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The old record player had cost him a measly eight-thousand yen at the thrift store some time ago. It had been a purchase that he’d made frivolously, despite the fact that the clerk had kindly informed him that it needed a little bit of work before it would play properly. Hawks didn’t have many hobbies, really, or much spare time at all to mess around with it. But he’d rubbed the back of his finger over the stubble on his chin as he’d studied it and he’d tipped his head to the side and chewed thoughtfully on the inside of his cheek.

And he’d said distantly, “Yeah, I think it would be kinda fun to fix it up.” before the clerk had wrapped it up for him and placed it safely in a large cardboard box, reused from an old microwave, and he’d tasked himself with flying home while carrying an awkwardly-shaped extra seven kilograms.

He’d like to say that he sat down immediately upon returning home and began researching record player repair. That he’d even had the foresight to grab some vinyl records at the store before he’d left or that he’d made any vague plans at all to return to another secondhand store and peruse the selection. That maybe he’d learned a new skill in order to buff out the scuffs and dents in the once-glossy veneer or to replace the needle that wobbled too precariously or the speakers that pushed out sound far too scratchy to decipher.

However, he’d just paid someone else to do it a week or so later, when he’d gotten sick of it taking up too much room on his chabudai. That day, while he’d waited for his quote, he’d thumbed through the small variety of records tucked in a tub some few steps away from the register and added three different sleeves to his purchase. Love Songs, Stravinsky, and an assortment of classical Japanese music.

The purchase hadn’t been particularly expensive, and sans a few splurges for family-sized chicken dinners that he’d refrigerate and eat throughout the week, it wasn’t as though he spent money on himself often. More records wouldn’t be hard to come by later, too, once he’d tired of the three that he’d selected, and they were popular enough that most wouldn’t be resold at exorbitant costs. He understood, of course, that it wasn’t the most efficient way to listen to music. He already had a radio, a phone, and a pair of headphones that he could use to jam out automatically any time that he wanted, but it was popular again to listen to records, he supposed. It seemed like something that a person his age would be interested in, and it looked nice sitting on a shelf in his tastefully-decorated bedroom. If he ever had time to bring anyone back here for a hangout or anything else, maybe they’d be impressed by how skillfully he was able to match the navy curtains to the shag rugs. Or how even the lining of his pillows and comforter fit the color scheme. How clean everything was, and how the Edison bulbs that he’d replaced in each of the fixtures throughout his house just added that little “something” to his home that boosted it from above-average to absolutely phenomenal. 

The record player added to the aesthetic, in his opinion. He’d been told once, a while ago, that a pro hero needed a home that looked expensive, impressive, as though he had a desirable and exciting life outside of work. He’d taken it to heart and hired an interior designer to upgrade an apartment that he only had time to sleep in. That, for many nights throughout the week, he never actually visited at all.

But it would look nice in a magazine someday, he supposed, if he was ever organized to meet with one for one of those ostentatious little two-page spreads. A hero was amiable and approachable but still enviable, he’d been told. A hero needed to be someone who was perfect in every conceivable way.

Down to the refurbished record player in a lavish apartment. Down to the specific little sewn-in logos adorning all of his fancy, overpriced pajamas and his ultra-comfy quail-down slippers.

 His apartment was tasteful and large and impressive. He had nice things that he barely used and updated them semi-frequently enough because that seemed like the right thing to do. His kitchen counters were fitted with stylish granite tops. He had one of those funny little islands floating in the middle of the room that he’d actually never used for more than displaying a bowl of fruit that he sometimes forgot about until the oranges got fuzzy and the banana skins were dotted splotchy brown. His living room was equipped with a dazzling, massive 214 cm flat-screen TV that he rarely had the opportunity to turn on and actually watch anything on.

And his bathroom had heated floors, a bidet in the toilet. A massive jacuzzi tub with massaging jets that sometimes worked out the more stubborn pulled muscles and knots in his shoulders. He’d been gifted a container of what looked to be a mixture of potpourri and small, pink-dyed pebbles for his birthday, from a woman who worked on his staff at the agency. He’d studied it back then, flicking his gaze over the instructions and finding himself baffled that it was actually something that was supposed to be poured into the tub to relieve stress. She’d told him bashfully that her mother-in-law swore by the stuff, that the pink salt rocks—or whatever in the world they were—had healing properties and they’d cure a myriad of small ailments while successfully reducing stress.

He’d told her then with a winning smile that he trusted anything that a mother-in-law swore by. And he’d thanked her with as much genuineness that he could muster at the time. The jar had sat collecting dust in the cabinet under his sink for a month after. Until tonight, finally, when he’d paused on his journey from the kitchen with a waxy-coated cardboard tub tucked in one arm, and a half-drank bottle of raspberry Moscato in the opposite hand. The newly-renovated record player had been scratching charmingly through a collection of old love songs. He’d stumbled and swayed and placed his cardboard bucket on the counter before stooping down and tugging open the cabinet door to inspect the salt stones in their tightly-lidded jar.

And he’d decided then that he needed nothing more tonight than he needed stress relief.

When the tub began filling, stopped by a chained plug that he’d shoved down into the drain, he dumped the entire contents of the jar inside. He really, really needed stress relief, he supposed. He said a quiet, sloppy, drunken mental apology to poor mother-in-law-san, bless her honest heart. She had no idea what this despicable man needed relief from. She had no way of knowing that her daughter-in-law would hand off her good advice to someone so idiotic and deplorable.

So wicked and detestable.

So completely, wholly undeserving of these prized little Himalayan salts and the weird dried flowers. 

The record switched to another song. The potpourri rose and expanded as tiny, re-hydrated rose petals at the surface of the pink-dyed water.

Hawks shed his clothes and grabbed his cardboard tub of still-cold, day-old fried chicken from the counter and sauntered towards the surface of the water. He dipped a testing toe in. It was warm. Steam rose from the surface and dissipated in the air. It fogged at the mirror, blurred the designs in his custom-picked tile pattern and made his footfalls just a little bit slipperier and uneven.

He was mindful, as mindful as he could be, at least, of his chicken and Moscato as he eased himself inside. Another sad love song crept along through the open door. Hawks sighed as the sweet, floral-scented water wrapped around him, soaking into his wings and sliding over the oily topcoat of them. He rested the chicken bucket, again, on the wide lip of the jacuzzi. He stared up at the ceiling, listening to the lilting tune of the distant music, raising his bottle to his lips and taking a long, slow gulp.

Today, frankly, had been the worst day of his entire life.

Worse than the meeting that he’d held with the Hero Commission, when he’d learned that he’d needed to infiltrate the League of Villains. Worse than that sorry business with poor Best Jeanist, worse than what he’d been forced to do to Endeavor, worse than any reprehensible thing that he’d been asked to do in the name of goodness and justice before.

It was silly, to think about it in terms like that. To reflect on everything that he’d gone through and to realize that none of it had tarnished his character in his own eyes quite as immensely as the awful realization that he’d come to earlier today.

But back then, through all of that, maybe he’d thought that he could continue being the good guy. Maybe he’d thought that no matter what he did, his actions were just, and good, and that he’d always had the best interest of the world and the people around him in mind when he’d done them. Maybe he’d taken part in some truly horrible things. Maybe he had regrets stacked so sky-high that he was barely able to balance himself atop the growing pile of all of them. Maybe he felt like a fraud, tucked here in this fancy apartment in this overpriced building, surrounded by decor that didn’t personally suit his tastes. Listening to music that bored him nearly to tears.

But he was, still, in those ways a good guy. He was still a hero who pursued righteousness and fought for those who didn’t have the strength to fight. He still had only good intentions, still only followed the appropriate orders, still only did the hard things in the shadows so even his fellow heroes could reap the benefits of always looking and acting and feeling like true justice was never getting one’s hands dirty and never stooping as low as to do dubious, villainous things.

 

But today, today had been the first time in Hawks’s life that he’d ever thought of something selfish. That he’d ever coveted something that, when push came to shove, was forbidden and terrible and too sinful to even admit to himself, in his own head.

 

Today—he took another long swig of his drink—he’d felt the first inklings of sexual attraction. Not for the first time in his life, no. He’d enjoyed a normal level of sexual encounters with other people. Discreet enough that it didn’t become part of his reputation. Open enough that the public never doubted that he was a normal, functioning human being when he wasn’t Hawks, the hero.

But the attraction that he’d felt today had been different than that. It had felt different, more. Like it rattled him out of a half-sleep that he hadn’t even realized that he’d been slumbering in. It had vibrated through him like electricity, like he’d jammed his fingers in a socket and he’d been helpless to pull away.

He’d been jump-started and fully awake then, dry-mouthed and slack-jawed and awed by the scope of emotion that his heart and his stomach and an extended selection of his other parts were suddenly capable of feeling.

Which in and of itself wasn’t wrong, amoral, or remotely taboo on its own, but...

 

Today, for the first time, he’d looked at the Paranormal Liberation Front’s own flame user, Dabi, and he’d had the briefest, horrible, intrusive thought of:

 

‘I want to sleep with him.’

 

His first bite of chicken was underwhelming. It was greasy under the skin, less pleasant than it might have tasted fresh and hot but inoffensive enough that Hawks’s drunken brain didn’t mind it as his stomach roiled in a fretful, empty way. He just needed something desperately to take his thoughts away from Dabi’s pretty eyes, the gentle slope of his jawline, the soft wildness of his dark hair and how it framed his features in such a way that it was difficult to stop looking at him once Hawks’s eyes caught him. How nimble his fingers looked, how strangely invigorating it might be to find himself pinned under a villain against the gritty walls of a dark alleyway, how that nagging thought had refused to unpin itself from the front of his brain and still, so many hours into the night, continued to cause jitters to score over the surface of his bathtub-heated skin.

He took another bite. Cold, coagulated grease drizzled lightly down his chin and he wiped at it lazily with the back of his wrist. He took another long drink of his Moscato. It was sweet, another loving gift from another devoted employee during his birthday party in December. Another thing that sat, ignored, in his neglected apartment until he finally cracked it open needily tonight. Maybe everyone was anticipating that he’d have a mental breakdown eventually, he considered. Their gifts all came in handy now, as though they’d known that he’d eventually supernova like this. That he’d need something to self-destruct with, and they wanted to guarantee, at least, that his eventual self-inflicted explosion was luxurious.

But they didn’t know that he was working with the villains, and maybe they’d forgive him for that. Maybe they’d understand that he was simply doing what was necessary in order to bring this country to justice, finally, for the first time since well before All Might even retired.

Maybe they could even find it in their hearts to forgive him for the dastardly way that he set Endeavor up. Maybe they could even excuse the terrible thing that he’d done to poor, undeserving Best Jeanist.

But this…

He took another swig, chased it with another disappointing bite of near-stale chicken.

The love song on his record player faded out. For a moment, he sat in nothing but the crackling static, the weight of his precariously pieced together life suddenly caving in on him, before the record reset and began again from the beginning. The same song that he’d listened to three or four times throughout the night, once again, welcoming him back and sitting with him comfortably in his misery, ebbing off the steady rise of his feelings of demise. He tossed the bone of his first finished drumstick back into the bucket. He allowed his hand to fall to the water for a moment, aware that he was mixing grease and crumbs in with the sweet-smelling bath salts that his poor employee had so thoughtfully gifted him, but finding that his mind was blanking too much to find the will to care.

He didn’t know how things had started with Dabi, wasn’t sure if it was slow-growing or if he’d simply, just this morning, met his eyes and that handsome, cocky, secretive smile and felt a sudden burst of ungodly lust seemingly out of nowhere. It was true that he’d been spending quite a lot of time among the villains lately, that maybe he’d found himself, at times, feeling some small swells of empathy when Twice spoke of his past or whispered to him about Toga’s, about their boss, about the fact that even still, nearly a year after meeting, they knew so little about Dabi that he was practically a stranger who sometimes took residence with them.

The next bite of chicken was wet, when he fished his hand from the water and reached into the bucket to grab another. The love song shuddering from the record player didn’t judge him. The clean, white ceiling of his bathroom, reflecting moving shapes from the water, did not judge him. The Moscato that he took another drink of after his bite did not judge him. He sighed heavily, long-suffering. Miserable. Melodramatic.

He wondered what his mom would say if he called her and complained about this. At twenty-three years old, maybe this was the sort of thing that he should have been discussing with his family. Romantic woes and trouble at school, at a new job, with his friends. But it felt burdensome and petty to consider it now, in his life’s current trajectory. He imagined, grinning widely, ruefully up to the ceiling, that she’d probably find this entire situation ludicrously childish compared to literally anything else that was currently going on with his life.

And it was, maybe. The fact that he was so knocked off-kilter by something as inconsequential as a petty crush was silly. He took another long drink, neared the bottom of his bottle and tossed it gently to the floor next to the tub. It rolled noisily over the tiles and stopped once it bounced from the corner of the door, knocking itself into the adjoining wall. He tossed his half-eaten chicken back into the cardboard tub, easing himself down into the water until it filled his ears and the sounds of the vocals calling from his record player were muffled and murky under the surface. The water carded through his hair, seeping in and warming him from the tips to his roots, dampening his scalp and feeling so comfortable and confining and safe, for a moment, that he allowed his eyes to fall closed. He laid on his back, floating just under the surface, his nose, alone, poking out from the tub. He listened to the distant, unclear rattling of the beat of the current song, the slow ending, the static. The needle scooting over and beginning a new one.

His stomach felt bubbly and uneasy. He felt too warm but too lazy to move himself somewhere cooler.

He let his body float in the water and breathed in carefully, drawing in the flowery smell of the bathwater. Thinking about tomorrow, about work, about whether or not he’d be nursing a hangover at the beginning of his shift.

And he thought, for a moment, about the way that Dabi had grinned at him across the meeting table at the Paranormal Liberation Front’s headquarters—boyish and cocky like he knew something. Like he had a secret to tell, like the two of them were in on some funny joke that Hawks had just forgotten, and Hawks found himself aching to know what that was. To find him after the meeting and reach out and touch his fingers to Dabi’s arm, to draw him closer. To discover what that textured skin felt like on his bottom lip. To figure out if the staples spotted all over him felt cold when he was touching someone, if it was even possible to warm them up. If Dabi radiated heat as many fire users often did. If his fingers were frigid when he pressed them to someone else’s heated skin.

If he’d smile wickedly, as he often did, in low-lit bedrooms, tucked and tangled in messy sheets. Or if he’d unwind and soften, if he’d speak gently and touch gently, if he’d be abrasive then, too, and if Hawks himself would prefer anything more than for Dabi to handle him roughly.

He shoved himself up from the tub so abruptly, so distraught, that he knocked his chicken tub from the lip, scattering the remaining drumsticks over the dampened bathroom floor.

He didn’t drain the tub or clean them up as he stumbled out of the room, as he hurriedly turned off the record player and practically threw himself into bed, cocooning himself in his blankets and finally, fretfully, falling asleep.

 

He regretted that in the morning, when his head pulsed and ached and he felt like he might get sick at the sight alone of the steam-bloated food scattered over his bathroom floor.

But for those few fleeting hours of rest, for a while, he wasn’t present in his life. He was nothing but dead to the world.

And he felt, temporarily, at peace.

He had no way of knowing that his agony was far from over. He had no reason to suspect that things, from then onward, would only get worse.

 


 

Being a hero didn’t mean you were immune to a hangover, at least not in Hawks’s case. He wasn’t even sure if he’d heard of anyone with a power like that. If they existed, it was more likely they never made it into this line of work, considering that such a power would be hard to sell as helpful to others. Maybe they’d fit into a support role, if they could project it far or long enough. Perhaps it would fit well as a service for hire, marketed towards patrons such as salarymen. He could imagine them going drinking for hours after work, perfectly content with the knowledge that they’d wake up fine and ready for a new workday. Hawks wondered where this mystery person was right now, and if he could find them with a slurred, fat-thumbed version of a search on his phone. Then again, he’d already gotten the hangover, so unless it was adjacent to Eraserhead’s skills, it wouldn’t even matter now.

He knew it was his own fault. Knew rather intimately why exactly the expensive whatever-count sheets were tangled around his ankles and the bedspread itself had been kicked somewhere to the floor. His phone dangled precariously on the edge of his nightstand, mirroring the lamp on the other side. The passing thought of velcro-ing the stupid expensive thing down crossed his mind for the fifth time since purchasing it, but Hawks wasn’t even sure that would be enough on those nights when he threw himself in the general direction of his bedroom and hoped for the best. Those nights, which seemed to be closing in on the dangerous side of too frequent, he was a little sloppy with where his wings went, or what they might brush against, or how many things got knocked over in the process.

He wondered, when he did break down and finally call a maid, if they judged him for the state of what a nice place like this could become. But, unlike some other thoughts that had been plaguing him, he forgot all about it the moment he arrived back after a long day and everything looked perfect. All of it back in place, shining and clean. Every corner tucked and tidy, all of the trash he’d at least managed to keep somewhat contained gone. Out of sight, out of mind worked well for someone like him, so why hadn’t it kicked in for his other problem ?

Not that he hadn’t done due diligence in trying, or at least Hawks told himself this as he attempted to untangle the trap his sheets had created. It was normal to think about work when you weren’t there, normal to let your thoughts drift and create loose plans and short little to-do lists. Not so normal to hyper-fixate on just one co-worker , if that’s even a term he was willing to put on him. And there really was no use in justifying it right now, no amount of mental math about how many times he’d thought about Shigaraki or Toga instead of him was going to come up with a number that made him feel better about the whole thing.

So he laid there, successfully untangled but still somehow defeated, splayed out across his lonely bed at 9:43 AM with a dull pounding coming from somewhere behind his eyes, frustrated that everything that had gone through his mind last night was still there. Hawks thought that maybe it would have been washed away with the bath water that he’d forgotten to drain in the first place, that his indulgent self care of wine, cold chicken, and sappy love songs would have cleansed his mind and soul of these intrusive thoughts, but it didn’t work.

In fact, now it only seemed worse. It was more real now, the next morning, having to live with the knowledge that he was still here, that those thoughts were still there, and he needed to get up and face the day with them.

He was hoping for a few more moments of silent self-wallowing, but Hawks apparently didn’t have luck on his side today because, not even a minute later, his phone chimed with a new notification, the one he set specifically for dubious requests from dubious people. With a pained heave, he rolled carefully over and up, stretching out his arms above and tilting to the side so he could do the same with his wings. Groggily, Hawks snatched his phone before the reminder chime could award it a swift fall to the floor, and swiped on the newest notification on his lock screen.

As usual, it was nothing descriptive, just vague enough that anyone snooping around couldn’t get a good handle on what it referred to. The message simply read, ‘Today, 13:00 sharp’ . Sometimes Hawks wondered who sent these out, if it was some sort of automated thing considering how lifeless they always seemed, but the PLF didn’t seem to have that sort of money laying around and maybe not even the smarts to figure out automated messages, so he humored himself with thinking that Shigaraki sat at some desk in the morning and physically typed out each notification to whoever was deemed necessary for the meeting. It helped distract him from the throbbing that inched its way to the forefront of his head, to imagine him struggling through every word, unfamiliar enough with how the real world just was these days to know he could type one message to multiple people and mass send it. Maybe it was Toga then, someone clearly more up to date with current skill sets of a generation.

There was a split second where Hawks made the honest effort, mentally tried to block himself from doing it, but the eventual fail happened and the next moment he was frowning with his phone in his lap, thinking about Dabi sprawled lazily in one of the nicer chairs at the HQ, typing out annoying reminder texts with one hand and taking his sweet time with it, clearly bored but lacking any good reason to deny the easy task.

He stood up abruptly, his phone finally taking the fall it was destined to take earlier, and marched his way to the master bathroom in hopes that his quick pace would let him run away from that thought and the fact that he even had it in the first place. 

He’d clean up today, leave yesterday behind, focus on all his tasks and goals, shake away those intrusive thoughts and slide back into the person he knew he was, or knew he could be, on the outside. Cool, calm, collected. A hero loved and well-known, reliable and swift and fully capable of handling disasters. Ready for action whenever and wherever it was needed. Smiling in the face of all that tried to...he stopped at the bathroom’s threshold, coming face to face with the mess he’d left himself yesterday. Fried chicken was still scattered everywhere, no longer edible and certainly not forming a wonderful smell paired with the slight hints of stale wine remnants and the lost soothing aroma of whatever was in that bath mix. 

Hawks felt like there was an important message here as he stared down at one long glossy sheen of chicken grease smudge along his tile, one he was supposed to learn from and reflect on, but today wasn’t that day. He resigned himself to neglecting it, a problem for later Hawks, and stepped around each piece on the floor in order to make his way to where he needed to be to get ready for the day. He just had to get it together, splash some water on his face, and pop some headache medicine and everything would be fine. He’d pull himself together in time for the meeting.

That's what he kept repeating to himself the whole way there.

Internal pep talks happened often enough while coasting with the gentle bursts of wind that took him to his destination, but it had been many years since he’d battled with something so difficult that by the end of his travels, he didn’t feel any better. Usually it was enough time to do whatever reflecting he needed, enough air around him to block out the rest of the world and clear his mind. But when he landed with a little hop and skip at the front of the PLF headquarters, all he could manage to do was mentally put a pin in it for later. He made a vague promise to himself he was hoping he’d eventually forget, hoping, too, that everything would just slip back into place.

But Hawks was out of luck; he’d forgotten that part from earlier today. 

The one person he’d spent too much time on already was right there in front of him, leaning antagonistically against the front of the building, clearly ignoring the fact that anything else existed besides the cigarette in his hand. For a moment, Hawks felt frozen, as if a single feather tilting in the slight breeze would snap Dabi’s gaze over to him and, something, he guessed, would happen then, that he wouldn’t know how to handle.

Instead, he was faced with something worse. Instead, he got nothing. Blissful, terrible nothing as Dabi lifted the cigarette to his lips. The very tip of it burned bright for a split second, he paused, and then finally exhaled, a small cloud of smoke drifting up and dissipating into the air. Hawks didn’t breathe for the entire extent of it, unaware of his elongated staring or anything else in the world other than this single man who seemingly didn’t give a shit about him or anything else.

He let himself wonder, just for a moment, what it would taste like. If he could figure out the brand just from his lips, if somehow Dabi pulled the same pack from a konbini as Hawks had four years ago when he was young and rebellious in tiny bursts that never amounted to anything because here he was, the number two hero frozen on the steps of a villainous headquarters lusting after a man that had no doubt killed multiple people.

Deplorable was barely the word that could even scratch the surface for someone like Hawks in this very moment.

“Anyone ever tell you it’s rude to stare? I ain’t gonna do any tricks, so you can fuck off now.”

And normally, normally Hawks would have quipped back with something fast, something that, on the surface level, would seem civil but would have an undertone of rudeness that matched what was just said to him, but nothing came to him. Time passed and all Hawks could do was watch Dabi crush the spent filter against the wall and kick off from it, not even glancing once towards him. For some reason, it stung in a way he wasn’t expecting. For some reason, an ember of embarrassment sparked somewhere deep inside, somewhere he wasn’t willing to go just yet because it shouldn’t have even been happening. 

He knew he was striking out, knew that he’d have a better chance at whatever it was that he was trying to grapple with if this exchange never even happened. He knew desperately that maybe he should say something to save face, but it had been too long and it would be too awkward now, so he was left there, feeling like a moron all over again for even placing himself in a situation where he was forced to feel all this, to feel anything at all for this guy.

Maybe it would be better if he just left. Maybe Dabi wouldn’t care to mention to anyone that Hawks showed up early and never made it to the meeting because he secretly flew off moments before Dabi turned around in the hall to double-check that he was tagging along.

If he could just move, one way or another, or figure out how to get his mouth to form something that would actually smooth this all over, that would be great. Instead, he  was stuck there, wishing that somehow his thoughts could fly out and get the message across the steps, that he was just having an off day, and an off last night, and maybe an off week or month. He wasn’t sure anymore.

The door creaked open and Hawk’s wasn’t watching anymore, since it was rude to stare, just as was rude to not offer any sort of reply in a social interaction that expected it, but maybe just the tiniest sliver of luck decided to grace him, heaven sent perhaps, because Dabi turned right before he left, those piercing blue eyes staring right at his sorry, bewildered face.

“Come on, you’ll be late. You don’t wanna look bad, right, hero boy?”

And there was no way that smirk was a gift from anything above because it did awful things to Hawks, it made him trip on his feet up the stairs like a seventeen year old virgin chasing his prom date, made him laugh nervously and run his hand through his wild locks right before he caught the door from swinging shut in his face. He shuffled in sideways before his wings could get caught, careful not to let them brush against anyone or anything inside, and collected every ounce of fake courage he could muster to slide casually right next to Dabi as he made his lazy way down the many halls it took to get to the other, secret elevator they needed to use for dastardly plans.

Hawks was fucked, he knew, but he had to save this. He had to at least make the attempt, try to get across the fact that he was just a normal guy, with less than normal missions, trying to get by in life. That he could relate to almost anyone, that he could relate to Dabi too, if he put a little effort into it. The fact that he wanted to put a lot of effort into it was completely unrelated and unimportant.

The elevator chimed in front of them, doors silently sliding open as Dabi stepped in first, and then Hawks. They closed with the same soft sound, just a single button to push on the panel, and then they were alone.

“So uh, sorry for before. I wasn’t...I was trying to see what brand that was, that you were smoking. Didn’t know you smoked.”

Hawks was met with silence, just the sound of the elevator creeping up the many floors needed to travel to the large conference room used for special meetings. He was too stuck to move like this, glued painfully in a pose that looked relaxed, but was increasingly, exponentially difficult to hold the longer he got no response. His wings felt cramped, the palm of his gloves clammy and too hot, shoved in his pants pockets. His gaze was locked on the ugly patterned floor of the elevator as if it could be the most interesting thing in this frustrating place, but even that was a lie, considering the most interesting thing was actually standing mere inches away in this six-by-seven box of temporary torture.

It was strike two, that was at least evident. He couldn’t just fly away from this one; there was no way out of this elevator shaft that would leave his body or pride unscathed.

“I used to smoke, is what I mean. A few years ago, you know, before all the hero stuff got really serious. I can’t really remember what brand it was though. I think just whatever was cheapest. Do you have a favor…”

The elevator stopped, its halted small bob of arrival and mocking chime interrupting Hawks before he could finish his question. Dabi was leaving before he could collect himself, his tattered jacket brushing against the steel doors, no hint of recognition that he was even paying attention to Hawks’s blathering. 

It had to be bad luck, because what else could it possibly be? Hawks could stand around and recite what he ate for dinner the night before to his fans and they’d be overjoyed and ask for pictures and autographs. He saw a girl nearly faint when he asked her the correct kanji for her name before he wrote it across a glossy photo of his own face. He’s held strategic meetings with heroes and villains alike. He was smart, he was charismatic. He was on strike three with someone who previously was not a focus in his life, but now he couldn’t let go of, and he nearly missed the elevator doors closing against his wings because he couldn’t figure out what to do.

He was internally seething with embarrassment, forcing his outer self to appear nonchalant and unbothered about being completely ignored, but it took all of his energy to not just grab Dabi, spin him around, and ask him what his deal was. Why wasn’t he answering him? Why wouldn’t he give him a fraction of a second of attention? Was he really that awful, that unattractive, that morally opposite that he wasn’t allowed small talk about a wildly common purchasable item? It was rude, is what it was. Probably more rude than staring, or being unable to answer, because Dabi clearly wasn’t having a hard time collecting himself with the casual way he was walking down the hall. He wasn’t fighting all these terrible feelings, these things he never asked for, that ever-growing itch to reach out and dip his fingers into that inky blackness at the nape of his neck just near the collar of his jacket. 

He had to be doing this on purpose, Hawks concluded. There was no way someone could be so insufferable, so uncaring and callous and just so, so…

“It’s the same. Whatever’s cheapest. Free, since I stole this pack off the last guy I—”

The heavy double doors swung open, loud and jarring and interrupting them at the most inopportune time because Dabi had stopped. He’d actually turned towards Hawks and spoke directly to him, threw that absolutely awful little smirk near the end of his drawl like he had a secret, like he was about to challenge Hawks to react to the end of that sentence, but he never got the chance.

Shigaraki looked at them expectantly, a wobbly off-putting smile the only thing he offered before turning and going deeper into the room. 

For what it was worth, for whoever might have been staring at them intently, waiting for some tell that something else was going on, Hawks didn’t jolt out of his skin or melt in place when Dabi pushed at the space between his wings to get him moving. He chuckled, waved it off before passing over the threshold, did his best to slide on his easy-going—yet put together and serious when it mattered— persona.

But deep down, he was ablaze, simmering under his collar at the thought of that hand pressing against him in a different way, the type of way that could ruin someone's focus for an entire important meeting. 

Hawks was fucked, he knew, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to get through the next hour. 

The oval table felt frightfully too narrow as Hawks took his seat in his regular allotted spot and finagled his wings to sit in a somewhat comfortable position between his body and the back of the chair. Dabi, opposite to him, paid him little mind as he eased himself down and tapped idly at the tablet propped in front of him, eyeing the rows of text that surely matched the same ones on the tablet in front of Hawks, as well, with no more interest than he afforded to anything else that could have been going on around him at any moment in time.

Hawks thought, for a moment, that he could probably tear off his clothes and dance on the table in the center of their colleagues and Dabi would still watch him as though he was the least interesting thing in the world, but that thought birthed a newer, hotter score of embarrassment under his skin, and a whole lot of thoughts about himself being naked in front of Dabi that he really shouldn’t have been having in the middle of a very important meeting.

So he swallowed hard and buried his teeth in his lip. He ignored the stirring of a weird, light-headed sort of rush that overcame him and fiddled with his own tablet as everyone around them situated themselves. The words on the screen were blurry and hard to focus on. He thought for a moment of zooming in on the text, but even that felt like too much work when he was already so tired, when his day had just begun and all he really wanted was to go back to bed.

The information contained on the tablets should have been covered in the meeting eventually anyway. Sans a few extra pieces of trivia or some article excerpts pulled from newspapers and online hero journals that might expand upon whatever it was that they’d be speaking about later on. He wasn’t sure who put together the supplementary text and he’d never asked, and he wondered, idly and ruefully, if the time came to someday try this group of villains for their crimes, if there was an extra charge to be tacked into someone’s jail sentence for “graphic designer of villainous plots”. 

Shigaraki wasn’t much of a speaker, really, but he embodied a certain diction and poise when he was placed in front of a group of supporters that made it hard to tune him out. He spoke with great influence, decided on his words carefully in a way that Hawks might have attributed to many amazing speakers in the past. He was born to be a leader, Hawks thought, born for greatness that somewhere along the way had been turned sour. Maybe, in another life, he would have made an incredible hero, but anymore, he wondered if that was possible for every member of the Liberation Front.

But Shigaraki belonged at their helm, belonged there under the spotlight in the dim room in a way that many weaker, softer-spoken, and less certain men wouldn’t. He found his eyes drawn to Shigaraki and his petty nervousness and discomfort quelled as he watched him rise and raise his hands and begin to speak.

It was difficult to ignore the way that the overhead lights bounded against the silvery strands of his hair, or how his scarlet eyes peeked through the glossy pieces of it and caught the faces of the men around Hawks briefly before flicking away. How his hands waved in the air and paused there sometimes, the prosthetic slower and more stilted as he attempted to make fists, to count off numbers, to do a lot of things that Hawks’s brain was far too melted to focus on very hard the longer the meeting dredged on. 

His eyes gradually wandered from Shigaraki’s quickly-wilting form, his thoughts ticking numbly from the observation that he seemed to already be growing exhausted with social interaction to any other menial thing that could keep his attention occupied and his eyes open. His gaze drifted from the slick, dark table to the dotting of tablets sprung up in front of every occupied seat. Twice was scratching the back of his head under his mask restlessly. Toga was smiling that same distant, starry-eyed smile that seemed to be perpetually glued to her face. Gigantomachia loomed overhead as nothing but an enormous silhouette, his beady eyes reflecting down at Shigaraki like twin black marbles, regarding him with a devotion and tenderness that Hawks, at the current time, wasn’t particularly eager to unpack.

Yotsubashi, Skeptic, and Trumpet quietly occupied their seats, dutiful and straight-backed as they followed Shigaraki’s motions and words with much apparent interest. Spinner, at one point, sneezed loudly enough that even Shigaraki paused to look at him. Which was amusing for an entire thirty-eight seconds before the meeting resumed, and Hawks found himself watching as Compress struggled to scroll through the document on his tablet as the touchscreen refused to register his prosthetic finger. It felt a whole lot, for a long duration, as though Hawks was avoiding something. As though he was purposefully leaving something out. He refused to confront what that might have been for a while, told himself that he was just tired, maybe hungry, still hungover, and that maybe he’d left a burner turned on at home, maybe his cleaning company would call him later and badger him about forgetting to deactivate the security system before the maid entered to tidy up. Maybe that inkling of something important was actually mundane for once, and the intrusive idea that he wasn’t addressing something very urgent definitely wasn’t rooted in a seat that he’d been adamantly refusing to glance over to since he sat down. 

Maybe, hopefully, he wasn’t truly feeling restless then solely because Dabi was within staring-distance and he wasn’t taking advantage of that by staring.

But he’d already been reprimanded for that earlier, he reminded himself, and he knew that Dabi would likely catch on if he sneaked too many glances in his direction while he should have been actually paying attention to what Shigaraki was now struggling to tell them. He couldn’t trust Dabi not to make a scene about it either—to announce to everyone in the room that Hawks had most definitely been gawking at him earlier outside of the building just as he continued to do once they came inside.

And while it was true that Hawks wasn’t exactly concerned about this very particular group of people thinking that he’d lost his mind…

He would just prefer not to be publicly humiliated at all by the guy who he’d just last night admitted that he wouldn’t mind staring at uninterrupted for maybe the rest of his life.

But he wasn’t granted the satisfaction of successfully avoiding Dabi’s face forever, and definitely not even for the duration of this meeting, when Dabi abruptly spoke up, breaking through Shigaraki’s then-grumbling with a loud, crisp tone that seemed to fill up every corner of the room like helium expanding a balloon. Hawks floated for a moment in the gentle monotone of his words, the way that his tongue wrapped around each syllable and pressed the sounds gently through his lips. He was aware, too, that he was already too far gone. That finding himself enamored when Dabi said, bluntly, “So, is any of this actually important, or can I go?” was just the first milestone in his grand spiral into hopelessness and deviancy, but it was hard not to find himself glued down to the way that the shadows framed Dabi’s face and the lights twinkled against the staples dotted over his cheeks and along his jawbone. It was hard to pull his gaze away from the slender line of Dabi’s knitted brows and the way that the darkness and light pooled in his eyes and reflected back nothing but enigma, curiosity, a sudden unrelenting desire to draw nearer and study them closer. 

Shigaraki padded closer to the table, tossing himself down in the last empty chair and waving a hand in the air.

“I don’t care,” he said then, flatly, tiredly. “Just go.”

