera, the holder being jostled by crowds. It was sent in weeks after the bank robbery that had barely made the news, and no one paid attention to it because the news report had cited the robbery as a normal villain vs. hero situation, with North Star taking the credit.

 

But the video was still there.

 

Actually, it wasn’t even the video that mattered, not really. It was grainy and not zoomed in enough, people showing up as vague colored blobs. All For One wouldn’t have given it any thought either, had his head technician not rushed to him that same day with energy readings off the charts.

 

One of the newer recruits had found the video, or more accurately the audio, and hurriedly turned it in. The doctors had then sent it to their boss, who had dismissed it initially. Good thing All For One had asked to see it anyway, because one audio line had stood out to him.

 

It had taken multiple hearing and sensory enhancement quirks for him to finally make out what was being said, but once he did it was unmistakable.

 

A little red and gold figure with a mask, golden eyes just barely visible (according to his doctor), saying something… odd.

 

‘I’ve only been here a few months.’

 

He had showed the technicians the audio file and had them look up the energy readings for that day, around that area, and found out that it was one of the biggest spikes so far. Another check at the official reports yielded an interesting little fact about an intervening “bystander” who “helped” detain the villains.

 

Golden eyes, short stature, long braid…

 

He would have to send some people out to look for them. Vigilante, that was good. Not quite good, not quite evil. More easily swayed to his side.

 

“So, Fullmetal, let’s see how long this takes, shall we?”

 

“Boss? She’s here.”

 

All For One smiled, his scarred face crinkling with the widest grin he could make. “Yes. Send her in.”

 

A door at the far end of the hall creaked open, quiet footsteps echoing across the tile. The sound paused in front of him. An X-ray quirk mixed with a thermal vision quirk gave him a rough outline of the room, and of the woman in front of him. His smile settled.

 

“Ah, my dear. Do you know why I’ve called you here?”

 

“Who is it?” Right to the chase, as usual.

 

“You see…” He gestured for the doctor, who gave her a grainy printed-out screenshot of a small, golden eyed figure. “This here, is-”

 

“Fullmetal…” she breathed out, interrupting him, but he didn’t much care. Not with her skills. Eyes he knew from memory were slitted sideways blinked with two sets of eyelids, slow and precise, like a predator. 

 

“Oh, you know him?”

 

“Of him, yes. He caught one of my contacts, Mesmer.”

 

A shame, that woman had utilized a dangerous quirk. He would have liked to have it. “Hm. Then avenge her.”

 

Those pale blue eyes, so vivid in his mind's eye he could almost see them, narrowed with a tilt of her head, night-vision green hair vibrant even in shades of red and blue.

 

“How much?”

 

“Say…” He paused. Of course they both already knew what the price would be, but the old routine was familiar. “How about this. You capture and bring Fullmetal to me, alive, and I’ll give you another one. Help me out a bit with recruiting and taking down All Might, and I’ll give you two. Fair?”

 

“... Yes.”

 

“Good. Your task starts now.”

 

As she left, the door was held open for an extra moment, another set of footsteps clacking in on the tile and stopping just inside the doors. 

 

“Ah, Giran, perfect timing.”

 

The broker took a few more lazy steps forward. “Now, what would you need her for? Does your little protege need a hitman, or is it for you?”

 

The arid smoke from his cherry-red cigar flooded the room, and All For One considered what to do. He really shouldn’t let anything slip, brokers such as him could easily be bought… but then again, loose lips sink ships, and there were quite a few vessels that needed to be brought down.

 

He smiled, eye sockets crinkling up in a cruel mockery of a warm smile. “Oh, my friend, she has a small… errand, I suppose, that only someone of her caliber could achieve. Of course, I’m paying her quite handsomely.”

 

Giran smiled too, but his heart raced increased, both at the slight to his capabilities and the mention of money. “May I ask what, or who, you need someone like Feral to retrieve? People like her are ever so capricious.”

 

“And you aren’t?” The heart rate spiked, and the villain made a show of looking disinterested. “But you are right. It’s a simple job, hard for someone to mess up. Just a simple retrieval. Say… you haven’t heard about the… Fullmetal vigilante, have you? I would appreciate any information.”

 

Two birds, one stone. Or, more aptly-

 

“Old friend, I know everything about everyone!” Yes, he does, one of the reasons he was still tolerated. “But information costs money.”

 

“Done.”

 

“Pleasure doin’ business with you. Let’s see, Fullmetal… they work at an illegal bar in Musutafu with Iji- ah, I guess you would know her by Typhoon. I would advise against a frontal assault, Fullmetal is a tricky, slippery little bastard with an unknown quirk. I can plant a few regulars, but that’ll take time. A few more bucks and I can provide regular updates.”

 

-whole flock, one bullet.

 

Perfect.

 

“Now, for the real reason I called you here… how’s the recruitment going?”

 

Bang.



-*-

 

Oct. 28th, 223X

 

The applications were due in a few weeks, and there were still spots left blank. Ed felt like slamming his head on the desk, but he really didn’t want to fix it for the third time that week. The circle providing him with alchemic power was being incredibly tingly and had been for awhile.

 

“Yo.”

 

He looked up from the idiotic motherfucking papers to see Dabi standing in the doorway, a small smirk dancing across his scarred features. “Fuckface,” he greeted cautiously. “Why are you here?”

 

The stupidly-gigantic man pushed off the doorway and walked inside, leaning over Ed’s shoulders. “Still working on your applications?”

 

“Still here? Seriously, why are you here? Did Ijiwaru just give you blanket permission to come in at whatever ass-crack time of day you want? Just leave already, go home.”

 

“Kid, I live in the shittiest apartments this side of Tokyo. On one hand, they don’t care that I sometimes sneeze and set the wallpaper on fire, on the other, there’s no heat or running water most days. I came here all the time before you got here, and since she adopted you I guess she just gave up and adopted me too.”

 

Ed felt his face heat up. “Bastard. She did not adopt me. I’m not six, you know.”

 

“Oh, oh, right.” He put his hands up and closed his eyes, but the smirk stayed. “I forgot, sorry. Little baby doesn’t like being called what he is, a tiny, miniscule, itty-bitty brat .”

 

This fucker had it coming. “You wanna say that to my face, you burnt toast-looking ASSHAT WITH A-”

 

BOYS!”

 

The fire playing across Dabi’s already-charred skin fizzled out of existence as Ed lowered his arm. They both looked at each other in a silent truce.

 

Oh, fuck me.

 

But no footsteps approached, and they both tentatively started talking again, this time careful to keep their voices down. 

 

“So, uh, yeah. I was just bored and wondering why you were up at nine in the morning, seeing as your hours make you practically nocturnal.”

 

“Oh, it’s nine already? Wow.”

 

Dabi gave him a look of thinly veiled concern. “You need to sleep, really. Before you pass out on the job and Ryōsei draws on your face with sharpie, and then Ijiwaru or Shiruko comes to beat you both up.”

 

“I’m fine. Used to long nights researching. Besides, no time for sleep. I need to find a way back to my brother.”

 

“Is that what you’re doing?” Blue eyes swept over the papers haphazardly strewn around. “Doesn’t look like it.”

 

Ed huffed. “I need to get into a hero school for the information they have. I don’t want to be controlled by the government, and I’m definitely not planning on staying until graduation, but until I can get out of here I need their resources. Everyone knows that U.A. has one of the best libraries in the country, and the best information network besides.”

 

“I mean, I understand that, but I think your brother won’t be very happy with you if you burn yourself out before you can do… uh, all of that. Very detailed plan you’ve got there, huh.”

 

“Yeah, but it’s not enough.”

 

They sat in silence for a minute, before Dabi smacked his palms together and stood up. “Well, no moping around. You have a lead, right? That All For One guy you think is connected to the League of Villains? We can go check out their operation tomorrow.”

 

“True…” Ed looked one more time over his desk, and the scarred man sighed, pulling on his arm to lead them out.

 

“Look, you have time. It’s a good two or three months until exams, and you have a solid week before applications are due. You need a break, and a good fight can help with that. Get some adrenaline in you. You’ve only been working and looking for leads- oh, and the occasional ‘beating-up-bad-guys’ gig you got. How’s that coming for you?”

 

“Uh, pretty well. Wait, weren’t you supposed to be helping me with that? Where have you been?”

 

“I figured you didn’t need much help after I got you rolling with the first one,” he replied with a nonchalant shrug. “Looks like I was right, with how many cases you’ve solved this week alone.”

 

By that time they had made their way out to the main area, where a few bartenders were just closing. The last customer stumbled out of the doorway, and Shiruko turned to them with a lazy scowl.

 

“Hey, bouncer. What the ever-loving fuck type of a shitstorm have you shoved yourself ass-first into now?”

 

Ed cocked his head like a bird or a cat, confused, as he slipped on his half-mask. “What are you talking about?”

 

“I’m talking about the fact that two brokers, two, have come in here asking about you. At least six people, once they got drunk enough, mentioned that they had heard something about the League looking for you, and one particularly friendly guy mentioned Feral, so-” She slammed her rag on the counter, making them both jump, “-what did you do?”

 

Dabi winced next to him. “Oh, shit. Good luck kid, I like making friends and all, but if you have hitmen after you, especially her, then I’m out.”

 

“Who is Feral?” Ed asked with narrowed eyes.

 

“Just the most successful hitman in years. Only missed a target once, but that doesn’t count since he had a heart attack three days later. Her quirk is a natural predator one, though no one’s gotten close enough to find out exactly what.”

 

Ouch. “So if she’s after me… it’s not good.”

 

“Nope,” said Shiruko, popping the ‘p’ and shoving herself back into the conversation. “The good side, however, is that she’s cautious. You have weeks or even months before she makes a move, longer if it’s a retrieval mission. Bad news either way though. She won’t ever give up.”

 

Ed’s brain was running at high speed as he paced in a circle, other two occupants of the room watching him carefully. Never gives up, Feral, the League, All For One, brokers… This was a lot. But if the League was looking for him, then that changed the game.

 

“If the League really is after me, then I think that proves my theory about their leader, their head. I’m after him, he’s after me. He has the advantage since I don’t know where he is, but I’m still an unknown for him most likely. Let’s see…”

 

“Wait wait wait.” Shiruko looked at him out of the corner of her eyes. “You’re after the League, and they’re after you?”

 

“Yeah, it’s going to make it hard to avoid them. In two or three months schools will start, hopefully I’ll get into a hero one, maybe they can keep me away from Feral.” He spun around to face them.

 

Hold up.

 

The visible parts of his face must have paled significantly, since both Dabi and Shiruko gave him concerned looks, but that wasn’t important right now. What was he going to do?

 

“Um, kid? You okay?” Dabi asked slowly, and Ed groaned in response.

 

“I… I haven’t been to school in years, how am I going to survive high school?!”

 

Dabi narrowed his eyes at the information, and Shiruko scoffed.

 

“Just get over it. You can survive school if it will keep you alive, I’m sure of it. I’m more worried about you going to hero school and still living here, you have to be really careful on the applications and shit before you bring a hero back here and get all our asses busted. Not sure if that’s a worse outcome than Feral, though.”

 

“Have I mentioned yet how stupid that name is? Because it is. It really is.”

 

“Stalling. Also, really, Fullmetal? You’re one to talk.” Dabi scoffed and crossed his arms.

 

Ed was lost in his thoughts, continuing the conversation on autopilot. “Very funny, but I didn’t choose that name and you know it, A-... Dabi . Dabi. Avoiding Feral is going to be hard, but not impossible, I’ll just have to be careful to hide my… quirk from everyone.”

 

Shiruko was frowning when he turned towards her. “I don’t see the problem. If you think you can beat them, then just let them capture you when you’re ready and then you can find out where they are. Simple.”

 

“No, that wouldn’t work…” Would it? Holy shit, that actually might! He spun towards her with a laugh. “You’re a genius! I was overthinking things, I shouldn’t be avoiding my targets, I should be chasing them!”

 

He turned back towards Dabi, his metal mask frozen in a twisted smile with pointed teeth, golden eyes flashing the same color as the sun. 

 

“If they want to catch me, then I guess I’ll let them. And then I’ll catch them first .”

 

-

 

The gunshot startles the flock, but one bird stays sitting. With all the distractions gone, both of our objectives are clear- mine and the bird’s. The easiest path is towards me. I won’t even have to move a muscle, after all.

 

The bird in my hand is worth every yen.

Chapter Text

April XX, 224X

 

The city was lit up in a blaze of glory, screams and shouts ricocheting off the buildings like gunfire. Tongues of flame lapped at the dark sky, sending twisting tendrils of smoke to block out the stars from street view, turning the light of the moon into a sickly gray glow that washed the rooftops with shifting shadows.

 

It was a masterpiece.

 

He stood on the highest tower for a ways around, watching the panicked crowds stampeding through the blistering streets. One of the Noumu shrieked overhead in an unearthly howl, sending the population into even more of a fervor. A camera wouldn’t do this justice, the smell of candle smoke in the air, the pulsing feeling of his own heartbeat. Nothing could capture this feeling, and he wanted it to last forever.

 

But something told him, deep down, that it wouldn’t.

 

He knew Sensei had ‘taken care’ of that other brat, but it was hard to believe. Any moment now those molten eyes would burst out of the shadows and swallow him whole, and the whole world knew it.

 

He looked down again, distracting himself from the itching feeling spreading from his exposed neck down to the tips of his bloodied fingers by once again losing himself in the cold night wind, contrasting with the heat from the inferno on his face. 

 

Even if the Fullmetal brat didn’t show up, the pros would be here soon, and then it would all be over. This mission wasn’t to do anything in particular, it was to spread fear and chaos through the country, to let the people know that the League of Villains is here, and they’re coming for you. 

 

The sound of the breeze behind him shifted, but he didn’t need to look to know that Kurogiri was behind him now. It wasn’t comforting, not really, but it was nice, to be able to witness this work of art he had created and share it with another.

 

They stood in silence for a moment, but Kurogiri hadn’t come just to observe and they both knew it. He coughed gently.

 

“I’m sorry to interrupt you, but the main force of the heroes has arrived.” Looking down again, he could tell it was true. The evacuation seemed more organized, the fires were beginning to be put out. The last few Noumu must have been captured.

 

Whatever.

 

His mood soured, but he sighed. “They know it was us. That was the objective, after all. What about that nasty, self-righteous asshole Stain?”

 

“There are U.A. students fighting him, it is likely that he will lose, since more heroes are on their way, including Endeavour.”

 

“That piece of shit,” he growled, rage bubbling in his veins. “Kurogiri, remind me to put him on the top of our kill list once All Might is out of the way.”

 

“Understood. We had better leave, the news helicopters are on their way, and Sensei would like you to come back.”

 

“Oh, one last thing.” He paused. “Was the little brat fighting Stain? Or is he still with Sensei?”

 

Kurogiri froze in place for just a moment too long. “He is… we should be leaving now, Shigaraki.”

 

It was as good as confirmation, and laughter pooled in the back of his throat. “Alright then, you little punk,” Tomura rasped out, “have fun playing with Stain. We’ll get you soon enough.”

 

-*-

 

XXX, XX

 

The Gate loomed overhead, tall and dark and imposing as all things truthful are, and in front of it sat their visitor. Like always.

 

Truth existed a few meters away, just far enough to not be directly in his personal space but at the same time close enough to be deeply uncomfortable. The boy blinked a couple of times, adjusting slowly from the dark shadows of a bar to the lightless void of Truth.

 

He took a deep breath, probably relishing in the feeling of lungs expanding and contracting despite the absence of air, and then turned to face them, face inexpressive. It sat back, waiting as patiently as they could for their guest to ask what was on his mind.

 

“Why…” his voice started out hoarse and quiet from disuse, but gradually got stronger. “Why are you showing me this? What are you getting out of this?”

 

Such a funny question! “Why do you expect that we would get anything out of this, little guest?”

 

His eyes narrowed. “You don’t just give people things. Why are you letting me watch brother?”

 

Ah, now they were getting to the crux of the matter. Why was it letting the boy watch the little alchemist. “We do not get anything out of this. Letting you see what your brother will do to bring you home… it isn’t a favor, or a reward.”

 

“That means… this is the payment for something.” Alphonse Elric’s eyes narrowed as a reflex. He looked back at it. “But… what are we paying for?”

 

Close, close, he was very smart! Not close enough. Truth tried again. “Edward Elric is doing me a favor, the risks of which and the price should he fail being equivalent to both of your bodies, your soul, and the tolls of those currently alive who have trespassed into my domain. What, then, is left over?”

 

They could see it in his eyes that he didn’t quite understand. He was perfectly still, not even breathing after the forced breath earlier. Maybe it could show him.

 

Suddenly the emptiness around them filled up with air, and the boy’s eyes slowly widened, first in confusion, then in the dawning realization of fear and horror. His pale hands came up to clutch at his throat, chest expanding and deflating wildly but taking in no oxygen. Truth let it go on for only a few heartbeats before the air disappeared, leaving their guest coughing on the floor.

 

The boy looked up at him with a sort of dull understanding, and Truth knew he got it. 

 

Watching his brother break himself to bring them both home was payment for his life.

 

When his lungs had sorted themselves back out again, he sat back, taking a moment to compose himself. “Then why are you showing it to me… like this?”

 

“Oh, yes. Time is such a funny thing, you know.” They paused, gathering the right words. “Everything I’m showing you is happening right now, and also has already happened, and someday will happen. Tell me, how do you think this is going to end up for the little alchemist?”

 

He looked thrown off by the change in subject. “Um… well, he’s going to… brother is going to win, of course! He’s not going to lose this late in the game, he’s going to win and get both of us home!” His voice grew stronger and stronger, by the end he was close to shouting.

 

Hm. “Those aren’t the same thing, Alphonse Elric.”

 

“What?”

 

“I’ll tell you this, then, because it is fun to talk to someone, and your brother is entertaining. He is going to succeed in bringing you home, and already has succeeded, and is succeeding right now.”

 

It took a moment for the statement to register for him, but when it did it was obvious. “We’re… going to go home? Brother is going to succeed?”

 

“He must. When he completes his task and returns, we will be even. If he were to lose, to fail, to die , the scales would be unbalanced. Since I have everything of you, your father is out of reach, and the little alchemist would be dead, who am I going to collect from?”

 

“If he’s going to bring me home, then why are you dragging this out?”

 

“Your brother will succeed in his task. That does not mean he will succeed intact, mentally or physically. That does not mean that he will succeed before decades have gone by. That does not mean that he will succeed and keep to his morals.”

 

They leaned forward.

 

“So then, Alphonse Elric, how will your brother ‘win?’

 

-*-

 

Dec. 21st, 223X

 

It was just a little hole-in-the-wall bar. As simple as it was questionably legal. Maybe that was why he liked it so much, enough that he just might be sad to see it go.

 

No, scratch that. He would not be sad in the absolute slightest.

 

It wasn’t that he hated Japan, quite the opposite. If Al and Winry and all of Ed’s friends and family were here then he’d be perfectly content to live here forever. Sure, there were some problems, but when he’d last seen Amestris it wasn’t looking so pretty either, and at least the government here wasn’t actively hunting him down.

 

Oh, wait. 

 

The irony was too strong to ignore, and he allowed himself a few moments of dark amusement before he refocused on the task at hand. Namely, escaping from several heroes and one particularly pissed off Eraserhead. 

 

See, quirks were scientific garbage and the hero system was fucked to no end, but this? Running from cops and military and other people who were very, very mad at him? This he could do.

 

Thinking about it, it was probably not a good thing that he felt more at home in fights and the aftermath of them than in normal society.

 

Shelving that mental discussion for later, Ed took a flying leap from one rooftop to the next, buying himself a few seconds before they were on him again. A quick slide down the fire escape brought him back down to floor level, where he could alchemize his clothes and blend in with the tourist crowds.

 

That plan was quickly scrapped when two patrolling heroes turned the corner at a dead sprint, damn those little earpieces, he had never understood technology ( shut the everloving fuck up Mustang, no I do not need help putting the phone back together you absolute bastard- and don’t you dare bring up that half of me is made of phone parts I’ll rip your hands off I swear-)

 

Yep. Definitely not a good thing. Should he see a military therapist when he gets home?

 

Just as he turned to go back up the fire escape with a little bit of surprise, two glowing red eyes appeared over the lip of the roof and Ed wisely decided that up was an equally bad decision. He couldn’t go under, either, keeping his alchemy as a trump card wouldn’t work for long if every hero, pedestrian, and camera saw him make a big-ass hole in the ground and hop in like the white rabbit.

 

So to the side it was.

 

Honestly, thank whoever he fucking believed in at this point that Ryōsei was one conniving little gremlin and had given him the back alley tour within the first couple weeks: allies, who will kill you if you enter, who won’t turn you in but will steal your money, and so on. Useful.

 

A few steps down and there was a big black door with a faded-out paper sign (fourth-biggest yakuza hideout in Musutafu, not friendly, keep running), a closed grate halfway up the wall (secret entrance to Centennial’s place, takes too long to enter, keep running), and- ah, there!

 

Ed skidded to a stop in front of a dark, empty doorway, throwing himself inside. He had to tuck in his legs on the leap, just barely missing being grabbed by one of the heroes. Scrambling to his feet, he raced further inside, desperately racking his brain for the directions. Down one staircase, take the right hallway and then around this corner, up the next two stairs…

 

His pursuers were close enough behind him that he really wasn’t trying to lose them, but he wasn’t gaining any ground either. His sharp turns and smaller figure were helping, but holy fuck were some of these guys fast. 

 

He could hear one of the cops stop, out of breath, and start to radio in for reinforcements to guard the exits of the buildings. Under his mask, his mouth twisted up into a cocky smirk. Like that was going to do jack-shit against him.

 

They were almost to the other side of the building, and Ed just needed a few more seconds. An unexpected front-handspring helped him dodge a swipe from Eraserhead’s scarf, which hit the wall, followed by a low curse from the black-clad man. Ed took a moment to glance back, and was pleasantly surprised at how much more tired they seemed than him.

 

Ha! They may have had good instructors, but no one even comes close to Teacher when dealing with physical activity. 

 

A quick push off the wall where the hallway ended helped him crash through the old wooden door on his left, which shattered into splinters that he rolled through, coming up on his feet and already running. 

 

There was a window on the far wall, and he had about two seconds before they caught up to him. He punched the window with an automail fist, breaking it just as easily as the door. Eraserhead charged into the room feet-first, but stopped abruptly when he saw the open window right above Ed.

 

The hero opened his mouth to say something, alarm on his face, but Ed wasn’t going to stick around and hear it. He brought his hand up into a goofy salute, and without any further delay, bent backwards and flipped himself over the windowsill.

 

The window was six stories up.

 

Eraserhead shouted, a wordless call for backup. A flurry of activity heralded the arrival of heroes and cops alike, swarming the bottom of the building like hornets. Of course, they wouldn’t find anything looking around in the surrounding alleys and streets.

 

Thank Truth for the water in cement.

 

That’s the thing about Japan that he really loved. Compared to Amestris, they were about… several centuries in the future. And while science had stalled with the advent of quirks, it was still far enough ahead to keep the little scientist part of Ed happy for a lifetime or two.

 

Self-healing objects, tons of newly-discovered elements, Silly String… it was a dream for him. Things that would be considered alchemical marvels back home were being sold in dollar stores here. 

 

And luckily for him, the old library near the bar had a few very interesting books on rheology.

 

Gloved hands gently pushed and prodded the ceiling back into shape, the tightly-packed together yet rudimentary drilling mud settling back into place. Oh, he was so lucky he had stumbled upon non-newtonian fluids, viscoplastics had saved his life twice this week already. How else would one create a solid wall that turned to liquid when enough force was applied and could be made out of anything containing enough bentonite clay and calcium carbonate?

 

Ed shook his head and got to his feet. Focus, there was time to research later. 

 

He was in a room he had alchemically created for himself under the street right underneath that window. Even now he could feel the roof shake subtly under people’s feet, but he had added in a few stabilizing agents to the drilling mud, and he was confident that it wouldn’t turn to a fluid under anything less than someone half made of metal careening down from six stories up.

 

Thank whoever was watching over him at this point that there weren’t any cameras in this back part of town.

 

Sitting there as silently as he could manage, Ed listened closely to the pounding footsteps on the street level above. After he felt like they had been gone for long enough, he slowly rose from his spot on the floor, wincing as his arm made a particularly loud protest. Truth, he was so bad at remembering to oil them.

 

He looked down at his arm again. Really, he would’ve been just fine with his flesh arm. The arrays he’d traded it for weren’t even that much help, just normal arrays that were updated for this future-world. They hadn’t had this type of tar back in Amestris.

 

On second thought, he might’ve died in the first week without the new concrete array and the weak healing one. Maybe he would’ve traded, like, a finger for those ones.

 

Moving on.

 

He pressed his hands together, circling the energy for the calcium carbonate mixture-to-concrete array, before pushing it through the stone above him. A similar shape-changing array followed, pushing the cement away in a hole just big enough for him. A bit of the rock flowed down and solidified into a ladder.

 

He poked his head above the street, suddenly coming eye to eye with a girl crouched down in front of him.

 

They both froze for a good few seconds, before the girl’s mouth twisted slowly into a crazed smile and Ed’s brain kicked itself back into gear. Thankfully, she didn’t attack, since he would’ve been hard pressed to defend at that close of a range.

 

She sat back, rocking a bit on her heels. It was such a childish gesture that it seemed far too out of place, considering her practically bloodthirsty smile. “Hi!” she chirped, setting about a dozen alarm bells off in Ed’s head. “I’ve been wanting to meet you so much, Fullmetal-kun! Can I call you Haga-chan?”

 

She didn’t make any move forwards, so he carefully pulled himself the rest of the way out of the hole and backed away a few steps. Her smile remained fixed firmly in place, even as she too stood up. What was he supposed to say? 

 

She hadn’t done anything blatantly antagonistic yet, so he settled for a neutral, “Who are you?”

 

“Oh, you can call me Toga-chan!” She leaned in a bit, golden eyes sparkling. “I only let my friends call me that. We’re friends, aren’t we, Haga-chan?!”

 

Oh, he really, really hated this. “Uh… sure. I’m just gonna…” He took a few experimental steps backwards, eyes still fixed on her though the metal of his mask. She matched him step for step.

 

She pouted. “Aw, leaving already? Why are you wearing that mask? We’re friends, I wanna see what Haga-chan looks like! Your hair is so pretty!”

 

No, no, no, nope, fuck no, he was leaving. Ed could deal with fights. He could deal with country-wide genocide plots. He could deal with inter-dimensional travel. What he could not deal with was crazy women. Hell, Winry scared the shit out of him sometimes, and they had known each other since practically birth.

 

He didn’t answer, just took a few more steps back, cursing under his breath when he felt the alley wall behind him. The girl in front of him continued to babble.

 

“I’ve heard so much about you, you know! Beating up all those bad guys… I bet you’re pretty cute, Haga-chan! You’d look cuter all covered in blood, though.”

 

His eyes snapped back up (Fuck, when had he looked away?) to see her now brandishing a knife, smile stretched ear to ear and eyes wide with bloodthirst. She laughed. 

 

“Don’t be all scared, Haga-chan! I won’t kill you! When you kill people, they stop bleeding, and that’s no fun! I just wanna cut you up a little bit-”

 

She had leaped forward in the middle of her sentence, giving him just enough time to stop the blade with his right arm. She continued to laugh, face pressed up as close to his as she could get.

 

He lifted up his metal leg and kicked outward, sending her stumbling back a few feet. Her smile morphed into an over-exaggerated frown.

 

“C’mon, that hurt! You shouldn’t hurt a girl like that! All I want is to see you bleed!”

 

He clapped his hands and slammed them to the ground, array on his back tingling as a cloud of dust sprung up around them, hopefully hiding him from view. He pulled himself onto the fire escape behind him, but she must have heard the loud clanking of metal on metal, because the next thing he heard was her batshit crazy laugh as the gleam of her knife sliced through the haze.

 

He dropped to the ground, then had only a moment to dive out of the way with squawk of panic. Fuck, he shouldn’t be running out of breath this fast. Teacher would whoop his ass.

 

Focusing on regaining his breath, he shifted his mask to wipe the blood out of his eye from where an old wound had reopened. “Yeah, just saying you aren’t going to kill me isn’t any more fucking reassuring!”

 

She seemed to have stilled, at least for a moment, and Ed frantically ran through his options. The array on his back itched, reminding him it was there, and he called the modified concrete array to the front of his mind before he could regret it.

 

“You have a different name, right? Can I know what it is? Aren’t we friends?”

 

He let her babble in the background, too busy balancing out the equation before clapping and slamming his mismatched hands to the ground. The dust had just about settled, and the last thing he saw was her wide eyes before the ground swallowed him whole.

 

It was dark in the little cave, and Ed was sure that he could reach both walls if he leaned a little, but at least it was quieter.

 

Aw, shit. He couldn’t check if she was gone, but he couldn't leave until he was sure that she was. Could he just tunnel into the building he had been next to?

 

No, too risky. There might be people living there. He might be a wanted person, but he wasn’t about to wreck some people’s lives just to escape some weirdo crazy girl with a knife. Truth.

 

He resigned himself to waiting for a while.

 

-*-

 

Jan. 6th, 224X

 

Dabi was sitting in the backroom, minding his own business for once, when he heard death itself stomp its platformed boots into the back room. Elric collapsed on an old chair in the corner with more anger than was strictly necessary, and no sooner had Dabi made eye contact when he started ranting.