Dabi was the only person among them who didn’t hesitate before shoving himself up and making his way to the door. Hawks kicked himself internally when he subconsciously shot up so quickly that his chair legs scraped noisily against the floor, but reliably, despite the fact that everyone left at the table, sans Shigaraki, flinched, Dabi seemed intent on ignoring his existence entirely. 

Which was fine, really. It was better that way, when Hawks seemed so awkward on his feet as of late. The fewer times Dabi saw him acting like an idiot, the better, he supposed. Even if, for some reason, he couldn’t shake the nagging thought in the back of his head that he’d like nothing more than for Dabi to actually turn around and look at him.

That didn’t happen when he made it out into the hall, and Dabi didn’t make any moves to step forward and hold the elevator doors for him either. He made it, thankfully, just seconds before the doors closed, but that only invested him in another agonizing stretch of time spent sitting in a silent elevator with Dabi. Staring at his feet and the patterned carpet between his boots, chewing on the inside of his cheek and pretending helplessly that he didn’t feel incredibly awkward about this entire thing.

It wasn’t a new feeling, really. It was one that he hid well, sure, but he was no stranger to having no idea what to say. Usually, however, he still managed to come up with something to fill the silence that sounded practiced and easy enough that no one ever thought to question whether or not he was truly that good with words.

But with Dabi, now, he found that he couldn’t even find the will to conjure that menial noise.

When the doors slid open again, Dabi rolled his shoulders and drew out a long, low breath before taking the first step out into the corridor. Hawks listened to the even tap-tapping of his shoes against the linoleum and watched the narrow lines of his back under his tight-fitting jacket as he took his leave. Hawks wasn’t sure, really, where he was headed, or even where Dabi might have stayed during the off-hours at the Paranormal Liberation Front’s base, but he did know that he needed to leave through the same doors through which he came, and that’s where Dabi seemed to be going, too. And so, like fate’s perpetual cruel joke rolling out ahead of him once again, he sighed, resigned, and shoved himself out into the hall just before the doors skidded closed on him again.

His wings caught the air as he walked briskly, as he subconsciously found himself pacing quicker and quicker in order to catch up with Dabi. He felt his feathers ruffling, fluffier than they had any business being at a time like this, agitated and too telling, but he told himself that Dabi wasn’t that observant. He wasn’t going to notice and he wasn’t going to care. And nothing that happened today really mattered anyway because he was not going to act on the intrusive thoughts that needled in his brain. He was going to carry out his job here and wipe his hands of it once every member of the Liberation Front was safely behind bars. And he’d move on with his life and look back on these fleeting moments with embarrassment, but not with regret.

Dabi turned to glance at him once they both reached the front doors. Through them, the sun sat high in the sky, too bright and saturated yellow against the clear blue. The distant tops of buildings looked black placed against it. Everything further away should have been blurrier, would have been less focused to a person without Hawks’s perceptive eyes. Without the bird’s binocular vision that allowed him to pick apart even the smallest silhouettes through the many windows dotting tall apartment buildings in the distant reaches of the city.

But Dabi’s lips were hooked upward, and his lids were low and his long, thick top-lashes were hooded over them like brush tips dipped in black paint. The sun caught his inky hair and illuminated the lighter shades where the dye had faded, where it needed, maybe, to be touched up again. It glinted off the corners of his staples and piercings like fireflies lit up in a dark night. Like twinkling holiday lights lining foggy streets just weeks before Christmas.

Hawks felt his chest pinch, felt, suddenly, like an empty glass begging to be filled.

But with what, he didn’t want to consider. He swallowed dryly around the thick lump wedged in his throat. Dabi watched him silently and he never dropped that charming smirk. His turquoise eyes were deep and shadowed under the hood of his messy bangs. And they studied Hawks as though, again, he knew something that Hawks didn’t. As though he could peel him open and read his thoughts just by staring down at him. 

“You had a fun night last night, huh?” Dabi said then, piercing through the quiet with the same loping tone that cracked any resolve or self-preserving strength that Hawks might have been frantically building up, falsely-sanguine and knitted together in pretty, soft syllables that could have melted Hawks to nothing but a buttery pile on the floor if he’d let them. But Dabi laughed then, quiet and bitten short, before he turned his eyes back to the sky and the city through the clear glass doors. “Sloppy doesn’t really suit you, you know.”

Hawks chuffed for a moment, taken aback as his mind scrambled to piece together whatever Dabi had said to him while his thoughts were planted so firmly in just how pretty his voice sounded when he spoke. Dabi shoved through the door as Hawks took a pause to assess himself, and while he noted that his clothes were, in fact, clean and his hair and face and teeth were clean, his breath inoffensive, his gloves and shoes on the right limbs and his laces tied appropriately, he couldn’t deny that he did seem disheveled. His jacket was crooked and his gloves were untucked from his sleeves. And even his hair laid wrong over his scalp, messier than he even wore it regularly. His goggles were tangled in it atop his head, and the inside of his skull still skittered with the prevailing aches of his hangover. It was amazing, really, that Dabi even noticed. In his reflection in the glass door, once it swung closed, he didn’t feel as though he looked different enough for any normal person to recognize it.

Maybe someone who knew him well could identify it if they studied him closely, but…

The trick, he’d learned a long time ago, was that no one in the world actually knew him well.

It bothered him a little, felt violating in ways that he couldn’t even begin to describe. But he was Hawks and he was charming and easy and he wasn’t afraid of anything. He didn’t have feelings when he didn’t need them and nothing, no one, could bother him simply by recognizing accurately what he might have been feeling in secret.

So he shook those feelings off and he steadied himself with a long breath. He pushed through the doors outside and sucked in a crisp, clean lungful of the clearer Deika City air. He smelled it again, too, the woody tobacco scent that tickled at the back of his throat. He turned then, just in the threshold of the door, and spotted Dabi with a cigarette between his lips, leaned against the exterior of the building some few yards away.

He remembered, when he was very young and still in public school for that short period before the Hero Commission took him, how the girls in the schoolyard used to inch closer to the boys that they had a crush on that week. He convinced himself that this was nothing like that as he changed course and rounded Dabi, that he just didn’t feel well and needed a break before he flew back to Fukuoka and resumed work at his agency for another long day.

Dabi glanced at him briefly, fumbled in his tight pocket for a moment, and procured the half-crushed box of cigarettes. He popped the lid easily with a single finger, raising it in silent offering to Hawks as his eyes flicked out beyond the steps of the PLF building and into the road below.

Hawks paused for a moment, his fingers already tugged upward, extended subconsciously out towards the box. He drew his tongue between his lips to wet them before he plucked one from the box, feeling silly but also like a teenager again. Feeling like maybe he’d return to work later and be lectured by his staff for reeking of cigarettes, as though they had any place to lecture him.

But it was hard, he thought, to shake the feeling that he’d be in trouble somehow for doing this. And somehow, in the stupidest, pettiest way, he reveled in that rebelliousness as it blossomed, hot and jittery, in his chest.

He propped the cigarette between his lips, opening one corner of his mouth to clumsily ask if Dabi had a lighter.

Dabi looked back to him, that small smirk still crafted so handsomely over his lips. He lifted his fingers, held them under the cigarette, and conjured a small, blue flame from the tips of them for only a quick second that illuminated the tip immediately, and Hawks nearly choked on the smoke that rushed abruptly down his throat.

Oh no.

He turned himself away and coughed a bit, tugging the cigarette momentarily from his mouth and rubbing the back of his gloved hand over his suddenly heated cheeks. 

Dabi resumed ignoring him, his figure out of the corner of Hawks’s eyes simply lounging against the wall and quietly enjoying his smoke. He didn’t stare and that cute, soft laughter didn’t ebb out of him. Hawks wasn’t sure if he’d be more or less mortified if Dabi took the time to study him now. And given Dabi’s intuitiveness earlier, he still wasn’t certain that he wasn’t taking everything in but simply deciding not to say anything about it.

And it was stupid, so, so dumb. It was horrible, the way that the image of Dabi conjuring that flame immediately imprinted itself permanently on the back of his eyelids.

But he couldn’t deny it, as he festered helplessly in the new rush of vertigo that scored through him…

That was very, very sexy.

And Hawks suddenly wondered if it was possible for a person to die of overwhelming attraction alone.

Maybe he’d be the first case of it. Maybe his name would be brought up in studies on the matter for decades and decades to come:

“Hero Dies Because Villain is Just That Attractive”, “Takami Keigo: Too Horny to Live?”, “Winged Hero Swayed to the Dark Side By Libido Alone”. 

He allowed those thoughts to swirl around in his head as he took a testing drag of the cigarette. He let his mask fall firmly back in place as he turned, once again, to face Dabi and convinced himself that the drumming of his heart was nothing to be concerned about.

He found himself thinking once again about how suffocating the quiet was. He wasn’t sure why, didn’t know why it mattered that he talked to Dabi when Dabi wasn’t often the talkative type. When he didn’t even know, really, what he could even say to Dabi to actually catch his interest, but he found himself, still, wanting to try.

Which wasn’t really out of character for him either, he thought. He was often someone who enjoyed speaking over brooding, preferred socializing in lieu of doing whatever edgy thing Dabi was doing now. His mind curiously flicked back, for a moment, to his experiences with Endeavor, and how it felt like pulling teeth to even have a conversation with that man when they’d had a few moments to interact as normal people. But unlike with Endeavor, he thought, for whatever reason, he wasn’t confident enough to say whatever came to mind with Dabi now. He didn’t want to piss Dabi off or make him storm away. He cared very much, for some reason, about this conversation and this entire pseudo-friendship going well, and that bothered him a lot more than he’d like to admit.

But just as Hawks was opening his mouth to speak, just as his cigarette had burned down to the filter and he was glancing around in search of a dispenser that he could discard it into, Dabi put out his own cigarette against the wall, shoved up, and tossed the butt blindly away from him. 

He combed a hand through his hair, stretching out his shoulders with another lazy roll of them. He didn’t look so much at Hawks as vaguely in his general direction, and through a long, noncommittal breath, he said, “Well, see ya around.”

And like that, he left Hawks. He loped off towards the stairs and slowly descended them. Hawks watched his dark figure growing smaller and smaller as he rounded the sidewalks and headed into town. He watched the way that his breath hung in small clouds that fanned out behind him, how he seemed comfortable and at ease in the cold as a fire-user usually wouldn’t.

How he stole away all of the words that Hawks might have said to him when he left. Leaving Hawks behind in a pile of instantaneous regrets, in his own embarrassment, his confusion, his disappointment.

But maybe it was for the best, Hawks thought.

Maybe, starting today, he could begin to figure out how in the Hell he was going to navigate the tumultuous predicament that he’d suddenly found himself in. He could convince himself that things clearly wouldn’t ever work between himself and Dabi. He could start making a point of squashing every annoying little thought that he had about the guy before he even managed to comprehend them.

Before he spread his wings and took flight back to Fukuoka, he took a moment to smooth out his coat, to right his gloves, and to fix his hair.

“Sloppy doesn’t suit you.”

Dabi was right about that, at least.

 He needed to figure this out and fix this before anyone else, anyone who should have mattered more, had the opportunity to notice.

 


 

At the very least, he felt at ease on the flight back home. Despite every strikeout, every unfortunate fumble and failed attempt to keep his cool, the aftermath didn’t sting as much because something important came out of it in the end. A resolve, a goal, a promise to himself (and to Dabi, but no one was ever going to find that out) that sloppy Hawks was a thing of the past. Sloppy Hawks had done enough damage for one day and was no longer invited to important outings.

It still irked him, however, that someone else, especially him , had spotted those small tells. Hawks had made sure before he left that morning that he didn’t look anywhere near as bad as he felt, but apparently it wasn’t enough. It brought up a strange feeling, something that might blossom into a bigger obsession later, that Dabi noticed things about him that he, himself, had not. Tiny character flaws, that as far as he could tell, no one else in the PLF picked up on or noticed or even cared about. Was that some sign that he was watching closer than Hawks could have anticipated, or did he truly just look like shit that morning?

It didn’t matter, not now anyway, because that wouldn’t be happening again. No, no more hangovers, no more late-night mistakes that only led to others in the early morning. He’d get his act together, starting three minutes ago, not just to prove a point that he wasn’t that sort of person to a certain someone, but to prove to himself he was better than that. He wouldn’t afford himself a relapse, not with his actions and not with his wandering thoughts.

He had a job to do, and they picked him for a reason.

Most of his acts could fall into the gallant category, and it was with this spirit that Hawks landed gracefully in front of the konbini a few minutes from his apartment, christened a new man from a successful mid-flight pep talk. He breezed through the sliding doors, bidding the cashier a good evening before making his way through the aisles with no direct goal other than decompressing from the mental exhaustion he’d mostly caused himself all day. He slid his gloved fingers across the surface of random chip bags and magazines, stopping briefly to peer at one cover that was nearly impossible to figure out what the subject matter was until the words Next #1 Hero Endeavor caught his eye and suddenly the motif of blazing orange and dark blue made sense. Belatedly, he realized the cover was encompassed entirely by the man’s upper torso alone, and Hawks casually pulled it out of the rack and shoved it behind some other magazine so no one else would have to see that eyesore. Truly, he was doing the citizens of his neighborhood a service.

He turned away and his eye caught something else, tucked neatly in the small row of frozen selections along the wall coolers. He’d been in here so many times, at all possible hours of day and night, so nearly everything was memorized. This, however, looked different. Once in a while, a new product would come out, and perhaps a month or so later it would trickle its way out to different suburbs and prefectures.

The container was a swirl of dark and light purple, boasting a fresh, delectable flavor of taro with red bean mixed generously throughout. Hawks tugged the freezer door open without a second thought, deciding, not bothering to look at the nutrition information on the side, that the ingredients were inherently healthy and something like this could be his dinner, if he felt like it.

In fact, he deserved this, considering the sorts of embarrassment he’d lived through today. So much so that, perhaps he deserved the twin cans of peach-flavored mixed drink he snatched from the next cooler over. It was another new item he’d not sampled yet that advertised a generously high alcohol content for just 100 yen per can. These things, he told himself, were perfectly normal for someone of his age to get on a random weeknight, and he was willing to bet that someone else had come in at some point in time and picked up a similar combination of items.

He bet further that the small rotation of cashiers had seen plenty of worse off folk during their shifts, that one semi-well-known hero at a reasonable time of day buying things that outwardly looked inoffensive would barely be a blip in their lives to remember. He smiled, piling his little treasure on the counter, recognizing the cashier as one of the older ladies, perhaps someone’s mother working a part-time job to pad the household income or help with the extra expenses that children with quirks could have. He remembered too, the first time he had come in, that she recognized him for who he was, but simply stated the fact and then wished him goodwill towards all his heroic efforts, thanked him for all he had done, and then gave him his receipt and change. 

For all the splendor and ego boost cheering fans provided, there was something comfortable and nice about this. About this woman he didn’t even know the name of, her soft voice welcoming him when he passed through the doors and her knowing smile when she caught him staring at the food warmer at the counter stacked high with a variety of fried and teriyaki chicken. The way she said thank you for coming and to make sure to get plenty of rest and have a good night.

Maybe he should thank her someday, something more than words and a polite nod of his head, because she’d been this tiny part of consistency and warmth in his life, somehow, just from existing a few minutes down the street from a place he happened to live in. Hawks thought about it all the way up his stairs, the plastic bag of booze and ice cream heavy in one hand as he shifted the remaining skewered chicken to his mouth to fish his keys from one of his jacket’s inner pockets.

Another item for his ever-growing to-do list, the one he really needed to consider writing down and putting on his fridge like a fully functioning adult.

Instead, he wrangled himself and his purchased goods through the front door. He flipped on the closest light switch in the vicinity and groaned to himself when he saw a very familiar blue and gold card sitting alone on his sparkling clean kitchen counter. He’d forgotten, in all the recovery and rush of the morning, that today was the day his apartment got cleaned, the every other week time slot for someone to enter his abode and see just exactly what a number two pro hero could live like.

It wouldn’t be such an embarrassing prospect if last night hadn’t happened the way that it did. In fact, Hawks didn’t ever consider himself the messy type, not after all the trouble he’d gone to in order to decorate the space in a respectable way. Not everyone was perfect, not even himself, and he’d forgotten a few things here and there, had a few slip-ups, but nothing too extreme. Some far past due date items in his fridge, a rogue stain on the carpet he couldn’t remember where it possibly came from but made sure to throw a washcloth over. None of those times compared to last night, however. He winced internally, leaving his bag on the counter to rush through his bedroom door and into the master bathroom. He flicked the light switch, both relieved and mortified all at once that it was spotless floor to ceiling.

Hawks wasn’t sure what would have been better in this case, if he would have really felt better to arrive home and find the nearly twenty-four-hour old chicken still scattered across the floor or not. He sighed, dragging his hand through his hair before he flicked the switch back off. It was too late now for those sorts of regrets; the deed was already done.

He shucked off his hero attire onto a corner of his bed, mentally calculating what he should leave on the counter as a special tip the next time they came to clean. Perhaps he should call, since there was a chance it wasn’t always the same maid, but would that even be accepted, or would the person on the other end of the line tell him it was simply part of the job? He was thinking too much, too hard for the rest of his plans tonight and once again, decided it would be a problem for later-Hawks. For now, the most important thing was the slowly melting ice cream sitting on his counter and the unopened can of peach-whatever that needed to be in his hand while his ass was firmly planted on his couch.

Hawks padded out of his bedroom in only his socks and boxers, scratching at his stomach and looking around his clean apartment for a moment, saying his silent thanks to whatever poor soul got to clean up after him today. He found the remote neatly placed atop the living room table and switched the TV on to whatever channel it had landed on the last time he watched, now a distant hazy memory of some soap opera or something else he’d fallen asleep to on the couch.

Tonight wouldn’t be the same though. Tonight, Hawks was dual-wielding what he convinced himself were well-deserved comfort items and totally not things that could land him in another sloppy mess. He fished out a spoon from a kitchen drawer, slid the extra can of the peach mixer in the fridge, and then made his way with his plastic bag full of bad ideas back to the living room. 

The couch was one item in his apartment he honestly could track back to a “money well-spent” situation with all its clean lines and surprisingly comfy cushions. He shuffled himself between it and the short, low table in front, plopped his full weight down and spread his wings as wide as they’d go for a good, strong stretch as he ripped the lid off the ice cream container and dug in before settling himself. The soft-spoken sigh that slipped between the spoon and his lips wasn’t just for the wonderful taste he experienced, but rather a signal that he’d finally reached a relaxed state, that he shed away everything extra and was fully prepared to spend the rest of the night doing jack shit to wipe the slate clean of all that had transpired earlier.

He nestled the pint next to his bare thigh on the couch, plucked the tab open of his peach abomination, and tucked his wings over the edge of the couch as he wiggled into place to find his maximum relaxation zone. He didn’t dwell on the fact that nights like these seemed to come less and less often, didn’t care that he had no idea what he was watching or even what people cared about these days to watch. For now, all that mattered was he could decompress, that he could sip his overly fruity booze and spoon whole chunks of taro ice cream into his mouth and settle his feet against the top of the living room table. He could forget about today, forget about him , and just have some good quality alone time.

After a few swigs and spoonfuls, Hawks realized he hadn’t been paying attention to the show, that he was instead replaying the more embarrassing parts of the day in his head, adding jabs and comebacks that were far too late now, but would have been really smart and impactful if he’d had a single brain cell available to get them out instead of fumbling over that smug asshole. He huffed, tugged the remote closer, dug himself further into a comfy spot on the couch, and kicked up the volume high enough that he’d have to actively try to not pay attention to the scene unfolding in front of him.

It shifted into night, the sun’s last rays falling over dipping mountains in the distance, street lights illuminated all along a sidewalk that flanked a smooth river. Two people stood under one, their arms bracing against the railing that separated them from the water, the spotlight soft and dreamy as the camera panned from the reflections dancing on the surface to their hands. The male character reached into each pocket of his jacket, producing a nondescript pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He flipped the top, reached to tug one out for himself but his fingers were brushed away, the woman’s replacing his as she stole the cigarette for herself. The camera followed her hand, focused on her fingers and lips, dragged out the space between them as the man extended his own hand and paused just for a second before the flames jumped from the lighter. The ember on the end burned and the smoke pushed past her lips slow and sensual, just as the music in the background suggested.

Before he could fight it, before the mere thought of not thinking about something even kicked in, Hawks was forced right back to earlier in the day, to how effortlessly and attractively his own cigarette was graced with flames. His mind decided to omit the part where he coughed and struggled and instead focused on that smirk, on how mortifyingly hot and unsettled he felt. How undeniably smooth and cool and sexy those few seconds were and how infuriating it was right now, being unable to erase it, even when he was trying so hard.

The moment he looked down, the split second he dragged his eyes away from the TV even though he no longer had a clue what was going on, he regretted it. Regretted the stupid way the spoon hung out of his mouth, some awful part of his brain latching onto the fact that the memory clearly needed a side of oral fixation. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Nothing could have hidden the obvious tent in his boxers, the flush across his cheeks that he couldn’t blame on a half can of slightly higher alcohol content mixer. 

Was nothing holy anymore? He was trying here, desperately, to move past an entire day he’d be perfectly content to pretend never even happened. He must have done something dreadful in a past life to deserve this level of torture. 

He was ignoring it, he was determined. Doing that wouldn’t do him any good. It wasn’t like he could just jerk away attraction and be done with it. Those thoughts just needed to go.

And Hawks tried. A hero’s effort, some would call it. He angrily ate a few more scoops of ice cream, downed the rest of the can, and glued his eyes back to the show even though it had been several minutes and he was unable to follow what had happened during the time that had passed.

Whatever was happening wasn’t enough, hadn’t been able to keep his attention, because before he could consider the magnitude of what he was about to do, his hand had already done it for him. He was already dragging his palm down his chest, already left the nearly polished off ice cream to the side, the spoon digging into its melted remains. Hawks had already let his eyes close, let the memory of Dabi invade his mind, that infuriating smirk wrapped around a cigarette, the smell of it, the weird desperation to get closer, to let all of that be the only thing left to focus on, the only thing that mattered.

Something in him tightened, some residual instinct, or possibly the last shred of logic that his brain could offer before this downward spiral took him. He ripped his hand out of out his boxers, eyes snapping open in realization, and let his head fall against the back of the couch in a weird combination of yearning and defeat.

He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t let himself sink that low, couldn’t even consider how awkward and disgusting it would be to look Dabi in the eyes the next time they were forced in the same space and know exactly what he’d done with his own hand, willingly. How he’d be terrified that he’d suddenly blurt it out, unable to hold such a diabolical secret in.

“I jerked off to the mere thought of you, and it was really good. Sorry.”  

He nearly ejected himself from the couch, ice cream forgotten, fumbling with the remote until everything was off, and ignored the awkward shuffle of his legs as he banned himself to his bedroom for the rest of the night.

Sleep was the only answer left, because nothing else seemed to be working. 

He ran through his nightly routine fast, brushed his teeth and avoided his own eye contact in the mirror, silently tried to will his underwear situation to go away so he could rest.

But it didn't, and he couldn’t. Hawks flopped onto his mattress just like the night before, fumbled with the remote on his nightstand that controlled every light in his apartment and then laid there in awful dark silence waiting for sleep or death to take him.

He pushed his arms under his pillow, kicked his sheets and covers down far enough that his wings were free and then shoved it down further. The fabric inched off him with the passing of each minute, lower and lower until it annoyingly caught on the band of his boxers. Hawks groaned, flipped himself over and pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes, entwined himself the moment he moved and made everything so much worse.

He was going to wake up the same way again. Tangled, disheveled, annoyed with his thoughts. Sloppy .

If he could just stop, that would be great. If the memory of him could, for a few hours, release the firm and unyielding grasp it had on his mind, maybe he could sleep. Maybe he could get enough rest to be functional again, to not stare awkwardly and silently or say shit thirty seconds past due. Normal . If Dabi could stop cursing his dick, invading and filling whatever it was inside of Hawks that controlled all his potential for lust, that would be nice.

He wouldn't be falling asleep any time soon. He tried, he really did, but it seemed that he was doomed with the most persistent hard-on he'd ever had in his life. Hawks shifted his hands away from his face, peered down at himself in the near dark, and confirmed that one particular part of him was not interested in slumber.

Ignoring it wasn't going to cut it this time, it seemed. Try as he might, thinking about kittens or the dull repetition of an automated train arrival announcement just wasn't enough to get the image of Dabi out of his head. So Hawks let it happen, with the promise that this would be a one and done situation. This would never happen again and it should help, right? To get it out of his system. To indulge just this once and then be able to move on.

That's what he decided to tell himself, anyway. A silent mantra whispered as he let his hand slide back down once more. As he let his mind wander back to the way his co-worker leaned casually against the exterior, the way he held himself, the way he didn't seem to care if Hawks was there or not and why did that seem so hot?

Was he really into the hard to get play, was that part of the reason his fingers dipped below the elastic of his boxers and ghosted over his cock, why just the smallest touch dragged out a sensitive hiss and made his toes curl against the sheets?

It wasn't fair, really, that he could just shoot a look over, just a single tiny edge of a smirk, that those things were enough to make Hawks feel like every layer of clothing he had on was too hot, too heavy, and too confining. He curled his fingers around himself, started a nice slow and steady pace as his mind supplied what he couldn't pull from memory.

The smell of smoke permeated, the rough press of brick digging against his upper back as he angled himself enough space not to crush his wings. Those hands, full of potential and heat, boxing in around his head as he was forced to look up. He'd get that grin, those eyes piercing holes deep down into places he couldn't see himself, the well Dabi must have been pulling from to play Hawks in the exact tune he wanted.

A nail pressing under his chin, its sharp edge foreign against the scruff of his hair, demanding his eyes stay locked on and focused like nothing else existed, like Heroes and Villains didn't matter, like there was no difference between who they represented or what roles they fell into.

He'd lean down just as the heat of that fingertip let itself warn Hawks, as it slipped further and further down the front of his throat. He'd swear his heart could be heard from a mile away, pounding and relentless as a hot flash of pleasure laced with danger ripped through his body and made him shudder against the bricks and his mattress. Those lips then would be close, too close, a threat that they'd ever press further and meet Hawks's own.

"Thought I told you sloppy doesn't suit you. And yet, here you are in front of me, so messy."

The force with which Hawks came surprised even himself. If he'd been timing it, a sense of misplaced shame would have immediately chased right after the pleasure. He'd not even realized the loud drawn-out groan that escaped him as hot white ropes landed across his heaving abs, save for the fact that his voice felt raw and he tasted the remains of his canned mistake from earlier.

He laid there alone, stared up at his ceiling as he tried to catch his breath, marveling in the reality of what he'd just done and how embarrassingly quick it took to unravel his resolve and his libido. How his mind had supplied something barely erotic, had chosen that instead of just plastering Dabi's face on some crappy two-minute-long porn he came across while messing with his phone.

That all it took was a dip in his voice and a single finger pressing against his skin to make him shoot his load in what was probably under the full time of that aforementioned video. He looked down at himself, at the sheer amount of mess he’d made, and contemplated the consequences of his actions as he pulled his hand out of his boxers and looked anywhere else but himself for some sort of answer.

It was then that his phone chimed with that type of notification, just in case he’d forgotten that he’d have to face his demons and face him .

“Fuck me.”

 




When Hawks was a little kid—like a really, really little kid, before that fated bus crash incident that led the Hero Commission to discover his existence and subsequently whisk him away from his family to a new life of training to become society’s behind-the-scenes super soldier—he used to have an affinity for those stuffy, over-lit late-night television programs that often came on public access stations after the evening cartoon bracket had ended.

Kobayashi had a segment before the nightly news in which he’d discuss politics and world events. It was interesting enough to brush up on stories that felt faraway and uncharted to his childish brain, but confusing and sometimes tiring as Kobayashi droned on in his familiar, now-nostalgic deadpan, soft-spoken voice. Young Takami Keigo would sometimes doze off as he listened to the recounting of elections in France that felt as though they shouldn’t have impacted his way of life in any way that mattered, or tightening hero regulations in the United States in response to whatever big disaster had been plaguing a world still unfamiliar with its own overpopulation of superpowers. Miss Fukuda had a show that aired on Mondays and Wednesdays in place of that, and he found her to be far more entertaining. She had a way of leaning forward towards the camera that he felt drawn to, a way of peering through the bulbous glass screen of his clunky old rabbit-ear TV set, at the time. She made him feel as though she could have bridged the gap between the pristine, brightly-colored studio in which she lounged and discussed celebrity news and reached through the screen into his shadowed, garbage-littered living room where he sat, eager and smiling and cross-legged, hinged on the edge of every sweet word that she spoke.

He liked Miss Fukuda and found himself endeared to her as young kids were so capable of being endeared to attractive and friendly matronly figures. But he much preferred Miyagi’s now-dissolved interview show to anything else that he might have forced himself to be engrossed in during the evenings when it was too dark to play outside and too boring to stay in. It was a fun and lively feature with an in-house band that played jazz music when each new guest traipsed up to the stage from behind a thick red velvet curtain. Miyagi was young and handsome back then with dark hair that he slicked back like oil that shimmered under the spotlights. He made jokes and shared drinks with celebrities, politicians, and the hottest pro heroes of the week. Miyagi, in his prime back then, had been just as amiable and honest as he still came off today. His twin horns reached high above his head and sometimes, around the holidays, he would decorate them with small, battery-powered lights or glittery ornaments. Sometimes, in the summer, he would travel beyond the studio and interview patrons of new and rising vacation spots.

But the hero interviews always captured Hawks’s attention, mesmerized him in ways that back then he didn’t know the words to express. He wasn’t a strange child for finding heroes to be captivating and compelling, but he found himself often tired of the hubbub surrounding All Might, the heavy-hitters, the overflow of information about one or two big names when truly, he was often more invested in what lesser-knowns had to say. 

The anonymity, perhaps, was what he found charming. The idea that anyone with a decent quirk could make it as a small-time hero. Hawks, back then, thought that he might quite like a life like that. A leisurely existence in which he might be able to save a few people, be featured on a few late-night shows. Return home to his wife and kids and enjoy a pleasant balance between his career and social life in which he could enjoy anything that his heart desired without the resistance or boundaries that more widespread fame seemed so capable of limiting popular heroes with.

So he tuned in every week to watch Miyagi’s program. He looked forward to, each time that an episode aired, meeting a new small-time hero from humble roots that might have, at one point, echoed his own. And he liked to imagine in that moment, that he, too, could someday find himself planted comfortably in one of Miyagi’s overstuffed interview seats, drinking water from those thick, black coffee mugs, laughing and joking and sobering up just long enough to rattle off an inspirational speech for any young kids like himself who just needed someone to look up to.

Hawks had always been a little bit disappointed that the fiery Endeavor refused to make his debut on Miyagi’s program. He’d thought back then, in a way that made him laugh just a little now, that if he could see a hero like Endeavor moving and talking and interacting normally in a way that his childish brain hadn’t recognized as pre-rehearsed and surely almost completely scripted, maybe he could have imagined back then, too, that someone like Endeavor, someone like any hero, really, could be a normal guy behind the mask. He could be someone who Hawks could grow up and talk to, meet on equal footing. He would cling to his worn-out Endeavor plush toy and he would tell himself that Endeavor would like him. He would think that he was funny and that his wings were cool, that he was a good kid. That he had potential as a hero, someday, too.

Every week, he’d fantasize that anyone featured on Miyagi’s program would tell him to hold tight to his dreams of someday getting away from that filthy house, his sheetless bed with the exposed springs, the shattered glass on the cold tile floors that sometimes embedded itself in the bottoms of his feet. It was nice, for a night a week, to imagine that something like that could be possible. To dream that someday in the far future, he could outlive this, outfly it, and he could reach out and inspire sad, hopeless kids too.

It was a dumb pipe dream and he’d been thoroughly disillusioned when the Commission had taken him under their wing and begun training him. He’d learned gradually that heroes were not, in fact, normal people and that Endeavor, of all people, probably wouldn’t have had a nice word to say to him if they ever had the chance to meet. And he hadn’t been surprised, later, when that theory was proven to be true. On the contrary, really, he’d been charmed by how wholly Endeavor could actively embody just about every nasty accusation that the media had made about him. Like a caricature come to life, like the opposite of all of his guilty childhood late-night daydreams.

Hawks, at that point, had already been far too squashed to be heartbroken about any of it. He’d grown up too much to care that his childhood hero had turned out to be just as much of a stick in the mud as the nastier news outlets tried to make him out to be.

Endeavor belonged on late-night shows no more than Hawks himself now did. But Hawks, at least, was capable of faking it. Hawks, if need be, could be featured on a newer show, in interviews in updated studios that looked nothing like the dusty, charmingly outdated design of Miyagi’s old stage set, and he could lie through his teeth until the public learned to love him.

That, at least, had been part of his training. He’d finely-tuned the ability to emulate genuine human emotion and to seem authentic even at his most counterfeit. 

He’d been told back then by his instructors that he needed to be charming enough to be disarming, but not open enough that anyone had a solid idea of who he was or what he was capable of. It helped if he played it a little bit cocky, a little dangerous, like a wildcard. Sometimes oblivious, sometimes too smart to outfox. Sometimes coy and laidback and sometimes tighter-wound. Serious but with a sense of humor. Responsible but never one to play completely by the rules. His public persona would be one that was just as hard to pin down as it was flexible, and “Hawks”, the symbol and the man, would be anything that the population and the Hero Commission needed him to be.

It helped a lot in his day-to-day hero work, really. If anyone disliked him, they rarely felt confident enough to tell him off or call him out. If anyone didn’t believe him, he never leaked nearly enough information to lose all sense of plausible deniability or a simple “you misunderstood me” excuse, and when he thought about it, as he was thinking so hard about it now, it was just a little bit manipulative, wasn’t it?

But Hawks—the symbol—didn’t care about those things and Hawks—the man—wasn’t at liberty to admit whether he cared about anything or not. Hawks, the conglomeration of both warring sides of himself, was currently standing in a low-lit bathroom in the center of the Paranormal Liberation Front’s headquarters, after swiftly excusing himself from a meeting in which he’d…

Well…

Maybe, in a small way, he’d had a whole lot of trouble focusing on Yotsubashi’s obnoxious posturing and painful bootlicking while Dabi sat across the table pretending so insufferably that he had absolutely no clue whatsoever how difficult it was for Hawks, hungover again, to pay attention after how heavily Dabi had weighed on his mind, heart, and libido during his downtime last night.

Granted, Hawks would love nothing more than for Dabi to never actually discover this information, but the bitterness embedded itself under his skin nonetheless, and no matter how terribly he willed away the intrusive thoughts, they refused to leave his head entirely.

So he’d asked if he could use the bathroom. Dabi had offered him a wayward, snide smile as though to silently repeat his assertion of, “Sloppy doesn’t suit you” from the day before, and Shigaraki had dismissively waved a hand in the air, telling him then, in a voice that sounded somehow even more exhausted than he felt, not to come back if he was feeling too sick. He didn’t want Hawks throwing up in the meeting room because, as he claimed, his massive pet monster Gigantomachia had a delicate constitution.

He didn’t know how true that was or if that was Shigaraki’s version of a joke, but he really would prefer not to test it and find out.