 

“Fuckin- that Bradley-ass, see-all-your-attacks little piece of everloving shit-” On a closer inspection, the boy had rips all over his coat and a disturbing amount of dried blood on his clothes and shoes.

 

“Uh,” Dabi said eloquently, “Are you… okay?”

 

All he got for his concern was a snarl and more ranting. “... want to fight him! Look, I didn’t sign up for this bullshit, that motherfucker with his smary-ass smile and his fucking deals- AND THEN this little asswipe is just like ‘I don’t know anything I swear’ like the fuck you don’t I watched you meet with that broker bastard yesterday so spill the FUCKING beans or I swear to Truth I will switch your asshole with your mouth ‘cause all that comes out from between those lips is just horseshit -”

 

Was he even breathing?

 

It took a while, but eventually he wound down and was left panting (blissfully silent) in the raggedy armchair. Dabi figured it was safe to speak now.

 

“So, uh, what… exactly happened?”

 

Elric opened one eye to give him The Look. “I just told you what happened.”

 

“No, you didn’t. You yelled what happened at me, with enough cuss words thrown in to drown a small army,” Dabi corrected.

 

The kid opened his mouth to respond but paused, deflating after a moment. “Fair.”

 

Dabi leaned back with a smirk. “Since when have I been the logical one in this partnership, huh, Mr. Smartypants?”

 

“Partnership?” Elric scoffed. “What partnership? You’ve helped me out exactly one time so far, you deep-fried prepubescent teenage girl-shaped raisin.”

 

“Wow, hate me that much now?” Dabi knew he was just pressing the boy’s buttons, but it was honestly so easy. It was begging him to make fun of the kid.

 

Surprisingly, Elric fell into the banter-y rhythm pretty quickly. “It’s not exactly hard to, now. Try to be at least a little more likeable in the future. Not like your charming mug will bring people in.”

 

“Oh, and yours will?” and then, because Dabi was nothing if not daring, “You’d certainly need it, seeing as your stature is rather… lacking.”

 

Elric stiffened, a low grumble in the back of his throat starting up, like a dragon preparing to breathe fire. Dabi didn’t bother to hide his smile, but dug his hands into the old couch a little tighter to anchor himself in the face of the oncoming tantum. The kid probably wouldn’t physically attack him. Probably.

 

But a few moments passed with no explosion, and another few showed that while Elric was still fuming, he seemed to be swallowing his anger. A matching smile twisted his mouth, and he leaned back. 

 

“No. You won’t get me like that anymore. Just because I’m not good at all those mind games that Bastard mag, heißt nicht, dass ich dumm bin! I’m taller than Winry, you know!”

 

The weird thing was that the boy didn’t even seem to notice that he had slipped into another language (German, probably?). 

 

“Um, Japanese? Not all of us can be bilingual,” Dabi joked, but it was a bit forced. It was just odd seeing the teen ‘famous for beating people up’, in his own words, restrain himself.

 

Elric just blinked in confusion, then his face lit up. “Oh, sorry. I just know someone from back home who you remind a bit of. Well…” he trailed off, and the calculating look in his eyes morphed into disgust. “I can’t believe I’m saying anything nice about Colonel Sarcasm, but he’s a lot smarter than you, I guess. Not that that’s hard.”

 

Oh, this little shit

 

Thankfully, Dabi’s very belated comprehension skills prevented him from saying anything to that as he realized that Elric apparently knows someone in the army. He forced himself to act nonchalant. “I’m sorry, who?”

 

Another blink, but there was a bit more distrust in it this time. God, was this kid always on edge? “Mustang, who’s only saving graces are his flame al… quirk and Lieutenant Hawkeye. You’d think that a relationship where one is constantly threatening the other with a gun wouldn’t work, but the bitch of shared trauma does a lot apparently, and if they aren’t together in a few months I owe Havoc twenty cenz…”

 

Elric slowly became more energetic with his fond ranting, and who could have guessed that he liked bitching about people? Dabi let the buzz of his words fade into the background, just listening enough to nod at the appropriate moments.

 

Now, Dabi was the least qualified person to dig into anyone’s sketchy past, so he had been doing a fairly good job of ignoring all of these unintentional cryptic comments and unexplained oddities, but something about this rubbed him the wrong way.

 

“... but I guess he was kind of useful, if you ignore his obsession with women in miniskirts. Seriously, that’s just kind of weird, especially if you have literal children in the office, like, working , and that's why the only respectable one is Hawkeye. Fuery acts like a confused puppy, Falman is bad at poker, Breda’s too sane, Havoc always smells like cigarette smoke-”

 

Dabi held both hands up in the universal signal to wait just a damn second. “Yeah, yeah, okay, uh, did you say you were working in the military ?”

 

Elric gave him a confused look. “Uh, yeah.”

 

A heartbeat passed.

 

His face went through an impressive bluescreen, after which he made a little ‘eeping’ noise and sunk into his coat. “I didn’t mean to say that, shit ,” he hissed under his breath and then dissolved into meaningless German. 

 

Okay, there was not enough time to unpack all of that.

 

Dabi felt like breaking into hysterics. “Fuck, Elric, were you a goddamn child soldier?!”

 

“I was not!” He snapped back, but it didn’t have it’s usual bluster. “I was just a… researcher. And why do you care, anyway?”

 

Dabi edged away from the snarling kid, but continued to stare, letting him know just what he thought of that bullshit excuse. No kid got hired by the military, anywhere, as a fucking researcher .

 

Elric huffed, crossing his arms and glaring defiantly back. “What, you don’t believe me? It’s true, I swear- ugh, this is why I don’t bring it up, I forgot you guys have the Geneva Convention…”

 

“As in you fucking don’t?!” He felt like laughing. Shit, when did his life end up like this? Running away from home to become a villain and ending up being a pseudo-vigilante instead. Hell, he’d killed people before! Why was he concerned over some brat?

 

The kid didn’t answer, and Dabi let out a puff of air, all the fight flowing out in that breath. It left him empty, drained. “You know what, I don’t care. Do whatever you want.” He ran a hand through his hair.

 

It was disconcertingly quiet for a few tense seconds. This was a mistake, his head screamed, go apologize, it’s too silent, say something, you messed up .

 

He couldn’t take it. His lips felt drier than normal, the staples dug into what skin he could still feel. The whole room teetered on a knife’s edge, and Elric’s calm silence was so very, very loud.

 

Dabi breathed in again, and decided this was fairly stupid.


“Your first entrance exam is in a couple weeks, right?” His voice was hollow, flat, but the tension flowed out of the room with a silent but steadfast agreement.

 

Don’t ask.

 

Elric sighed, much more carefree than he had any right to be. “Yeah. The first one is U.A., something about being so “Plus Ultra” that they have to hold exams first in the region.”

 

Dabi managed a dry chuckle, and it was like nothing had happened, even if his eyes hovered just a tad bit too long on Elric’s erratically tapping feet, even if he paid a bit more attention to the way his eyes carefully documented and dismissed every sound from outside.

 

He understood what it was like to be that on edge. 

 

-*-

 

Jan 25th

 

Ed woke up that morning feeling a good, normal amount of dread.

 

Oddly enough, the funniest part of that statement was the “morning” part, seeing as Ijiwaru screamed him awake at Far-Too-Fucking-Early o’clock, on a Sunday, meaning it was (technically) his day off.

 

He got ready, putting off oiling his arm and leg for future-him’s problem, and went down the rickety old wooden stairs into the back room.

 

It was chaos.

 

Ijiwaru was pacing and muttering in the corner, counting up something like her life depended on it, while Shiruko shrieked at another worker in the background. Ryōsei sprinted through the room carrying a stack of trays and accidentally clotheslined Dabi, who fell to the floor with a muffled wheeze.

 

Ryōsei was the one to spot him first. “Elric!” they cried with relief, and Iji whipped around so fast that he thought she had been possessed. Ryōsei scurried back out the door when she glared at them, and within seconds everyone had stopped moving around.

 

“What’s all the commotion for?” He asked, trying not to sound too judgemental.

 

“Oh, nothing, nothing,” she laughed, high and just that little bit fake. He chalked it up to stress. “It’s just been… a long morning, for no particular reason.”

 

Dabi groaned from the floor, sounding like he was going to cry. Ed really didn’t get all of his drama, maybe it was an internet thing, so he elected to ignore him, as did everyone else. Ijiwaru walked forward to ruffle his hair, which he dodged with a scowl.

 

A shout sounded from outside, and everyone in the room turned to face the door. Ryōsei poked their head in sheepishly. 

 

“Uh, so maybe I dropped the last bottle o’ whiskey, and maybe it happened to spill all over the floor…”

 

Ijiwaru sighed again, and Ed kind of felt bad for her. She just could not catch a break. “Then go buy some more!”

 

“I can’t!”

 

“Why not?”

 

“... I ‘ave class in half ‘n hour.”

 

“Half an-!” She cut off her sentence abruptly before whirling around. “Elric, go buy some more whiskey.”

 

Ed spluttered in surprise. “I can’t do it either! I’m underage, they won’t sell me alcohol.”

 

“... Dabi, you lazy sonofabitch, get up and take Elric to the store.”

 

The scarred man in question looked up slowly and stared at her, raising his eyebrows after a beat. Ijiwaru huffed, conceding the point.

 

“Fine then, I guess I’ll go. Elric, you’re still coming with me.” She silenced him with a short glare before her gaze softened. “All you’ve been doing recently is beating up villains, running from cops, and working on your applications.” Ed had actually finished those and turned them in weeks ago, but he wisely stayed silent.

 

“... Okay.”

 

Her previous anger disappeared like a puddle in summer, and she gave the occupants of the room a sharp grin. “Good. We’re leaving now.”

 

He hurried after her (much longer, but he wasn’t going to admit that) strides, passing through the main area where Shiruko sat on the bar. She looked up as he stopped in front of her, raising an eyebrow. 

 

“Going out?” He nodded, and she sighed, even though there was a faint smile on her face. She twisted over the counter and tossed him something that he fumbled to catch. “Wear it.”

 

Unfolding it out, he saw that it was a black baseball cap and dark gray hoodie two sizes too big. “Why?”

 

“Because you honestly look like a villain with that resting bitch… everything,” she shot back, and he felt the indignation well up in him.

 

“Hey! My outfit is perfect.”

 

“For advertising that you want to go to prison, maybe. Who wears leather pants anymore? Put the damn hat and jacket on and just be glad we’re not making you ditch the boots.”

 

Ed considered fighting her more, but another sharp look made him give in, and he pulled on the hoodie. The sleeves hung a good few inches past his fingertips and the bottom of it brushed mid-thigh, and he was about to shrink it down alchemically before Ijiwaru turned around from pulling her sweater on. 

 

“Normal people don’t wear dress gloves outside, Elric. Just leave your hands in your pockets,” she said, and he had to take a second to remind himself that she didn’t know about his automail and probably just thought he was a germaphobe or something.

 

Shiruko apparently thought he was taking too long to get ready, because a sharp tug on his braid pulled him towards her and she tucked it up under the hat before he could protest. 

 

“... Why is it on backwards?”

 

Shiruko gave him a blank stare. “I’m not sure whether to be amazed or concerned at your blatant ignorance of pop culture. You’re a teenage boy, for fuck’s sake!”

 

Ed wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be sheepish or angry, so he settled with the latter. “I’m sorry I didn’t study ‘pop culture’, I was too busy learning useful things like history and the whole fucking Japanese language !”

 

“Girls, girls, you’re both pretty.” Ijiwaru materialized out of thin air between them with her usual grin, and both arguing parties turned to glare, and in Ed’s case, bare his teeth at her. The smile never left her face, but she did pause, as if considering the conversation. “While I am a bit surprised at your cluelessness, Elric, we need to leave before the morning rush hour starts.”

 

She grabbed him by the arm and marched to the side entrance, exiting into the empty alleyway and ignoring Ed’s scowl with all the grace of a sledgehammer. It was a pleasant day, but there was something just a bit… off. 

 

It felt kind of like those days holed up in the library with his brother, times when neither of them would see the sun for days on end and then emerge weary and sun-starved from their little book cave. One time Havoc had come to collect them, and upon leaving the relative peace of the Central Library, Ed had stupidly asked if the sun had always been this bright.

 

Ed smiled faintly at the memory, turning slightly to ask Al if he remembered but caught himself just in time. Ijiwaru was nice enough, but he was already doing a bad enough job as is keeping his origins a mystery and she was smarter than the cheerful act let on.

 

The alley opened up onto a side street, and then a larger street, and before too long they were at a small shopping center. Despite the months he’d spent here (and wasn’t that a shock- he’d already been here for almost nine months, holy shit), he had avoided going out as much as possible, which was easy since other bar employees tended to buy the food and run for supplies, and most of his forays had just been to the library and back.

 

People of every type milled about, talking and shopping with each other. Looking around, he probably would have stood out more here than in that little bookshop two streets away from the bar, although that would explain why the man running it had given him such weird looks the first few times he visited.

 

Ijiwaru dragged him into the nearest grocery store before he could fully take in what was going on, and while he would never admit it, he was kind of thankful for the hoodie and hat. He still shrugged her off with an annoyed grumble, stalking into the back of the store and taking in what they had.

 

The sound of Japanese from the front cashier was still audible even several… what were they called, aisles? Aisles away. He made sure the hat was covering as much hair as possible, they had cameras here, and kept an ear on the conversation. Hopefully they’d be able to leave soon.

 

He turned the corner just in time to get a freezer door to the face.

 

Ed stumbled back, cursing in Amestrian under his breath, and only vaguely heard someone else do the same. His face throbbed.

 

“I’m so sorry, my boy, are you alright?”

 

He lifted his head, all prepared with a glare and everything, but froze once he looked at the man.

 

Now, he wasn’t sure if this was something from the Gate or if his lifetime of bad decisions and overall shitty-ness had finally decided to do something good for once, but every cell in his body screamed danger when he looked at the guy.

 

Blond hair poofed out from his head, while two deep set eyes looked at him with something akin to concern. He must’ve weighed ninety pounds soaking wet, and Ed could practically see his ribs, even through the ridiculously baggy shirt.

 

He closed his mouth, glare forgotten. “Um. Yeah. I am fine, sorry.”

 

The dude was frail and weak, but there was a definite power coming off of him that made Ed just want to turn around and run far, far away. The hair on the back of his neck stood up.

 

Mr. Sunflower smiled sheepishly. “I do apologize, I hadn’t seen you coming. As long as you’re okay.”

 

Truth , the guy freaked him the fuck out. How could someone so weak looking give him this many bad vibes? Ed mentally scrambled for an excuse to leave. He was curious, of course, but he also liked being alive.

 

Ijiwaru saved his ass, not for the first time and definitely not the last. “Elric!” She barked from the front counter. “Let’s go!”