He’d bowed and thanked Shigaraki quietly, ducking around Yotsubashi and pretending that he couldn’t feel everyone’s collective eyes on him as he slinked awkwardly out into the hall. He’d found the bathroom quickly, remembered it from a few times that he’d spotted people coming in and out during his time spent in meetings here. He’d holed himself up there for a long time, struggling to take control over his own stomach and pounding head. He never managed to actually throw up, even if that might have made him feel better. He did, however, manage to catch his own eyes in the mirror before jerking them away, feeling a hot score of shame strike through him when he thought about just how far from grace he’d really allowed himself to tumble.

He had every intention of returning to the meeting at some point, he really did, but he just needed some time to think. Some time to wind down and get a handle on the emotions and wants and needs that were currently boiling in his belly and making his mouth feel sour and his head feel light. He turned the knobs of the sink in front of him, cupping his hands under the spray of the faucet and wetting his hot cheeks. His gloves were discarded at the corner just behind the handles, and once he dried his hands on his pants, he slipped them back on again.

He stood there for a long moment, just breathing and grasping the edges of the basin. Just thinking about himself as a young kid, stationed in front of the television as a vicious argument broke out somewhere beyond the living room through the hall, blurry and distant and almost unreachable now, like static buzzing in the background of all of his now-vague childhood memories. In that thought, as that tiny version of himself, he cranked up the volume and listened to a rerun of an old Crimson Riot interview, wondering, back then, if his favorite hero would ever be willing to step up on that stage and speak.

It was hard to say what he would have done had he been disillusioned about Endeavor so long before his eventual indoctrination into hero society. It was hard to imagine a version of himself that wouldn’t eventually end up right here, in front of this mirror in which he couldn’t stand to meet his own eyes. He’d heard about that sentiment a few times before, the idea of going back and changing things if one had the opportunity to do so, but he knew that he’d never made his own decisions since even before the Commission scooped him up, and he also knew that he’d never made the wrong choices for society and humanity as a whole while under their watchful eye.

Until now, he supposed. Until he was given even the smallest scrap of freedom to forge his own path and he immediately allowed himself to have his attention caught wholly by one very dangerous, very deadly member of the Paranormal Liberation front.

And he imagined himself then, sitting in that velvet-lined plush chair across a glossy desk from an interviewer with sleek, dark-dyed hair. Holding his cup of water to his chest and smiling under the dazzling, blurry stage lights.

How he might be asked, “So what’s the personal life of the Winged Hero Hawks like? You aren’t often spotted at fancy parties or charity events. The media hasn’t caught wind of your social life outside of work at all. You seem to be a pretty private guy. But day-to-day, what does downtime look like for you? Do you hang out with friends, family, or is there a special someone who monopolizes your time?”

And how he might respond, then, unbreaking smile, sparkling white teeth, carefully-styled, untangled hair—a wink, a little fake-coy laugh that would elicit laughter from the audience in return:

“Well, lately I’ve started seeing this guy… and he’s wanted all over Japan for arson, murder, and treason.”

The door to the bathroom creaked open suddenly and Hawks found himself jolted hastily from his current masochistic, self-flagellating fantasy. He whipped his head towards it, swallowing heavily as he witnessed, of course, the source of his near-constant heartache trudging through as though he wasn’t intruding, once again, on a private Hawks moment that definitely had too much Dabi stuffed into it already.

But he forced himself to stay cool, eased the anger and the indignance out of his expression. He settled on a sleepy smile instead, allowing himself to look every bit as tired and sick as he felt because that was the narrative that he’d chosen to push earlier in the meeting. That was certainly the only excuse that he’d be willing to give Dabi as to why he still hadn’t returned to the meeting in the event that Dabi had been sent in here to come and find him.

Dabi ignored him for a moment, glanced at him shortly as he neared the short row of urinals some ways away, tucking himself against one and unzipping his fly with a sound so crisp that it felt as though it tore straight through any fogginess that Hawks was currently feeling.

Hawks tore his eyes away, swallowing thickly and turning on the sink again to distract himself. With his gloves still on, he found that he couldn’t do anything with the water but stare awkwardly at it, but the noise helped quell his anxiety. It helped keep him grounded and drowned out any sounds that Dabi might have been quietly making before they could reach Hawks’s ears. He felt himself then, stiffer and sicker and so painfully aware of Dabi’s presence next to him, to the sensation of his eyes passing over him, that he had a hard time figuring out what even a normal person would do in this sort of situation, let alone “Hawks”—the symbol and the man—who should have been better at handling conflict than this.

He shoved the knobs back in the “off” position. Silence filled the bathroom: resonant, full. Suddenly not nearly enough space to hold both of them comfortably.

He didn’t have much of a chance to form a plan of action, unfortunately, because Dabi was zipping up moments later, drawing nearer until he was tucked next to Hawks at an adjacent sink. He washed his hands quietly, wordlessly, without offering him a single look or explanation, or anything.

He turned off the tap, reached out, and tugged a paper towel from the dispenser. After he dried his hands and discarded it, only then did he turn his eyes back to Hawks, and Hawks found himself wishing desperately that Dabi would have just decided, instead, to ignore him completely and leave without a word.

Maybe he would have been offended by that too, but at least in that event, he wouldn’t be smoldering under the blue flames of Dabi’s uninhibited stare.

But Dabi, now, was reaching out a single hand, drawing it nearer and nearer to Hawks’s face until, prematurely, he stopped. His fingers hovered there, just centimeters from Hawks’s suddenly reheated cheeks, and his lips cracked open in a sly, knowing smile. His brows perked upward, and his lids dropped low, his dense lashes casting dark puddles of shadow over his turquoise eyes.

“You look like shit again,” he said then, tugging back his hand and tucking it in his jacket pocket. “Never thought the great hero Hawks would end up being an alky at just twenty-three.”

Hawks bristled, feeling his wings fluffing up but finding himself wholly, painfully helpless to stop them. He straightened his shoulders, shoving himself away from the sink and facing Dabi fully. But he righted himself just as he felt his emotions slipping through the cracks in his mask, dragged in a sharp breath, and allowed another easy smile to settle over his features.

He winked then, imagining himself, for a moment, as a whisper of the imaginary Hawks, sitting on the velvet-lined, overstuffed plush seat of the interviewer’s deskside chair. 

“I’m just a kid,” he drew out gently, playfully. “What can I say? Are heroes not allowed to have fun now?”

Dabi’s grin tugged up for a split second. He shirked away somewhat, pivoting around to face the door. He paused there for a short moment before he craned his neck back to Hawks, jerking it in one short movement in the direction of the exit once again, his smile fallen completely into a flat, inexpressive frown.

“Come get some air then,” he said. “Stop pretending that you’re gonna go back to that shitty meeting.”

He started walking without another word. Hawks hung back for a moment, dithering in indecision, before his feet seemed to decide for him and he found himself trailing behind Dabi, struggling to match his long, even strides. 

As they entered the elevator, Hawks glanced down each surrounding hall, suddenly feeling out of the loop and concerned, for some reason, when he saw no other members of the Liberation Front filing out of the meeting room or chatting with Yotsubashi as they often did at the door.

“Wait—shouldn’t you go back? Are they waiting for you?”

The door slid closed. Dabi rolled his shoulders and turned his chin upward, studying the bucket lights in the ceiling as the cart eased downward and the lit buttons on the dash flicked from floor to floor, descending down and creeping slowly towards the spot marked Level 1.  

He clicked his tongue, scowling.

“If I had to listen to one more thing that sniveling rat had to say, I probably would have thrown up too.”

Hawks barked a laugh, muffling it seconds later in his hand as the elevator reached ground floor. He allowed Dabi to step out first, following just behind him despite the fact that he knew where they were headed and he didn’t really need to skirt just a short half-foot behind him. But he allowed himself to vacate his thoughts for a single, guilty moment, allowed his eyes instead to pin on the way that Dabi’s jacket hung over his narrow shoulders. How the metal cuffs of his sleeves glinted under the hallway lights and how his new pants clung tighter to his hips, his nicely-shaped thighs, and his—

Hawks averted his gaze, correcting himself so abruptly that he almost felt as though he’d been poked with a cattle prod. This was why he wasn’t allowed to think freely. This was why he was always kept on such a short leash.

His mouth felt dry, his throat scratchy. His cheeks burned ever-hotter, and his eyes, despite his mental protests, had a whole lot of trouble staying on the floor or reaching down the hall to meet the clear, glass doors, and not deviating, instead, to the way that Dabi’s tight-fitting pants cupped the small, well-rounded union of his skinny legs in a way so firm that Hawks could almost imagine what it might feel like to put his hand there.

He could have smacked himself. He wished, for a moment, that he’d brought a spray bottle filled with water with him that he might be able to squirt himself with in some weak attempt to divert these horrible, inopportune thoughts. 

Despite the war waging ferociously inside of him, Dabi paid him little mind. He continued to travel through the halls silently, his steps slow and careful as though he could somehow be purposefully dragging this torturous situation out as long as humanly possible.

Hawks was led wordlessly through the front doors to the same spot that they occupied yesterday when they smoked together. Dabi didn’t offer him a cigarette this time, but he did spare him an extra look before he ignited flame from the tips of his fingers to light his own. Which Hawks wished he would have gotten just a little bit of warning about, really, so he could have looked away and spared himself the onslaught of guilty memories from last night, rushing back to the surface of his mind. 

He choked them back, smothered all of the feelings that seeing Dabi, again, light his cigarette suddenly made him feel. He told himself that he was cool and calm and collected and that no one could force him to say or do anything if he kept his wits about him. Dabi smoked quietly and didn’t seem keen on upholding a conversation anyway. He wasn’t the well-meaning but endlessly chatty, nosy Twice. He wasn’t Toga who seemed eternally skilled at reading people, or Compress, Spinner, or Yotsubashi who always seemed to be sizing him up. Dabi was easier, in some ways. They could stand here together just outside of HQ and say nothing for the duration of their time together and Dabi, surely, wouldn’t ever attempt to change that. He would prefer it, probably. He never seemed particularly excited about conversation or company, if Hawks was being honest.

Which made Hawks wonder, suddenly, why he’d even been invited out here at all.

He dragged in another long breath, stuffing his hands in his pockets and springing forward and back from the balls of his heels to the pads of his toes. His feathers caught in the gentle breeze, carded through with frigid air that skittered the smallest chill up his spine. Dabi continued a long drag of his cigarette, the smoke caught in his cheeks skimming through the small gaps at his jaw where the staples embedded in his skin, where it mended pale, untouched expanses of flesh with the nasty, gnarled stipples of burn scars. Hawks studied that for a long moment, the way that blurry gray surrounded him, made him look almost like a hazy, faraway dream. Hawks might have dreamt about this sort of thing before, with how evocative it suddenly felt to watch Dabi, to witness him against the wall in a suspended dream-state that felt too surreal and intangible and untouchable. The sunlight, just as it did yesterday, bounded against the myriad of staples lining Dabi’s face. It reflected in the deep, blue pools of his eyes, overhung by messy, angular dark bangs and the shadows that they cast over his pallid skin. His fingernails around his cigarette were blunt but messy, clearly bitten often enough that the patterns in them were irregular and splintered. Dabi didn’t seem to take much care of himself, really, and something about that…

Hawks didn’t know how it made him feel, as a prim and proper, fretted-over thing. As someone who often couldn’t be seen in public if his facade wasn’t perfectly aligned. Sloppy wasn’t like Hawks, really, and Dabi was right about that, but maybe, in another life, it could have been. Maybe, in another life, Hawks’s nails would be chewed down to the skin, and maybe his hair could be dyed cheaply in a too-dark, permanent marker shade that consumed sunlight and let no reflections pass over it. Maybe he could be covered in scars that he wore proudly and maybe he could smoke against building exteriors without a care. He could ignore meetings just because he felt bored with them. He could ignore people just because he didn’t like them.

Maybe not in this life, sure. But in an offshoot, elusive alternate universe, maybe Hawks could understand why Dabi stood in the shoes that he did, on the path that he’d chosen to stand on. And maybe that was why Hawks found himself so helplessly beguiled by him, as a faraway star beaming light from even further nebulas. As a sun that he might reach for helplessly that might, eventually, burn away his waxen wings.

Icarus metaphors now, huh? He spit a laugh, crossing his arms over his chest and allowing his body to fall lazily against the wall next to Dabi.

Dabi glanced at him, tilting his chin upward and giving him a quick once-over, his frown loose and non-committal but seemingly permanent. 

“You finally lost your mind, or is something funny?”

Hawks bit his lip, planting his back more firmly against the wall and turning his eyes, for a moment, to the sky above them. It was starkly blue, clear enough that it was easy to imagine that maybe the ground below could be striped with long miles of lush greenery, that the trees weren’t barren but sprouted with thick, shiny summer leaves. But it was chilly and far too early in the Spring for that, far too chilly for life to start again, but maybe… soon.

Maybe, once the Winter ebbed away and revealed the lively new beginnings of the Spring, Hawks would find himself born anew as well. As a Hawks who didn’t have these silly, romantically-charged ideas about a life outside of the cage that had been crafted so painstakingly around him. As a Hawks who found contentment and meaning in a predetermined life as a hero and established himself as someone unmoved by the villains’ plight that often felt so tantalizing and tempting and so…

Handsome , smoking a cigarette now at the filter just next to him. 

He shook his head. Dabi flicked the butt into the distance, tugging the box from his pocket and picking through the squashed remaining four in search of one that hadn’t been damaged when he’d shoved it in his now too-tight pants.

Hawks wondered, for a moment, if Dabi had considered the small amount of things that he wanted to carry on him when he picked out his previous baggy pair. And he wondered what had changed between then and now, when he’d opted for something more form-fitting.

Not that he was complaining, but…

Why wasn’t he complaining?

He scrubbed a hand over his face, pushing out another anxious, jittery laugh.

“No, sorry,” he said then. “I was just thinking about… this. This whole thing, I guess. Me, here, and how weird that is.”

He could see, from his peripherals, Dabi’s blue flame lighting his newly-selected cigarette, but he pointedly turned his head away. His throat felt clogged with cotton, his cheeks warm. Dabi took another drag and allowed the smoke to pass in a thick bale through his spread lips, watching as it wafted upward before disappearing in the air above them.

“It’s funny, huh?” he said then, monotone and almost sounding bored. “Why’s it funny?”

“Well, I guess—”

He made a crucial mistake then, one that he could not have foreseen with any amount of strenuous Hero Commission training, with any experience that he might have garnered over the previous months with the PLF, with Dabi himself, with his own confusing new wave of emotions that were currently turning his life wayward. He looked at Dabi, watched the way that the light continued to sparkle on his staples, and he found himself, suddenly, caught in a molasses trap of the handsome cut of Dabi’s jaw, the charming slope of his nose, the sunlight pinned and twinkling in his dark eyes. Like starlight reflected on ocean water. Like a painting in a museum that he might have been stopped by, transfixed, and rendered wordless in the midst of. He had it bad, he knew, but Dabi was beautiful then, in the late winter afternoon, in a puddle of sunlight that illuminated the softness of his white, velvet skin. That chased away the shadows and replaced the sickly, green light that he often caught Dabi under in quiet meeting rooms and in dirty alleyways. Dabi was a creature made for secrecy and for darkness, tailored for nefarious schemes and dirty work and a million different blood-curdling scenarios that all belonged between the thick pages of a lengthy horror novel.

But Dabi, here, was a handsome man, and it was jarring to recognize him as such. To see him still tired and disheveled and perpetually annoyed with everything but with the sun’s light breathing life into him. Hawks had always imagined that maybe it was the darkness itself that he found alluring in Dabi, the temptation to revel in his more sinister wants and his innate desire to rebel, but maybe it was just Dabi. Maybe, like this, he could see that. 

Dabi wasn’t attractive because he was a monster, but because he was an attractive person who just happened to also be a monster, and Hawks, at that time, didn’t know how to feel about that revelation.

So he cleared his throat, and he thanked whatever God might have been watching over him that Dabi never cared enough to ask him why he was acting weird when he was acting so, so weird.

He found himself looking at Dabi the way that most people might stare straight at the sun: curious and transfixed but ultimately finding it hard to stay focused, hard to look away. His eyes jumped from Dabi’s staples to his eyes, turned up to the sky again, to the cigarette placed loosely between his lips, and the small dots of his piercings—three at the nose, he knew. Four, mirrored twins, on each ear.

Hawks had never been the sort of person who thought much of body mods and he knew that for much of Japan, they weren’t particularly received well, weren’t common, weren’t something that he’d had enough experience with to make his own decisions about how he might have felt about them, but suddenly, startlingly quick, he found himself fixated on them.

He jerked his head away, tightening his arms over his chest and scuffing one boot against the ground.

He cleared his throat once again, wondering if maybe Dabi would just suspect that he had a cold or something, that he was trying to keep himself from getting sick.

He didn’t know if that was better or worse than the truth.

He sighed.

“Well,” he said belatedly, hoping that along the way, if he just said something , he’d find the right words that wouldn’t make him seem strange or sloppy or even remotely out of sorts, “I’m a hero, you know? I doubt my fans would expect that my after-hours extracurriculars look like this sort of thing.”

Dabi scoffed a laugh, flicking the ash from the tip of his cigarette.

“Do you really give a shit what they think? When they don’t even know you?”

Hawks faltered, suddenly grounded with the realization that his noncommittal nonsense conversation for the sake of filling the silence came with actual consequences. That Dabi, now, was asking for his input on something, and when he thought about it, when he really considered the question, he found that he actually didn’t know the answer.

He’d never mulled that over before, never thought about the fact that being beloved by many might not mean anything if those people didn’t actually know who he was as a person. If they loved an illusion, like a combination of magazine clippings that someone had pasted over his face. It wasn’t him, but maybe it looked like him. Maybe it was convincing enough that some people could believe that he really existed, that he really was that person inside, but inside, he knew that he was more disappointing than that. He knew that if they knew the real him, it would only let them down.

That upon closer observation, maybe they’d even recognize that behind the mask, there wasn’t anything else underneath.

He shook his head. He could feel Dabi studying him, but he kept his eyes turned away. And he still smiled, despite everything, because he thought, for some reason, that he should. He felt the inkling of a thought, a vague reprimand that heroes should never look sad. He should present himself casually, pretend that none of this mattered.

He turned that smile back to Dabi, and he didn’t know why, when their eyes met, he felt comforted by the idea that Dabi probably had no idea what was swirling around in his head.

“It’s hard not to be liked, right? Doesn’t it bother you just a little to think that people who have never met you probably hate you?”

He felt weird about the question even as he asked it, guilty about it for reasons that were helplessly lost to him. Dabi scoffed again, sucking in another smoky breath, allowing it to float up into the air through his partly-opened lips.

“Why should I give a shit?” Dabi’s voice was harder than it was a moment ago, sharper in places that surprised Hawks. His brows were drawn low and he scowled at the ground, his head tilted in a way that made the sunlight skim over all four of the earrings that Hawks could see. “People are gonna hate you no matter what you do, so you might as well do whatever the Hell you want.”

It made sense, Hawks supposed, in the same way that he might agree with the sentiment that “Everyone can be a hero” or “You should always follow your dreams”, despite the more pragmatic, realistic whispers at the back of his thoughts that reminded him, statistically speaking, that neither of those things could be possible for every person in the world.

It’d be nice if he could follow that lead, whatever it was that Dabi had carved out for himself, the things he’d experienced or not, that gave him such a world view. It sounded so freeing, not the notion of being able to ignore anything, but to never actually have the response in the first place, to so wholly and honestly be able to not give a shit. Maybe it was that realization and pattern, that special something all villains had in common, a unifying, sad existence where people just hated them before they ever had a chance to prove anything else.

Hawks never dwelled much on it, didn’t really have the time to sit down and discuss it with anyone considering he was always destined to be a hero from such an early age. There was no wiggle room in this, barely any inches he could have scraped at in hidden, momentary corners to diverge on another path. He found himself suddenly thrust into the reality of it now, of wondering who hated Dabi no matter what he did. At what point did he pivot down the wrong path, what was the breaking point, the second that decided the rest of his life? If, before this, he was already doing whatever he wanted, and that somehow contributed to the decision.

Or was it simply already existing, like some twisted destiny that paralleled Hawks’s own, some predetermined alignment of stars and moments that built up over and over with the march of time? Unescapable paths, things they never were able to avoid or change, some greater cause pulling all the strings like a cheap, melancholy puppet show, one that Hawks had no idea which act they were in, or why they ended up here, together, against this brick wall.

It was too personal to ask. He couldn’t stand here and expect a straight answer for the paired questions ringing loud in his mind now: What decided a hero? What decided a villain?

Did it really matter if either of those personas cared what other people thought?

For Hawks, he already knew. For himself, no, but for Hawks the hero, of course he cared. It came with the job. No one could feasibly rise to the top without fans. No one could build a name for themselves if their demeanor was sour and rude. Who would look up to a hero that seemed closer to a villain? Who would ever feel safe with someone that couldn’t put on a smile or create an air around them of protection?

Of course he cared, and at a deeper, more private level, perhaps Hawks the man cared more than he’d be willing to admit. It was different if someone hated the mask, if a small child just didn’t like him because his wings were red or another hero had more personal appeal to them. But the thought of someone truly hating him, whoever the real him might be, was uncomfortable. 

It dug in further, as wandering thoughts often do, pushed deeper and attempted to latch where it could, teasing and glinting like the rows and rows of staples he didn’t realize he’d been staring at.

It wasn’t that far-fetched—the concept that Dabi could hate him like that too. In fact, it made sense on a very base level. A villain should hate a hero. That’s just how it went.

“Can tell just by how long you’ve been thinking that you do give a shit about something. Wanna share with the class, or just keep staring at me like that? I can pretend to be flattered if it makes it easier to look.”

A huff of air escaped Hawks, his gaze automatically shifting to anywhere else that wasn’t the one thing he wanted to look at. He chose to ignore his company’s self-deprecating humor as well as his own knee jerk reaction to prove that nothing in the world would be needed to make it easier to keep staring. For once, Hawks wasn’t sure what he should say, at least not with something like this. He could joke it off, maybe dawdle on about some half-hearted Hero’s call to the greater good. He could lie, or tell the truth: two options that he wasn’t sure if he understood the difference between anymore in this pitfall of a conversation he’d sunk himself into.

He wondered now if this is the longest chat they’d had yet.

“I’m supposed to care, give a shit,” his hands explained as they gestured vaguely to the nothingness in front of them. “Even if they don’t know me personally. They know Hawks, the Winged Hero, and that’s enough, isn’t it? They don’t want to see me, Hawks, the exhausted and hungover on five hours of sleep.” He didn’t miss the earned crack of a smirk and half blown out low chuckle as it mingled up into the air with cigarette smoke. 

“I suppose it’s shallow, this way, but there isn’t anything more. Part of the job. Hate me or not, I can’t really do whatever the Hell I want.”

He didn’t mean to end it on a sour note, but the words had already tumbled out before he could’ve wiped them clean with a more fitting, bland excuse. Hawks sighed, slipped his hands past his jacket and into his pants pockets, and mirrored Dabi’s earlier frown as if the chipped wide concrete steps would be able to offer some condolences to his pathetic excuse for why he lived his life the way he did. The way he had to.

“Sounds shitty, maybe you should have picked a different job.”

Hawks watched the slightly smashed cigarette butt sail through the air, the tip still smoldering its last dying breath before it landed on the walkway leading up to the steps they occupied. And wouldn’t that be nice? A different path, a normal life, something where he could still put his quirk to good use but without all the overhead. Without all the stress, the constant need to perform, everyone watching him for different reasons that rarely ever benefitted Hawks, the man.

“Yeah, maybe. You think the zoo would take me? Do the wings work for or against my chances, I haven’t been able to…”

Something glinted the moment he decided to let his sight shift over to Dabi. Something dangerous, his mind supplied, as the words fell out of his mouth and all his thoughts with them. Hawks always knew his humor might be his undoing in the end, that he’d die with a pained smile after he got the last word in, but he’d never considered it like this.

It was funny, it must have been, because Dabi had moved closer, tilted himself enough that they no longer stood side by side against the brick, the image of Hawks stuck in the aviary section surrounded by his own kind enough to crack that grin wide, staples struggling to hold, before he swiped his tongue against his dry bottom lip.

It had been then, in those few seconds, between his body’s movement and those piercing blue eyes before they nailed him in place, that Hawks had caught a glimpse of a silver ball, something that was hidden to the public but part of the collection of other shiny adornments strewn across his skin. 

Words died on Dabi’s lips too, whatever jab he was about to press back about different employment options disappeared in favor of pursuing something far more interesting. Hawks felt trapped, felt the thicker primary feathers along his wingspan shudder against the brick, watched as those burning eyes darted to their movement briefly before they zeroed back in on him. 

He looked smug. Dabi looked like he just found out a great secret, as if he’d just collected some juicy blackmail on this caged hero that he’d be able to torture him relentlessly with. Every single one of Hawks’s internal alarms went off at once.

“Awfully rude, for a hero. No one ever teach you that it’s not nice to stare? Wanna tell me something, birdy? I’ve heard it all, so make it interesting.”

He was close, far, far closer than he should have been. The commission would be shaking their heads right now, calling off the training to regroup and explain once more what the point of this lesson was supposed to be. A lesson Hawks, for some reason, just couldn’t grasp because he continued to fail it over and over again. He’d allowed Dabi into his space, disarmed with something so simple and unimportant and so devastatingly sexy that he only managed to suck in a short breath when a hand pressed up against the brick near his head.

Hawks expected, anticipated even, a finger at the front of his throat. As if Dabi somehow tapped into his embarrassing fantasy last night, as if he’d managed to see right through him and rip the thought from his head to dangle the reality right before him. It was all too similar, the movements invoking a fake sense of déjà vu, and to his horror, his body ignited in the same way it shamefully did last night. He suddenly felt too hot, too contained, and too uneasy with being Dabi’s focus, unable to move from his now unsacred smoke spot at the headquarters.

Someone probably would have found it comical, after the fact, that everything he’d been pining over and disgracefully coveting was now pushing forward that part of him which screamed to retreat. Playing with fire, potentially literally, was enough to get Hawks to react. His form pressed closer to the brick and he winced at the uncomfortable feeling of his wings being compressed tighter as they strained for more space. 

It’d be a lie if he said he wasn’t staring. He knew Dabi wouldn’t accept that answer, wouldn’t just let him go so easily like he might have before. Something more sinister reflected in those eyes now, wild and swirling and waiting for the right moment to pin Hawks further down, to catch him in his lie or revel in the feeling of knowing exactly why he’d been broken down to the sloppy mess that stood before him.

What could he even say back? “ I was, I saw your tongue piercing. It’s nice- How many do you have? Can I see them all? Any below the waist?”

And that was just the problem, wasn’t it? They were nice, especially now, up close and on display just for him. Hawks had already mapped each that he’d snuck glances of previous, noted how they never seemed dull or worn, cracked or tarnished like he’d seen on other people before. It was often a sign of cheap jewelry and lack of upkeep, a pleasant surprise to Hawks that Dabi was above that sort of thing.

There was a fair chance he’d never be here again, and so Hawks, despite knowing what he should do, let himself indulge just for a few moments while trapped. He’d already been rude , so why bother denying it now? His eyes roamed freely from ear to ear, wondered if Dabi got them done before or after the skin there burnt away to dark scarred remnants. He scanned across the bridge of his nose, considered asking if there was some sort of significance to three clustered together like that, but let the thought die before he gave in to break the silence.

A small, sadder part of Hawks wondered too, if Dabi matched everything on purpose. If the surgical steel was the only thing his body could properly and realistically handle now, if he’d decided to alter other things on his body that might draw the eye, even for a moment, or to create some sort of semblance that his appearance, that every single staple, was part of some larger stylistic choice.

Hawks doubted he’d ever find out. He guessed there would never be a moment he’d be close enough to this man for those types of quiet confessions. That, if he asked now, when he wasn’t in the right state of mind, it would come out mean and wrong and offensive. Dabi would drop that enticing smirk and he’d replace it with a sneer before he pushed off the wall and left. Hawks would strike out, for the last time, and have to deal with his new reality in which Dabi refused to even glance at him, let alone tease him against the headquarters outer walls.

He wanted him to stay, he realized, with frightening clarity. Hawks wanted to reach out, to guide Dabi the few more inches he needed to be truly close, for them to share a breath and a moment alone as if nothing else existed and nothing mattered besides them and this stupid fucking wall crushing his wings. He’d tell him, then, everything that had been wrong. Why he kept showing up like this. Why he couldn’t manage enough sleep and why he couldn’t focus, not here and not anywhere else that called for him.

He’d tell Dabi it was his fault, that it was his sharp gaze and his bright eyes and how he walked like he didn’t give a shit. How he looked so pretty right now, closer than Hawks had ever been to him before, with imperfections shining and the smell of cigarettes that lingered on his clothes and fingers. He’d whisper about how it was true—that he couldn’t stop staring, that every single glimmering piece of metal strewn across Dabi’s skin was a point he wanted to touch, to explore with his hands and mouth.

How he’d been here before, almost like this, and that he’d not been able to contain himself, that he’d done something villainous also, last night alone in his room. Hawks wondered what would happen after he gave the admission. Would words like that catch Dabi by surprise, would he push him away disgusted or pull him closer and mutter that Hawks was gross before he’d close the gap between them and let his captured hero feel the small steel ball of his barbell as it pressed against his lips and demanded his mouth open for more?

“Sorry.” The single word wasn’t enough for all that he’d wanted to get across, but it was all that Hawks could manage without blowing his cover.

He looked away, worried that Dabi would somehow see everything that swirled around in his head through his eyes alone, despite all the training Hawks had been pushed through to avoid that exact scenario. 

He expected Dabi to push away then, to grant him a sound of dismissal or annoyance that he wasn’t going to play along with whatever this was. The seconds passed between them, enough ticked by that Hawks couldn’t ignore it any longer and looked back up from the absolutely delicious patch of skin and rows of staples that peeked out just at the top of Dabi’s shirt. 

He still smiled, crooked and disarming, like he was simply waiting for Hawks to process this exact moment and every other one that might have had a small hand in leading up to it. “Seems like you like something you see. You’re sorry about it?”

No amount of training from the commission could have ever prepared him for this. They didn’t have six months of intensive coaching on how to divert villains trying to gain an upper hand by flirting , or rather, pretending to be sexually invested in such a way that wasn’t clear cut. Hawks wasn’t an idiot, he knew how things in this world worked. He’d seen it himself, never on the news, but rumors traveled in the internal information circuit he frequented from the shadows quickly. 

Not everyone believed in the straight lines of good and evil, not every hero walked a single path in their lives and he assumed the same for villains. Some were weak of heart, or will, or just worn down from the constant barrage of having to be ready at any moment, for any reason. Maybe the taboo of it was part of the thrill, to exchange something intimate with the enemy, to be able to feel the wrongness that society pressed down upon such a pairing.

He wondered, once more, but with a bit more clarity, if that was what all of this was. Would it be so bad for him to indulge, given the nature of his current role? Would it sound so unimaginable, at the end of the day, that a hero like him playing a double agent wouldn’t allow a villain to get closer under the guise of being able to wheedle out more information? Did it even matter? People are gonna hate you no matter what you do, so you might as well do whatever the Hell you want.

“No, I’m not. I just, I ah,...”

A solid patterned chime rang from his pocket, the one that was distinctly not for villainous scheming, and Hawks nearly reached into his jacket to chuck the offensive thing into a nearby bush. Dabi glanced down to where it was coming from as it rattled out its last alert, shook his head with a small huff, and then in what possibly might have been a contender for the saddest moment in Hawks’s life, inched his hand from the brick and pushed away. 

Hawks was free, uncaged, perfectly capable of beating his wings and flying away and for the first time in a very long time, he wished the opposite. He wanted Dabi back in his space, encompassing all of his attention, making him think that a spark existed and could be snapped into a blue blaze if they’d been allowed just a few more seconds, but it was too late.

The hands that held that possibility were now shoved back into Dabi’s tight pockets beneath his long jacket and his eyes no longer cared to keep Hawks’s focus as they stared instead somewhere to the side, almost as if he was giving Hawks a moment to collect himself and answer whoever felt entitled enough to interrupt something so important. 

Hawks scoffed to himself before he finally kicked away from his invisible cage against the bricks. He stretched his crumpled wings, so distracted as he angrily responded to the new text message that he missed the way that Dabi’s gaze slid back to watch him. He tugged the fingertip of one of his gloves off with his teeth in preparation and glared down at the single worded message with exasperation before he backtracked and glanced up at the sender’s name.

Oh. Well, that wasn’t at all what he’d expected. Shit.

With all the reluctance in the world and then some, Hawks pulled his glove down from his mouth and turned his attention back to Dabi. 

“So, I’ll probably be set on fire if I ignore this, but, this was…” Hawks was cut short once more, and when he’d look back on it later, maybe it was for the best.

“Don’t worry about it, duty calls and all that. No rest for a hero and whatever else. See you around, bring some cigs next time, since you keep stealing mine.”

He’d left before Hawks could trick his mind into parsing together a semblance of a proper reply. What was worse, on top of that, was that Dabi had skirted around him, let Hawks stand there like an idiot just watching for who knows the number of times now, and then he’d reached out as if it was the most natural thing in the whole world and brushed two fingers against the closest feather available as he passed and disappeared back into the headquarters. Hawks didn’t miss the way his lips pressed, the slight curve at the corner of his pretty mouth, how he refused to look Hawks in the eye, confident enough to know that he didn’t need to. 

That was new. Whatever had just happened, Hawks was not ready to unpack it all until he’d be alone back in his apartment where it was safe to scream into a pillow. For now, he needed to shelve every thought pertaining to him, fight away the urge to press his own fingers against the spot Dabi had explored on his wing, and focus back on the now sweaty phone in his hand and the only person he’d not ignore in favor of running back inside to slip between another wall and Dabi and request to continue where they left off.

With what felt like his tenth sigh of the day, Hawks typed out a quick one-word reply before pocketing the offensive device. He shoved his glove back on, jammed his visor in place, and took off from the PLF’s front steps, albeit with a less graceful start than he preferred. Next time he’d arrive back on those steps, Hawks, the man, would be better prepared.

 


 

The kaitenzushi was virtually empty when Hawks filed in. When he checked his phone’s clock, he confirmed that it was, in fact, exactly three hours and twenty-five minutes after he received the text requesting to meet there. The scheduled time was nearly fifteen minutes ago, and while it had definitely been part of his childhood Hero training to always arrive at destinations not early or late but exactly when he’d agreed to, it was nice, today, to consider forcing his early dinner partner to squirm in his seat a little, waiting for him to finally show up, wondering if he ever would at all. 

Hawks wouldn’t generally consider himself to be a cruel person, no. He wouldn’t say that he—the man and the hero—had ever been known to play with his food before eating it, or to elicit pain in anyone who didn’t particularly deserve it. He couldn’t say for sure if his covert mission with the PLF could be considered an act of cruelty, and if, by some chance, he could be forgiven solely because it wasn’t his idea to infiltrate their ranks in the first place, but…

The point was: usually, he didn’t prefer to make others upset or anxious or unhappy. But in this case, with this one, particular person, he felt that maybe he could make an exception.

When he’d landed initially, nearly half an hour ago now, he’d stopped for a moment to converse with a small group of middle schoolers who’d paused, presumably on their trek home from school, and cheered upon noticing him. He’d felt the proverbial hands of his internal clock ticking as he took a few minutes to sign their bookbags and notebooks and whatever they could fish out to offer to him, and he’d decided, just then, that he didn’t care whether he was tardy or not.

It felt, when he stood by the roadside, as though he was basking in the light of the sun for the very first time in a while, which was strange, really, because the daylight had poured just fine into the basin of the mountain oasis in which the Liberation Front’s base stood. He’d felt the warmth of the early afternoon on his back as he’d flown back to town, and he couldn’t, as far as he could recall from the past few days, remember a time when daylight had been so desaturated that he’d felt as though he was living life in old Hollywood grayscale.

But it occurred to him, too, that perhaps it just felt good to pretend that he was a hero and only a hero. That he never had to return to a secret villain base. That he wasn’t parading around, pretending to be a hero who was pretending to be a villain who was pretending to be a hero, and so on.

That there weren’t so many layers to his person now that he wasn’t even sure how deep he’d have to dig in order to find the real Hawks.

But he let the time ease by. He’d been a little early when he’d arrived, but conversation with the kids and with a few passersby monopolized every last one of those minutes before he found that he was running behind. And that was okay, too, because he knew that his guest today probably arrived early—he lived close, so he probably walked. Might have taken a half-day and ventured here from whatever post he was inspecting, but he’d probably been waiting for quite a while before Hawks’s boots ever touched the pavement outside.

And that was okay.

Like a fine wine, he allowed his dinner date’s anger to steep, to sweeten, until surely, when he shoved through the front door, it was aged just to perfection.

The weather outside was pleasant enough that he felt no difference when he stepped through the entryway. He eased the door closed behind him, stepping lightly over the glossy wood floor, smiling at the hostess as she greeted him and reassuring her quickly that he was meeting a friend. She bowed before ducking away. Hawks rolled his shoulders and cupped a yawn in his hand, feeling suddenly as though he wouldn’t really mind just turning around and flying himself home for a nap.

He didn’t do that, at least. He wasn’t that cruel of a person, but he had to admit, privately, at least, that it sure was a tempting proposition. 

This particular kaitenzushi wasn’t a flashy, upscale place, but the brightly-colored, all-inclusive, tourist-geared kind of destination that Hawks usually preferred over the more frou-frou restaurants anyway. He could imagine, on a busier night, children running through the gaps between each chair and table, the jukebox playing its pop music selections loudly through the speakers, that big, currently-disabled light-up fish sign bouncing around between its neon light tracks.

But it was peaceful today, at nearly four in the afternoon. The music overhead was quiet and inoffensive. A few employees greeted him respectfully when he ushered through the entryway and scanned his eyes over all the empty seats in search of the single person who he was supposed to meet here. And he found him soon after, taking nearly twice the amount of space that a regular-sized person might have taken had they actually made the effort to spread out. Sullen and moody as ever, glaring down at two plates already emptied in front of him before his eyes danced from the conveyor belt to Hawks, drawing nearer and raising his hand in greeting.

“Hey, sorry I’m late, traffic was—”

“Save it, Hawks. Sit down.”

He drew in a deep breath, planting a big, expressive grin over his lips that hopefully masked the exhaustion that he already felt. He slid easily into the seat available closest to him, adjusting his wings carefully around the backrest so he wouldn’t get them pinched in the screws or pressed uncomfortably into his backside. He watched, for a moment, the slow journey that the sushi took over the belt. He thought that he would have chosen somewhere else, had he been given the opportunity to choose, but it wasn’t surprising that his friend here would opt instead to control every aspect of this outing that he could. It wasn’t out of character for him, anyway, as a man recently finding himself without control over every other part of his life to scramble for any semblance of authority that he could wrap his meaty fist around.

So Hawks let him choose, let him be in charge because he clearly needed it. Endeavor looked tired too but he wasn’t very good at hiding that, and he looked thinner, in some ways, and Hawks thought, if he squinted, that he could almost make out the beginning hints of gray desaturating the lively scarlet at his hair roots. Maybe that was wishful thinking, he wasn’t sure. But it would definitely be entertaining to tease Endeavor about it anyway, and to know that later on, maybe he’d pause in the bathroom and inspect himself just a little bit closer, wondering if Hawks was correct.

They sat together quietly for a while, Endeavor simply watching the sushi rolling over the conveyor belt, and Hawks eventually growing hungry enough that he grabbed himself a few plates. He ate slowly, studying his surroundings in the restaurant and keeping his thoughts occupied enough that he, hopefully, wouldn’t find himself toeing the line of a few forbidden recent memories that might deter him from behaving as appropriately as he probably should have been in public, for one, and in front of one of the more ill-tempered heroes that he knew, for another. And after a long stretch of silence, Endeavor finally dropped his hands to the table, leveled himself with a sigh, and dragged his eyes down to focus on Hawks.

“I read the book that you gave me.”

Hawks, still chewing, hummed his understanding. He flicked his wings a little, non-committal enough, and turned his head upward to study the ceiling before he swallowed his mouthful.

“It’s a good book,” he said then, leaving it at that, shuddering his feathers in a way that could have, hopefully, drawn Endeavor’s attention to them and to the cameras that were still embedded between them. “Did you call me here to have a book club? That’s pretty cute, Endeavor-san. I bet we could get some other heroes involved too if you wanted. You should spread the word.”

Endeavor sucked in another breath, reaching across the table and tugging a third plate from the belt. Two pieces of bright salmon on a small, orange-colored plate. He set it on his growing pile, simply looking at it. As though it could have whispered to him which coded messages he needed to send next. As though dead fish could give him the answers to any in his monumental stack of questions.

Hawks stuffed another roll in his mouth. If only, he thought. He wouldn’t mind getting a few cheap answers to a few prying questions too. 

“I did,” Endeavor said. “I’ve spoken to a few people about it.”

Hawks nodded. He wondered why this conversation couldn’t have been a text, but he wasn’t willing to ask out loud. It felt nice, for a short time, to find himself in the presence of someone who he could read easily, someone who didn’t make the world feel dizzier or more confusing than he’d always been trained to believe that it was. He could run circles around Endeavor without breaking a sweat, as long as he was mindful of the flames. But like this, Endeavor was tired and maybe a little bit sad. Hawks knew that he had problems at home and he’d heard whispers of the building plans for another house in which his wife and kids would someday live without him. He felt camaraderie in that, for a brief moment, before he finished chewing his food. Felt, momentarily, as though he could relate to a person who didn’t know what it felt like to love or be loved anymore.

But today wasn’t about being sad about that very specific thing. It wasn’t about wondering, too, who the Paranormal Liberation Front and maybe even just one specific member might have left behind in pursuit of what they believed in.

He reached across the table, pulling Endeavor’s drink towards him and taking a long sip. Endeavor eyed him, clear annoyance on his face, but neither of them spoke until he was done. The glass slid across the table wordlessly. Hawks had downed a good third of it, but Endeavor did nothing but grimace at it.

“Is that it?” Hawks asked then, tempted, momentarily, to rise and take his leave, but Endeavor stopped him with a lifted hand, a pressing stare, and he settled back into his seat dutifully.

“Stay,” Endeavor told him. “I’ll get us drinks.”

Like salarymen, maybe, taking a load off after a long day at work. Hawks hated that it was tempting and he hated that he gave in so easily to that temptation. But it felt normal then, felt like something that the average person might experience, when Endeavor ushered over an employee and ordered them a few rounds. Today must have been especially rough if Endeavor was willing to stave off that misery with another person, especially while looking like such hot dogshit, and Hawks filed that one away for later use. A later insult, or small tease, when he’d been liquored up enough that hopefully he could get away with it.

He stayed, maybe, because he’d always been curious about Endeavor, as a person who wore no masks and existed, presumably, as unpleasantly in his personal life as he did as a public figure. Hawks found himself compelled by a person who refused to be counterfeit, found himself beguiled by the idea that of all the personalities Todoroki Enji could have chosen to stick with, it was that particular one. If Hawks had ever been allowed to be a person, a real person with genuine thoughts and feelings that he voiced openly, he wasn’t sure what he’d choose, but it was fun, at times like this, to consider it. And it was curious, to think about what Endeavor might have done to that family of his to drive them away. To imagine himself as a person who was offered the world on a platter that way, and to still, somehow, find himself tossing it aside in favor of something else.

It was an unfair assessment, and he wondered if maybe the villains were impacting him more than he’d initially considered. He knew that Dabi, in particular, had a distaste for Endeavor that was as intense as it was inexplicable, and he resisted the urge to apologize for the many ways that Dabi’s opinions might have swayed him, especially, considering the circumstances, that he might not have been the most unbiased judge of whether or not he should give Dabi’s general contempt for heroes as much merit as he found that he actually, surprisingly, was.

But that was another thing that was hard, he supposed. Living between two very different worlds and refusing to be swayed in either direction completely. It was difficult to converse with Endeavor without thinking about what Dabi might say about it. It was hard to wear the hero costume and to pretend, for a while, that he was nothing but the average, run-of-the-mill hero after he’d spent so much time absorbing anecdote after anecdote about the true poison that heroism pumped into society. He felt pulled thin between both concepts—the idea that Hero society could be deeply flawed but still morally correct, still healthier and safer for the vast majority of people, and the idea that it allowed many vulnerable people to slip through the cracks, actively punished them for simply not being born under the right circumstances, and…

He never came to a proper conclusion. He decided, instead, to funnel that perpetual frustration into the drive to drink until he couldn’t think straight anymore.

They started with two beers, which felt like nothing but stale, disappointing water after the frankly impressive amount of booze that Hawks had managed to guzzle over the last few days. He downed his first drink swiftly, already itching for the blurry barely-coherence of drunkenness, desperate to get to a place where he wasn’t a traitor, he wasn’t a sorry excuse for a hero, and he definitely hadn’t been fighting shamefully lustful feelings for a certain fire-wielding villain for God-knows how long before he actually realized it earlier in the week.

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the evening yet or that Hawks probably should have checked in at work and let his staff know that he’d be taking the rest of the day off. It didn’t matter that he was desperately downing his drinks in order to shirk his responsibilities across from Endeavor who looked at him in surprise when he was finished a good five minutes before Endeavor managed to lift the small bottle in his massive hand to his lips. Nothing really mattered but the bottom line, Hawks thought, which sounded like something that the Hero Commission might have also told him once upon a time. And that was funny enough that he ordered another drink, and then two, and three, and soon enough he found himself barely sitting upright at the table as Endeavor nursed what seemed to be only his second or third bottle of beer.

“I didn’t realize you could drink so much,” Endeavor said quietly, his words edged with his usual distaste and disregard, but still, hilariously enough, somewhat impressed. 

“Don’ call me sloppy.”

“I didn’t.”

Hawks, face pressed in his crossed arms over the table, lifted his eyes through the fringe of his messy bangs and stared at Endeavor until his face began to materialize more clearly, until there were no longer three humming edges of three sour-faced pro heroes looking back down at him, but just the one who, unfortunately, would not disappear no matter how long he continued to will his gaze to focus.

 Endeavor took another swig of his beer, his expression staying relatively unchanged despite the small twitch at the corner of his lips that Hawks chalked up to his reaction to its stale flavor. Beer wasn’t particularly good, and Hawks had a lot of trouble believing that anyone actually enjoyed it more than they simply put up with it for the sake of getting drunk, but he didn’t say as much. He just watched Endeavor for a long moment as thoughts continued swirling around in his head—distant, disjointed images of his last few days and a few ghosts of sensation, the reminder of why he’d decided to come here in the first place and what he was running away from through the bottle sitting centimeters away from his elbow.

“Can I ask you something?”

Hawks was surprised, for a moment, that the voice asking this question was actually his own. But he knew that he had little control over his actions now, that if Endeavor did eventually want both of them to leave this place, he’d more than likely have to carry him out because his legs, he suspected, were not going to be willing to hold his own weight. Endeavor raised a single brow, dropping his hand and the bottle in his fist back down to the table. And it was funny, for a moment, to admire the way that it looked like some miniature prop in those mighty hands. And it was sad, in another way, to imagine that in a few months, those fists would be fighting off the league of new, secret allies that he’d made in the Paranormal Liberation Front, that maybe, somehow, Endeavor might even be the one to wrap those hands around Dabi’s narrow throat before activating that devastating finishing move of his.

He chased that thought away, sliding his gaze moodily to his half-filled saki bottle and wondering if he was strong enough to grab at it.

“What?” Endeavor barked, impatient.

Hawks smiled then, because he decided that he was supposed to. His lips curled up, catlike, as he fished a rubbery hand from the nest of his crossed arms and slid his gloved fingertips through the condensation on his bottle.

“I guess, uh… I wanted to ask… d’ya think it’s okay to do somethin’ that’s gonna make you happy even if, y’know… it hurts someone else?”

It was an odd question, and he felt stupid for asking it even as it left his lips, but Endeavor didn’t laugh at him and he didn’t call him an idiot, surprisingly. Hawks found himself after a long breadth of silence turning his eyes back to Endeavor’s face, watching, for a moment, the way that Endeavor studied him as though he could read him. As though he had any way of knowing or understanding what was going on with him right now.

“Hypothetically,” Hawks added, as though either of them believed him.

Endeavor scoffed, glancing back at the conveyor belt, watching the sushi sliding slowly by.

“You’re never going to get anywhere if you’re always worried about making someone else happy,” Endeavor told him then, his voice flat and distant and softened in a way that Hawks wasn’t sure that he’d ever heard before. “But I guess… If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you’d better make sure that you’re screwing over the right people. If you want something, just make sure that the people who you steal it from aren’t the same people that you care about.”

Then, he shoved up from the counter, his empty bottles clinking together, his plates rattling at the force of his weight pushed down on a surface that Hawks was amazed could even support him.

“Come on,” Endeavor told him, not soft or tender but frustrated, even more tired than before. “It’s time to go.”

Hawks’s mind was heavy when Endeavor situated himself, paid, and tugged him up from his seat to lead him out into the street. It was evening by the time that they took their leave, nightfall resting heavily over the roads and the passing crowds, street lamps glimmering like an endless trail of glitter that fed out into the distant connecting cities. It had rained at some point, just a little, while they were inside, and the black puddles in the gutters of the dark roads shimmered up to him a glossy, unfocused reflection of the world overhead. Cars lurched by, drawing slower around the looping corners of the inner city. Horns honked distantly and there was a thumping somewhere down the street from a bar that seemed to have started its night in full swing. Hawks allowed his eyes to trail the path from where he stood, propped against Endeavor’s overwarm, wide arm, to the faraway pinpoint where the city seemed to cave together and he could see nothing further along. He entertained, for a moment, a desire to trek that path and to keep walking until he found himself somewhere else. He felt an overwhelming desire to spread his wings and take flight, to vacate this town and this society and to nestle himself, instead, in a faraway place where he was untethered by politics or societal duties or anything else that might have perpetually dragged him down. But instead, he leaned against Endeavor’s unmoving body to steady himself and wondered if it would be too funny if he hailed a cab, if he took the train home for the evening when all passersby might have questioned why he didn’t just fly wherever he needed to go.

Because it’s not safe, he might have told them. If I aim for the freedom of the sky, I’ll make mistakes. Because if I’m given even an ounce of autonomy, I do the wrong thing.

Endeavor was a reliable and sturdy weight that kept him upright and grounded all at once. He didn’t speak even as Hawks began to chatter nonsensically to him about anything that drifted to the forefront of his mind: some comedy sketch that he’d caught the tail end of at work one late night, his new sidekicks, the weather. Anything that wasn’t the way that the light had played against the smooth edges of Dabi’s shiny staples, the almost luminous way that his turquoise eyes caught the sun and smothered it in the shadowed depths of them. The way that the world seemed to hit the brakes for a single long moment when Hawks found himself pinned close enough that he could feel the jitters of Dabi’s unobtrusive heat, the heat that felt comfortable and safe and like home, in a way that Hawks had never felt home in another person before.

He felt shamed then, by the desire that rested heavily in his heart. He felt, again, like a sham of a hero and a weak man, and a person who didn’t deserve even the kindness that Endeavor offered when he pretended that he didn’t hear Hawks’s rogue few drunk-sad sniffles. Maybe that was more for Endeavor’s sake than his, really. He didn’t get the sense that the guy was any good with emotions even on a good day, and today was definitely not one of those for either of them. And the hair just above Endeavor’s ears was graying, he realized, his eyes sharp and hyper-focused even in the dark outside. And that made him laugh, made the sound of it bubble out of him like air from boiling water. He laughed and his face felt damp and his sinuses were congested but tonight was beautiful and the relentless cold was gradually ebbing away. It was warm, with only the slightest bite of the receding winter chill. The sky was vast and open and dark, speckled with stars that he’d never be able to fly close enough to get a good enough look at. Not in the city. Not in his over-decorated apartment. Not in the cage where he lived no matter how far he tried to run away.

Endeavor cleared his throat awkwardly, checked his phone. They waited together for a time that felt uncomfortably long as Hawks’s laughter sobered. As he wondered, idly, guiltily, what Dabi might have been doing at just that moment.

If Dabi, somehow, might have been wondering the same thing about him.

A cab rolled up to the curb a few minutes later. Endeavor collected him and tucked him inside, rougher than he probably needed to, but Hawks supposed that it was payback for making the poor guy listen to his pathetic drunk crying. Endeavor stood tall enough in the doorway that Hawks couldn’t make out anything but the dark blob of his abdomen and his big hand on the door. He didn’t speak to Hawks then, looked, for a moment, like he might say something, but closed the door instead, rough and too loud, like he was at the threshold of aggravation that he could handle for one day. But Hawks couldn’t really be sure. Maybe Endeavor was always just like that. Maybe Hawks had been away for so long that he forgot what it felt like to interact with people whose nerves he could most successfully get on. Endeavor patted the roof of the cab twice before stepping back, not waving even as Hawks waved cartoonishly through the window before dropping himself to rest belly-down on the cab’s backseat. Endeavor’s image was cut away before the cab even rumbled to life. But that was okay, really. He found that he wanted to be alone more than anything right now and hopefully he’d get home soon. Hopefully he’d be able to fall asleep without tossing and turning and tomorrow would be, for once, a better day.

He listened to the humming of the passing world around him, the purring of the motor and the soft, lilting music through the speakers, the directions that the GPS announced to the driver. He struggled for a moment, procuring his phone from his pocket, unlocking the screen, and scrolling through his photos, his text log with no notifications. His stagnant conversation with a burner phone that Dabi had, once upon a time, used to communicate with him before he’d been accepted into the Paranormal Liberation Front.

Their conversations were brief and minimal and Hawks suspected, was certain of, even, that Dabi had probably destroyed the phone so long ago that he didn’t even have this evidence anymore. Hawks should have deleted the texts from his log as well, could do so now, maybe, but something stopped him. They weren’t special conversations by any means. They weren’t even substantial enough that he should have felt even the slightest inkling of embarrassment upon looking at them, but somehow, he was suddenly flooded, overfilled with a jittery, giddy sort of overstimulating wave that left him too hot and restless despite his drunkenness rendering him nearly immobile. Dabi, at one point, had asked if he was coming to a meeting. He’d said yes. They hadn’t carried on conversing further than that. At another point, he’d asked for confirmation about a meeting place. Dabi had sent him a vague description of the spot. He’d thanked him. They’d stopped talking.

It was funny, in a way, how interactions that had seemed so ordinary at the time felt charged now, compelled by some energy or force that he couldn’t really put a name to. But he wondered woefully if he’d started developing these feelings as long ago as back then, if maybe he’d been smitten from the start but he’d just been ill-equipped to recognize it. The first time that Dabi had spread his lips in a smile, a sneer, maybe, but something resembling a grin enough that he’d been sure it was as close as Dabi could get to real happiness—had his heart stuttered at that moment? Had he felt too warm and too clammy, too restless and too self-conscious to make a move? Had his heart always been a terrible, traitorous thing, or was this a new development, and where could he go now from here, now that he finally, belatedly realized it?

His sight, for a moment, focused back on the texts. He’d seen members of the Liberation Front dispose of their old electronics before. He knew that it was a customary practice, and that Dabi was careful. He wasn’t generally the kind of person who prized personal possessions over the necessity of secrecy. He felt strange, knowing that he could access this long-gone information and that Dabi, presumably, could not. The conversations weren’t racy or weird, but he wondered just how many people Dabi spoke to on a regular day, how many people he went out of his way to communicate with when he didn’t have to. How many potential PLF members he passed up before he met Hawks and if that meant anything. If Hawks was special to Dabi and why. If, even in the likely event that Dabi didn’t care about him in the way that Hawks so tragically cared about him, there might have still been a part of him that liked Hawks, as a person. And, of course, what about him was likable to a person like Dabi. What attributes he might have embodied that made him pleasant when so often, Dabi preferred to keep the world at a lengthy distance.

The text logs held no answers to those questions, as expected, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from them nonetheless.

There was no name logged for Dabi in his contacts and the phone number stared back at him silently. The car stalled in traffic, the music on the radio fading out as a long string of commercials began to play. The cab driver switched the station to something else. Hawks felt his stomach turning, felt his head growing lighter, his eyes, at the corners, warm and damp as he studied the few “yes” and “no” answers to his various questions in this conversation.

He was risking a lot of things when he admitted to himself that he felt more for Dabi than he was really allowed to feel. But maybe Endeavor was right. Maybe he wouldn’t ever get anything that he wanted if he spent all his time worrying about what was going to hurt anyone else, what was the best for society, what his responsibility was as a hero who never really wanted to be a hero at all. 

Endeavor could never know how he struggled now, how he felt sick and tired and overextended in the back of this cab, how he dreaded the moment when the car stopped in front of his building and he would be expected to get out and traverse the stairs upward and find himself, yet again, alone in his empty apartment: a museum, too, of everything that he owned just because he thought that he was supposed to. A space devoid of even the smallest shreds of humanity, a place vacant of any clue that it could have belonged to a man, Takami Keigo, and not a symbol, The Wing Hero Hawks. 

He told himself, once more, as the traffic budged and the driver began moving the car again, that tonight would be the night when he would finally put aside his childish feelings, when he rejected Endeavor’s advice, when he set out to finish the job that he’d been tasked with months ago. He’d be good, he’d live the life that was drawn out for him since the beginning. He’d forget about this immature crush, about his selfish desires, about everything that distracted him from the important job that the Hero Commission had assigned to him. 

But he just needed, for once, in some way, to be honest. He needed proof that he was a person with feelings and that he’d set those feelings aside. Proof, for just himself to keep, that at one point, the cage door was unlocked and opened and he’d chosen not to fly away.

He typed a hurried message and sent it. Dabi’s burner phone was more than likely shattered to pieces in a dumpster or a landfill somewhere miles away by now. Maybe it was buried underground, maybe he’d set it ablaze, but Hawks knew that he wouldn’t have kept it. He knew that it was too dangerous to maintain that channel of communication for too long. There was no risk involved in sending that text message, but he felt relief when he typed it. It felt like taking off his coat and gloves after a long day, washing his face, looking at his exhausted expression in the mirror and thinking to himself, ‘Finally, I’m done.’

‘I’m sorry that I’ve been weird,’ he wrote first, and he paused then, staring at the words, wondering why they looked so blurry and if he’d spelled everything correctly and if it even mattered at all. No one would see this but him. No one ever needed to know that he’d been silly enough to do this.

‘But every time I see you, I can’t stop thinking about how amazing it would be to kiss you.’

The cab slowed again. The driver made a comment about how crazy traffic was tonight, but Hawks answered him with little more than a quiet hum and a shudder of his wings, squeezed uncomfortably tight in a backseat that wasn’t nearly big enough to house them.

‘I know you probably don’t feel the same, and that’s okay. I’m not going to pursue you. But I like having you around. I like spending time together. I like knowing that you’re there.’

The world outside of the cab was a cacophony of impatient honking, bumping music, distant pedestrian chatter. A commercial for Detnerat played the beginning trills of its jingle over the radio. Hawks’s throat felt sour, sick. His stomach gurgled unhappily.

‘In another life, maybe, we could have been happy together, but I’m glad that I can know you now. And I’m sorry for being weird, or sloppy or whatever. I’m sorry that I can’t see your face without wanting to kiss you. I’m sorry that I can’t stop thinking about what it would feel like to—’

The car lurched to a sudden stop. The driver cursed, apologizing profusely, complaining again about traffic.

Hawks sent the message, holding his breath for a long moment as though by some horrible, cruel turn of fate, he might actually receive a response. But the text conversation stayed unmoving no matter how long he gazed at it, and he found himself flustered, suddenly, when he realized just how close he was, how close he’d come, to saying these things to the real Dabi.

Dabi would never know that he’d finished that text off with, “sleep with you”. He’d never know that Hawks had these feelings for him at all.

Hawks would move on and everything would be okay from now on.

But it felt nice, for a while, to be unburdened by feelings that he couldn’t express to a single other person in the world. It felt good to expel them from him, to push them out into the universe silently, invisibly, and to stop feeling, finally, like they were bubbling up restlessly inside of him, ready to explode. He hoisted himself up into a sitting position two stops away from his apartment. His head rested heavily against the seat as he watched the lights outside slipping through the streaks of rainwater on the windows. The driver came to a stop outside of his apartment soon after and Hawks collected himself, stood unsteadily on his feet, and paid the man before beginning the clumsy walk from the sidewalk into his building, to the elevator and down his hall. He felt ghost vibrations in his pocket as he went, stopping himself fully multiple times along the way, propping against a wall and checking his phone notifications as though Dabi could text him back, as though he’d call and they could talk. As though anything good could possibly come out of that.

As though life could be normal. As though things could actually work out for the best.

And he could stop, finally, feeling as though he’d committed a cardinal sin just because he’d been foolish enough to develop feelings for another person.

It was a nice dream, anyway. It was a thought that allowed him, for the first time in days, to toss himself into bed, wrap himself in his blankets, and sleep soundly through the night.

He’d even made a point of changing into his nice pajamas—the comfy silk ones that he’d kept for so long that the old red hue had faded into a dusty pink. But they felt like clouds against his skin, felt warm when he wore them long enough that often it felt nearly as good as lying in bed next to another organic body that he could steal the heat from. He presumed, as he faded into sleep, that Dabi would be warmer than this. That maybe it would feel like their bed was a kotatsu each time that he lifted the blankets and eased himself underneath. But he chased that thought away as soon as it occurred to him, promised himself that he’d stop thinking about things like that. That he would finally get over these feelings and go back to normal. That he was capable of being a good hero and putting his own feelings aside for the sake of an important job.

His buzz persisted and he felt lazy, lightheaded, and barely focused enough that it was easy to lull himself into a semi-comatose state of numb thoughtlessness. He stared up at the ceiling for a short period of time, studying the streaks of light through his curtains that broke apart the shadows. Everything was going to be okay, he told himself. From now on, things would be better and he would be better. 

These reassurances were enough for tonight, enough to allow him to drift off and dream of nothing. To feel hopeful, as he slipped into unconsciousness, that everything would be fine. He wouldn’t fuck up anymore. He wouldn’t be stupid or sloppy or reckless. 

He felt encouraged, soothed, and content.

 

Until the next morning, unfortunately, when he woke up to the sound of his cell phone vibrating and found, blinking on the screen, a new text notification from a number that used to belong to Dabi’s burner phone. 

 




The idea of comfort was shattered the moment he picked up his phone. A nice, slow morning full of new starts, new promises, and a refreshed outlook on how he’d hold himself in this world erased just like that when the screen lit up on his nightstand. Maybe some other time, far into the future when he’d be able to look back at these few seconds, he’d be jealous of the fleeting grogginess of just waking up, the gentle pull of his covers sliding against his pajamas and how unaware and pure he’d been before he recognized the number attached to the text.

There was something nice about being needed or wanted and being woken up because of it. A whisper of a reminder that someone was thinking about him at that very moment, that they felt compelled to contact him in the hopes that he’d reply so early. With his bed empty, this was the closest thing to intimacy that Hawks could expect and it didn’t often happen, not after he’d removed the notifications for emails and other non-essential phone numbers. Only a few were on alert: the commission, a few other top pro heroes, and then the opposite, a select group of villains that required swift reply in case he ever needed to book it out the door on short notice. In that way, before he’d fully woken up, Hawks had forgotten the slim few choices of who in his contacts could startle him awake. For just a small window of time, he’d rolled over, comfortable in the mess of blankets and pillows that had been shoved around drunkenly before he’d been knocked out last night. He’d reached for his phone—that he’d thankfully remembered to plug it in to charge—only to feel a deep, sinking dread as the unmarked number flashed up at him.

Long ago, before he became a pro hero himself, he’d learned the benefit of removing the actual text out of any notification. It was common practice now, especially for heroes, due to paparazzi taking any sliver of a chance to see who’d be on the other end of the message, and more importantly, what they were talking about. There were ways to eliminate the whole thing, just have an alert that stated a text or call had come through and no information displaying of the other person or what they wanted.

Hawks never bothered with that much privacy, and maybe it was for the best. This way, he knew who it was from, but he didn’t have to read it. This way, he wouldn’t have to open the app to see if it was from someone important or urgent. Hawks, with the blissful morning moment ruined and all of reality screaming at him to wake up even if he’d much rather crawl back in bed now, knew that what he’d sent last night had been somehow read. 

It didn’t make any sense. His logic was sound. It checked out with all the formalities that the PLF exercised to maintain secrecy. Even if he was plastered last night, he’d thought it all through, backed it up even with the knowledge that this number was actually the second he’d ever texted Dabi with. He knew that the first one, which only had one short exchange, was at the bottom of a lake or somewhere else where phones went to die at the hands of villains. It wouldn’t be unreasonable that the second one would have suffered a similar fate, especially since they hadn’t directly contacted each other with that number after Hawks was given clearance to HQ. There was no indication the number was even still active. 

It was supposed to be safe. It was supposed to be a cast-off of feelings, a sense of closure on that obsessive person he’d become so he could be reborn anew today. There wasn’t supposed to be a reply waiting for him, his phone heavy in his hands as he sat up and stared at it as though it could somehow lift him out of the grave that he’d willingly jumped into. 

Bad luck, perhaps, or even worse, a heavy streak of it. It didn’t feel like anything else, not with Dabi. Every single interaction, every small trip up, every stilted word that fumbled out of Hawks’s stupid mouth—all just chips off the larger rock currently being crushed under the heavy weight of existence. How much worse could it get? 

The question buzzed in the back of his mind like an annoying insect he kept slapping at, but always missed. It dipped back and forth as he’d purged his blankets and phone away. It flew in fat, lazy circles as he’d marched through his morning routine on auto-pilot, as he’d ignored another layered thought about how this was becoming too normal. Making a mistake, dragging himself home with his dignity wounded, attempting to drink it away and swear the next day would be different. He kept fucking it up. Stuck in his own circle of bullshit.

It only got louder the more he really considered the state of himself, the insistent hum in his ear as he walked past his phone to get dressed, annoyed that he even looked and annoyed that it had been flipped over face down, inaccessible, anyway. They’d contact him again if they really needed something. The PLF had never been shy about calling if something was urgent.

It was that realization which made it all a bit too loud now, too annoying to just ignore. No one else had tried to contact him, no emergency calls after he ignored the text. It meant it was only Dabi, for whatever reason he’d want to reply, instead of PLF activities. 

Maybe he was being weak by letting it sit there. Maybe if Hawks just worked up enough courage to look, the buzzing would go away. Maybe he’d stop feeling so out of sorts, so half who he was supposed to be and half someone he was confused by. Someone he wished he could be. The type of man that would face his issues head-on and make an effort to get what he wanted.

He sighed deeply, realized how idiotic he must look standing at the foot of his bed fully dressed, staring at a phone face down in his messy blankets for who knows how long. It was easier to just not think about these sorts of things, easier to just do a job and get a well done and move on to the next thing. Someone would find this all comical, and maybe Hawks would eventually as well, that one man, one villain, could crumble his resolve so easily that it brought him to this sorry state. The number two pro hero, terrified to read a text as if those words held the power to cement his future, like he had no say in the matter.

It shouldn’t have mattered what the message was; he’d promised himself last night that this would be the end of it. Sober Hawks owed it to Drunk Hawks to see this through.

With all the resolve of a skittish cat, he leaned over his messy bed to drag the phone closer to the edge. He awarded himself with a solid ten seconds of hesitation while he stood there before flipping it over in his jittery hands, promising that it would be the last lie to himself, that it was the lack of coffee and most certainly not something adjacent to the nerves of a high school girl waiting for her crush to answer her will you go to prom with me? note.

The screen lit up, the number bright and etched into his memory in a way that he’d never admit, and with finality, Hawk’s swiped it open.

 

was someone drinking last night

 

That was it. Nothing more. Not even a proper question mark at the end. No indication or even hint of impact of what Hawks poured into words, sad and lonely in the back of a taxi many hours ago, only the guess that he’d been intoxicated during.

The conglomerate taste of all he drank previously came back, stale and unpleasant and regretful despite his freshly brushed teeth. It dragged up through his body like an unwelcome burp, threatened to expel what surely would only amount to dry heaving atop his blanket and phone. He should’ve known better, should’ve ignored it like his gut was telling him to do despite the flips and flops it tricked his heart into considering. He should have just deleted it without reading, played it off like he had no idea what Dabi was talking about if he ever dared to bring it up. Like the text never arrived in the first place. Like his phone, which had never not received something someone sent, messed up just this once.

At the very least, Hawks knew he shouldn’t have opened it now . The day was ruined, and it wasn’t something he really had any control over after the fact. Now that the deed was done, it was hard to imagine a future where he’d never looked at it and somehow didn’t obsess over it. Said fantasy Hawks would go on to attend another meeting at HQ, would sweep the whole thing under a rug, quietly and respectfully distance himself from Dabi, and continue forward with the mission and lonely nights and too much time to think about things he wanted but couldn’t have. Everything would go back to normal and Hawks could stop being like this .

He pushed the breath of air he’d been holding out, pocketed his phone without another glance, and scrubbed wearily at his tired eyes. This was how all of this kept happening. This destructive cycle of self-realization and good-hearted intention and utter failure at following through the next time he woke up. It was pitiful at this point, at how many iterations it had already been, at the fact that he was a pro hero and couldn’t get enough traction to get his shit together for more than a few hours before it just went back to the same thing again. He was doing it to himself—and for what? Just another excuse to drink again that same night, to declare that the next day would be different, to hope that somehow he’d finally get it and break out of this heartbroken wheel of torment?

He’d never considered himself to be so spineless, to be such a bad example of a person, let alone a hero. Why wasn’t he mad at himself for not keeping his own promises? From now on, things would be better and he would be better.