 

Ooh, the cashier must have really pissed her off. Maybe he didn’t ask to see her driver’s license? Women were oddly touchy about being seen as older than they are. Whatever it was, it was the perfect distraction.

 

The pressure disappeared when the guy looked away, and Ed took the opportunity. “C-coming!” He announced, then cursed silently for stuttering.

 

Iji was waiting by the doors, looking less mad than she had sounded. She pulled the hat lower on his head when he walked by her, giving him a tight smile. The left the store in silence, which gave Ed plenty of time to feel himself relax at the absence of the frail guy.

 

Seriously, though, who was he?

 

He was distracted by Ijiwaru grumbling under her breath, but he wisely decided to not ask. She was carrying a brown paper bag that he assumed held whiskey, so it was fine.

 

He glanced over his shoulder, watching as the man he’d been talking to exited the store slowly and turned in the direction of that old beach. Was he homeless? No, those were nice pants, you didn’t get those from being homeless.

 

Ugh. Sometimes he really hated his ‘sense of adventure’, as Al put it.

 

He turned to Ijiwaru. “Uh, I’m just going to… walk around a bit. Explore.”

 

“Explore?” She raised an eyebrow, reminding him eerily of Teacher. “You’ve never seemed to be interested in that before.”

 

Fuck. He scrambled for an excuse. “Well, that was because I’ve been busy with applications and working and stuff.” He forced a small laugh. Buy it, buy it. “When I get accepted into a school I won’t have any time then either, so might as well do it now?”

 

Her eyes were narrowed, but she nodded. “Alright. Just don’t get lost, caught, or in trouble. You know the drill.” Oh, thank Truth.

 

He turned away from her, heading in the general direction of the trash-filled beach. Honestly, he wasn’t sure why he hadn’t really been exploring before this. His hair was in a low ponytail, and golden eyes were a million times more common here than back in Amestris, so the chances that he would be recognized were slim at best.

 

Hell, one of those heroes had gold eyes. What was his name… Ed gave up. It wasn’t important anyway. 

 

He strolled along as casually as he could, doing his absolute best to not make eye contact with anyone while also not being too dismissive. It was a weird balance, staying far enough back from the old dude that he wouldn’t be noticed. 

 

Turns out he was right, which was a bad thing nowadays, and they ended up at the beach, which was… barely trash filled at all. There were like two piles left, which was interesting, because the first time he had seen that beach (holy shit, almost ten months ago) it had been absolutely covered.

 

He crouched beside one of the few remaining piles, watching as the man jogged over to a kid, looked about his age with messy hair, and started to talk. Ed was far enough away that he couldn’t hear what they were saying, but neither of them were doing anything particularly suspicious, just kinda… hanging out. Maybe they were family on a picnic, or something.

 

He wasn’t going to get anything, and it felt weird to just be spying on this dude and his son (?) at the beach.

 

The sand underneath him shifted slightly, but he managed to move without knocking anything over. His leg shrieked in protest, and, not for the first time, he promised himself that he would oil it when he got back to the bar. 

 

Maybe he had been mistaken about the guy? He wasn’t getting any bad feelings now, maybe it was something in the store? He resolved to go back eventually and check.

 

Either way, it was established that there was nothing for him to worry about right now.

 

He turned to leave, and had made it about two steps away before the rusted-over toaster he had been next to toppled into the rest of the pile. The low murmur of voices further down the beach trailed off at the clanging, and Ed froze in his tracks.

 

Ah, shit. His luck was terrible.

 

-

 

Toshinori Yagi had been pretty surprised by Young Midoriya’s accomplishments last time he came to the beach, and was even more so now. The boy huffed and panted as Toshinori jogged up to him, the cold drinks in his shopping bag drawing the boy’s immediate attention. 

 

“You’re almost done, my boy! ” He started as Midoriya greedily drank from the first cold water bottle, grinning. Large green eyes stared up at him in happiness, still ecstatic about being praised by his idol even after all of these months.

 

“Thank you, All Mi- I-I mean Yagi-san!”

 

Toshinori freed his own water from the bag, sipping it gently as Midoriya went back to pulling a crate filled with old scrap metal and moldy fabrics. “It really is impressive. I must say, I had expected it to take longer, but you’ve exceeded my expectations yet again!” He let out a quiet laugh, a faint echo of his usual booming chuckle.

 

“It’s all thanks to you!”

 

He shook his head, but he was smiling. This kid, so determined to praise him when he should be praising himself for all of the hard work he’s put in. “At this rate, you’ll just make the U.A. exams. I assume you’ve been studying too?”

 

Midoriya’s face was scrunched up in concentration, but he answered evenly enough. “Of course, Yagi-san! I’m not going to let these months clearing the beach go to waste by failing the written test!”

 

“That’s the spirit!” The teenager released the crate, breathing deeply for a moment while wiping off his hands.

 

He was about to speak again, to bring up a few tips for the exam, but a quiet, metallic clinging drew his attention and he froze. Midoriya opened his mouth to ask a question, but Toshinori held up a finger for silence, listening closely. 

 

No other sounds were made, but something told him that there was still someone there. He didn’t have much time left today, and in this form he looked like a frail old man with an unarmed boy, the perfect target for a mugging. God knows this city had too many opportunistic villains around.

 

“... Is anyone there?” He called out softly, not trying to sound threatening while still making it obvious that it wasn’t a question. The other person knew it too, judging by the barely audible, muffled curse. It was another second before anyone stepped out into the open.

 

Toshinori felt his hostility melt away, although he wasn’t about to let his guard all the way down. The boy he had run into (literally) in the convenience store stood out in the open, hands shoved deeply in his hoodie pockets and a carefully neutral expression fixed firmly on his face.

 

“Oh, hello. What are you doing here?” Toshinori continued kindly. He took the momentary pause to study the teenager’s features. He looked vaguely familiar, but at the same time he was pretty sure that he would have remembered someone that exotic-looking.

 

The boy shifted a bit uncomfortably, but his voice was strong. “I am a bit new to this city, but I saw you heading in this direction after leaving the store and I knew that all that is over here is-... was a trash filled beach, so I followed you to… make sure you weren’t homeless or something?”

 

He phrased it like a question, but Toshinori let himself relax. He really should be a bit offended at someone saying he looked like a homeless person, although he guessed he kind of deserved it. 

 

“I apologize for worrying you then. I can assure you that I’m fine, I simply came to get drinks for my… protege.”

 

Golden eyes narrowed slightly. “So he’s… not your son.”

 

Midoriya broke in before Toshinori could hastily explain the situation. “Wait, Yagi-san, you know him?”

 

“I’m afraid I, quite literally, bumped into this young man at the store.” He coughed slightly, swallowing the little bit of blood that coated the inside of his mouth, and turning back to the golden-eyed boy. “A-anyway, My protege has been the one clearing this beach, I’m just Young Midoriya’s… uh, personal trainer.” That was good enough.

 

The boy relaxed a bit, seeming to believe him, and brought his hands out of his pockets as he turned to leave. Toshinori caught the faintest glint of metal, was he wearing a bracelet or something? His sleeves went down far past his fingertips, it would be rude to ask. “Alright then, I’m just going to-”

 

Young Midoriya stepped forward a bit, interrupting him. “Um, what should I call you? In case we m-meet again?”

 

The teenager turned around a bit, looking a bit confused. “...Just call me Ed, I guess. You’re Midoriya, right? I heard the guy over there say that.”

 

“Oh, uh, yeah, I’m Midoriya. Your accent sounds foreign, did you come here to attend a hero school?”

 

Ed was fully turned towards them again, and he just blinked for a moment before his expression cleared. “Yeah, I guess you could say that. Is that what you’ve been training for, or…?”

 

“Yeah!” Midoriya shouted, then sheepishly lowered his volume. “Uh, yeah, I’m planning to go to U.A.!”

 

“I guess we might see each other there then,” and then Ed turned to leave, hands in pockets again, like he hadn’t just dropped a bombshell. “Later, if you get in.” 

 

He was gone before Toshinori could blink. Midoriya was vibrating in glee next to him. 

 

“Yagi-san, I think I just made a friend!” He beamed, then just as suddenly deflated. “I forgot to ask him about his quirk, dang it.”

 

Toshinori patted him on the back gently. “Well, if what he said is true, then you two might see each other at U.A. and you can ask him there. Until then, there is a bit of beach left to clean, so I suggest you get working on that!”

 

-

 

Ed trotted back down the streets, only half paying attention to the buildings he passed. The weird, powerful aura had faded as he’d talked to the guy, although it had still been a bit hard to act completely normal. It really was just a guy helping a kid prepare for exams.

 

So why did he still feel uneasy?

 

Ijiwaru let him go too easily.

 

The thought hit him like a sledgehammer, and he stopped in his tracks. If there was one thing he had learned about his current landlord/employer, it was that she was eccentric, but stubborn. There would have been no way she would just let him go out on his own normally, she really only let him out to go hunt for clues on his target with the express warning that he wasn’t allowed to really be seen or caught.

 

So why did she let him go?

 

His thick-soled boots pounded on the sidewalk, just slow enough not to cause a scene. Was there a big-name villain coming that she didn’t want him to meet? Was that what they had been preparing for this morning? Oh Truth, if something was going down in the bar right now, Ed did not appreciate being kept out of it.

 

The alley entrance beckoned him in, but he slowed just before reaching for the handle. It was quiet inside, he couldn’t even hear the ever-present sound of drunk patrons. Sunday midmorning or not, there were always people getting drunk.

 

The door creaked open with finality, and he stepped inside. His eyes were just barely beginning to adjust to the indoor-darkness of the main room, but something still seemed off.

 

“SURPRISE!” someone shouted right next to his ear, and Ed’s reflexes kicked in before he could figure out who it was. 

 

One leg swept out to knock the attacker to the ground, and he had them in a chokehold with his metal arm before he could register the semicircle of people who had popped out from hiding spaces and were now looking at him with horror.

 

Oh, he realized. It was a surprise party.

 

And I just knocked one of them down.

 

Fuck.

 

Dabi looked up at him pleadingly from the floor, and Ed guiltily released him before he really passed out. The scarred man coughed as he sat up, rubbing at his probably bruised throat. 

 

“Do you greet everyone like that, or is that just a special welcome for friends?”

 

Ed felt the blood rush to his cheeks. “I don’t like surprises! You’re telling me that not one person here thought that the vigilante on the run from the police might not be perfectly fine with a surprise party?” Everyone looked away sheepishly.

 

Shiruko started to laugh, a low chuckle that slowly bled the tension out of the room. “How about we start from the beginning, you little shit?”

 

“Why are you even throwing me a… party?” He poked at one of the balloons, raising his eyebrows at the minimalist decorations.

 

Ijiwaru spoke up. “Well, your first entrance exams are in a couple days, right? We figured that we’d throw you something to relax, chill out for a couple hours, for good luck!”

 

Ed’s throat felt a bit tight. “Uh, thanks, then? I’m… sorry for attacking you, Dabi.”

 

“It’s fine, we really should’ve expected that. My fault.” 

 

One of the other bartenders clapped softly, and it was only a moment before the others joined in. Someone had turned on the radio, and people started to talk and mingle as Ijiwaru guided Ed to the bar and sat down.

 

“One beer and a… does root beer sound good? Yeah, a root beer.” Shiruko raised an eyebrow, but turned to get the drinks nonetheless. Ed felt himself smiling a bit.

 

He turned to his technical boss. “So is that why you were so desperate to get me to leave? You guys had to set up everything?”

 

She laughed. “Yeah! I thought we had blown it when you came down a bit earlier than we expected you too. Good thing someone thought of a good excuse to get you out, even if it cost us our whisky. Why did you ask to go exploring, though?”

 

“I ran into a guy at the convenience store who seemed… odd,” understatement of the year, “so I followed him a ways. Turns out I was wrong.” He shrugged, both of them watching as Dabi got into a fight with one of the newer hires over a plate of chicken wings.

 

They sat in silence for a moment, watching the other people talk to each other, fight, crack jokes, and just generally cause controlled mayhem. When Ed looked back over at her, Ijiwaru was smiling faintly.

 

“I don’t know for sure what you’re looking for,” she started, unusually slow and measured, “but Dabi told me that you have a brother back at home who you’re trying to get back to, and you have to capture this guy to do it.”

 

He nodded, not sure where she was going with this.

 

“I may be considered a criminal, but I’ve tried as hard as I could to keep from hurting people. I feel like you’re the same way, if a bit more successful. I just want you to know-” she finally turned to look at him, “- you don’t have to do it alone. If you need help, we’re here.” 

 

She spread her arms, to the background noise of music and laughing people. “If someone has your brother, if you made a deal with someone, you don’t have to keep it. We can help you get home, get your brother back, if you really need help. Or we can help find the guy you’re looking for, if that’s the only way. My point is that you don’t need to do this alone . You don’t have to put the whole burden on your shoulders, all of the guilt. We may not be perfect people, but few of us are as bad as the world makes us out to be. We would help you, if you want it.”

 

Her eyes burned into the side of his head, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to meet them. His voice sounded a bit hollow, even to his ears. “Yeah. I know. I’ll call on you guys if I need help… but this really is the only way to get Al back.”

 

-Why, little al~chem~ist, do you not like my deal? Would you rather settle your debt with blood, or with this teensy-tiny little errand?-

 

-you cannot tell anyone about me or the Gate-

 

They sat side by side in silence, but Iji didn’t push him any further.

 

He was glad for that, at least.

 

-*-

 

Jan. 29th

 

Ed woke up feeling like hell decided to have a sauna day, which was usual by now.

 

He sat up on his rock-hard mattress, and groggily decided no, it wasn’t quite that. More like… dread, but nothing so poetic as ‘a shroud settling across his shoulders’ or ‘a weighted blanket of fear on his soul.’ More like he ate something bad last night.

 

This was not a good feeling for today, of all days. Today was important.

 

He flipped open the old burner phone Dabi had bought him as a You Aren’t Dead Yet present, checking the time. Thankfully he had woken up early enough to have plenty of time to get ready, which was good since U.A. was a good distance away and Ed had a very real dislike for public transportation that wasn’t a steam train. 

 

The dread settled and dissipated a bit as he got moving, replaced by the latent stress of living like he did. The feeling was pretty common, unfortunately. 

 

Truth, his life was so fucked up, wasn’t it? Being on the run for however long with the two chimeras and Greedling really gave him a fresh new perspective on stress. Was the military going to find them, or was he going to sleep tonight? Will he wake up? Who knows! Not even talking about the months leading up to that, or the fight with Father.

 

Fuck, he really did feel more at home running from police than he did just… existing. Goddamn it. He needed Al.

 

-

 

Now, Ed wouldn’t exactly qualify himself as an optimist, but it was a beautifully sunny day, no one gave him a second glance, and if U.A. was even half the high school that he’d heard about, he’d be home with Al before the end of the month.

 

Truth, if only he’d prepared himself for the crowds. The streets were packed in a way that Amestris had never been, even in Central. People milled about, crossing the street, walking to work.