Hawks lied to himself as he left his messy bed and headed for his front door, told himself when the corners of his eyes had become damp and he had to flick the tears away that it was just exhaustion and stress, just overthinking and not thinking enough. A fleeting moment of weakness, one that heroes didn’t allow themselves often, alone before he headed out to somewhere, anywhere that wasn’t the suffocating, immaculate apartment that seemed like it had everything anyone would need or want to be happy.

For once in a dizzying amount of days, he didn’t have anywhere to go. No specific commission updates, no PLF meetings. He could visit the agency, but there wasn’t much need; they’d contact like they always did if they needed him. No one needed Hawks right now and the sensation felt strange. It felt exciting and scary all at once, like he was a kid that stayed home from school for being ‘sick’ when he just wanted to play video games all day. He found that he didn’t have a sense of what to do with the temporary false freedom, without someone giving him orders and schedules. 

Without registering it, Hawks had traversed the stairwell up to his apartment’s roof, had been standing there in the wind for some time as he contemplated just what people did when they managed to obtain the rare occasional free time. Errands or pleasure seemed to be popular choices, ones that he usually combined in order to cloak the fact that he was actually working, but today wasn’t like last night. Today could be just for him, he realized, and Hawks allowed a small spark of hope to burn in the light of the promises he didn’t want to fail to keep. Maybe he could distract himself enough, run off his energy so he couldn’t even think about the text on his phone. Maybe today he couldn’t fix everything, but it could be a start. Something was better than nothing, even if he couldn’t make out that something while standing on the edge of his building and peering out toward the expanse of the sky.

And so he flew. He’d jumped from the ledge, beat his wings in a way that suggested he didn’t have to think about the action at all and set off with no destination in mind other than away from here. He knew, as the fact was always there in the back of his mind, that an invisible leash dangled through the air and never quite caught on anything to allow the change of it snapping off. It followed no matter where he went, no matter how high or how close he drifted between buildings and trees, expanded in length indefinitely even as he tried to test it to its furthest reaches. But in these small moments, in the precious seconds that the wind pressed his hair back and coasted through every feather, when he could surge himself so high above that everyone just looked like dots, Hawks liked to forget any ties he had to all that made up his current life. To just exist alone, to not have to think of anything else. To sometimes pretend he wasn’t the person that he had to be.

He’d never speak of it out loud, but there was something adjacent to that freeing feeling when his eyes landed on Dabi, something dangerous and bright. He wanted to know if those lips would feel like the leash the commission held tight to him breaking, if those threatening fingers carding through his hair would send shivers down his spine like the wind brushing against his scalp. If they did, it would only be that much harder to let go. That was why it would never be safe to find out.

He needed a distraction now, the momentary freedom starting to deteriorate the more his mind wandered to topics he was trying to run away from. Hawks dipped further down, closer until he was able to read advertisement signs and business names and decided on a random konbini he was less familiar with, a chain that didn’t have many locations close to where he lived. Wherever he was, it wasn’t as dense or bustling with people. On a normal day, if he’d landed at a storefront around this time, civilians and fans would bombard him with handshake requests or signatures or pictures and Hawks would nod along and play nice until the crowd was satisfied. Today, as he landed with a small gust of air and flutter of wings, no one was there to annoy him or ask for any of his time, not even the old man down the street sweeping had given him a glance.

It felt good, in a strange way, as he crossed in front of the sensors and the comforting whoosh of the sliding glass doors welcomed him in. That extra tension that would build between his shoulders when asked to perform wasn’t there. The even, plastered-on, care-free smile wasn’t expected of him as the employee nodded toward him and mumbled a standard afternoon greeting, offering only a second or so of eye contact before going back to their magazine. If they knew who he was, and frankly, it was probably harder to not know of him. They simply didn’t care enough to bother him about it. It felt so nice to not matter in this tiny store’s world that he found himself genuinely smiling as he offered a short wave and headed towards the back to the drink coolers. 

Hawks perused the row of offered drinks, tugged off his glasses to sit them in his unruly, wind-swept hair, and rubbed at his chin as he pretended that he didn’t already know what he was going to get. All of the brands were familiar at this point, nearly registered in memory just by font and color, but he was in no rush and so he wasted a good few minutes just staring at everything, trying to decide if he should be bold enough today to attempt a different brand of canned coffee or stick to his usual. 

He pulled the cooler open and reached for his normal go-to, but decided at the very last second to pivot to a brand he’d never tried. He plucked it from the chilled shelf before he could second guess himself and slide back to his old ways. It was silly, really, to get a rush of excitement just from something as small as this, to feel anything at all from holding a frosty can that wasn’t distinctly yellow, but he refused to feel foolish for it. If this helped him shake out of whatever twined mess he’d wandered into these past few days, then so be it. At least he hadn’t reached for the alcohol selection.

He’d flitted through the remaining aisles without much purpose, grabbed a prepackaged bun after his stomach made him aware that he’d rushed out of his apartment without any thought to breakfast, and landed in front of the cashier, still unsure if what he’d gathered was enough for whatever journey he was on today. His gaze had naturally drifted to where a glassed food warmer would normally sit, full of delectable choices of skewered teriyaki chicken and fried, breaded greasy cutlets and boxes of flavored nuggets, but instead found nothing but more prepackaged rolls and sweets. He took it as a sign that he didn’t need to consume that type of food for whatever meal this was he’d be purchasing, but a small part of him missed the homey feel of his neighborhood konbini’s heat lamp choices of meats. 

When he shuffled closer to place his items on the counter with a warm grin, the shelf behind the clerks head had caught his eye. Rows and rows stacked together, much like the parallel drink coolers, but stashed with cigarettes instead. These were much less familiar to Hawks—never one to learn brand preferences on this topic—but a small cluster of them seemed to itch at his memory while his items were rung through. The red circle against white would have been enough to steal anyone’s gaze away, but it was something more that tugged at him to stare, to squint and lean forward as he silently read the name for some clue. It was sort of like a bullseye, encased in a ring of green, the name almost ironic in a taunting way that Hawks couldn’t pinpoint until…

The half crumpled pack Dabi had produced once before—a small detail that would have never mattered other than in this exact situation. What he’d been staring at was the same pack that Dabi smoked. A wave of deep, longing sadness might have crashed over him if he’d been alone instead of standing frozen in a random town’s convenience store.

“Sir? Sir, will that be all? Ah—I must be in the way, are you looking for a specific type?” The cashier shifted to the side before Hawks could make up some excuse, smiling and waiting for him to blurt out his selection of cigarettes that he hadn’t been planning on buying.

He should have waved her back at that moment, made some excuse that the design had caught his eye and that was all. But he didn’t, because the memory that was unfortunately etched in his mind fizzled back to the forefront. Hawks owed him still, the reason lost somewhere and unattainable now, but the task still remained. If he arrived back at the headquarters without it, he was sure it wouldn’t matter. Even now, he wasn’t certain that Dabi was being serious back then, but the urge still rapidly tugged at him.

Everything could be finalized if he did this. He could pay what was due and walk away, never need another reason to follow Dabi out to the front steps once again like a wandering lost dog. From then on, there wouldn’t be a reason they’d need to be together, other than in a conference room for a PLF meeting or the random, rare chance they’d have to sync up for a side mission. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was enough of an opening to rightfully step away like he needed to.

“Sorry, my fault, you weren’t in the way! My friend told me about this brand, so I wanted to try it. Can you add one pack of regular Lucky Strikes? That will be it for me.”

Maybe, if Hawks hadn’t already struck out so many times, he’d have hope that this could be a sign for something better to come, but he knew better now than to let his heart reach for unlikely scenarios. He knew better, too, than to drink his nights away and let himself drown in sappy love songs. He knew that there just wasn’t any more time to waste on people that caused him to be destructive and question with such scrutiny all he’d done to become what he was now.

 He paid and left, found a bench in a park he’d never been to before, and ate alone. He watched the wind shake tree limbs around as the pack of cigarettes laid heavy, waiting, inside his jacket pocket. The coffee was good, maybe better than what he was used to, but it was hard to tell if it was the flavor itself, or just the fact that it was different and new. He’d probably go back to his regular brand. Comfort in the familiar trumped the risk of setting off on a different path, especially when he wouldn’t be able to tell if it would be better for him or not in the end.

He stayed stationed alone on that bench until everything was all gone, until he could tell the sun had moved in the sky, the wind dipped noticeably chiller than it had been. It felt wasteful in a way, mourning something that never existed in the first place, realizing that he’d maybe been doing this all along but hid it between moments of letting himself get too carried away. 

By the time he stood to stretch and leave, it was late, and he offered himself a single glance at his phone to check the time. Again, nothing more was there, nothing but the calendar notification of his meeting at HQ tomorrow, the hours he had left to himself counting down automatically. 

He flew home not completely whole and himself, but far better than the man he’d woken up as in the morning. He skipped his favorite fried chicken take out for soba, filled a never-used glass from his kitchen cabinet full with water and let himself stand in the shower for a reasonable average amount of time instead of floating aimlessly in his bath of sorrows. He’d picked up his scattered used pajamas and chucked them in the laundry bin, ripped his used sheets off and dug in his closet for a clean set. He’d laid himself down then, frighteningly sober but with almost the same strength and motivation he’d felt the night before in that taxi.

The pack of cigarettes laid next to his phone on his nightstand, a reminder of what had to be done, a small beacon that stopped him from opening the text he was still too weak to just delete. He’d given himself a day off, unplanned but apparently much-needed, and it would have to be enough. Tomorrow was it.

He drifted off just as quickly as he had every night before, but this time his dreams were filled with torches of blue and scattered, tangled red wings. They danced together in a whirlwind, sharp and blazing, filling the sky together in an inconceivable pattern until each feather became engulfed in radiant fire and burned to nothing, their ashes trickling back toward the earth. 

 


 

Hawks traced the indent of the cigarette carton in his coat pocket.

He found his fingers creeping to that spot throughout the morning as he tended to his daily routine and readied himself for the flight out to Deika City for a scheduled early morning meeting with the Paranormal Liberation Front. The carton, a hard pack wrapped in shiny plastic that protected the colorful label underneath, was a comfort to feel there in some ways, but a cross that he bore regrettably in others. It reminded him somewhat of the way that a child might be tempted to put their fingers over a dancing, white flame stationed tantalizingly in front of them, sprouted from the wick in a candle, but he found that he didn’t like that metaphor much. He found that, instead, it was easier to ignore the way that he felt inside when his fingers pressed the sharp corners of the cardboard. He shoved any thoughts that he might have had on the matter out of his head altogether. It didn’t really matter why he couldn’t stop fretting over the stupid thing, why he needed to check once, then again half an hour later, then again as he locked his door behind him, and yet again before he kicked off from the ground and took flight out into the open sky high above his apartment building. It didn’t matter that the stabbing of the carton against his side when he pressed his arms flat against himself to dive deeper into the air reminded him, again and again, of why he’d bought them and what he planned to do with them later today.

Nothing really mattered but not crashing, not barreling head-on into any too-clean windows or stray billboards that might have been colored too similarly to the ash-gray sky. It didn’t matter that for the first time in days, the morning was dark and monochrome and restless or that he could hear the beginning rumbles of thunder far off in the distance. He outflew the storm as he outflew many things in his life, as he planned, eventually, to outfly the predicament that he’d unwittingly shoved himself directly into with Dabi. 

It ended today, and that was that. The fact that he’d seriously sent Dabi that horrible, humiliatingly needy paragraph of a text was of little consequence. Dabi could and more than likely would continue to assume that it had been a drunken, sloppy blunder. Hawks wouldn’t talk about it. They’d move on. In a few months’ time, they’d find themselves on opposite sides of a war that would inevitably end with Dabi handcuffed and subsequently incarcerated. And that would be the end of any inkling of emotions that he’d so foolishly allowed himself to feel. 

The flight was calming, grounding in a funny sort of way. The air was dewy and heavy in the early morning and the sky around him was dark and gray and cloudy. It wasn’t the sort of atmosphere that would regularly make for good flying, but he enjoyed it because it stood between him and the following day. Because, for a while, he could imagine that he wasn’t himself, going to the places where he was fated to go, being that person who he’d been predestined to be since before he could have made that decision for himself. 

But it, of course, eventually ended. He drifted to the concrete landing just in front of the Liberation Front’s doors. He brushed himself off and fidgeted about, readjusting his clothing and tugging his gloved fingers through his knotted hair and checked, once again, to make sure that the carton of cigarettes hadn’t fallen out of his pocket during his flight. They were just where they belonged, tucked in the same place. His fingers rested over the corner, his breath somewhat labored from his trip from Fukuoka to Deika City, his chest tight and his heart feeling too heavy and overfilled with forbidden emotions that he refused, still, to address. He folded up everything that he felt jittering restlessly inside of him and tucked it somewhere else. In the back of his mind, out of his conscience. He banished his silly emotions to a file marked “later” that he’d never get to, he knew. They’d collect dust there and become buried underneath every new and horrible mistake that he’d make in the future, smothered, eventually, under so many regrets that he’d forget all about them someday. And he would die like this, in denial, still flying faster and faster to outrun everything that he wasn’t at liberty to feel, to think, to waste his time lamenting.

He told himself, ‘You are a machine. You have been programmed to do a specific, special task. You are strong enough to do this because you’re Hawks. You’re too fast for your own good, you’re too good to fail. You don’t have feelings that can get hurt. You don’t have wants and needs and desires that deviate from the task at hand. You’re not a person, you’re a soldier. You aren’t more important than what you’ve been ordered to do.’

It helped sometimes, to remind himself of that old memorized mantra. He told himself that it helped this time too.

It didn’t really matter if it actually did or not.

He sighed, tugging his hand from his pocket. His wings folded and tucked against his back. He took the first few steps forward, over the threshold of the footpath towards the building. Another rumble of thunder purred in the faraway sky. Hawks found his eyes, for a moment, pinned between the fluffy, dark clouds, imagining weakly for a split second that he was still somewhere out there, flying. Away, maybe. From all of this. That perhaps yesterday he’d kept going and going until the leash around his neck had snapped or strangled him. But he shook that thought off too, dipped his head lower, and continued to toe the path to the wide, glass entryway doors. 

There was no one outside, thankfully, as he ushered himself in. The halls just beyond the doors were devoid of passersby sans the regular staff of secretaries and office workers that he often witnessed going about their business as though this whole building wasn’t a front for the PLF’s various nefarious plots. They always seemed like nothing but actors who were cast to simply play the role of legitimate employees, more than they could have possibly believed it to be true. He didn’t actually know for certain if any of them were aware of the more insidious facets of Yotsubashi’s company. He’d never had the opportunity to question any of these people about it, away from the watchful eyes of fellow members or out of earshot of whoever must have listened to him through the cameras and sensors that had been fastened between the feathers in his wings.

He understood that Detnerat still functioned separately from the Liberation Front, of course, but it was difficult to imagine Yotsubashi as any semblance of a ruler as Hawks had seen him behave over the last several months that he’d been involved with the Liberation Front. Anymore, he was nothing but a sniveling sycophant who seemed determined to kiss the ground in every direction that Shigaraki walked. But at one point, Hawks supposed, as he greeted a few of the smiling office ladies and made his way to the private sector of the building, he was actually a formidable enemy. He was a person, once upon a time, who the then-League of Villains had been forced to face off against in order to earn the illustrious titles that they now held.

This happened, he knew, at some time just after he’d begun working to win his way into their good graces. The biggest threat to the League, it seemed, had never been other villains, had never even been infamously dangerous heroes like All Might or Endeavor, but had been, inevitably, one single man who dared parade around as their friend.

That thought should have reassured him as he entered the elevator and clicked the button for the appropriate floor. It should have made him feel better about what he planned to do and where his life was determined to go after this meeting. But it didn’t and he wouldn’t let himself consider why. He didn’t dwell on the fact that his stomach felt like an empty pit or that his chest felt like it might cave in, or that his eyes hadn’t stopped feeling just a little bit damp at the corners since he curled himself up in bed and dozed off two nights ago. These facts, these emotions, these mistakes, they meant very little. He was a statue of a person—not Hawks, the man, ever again, but eternally, from then on, just the symbol. He had no use for a weak heart that longed after all the wrong people. He had no purpose in feeling anything if his feelings were always wrong.

The elevator doors skidded open again. He stepped out into a busier hall, swallowing deeply and dragging in a sharp breath, planting on a big smile when he spotted Twice pestering one of the random Liberation members some many yards away. Twice waved, Hawks waved back. He squared his shoulders and beelined into the meeting room, determined to find himself a seat in a more populated area, where hopefully other members would sit close enough to him that any stragglers arriving late would be forced to find themselves another spot, far away from him. 

Trumpet and Skeptic were sitting a few spots away, chatting idly with one another in the dimly lit meeting room as Gigantomachia snoozed, curled inward on himself, in the far corner. His snores reverberated along the walls, rattling in the long-stemmed bulb lights high above, shaking the chair that Hawks tucked himself into and feeling as though it filled every inch of him like electricity that hummed through his bones. Hawks pulled out his phone, flipping through a few upcoming events in his schedule, nudging around various plans with less strict timelines and wondering if he could afford another day off any time before this whole villain thing went south. He imagined that he’d need some time to prepare himself, a few days off to stave his acceptance of what could practically be the apocalypse of modern hero-run Japan, with more fruity alcoholic drinks and maybe a few choice pornos on that big flatscreen that he barely got a chance to use. Maybe he’d throw a party in that big apartment of his. He’d fill it wall-to-wall with living bodies who could appreciate his tasteful decor and find some meaning in the oversized, lonely space that it had been before the villains killed him for betraying them or the Commission decided to punish him for the crimes that he committed during his time working here, or any number of foreboding hypotheticals that could unfold eventually, that he catastrophized in his head as he continued idly tapping the different highlighted sections in his calendar.

It didn’t look like this month could offer him much wiggle room for a day off, but midway through next month… that was cutting it a little close, he supposed, but it was better than nothing. He bit the inside of his lip, distracting himself with almost complete success as he continued fiddling with his calendar app, until, eventually, the room around him filled with other bodies and he realized that the meeting was almost ready to start.

Guiltily, he flicked his eyes around the auditorium-style room. The desk had been moved out for this meeting to accommodate a larger crowd, as it seemed that Yotsubashi and Shigaraki had invited even some of the lower-tier members that often weren’t given the honor of receiving intel from the bosses themselves. There were a lot of unfamiliar faces and a lot of faces that he didn’t have names to connect them to. He found Toga and Twice tucked close together near the door, Spinner and Compress just a few seats away, flanked by Geten and a couple of fish-eyed, madly-grinning gentlemen who were speckled with an assortment of body mods that sparkled in the light from overhead. He recognized those two, vaguely, as soldiers under Dabi’s command, and while his eyes jumped from face to face in search of something , he didn’t allow himself to admit what that something might have been.

 There were only a few empty seats left once it seemed that the majority of the crowd from the hall had filed in and claimed their stations for the meeting. Perhaps most of these extras chairs were left there solely because whoever had organized the room didn’t feel like counting to the exact number, but no matter how many times Hawks skimmed the crowd around him, he couldn’t spot the specific face that he knew, deep down, he was actually interested in seeing.

Shigaraki dragged himself in moments later, followed by a few more men who bowed before sitting themselves in the first available seats that they could find. No one seemed to notice that they were a lieutenant short. No one stopped to mention the absence of a single important member of the high-ranking party as Shigaraki cleared his throat and ushered Yotsubashi up to help him present whatever subject they were covering in today’s meeting. No one paused to ponder why it seemed unimportant that one of the original surviving members of the once-League of Villains was suddenly, strangely, not present.

Hawks found himself sitting straighter in his seat, craning his neck around as though he could have missed a face like Dabi’s even if he tried. Shigaraki gave a short, tired, half-inspired speech before he excused himself to a chair and Yotsubashi resumed the meeting in his place. Hawks forced his eyes to plant firmly on Yotsubashi’s false smile and his animated hand gestures and convinced his mind that paying attention to the words coming out of his mouth was the only thing that actually mattered today. The information that Yotsubashi gave them wasn’t new by any means, but Hawks supposed that many of the low-ranking members were probably hearing it for the first time.

This was the sort of stuff that had been discussed in length in the private meetings between only the most trusted members of Shigaraki’s cabinet, meetings that Hawks was often not invited to either, but sometimes granted the privilege of sitting in on. But these subjects were things that Twice had asked him about when they spent time alone together afterward, subjects that he’d done his best to explain to Twice in layman’s terms while privately digesting every fact that Twice accidentally let slip to him without understanding what a risk it was to leak it. These were battle plans, Hawks remembered. Yotsubashi was discussing how, eventually, they would murder the top heroes in cold blood, how in time, they would usurp the ruling powers and claim a throne that they’d carved out for themselves over all of Japan, and someday, maybe, all hero society and the rest of the universe if they could.

The end of the world was fast-approaching and Hawks felt silly and stupid and small for worrying about Dabi. For finding himself, again, ghosting his fingers over the outline of the cigarette carton in his pocket, thinking ruefully about a day months from now when eventually, it wouldn’t matter if he ever got over the feelings that he had for a villain because that villain would never live long enough to outlast his lofty prison sentence.

Yotsubashi continued his speech and Hawks decided, eventually, that it was safe to zone out again. He caught a few tidbits of information each time that he remembered to pay attention, but nothing new seemed to be on the table today. Maybe Dabi hadn’t shown up because he’d attended the meetings regularly where they planned these sorts of things. He’d helped organize how, when, and where they would eventually bring in the lackeys and divulge this information to them as well, which specifics they were privy to, and how much they really needed to understand. So it wasn’t like he needed to be present when they actually did it. More than anything, the high-ranking members being here was more of a sign of respect. An illusion, maybe, of equal-footing when it was so obvious that some members of this group were entitled to information sooner than others, were owed explanations and opinions on their goals and undertakings when other men were simply expected to follow these orders dutifully.

It shouldn’t have surprised him that Dabi would skip a meeting like this. It wasn’t weird to him, as someone who more or less knew Dabi and understood how he thought and how he generally behaved, to think that he’d find a meeting that only existed to fill in the foot-soldiers to be a waste of his time. Especially—Hawks couldn’t help but smile sardonically at the thought—if showing up was literally just a gesture that would illustrate to the general populace of the Liberation Front just how much respect he had for the people who worked under him.

Dabi wasn’t a person who valued respect above much of anything, really. If anything, maybe he’d elected to play hooky during the meeting solely to exemplify to everyone just how little respect he had for every soldier who served beneath him.

Hawks listened to the droning of the meeting only as much as he absolutely needed to. He flipped through his phone discreetly, tucked between the folds of his coat and his wings, shoved around him in his seat, and hoped that no one was paying close enough attention to him to notice. His thoughts were jumbled and distant and strange, never hesitating on one subject for longer than a few seconds before he distracted himself with something else. It reminded him, somewhat, of that myth about hummingbirds that he’d read in a magazine years ago, how they’d die if they weren’t in constant motion. While that might not have been true for the birds themselves, he felt the threat expanding inside of him that perhaps it could have been true for him. He could ruin his entire day, all of his carefully-laid plans and purest intentions, if he allowed his mind to halt and rest and ebb naturally towards the subject that he knew he wanted to ponder the most.

A subject that, when his eyes swept the room again and they stopped abruptly at the door, he found standing awkwardly just by the entrance, studying the meeting as though he might have been nothing but a lost college student who walked in on the wrong class.

The meeting didn’t pause for Dabi’s sudden appearance and no one seemed to address that he’d arrived a solid half an hour late. Yotsubashi continued speaking, Hawks found his eyes planted on Dabi’s glinting staples under the dim overhead lights. When Dabi turned those hooded eyes towards him and his lips curled up in that same handsome, captivating smile, Hawks jerked his gaze away, shuffling uncomfortably in his seat and refusing to pull his attention away from his turned-off phone screen for the remaining duration of the meeting.

He could feel Dabi’s eyes on him, but he told himself that he was just imagining it. When the meeting let out eventually, Hawks lingered in his seat for a long moment, hoping that history would repeat itself, that Dabi would be the first to leave, that he’d abandon whatever desires he might have had of talking to Hawks about the weird text that he’d received yesterday morning in favor of not sticking around to speak with other members of the Liberation Front for too long. Hawks would be free then to continue pretending that he didn’t exist until he finally got a firmer handle on the horrible things that Dabi made him feel. That was his fantasy, at least, as he sat patiently, twitchy in his seat, and watched the crowd around him rising from their chairs and filing gradually out of the auditorium.

The coast was clear fairly quickly. Shigaraki seemed to be the only person remaining in the room when Hawks looked up again. He was chatting quietly with the giant monster that loomed over all of their meetings, cooing at it like a person might talk to their beloved pet dog, oddly at ease when its massive hands extended downward to ghost against his sides in ways that made Hawks’s skin crawl.

He shook his head, decided that the time to unpack all of that was never, and rose from his seat, winding through the labyrinth of chairs towards the door.

As he stepped out into the hall, he was relieved to find that the crowd from the auditorium had thinned out as he’d lingered inside. There were only a few small groups left near the opposite end of the corridor where he was planning to take his leave, just Yotsubashi and his trusted Meta Liberation Army cabinet, some lackeys further away, some faces that he didn’t quite recognize more than they felt like they belonged among the crowds. He turned in the opposite direction, keen on slipping through the halls and finding the elevator, sneaking down to the ground floor and taking his leave for the day. He didn’t have any other business being here beyond this meeting and he’d shown his face, he could go back to work, and he could resume the more normal aspects of his life as a hero until he was expected to put on the villain mask once again.

But, of course, nothing was ever that easy. Nothing was ever simple when villains were involved, specifically, one particular villain. He jumped then, clamping his jaw hard in an attempt to cage the startled sound that threatened to escape him as a hand dropped firmly on his shoulder.

He swiveled around. He was greeted, of course, by the shining blue eyes of a person who stood less than a head taller than him—the patchwork smile tugging at the staples embedded along his jaw, that oil-dark hair fallen over ivory skin and casting deep shadows over the high apples of his cheeks.

Dabi tipped his head to the side, lifting his hand almost as quickly as he placed it on Hawks’s shoulder. He shoved it in his pocket then, easing off a little. His sharp eyes flicked from Hawks’s face to the distant, thinning groups of PLF members. His smile bowed and flattened out, and he said then, “I think we need to have a little chat.”

Hawks balked. His brain took a moment to reboot as his synapsis fired off in blind directions and connected to nothing. His thoughts were severed and stupid and slow, as he caught himself admiring the soft cut of Dabi’s jaw and the beautiful way that the light bent in the deep pools of his eyes. How he exuded an energy that Hawks couldn’t put a name to but wanted to feel, raw, under his fingertips.

His hand bumped the sharp corner of the cigarette carton in his pocket. This jump-started his brain, belatedly. He grabbed it and tugged it out in a motion so smooth that he felt momentarily as though he’d reconnected to the old Hawks—the one who was fast and clever and always in control, the one who didn’t make mistakes. The one who knew what he was doing and never allowed his feelings to get in the way of anything.

And he shoved it hard into the center of Dabi’s chest, ignored the feeling of warm skin pressing to his knuckles, ignored the shocked expression that Dabi’s pretty face molded into, and said, too loud, too weird, too out of character, “Here! I paid you back! There you go, thanks for the cigarettes, see you later!”

And then, as quickly as he could, he bounded away.

It wasn’t graceful. Frankly, it was completely humiliating. But it still got the job done, he supposed, even as his face burned with shameful color. Even as his pulse ricocheted in his veins. 

Even as he took flight the moment he stepped outside and didn’t look back, didn’t allow his mind to linger back in the building, in the hall with Dabi, who was surely so dumbstruck that he hadn’t moved an inch from where Hawks left him with those cigarettes.

It was for the best.

He’d succeeded, for once, when it mattered.

This was the beginning of something good, something better.

He’d forget about Dabi now, redeem his character in his own eyes.

Everything, from now on, would be perfectly fine.

 


 

“Hey, boss, you doing okay?”

Hawks lifted his eyes from his phone, a terse smile spreading taut over his lips as he regarded his sidekick just a few feet away. He cleared his throat, shoving his phone back into his coat pocket and scratching bashfully at the back of his head, acting every bit as flustered as he supposed that he should have felt, if his chest was capable of offering him sensations that weren’t just a strange, empty sort of ache.

He laughed then, lightly. His wings shuddered as the feathers were picked through by the fingers of the damp, heavy breeze. His sidekick’s narrow pupils stayed pinned on him through the shadows cast over his eyes in his mask. He was an earnest person, Hawks knew from the fleeting encounters that he’d had with the man, honest and hopeful that someday he would garner enough experience at Hawks’s agency to make it big on his own as another recognizable bird-themed hero.

Hawks felt pity for him sometimes, as he often felt pity for the people who aspired to be anything like him. He couldn’t have known what this sort of talent encompassed, that it wasn’t normal for a person to be as fast or skilled or zeroed in on each of their goals as Hawks had always been without an external push. He felt regret, too, that the image this man must have had of him was nothing but a reflection of his own aspirations, that under the glass the foundation of the mirror had been warped. That with enough prodding, he knew, the facade would fall away and none of his staff at the agency would ever dare admire the person that he really was.

But that guilt was the guilt carried by the old Hawks, he reminded himself. The new Hawks didn’t feel anything. The new Hawks, he knew, was a conglomeration of the Symbol and the Man, a combination that all but smothered any petty, intrusive emotions that had at one point dragged him down. Hawks, a combination of traits that could successfully emulate real human feeling, flipped a stray strand of his hair out of his face and allowed his lips to spread wider in a more convincing smile.

“Sorry,” he said then, his words perfectly enunciated and weighed down with the proper amount of light, inconsequential self-consciousness. He drew his eyes over the crowds underfoot, far down from the building top where he and his sidekicks were perched. “I didn’t eat breakfast today! I guess I’m too hungry to focus.”

His sidekick stared at him for a long moment before shrugging his shoulders and turning to his peer. The two of them exchanged a look that Hawks elected to ignore in favor of the dotting of pedestrians that loped slowly over the sidewalks, the flashing lights of crosswalks and storefront signs and the general dreariness that pervaded the day. It still hadn’t committed to raining, not when he’d finally made it back to his agency and not during the three hours that had passed since he’d resumed his regular work. He allowed himself to study the dark clouds that obscured the sun, the sullen gray of the sky hidden somewhere behind them, and to wonder if it would be okay to call it an early day if the storms finally released and rendered flight too dangerous to undertake.

It wasn’t likely, he supposed. He’d fought crime in worse conditions than a little rain. But it was a nice fantasy nonetheless, as he reminded himself, again, of the achingly few amount of days that were open for another well-deserved break in his calendar.

“We should get lunch,” he said. “Oyakodon sounds good today. It’s nice to eat something comforting when the weather is bad, right?”

His sidekicks seemed unconvinced, which was evident by the slack-jawed, low-shouldered stances that they took as they watched him shove up from his crouched position and brush himself off, but they agreed anyway. He wasn’t surprised, really, knew that the two of them would surely go along with any of his whims no matter how inane, especially when he was acting so out of character. They seemed concerned, but he refused to give them any opportunity to voice that concern. He wasn’t a fragile person who needed to be looked after. He wasn’t scared or hurting or vulnerable in ways that had been punishable back when he was a kid.

He was Hawks, the hero. He was a man made of stone who could outrun anything that came after him.

Today, he decided that oyakodon was the only thing that he needed, the only thing he desired. And it felt good, he realized, to want something that he could actually have.

And it was also nice, nearly twenty minutes later, to have company with his meal when the three of them settled down in a private room at a nearby restaurant. It was nice to find himself tucked under the yellow lights in a restaurant so warm that he was tempted to discard his coat, that his fingers felt prickly when he peeled off his gloves and the humid, rain-heavy cold of outside eased gradually out of his bones. He hummed happily around a mouthful of chicken. He pretended, for a moment, that the warm flavor of it could successfully reach the frozen catacombs of his insides. 

He didn’t understand the numbness that he felt in his chest but he decided that he wouldn’t question it. It was a sensation that often accompanied doing the right thing, he supposed. Rightness wasn’t always supposed to feel good, and considering how terrible he felt today, he supposed that he must have been doing something near-Godly. It wasn’t a mistake to distance himself from a member of the Liberation Front who surely didn’t trust him enough to be useful. It wasn’t wrong to ignore the strange swells in his heart when he considered how Dabi had looked at him earlier, how soft and simple and beguiling the upturned corners of his smile had been, the warm weight of his hand on his shoulder, the ease with which Dabi confronted him as Dabi had never appeared to be comfortable with another person before. But Dabi was evil, if the narrative that had been drilled into his head since early childhood had been true—which it needed to be, he told himself, because if not, what had all of this been for? What had he been trained for had it not been to eventually infiltrate the bad guys’ lair and take them down from the inside? What had he sacrificed his entire childhood, his family, his whole life until this point for if the people that he would eventually destroy here hadn’t deserved everything that they had coming to them?

Dabi was a bad guy and a bad person. It didn’t matter what he’d regretfully made Hawks feel. It didn’t matter that sometimes Hawks found himself following along with the villains’ plight with more enthusiasm than he’d deemed necessary, caught up in the fantasy that Shigaraki weaved of a world where no one, ever again, would be forced to live the life that Hawks, and each of them, had been forced to live. 

This was for the best, he reminded himself. Because it had to be. 

He took another bite of chicken, humming pleasantly once again and cooing to his sidekicks about the flavor, the atmosphere, the “je ne sais quoi” of a restaurant that specialized in this specific kind of comfort food and hit the spot in ways that a humble hero such as himself simply lacked the words to describe adequately.

His sidekicks didn’t ever stop looking at him like something might have been wrong with him, like he’d grown a second head or a third wing or like he was hiding something from them that they were too afraid to ask about. He let the mystery simmer and considered multiple lies that he could tell them if they ever got the courage to confront him, even though he knew they wouldn’t, and even though he understood that people in this world—good and honest people—often didn’t surprise him in ways that left him rendered speechless and unable to formulate a proper plan of action.

Lunch passed peacefully. Hawks eavesdropped on the muffled chatter that he could catch in the other rooms through the thin walls. His sidekicks filled him in on cases that they’d covered during his many absences, cases that he neglected to tell them that he’d read about already in the reports left on his desk when he’d been given the appropriate amount of minutes to peruse them.

He commended them on their progress because it seemed like the sort of thing that a nice boss would do. They were bashful and appreciative, and Hawks, guiltily, felt nothing. They discussed some low-level robberies that had taken place in a neighborhood near the outskirts of their regular evening patrols. Hawks was present as a voice in the conversation, but his mind stayed planted somewhere else, somewhere that sat distantly beyond the humming yellow lights overhead and the thin, rice paper walls, the chatting diners and the smiling waitresses and his poor, unfortunate sidekicks who seemed so eager for his approval.

Somewhere in the mountains, maybe, in a bowl of an oasis town that sat picturesquely just at the base of the hills. Hawks was nestled somewhere in an auditorium or a bathroom, or leaned against the exterior walls of a tall, tall building, smoking a cigarette and chatting idly with a handsome, sinister man, and this time, he did everything right. He knew what he was supposed to say, what he was supposed to feel and do. He knew the answers that allowed him to soar above the heavy restraints of his regular life and live, instead, as a person who knew exactly what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to reach for it.

In this fantasy, nothing was difficult and he sacrificed nothing, lost nothing, mourned nothing. Life was easy that way, in television and books and movies, and it could be easy in his daydreams, too. He could exist for a short while in a fantasy where everything worked out, where he wasn’t planted here, in this restaurant, feeling dastardly and horrible but ultimately suspecting, forbiddenly, that life might have been easier for regular people as well. That life, had he not been swept away by the Commission when he was just a kid, might have been a whole lot simpler than this.

He turned away from the conversation as it dragged on, drawing his gaze over the blurry shadowed outlines of bodies moving outside of the room, the tatami floors, the leftover broth that he’d been too full to drink at the bottom of his bowl. 

There were paper lanterns strewn across the walls of their room with artificial lights fitted inside that flickered rhythmically, casting jittering shadows over the paper walls as the three of them finished their meals. He watched the way that the fake flames danced behind the paper, illuminating the creases and folds like veins through skin held against the sun. He felt, still tucked in his coat, like he was slowly boiling in a massive heated pot, like a frog that had long-since missed its opportunity to leap out. He stewed there for a long moment as he sat entranced by the fire and the paper and the heat that coiled around him until, abruptly, one of his sidekicks caught his attention with a tentative hand on his arm.

“Are you sure you’re okay, boss?” He asked, and Hawks offered him a small, reassuring smile. “You’re not getting sick?”

It spread wider as his eyes jerked from the lanterns, as he spied the empty spots on the tablecloth that had once held their bowls. A waitress must have taken their dishes away while he wasn’t paying attention. He studied those blank spots shortly, his lips curling around its false smile like it didn’t quite know how to sit right. He lifted his eyes again, catching the brief gaze of his other sidekick, watching him with equal concern.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he said then, shoving up from his seat on the floor and brushing off the back of his pants, his legs, and the front of his coat. “Let’s get back to work, alright? Now that we’ve had a nice meal.”

They exchanged another look between them. Hawks angled his body away, towards the door instead, pretending that he didn’t notice. They followed him to the counter where they paid, through the stuffy, close-knit crowds inside and out onto the sidewalk.

The rain still hadn’t fallen once they exited, as Hawks dithered and allowed the two of them to climb outside and pass by him. People walked past with colorful, closed umbrellas tucked at their sides. The world around him was grayscale save for the neon signs that each flickered to life in the darkness of the still-early afternoon.

Hawks watched the sky, felt his eyes drawn and pinned to it as he followed his sidekicks along the appropriate path. He wished that it would rain already, finally. That somehow, that rain could bring him some semblance of relief.

It would be a sign, maybe, that this terrible day had passed.

It would wash away his remaining doubts, his fears that he’d made the wrong decision, any iota of compassion that he still held for the villains, for Dabi, for himself.

He just wanted to move past it quickly, but it felt, as he ambled through his hero routines, as the more and more that he walked, the longer he stayed stationary, trapped in the exact same place.

“Are you sure you don’t need to take the rest of the day off?”

Hawks smiled again, broader than ever before, shaking his head and shoving his hands in his pockets.

“I’m fine, I’m fine! Don’t worry about me, okay? I promise, before all else, I know how to take it easy if I need to.”

 


 

Midnight found him curled up in a plush chair next to the record player in his living room, a tasteful piece of high-end furniture that he’d picked out from a catalog that a secretary at his work had allowed him to take home one evening. It was a soft cream color, unobtrusive and not too garish in a way that would have clashed with the rest of his decor.

He’d found himself smitten with it when he’d browsed it in that catalog, laughing unabashedly, even genuinely, as he’d compared the shape of it to the bottom half of an egg that he’d cracked that morning while he was making breakfast. Its oblong shape had been novelty enough that he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it until he’d finally bought it. He’d denied it for a while, telling himself that his obsession with it was nothing but a passing fancy, that he had no purpose for additional seating when he could have already hosted nearly a dozen people comfortably in the apartment that only himself and his maids had actually visited. But he’d caved eventually, found himself too enamored by how silly it looked, how desperately he wanted to sit in the cocoon of it and experience the euphoric comfort illustrated on the model’s face in the catalog listing that advertised it.

It had taken two weeks to arrive and he’d felt an unfamiliar spike of excitement when the moving team had finally rung his bell. Like Christmas, he supposed, or many birthdays that he hadn’t actually experienced in the way that people often did on TV. It was silly, but the egg chair made him happy. It was nice, in a strange, childish sort of way, to stop sometimes as he walked from his living room into his bedroom and paused to admire the abnormal shape of it and how it took up too much space, how it looked so ludicrously uncomfortable and so inconvenient that no reasonable person would actually want a piece of furniture like it unless they’d completely lost their mind.

 The egg chair stood on four pointed legs, a mid-century modern style that would have scratched his new expensive heated flooring had he not remembered to purchase the funny little cloth disks, too, that he’d fitted to its feet before he’d scooted it into the spot that he’d designated for it. It was overstuffed and not too comfortable, really, but he’d decided when he’d bought it that he wouldn’t get very much use out of it anyway.

Tonight marked the first night that he’d spent more than ten minutes total lounging in it. While it put an uncomfortable strain on his spine as he was forced to sit too upright and his wings couldn’t situate themselves quite correctly enough to make relaxing in it actually feel relaxing, he found himself unwilling to rise from it and rest somewhere that was proven to be more comfortable, because, in his hands, he held his phone that shown up the single light in all of his apartment. The dotting of words on the screen captured his attention so wholly that he couldn’t have focused on his discomfort even if he wanted to.

The egg chair creaked under his shifting weight as he adjusted himself, tucking his legs underneath him and stretching out his wings. They sat against the backrest in a strained sort of way that wasn’t nearly egregious enough to distract him completely from the simple, “was someone drinking last night” that successfully ensnared his attention.

He drew in a long breath, lifting a hand to massage away the tension in his brows. His eyes felt heavy and tired and too damp, but he paid little mind to any of these ailments as he continued to study the words. Like this, alone, he supposed that it wasn’t wrong to fantasize about a universe, a life, and a version of himself where he was actually willing or able to send a text back. It had been almost two days since Dabi responded by then, but it wouldn’t have been the strangest thing that he’d done, really, if he said something now. His fingers ghosted over the touch screen buttons as though he had any idea what he might actually say.

You’re right, I was drinking, but I meant what I said.

Or, Dabi, I’d betray the heroes if you’d ever give me a chance.

It was all too much, too corny, too pre-rehearsed bullshit. It was still, in some way, the hero Hawks cobbling together some semblance of control in a situation where he felt anything but. If he were to be honest, as he’d been honest with Dabi accidentally the other night, maybe he would say that he had no idea what the right answer was, or which path he was supposed to take. He didn’t even know if he was “supposed” to do anything, in a situation where right and wrong seemed arbitrary and both sides of this eternal feud between “good” and “evil” made great points while also doing atrocities at great detriment to the society that they equally swore to be fighting in the name of protecting. Hawks, at a crossroads, felt himself still twined between both sides, like the rope in the tug-of-war match that wouldn’t end until he was frayed to nothing but scraps of who he might have started out as.

He didn’t know how he could even begin to explain this to another person, especially someone like Dabi, without sounding like a lunatic. Without sounding, in some way, exactly like the same convictionless, “useless” kindling that Dabi had left as ashes in his mountainous path. Shigaraki’s paradigm seemed to tend more towards the belief that he couldn’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. He couldn’t make changes without first making waves. And Hawks believed, still, that maybe that was true. Maybe he had a point when he claimed that hero society wouldn’t take the villains seriously if they organized picket lines and wrote vocal articles about injustices online. No one would have cared about Shigaraki Tomura or Dabi or Bubaigwara Jin or the rest of the PLF had they not at some point made society see them, forced the world to look at them and what they were and what they were capable of doing. No one would have listened to them if Stain, at some point, hadn’t slain his first hero.

But Hawks didn’t want to hurt people and he didn’t want to watch anyone else die. Even if that meant living in anonymity and even if that meant being invisible forever, screaming and begging and fighting silently until someday he finally fizzled out of a pathetic, undignified existence, he didn’t have Dabi’s unflinching dedication and he didn’t have Shigaraki’s scabbed-over heart, and he didn’t have the convictions that thrummed inside of even a man like Twice, that the deaths of the many were outweighed by the safety and livelihood of the only family that had ever taken pity on him and extended their hands lovingly in support to help him navigate a sometimes impossible life.

If Hawks had been weak enough to abandon his ideology and the Commission and everything that he’d been raised to stand for…

Would it be hypocritical to consider himself still, somehow, outside of it all? Above it? Could he close his eyes and plug his ears to the terrible atrocities that the Paranormal Liberal Front planned to commit when he was culpable, too, responsible through association, supportive of their actions if only because he knew what they were doing, what they wanted, and he hadn’t cared to stop them?

Could he love someone like Dabi, really, and still be a good person?

 

Was he even a good person now?

 

 But he recalled, as he pondered it, a conversation that he’d shared with Twice as the two of them had gone over Twice’s jumbled notes from a meeting that he’d listened in on between the higher-ranking members of the PLF. He remembered the way that Twice had spoken so animatedly about his peers there, the original League of Villains, how he’d regarded them in the same way that Hawks imagined that a person would regard their family—with warmth and dedication, Hallmark-holiday-movie-level love and admiration. Hawks had laughed at the way that he’d described his hodge-podge family in such familiar, amiable terms.

Twice had been confused by how tickled he’d been and Hawks, feeling bad and bashful and embarrassed by the way that he’d allowed his deviously friendly mask to slip had explained to him simply, “I guess it’s just kind of funny to think about villains considering themselves family, you know? From the outside, you guys seem so… murderous and menacing.”

Twice hadn’t laughed but he’d bounced a little on the balls of his feet, fidgeting with his gloves and the measuring tape disks around his wrists. He’d turned his head and eyed the writing on the board behind him and he’d said then, as soberly and plainly as he’d ever spoken, “Well, just because we’re the bad guys that doesn’t mean we’re bad guys. We’re here because we didn’t have anywhere else to go. Shigaraki brought us together, you know? From where we’re standing, those hero friends of yours seem like the real villains. They don’t care about us… that things are hard, right? When you’re on top, you don’t get how shitty it is to be on the bottom—not like we do. We get each other, we’re family. We’re all we’ve got.”

Hawks hadn’t been able to relate to the idea of any of that, to the premise of family or togetherness or being all that anyone had, having anyone in his life who might have been his sole liferaft in the otherwise tumultuous waters of his life. But it had been nice to think about it—the way that Twice had used “us” and “we”, including him . Implying, in that way, that Hawks could have ever fit in among them as he’d never really fit in anywhere in his life.

Twice, of course, was a kind person and a thoughtful person who wanted nothing but to unite those around him who he felt had been disadvantaged by the same society that had dispelled any chance he’d had of thriving. Hawks understood it, in a way, how it must have felt to be stuck at the bottom of a deep trench that slowly filled with water, reaching blindly up for something that just never came.

He knew how it felt to be stuck somewhere that he didn’t want to be.

He understood the temptation to rebel and to escape and to forge his own path in a world where his predetermined track had grown tiresome and nearly impossible to navigate in one piece.

Hawks supposed, as his phone screen shut off and he was left in the quiet darkness of his lavish apartment, that the only difference between a hero and a villain could have been the ability to step forward and vie for what they really needed.

It felt that way, anyway, as though, if he wanted something and claimed it for himself, that was the decision that would determine whether he was good or evil, “us” or “them”, hero or villain.

Outside, he listened to the thunder rumble in the distant reaches of the city. He sat straighter in the egg chair and felt a few relieving cracks in his back as the first taps of rainfall fell against his windows.

His phone screen, reactivated, bathed his face in a gentle, blue glow that illuminated the corners of furniture around him, the disk still stationed in the record player, the glossy hardwood floors, the shaggy rugs. 

Midnight drifted into 1 AM. His phone beeped as a text finally sent from his number to rest at the bottom of a log between himself and a still-unsaved contact.

The rain gradually grew heavier, beating hard against the windows and the roof. Hawks fell asleep in the egg chair and would awake, eventually, to a strained neck and sore wings, to a spine that felt bent wrong no matter which direction he sat in tomorrow.

The phone in his hands eventually slipped through his slack fingers and bounced against the fluffy white rug underneath him. On the screen, before it went dark, in a green bubble tucked underneath Dabi’s blue response, it read:

Sorry about today, but I agree. I think we need to talk.

 


 

It felt nostalgic in a way, starting his day by flying off to some location he’d never heard of before. The single line of text, an address without any further reason, recalled memories of simpler times, before he'd integrated into the PLF, when Hawks would have been so lucky have his presence requested. If he’d known back then, or if there was some way he’d been able to warn himself that he’d fall head over heels for a rude, smirking, handsome man he wasn’t supposed to feel any connection with, would any of the path he’d flown down change? Would he, instead, be rushing to meet up with someone else, or have a different reason for the slight shake of his hands as he clenched his fists against the wind and willed himself to not mess this up, one last time?

He hadn’t texted back, just like he never really did before. A time and a place, they’d each be there, or they wouldn’t. The more he’d dwelled on things, the more complicated they became in his head, and Hawks was tired of that. Tired of himself, honestly. Tired of feeling so back and forth, so certain one second and unsure the next. His lower and upper back were even suffering from it, the emotional swings he’d allowed himself manifested in physical choices that weren’t healthy. The drinking, the unbalanced meals, the sleeping in places no one was meant to fall asleep in. 

The sky today wasn’t any harsher than it usually was but it felt cutting, felt like his wings struggled to get that ‘flyer’s high’, felt like he’d been fighting against wind that wasn’t providing any real challenge after navigating through so many storms in his past. He’d figured it was just pure exhaustion, despite sleeping enough hours that would suggest otherwise. No amount of rushed stretching or too-hot shower water had been able to work out the damage he’d done by falling asleep in a cramped alcove that alluded to the idea of comfort, but provided none. He couldn’t recall falling asleep last night, barely remembered the text he’d sent when he woke up and winced as he attempted to fan out his wings.

It was grey above, something he hadn’t noticed until he was nearly there. He’d missed most of the storm, slept safely in the cocoon of his chair like the rest of the world didn’t exist. Maybe it didn’t, in some ways, when he wasn’t awake to fret about it. It was a nice thought at least, that everyone else would get a break from thinking and worrying just as he did, that everything simply paused when they weren’t awake. But life wasn’t like that and Hawks knew it in a deep, dark way that kept creeping back up through the crumbling walls he’d built to protect himself like the vines of a weed that just wouldn’t die. 

And maybe that was why he left so quickly, why he’d jittered through the same flight path he’d taken over and over again beside the slight one-minute divergence that had arrived him somewhere close, but unseen from HQ. He felt like if he didn’t take this chance, that if he didn’t somehow make up for each tripped over, fumbled mistake of an interaction, that there just wouldn’t be any more to try to fix. He owed it to himself, and to Dabi, to at least offer some sort of explanation, some semblance of logic for his behavior.

He didn’t rehearse anything. He’d known, because he knew himself, that none of it would have ever made it past his lips. That upon seeing Dabi with the weight of what he’d attempt to communicate, it would be better to just get there and figure it out after. There were enough things to say anyway, enough thoughts that had plagued him simmering the few days before he’d decided to buy a record player to drown in his woes, that anything he’d attempt to lay out in a grand speech wouldn’t feel genuine. And so he’d arrived, staring at the cozy front of what looked like a bed and breakfast laid atop a coffee shop, as himself, and not the hero. He could only hope this is what Dabi wanted. It was all he had left to offer.

This, however, was not what he’d anticipated from someone like Dabi. A dark alley, maybe. An abandoned warehouse with all its windows shattered out, sure. A quaint shopping street in what seemed like a perfectly normal town, despite what Hawks knew about it, not so much. It wasn’t a hole-in-the-wall situation either; plenty of people were seated within, chatting away with smiles and food. Hawks spotted them through wide windows that bracketed a set of well-worn french doors. Welcoming menu boards handwritten in chalk boasted breakfast and lunch deals and a rotating special drink of the week. Hawks wasn’t sure how he’d forgotten to inspect the address when he’d punched it into his phone’s GPS as he kicked off earlier, but everything he’d imagined in the trek here did not amount to this . He tried to imagine Dabi in there, curled over a hot chocolate and brooding while the rest of the customers flitted around like he wasn’t a constant raincloud threatening to ruin their meals.

Or maybe he wasn’t in there at all, and this was some sort of elaborate joke? Hawks supposed he deserved it, if it was, after yesterday’s failed attempt to keep it chill extravagantly crashed and burned. Part of him would be a little mad too, if Dabi wanted to yank him around now of all times when he’d finally at least agreed to the concept of talking and working something out. Whatever it was, between them, that needed working out. What that was, Hawks wasn’t entirely sure, and he was becoming only more unsure with each passing moment that he stood stationary, staring at a drink menu and retaining approximately zero words that his eyes kept scanning over.

He gave up with a pre-defeated sigh, shook out his wings so that any misaligned ones from the flight would settle, tucked and flat, and tugged his glasses up and over to sit against his unruly hair. He felt nervous, he realized, not just for the subject that he’d have to broach, but for the very real chance that Dabi would be there waiting for him, surely with expectations that Hawks was waffling on if he could deliver. He knew, as hard as it was right now to face, as difficult as he was making it for himself as he pushed the door open and slid inside, that they did need to talk. That whatever happened today, at the very least he’d be able to say that he did this one last thing, that maybe a sense of closure would wash over him, that he could look back and…

Realize how truly fucked he was, how completely gone and ruined of a man he’d become. How painstakingly badly the core of his being had become tangled and twisted, warped and bent to the will of someone who was oblivious to the power he held over Hawks. How no matter how many pep talks and how many promises he’d made, the second his eyes had the chance to scan a room and find what he’d been looking for, all of his resolutions just dripped away down the drain.

Dabi hadn’t noticed him yet and it gave Hawks precious seconds to observe him. He sat huddled much like he’d imagined him, tucked in the far corner of the small cafe, which upon further inspection, looked to be an entire first level of an oversized house. Furthest away from where Hawks stood was the ordering counter, accompanied by a short line. The rest of the space, front to back, was scattered with quaint circular tables not meant for more than two, possibly three patrons. Nearly all of them were full, save a few, and the prospect of meeting like this out in the open, even on the off-chance they were discussing something unimportant like top ten fast-food burgers, raised a knee-jerk concern. If it had been anywhere else, Hawks might have turned heel and left, but this was Deika City after all, and despite how normal everything looked on the surface, no one seemed to care that either of them was here. 

He had a cup of something warm, the lid off and upside down on the table as he idly swirled the contents with a wooden stirrer. Next to it, his hand was propped against the surface, thumb dragging along the cheap, cracked screen of a phone that seemed painfully familiar. Hawks’s drunken texts jumped to the forefront of his mind, dragging with them a creeping blush that he knew would get out of hand if he didn’t put effort forth into thinking about something else. It was hard though, to imagine random things like an ant crawling over an old, decrepit drumstick or the way advertisements stapled over each other on rural phone posts, rusted and sun-bleached, when in front of him sat the sole reason why his brain seemed to constantly short-wire itself and restart in random places like this.

It wasn’t working, like it never seemed to, because he still stood right there at the door, his traitorous eyes trailing up Dabi’s form until they stopped at his face. He took his chance lingering; it was possible that this would be the last time Hawks got to indulge. His last free moments to admire something dangerous and beautiful and full of a flame he kept flinging himself into like a moth, kept fluttering too close to and then dipping away only to repeat the cycle again. Like Dabi was all that mattered, despite the fact that they both knew that wasn’t the sort of life either of them was afforded.

He must have been staring too long like this, or somehow the crowd had thinned out just enough to make the stark red of his wings stick out like a sore thumb, because a second later those piercing blues aimed right at him with only the smallest tilt of an eyebrow giving any indication of surprise. In reply, Hawks did what he’d always fallen back to, his plastered smile and nonchalant shrug, his casual steps paired with his hands in his pockets that absolutely weren’t shaking with anxiety.

He could do this, he told himself. He’d talked to Dabi plenty of times, even felt comfortable in his presence between the drastic moments in which he’d been questioning why he couldn’t form words and why Dabi seemed so enticing while just existing against a brick wall. He could handle it now, like a man, and sit properly in the chair across from Dabi without falling on his ass or dragging the legs across the tiled floor to screech relentlessly in everyone’s ears and ruin their meals. He managed to complete his short journey without issue, even folded his hands atop the table like a casual, normal person would, and shimmied his wings so they’d be the least amount of “in the way”.

“Nice place. Wouldn’t have flagged you for a tea guy though.” 

I’m not going to make it. This is where I die. Sweat had already begun to form at the nape of Hawks’s neck, the cafe suddenly feeling too cramped and busy instead of cozy and bustling.

Dabi regarded him for a span of seconds that felt like years, his expression unintelligible and neutral in a way that didn’t help with the clamminess Hawks began to feel within his gloves. He braced for something snide, or even the very real probability that Dabi would just get up and leave after such a lame greeting, but instead, he was just given a small shrug. He stopped stirring, tilted the wooden stick around in the depths of his murky beverage, and fished out the tea bag carefully before letting it plop down on the plastic cover to bleed out its remains.

“Lotsa things you don’t know about me, huh?”

It probably wasn’t meant to hurt in the way that it did, if Hawks had had the time to properly analyze something like that, but he didn’t. Instead, the words dug deep, shoveled out a truth that he wasn’t prepared to face right now with everything else he wanted to say. He couldn’t pinpoint why it was painful that he didn’t know Dabi’s favorite drink or what sort of sandwich he might order here or if he brushed his teeth in the shower or not, but it was. Or maybe it was just the worry that he’d never get to find out after today.

“You’re not wrong, but I would have assumed something more fitting, like black coffee, instead of what looks like milk you let a tea bag swim in for thirty seconds.”

A quiet chuckle broke the ice, the sort that wasn’t meant for anyone else to hear besides the one person across the table, and Hawks watched in awe as Dabi licked his lower lip before bringing the paper cup up to sip from. There was something so casual about it, so familiar and relaxed as if they’d done this together time and time before, as if they met here every Saturday morning to chat and share brunch. And that thought too, innocent and yearning while Hawks watched him shift the cup back to the table and lean further back into his chair, was enough to draw out a secret pang of want that he’d been trying desperately to shove back down for some time now.

Dabi eyed him as he slipped his phone back into the inner pocket of his jacket and curled his long fingers around his drink. He slid it back and forth between his thumb and middle finger before pausing and said, “Thought you might not come this time, you know. Considered you’d chicken out like before, even with the late-night texts. Seems to me, you have a lot on your mind, for someone who doesn’t want to voice it.”

If Hawks had stood in line before bounding over to this table, if he’d waited for ten minutes and blanked when he got to the counter and just asked for the daily special, if he’d taken the opportunity to peer into his cup to inspect its contents and then close it back up, he’d have spilled it all over himself seconds after with how direct that comment was. Without anything to do with his hands such as rub napkins all over his would-be coffee-stained jacket, he just left them there stupidly on the table while his brain attempted to compile some witty comeback that would be strong enough to diffuse the situation he’d walked right into.

It wasn’t that Dabi was wrong in his accusations. It was the fact that he was painfully right, that Hawks, although prompting this talk, had thought of chickening out at the last minute and just flying back home to wallow in another bad decision. But he didn’t, and he was here now, albeit very nervous and slightly embarrassed that Dabi could read him like a book.  

“Well, it’s a curse really, having wings I mean. It’s so easy to just, fly away if you have to. I could still if I waited for you to take another sip. I bet I’d at least make it to the door before you set fire to my jacket.”

Hawks knew he was deflecting again, and by the looks of Dabi’s thin-lined smile, he knew too. But what else could he say to that, and still save face? You’re right, I’m a skittish loser who’s too afraid to face the possibility of anything. I’m scared you’ll bring up what I confessed, that you’re sitting here waiting to tell me that it ends now, that it’s already gone too far. I’ve had so much on my mind, about you, that I’ve made stupid choices, wasted hours drinking and thinking too much. That I’d rather fly away and be alone in my empty apartment because I can’t deal with the prospect of you telling me I can’t have what I want. That I don’t deserve it.

“You could do that, sure. I’d prefer not to make a scene here, since I do enjoy the ambiance and pastry selection. Or, you could stay right here and have the talk I wanted yesterday, indulge me with an elaboration on what you shared the other night.”

It was his turn to laugh, a clipped, huffed excuse of one as he dragged his hand up to brace near his temples and press there like he could rub all of his troubles away with tiny circular motions. He’d known it wouldn’t work, but the pressure felt nice for a moment, felt like he could pretend it was unlocking stress points fast enough that he’d be able to sit up straight and give Dabi what he was asking for. 

But there was this annoying buzz that he’d only now noticed. A low hum of chatter, the click of forks against plates and chairs shuffled mutedly against the old wooden floorboards. The chime that clanked over the front door as someone new arrived, the cashier at the front with the same repetition of “Hello, welcome, what can I get started for you today?” that he’d lost count of already just within the span of minutes that had occurred between him landing in front of the place and sitting across from Dabi now. Behind him, someone dropped their fork on the floor and cursed as their friend laughed and poked fun at them. Their chair bumped against Hawks’s without an apology and suddenly all of it just seemed like too much.

He looked up from the spot on the table that he hadn’t realized he’d been zoning out on to find Dabi watching him in silence. His fingers had stopped shifting his cup around. His eyes refused to shy away even when Hawks met his gaze. That too, felt like too much.

Hawks tugged his hand back down, further past the table’s top to rest both palms against his lap. The pressure he’d been pressing away returned as if it had never left. He wondered what he looked like right now to Dabi, and if it reflected how overwrought he felt inside.

“I could. Well, I probably should, since that’s the whole reason for all of this, it’s just that…” 

It felt stupid to even consider saying it and he broke eye contact first when the misplaced shame of even caring had welled up inside him. It shouldn’t be this hard, certainly not for a hero, even if he was here instead just as a man with hopes that he was terrified to face. He shook his head, reprimanded himself while Dabi sat there unmoving as if he somehow wasn’t annoyed and fed-up with all of it. 

“It’s just that, I thought we’d be somewhere more private. I mean, we’re off to the side and it’s loud enough that I don’t think anyone would pay attention but I…”

“Alright.”

Hawks snapped his head back up quickly, but not in time to catch Dabi’s expression. He’d already started to move by then, his cardboard cup half-full of now lukewarm tea in one hand and the plastic top with its saggy teabag nestled in the middle in his other. He didn’t wait for Hawks’s confirmation, hadn’t even looked back to make sure that he’d caught on quickly enough to follow, somehow, without question. Confidence, or perhaps just not giving a shit? Hawks was still having trouble deciphering between them when it came to him, but both produced the same outcome. He rushed to stand up and follow, something stirring low in the center of his being. It was as though, on one hand, he was upset at the mere idea that Dabi might not turn around and look at him again, but on the other, simply excited to trail behind him like a lost puppy.

He realized, belatedly, that he hadn’t paid much attention to what changing locations meant, so wrapped up in the strange mix of anticipation, attraction, and anxiousness that he followed Dabi blindly to the trash bin next to an unlabeled, scratched door. Dabi chucked the lid through the open darkness that enclosed the trash and then pushed forward against the chipped blue paint with the edge of his sleeve. 

The slow mechanics of Hawks’s mind rescued him this one time, saved him from the blunder of blurting out “Are we going to have this talk in the bathroom?” which would not make sense given the fact that the door in front of them had no knob, didn’t have any sort of sign on that would indicate such a place, and instead swung through to a hallway and a set of stairs. 

He followed, trusting Dabi only because he wanted to and because it was quiet and vacant here. He trudged up the stairs one step at a time, pretended that he was interested in the faded rose-print wallpaper and the nicked chair rails with wainscotting below that was a sort of dirty, off-cream color that Hawks wasn’t sure was the real design choice or if at one time, long ago, it had been white.

It didn’t make sense this would be here, or that Dabi would know about it, or that, somehow, he was familiar enough with the layout of this building that he hadn’t had to ask anyone for directions. Hawks considered that it could have been storage, or something employee-related, but then it should’ve been locked, right? For a brief moment, one where he’d promised to himself that he wouldn’t stare at the legs in front of him marching and flexing casually to wherever their destination would be, Hawk’s considered that there was just a random set of stairs up to an attic and that Dabi had been here so many times alone because he’d gone snooping around to find somewhere that no one would think to bother him.

What he got instead, when he’d traversed the very last step, was something that had never once crossed his mind.

The hall stretched out before them, aged and a little cramped, but just as charming as the downstairs had been. Light filtered through the two available windows, muted and dull through half-drawn wispy curtains that looked like they were a year or so past due for a cleaning, but it very well could have just been the color. Dabi didn’t stop to explain, so Hawks had followed along, stuck between wanting to ask where they were going and figuring it out for himself. They passed three doors, each just as old and scuffed as everything else was, scratches across the keyholes of the brass plating evident even without having to inspect for a closer look. They all seemed identical save for the tiny wreaths adorning each door front, the circle of brambles and differently colored fake flowers close enough in style that they’d have to be from the same store, but maybe for a different season.

It clicked slowly in Hawks’s mind with each additional step. The gears turned, but they didn’t complete the task before Dabi answered the question for him. He fished out a small set of keys and added a layer to the fourth and last door's scratches. The lock clicked open and the hinges groaned in a way that solidified the fact the building had been here before many of the others built up around it. Again, Dabi didn’t wait or stop to explain himself. He entered and left the door open, disappeared somewhere within its mysterious, probably floral printed depths.

The hesitation happened, just like Hawks had known it would, heavy and imposing in a way that didn’t feel much different from the instincts that had been forced to blossom and sharpen his entire life growing up under the commission. It didn’t matter that they were somewhere that seemed disarming, that Dabi somehow had keys to what, a room that existed on top of a restaurant he liked, two blocks away from HQ? That much was evident now as Hawks forced himself past the threshold, equal parts curious and alerted to the very real probability that this could go south quickly.

“You know, leaving the door open is a way of saying you’re welcome to come in. Do you need me to formally grant the invitation or do you wanna sit on the floor in the hallway?”

Hawks huffed, let the breath he’d been holding in exhale out as he made the apparently tough choice of entering Dabi’s room and closed the door behind himself. He forced away the useless alarm bells, told himself that now of all times wasn’t a cause for concern as a hero, that Dabi had been nothing but accommodating and willing to put up with Hawks’s shit over and over again. It was just a room, a place he’d apparently off-handedly asked for to get away from everything that would have distracted him from what they really needed to do.

What was more jarring, now that he’d gotten over the fact that Dabi did very normal things that everyone else might do in their lives at least once, was the space itself. All along he’d been imaging something very different, something more stark or even military-style if the city and HQ were harboring villains for greater use. Maybe an entire sleeping quarters, a large open room accompanied with the fact that higher-ups were able to get their own space with a door, but sparse overall. Hawks had imagined, more times than he’d care to admit, Dabi sleeping on a cot in one of these private rooms or a twin bed frame with a thin mattress. Maybe there’d be a lamp or an unreliable overhead light. Sometimes there’d be a small desk stuck in a corner, a magazine and a phone charger, the distinct lack of an ashtray as there’d never be a window and no indication that anyone in the PLF let him smoke indoors. 

Not this. Not a picturesque room, a layout similar to the repetition found in hotels but with a little extra personality. He guessed that the door immediately to his right was the bathroom, the one that mirrored it on the left a closet. Neither mattered much compared to the rest of the space. A bed sat on the right, sandwiched between two nightstands, its ornate, dark wooden headboard backed up against the wall. Housekeeping must have arrived already, or Dabi was neater than Hawks had anticipated, as the bedspread was orderly and tucked in, the gentle blue and cream motif pleasant to the eye in a way that didn’t give the sense that anyone had been trying too hard to force relaxation. Across from it stood a TV stand, long and tall enough that the mini-fridge and microwave were tucked underneath, and the lower side closer to the window had space for a desk chair. The appliances and electronics looked dated, but not enough that was offensive in any way. The furniture didn’t scream chain hotel, but it wasn’t some ancient hand-me-downs that looked like they were three guests away from falling apart.

It was nice. Hawks had made his way further into the room, enamored with taking in every little detail. How wrong he’d been, how strangely delighted he felt knowing that Dabi slept here, among muted blues and framed pictures of mountains and densely wooded trails that didn’t look like they came from a hotel supply company that pumped out the same inoffensive, yet boring art. 

But the most appealing thing in the room wasn’t the furniture or the decorations or calming way Hawks could make out barely-there foot trails matted into the sand-colored rug, draped over the center of the hardwood floor. It wasn’t even the cute vase nestled close to the landline phone on the desk, its purple and blue flowers nothing like the plastic ones wrapped around the wreath on the front door.

It was Dabi, his back to Hawks as he leaned a few inches out of the only window in the room, its size making up for lack of quantity. He stood, the lip of the sill high enough to slouch his elbow on, the pack of cigarettes Hawks had shoved at him the day before in his hand as he tapped it against the worn wood. His lighter sat next to the pack, just as worn as the faded and chipped paint that had once been new on the sill, ready for whenever he decided it was time. 

He looked peaceful, bathed in the grey afternoon light that hung on to its last strands as the sun fought to break through. Tiny gusts of wind filtered past, rattled the windowpane on its old tracks above Dabi’s head and carded through his inky locks. Something bubbled up within Hawks, uncontrollable yet not unwelcome. Things he’d only spoken of to himself, thought alone yet alluded to in his actions that he knew he had to give a voice to now. He was nervous still, at the prospect of every word coming out wrong, at the likelihood that he wasn’t going to be able to articulate everything that was trapped inside of him ready to burst out. But it was time, and he’d at least try.

Dabi turned then, his eyes met Hawks’s own and froze him in place. He smiled, the sort that was becoming more obvious that it was reserved only for certain situations and people, lopsided and lazy as if he knew the punchline to the joke Hawks was about to tell him. He lifted the pack off the sill, flicked open the cardboard top with his thumb, and tilted his chin in question as he stared Hawks down.

“Want one? You look like you might need it. Don’t want you flying through my window after all this trouble.”

Hawks twitched, a small smile winding unevenly over his lips as he rubbed his gloved palms over the front of his pants. His feathers were fluffed out again, jittery and not at all concealing the anxiety that he felt, as he flicked his eyes from the cigarette between Dabi’s fingers and the carton in his other hand, his room temperature tea sat on the windowsill, the incandescent blue of his eyes, and the unfocused small city streets beyond the cracked window behind him.

Hawks shook his head, clearing his throat loudly and awkwardly before taking a few quick steps forward, swiveling around, and plopping himself down on the neatly-tucked sheets of a bed that still allowed him adequate space to view Dabi, perched quietly and preparing to smoke at the window.

“No, nope! No thank you! I’m good, thanks.”

Dabi scoffed a laugh, turning his face back to the window and placing the cigarette between his lips.

“Your loss,” he said. “You always stare at them like you want one.”

Hawks bit back the urge to correct him.

I’m actually looking at you.