 

He didn’t really have a huge problem, but it would be wonderful to just… not deal with that. 

 

Ed looked around, finding a familiar and empty alley entrance to the right. If he remembered correctly, taking the back streets would be even faster than taking the main road. With a smug little smile, he casually strolled in, no one noticing. 

 

Perfect. 

 

Two corners and he was out of sight, the buzz of voices and other sounds from the rush-hour streets already faded and distorted. It was even nicer back here, quieter, more peaceful. 

 

Ed wasn’t really worried about muggers, and he was close enough to U.A., and thus hero territory, that he wasn’t worried about any bigger villains either. Besides, what self-respecting villain would be out this early?

 

A bid chirped above him, and yet another turn brought him onto a much smaller main road. Two buildings down… and a left just past the yellow convenience store. It was almost fun.

 

As he walked in the nice, peaceful morning stillness, the buildings around him began to shorten, to spread out. He was getting so close… Ed’s feet slowed down on their own. One more corner, and he’d be at U.A. High. It was so surreal.

 

Voices drifted to him in a faint but steady whisper, and Ed took the last few moments of quiet to look up at the sky. A blue sky, a few wispy clouds. Just like the one back home, but at the same time, so completely alien to him.

 

I hope you’re proud of me, Al. I’ll get you home- the right way. I promise.

 

Before he could lose his nerve, he took a step forward, marching towards the U.A. entrance exams.

 

Or, he would have, if a swirl of black mist hadn’t filled his vision, two pale and green-tinged hands wrapping themselves with surprising strength around his throat. The last thing he heard was the faint whisper of a woman behind him, taunting him to move before his head hit something hard, and he blacked out.

Chapter Text

-*-

 

June XX, 224X

 

The air is burning.

 

He pants and gasps for breath, the pink smog coating his throat and making it hard to breathe. Faint energy crackles harmlessly over his skin, illuminating the nearby trees in a sickly green light, casting flickering shadows that made him paranoid.

 

The ground at his feet splits again and again as he races forward, narrowly missing trees. He ramps up the speed, until his legs feel like they’re going to crack with every move and he can barely react in time to dodge branches. 

 

It wasn’t fast enough.

 

The near-deafening whisper in his ear reaches a crescendo, almost drowning out the crackling of far-off flames with hisses of faster, faster, you’re going to be too late, faster…

 

And then there are no more trees, and he’s carried upwards by his momentum, hanging there for a moment.

 

Finally, he could see what was going on.

 

The whole forest was on fire. Giant swathes of it were hidden behind both noxious, billowing black smoke from blood red fire and the ever-present pink fog; others were clear, but dead silent.

 

Sounds of a fight came from multiple locations; the one he’d just left was the loudest, although trails of smoke drifted lazily upwards from the main building. God, what had happened to the rest of his class?

 

And then he was in freefall, twisting with the motion to roll on impact and be up and running again in a maneuver that he’d seen a thousand times on his teacher. His knees creaked, the veritable crater each foot made quickly swallowed up by the sheer pace at which he moved.

 

He could hear a man’s voice ahead, cocky and full of bloodlust- too slow too slow- and his instincts slow him down, the brain that had saved him so many times in the past working overdrive to catalog each threat.

 

He crested the hill.

 

Muscular. Arm cocked back, an insane grin that split his face open from ear to ear, his mechanical eye glowing menacingly in the twilight.

 

Kouta. Standing helpless beneath him, but relatively unhurt. Face scrunched up in defiance, even with the terror in his eyes.

 

Himself. Poised between the two, without a plan and with no time to make one, probably looking dreadfully outmatched.

 

Ba-dum.

 

Everything blurred back into motion. Muscular screamed something at Kouta, his voice cracking like thunder, arm still descending. What was he supposed to do?

 

His speed launched him forward, snatching Kouta moments before that fist came down. They both tumbled to the ground, skidding against the rocks. His brain crashed like a gong.

 

Muscular laughed, or growled, or something, it was impossible to hear over the heartbeat in his ears and the ringing in his head. He figured that he wouldn’t have liked to hear it anyway, even as the ringing began to quiet.

 

“...your buddy, Katsuki Bakugou? You know where he is? C’mon, tell me.” The mechanical eye gleamed with the opportunity to kill, and he found himself vaguely disgusted. Why were they looking for Kacchan?

 

Kouta whimpered, tucked behind him. He found himself shifting forward automatically, ready to fight to the death if it meant Kouta could get back safely. To be honest, it scared him. He was going to die here, to the crazed maniac who slaughtered pro heroes for the shits and giggles, and there was nothing he could do.

 

He wasn’t crazy enough to smile, no, but the same hysterical laughter bubbled up in his throat anyway.

 

Muscular lunged, and Izuku pushed Kouta as hard as he could without hurting him, trusting him to escape, to not be an idiot and stay to help, and he braced himself as best he could-

 

And the villain howled in pain, slamming sideways into the cliff face. His eye whirred nauseatingly, locking on to the knife pinning his hand to the wall just as Izuku’s did.

 

Knife?

 

“Himiko,” the man hissed, the voice of someone who had willingly thrown themselves into the deep end and insisted on drowning. “I always knew we couldn’t trust you, you conniving little bitch.”

 

A giggle sounded from the shadows, high pitched and just a little bit familiar, as the villain wrenched the knife from his hand with a spray of blood and only a wince of pain. Muscle strands covered the wound, winding their way around like a makeshift bandage.

 

Izuku was left reeling, still in his defensive position and without any clue what was going on. Was the girl a hero? Another villain? Were he and Kouta saved or just being shipped off to die somewhere else?

 

She slinked out of the shadows, her glistening eyes just as unhinged as Muscular’s, narrowed as they were in singular focus. She held an assortment of knives, the machine on her back somehow even more menacing than the blades themselves.

 

“Muscular,” she purred. “Of course not. You think I was ever loyal to Shigaraki? No, no, he’s not cool at all. But you’re the worst…” Her eyes narrowed even further, just as a large smile spread across her face like the blood from a cut.

 

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to touch what isn’t yours?”

 

-*-

 

Jan. 29th, 224X

 

Hizashi’s voice boomed at the start signal, the sound slightly tinny over the speakers. Normally, Shota would be lounging in the back of the room, out of the other teachers’ way, but this time his eyes roamed the veritable army of U.A. hopefuls as they crowded through the gates and surged into the city from up close. 

 

Nezu had given him quite the pointed look earlier, so here he was, watching for his mystery kid in person.

 

Some distant part of his brain kept tabs on standout kids, but for the most part he was focused on scanning the screens, looking for an out-of-place golden braid to pop into vision.

 

His eyes narrowed as he caught a flash of gold hair, and he tapped on the screen, bringing up a quick bio. Kaminari Denki, huh… He made a mental note to check on the boy later, maybe put him in Class 1-A if he passed.

 

A few other people caught his eye, and he had resorted to writing the names down to look up later, but he was ultimately left feeling disappointed when it ended. Yeah, there was that one kid who’d killed the zero-pointer, which he had some choice words about- but no red coat or anything.

 

Which was honestly so goddamn frustrating.

 

And he couldn’t even swear out loud! Because All Might was in the room! 

 

Shouta wasn’t a huge fanboy or anything, but it just felt weird. The man was a living legend. Shouta shouldn’t swear in front of the symbol of peace. It was that simple.

 

Besides, All Might, no matter if he was a walking skeleton or a buff giant, had the paternal approval down to an exact science. Shota was a fully grown adult and if even he felt slightly guilty when leveled with the Dad Stare, he couldn’t even imagine the effect it would have on the kids.

 

Maybe he should ask for some pointers.

 

Thankfully, the man was far too busy looking Disapprovingly at the screens, with a slight hint of Disappointment. Which was… odd, now that he thought about it. Was he looking for someone too?

 

And then All Might looked up and caught Shota looking at him- which, shit, was not the plan, fuck- and brought out the Concerned But Earnest and- now he’d just feel guilty if he didn’t go say hi. 

 

Forget strength, any grown man who can look like a kicked puppy on command is someone to be feared.

 

Shota sighed and slouched over, fully ready to leave and go sulk at home. All Might blinked at him curiously, as if he honestly couldn’t believe that he would come over voluntarily. 

 

“Ah, Eraserhead. I’m told you aren’t normally here for this.” Which, yeah, someone had been snitching. It was probably Nemuri. It was always Nemuri.

 

He hovered a bit awkwardly at the taller’s man’s side. “Yeah, I was here looking for someone. How is it seeing the exam from the other side?”

 

“O-oh, it’s interesting…” All Might chuckled sheepishly. “I feel bad for some of the kids who aren’t suited for these tests, you know?”

 

Shota almost growled. “It’s an unfair test that puts destructive quirks over subtler ones and-... enough about that. Why are you here?”

 

All Might looked at him, confused, and Shota realised that he might have come off as rude, but before he could be bothered to fix it, the hero answered anyway.

 

“I was actually here to watch someone- er, a couple someones take the exam, but I’m afraid I only got to watch one of them...”

 

The green-haired kid, of course. He would have been blind not to notice the way All Might stayed mostly trained on one screen, and coughed up blood when the kid broke the zero pointer.

 

“... but I met the most interesting boy the other day, who said he was going to try for U.A., but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I hope he didn’t chicken out, he seemed quite confident.”

 

“Oh?” Shota paused. “I might be able to find him for you. What was his name and quirk?”

 

“I… don’t know, actually. But he had the most piercing golden eyes, much like Present Mic, and a strange european accent.” All Might looked uncomfortably grateful at the offer.

 

Wait. 

 

Fuck.

 

-*-

 

XXX XX, XXXX

 

Al was sitting in front of him, the armor just small enough to fit in the train seat. The whole thing rattled and clanked as the train accelerated, a familiar sound that did absolutely nothing to make Ed understand where he was.

 

“Oh, brother, you’re awake!” Al’s glowing red eyes perked up at him, and he gently put the book he was reading away. “You slept for a while. You must’ve been really tired.”

 

He… had been tired, hadn’t he? He would always fall asleep on the train, why was that sounding weird to him? “Yeah… hey, Al, where are we right now?”

 

It was hard to make out the countryscape outside the windows, so he gave up, turning back to give the train car a once-over. Why was something off? It was just a normal train car.

 

Al cocked his head in confusion. “What do you mean? We’re on our way home, right? That’s what you said.”

 

Yeah, he had said that. He chuckled, but it sounded a bit strained. “Oh, yeah, I forgot. Sorry. I must have been sleeping for a really long time, huh?”

 

“You really should stop forgetting stuff,” Al tsk ed, in a way that was very distinctly their mother. His golden eyes were soft with understanding though, so Ed assumed he was off the hook. 

 

There was a knock on the doorframe, and Trisha walked into the kitchen, smiling at them. She came over to ruffle Ed’s hair, and he frowned as hard as he could, trying not to laugh. She laughed for both of them anyways. 

 

“You boys have been getting along well, I’d hope? My little men, so much like your father…”

 

Ed found himself scowling for real. Hohenheim might’ve been their father, but he wasn’t their dad.

 

Trisha looked sad. “Of course he’s your dad. You should love him, he’s done so much for you.”

 

He clenched both of his fists as Al stood up too, only one set of fingernails digging into the skin under his glove. But he wasn’t wearing gloves? No, he wasn’t. 

 

His nails carved little red crescents into his bare hand, red dripping out of them in a steady stream as Trisha and Al just looked at him with that sad little look, Al wasn’t short and chubby with harvest-gold hair and he wasn’t tall and cold and unfeeling but he was too thin and so impossibly scared and Trisha wasn’t there-

 

-*-

 

Jan. 29th, 224X

 

The first thing Ed noticed- once he had figured out what year it was, what his name was, and what had happened- was that it was dark, darker than it should have been even with his eyes closed. The second thing was that his head hurt like a bitch.

 

His hand found its way to a solid surface, and he began the arduous process of pushing himself upright. He hadn’t even opened his eyes yet, but colorful spots danced on his eyelids like they were mocking him.

 

Head injuries fucking sucked. That was official.

 

The faint buzz of unconsciousness slowly faded into background noise once he was sitting up and unmoving, which was nice. Ed forced his eyelids open so he could look around.

 

The room was dark, but surprisingly clean. It had dark wooden walls, and he was lying on an actual bed- stripped down, of course, but a bed nonetheless. An empty doorway in the corner led to what seemed to be a bathroom, no way they would leave the exit open like that, and there was a landscape picture on the wall.

 

All in all, it was pretty nice. 

 

And really, really off putting.

 

It wasn’t like Ed had never been kidnapped before. Normally the kidnappers were less than successful in taking him anywhere, but even the ones that had managed to take him down were very upfront about their intentions. He was used to being handcuffed to window bars, tied to old wood chairs, hell, once some idiot had got the idea that he couldn’t do alchemy if they tied each of his hands to different sides of the room, which only made it a little bit harder to get free.

 

It had never been like this. Not this fake hospitality shit. He was being held for a reason, which usually boiled down to a.) ransom money, b.) he had something they wanted/they wanted him to do something, or c.) revenge.

 

He would bet every diamond in the world that it was option B this time.

 

His head throbbed again, momentarily scrambling his thoughts with white noise and pain. It passed, but he had got the message from his body. Stop moving, or else.

 

Good thing he was stubborn as shit.

 

His real leg was a bit unsteady, so he shifted more weight onto his automail and set off to explore the space he had. The bathroom had a clean mirror, and he checked for any rope marks to see where they’d tied him up before realizing, mother of all surprises, that they hadn’t.

 

Ed was either dealing with idiots, or professionals. He wasn’t sure which he preferred. 

 

Every step he took made his head pound, but it was less every time. Maybe he didn’t have a concussion? Small mercy, but it would help if he could think straight. Did he seriously have no injuries?

 

He sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, but only because he was shocked that he was physically fine. Not because his leg was about to give out or anything. Nope. 

 

So. Options.

 

He pushed his hands together, feeling around for the extra energy that always lingered in the air. It was there, but muted, and Ed got the distant feeling that if he had a quirk, it wouldn't be working. He was suddenly very glad he didn’t, and not for the first time.

 

It would be a bad idea to mess with the walls or ceiling, in case it was a trap- it probably wasn’t, but he wasn’t taking any chances.

 

He resigned himself to the dull process of waiting his captors out.

 

-

 

By the time anything happened, Ed had managed to get some rest. His head still throbbed like it was being actively bored into with a chisel, but it was better than before, so he wasn’t going to complain too much.

 

An inky black portal spiraled into existence on the wall in front of him with hardly a noise, and it was only the faint whooshing of displaced air that alerted him to it. The stone ball that he had been throwing at the ceiling fell to the floor with a dull clink as he stood up carefully.

 

Two yellow eyes materialised out of the smoke, but Ed was too stuck in the middle of another quirk-induced breakdown to pay that much attention to it.