A moment passed in silence. Dabi lit his cigarette with a quiet click of his lighter and Hawks watched him guiltily, wondering why sometimes he didn’t use his hand, why he neglected to activate the blue flames from the tips of his fingers that Hawks had seen him animate many times before. Wondering if there were moments where he, too, liked to imagine that he was nothing but a normal person, before this whole quirk thing consumed everyone’s lives, overturned all existence in the world, and that here, now, maybe he was still required to do some tasks manually.

That thought lingered as Hawks tugged his gloves from his sweaty hands and set them neatly on the comforter next to him. He ghosted his fingers over the patterns that adorned the surface. It was hand-quilted, perhaps, with different colored patches of varying colors, prints, and sizes. His fingertips paused just above the face of a blobby cartoon chicken. He peered into its black-dotted eyes above its hooked beak, wondering then if Dabi ever spent his boring hours between PLF tasks simply mapping out every design decision in this over-decorated room.

Across from him on the wall, there was an old, dusty clock that clicked and clicked as the minutes passed. The mountain paintings were framed by tin wall ornaments painted finely with a flock of flying kingfishers, dotted with faded brush-kanji that Hawks’s eyes stalled on without really reading for a long period of time. When he did eventually focus harder on it, he understood the familiar reference—”Flower, bird, wind, moon”. 

He turned his gaze away.

“Pretty interesting place you got here,” he said instead, tapping his fingers over the quilt and craning his neck around in a dramatic display of inspecting the room. Dabi glanced at him briefly, his lips tugging up shortly before he turned back to the window and blew out a small plume of smoke.

“You can call it ugly,” he said, “I think so too.”

Hawks barked a laugh, raising a hand to scratch at his nose as he tucked further inward on himself, shifting his weight from his backside on the bed to his feet on the floor in a short loop of motion that expelled at least some of the nervous energy that suddenly coursed through him.

“It’s not so bad,” he said. “Kitsch is back in style, haven’t you heard? So this place is trendy again, for now.”

Dabi rolled his eyes, taking another drag. He didn’t respond to that comment, allowing it to fester in the air between them as Hawks struggled to formulate another conversation starter that might abate the inevitable just long enough that he would be capable of collecting himself adequately. Behind him, his wings stroked over the comforter like a quill gliding over a fresh piece of parchment, like he could have been writing novels about all of the thoughts in his head if only Dabi would have known to stand up and pad over and study the motions that his feathers made on the fabric.

But he knew that he couldn’t get these thoughts out without saying them. The problem was, however, that he didn’t even know where to start.

And despite how he might have thought, at one point in time, that Dabi was impatient and he disliked how much people talked but disliked their silence even more, he didn’t seem keen on rushing this today. And maybe that was because he understood that without some prompting, Hawks might simmer here in his miserable confusion forever. Maybe he knew that he could torture him more if he didn’t force him to speak up.

Hawks rolled his shoulders, fretting with a few loose strings on his pants, with the quilted comforter, with anything that might distract his thoughts from the self-flagellating places that they so desperately wanted to venture to.

He should have been grateful for Dabi’s consideration, and maybe he was. Maybe, deep down, he was thankful that Dabi didn’t seem determined to rush this when he still didn’t know exactly what he wanted to say in the first place.

But he knew that he still needed to talk eventually. Even if Dabi was willing to wait forever, he’d hate himself if he dragged this out any longer than he absolutely had to. He opened his mouth again, closed it, and cleared his throat. And finally, like pulling off a bandaid, he forced himself to voice the first thing that floated to the forefront of his thoughts.

“So… I texted you the other night.”

“Sure did.”

Another pause. Hawks’s face felt set aflame as he resisted the urge to bury his cheeks in his hands. He’d done a pretty good job so far of avoiding the eventual realization that Dabi had, in fact, received that embarrassing text of his and Dabi’s eyes had actually roved over those horrible, needy words, and Dabi, this beautiful, dangerous paragon of temptation that he was, was painfully, wholly aware of exactly what sorts of thoughts Hawks had about him and what he wanted so desperately to do with him, and that was no one’s fault but Hawks’s. He’d been the one who had amplified their relationship to this level. He’d been the one who’d made that first move.

And he could deny it. He could close his eyes and plug his ears and refuse to address that he was, in fact, so captivated by everything that Dabi was and everything that he could offer and just how beautiful he looked then, sitting in the window, smoking and peering out through the dusty glass at a loud and interesting, enthralling world that could never hold a candle to his own magnificence, but that wouldn’t change the fact that Hawks had done this to himself, to both of them. That if, by some chance, he moved beyond this and the commission were to ask him one day, “What happened to you? What could the villains possibly have done to distract you from your mission?” he would have to tell them, honestly…

That he’d ruined things all by himself.

He’d done this. He wanted this. No one had guided his hand.

He sucked in a long breath, tugging his goggles from his hair and tossing them to rest atop his gloves, followed shortly after by his headphones. It was warm inside, despite the chilly air that wafted in through the open window. He took a moment to shrug out of his coat as well, sliding it over the length of his wings and ignoring the feeling of Dabi’s smoldering eyes pinned to him. He knew it looked silly when he undressed like this and he was surprised when he met Dabi’s gaze and Dabi wasn’t laughing. Was surprised, too, to see Dabi sitting there with a strange, misshapen frown and a long strand of ash perched at the tip of his cigarette as though he hadn’t paid attention to it for a very long string of minutes.

Hawks cleared his throat again, and Dabi hurriedly turned his focus back to the window.

“I, uh, I guess… I just wanted to explain everything.” He started again, because he suspected that he already looked like an ass to Dabi. Being here meant that he was already humiliating himself as much as a person possibly could. He might as well keep trying until he got it right, since there was really no possibility of redeeming his image in Dabi’s eyes anyway. At the very least, he thought, he could hope to make Dabi understand him, to give reasons for the odd things that he’d done and said. The “sloppy” way that he’d allowed himself to be perceived when Hawks, the hero, and the man that Dabi had only known before these last couple of weeks, would have never allowed himself to fall so far from grace. “I’ve been having… trouble. Lately. With this whole, hero and villain thing, I guess? And, you know, where I fall there, on that spectrum. Like being… a villain, pretending to be a hero. Being, you know, two people at the same time but there’s gotta be a “me” on the inside who’s one or the other, right? I don’t… I don’t… know him , though. I have no idea who he is or what he wants. If, you know, the way that I—”

He cut himself off, drumming his fingers restlessly against the quilt and tapping his boots against the floor, wondering briefly if he should have taken off his shoes at the door despite the fact that Dabi was still wearing his, too. He chewed on the inside of his lip, allowing his eyes to drop closed as he willed down the scalding heat in his cheeks that spread out, tingling at the tips of his ears.

“I-I just… you know, I don’t know if the “real” Hawks inside of me would be cool with what I’m doing here. How… how I’ve been feeling… about you.”

He didn’t have the strength to glance over and study Dabi’s expression, but he could feel those ember eyes watching him. He could hear the scratch of Dabi’s clothes against the windowsill as he adjusted himself and the creak of the window as he pushed the glass further out of the way. Outside, beyond this tiny, cluttered room, he could hear distant voices calling out welcomes and investing themselves in conversations. He could hear the puttering of cars and the whistling of the wind and he could smell last night’s rain still hanging dewy in the air. He combed his fingers through his hair, still sweaty enough that they caught and tugged at the strands. He scrubbed his palms together then, lifting his gaze to the kingfisher lithograph once again and studying the way that their needly beaks prodded into the desaturated gray of the painted sky.

“This whole thing—you know, being honest with myself and doing what I want—it’s not… it’s just not familiar to me yet, I guess. I can’t stop myself from feeling bad about it when I want something, like, like somehow it’s selfish of me to be attracted to… to you and want you because it’s not what I’m supposed to want. This isn’t who I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to be Hawks, you know? This amazing hero who saves everyone and does everything right. I’m supposed to be perfect and… I’m not. I’m too far away from that, and if people knew—if they… if they knew who I am, I… I don’t know. If they knew what I’ve done, what I want, what I think… they’d be disappointed. It would ruin me, for them. And I know you say that I shouldn’t care about it but I’m not—I’m not like you . I-I can’t, I can’t be someone who just disregards everything and stops thinking about what people expect from me, I just, I can’t—”

The window closed and the dead air in the room settled warmly around Hawks. He felt panic rising inside of him, the nervous energy that had been bubbling within him, like a pan burning on a lit stove, suddenly threatened to boil over. The commission would be disappointed. They’d be outraged. They might have his license for this, sever all ties with him and smear his name in the media. The public would be horrified and his colleagues, his allies, even his ever-supportive staff at his office, maybe they’d all turn their backs on him too. Maybe all of this would be for nothing. Maybe he’d have thrown away his entire life just to ruin things the moment that it actually mattered.

He struggled to draw in a breath. His heart hammered in his chest. Dabi’s boots scuffed against the old wooden floor and Hawks barely comprehended it. He heard little but the pounding of his own pulse and the mantra of accusatory thoughts in his head. He hadn’t realized how ferocious the swell of emotions inside of him had been growing, but now, at the worst possible moment, they threatened to overtake him.

Dabi moved quietly, but Hawks was aware, faintly, of his ever-present heat as he drew nearer. The mattress next to Hawks dipped as he sat down, the tobacco smell of him strong enough that Hawks could feel it prickling in the back of his throat. He latched onto this sensory information, finally managing a gulp of air. Dabi’s smell, the shadows that his form against the window’s light cast onto the nearest wall. The way that the bed rocked gently as he situated himself, and the sound of his heavy boots on the hardwood. The panic inside of Hawks dimmed, shrunk down to a size that was manageable enough that, finally, he squashed it.

 He felt himself suddenly grounded in the center of the tornado inside of him, reassured that someone else was there with him, that Dabi’s arm was real when it brushed against his. That Dabi’s pretty eyes, when he finally felt brave enough to turn his upward and gaze directly at Dabi, were only looking at him. That Dabi had heard him and understood something that he’d said among the jumbled mess of his confession. Dabi smelled of cigarettes and the familiar sweet, charred scent that clung to his clothes and hair. The smell that often accompanied him everywhere and introduced his presence moments before he entered a room.

The morning sunlight played against the edges of his shiny staples just as it always did, but he was nearer now, close enough that Hawks might have been able to pick out his own face reflected in their tiny, glossy surfaces if he were paying close enough attention. Dabi was near enough that Hawks could lean into his chest if he was strong enough or stupid enough, but he wasn’t. He hesitated there instead, just centimeters from Dabi’s face. They watched each other as the clock across the room ticked and ticked, as the traffic outside ambled along noisily and the sun in the sky continued to pierce through the gloomy gray that lingered long after last night’s storm.

“What do you want then?” Dabi asked him, so near that his warm breath fanned over Hawks’s fiery skin. “If you didn’t have to worry about what anyone else thought right now, what would you want?”

Hawks peered up at Dabi’s thick top lashes, the way that they fanned out from his eyes like dark scribbles that blended into the blacker backdrop of his hair. He studied the sunlight from outside and the way that it cast golden puddles over Dabi’s high cheekbones, how the flattened corners of an almost-smile on his lips strained the staples that were pinned deep into his skin. 

“You,” Hawks said then, quiet and breathless and barely there at all. “I… I want you.”

The edges of Dabi’s mouth twitched upward. For a moment, Hawks caught sight of his pretty, perfect rows of straight white teeth. Dabi sucked in a breath, turning his face away and lifting a hand to comb through his hair. He leaned forward, an elbow on his leg, his spine bent far enough that Hawks could make out the subtle indentations of it, bumped through the strained fabric of his tight, thin jacket.

By the window, still, Dabi’s drink rested, forgotten, with his cigarettes and lighter. Hawks wondered intrusively if his lips would taste like tea if they kissed.

“I’m here,” Dabi said then, lowly.

“You are,” Hawks all but whispered back.

It was quiet again, jittery and pregnant with energy popping in the air between them that Hawks couldn’t put a title to even if he wanted to, even if he was capable of thinking anything but, ‘He’s so close, I could touch him. He’s so near, I can feel his heat.’ 

Dabi chewed on the inside of his cheek, his eyes settling on the kingfisher lithograph that Hawks had studied earlier. His eyelids were low and dropped only lower as he leveled another sigh. He steepled his fingers in front of his face, leaning his forehead to rest against his hands, both elbows perched on his knees. Hawks wasn’t sure what sort of emotion he was emulating at the moment, had definitely not catalogued this specific stance in all the time that he’d known Dabi, but he seemed tired, maybe. Seemed antsy. He turned his head and sat up just a little bit straighter, his pretty teeth hinting at his bottom lip as he watched Hawks with that same even, emotionless flat frown that he wore almost every moment of his life.

“So you want me,” Dabi said then, his voice devoid of inflections or any indication that he might have been feeling anything but boredom, but his eyes caught and pinned on Hawks in a way that they often didn’t linger on other people. “If you could do whatever you wanted…”

He shifted again, leaning in closer to Hawks. Hawks felt his pulse amplify, drumming so roughly in his chest that he wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that even the patrons of the tea shop downstairs could hear it.

Dabi’s eyes studied him and the messy fringe of his hair shadowed his face. His long top-lashes flicked as his gaze moved from Hawks’s eyes and slid down the bridge of his nose, settling, for a long moment, on his lips before drawing upward again.

“Do you want to kiss me?” He asked, as though it was the most unexciting thing in the world. As though his words weren’t currently piercing through Hawks’s chest in the form of a billion tiny pins, stalling his breath and dumbing his thoughts and leaving him helpless, floundering there in front of Dabi without any means to express himself.

“I-I—” Hawks pressed his lips firmly together, jerking his head from side to side as his cheeks flared ever-hotter and his heart continued to thrum in his chest. He reached up, scratching shakily at the nape of his neck, tangling his fingers in the messy hair there and finding himself wholly incapable of settling on a single thing that he might be able to say that wouldn’t leave him looking stupid, or sloppy, or entirely too eager to do everything with Dabi that he’d already so humiliatingly confessed in that horrible text. “I, um… I guess I wouldn’t… mind that…”

He jolted when he felt Dabi’s warm hand inching forward on the comforter and coming, slowly, to rest against his wrist. His face jerked back to watch Dabi for a moment, which proved itself to be nothing but the most massive mistake. Dabi drew nearer, his glinting staples and piercings growing blurrier and less defined as his body caged Hawks in. His warmth radiated, encased Hawks in a kiln that felt so comfortable that Hawks wasn’t sure if he’d ever want to climb out of it. He smelled smoky, sweet and ashen like he’d just climbed out of an oven himself. His textured bottom lip was rough against Hawks’s, but his other hand was gentle when it rose to frame his cheek. The kiss was tentative, testing. It was slow and blurry and dreamlike, as though Hawks would find himself, any minute then, waking up to the sound of his morning alarm. As though none of this could have possibly been real because he’d finally gotten Dabi exactly where his intrusive fantasies wanted him, and Dabi wasn’t shoving him down roughly. He wasn’t being mean.

He was kissing Hawks the way that people kissed each other in the movies: careful, gradual, savoring.

Hawks allowed his eyes to slip closed. He allowed his other hand to drop back down to the quilt. Dabi moved closer, his fingers sliding up Hawks’s arm, leaving goose pimples raised everywhere that they touched. Dabi’s other hand found its way to his knee, putting a light pressure there that sent nerves skittering over the surface of his skin, and it took every ounce of his self control not to wriggle underneath it. Not to move about restlessly as his traitorous body reacted to something this chaste, tender, and innocent in such an inappropriate way.

Dabi pulled away eventually, and Hawks’s eyelids slid open just in time to catch the smallest hint of a smile upturning one side of his mouth. Dabi tipped his head to the side, lifting the hand from Hawks’s arm and drawing a finger over his lips.

“You kiss like a virgin,” he said, successfully sucking any amount of romanticism out of the moment. 

Hawks balked, his feathers ruffling, his spine straightening as he shoved himself back. He almost stood, but his head still felt light, felt like it was floating just a few too many centimeters above him in the clouds. 

“It’s part of my charm,” he fired back, recapturing at least some sense of a Hawks who was unaffected by any rude thing that any person could hurl his way. “Gross guys like you enjoy thinking that they’re the only person their partner has ever been with, right?”

Dabi spit a laugh, his lips curling up, morphing from that sweet little smile into something that more comfortably resembled his regular, everyday sneer.

“I don’t have to be your first to know I’m the best you’ll ever have.”

And without thinking, without considering that calling Dabi’s bluff and matching his challenging energy might lead him down another road that he was so woefully unequipped to handle right now, Hawks fired back, “Oh yeah? You think you have what it takes to rock my world?”

Dabi leaned in again, close enough that his lashes could have tickled Hawks’s face if he so wanted them to. The smirk deepened, dangerous and sexy and predatory enough that Hawks felt nearly every ounce of the confidence that he’d honed just seconds ago quickly vacating his body. He swallowed hard. Dabi’s fingers found his face again, tracing his jaw and tipping up his chin.

“You wanna find out?” he asked, so quiet that the words were nearly lost to the noisy traffic outside.

And without thinking, without allowing himself to steep in guilt or insecurity or that looming sense of wrongness that had pervaded every path that he’d taken the prior week, Hawks responded, as firmly as he could, “Y-yeah, I do.”

Those seemed to be the magic words. The words required to unlock the most ferociously appealing grin that Dabi’s pretty face was capable of. Hawks wasn’t given ample opportunity to appreciate it, however, because seconds later, Dabi was kissing him again. His hands felt as though they were everywhere, all at once. His lips were hot and rougher, his kisses hungry in a way that Hawks might have dreamed of fleetingly, but never imagined could be an actual reality. Dabi’s fingers hinted under his shirt, his lips straying from his mouth and drawing over to his neck. Teeth, warm breath, a wet tongue. Hawks tipped his head back and enjoyed the feeling of allowing himself to be touched, felt set aflame everywhere that Dabi’s skin lingered, found himself watching the cracked and water damaged ceiling of the B&B bedroom blindly as small, embarrassing noises escaped him that he wasn’t quite willing to suppress.

He didn’t mind if Dabi proved him wrong—if anything, he was hoping for that. He felt himself standing on the threshold of everything that he’d been grappling with over the previous days, felt himself toeing the ledge of a vast hillside that he’d been terrified of barreling over just hours prior.

It didn’t feel like such a horrible prospect to jump anymore.

He didn’t feel wary of it, wasn’t worried about the hostility from the commission, the public outcry, the mass exile. None of it mattered, really, when he thought about it. It didn’t matter if he was ruined or wasted, if the best years of his life were behind him and they’d be frittered away in the miserable, fruitless pursuit of someone else’s idea of perfection. It didn’t matter that confronting everything that he wanted meant that he was betraying the ideals that had been hammered into the core of his being since he was too young to make his own decisions.

It didn’t matter because right then, at that moment, he felt happy.

He felt like, for the first time in his life, he knew what he wanted and he was finally unafraid to claim it.

As Dabi hinted his teeth at his neck, as Dabi’s dull fingernails skimmed the sensitive skin of his belly, as Dabi possessed him wholly and burned and burned him straight through with that overpowering heat, Hawks felt himself slip. He fell further into damnation. He betrayed all that he’d been raised to protect. Hawks, the hero, shattered into a billion microscopic pieces, unable to ever be mended fully. Unable to ever be recovered and pieced back together in exactly the perfect way. He would never resemble the hero that he was before this. He would never be capable of considering himself to be a man who held fast to his own convictions. 

Hawks chose a side, finally. The wrong side. The bad side.

And he realized, as Dabi’s fingers tested at one of his nipples, as his teeth buried harder, as his heat wrapped around both of them and possessed them wholly—

He liked it.

He felt, finally, so, so belatedly, like he knew who he was.

What he wanted.

And where he so yearned to be.

If that was here, with Dabi, being taken apart slowly, so be it. If that was siding with the bad guys and betraying goodness and morality and all that he’d been conditioned to admire, so be it.

Dabi met his lips again, and Hawks returned the fervor of his kiss. He cracked open his mouth and allowed Dabi’s eager tongue to slide inside. He moaned needily, low in his throat, and his hands raised, his fingers hungry for the feeling of Dabi’s textured skin. Dabi allowed him to touch him anywhere, everywhere, in all of the places that he’d always wanted to touch. He found himself slowly eased down on his back, careful of his wings and how awkwardly they managed to situate themselves between his body and the mattress.

Dabi pulled away for a moment, lingering above him, both hands pressed to the quilt, his hair askew, his lids low and those beautiful eyes pinned only on Hawks.

“You sure you’re ready for this?”

Hawks swallowed, steadied himself. He lifted a hand to slide over the jacket on Dabi’s arm, upward to his shoulder, over the stippled burns that pulled taut over his jaw, pausing on the staples there, reveling in the chill of them.

“Yeah,” he said quietly, wracked with anticipation. “I want this.”

Dabi’s responding grin was unfairly handsome. And again, so smoothly and naturally that it felt almost as though they’d done this a hundred times before, Dabi leaned in, lowered down, and pressed their lips together.

Hawks decided that if drowning could ever be explained as a pleasant experience, these moments of anticipation and revelation would have to be masterfully documented, recorded carefully for generations after his existence, and painstakingly laid out in a way that would be immersive and all-encompassing. That was as much as his mind could supply currently, at least, as Dabi kissed him further down into the rented bed below. 

He felt breathless, boxed-in, and overwhelmed in a way that he’d usually fight in any other situation. Normally, if a villain had him splayed out on his back, his weight pushing Hawks down, his sheer power of will enough to have his heart beating wildly past its normal rate, he’d battle it. Normally, this would have been dangerous, all of the warning signs would have already been going off, his fight or flight instincts already kicking in to figure a way out of his bad predicament. Maybe it still was, considering who he’d just agreed to bed, who he’d been pining after for so long and letting his feelings build up and spill over in such a sloppy, yet somehow enticing display that not even Dabi was immune to.

But it was good. It was good in a sort of way that Hawks hadn’t felt in a very long time. He felt greedy when he let his fingers trail back down to dig in against Dabi’s shoulder, felt something he’d wrangled and stamped down previous push itself up and out the longer Dabi spent licking inside of his mouth. He realized, fairly quickly, that this could be a different sort of treacherous, like a game of chicken but with fewer clothes, because the second Dabi drew back to catch his breath, Hawks surged forward to nip roughly at his bottom lip as a request for more.

“Damn, you’re needy huh?” He chuckled, pulling away far enough that Hawks would’ve had to make an honest effort to latch himself back.

And maybe he was. Maybe he did feel a little needy right now, trapped under the wonderful heat that had to be something more than just their close proximity. He felt, suddenly, like he deserved this, like he’d earned it, and that he wouldn’t be ashamed anymore about what Dabi did to him, how his gaze pinned him on the spot and made him feel vulnerable and wanted. He realized now, as Dabi did just that, that every time he’d been staring back before might have held a different meaning which Hawks hadn’t caught on to.

“Is that going to be a problem for you? Should I act like I don’t care? Is that more your thing? I can play hard to get if that’s the only way you’ll manage to get it up.” 

Hawks was granted the extreme delight of catching the honest surprise across Dabi’s face, the way his eyebrows pulled up momentarily before the corners of his mouth did the same. He watched, his own smug grin threatening to spill over and ruin his charade, and waited for the attack, bracing mentally for the moment he’d be given to flip Dabi’s reply back onto him.

But it never came, not in the way Hawks was ready for. Instead, Dabi leaned his weight on one arm to free up the other and his fingers disappeared once more under Hawks’s shirt as he tilted his wrist up to force the fabric to pull along with his determined path. 

“Nah, I like you just the way you are. Needy’s fine, suits you. Maybe you’ll be able to keep up with me like this.”

The reply was there, ready to trickle out from his mouth after he squeezed away the gasp that came from blunt nails and warm fingertips wedging themselves between the tight fabric of his shirt and his skin, but the thought ended up jumbled around and discarded. For a split second, Hawks was going to defend his honor against the mere notion that he could ever be needy, despite his personal contradictory thoughts seconds ago. Especially, too, with everything he’d given up to become the person he’d become five minutes ago, but that too drifted away into an afterthought as he watched his shirt inch up higher and higher as Dabi lazily made a path, his destination still a mystery. He itched to help, to will his hands to do something even if all they managed was to dumbly tug at the tight fabric and somehow get it over his head and past his wings, but all of his focus was honed in on watching that hand, admiring the slim curve of Dabi’s wrist, the way his palm bumped across Hawks’s abs and the confusingly cool contrast of the staples as they grazed his skin. 

He wasn’t a virgin, despite Dabi’s accusation before. He’d been there, at some point, with someone else touching him, someone else taking off his clothes and baring him to the world in secret. Hawks knew the mechanics of it all, what went where, when things should go to the next step in sequence, but none of that seemed to matter right now. Someone could rush through the hotel room door as a surprise attack on them and Hawks would probably die because he was too slow to switch his focus away from watching how Dabi had slid his hand back down to teasingly pick apart his belt. 

He felt himself lick at his lips, braced against the mattress as if he’d be unable to control his hips, and he held his breath as metal slid against metal, as Dabi lazily watched his own one-handed work like they had all the time in the world. As if, maybe, he was so unbearably slow at this for a different reason than savoring the memory of stripping a hero of his uniform. Hawks almost protested, opened his mouth to do so, but then Dabi’s wrist pressed down against the front of his pants to afford leverage for tugging the belt free of its loop and a very tense “Shit ” blurted out instead. Horrifically, Dabi made a point to stop mid-belt-tug to gaze back up to Hawks’s face, as though to let him know he knew exactly what had happened. And he made another point then, just in case Hawks didn’t get it as he pressed down harder, to finally slip the entire thing free. This time Hawks lost the battle for control over his body and his hips lifted to grind against Dabi’s wrist and forearm as another low, needy moan slipped out. 

“You’re a lot more quiet than I expected. Needy people are usually louder. Maybe you’re trying to hide it, huh? Maybe it’s all that hero training, all the control they force into you. You know what you want, right? Come on, Hawks, show me what you…”

He knew what he wanted. Hawks knew exactly what it was, but he didn’t care how . He just wanted, endlessly, anything Dabi would give him, and he proved it as he reached down and wrapped his fingers around that surprisingly slim wrist and forced Dabi’s hand to press lower as he literally took the situation into his own hands. Or, Dabi’s hand, and also his, as he made a very obvious, lewd display of rutting his still clothed, very hard, situation up against that wonderfully warm palm. 

“Here’s what I think. I think...I think we both have too many clothes on still. I’m sure you appreciate a slow burn but if you want to hear all those needy , loud sounds I can make, I suggest you stop teasing me and give me something to be loud about.”

To his dismay, Dabi pulled back, taking the hand that Hawks had been casually getting himself off to with him. He worried that he’d been too much, that Dabi really was the sort that wanted everything slow and meticulous and he’d been offended that Hawks would interrupt his plan so rudely. They hadn’t really discussed anything, past the general consensus that something sexual would be happening. Maybe Dabi was particular about his lovers, maybe he didn’t like to relinquish control. Maybe Hawks should have just given him the lead since he seemed comfortable with it when he’d made the first move. Maybe he should just apologize, he thought.

Or maybe he should stop worrying so much about things that didn't matter, which were clearly a non-issue now, a few seconds later, as Dabi sat up and slipped that same hand down the front of his shirt, the two halves that met in the middle that Hawks had assumed were just a style choice splitting perfectly with the motion. He realized then, that there must have been a small hidden zipper somewhere, a tiny detail he would have never noticed as he hadn’t had the chance to ever be close enough to find out. He scrambled to get a better view, shifting his elbows underneath him to support his torso enough that he could watch the motion and imprint it forever in his memory in case this never, ever happened again. 

Whatever hesitance had existed before they kissed was long gone. It was subtle, something Hawks barely picked up on through his own nervous energy and tripped up words, but the juxtaposition now was enough to confirm it. Hawks decided he liked this Dabi better. He liked watching mischief gleam in those pretty blues, liked bouncing his own gaze between the slow drag inching new sections of skin into his view and Dabi’s mouth, that ever-present smirk teasing relentlessly. It was confidence mixed with the excitement of something new, again like a game they were playing but had never explained the rules of winning.

The zipper ended and he tugged the end free, only a sliver of chest and abs visible from Hawks’s vantage point, but it was exciting enough that he sucked in a breath and his feathers jittered, anticipation thick in the moment between them. The movement wasn’t lost on Dabi and he raised an eyebrow, pulled the shirt apart another inch, and split his grin wider as he caught the longer, sharper feathers of Hawks’s wings fan out and curve in reaction.

“You’re shit at hiding your tells when you’re excited. Can’t say I’ve ever seen someone get so riled up from a little stripping. You sure you wanna go at this fully nude? Don’t want you to nut before the fun even starts.” To punctuate that, Dabi reached for the lapels of his jacket and shucked it back and down across his shoulders, revealing more bare skin where his shirt ended at the shoulders, apparently sleeveless.  

It wasn’t very fair, all things considered, that someone could look so unbearably and completely perfect still half-clothed and hardly debauched. He had a point, considering the problem straining against Hawks’s pants, left on the edge of a promise with just his belt undone but the front still zipped. He could get off on much less than what was showcased in front of him now, but he’d never forgive himself if he didn’t at least try to hold it together long enough to feel every part of Dabi pressed against or inside him.

Maybe it was time to level the playing field. 

“I’m sure, never been more sure about something in my life. But if you’re really concerned, there’s only one way to find out, right?” 

Hawks chose to dodge the other comment, not yet ready to face the fact that Dabi had observed him enough times that he was able to piece together something so personal. Instead, he outspread the lengths that he could within his confined space much like a peacock, which allowed enough of a distraction for him to push up off of the mattress and invade Dabi’s space in the same way he’d been in Hawks’s moments ago.

“You look like you could use a little help. As much as I enjoy a nice striptease, I prefer a more hands-on approach.”

His hands were on Dabi before he could reply, tugging carefully at the gleaming circle of lightweight metal that stopped his sleeves at the elbow, gripping delicately at Dabi’s wrist as he shimmied it down the length of his arm. This was new territory that Hawks wasn’t willing to fuck up despite his urge to go much faster and get Dabi completely nude as quickly as possible. He’d wondered, many times, if all of it hurt. If his skin felt too tight where it was burned beyond the normal limit for such things, if the staples caught on his clothes or pulled wrong if he moved too fast. If even this, just sitting here with an amused look on his face while Hawks, obvious boner and jittery wings out on full display, attempted to remove his top layers in a safe way that limited anything brushing against his skin, was painful to some degree that he’d unfortunately just become dull to.

He never let it look like it hurt, not even as Hawks’s fingers traveled the bumps of staples that exposed themselves as he slipped off the open parts of Dabi’s shirt. The jacket pooled around his waist and his shirt fell to rest on top of it. The rustle of fabric was lost on Hawks as he sat there, too close to Dabi but unwilling to push away. The damage traveled far, held together in a way that seemed so confining and harsh. He knew, from what he’d always been able to see with short glances and uncontrollable staring, that this was probably what it would have been underneath, but to see it in person, to see the extent of it…

He swallowed, the smallest spike of nervousness and worry prying itself back up through his stalled fingers, and met Dabi’s watching gaze. “Does it...do you. I just don’t want to, you know, if it hurts, I mean. You’d…”

“Cute. You weren’t concerned about getting all handsy when I had my clothes on. Don’t worry about it, couldn’t really feel if it hurt even if I wanted to.”

And something about that was unbearably sad. It pulled uncomfortably at Hawks’s heart, that Dabi was so damaged that the feeling was completely gone, or worse, he was brushing the issue aside so Hawks wouldn’t feel bad about wanting to touch him. He wanted to press the issue, to figure out exactly every part of Dabi that couldn’t feel, what patches of his body were too far gone from too many years of destruction. Which ones were still alive enough to feel pleasure. He must have looked like he was thinking too hard because those long fingers brushed up underneath his chin and forced him back to what he should have been paying attention to.

“Hey, don’t lose all your steam now, birdie. I thought you wanted to help?”

Hawks swelled forward without another second of hesitation, a strange mix of longing and arousal churning inside of him. It pressed relentlessly, much like his mouth did against Dabi’s now, a sense of urgency and fervor cast across his fingertips as he rushed to fumble with the belt still snug around Dabi’s hips. Against his lips he could feel the grin there, taunting as the slide of fabric and metal eyelets muffled below the sound of their shared, huffed breath. It wasn’t smooth, not anywhere near what Dabi had given him with his little show, but Hawks couldn’t fathom wasting any more time, as if Dabi would disappear if he didn’t unclothe him within the next thirty seconds.

He broke apart only to rid himself of the rest of his outfit, tugging his skin-tight shirt that had stayed shucked halfway up his torso over his head. Hawks worked it over one wing at a time, chucked it in a random direction he’d figure out later, and kicked his boots off the foot of Dabi’s bed with a heavy, definitive thunk. His fingers went to the fly of his pants, finally ready to relieve himself of the too-warm confines of heavy work-worn fabric, only to pause halfway down the zipper as he glanced over at the exact wrong moment.

Dabi had made short work of his own boots which sat neatly on the floor off to the side, but only the toes peeked out from below as the crumpled pile of soft black leather and metal accents hid their tall forms. The remainder of the pants were still attached to their owner, dangling from one hidden foot. Hawks made the mistake, or best choice of his life, to follow the trail of skin and lean muscle, the familiar motif of burns and gleaming metal available for him to view until it was interrupted by a very tight pair of black boxer briefs that did, quite frankly, a very bad job of containing anything. 

At least this time, when he was caught staring, he’d have a completely valid, normal reason for it. The sort of reason that would have stopped anyone in their tracks and derailed any thought process or plan of action, much like Hawks was experiencing right now. 

“Damn, rude in bed too? You know you can do more than stare now.”

Could he though? Was Hawks, the man, the now anti-hero, the currently about-to-fuck-a-very-attractive-villain-and-live-to-tell-the-story guy really ready to reach out and get a handful of that and still be able to form coherent thoughts that would then translate out of his mouth into real words?

He supposed that realistically, going forward, there weren’t a lot of things he’d have to think too hard about that he’d need to access any important part of his brain for.

“Yeah. Yeah, hold on. I just need to, I need a moment, to prepare, I mean.”

The moment included Hawks missing his zipper a total of three attempts as he’d become unwilling to look away from where Dabi had braced a hand against his own inner thigh. The other hand shifted, pressed at the front of his boxers to rearrange the obvious something there and Hawks barely heard the chuckled response as he finally grasped his zipper and tugged it so hard that it might have snapped right off, had his pants been a cheaper brand. He kicked those off as well, frantic suddenly and completely unembarrassed about his own frazzled state or his bright red boxers that were sporting an obvious wet dot on the front. He didn’t even allow Dabi a chance for a snide comment, or to remark again that his wings had fluffed up and the lamp on the nightstand was in very real danger of being knocked to the floor if he arched back three more inches.