 

He did, however, catch the words that echoed into the room. “My Master wishes to speak with you. Please step through the portal,” and he was almost relieved. Not that he had a particular fondness for life-and-death combat, but anything was better than the waiting. He didn’t even have any books!

 

Ed waited just long enough to prove that he was only going because he wanted to, and then sauntered into the darkness with only the faintest of hitches in his step. Soon enough, his vision cleared, and he found himself in a well-lit room, the contrast to the waiting room stark and probably intentional. 

 

It almost looked like an industrial warehouse, metal and concrete holding up the high roof. The inside was emptied out, instead filled with medical equipment clustered in the center of the room, doctors scurrying about. 

 

And at the other end…

 

Oh, Truth. That guy looked awful .

 

Envy had probably still been uglier, but it was a close margin. The man’s features were twisted and warped in a grotesque imitation of a human face, like someone had deep fried it and then rearranged all his facial features with a rusty spoon. The whole thing was covered in scar tissue, a latticework of angry red and white lines that did absolutely nothing to improve it. He didn’t even have any jokes, it was just…

 

“Horrifying, isn’t it?” The voice came out melodic, despite the deep scars that marred where his throat used to be. Ed wasn’t a doctor, but he was pretty sure that the man shouldn’t even be able to speak, much less speak well .

 

He forced the horror off his face. Something told him that behind the mashed potato features, this guy was bad news. He would bet ten thousand cenz that this was the person Truth wanted.

 

The quiet malice pouring off of him made goosebumps flicker across Ed’s skin, even with the hoodie he’d been forced in this morning. All of his plans fled out the window. If they were to fight, right here, right now, Ed would die.

 

Play it cool.

 

“I’ve seen worse. Not much worse, but all the same.”

 

He chuckled, a low sound that felt like nails on a chalkboard to Ed’s danger senses. “That’s comforting, I suppose. What are you doing all the way over there? Come, let’s talk.”

 

It was definitely not a suggestion.

 

The portal guy had disappeared, so Ed trudged over, forcing himself to walk straight, his boots making a comforting aggressive thump on the concrete. There was a table between them, small mercies, already set up with a chess set. 

 

Holy shit, this was the most cliche bad guy Ed had ever had the displeasure of seeing in person. All the man needed was a cat to stroke menacingly. Fuck. 

 

“Ah, I hope you don’t mind playing a game with me? A round of chess for this old man.” It was a more rumbling laugh this time, like a thunder cloud about to let loose, but Ed was quite simply done with absolutely all of this playing around and waiting bullshit.

 

He sat down. “Don’t know how,” he said, happily unapologetic. “Sorry,” he tacked on at the end, just to be an ass. The guy had patience in spades.

 

All For One’s hands folded over the table, each one the size of Ed’s entire face. “You don’t?” he said after a moment, with only the faint twitch of a non-existent eyebrow to show he was annoyed. It was like music to Ed’s ears. He had always been good at pissing people off.

 

“I’m not so good at all the long-term strategy stuff, you know?” A doctor in the background flinched at his cavalier attitude, which was the whole point, and Ed already felt better! He wished he could find the nerve to actually put his feet on the table, because it’d be fucking hilarious until he was turned into a grease smear.

 

No, the villain wouldn't kill him just yet. He obviously needed something from the foreigner, otherwise he’d already be dead. And this was exactly what Ed was counting on to survive this exchange.

 

All For One finally dropped the grandfather act and leaned forward. Ed leaned back accordingly, no need to tempt fate. 

 

Yeah, Ed had never been a strategist. Not like Mustang or Riza or even Al. But he could smell the ozone in the air, the tension that made the skin on the back of his neck prickle like he was being watched, and he didn’t have to know strategy to realize he was on the edge of a knife. The man wouldn’t tolerate any more joking around.

 

The dramatic pause stretched on, far more menacing than it had any right to be. Ed resisted the urge to clear his throat, and instead kept his eyes firmly on All For One’s… where his eyes were supposed to be.

 

“I’ve heard some interesting rumors,” the man finally said. Ed didn't make the mistake of thinking he’d won. The villain was playing a four-dimensional RPG and Ed was still stuck on checkers. “You are… quite elusive, when you want to be. That comes with practice.”

 

Ed forced himself not to bristle (visibly). “And?”

 

“And I don’t just mean physically. You are practically nonexistent, here. For all intents and purposes,” he smiled warmly, like sharing an inside joke, “you don’t exist. That can be valuable.”

 

His normally clean gloves were dirty from the alley floor, Ed noted. He wisely stayed silent.

 

“It’s almost like you’re not from our little world, at all…” All For One trailed off, looking for all the world like he was discussing the morning paper with a close friend. An automail fist clenched audibly, the squeaking of servos and hydraulics deafening in the silence, although the blood rushing in Ed’s ears almost drowned it out entirely.

 

“Ah, well, I’m getting off topic. Fullmetal, you seem to be rather unique. A strong, multi-purpose quirk, yet no desire to be a hero. Like you’re sick of being everyone’s savior, the messiah, their… golden child.”

 

Oh, he had no idea.

 

All For One shook his head, the wires moving slightly. “People have never been good with saving themselves, have they? Always needing your help, never letting you rest…”

 

Why couldn’t Truth just let him and Al go? Why was he always being used?

 

And then Ed startled back, because A. What The Fuck, and B. Did he just agree with the crazy motherfucker? The world-destroying villain? Did that just really happen?

 

He kept talking, seemingly oblivious to Ed’s realization, even though it was doubtful that the lack of sight made him any less perceptive. It was almost like he knew Ed would listen, that… of fucking course. It was a mental quirk. It was always a fucking mental quirk. This man tried to brainwash him!

 

“...so maybe you can see how I can help you-” Ed banged a hand on the table, the whole thing rattling dangerously. Several chess pieces fell over. 

 

“Did you just-” he had to pause. The rage bubbling just under his skin had thoroughly burned away any better judgement he may have once had, and it was making it hard to focus on Japanese. “Did you fucking- were you trying to manipulate me?! You bastard ,” he hissed, low and dangerous.

 

The man across from him spread his hands appeasingly, but jokes on him, the fatherly act was only making Ed more and more pissed off. “I wouldn’t force you to agree! We do have a code of ethics here. I don’t want just wanton destruction. My goal is to tear apart this society, this rotten creation, this unsustainable ecosystem, and show people what heroes truly are.”

 

And, yeah, on the theoretical level, Ed could agree. But he could still feel the whispering in his head, a steady stream of say yes, you agree, go with him, join, you know he’s right , still feel the temptation to just give in, but he was nothing if not too stubborn for his own good and he would. Not. Give. In.

 

“I don’t fucking think so ,” he growled, low and with all the malice he could muster.

 

“Calm down, this is a civil discussion. I stand by the fact that I’m not going to force you, you don’t have to be so aggressive. You must’ve had a hard life, to be so angry.”

 

And then Ed couldn’t breathe around the overwhelming feeling of peace that wrapped it’s slimy fingers around his brain. It was less of a whisper and more of an order, the quiet laugh of his mother (“Calm down, Edward.”), the commanding tones of Mustang (“I said stand down , Fullmetal!”), and Al and Winry and Ed couldn’t fucking breathe.

 

His mask clattered to the floor. He should be feeling upset, he should be angry, but he wasn’t, and it was twisting up his insides and pulling him apart. Ed stood abruptly, his chair banging against the ground as the table rattled dangerously again.

 

He was breathing heavily, he knew it. Each pant came in ragged gasps; one set of fingernails dug hard enough into his fist to draw blood. 

 

Ed was done.

 

What the fuck are you doing to me.”

 

The man had the absolute fucking audacity to tilt his head in surprise, which made his face all the more tempting to set on fire.

 

“Fullmetal, I would simply like to know a few things about you. Is that so bad? We can help each other.”

 

Things?!”

 

He casually waved a hand, still relatively unconcerned. The forced apathy was quickly being used up as fuel for the all-consuming hatred that was making Ed’s head spin with the adrenaline rush. “Who you are, for one. I feel that it's polite to introduce yourself to your hosts. Maybe what you’re doing here?”

 

Ed’s eyes were narrowed into little golden slits. His hands were trembling in anger, and his teeth were clenched so hard he thought he heard one crack. “ Fuck no! Bastard. Even if I knew,” he bit back a hysterical laugh, “I wouldn’t tell you, jackass. Let me. The fuck. Go. Before I make you.”

 

“Ah, my boy, don’t be so crass,” and Ed bit his tongue so hard he could taste the coppery tang of blood, could feel his red-hot anger ebbing away, but it wasn’t a quirk this time, it was just slowly being replaced by the much more controllable icy abhorrence he saved for people who pulled this kind of shit. “You’re free to leave at any time. Besides, it is… unwise and unbecoming of you to make threats you can’t follow up on.”

 

Threats?! He thought that was a threat?! If Ed wasn’t too busy memorizing his face so he could make a voodoo doll of it later and rip it to shreds, he would have laughed. Ed was going to shove his idea of a threat so far down his throat that it got dissolved by his stomach acid and he got diarrhea.

 

“Liar. I’m not stupid. If I leave now, you’re just going to follow me home and catch me later, maybe kill some of my friends in the process. And you’re right, I shouldn’t write checks I can’t cash. Good thing my bank account is full then, huh?”

 

All For One tsk ed disapprovingly, every bit the caring teacher. Ed wanted to carve a jack o’ lantern face into his skin and see if it glowed from all the hot air he was spewing.

 

“Hmm. True, but I doubt you have quite near enough money to cash that particular one. Looks like it will bounce after all.” He twisted his face into a gross mockery of  a warm grin, purposely a little too wide with just too many teeth. 

 

Ed was unimpressed.

 

All For One spoke again after a moment. “See? A nice, civil conversation. At least hear me out before you go.”

 

The chair underneath him righted itself, the small fluctuation in power making the circle on his back itch strangely. He sat.

 

“Let’s see… you’re a vigilante, right? May I ask why that is, before we begin?”

 

Good fucking question. Unfortunately for him, Ed had no clue. Did this man honestly look at him and think that he knew what was going on, any of the time? 

 

Uh, whatever. He fell back on the time-honored tradition of making shit up that vaguely sounds like the truth and piss off the bad guy in the process. “It’s simple, really. Becoming a hero takes too long and is far too restricting, but being a villain is very… is edgy the word? Yeah, edgy, and I refuse to kill.”

 

All For One cocked his head a little bit, the kind but confused mask slipping onto his face with the ease of a master manipulator. “I see. Well,” and here he paused to gather his thoughts, “what do you think of this society, this world, my little anomaly?”

 

Ed barely fought the flinch. Oh, this guy definitely knew something. 

 

Then again, it wasn’t like he was adverse to everyone knowing that he came from a different world. That didn’t violate the rules Truth had set out, and Ed wouldn’t be staying for very long, either; it was just that having that information public could make his future goal much harder.

 

And that was a dangerous piece of leverage to have.

 

He took a moment, trying to appear as unconcerned and dumb as possible. “I think that it’s… stifling, I suppose. Unjust. Unfair.” Which wasn’t a lie, but not the whole truth. Besides, if the villain thought that Ed didn’t understand all the hints and clues he was dropping to get a reaction, then it was even better for him.

 

“There you go.” He spread his arms magnanimously. “Now what if I gave you a way to change that, without killing? Or maybe just disposing of one person. One false symbol to create a new world. How about it? With your obvious power, you can help me fix everything. Be a true hero.”

 

A true hero?

 

Did this guy think he was dumb?

 

And then the whole game shifted in front of him as Ed finally connected the dots. That’s exactly what it was. The villain thought he was just a dumb, overconfidant, reckless kid with a hero complex who was too powerful for his own good. He’d moved from threats to cajoling to flattery in a heartbeat.

 

No. He could use this.

 

This man looked at him and saw a kid, someone who didn’t notice the people following him, didn’t notice that the same few patrons would ask the most probing questions, didn’t notice when Dabi or Ijiwaru would lean forward when they laughed so they could subtly look in the direction of anyone Ed had on his tail.

 

It was late in the game now, but this was still perfect. The guy was underestimating him, and that was the best advantage Ed was going to get, though it wouldn’t last long if he didn’t play his cards right.

 

A plan slowly began to form. It was iffy at best, half-baked, but it was all he had.

 

He forced himself to relax, adopting a slightly exaggerated thinking posture. He had to look cocky, assured in his victory, ready to fight without thinking it through. Dumb kids didn’t hold back their tempers. Not in the cold, calculated, cocky way Mustang had, but in the brash, abrasive confidence that showed inexperience and a short fuse.

 

Ed winced. He did not have a short fuse. He’d grown, dammit!

 

Just move. Don’t stop to think about it.

 

The circle he needed floated to the surface of his mind, and he readied it as he started to laugh. It was low, condescending, and far too uppity, but it served its purpose. Ed didn’t have to be a perfect actor, he just needed to be good enough.

 

“Oh, man. That was the most fun I’ve had in ages,” he said, forcing a chuckle. Another circle came to mind, and he grabbed onto that one too. “Alright. A few things to thank you for, before we begin.”

 

Tilt your cards, just a little. Let them see your worst ones. Act like you know you’re smarter.

 

“First, thank you for letting me know why you were after me; second, that you are in fact who I’m looking for; and third, telling me just how much you know about me.”

 

Alchemic energy flooded his senses, the crackling outputs tingling painlessly over his arm and other hand. The metal plate on the back of his automail extended, warping into a perfectly sharpened blade that would make Teacher proud. He leveled it at All For One.

 

“But I think you misheard me, you baked-potato looking fuckmunch. The only reason I'm not a hero is because becoming one takes too much time, and I don’t give two shits about your society. I’m here to kick your ass, drag you back to face Truth, and go home. Let’s start the first step, shall we?”

 

Ed grinned, putting as much condescension into his glaring eyes as he could, feeling the last traces of adrenaline in his system ramp up again. Boy, he would be feeling this after he got back to the bar.

 

And he lunged.

 

A shriek of pure rage sounded behind him (he had known someone was watching him), but he was already in the air, so he tuned it out and focused.

 

Was this a bad idea? Yes. Did he know his opponent’s abilities? No. Was he going to do it anyway? Yes.

 

Because overconfident kids who’ve never lost at anything don’t stop to think about that kind of stuff. So Ed prayed to the nonexistent gods that he would survive this, that his hasty and half-baked plan would work, and he fell back on ingrained habits.

 

The guy was still sitting there? Okay then. Hope he was taken off guard (he wasn’t) and change direction. Ed hit the floor, easily shoulder-checking the table to send it flying at the villain, both as an attack and for cover. 

 

The circle on his back hummed, a silent warning, and he rolled to the right. The table ended up neatly bisected, a sharp groove cut in the ground right where he’d been a moment before.

 

All For One tsk ed, quite the feat for someone with such a fucked-up mouth. “We could have resolved this peacefully, Fullmetal.”

 

Ed laughed. “Like fucking hell!”

 

The shriek sounded again, much closer this time, and Ed barely had enough time to block a strike that would have grazed his face otherwise. He flipped backwards, skidding on the ground, and took the brief lull to assess things.

 

All For One was still seated, watching the fight like one would watch toddlers playing. The newcomer was a scrawny young adult, with shaggy bluish-white hair and gleaming red eyes. For some inexplicable reason, there was also a human hand over his face.

 

What the fuck.

 

Ed had been saying that a lot today, but honestly, what the fuck?

 

Quirks were bullshit.

 

“Who the fuck are you?”

 

The new guy literally hissed . “How dare you attack Sensei like that!” which wasn’t an answer, but whatever.

 

Then the moment ended, and the newcomer surged forward, hand outstretched, a raspy and ear-splitting scream heralding his arrival. Ed bent backwards at the waist so the hand went over him, then wrapped both of his hands around the guy’s arm, pulling him closer to deliver a brutal boot kick to the dude’s stomach. Metal fingers still firmly grasping his wrist, he turned before his opponent could recover and bodily threw him across the room.

 

Damn, he recovered fast. But he made no move to charge again, only warily settling back into a loose, but ready, stance. For a moment, it was still, then Ed realized that something felt… off. He looked down.

 

His jacket?

 

This guy had the nerve to pull a Scar on the Fullmetal Alchemist’s fucking hoodie?

 

But there it was, the dark red material disintegrating into nothingness before his eyes. Ed warily eyed the other’s hands as he tore the ruined material off. That was quite the power. If he had managed to graze Ed’s face with that first strike…

 

He suppressed a shiver. Don’t get caught, message received.

 

The guy really was like Scar. Homicidal intent, check, disintegration, double check, even the red eyes and pale hair lined up. Ed reached down to pull a spear out of the ground even as the blade on his arm melted back into just a cover plate.

 

He would need the distance advantage.

 

And what was with the shrieking? Yeah, Ed was angry too, but he wasn’t out here rasping away like an asmhatic pug who’s chainsmoked for seventeen years. Yeesh.

 

Hopefully, he wouldn’t have to fight the guy for much longer. He could easily see now how outmatched he was, against All For One, especially since he wasn’t ready to openly expose his alchemy quite so fast.

 

Disintegration…

 

Ed’s plan shifted slightly in his head. It was loose, but hopefully it would work.

 

Time for some provocation. “Hey, Fuck Hands McGee! What’s with the hand? Got a finger fetish or something?”

 

And, ho boy, when Ed says this dude screamed, he screamed. 

 

The other man tensed, ready to attack again, and Ed took a second to subtly clap, as if he was tightening his gloves, and bring his hands to the ground in a maneuver that almost looked casual.

 

One done, eight more to go.

 

It was times like this when he fervently wished he knew that Xingese distance alchemy Mei had been so fond of.

 

In their circling, they had shifted to the next spot, and Ed was forced to multitask as he was suddenly under attack again. The equation shifted sluggishly in his mind as he made sure it was balanced. Another clap and roll sent the array crackling unseen through the concrete, up into the specific point he’d been targeting...

 

Then he had no more time to think, because he was twisting out of the way of an incoming hand, quickly ducking to avoid the other one. He pushed out of his crouch, springing upward to knee the villain in the chin, but he leaned back to just narrowly miss it.

 

Okay then. Ed changed his model of attack. The next swipe pushed Ed into a hasty backbend, which he turned into a handstand and flipped the full distance. His combat boots dug into the concrete for leverage, and he dealt the man a glancing blow to the side of his head with the handle of his spear. 

 

They spun away, Ed planting the butt of the spear into the ground and using it to change directions. For a moment, he was completely lost in the rhythm of the fight, the simple block, parry, attack, dodge Teacher had quite literally beat into him. 

 

One moment saw him bouncing off of the other man’s outstretched arm, the next he was coming close to slam the heavy shaft of the spear into his stomach. Nothing could quite compare to that thrill- as much as he hated it, hated what it stood for, hated the life or death aspect- the feeling of moving, of finally getting to do something that wasn’t sitting around on his ass and waiting…

 

It was intoxicating. Ed laughed, a startled, slightly hysterical sound that followed his opponent kneeing him in the side. He fell back, wheezing, only to spin in place and nail the guy in the kidneys with a well-placed heel strike. That heady feeling made him light, like the whole fight was a dream.

 

Someone yelled something, maybe it was him. His jaw twisted sideways as Handsy got a lucky strike in, throwing him to the side. He landed on all fours, quickly turning it into a roll. His palm ached as he pushed himself up, and he wiped away the blood from his newly-split lip.

 

Ed dropped back, snarling, and called forth a different array, before managing to clap and touch his hands to the ground through a seemingly unplanned cartwheel away from the Scar-knockoff. 

 

Almost there…

 

All For One suddenly reminded them he was there. “Tomura!” he barked, somehow still managing to sound kind and fatherly. “Do not hurt him badly, he is a guest!”

 

Tomura, apparently ( truth, maybe it was just the language barrier, but why were these names so hard for him to pronounce?) grumbled in grudging agreement and lessened up on the hits.

 

Which was appreciated, but not quite enough.

 

Ed’s gloves were torn up and bloody from the concrete. His flesh ankle ached from a tumble he’d had to pull in order to get away, and the possible concussion from earlier made his head scream. Why was this guy so damn fast? His plan wouldn’t work if he passed out before it finished.

 

The multitasking with arrays Ed had never used before was taking its toll (Teacher would slaughter him), and he was just a bit too slow dodging out of the way of one strike. The pain lanced up his side, an eerie callback to the feeling of the gate itself, even as he felt every atom and bond in his skin cells split apart, flaking away as Al screamed his throat bloody beside him...

 

He landed a distance away, shaking away the phantom pains in his arm and leg as the decaying spread faster and faster, and hastily applied a skin-healing array he’d received from Truth. 

 

Mother of all surprises, the array stopped the spread of the disintegration, but it did nothing to replace the skin and fabric already lost. A steadily-bleeding wound was the absolute last thing he wanted, shit .

 

“Now look what’s happened. You’re hurt.” All For One didn’t sound as concerned about that as he should have been, considering he just said that Tomura shouldn’t hurt him.

 

“Not as badly as you’re about to be!” Ed shot back, although he was no longer smiling. He took stock.

 

He had two more arrays to apply and a steady countdown to get away before he collapsed from blood loss. He also had to fight Tomura while giving no intention that he was planning on escaping, otherwise the main supervillain would step in and limit his options.

 

It was… not looking good.

 

Ed blinked blood out of his eyes (when had he gotten a head injury? Or was it just that damn fucking scar again?) and carefully shifted backwards, brushing a hand along to ground to stabilize himself and apply the next array. Everyone had cleared out except for him and the two villains, which was nice. Tomura followed him.

 

They had migrated to a back corner now, and Ed let himself be boxed in, even as his side throbbed in warning. Nothing better than letting the other person think they had the advantage.

 

Everything was counting on the fact that All For One wouldn’t intervene, why would he? Ed was clearly not winning, and there wasn’t a door to be found in the place.

 

And Ed felt himself grin, a real one, as he activated the last array.

 

The split second of shock on both of their faces was worth every cenz in the world, especially through his blurring vision. Ed rocketed upwards on a pillar of stone as the ceiling creaked dangerously, all the major supports having been demolished by the pulse of alchemical energy he’d sent through them.

 

There had been no exits. So he’d made his own, and in the most obnoxious and over-the-top way possible. He still had no idea where he was, but a building this large suddenly collapsing would draw police and military like moths to a flame. All For One and his crew would have to leave.

 

Meaning they couldn’t chase him.

 

It was simple, but it was functionally perfect! Getting kidnapped was bad, but getting to implode a building would be the highlight of his week, he knew.

 

“See ya, fuckers!” 

 

Tomura shrieked in fury, and Ed mockingly saluted him and smiled before the dust covered their view. The concrete roof finally collapsed inwards, followed by the walls, burying the whole thing under a mountain of rubble.

 

Ed hopped down from the pillar, legs almost buckling and sending him dangerously close to face planting into the dirt. His metal leg wobbled, making some alarming creaking noises. He really should’ve oiled it. He blinked blood out of his eye again, and his vision swam.

 

His side ached, and the arm he had gripping the wound was starting to drip with blood, absolutely ruining what was left of his hoodie. He took a step forward, fully intending to disappear into an alleyway, clean himself up, and find his way to the bar.

 

And his leg collapsed.

 

The metal one.

 

He fucking knew he should have oiled it! Shit! How in the fresh hell was he supposed to walk? The adrenaline was fading now, pretty much for good, he was already about to crash, and this was not good.

 

He dragged himself a few alleys over, far enough from the crash site to be reasonably safe, then a bit farther just so the cops couldn’t get to him. It was lucky he was still in the city, albeit the industrial section, so at least he wasn’t one hundred percent lost.

 

The metal creaked dangerously, the servos and hydraulics locking up. Ed said fuck it to whatever deity made his life this difficult and hastily transmuted the outer covering together, acting as a stilt so he could still move the leg (He readily ignored the fact that it took him several tries to get the equation right.).

 

The next few side streets were deserted, anyone who had been living here had made the wise decision of fleeing the moment he brought the building down. 

 

The possible concussion had come back in full force, and he was still bleeding out, but any healing arrays required concentration and Ed could barely focus his vision. He stumbled as he turned the next corner.

 

No! He absolutely refused to just lay down and die here! If he could make it back to the bar, they could fix him up, he’d be fine. So Ed grit his teeth with a small growl of determination and kept walking forward.

 

He lost track of time. The sun was still rather high in the sky, although everything looked way darker than it should be (maybe it was just him losing consciousness, he thought, then quickly discarded it.) 

 

Ed needed a moment to breathe. He had to keep moving, but just a second couldn’t hurt, right? He leaned against the cool bricks, his hand leaving a red handprint as he panted for breath.

 

He wasn’t about to die here!

 

When had he ended up on the floor?

 

All of the willpower in his body got him back up off his knee, the metal leg dragging behind him and weighing him down. He managed to get a bit farther before the other leg buckled on him. His vision was fading in and out.

 

Ed was going to die here.

 

And then he blacked out.

 

-

 

A set of cat-yellow eyes stared down, unblinking and confused, at the unconscious body laying in the alley.

 

For once in her life, Toga Himiko had no idea what to do.

 

 

The place was demolished.

 

If Naomasa wasn’t currently being yelled at, he’d almost be impressed. 

 

Supposedly, the now-a-pile-of-rubble warehouse had been owned by some big shadow company, the kind that were legit on paper but definitely illegal in practice. But the legal part was more of the problem right now. 

 

“...And then their representative comes up and starts bitching about propery damages and a lawsuit as if it was my fucking fault…” He winced and held the phone a bit farther away from his ear, eyes still fixed on his team combing the ruins for survivors, clues, or, god forbid, bodies.

 

The head commissioner sighed on the other end of the line, cutting off his own tirade. “Tsukauchi, you need to find something. Evidence of a fight, hopefully. I don’t know why the police should be blamed for a villain turf war, but we can’t even prove it was that right now!”

 

“Hey, boss, you might want to come look at this!”

 

Naomasa frowned. “...I think my team found something. Can I call you back, commissioner?”

 

The phone line crackled. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, sounding rather defeated. “Just keep me updated, you hear?”

 

He hung up and began to walk over to the cluster of his men. The news helicopters were already circling in like vultures, only further impeding his job. Great.

 

His work boots scuffed across the scattered concrete as he hauled himself up. His team parted for him, and… it was underwhelming.

 

At first glance, he thought it was a piece of rebar sticking up, or maybe a corner that just hadn’t collapsed, and then he got a little closer and realized that it was in the wrong spot for either of those.

 

Sansa hurried over, whiskers twitching. “It’s some kind of stone pillar, but it’s not natural. It’s almost perfectly square, and there’s these weird markings at the base…”

 

Naomasa leaned it closer. Where had he seen something like this before? The pattern was vaguely familiar, and some distant memory struggled to come to the surface, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

 

Then, one of his officers shouted from across the building. “Blood!”

 

Everyone dropped what they were doing and hurried over. Sure enough, there was a small puddle of the stuff, barely soaked into the concrete. It was recent, then.

 

“Nijimia, test it,” he barked out, and the woman in question came to the front. Her DNA quirk was valuable in cases like this, but someone else came forward with a bag to collect the rest if possible.

 

They waited a moment, then she shook her head. “It doesn’t come from any well-known villain or hero, and no one else we have on record matches.”

 

Naomasa cursed under his breath. Luck of all luck.

 

“Spread out!” Sansa ordered. “Look for the trail, the body, anything.”

 

The search kicked up, and it was quiet for a couple of minutes as everyone focused on hunting through the rock the old fashioned way. 

 

A quiet gasp sounded from his left. Sugara slowly stood upright, face going pale. The thing in her hands was dented, twisted, and grimy, but it was still plenty recognizable. 

 

It was Fullmetal’s mask.

 

-*-

 

Jan. 30th, 224X

 

Ed woke up feeling like shit.

 

Which really should be a new record, he thinks, three times in as many days? (Had it been days? He didn’t know anymore, and it terrified him.)

 

The ceiling was pale, and obviously old. Ed felt every twinge of pain from… pretty much everywhere, so he just laid there for a moment, regretting his life choices. 

 

He felt rather light.

 

Weren’t you not supposed to sleep with a concussion? Did Ed have one?

 

Did unconsciousness from blood loss count as sleep?

 

And then a door slammed, somewhere out of his range of vision, and his face was covered by unblinking yellow eyes. He flinched backwards involuntarily, sending a wave of pain coursing through him. 

 

The girl smiled. “Oh, you’re up! It was real tight for a few hours, you know!”

 

Fuck. It was the weird girl who’d tried to stab him.

 

Had she saved him?

 

Okay, new question, how the hell had he survived?

 

Only Ed couldn’t ask any of that, because he was busy breathing and trying not to throw up. His throat was dry. This may not have been a hospital, but it was just as detestable. He stared resolutely at the ceiling and silently cussed out everybody he could think of that led him to this position.

 

The girl got tired of waiting for him to respond, and she pouted. “Not even a thank you, Haga-chan? I thought we were friends…”

 

She probably wasn’t about to kill him, right? Ed hoped not. That could get messy.

 

He sat up, slowly and very carefully. The sheets slipped off of him and pooled at his waist, and- fuck! 

 

The cool metal of his automail was on full display, surprisingly not covered by the precisely-wrapped, relatively clean bandages (and didn’t that raise some questions- both how she knew to apply bandages well and how Ed could tell.)

 

He patted himself down quickly; everything for his arm seemed to be fine, but it was hard to believe that she wouldn’t have poked at it a little. Hell, Ed would’ve.

 

His eyes met hers, which were once again pulled into a smile. He wet his lips, his voice dry and a bit raspy. “I thought… you said that you wanted me to bleed, earlier,” and then cringed, because why was his first thought to remind the blood-crazed maniac what she wanted.

 

“Silly!” She laughed. “I wanted you to bleed, not die! If you die, then you stop bleeding, and that’s just no fun!”

 

Ed felt his stomach crawl up into his throat. Yeah, she probably saved his life, but she also probably took some of his blood for her services.

 

Well, at least she wouldn’t kill him.

 

“Uh, then, thanks, I guess?” He tried, ready to backpedal at the slightest hint that she was mad. It wasn’t needed though, she simply grinned wider and skipped out of the room.

 

There was an empty IV stand off to one side (where the fuck had she gotten that?), but only the remnants of a needle in his arm. Even the thought made him cringe. He turned to complain to Al...

 

He’d failed.

 

And that was it, wasn’t it? Ed had charged in unprepared, almost died getting his ass back out, and had absolutely nothing to show for it except another damn scar. He’d almost died. Al had almost been lost forever.

 

The sheets crumpled in his fist. Tears welled up in his eyes. He’d almost killed Al. Him dying here, failing here, was a death sentence for the one person who kept him going. How could he be so careless with his own brother’s life?

 

Fuck. Fuck.

 

He let it wash out of him all at once. The rush of emotions left him feeling dizzy when they left, and he breathed in deep, held it, and let it out slowly.

 

Yeah. He’d almost died. But there was no use crying about it. He had to get up while he still could and keep walking. If he couldn’t even do that, he’d be the biggest kind of hypocrite there was.

 

( Al would smile, that sad little one he’d stolen right from Mom, with those soft golden eyes that weren’t red and cold and unforgiving and a constant reminder of every mistake Ed had ever made. “It’s okay, brother,” he’d murmur. “It’s not your fault. You’re doing your best. You can’t just blame yourself with this, it’ll be okay.”)

 

(Bullshit. It was always his fault.)

 

Another couple minutes passed, and Ed cautiously began to stand up. The wound wasn’t as big as it’d seemed, back when he was bleeding to death in an alley, but it still hurt when he poked it experimentally and he flinched back, hissing through his teeth.

 

Truth…

 

Ed was cocky, but he wasn’t stupid. He’d gotten really smashed up in that fight, and it wasn’t even the main villain himself that had done it. Yeah, he’d beaten Father, but he had quite literally had an army at his back and even then it had been real close. 

 

So either this guy was less powerful than Father (by a lot), or Truth had some other plan for him being here. Ed wasn’t prideful enough to beat his head against the wall that was All For One, so he couldn’t just charge in blind again.

 

Mustang floated to the top of his mind. Okay. He could do this. First, he needed information. Ed left that thought blank for now. 

 

Next came allies, which… was a bit complicated. His allies back home were all people he trusted with his life. 

 

He wouldn’t trust Dabi to use a can opener without supervision.

 

Moving on. After those came a good plan, which Ed was really drawing a blank on right now, and then a base of operations. Would the bar count? Probably not. Just about every base they’d had back home was both temporary and easily replaceable, which was good because they got destroyed. A lot.

 

Ijiwaru might not like it if her bar imploded. He scrapped the thought.

 

Okay. So maybe he was a bit behind. But he could work on it! 

 

Information, okay, All For One or his successor or something was building a team, right? He needed a spy there. Allies, he was working on, and that’s what the hero school was for…

 

“Fuck!” (Ed had been really getting good use out of the language barrier these past couple of days.) He had missed the U.A. exam!

 

He let his head slam into the nearest hard object, then immediately regretted it when his possible concussion pulsed into a migraine.

 

Could he just get a break? Please? Ed didn’t even know what day it was. This was a nightmare.

 

Knife-girl bounced into the room, holding a glass of water and a fresh roll of bandages. She grinned at his face. 

 

Wait. “Where are we?” She seemed like a villain, but more than that, she looked like a high school girl, so where were they that she could get clean bandages and purified water? Whose house was he in?!

 

She answered readily enough. “This is my friend’s house, duh. My parents might be mad if I tracked blood into their own!” She giggled at an inside joke. Ed was pretty sure she had killed someone and stolen their house.

 

It made him a little nauseous. 

 

No, no he had to focus. Where had he been… U.A.! Heroes, yeah. If he could get into U.A. and get people to believe him (Truth’s warning flashed through his head), then maybe they would help fight All For One. If anything, he’d be doing them a favor by taking down a big-name villain.

 

Or at least that had been the idea. Before he got kidnapped and couldn’t take the exam.

 

Fuck.

 

She seemed to notice his mood change. “Aw, Haga-chan, what’s wrong?”

 

On second thought, maybe she could help him a little bit. She already seemed inclined to like him, as psychopathic as it was. 

 

“... What’s your name again?”

 

Her buns bounced as she huffed, overdramatic even as her eyes shined. “I’m Toga Himiko, dummy!”

 

“Toga,” he nodded. “What can you tell me about U.A.?”

 

-*-

 

Jan. 31st, 224X

 

The water ran down the sink, sending streams of color into the drain as it gurgled cheerfully. Ed sighed, letting his head rest against the cool ceramic.

 

It had been his idea, at first, to change his appearance a little bit, especially if he was going to go back to the bar. Toga had oh-so-helpfully informed him that Eraserhead, the underground hero who he had talked to that one time, actually taught at U.A.

 

What a bullet he had dodged.

 

So she had happily gone out to buy some hair dyes for him. He would’ve made his own, but it was nice to at least have a base to work off of. All of these synthetic dyes and plastics were not good for his blood pressure.

 

His hair dripped on the floor, so he grumbled lazily, calling his water array and drying his hair in a cloud of steam. He debated leaving it down, but eventually just gave in and deftly pulled it into a ponytail.

 

No one to say he looked like Hohenheim now. 

 

Toga had originally vied for the black die, partly because it was the most common in Japan, and Ed hadn’t really been able to argue with the striking image of the gold eyes and black hair. Sue him, he could be dramatic if he wanted to!

 

She had offered contacts as well to change his eye color, but that had been an immediate no from Ed. Plastic. That went into your eyes. Not a chance in hell.

 

To which she had gotten sad, pouty, and generally irritable, then proceeded to tear a stuffed animal, two pillows, and a curtain into shreds.

 

Edward had learned a lot of things about Toga Himiko, very few of which were good, and none were of his own volition.

 

After his third failed escape attempt, she had started bursting into his room at random hours and trying to stab him, something he was very much not a fan of. She never succeeded, and though he had the faint idea that she was toning it down for his still-healing injuries, it was still not appreciated.

 

He had to persuade her to not attack someone on the street twice so far, which was quite the accomplishment, seeing as he’d been banished to the guest bedroom until he healed.

 

He’d pouted and asked why, and she had hummed thoughtfully. “Well, if you go out before you’re healed, you might die. And I’d be sad. Plus you’d be wasting all of this good blood I got for you!”

 

Ed had promptly freaked out over the fact that she might have murdered someone for their blood, but eventually found out that she had simply robbed a hospital. Which, while still horrible, was by far the better option.

 

Then he’d spent another hour freaking out over the fact that robbing a hospital was now considered the good standard.

 

But despite the occasional homicidal tendencies, her strange fascination with blood and knives, and the fact that she was quite literally keeping him here by force , something in her reminded Ed of back home. 

 

Maybe it was the way that her blonde hair and gold eyes made her look like Al in his peripheral vision, maybe it was the way she laughed a bit like Winry, maybe it was the happy-go-lucky attitude that reminded him so much of Ling.

 

Truth, Al…

 

Was he watching, right now? Could he hear Ed? He hoped not. If Al could see him, how much he was failing, how he was so, so far from succeeding… 

 

Ed clenched his teeth. Time for sad thoughts later. 

 

Ijiwaru was either out of her mind with worry or completely uncaring. There was no middle, and he honestly wasn’t sure which one was better. Either way, he’d be going back to the bar in a couple days, and hopefully she hadn’t already had Dabi burn his stuff.

 

Not that he had much, but still.

 

He had asked Toga about a landline, to which she had simply stared at him until he bristled and walked away. He could’ve called the bar if he could find a phone.

 

What kind of ass-backwards country didn’t even have phone booths?!

 

...Oh.

 

Ed was such an idiot.

 

He groaned, slowly walking out of the bathroom to his now-repaired hoodie and fishing around in one of the pockets. Sure enough, the mobile phone was in pieces, and wouldn’t turn on when he pushed the little button on the side. 

 

Why would they make phones so fragile? Ed’s original walkie-talkie had been practically indestructible. At some point or another it had gotten submerged in water, set on fire, crushed, smashed, lost in the woods, tinkered with by Fuery, and just about everything in between, but it still worked fine!

 

He flopped back on the bed. Oh, they were totally going to think that he’d died.

 

-*-

 

Feb. 9th, 224X

 

Shota couldn’t help but scan the classroom the moment he got in.

 

It was a habit he’d never quite learned how to break. U.A. might be one of the safest places in the world, but his eyes still roamed the students, the walls, the ceiling and vents. His yellow sleeping bag was unceremoniously shoved under his teachers desk, and by the time it was fully put away, every eye in the room was on him.

 

Some looked nervous, others were excited, and a few looked perfectly calm. Pretty normal.

 

Shota started up his spiel, tugging out a box of brand new gym clothes and tossing one to a student. His mouth moved on autopilot.

 

That had been his last chance, and nothing had happened.

 

All Might had given him more of the story: he’d met Fullmetal at a convenience store, then a bit later at that trash dump of a beach. The kid had professed interest in going to U.A., or at least trying out, but had never even shown up.

 

Had someone tipped them off? There should have been no way that knowledge of Shota’s status at the school should’ve gotten out, but it was disconcerting all the same. 

 

And then there was that warehouse.

 

Tsukauchi had called him in a panic, saying how there was a newly-demolished building in the industrial sector, and that Fullmetal’s mask had been found under a mountain of rubble next to a puddle of blood at around the same time the exams had been going on. Which may have been why there was no vigilante present at the exams, now that he thinks about it.

 

None of it made any sense.

 

He blinked, and suddenly he was at the outdoor sports field. The students hadn’t gotten here yet (he’d have to work on that with them. Heroes needed to be able to change fast.) and he huffed at the empty space.

 

Faint snippets of noise blew in from the opening ceremony, the useless thing. Shota took a moment to enjoy the momentary silence. He hoped that Tsukauchi could find and catch the kid before something happened and the media caught wind of Musutafu’s newest vigilante.

 

He silently bemoaned the fact that all these difficult cases had to end up in his area.

 

The voices of the faster students echoed in from the building, and Shota sighed. 

 

“Took you brats long enough…”

 

-*-

 

Feb. 2nd, 224X

 

“We thought you had up and died!”

 

Ed hissed as the air around him thickened in response to Ijiwaru’s stormy gaze. “Careful!” he snapped back. “I’m still healing.”

 

Her face speedran the five stages of grief. “Healing?!” she shrieked, her voice cracking in the middle.

 

Shiruko laughed from behind the counter, obviously just here for the free entertainment. “Looks like little Eddy’s got a new momma bear.”

 

They both glared at her in unison. Iji huffed and crossed her arms. “Well maybe I wouldn’t be so protective of my workers if some little bitch hadn’t gone and gotten herself arrested last time she didn’t come back.”

 

“It was one fucking time!” Shiruko’s face darkened in a blush, but it was hard to tell if it was the alcohol or the embarrassment. “And don’t you even try to say that you weren’t worried for the kid.”

 

“Like you weren’t too.”

 

“At least I had a good excuse. Look at him, he clearly can’t even be trusted to go outside without getting beat to hell and back.”

 

Ijiwaru whirled on Ed again, who’d mostly been standing there in shock. “ And you!” she thundered. “Don’t you ever fucking disappear like that again or I swear to god I will tie you to the damn door- and what in the fresh hell did you do?! You’re half dead!”

 

Ed bristled. “I got kidnapped, that’s what happened. Maybe next time I plan to get abducted I should just let you guys know beforehand, just a quick little ‘oh, just for the record I’m not going to be back for dinner tonight, I’m just- just gonna get knocked out in an alley and almost killed-”

 

She took a step back at his near-hysterical tone, then quickly strode forward again. “Maybe that would be helpful, maybe you could’ve just called when you got out instead of driving me close to insane. We thought your dead body would show up on the news!”

 

He withered under her stare. She sighed, rubbing her forehead in that tired way Lt. Riza, Mustang, Lt. Ross, and Teacher had all somehow shared. Maybe it was an adult thing.

 

“I’m too young to have kids,” Ed heard her murmur. “This thing is going to give me a heart attack someday.” She turned on him again, and he cringed under her gaze, not meeting her eyes.

 

He felt more than heard her take a deep breath. “Go get some rest.” When he looked back, she was looking at the ground, fidgeting with the towel in her hands. “You’re no use to anyone with injuries like those.”

 

Feet swinging from her perch on the counter, Shiruko just giggled. "Now that that's over, is anyone gonna mention the hair? 'Cause it's freaking me out. And aw, looks like you've got a soft spot for him, Typhoon."

 

Ryōsei crowed from a back room. “Told ya she really cared! Gimme my 200 yen, ‘Ruko, don’ be a coward.”

 

Ijiwaru settled back into a false calm. Her fists clenched audibly around the towel. “I’m sorry. I thought that I was the boss here. Was I mistaken?”

 

Shiruko scrambled to get off the counter, practically diving back over it, despite her tipsy laughter. Twin shrieks echoed from the back rooms, and the mad scramble to escape carried on for the next few seconds as everyone in danger fled.

 

Ed took his chances and escaped up the stairs, leaving the door swinging behind him.

 

Dabi was standing in the hallway, and he gave him a Look as Ed turned the corner. It said ‘we’ll be talking about this later’, most prominently, and honestly he would just rather not, but whatever. 

 

“They were worried about you, you know,” he said after a moment. At Ed’s confused look he elaborated. “The workers here. This is one of Shiruko’s days off and she's in here. Ryōsei hasn’t left for two days.”

 

“...Oh.” And then Ed did feel a little bad, because being gone so long was a little bit his fault, after the kidnapping part. “...I didn’t know.”

 

Dabi gave him another look, but this one was just plain concerned. Ed had never really had people, other than Al, who would really be worried when he went missing. Mustang’s crew had enough faith in him to get back, but they still cared. Winry and Pinako were fully used to him disappearing, and Al never left his side… until the Promised Day stuff.

 

Ed felt sick. Was this how they’d felt, when they heard that he was missing, presumed dead? Or had they known that he wouldn’t go down so easily?

 

Enough. If he kept thinking about back home he was going to drive himself off the edge. He slipped past Dabi with a muttered apology, who watched him go silently, and gently closed the door to his room once he was inside.

 

Ed just wanted his brother, and he wanted to go home.