He hovered, close enough that Dabi’s breath was warm against his ear, stalling those final few seconds he desperately needed to pull himself together and figure out what he wanted, something more concrete than ‘everything, all over’ . In what Hawks might consider his boldest, bravest moment yet, he pressed against the only piece of clothing left on Dabi, soft and then firmer as he realized the sheer amount that was straining there. Dabi didn’t move. He didn’t push him off or call him a creep. Instead, a content sigh pressed through his lips and he shifted in their awkward sitting positions, just enough to get Hawks’s thumb to brush against the elastic band of his briefs where a definitive bump nearly pushed it all the way off of his skin. 

That was all it took.

“Hey so, I know what I want. I want you to sit down, against the headboard, so I can get to know you a little better, right here .” He squeezed to emphasize his point, delighted in the agreed hum, and hushed “Sure” that came from Dabi in reply.

Hawks drew away reluctantly, just enough to give Dabi the space to maneuver himself up at the top of the bed as requested. He watched him go, of course, those long legs and surprisingly alluring backside that had always been encased in somewhat tight, but forgiving leather pants, on full display. There was something thrilling in the simple request being met without resistance, that weird tiny voice in his head yelling that he’d just told a villain to do a favor and he’d done it without question. Dabi, in this case, probably had an idea that whatever was about to happen was going to be beneficial for him as well, but it still felt nice. Still put a little gust in Hawks’s metaphorical wings, enough to lift him up and press his way between an enticing set of splayed legs and under an equally enticing vulgar, crooked grin.

Dabi lounged there, in all his near-naked glory, a pillow sandwiched between his lower back and the headboard. His hands rested right above his knees and he stared down Hawks in a way that would have felt predatory if Hawks wasn’t already the one on the hunt. Instead, he just looked annoyingly handsome, smug, and not at all needy or restless like how Hawks felt. His eyes shifted their gaze from that smirk down to his fingers, to where two had shifted and curled together, beckoning him forward.

“Fuck.” Hawks couldn’t keep the grin off his face as he pressed forward on hands and knees, a renewed determination coursing through him as he slipped his palms onto each of Dabi’s shins. He slid up and over, dipped down to run his touch across the expanse of each strong thigh. His fingers mirrored each other as they sank underneath the leg openings of Dabi’s boxers, teasing as he pulled up short from going any further. He looked up, searching for any last shreds of hesitance or change of heart, but was met only with an expectant gaze and curved lip, the sort that gave Hawks a feeling like Dabi was withholding something or that there’d be a big surprise in all of this.

“Don’t mind me, I’m just gonna…”

Rip the bandaid off, but more seductively. Hawks curled his fingers over the band of elastic, pulled it far enough from where it had laid snugly tight just below Dabi’s navel, and shoved the offending fabric down low enough that he’d be able to get a good look at what he’d be working with.

The answer to that was: a lot. Another thought he had immediately after, the only one that seemed to parse through the others that couldn’t work themselves out into any coherence, was: that should go in my mouth now.

“Wow. We could have skipped all of that embarrassing fumbling if you’d just mentioned this the first time we’d met. The HQ has a lot of bathrooms I would’ve blown you in.” Hawks neglected to direct his comment up towards Dabi’s face, instead electing to speak directly to his new best friend, Dabi’s dick.

“Shame. Guess you’d better make up for lost time now?” He sounded put together when he replied, but Hawks caught the tiny twitch of Dabi’s fingers that spoke of a barely contained anticipation. 

Hawks wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting all this time. His dreams and before-bed thoughts always supplied him only with the idea that what Dabi had to offer was simply good and enough to get him where he needed to be. So it was a nice surprise now, with the real thing right in front of his face, to finally lock-in that last puzzle piece so that later, alone, in the future, or during extremely boring PLF meetings, he’d have something nice to think about.

At the very least, Dabi was consistent with his motif. Hawks couldn’t say he’d ever slept with someone before with so many piercings, and definitely never with anyone that had them here, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t excited. He let his fingers do the exploring: one followed in a line down from the very tip, bumping against the thick ring that gleamed just as bright as the staples that circled around his thighs. He continued past each horizontal bar, feeling the metal through the skin, the slight ridge it left until he got to the next, counting as he went. Four, five if he counted the top, and he had to stop himself from traveling further to search if there were any more hidden lower. Hawks supposed he’d find out eventually.

He was staring again, but this time Dabi didn’t reprimand him. Dabi was surprisingly quiet through the inspection, only his body giving him away the more Hawks felt him up with scattered muscles tensing along his legs and abdomen. He was hard, had been since before Hawks had even attempted to touch him, and somehow even bigger than all of his late-night fantasies had supplied. He wondered, sizing Dabi up as his hand wrapped around as much as it could manage, if all of it would ever fit, anywhere really, inside him. Only one way to find out.

“Guess so.”

It was all the warning Hawks allowed, besides the quick grin he threw in Dabi’s general direction, before testing himself, his mouth, and his self-control in one fell swoop.

He shoved down, a giddy sort of adrenaline pulsing through his body as he licked a fat stripe from base to tip. His tongue felt each little bump as he went, swiped across the snug, balled ends of each bar, and stopped back up at the top to admire the ring there before encasing it and the head of Dabi’s cock between his eager lips. He pushed, faster than he probably should have, to get as far down as he could, to see just how much he could manage before it became too much. The moment arrived much too soon and Hawks drew back up before he choked himself, an annoyed little huff ghosting across Dabi’s spit-slick skin.

In his peripheral vision, something moved, and Dabi’s hand then came to rest at the base of his neck while he steadied himself for another attempt. It was nice, the thumb that started to drag at the finer, softer strands at his hairline, the fingers that sifted carefully through the rest of his messy, disheveled hair. Hawks closed his eyes, felt the indulgent hum that pushed out. Felt Dabi’s blunt fingernails scratch against his scalp and heard something shift near his face before he felt the other thumb brush against his own wet lips.

“Too excited, you’ll hurt yourself. Take it slow, alright? For me.”

And he was right, but Hawks would never tell him that. He just smiled, caught the tip of Dabi’s thumb with his tongue before it drifted away, and sunk back down on the cock in front of him with a better, more sustainable pace. He got it, after a few hurried attempts. Hawks adjusted to the ring that bumped against his throat, found himself somewhat enamored with being guided, gently, by the steadied hand that stayed at the back of his neck as he tried a little more, each time, to get further down. He swallowed, felt himself being worked up slowly as he continued the repetition of sinking down and pulling back up. He smiled to himself when the realization hit, foggy and searing, that he’d made it down to the very last bar he’d mapped out earlier.

Above him, distantly, Dabi sounded labored and out of breath, the fingers he’d guided through Hawks’s hair curling every time he was close to bottoming out. They threatened to tug, but never did, even when Hawks pulled up and all the way off before shoving back down to test the limits of how wide his mouth could go. Hawks lost track of time, lost track of himself even and his own pressing arousal, enchanted by the wonderful feeling of finally getting something he wanted. Something Dabi apparently wanted as well, considering how he’d moved to help hold himself steady at the base so that Hawks could do as he pleased.

Abruptly, the fingers in his hair tugged tight, pulled upward instead of down like Hawks’s fast-beating heart had wanted, and held him unyielding just above the cock he’d been so rudely removed from. His consolation prize then was a nice view of Dabi’s fingers wrapped all the way around at the base, squeezing tight as he worked through what Hawks knew to be an attempt not to finish too fast. The tremble in his thighs, which traveled all the way up through his abs and the slight shake of his hands, too, were a good sure sign of his discovery. If Hawks wasn’t so drunk on the mere concept that he’d been allowed to suck Dabi off after so much time spent fantasizing about it, he would have been annoyingly smug about the situation.

“Aw, come one, I was just starting to have fun…” He stretched his best to meet Dabi’s eyes, the first time since he’d gone down, and got a face full of how truly disheveled he looked. Color sat high on his cheeks, his teeth dug a harsh pattern into his bottom lip, his eyebrows were pulled tight in a look something close to pleading. It was almost too much. It made Hawks want to rip away and sink his mouth back down and ruin whatever plans Dabi had. He wanted to be greedy, to take what he’d decided at that moment was his right.

“If you keep using your mouth like that, this will be over real soon.”

It seemed like a promise, or maybe a threat. Hawks wasn’t sure there was much of a difference anymore when it came to Dabi, and he found himself uncaring if one was worse than the other. He didn’t doubt that Dabi was serious, not with how tense he was all over, how strung up and on the edge he looked now that Hawks was getting a good eyeful. Still, he had to fight the urge to test this theory, to see just how much longer Dabi would last if he pressed back down. Wondered, too, if he’d be harsher with his fingers. If his voice would pitch deeper in those last seconds before he’d be unable to do anything but come down Hawks’s throat.

It would have to wait for another time, and maybe Hawks would solidify the thought with a promise or threat. 

“Tempting,” he pushed up, running the heel of his palm across his chin to wipe away the mess he’d made, “But I’m curious about what else you have in mind. I don’t recall any meetings later. You’re all I had on my calendar.”

A smile cut through the tension and Hawks felt those fingers pressing at the back of his neck again, leading him softly up higher until he couldn’t see anything else but bright eyes and shining metal. He kept expecting something rougher, as though whatever dwelled beneath the surface of Dabi’s skin, whatever constructs that had been built up around him to present him as a villain would be reflected in how he treated people. How he’d want to treat Hawks. But he surprised him, a reverse facade that proved something gentle and caring within, as he brought Hawks to settle against his lap.

“I suppose that means I have you all day then.”

Hawks was met with warm lips again, unshy, and instead eager to pry and nip until he opened up and let Dabi do as he pleased with his mouth. He couldn’t help himself from rocking down, from pressing his clothed lap up against Dabi’s still exposed one, from moaning between increasingly sloppy kisses as he realized he could feel just the hint of those piercings against himself, even with the barrier of his boxers still in place. He wanted to feel more, wanted Dabi to go faster and maybe harder and burn him bright until he couldn’t feel anything else besides what was offered between a set of sheets he hadn’t even seen yet. 

He wrapped his arms around broad shoulders and broke away, dizzy with need but unwilling, now that Dabi had him in his clutches, to do much more than follow the motions. Hawks pressed his nose tight to the spot where neck and shoulder met, took a big, steadying inhale, and let his wings fan out before releasing his breath and grinding down in a particularly low and hard press.

“Does that mean you’re going to take all day then? You do know that you’ve been driving me nuts for weeks already. Is this some sort of payback? I’m not above begging if that’s your thing.”

Hawks felt petulant, mumbling into Dabi’s neck while he continued to shift his hips in a very obvious plea for attention, but was met only with another soft laugh. He felt hands then, like an apology, each wrapping around his waist and sliding up and back to run down the length of his spine. They stopped just above the edge of his boxers, teasing until Dabi dipped his fingers below the line. They crept down lower and lower until each palm was settled fully across Hawks’s ass. Without warning, Dabi shifted Hawks’s lower half forward, meeting in the middle to pin their laps together in a swift collision that dragged the breath out of both of them. The force behind it, the possessive way Dabi commanded his body easily, the groan that he heard so close to his ear; all too much and too fast, even though Hawks had been asking for exactly that. 

“I’ll take as long as I want. Got a problem with that, pretty bird?”

His voice came out so low, so raspy, so filthy that Hawks shuddered in Dabi’s grasp. He whined, knowing that later when he made fun of him for it, Hawks would deny it ever happened because the way his body reacted to that particular name was so wholly embarrassing that it was better to wipe it from existence. At that moment, it was already too late. Dabi was already pressing his lips to wherever he could reach, peppering Hawks’s shoulder with fevered kisses, dragging his fingernails back up his spine and splaying them across the sensitive patch of skin between his wings.

It was maddening that he was allowed to so easily know Hawks’s body. Unfair, that he was playing him like an old song he’d known for decades, like they’d fucked before, like this dance was muscle memory. Hawks felt raw and uncovered, felt like his face was too red and his wings were moving too much and that Dabi smelled so nice like this, close and strong and letting Hawks cling to him like if he didn’t, all of this would disappear.

“No. No, I don’t. But I’m dangerously close to jerking myself off onto you, so if you’d like something else to happen I need to know in the next thirty seconds.”

One of Dabi’s hands disappeared from Hawks’s back and he heard the slide of wood against itself before the definitive roll and thunk of something hit the edge. He shifted his head atop Dabi’s shoulder, watching his hand search around blindly until he was able to collect what he wanted. It was small and discrete, a tiny bottle that could have been anything considering it had no label, but Hawks had a good idea what it might be within the context of the activity they were in the middle of.

He made an honest effort to swipe it from Dabi, dragged his arm out from where it had been wrapped tightly around his shoulders, but he was too slow where normally he’d be too fast. He frowned, made another sloppy attempt and missed, considered sending out a feather to stab Dabi’s hand just enough that he’d drop it, but in the end, it was too much effort.

“Sorry, I guess it’s my turn for fun again. I’ll make it worth your while, don’t worry.”

There were a lot of things he could have said right then, about how Dabi didn’t need to do that, or that he preferred to get it over with himself. Alone, more often than not, it was enough to just take care of whatever scenario he’d backed himself into with his thoughts, to just jerk it out and fall asleep and deal with life and its consequences in the morning. Rarely, Hawks had bothered with this much, to lay out what little supplies he had and actually spend the time on his pleasure when it was so involved and required him to not be bone-tired whenever he stumbled through his front door.

But he said nothing because all of the reasons he could have given were just excuses. Hawks couldn’t even remember if anyone had ever insisted to do this for him in his past. If this was something someone would actually want instead of just a needed step to get to the end goal. He felt an unfamiliar type of shyness when the click of the cap echoed in the room, his body tense when Dabi tugged his boxers down so that they slipped underneath his thighs and got stuck between them. And maybe Dabi knew, or maybe he didn’t, but Hawks wasn’t met with any of the teasing jabs he’d expected.

He was met, instead, with a finger pressing slowly, warmer than he’d expected given his own flighty experiences. His arms wound tighter around Dabi’s shoulders, his fingernails dug against patches of burnt and soft skin, and Hawks told himself to relax, told himself it would only be a few minutes of awkwardness before they could get back to what they really wanted to do.

In reply, the fingers of Dabi’s unoccupied hand returned to his back. They trailed slowly, in mindless little patterns, dipping and weaving between the sore muscles where Hawks knew he overworked to fly. They were warm, not in the way Hawks knew Dabi could burn something hot enough for it to turn to ashes, but just enough that it made him question if Dabi just naturally ran warm. Slowly, his muscles unlocked. His weight sank against Dabi, the firm press of his palm along his spine not distracting enough to deter his focus as a second finger slipped in to work with the first, but complimentary in a way no one had ever let him experience.

It wasn’t methodical. It wasn’t just a means to an end. Hawks felt , as spiky ends tickled at his ear, as Dabi leaned forward to watch his own work and something about the hum of approval shot straight to his crotch, had him muffling a surprised “Fuck” and pushing back to meet those long, impressive fingers. It worked him up in a way he hadn’t encountered before, had a heat driving down his spine and fanning out to the very ends of his toes that had nothing to do with the temperature they were causing between each other.

When the third finally met the other two, Hawks felt the press of lips on the curve of his shoulder, the slight scrape of teeth that teased at biting, and the juxtaposition of a cool metal ball prodding along where tongue met skin. He realized, after the fact, that the heavy, labored breathing was coming from his own open mouth. Dabi’s fingers moved slowly, much slower than how Hawks would have worked himself open alone, and it drove him steadily crazy that there was no promise to go faster, no insistence, or question if this was enough. Hawks realized that Dabi wasn’t going to ask, that maybe he’d stay here sinking his fingers in over and over again until the hours flew past midday.

“Are...are you enjoying yourself, down there? I’m, ah- ah , ready, real ready, don’t think I can get more ready.”

Those prying fingers stopped, timed, surely, on purpose as they were as deep as they’d been able to go given their positions. A kiss had paused as well, open-mouthed at the junction of Hawks’s neck and shoulder where Dabi had nudged his head aside to get his teeth where he wanted. Hawks felt something warm and wet drag up to his earlobe, had him grinding back again and attempting to hide the deep groan that wobbled out of his self-bitten lips. 

“I could do just this and get you off. Wouldn’t take much, since you’ve fallen apart so quick already. But you want more, don’t you? So needy , I wonder what will be enough.”

Hawks couldn’t take it anymore, he decided then and there. He couldn’t handle that voice, couldn’t deal with the fingers still deep inside him, or Dabi’s possessive palm against his back. He pulled away just enough to crash their mouths together, to pour all of his worked-up energy back into Dabi, wanting that endless loop of resonance to bind them tightly together so that anything that happened after this moment wouldn’t be able to break through. 

He pried at mismatched lips, licked at the seam until Dabi was laughing and his fingers were plunging faster. Hawks couldn’t decide where to move at any given moment so he let his body figure it out as he dove his tongue past that row of perfect teeth. It was enough, it seemed, to get Dabi to decide. They broke apart only to shuck off the crumpled, damp remains of their boxers in a frenzy, quick to come back together as Dabi kicked at the bed’s top blanket and sheets and Hawks made sure that his throne, Dabi’s lap, was still situated how he wanted.

He waited, poised and still as he hovered, for some sign, for some vocalization that yes, this was finally happening and neither Dabi nor himself would take back everything that was said or deny the mess they’d made of each other in this hotel room. And it felt strange to know, to feel that Dabi was doing the same, had been looking at him with an intensity that mirrored the way his fingers gripped tightly at Hawks’s hips. For all his words, his teasing, his cocky attitude and moody, outward presence, he was different like this, alone. He was waiting for Hawks to choose. Waiting for him to take what he wanted.

Hawks bit back the emotion that threatened to well-up at being given a choice, still, even after he’d made his intentions so clear. 

It was well worth it, he thought, to be selfish. He’d show Dabi just how needy he could be, rewrite what it meant to be sloppy until he wouldn’t ever be able to say the word without thinking of this shared moment. Hawks refused to look anywhere else but those blazing blue eyes as he purposely dribbled too much of the unlabeled bottle’s contents down between them.

It was immensely pleasurable, too, when he took Dabi in hand and gave a few quick pumps to make sure everything was slick enough, to watch as his eyebrows furrowed together and his grip tightened and yet he still didn’t move, barely let his hips attempt to rock up off of the bed.

It was a sense of control Hawks hadn’t known that he’d been wanting, so keen to fall into Dabi’s hands after pining so long, but it felt right. It felt great, actually, as he lined up that pretty cock, as he sank down painstakingly slow, not because he needed it to adjust, but because he wanted to watch every second of Dabi fight the need to buck up into the overwhelming tightness and heat he’d been seeking. He didn’t disappoint. He sucked in a harsh, clipped breath before Hawks had even bottomed-out and smacked the back of his head loudly against the headboard as he near-trembled for control over himself. His eyes had pinched closed in the process and Hawks laughed, feeling giddy with power as he leaned forward to close the gap between them and his hands went to fist into those soft, inky locks. 

He pressed a random kiss to Dabi’s chin, finally sinking all the way down, and let out his own sigh as his body got used to the difference between the fingers that were there before and the stretch of what was filling him up now. 

“Anyone ever tell you your dick’s too big? I thought you were just being weird about the fingers but, damn, I might have underestimated what can fit in my mouth and what can fit in…”

“Shut up. Is ruining nice moments part of your quirk? If I’d known you were going to be so insufferably loud, I’d have—ah, shit .”

Hawks decided if Dabi was going to be rude and interrupt him, that it was only fair he pay him back the same. He purposely started moving mid-sentence, pushing away the overwhelming sense of being too full and too tight in favor of focusing on just how much and how quickly he could drive Dabi over the edge with his body. 

It was freeing like this, being able to take and lead as he worked up a slow, steady pace that burned Dabi in a different way. His thighs did most of the work for him, bracketed Dabi’s own as he worked to drag himself up and drop back down. He got used to the sensation with each repetition and marveled in the power as no attempts to rule the speed or angle were made. Dabi simply took it, pressed his thumbs into Hawks’s hip bones every time he slapped down at a particularly nice tilt and hid his hot, stuttering breath against Hawks’s collarbone.

The fingers Hawks tangled in Dabi’s hair tugged as he began to speed up, curled to pull when Hawks purposely let gravity do the work on the way down instead of relying on the strength of his thighs. The action punched out an echo of ascending moans, each one after the other falling easier from his lips as his body became used to the spread and heat, as sweat began to collect wherever his skin touched too close.

It felt perfect. It felt like the culmination of so many walls of self-denial being shattered all at once, as lewdly as possible. It felt like each time Hawks ground down to build up his selfish pleasure, he was proving something deeper than just him and Dabi finally letting their bodies be honest together. He proved he could take what he wanted, what he needed, and no one was there to stop him. In fact, Dabi was there to support that conviction as he held himself steady for Hawks to use as he pleased, despite how much it tested him to do so, how hard he’d been gripping and how hot his hands were getting as they helped Hawks with his attempts to ride his cock until neither of them would have anything left to give.

“Let me help. Come on, I can feel your legs giving out. Let me make you feel good,” Dabi pressed, his voice tight and out of breath, almost too lowly muffled within the space between them.

Hawks knew he was right, even as he chased his pleasure without managing to touch himself once. His thighs were straining, shaking in overexertion as he pressed on, encouraged and captivated by the feeling of those piercings rubbing in ways he hadn’t contemplated that they could. He let his eyes drop to glance down between them, to see the mess he’d been making across Dabi’s stomach, and noticed he wasn’t the only one looking. 

He dragged his hands forward from where they’d been buried in Dabi’s hair to frame his face instead, pressing a rushed, tired kiss against his mouth as his answer. Hawks rose up once more under encouraging hands and lips, felt Dabi’s grip tighten on his skin to communicate that he shouldn’t move, and immediately got the breath knocked out of him as the mismatched hips below his snapped up with all the desire that had been tempered down to allow Hawks to take how he’d wanted to.

The sound that escaped Hawks in reply was thankfully concealed against Dabi’s lips, greedily enveloped and mingled in stolen breaths. He held on as best as he could, mentally and physically, as Dabi worked him up twice as fast as he’d been doing to himself. The grounding feeling of warm fingers squeezing and guiding felt off for a moment until he realized where one of Dabi’s hands had traveled to, sliding a hot trail across until they quickly encircled what he’d been neglecting. Hawks had good reason to, knowing himself and how fast he’d finished, alone, just thinking about Dabi existing in front of him. Now, with it all very much real, warm and wet and irresistible, all it took was three generous pumps before Hawks was digging his nails into Dabi’s shoulders as he frantically tried to fuck up into his fist and push his tired thighs back down at the same time to feel every inch of what was available.

Dabi only chuckled against his lips, held him in place so he couldn’t do much of either, and broke away to bite against his neck, already littered with red spots and blooming bruises. He mouthed over a particularly nice area when Hawks sank against him, his tongue ring a cool contrast to his hot mouth as it toyed with the bottom of his ear, Dabi’s warm breath skating over Hawks’s already scorching skin. His body reacted before he could do anything to stop it, before Hawks could warn about sensitive areas and what reactions they’d cause. His wings fanned out sharply, knocking against the closest nightstand and shoving off the old, outdated alarm clock. It crashed to the floor, causing them both to stutter to a stop. Hawks made a half-assed attempt to lean over and see if the thing was still in once piece and while he was peering over for any broken parts, Dabi took advantage of his split focus and forcibly dislodged Hawks in the one second he’d allowed to catch him off guard. 

“Dabi, what the f...”

He pinned Hawks to the bed, both with his hands and his smirk, shoving away his jacket and glasses that had been scattered next to them to the floor to meet the same fate as the alarm clock. Dabi leered down close to his face, forcing his way, although somewhat easily, between Hawks’s legs. He was just as breathless as Hawks was, but didn’t let that deter him from what he wanted now.

“You’re a tease, you know that? Don’t know if you enjoy doing it more to yourself or me.”

The snide comeback was there, waiting on the tip of Hawks’s tongue. Something about how no one needed to smoke a cigarette like that unless they were looking for more than a quick pick me up, or how in this case, Hawks was the quick pick me up. But none of that ever made it out because Dabi decided to press forward in one quick movement, to draw Hawks’s lower half up to meet his lap as he kneeled back with the bottom of his thighs tight to his calves, punching the words out of Hawks’s mouth in favor of a moan that probably could have been heard in the next room over. 

Dabi tested Hawks’s hips once more before hiking a thigh up and resting his calf across his shoulder. He waited there, made sure Hawks was watching him, and then proceeded to nose against the tacky skin available, his warm mouth tickling the fine hairs there. He planted soft kisses in no particular pattern, his hips working slowly in a lazy cadence that had Hawk’s toes curling behind his back. Below, Hawks arched to get enough leverage with the angle Dabi had placed him, his hands gripping the crumpled sheets below, close to Dabi’s knees. He tugged, both where his knee locked over Dabi’s shoulder and at his waist as well, holding in the whine that wanted to grate out at being held in suspension of pleasure. Teasing, by the look of the grin Dabi wasn’t doing a very good job at hiding against Hawks’s leg. 

“Come on, thought you…you promised you’d be the best I’ll ever have. Sounds like a lie if I- ah , if I gotta do it myself.”

Hawks slid his hand over, stared Dabi down for good measure as he did it, and wrapped his hand around himself in a tight fist. He managed a few strokes, maybe one good, solid moan before Dabi slapped his hand away and bent down, folding Hawks’s leg with him as he did it.

“I can tell by the way you’ve been looking at me that I already am.”

Dabi pulled out as far as he could manage with how tight they were locked together. Hawks watched, enraptured, as the hand that had been gripping his pushed-up leg reached for Hawks’s own, tangled in the sheet. Dabi dragged them along the surface until Hawks’s palm was resting, facing up, next to his ear. Their fingers locked together, tight as Dabi shifted forward to press deep inside once more, his weight resting down on Hawks’s now trapped hand as his other free one went to replace what he’d slapped away. He said nothing more as he set the pace, as he pumped Hawks in cadence with the slap of his hips, his gaze refusing to look anywhere else but Hawks’s eyes, his lips, and his fingers curling tightly, tangled with Dabi’s own.

It was more, much more than Hawks had ever anticipated. Dabi looked down at him like he cared, not just about his pleasure in the moment, but about him. About the choices he should have been making, about the things and people he shouldn’t have given a fuck about. What he wanted, what he chose to take, what he’d keep choosing now that he’d gotten a taste of what it could be.

His wings gave him away one last time, shuddering against the sheets as Dabi built up the familiar, all-encompassing burn for both of them. He let them expand, reach and stretch to wrap around them both, shielding away the rest of the world so that no one could interrupt them now. Heroes, villains, everyone in between; nothing mattered more than this. Hawks felt himself breaking apart, melting and sinking as the pleasure built fast and sure, drowning. He felt the steady rock of Dabi’s hips colliding against him, the deep slide over and over, the hand that felt so much better than his own, hotter and bigger as it worked him up just to the edge of pleasure as if Dabi had planned this all along.

Hawks snapped his eyes open, unaware of when they’d fallen shut, and dug his fingernails hard into the back of Dabi’s hand as he tried to hold on just a little bit longer, unwilling to end this last moment of bliss. Above him, existed the image of something he’d only dreamt of—that devilish grin, a too-wide smile, and ever-burning eyes pinned right on him, flashing metal and rough skin, surrounded by a sea of deep red. He wanted this, so bone-deep. Wanted Dabi, wanted his gaze to smolder him anew, to help him reach what he’d always been pining for, but never able to fully trust that he’d make it out of the blaze alive. 

“Come on, show me, pretty bird. Take what you want.”

Hawks reached out, blindly and vehemently, his fingers digging too rough at the back of Dabi’s neck as he hauled him down. He slammed their mouths together, desperately and needy, bucking against Dabi’s thrusts as they sped up to match the feverish pace at which Hawk’s was unraveling. Dabi slipped his hand off of Hawks’s, dipped it between the mattress and his lower back to help support the arch that Hawk’s body demanded to bow in, and laughed breathlessly between sloppy kisses and whimpered moans.

With one final press, one last nip at his lip and tongue overwhelming his senses, Hawks let himself go. He spilled across Dabi’s fingers, his knuckles, and dripped onto his own stomach while his body locked up and worked through the pleasure, his legs tightening and his grip in Dabi’s hair becoming overwhelming. It was enough, it seemed, to satisfy Dabi as well. He broke away from his mouth to press his forehead down against Hawks’s, the low, almost pained groan that slipped out as he ground down one last time almost better than coming himself. Hawks knew already that the memory of that sound would be forever stuck in the back of his mind, sure to pop up in probably, hopefully, every boring meeting he’d have to attend from this point on. 

For a while, they laid there, exhausted and satisfied. Hawks kept them cocooned safely in the shadow of his wings, ran his fingers through Dabi’s disheveled hair, and got selfishly used to the weight of him lounging on top of his chest. It was a nice moment, something that pulled at his heart, the promise that this wasn’t just about sex. That Dabi hadn’t immediately left, was still here, real and actually very heavy now, and sticky, and still lodged in Hawks’s ass. His right wing was starting to cramp and he felt ravenous all of a sudden, after so much rambunctious physical activity.

His stomach grumbled, loudly, rivaling even some of his earlier passion-filled moans. A few painful, frozen seconds passed, and then finally Dabi broke it. He chuckled, pressed a lazy kiss to Hawk’s chest, and shifted himself up enough to level an understanding look his way.

“You hungry? I could go for something. You worked me over enough, feel like I need a coffee and a new pack of cigs.”

Hawks just watched him for a moment, the uncomplicated way he looked back, the ease of his shoulders and casual, familiar words. 

“Yeah. I’d like that. I could go for all three, actually, if you’re so generously offering.”

And Dabi smiled, not his signature smirk or his manic grin, just a small, secret tilt of lips, something Hawks would come to learn was so rare and saved only for him. Dabi disentangled them carefully, leaving Hawks with one last burning, lingering kiss before he retreated to the bathroom with his clothes.

Alone, Hawks let himself sink down into the sheets, threw the corner of one over the mess he’d made of himself, and closed his eyes, listening to the distant sounds filtering through the window and the bathroom door. Before he was able to get anywhere close to an excuse for an afternoon nap, Dabi shuffled back out into the room and dug around in his pockets for the room key and his wallet.

“So, what do you want? Menus not up here but if you let me know what you like, I’ll figure something out.”

For a moment, Hawks just grinned, stupidly, he was sure, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. It felt good to be happy for once, to feel satisfied and undeniably confident. To be excited about the future and how many more things he’d get to decide on next.

“Fried chicken, if they have it. A favorite of mine, just in case you were curious.”

Davi leveled him with a look before shrugging, his hands in his pockets as he toed his boot against the edge of the rug. “Ok weirdo, whatever you want. I’ll be right back.” He turned to leave but stopped short before closing the door behind him, looking back over his shoulder at Hawks.

“Promise you won’t fly away out my window?”

“I promise to wait and see if you get me fried chicken. If you show up with a salad, well…”

Dabi shook his head and turned back, closing the door without another word. Hawks laughed to himself as he stretched, determined to clean up before Dabi could come back, to make sure he was in presentable shape as if the prospect of eating messy, greasy fried chicken in a bed he’d just fucked in wasn’t the definition of sloppy. 

 


 

Three weeks passed.

And so many days later, on one particular evening, Takami Keigo, a man known deceitfully to the general public as the Wing Hero: Hawks, bounded through the dimming sky, reveling in the warmth of the recently-introduced spring as his wings pierced through the orange-cast air, through the white clouds, through the smog that lingered high above Fukuoka with a small cardboard parcel tucked carefully against his chest.

He was running late.

Which, at one time, might have been completely unlike him, but today he rushed not because he felt tugged too taut by the strings of his boundless obligations, but because the parcel in his gloved fists was hot, and it needed to stay hot for the duration of his flight from the chicken joint just down the street from his agency until it arrived safely at its desired destination that rested, still, ahead of him many miles away.

He spread his wings wider, gaining height, uplifting himself so high up in the air that he was sure he would appear as nothing but a pinprick of black against the warm watercolor splotches of the waning sunset. His eyes picked apart the towering skyscrapers below, the thin trails of city streets and the flashing neon lights of shopfronts and restaurant signs. The billboards, the advertisements, the cacophony of sounds all bottlenecked into a single point on the map. The shuddering of a lively late-evening city, for a moment, was so overwhelmingly loud that it reached him even miles in the air. And then, a second later, he passed too far beyond the urban threshold, and as though he’d simply flipped off a switch on a radio, it was silent, peaceful, save for the wind that pounded against his earmuffs. The final corners of the city soon bled into the long stripes of highways, which knitted through the open fields and surrounding forests for miles that passed like flickering snapshots far beneath him. Soybean fields and wheat and barley. His stomach growled restlessly. He tucked the cardboard container tighter to his chest.

 The highways eventually fizzled out, encompassed by the dense, dark blobs of endless forests. Wilderness, practically uncharted, he supposed. A private sight that he shared alone with the sky and the sun and the stars that just faintly twinkled through the clouds. The mountains sat as a dark silhouette against the misty horizon. Black mounds that blocked where the orange stripes of remaining daylight might bleed into the ocean off the coast. He’d flown this path many times before. It was printed in bold letters in the back of his brain, so natural now that perhaps his muscles could make the trip without his mind presently commanding them. 

It felt nice, like this, to fly. To fly with an empty head, too, one unburdened by the rampant mistakes and regrets and fears and trepidations that had plagued him for days before. He flew and he contemplated the pleasant smell of the food in its cardboard container in his arms. And he wondered if he was a skilled enough flyer that he might be able to finagle himself a little snack without spilling the entire contents into the blind labyrinth of the canopy far down.

He decided inevitably that it wasn’t worth the risk. “The Risk” being the surely judgemental look that he’d receive if he arrived home without dinner. Or the snide quips about how real birds of prey were definitely capable of eating their dinner mid-air. Or something else, he supposed, that might lodge itself like a splinter under his fingernails and itch beneath his skin for the rest of the evening as he sat, grumpy and hungry, until someone might have taken pity on him and ordered him a sandwich from the downstairs diner. 

So it wasn’t worth the potential catastrophe to struggle with the box while he was flying. He was almost there anyway. And a well-earned dinner admittedly wasn’t the most pertinent reason why he was so mysteriously in a rush to return to Deika City, although what the main reason was, he wasn’t at liberty to admit, even to himself.

He traveled home. And he smiled, too, when he referred to it as such in the safety of his own thoughts.

His phone vibrated in his pocket, but he didn’t risk dropping the package in his arms to search for it. He figured that it might be someone asking where he was, if he was finally heading home, and if he knew that he was already twenty-five minutes late—that it was more heroic to be punctual, and he must have snoozed through that lesson in hero school, apparently. He’d reassure them, soon enough, that the line at the deli was longer than usual. It was a Friday, after all, and the citizens of Fukuoka had impeccable taste, so he couldn’t blame them for collectively deciding that tonight felt like a good night to eat fried chicken. He’d thought much of the same, to be honest, despite the fact that the someone who must have been texting him now had rolled his eyes and pushed a long sigh through his lips this morning when he’d suggested it, huffing, long-suffering, “Chicken, again ? How much of that shit do you eat?”

A lot , was the truthful answer. Instead, he’d pressed a finger to his lips as though that information was classified, and he’d said, “The Commission has worked hard and tirelessly for decades to keep the real identity of Hawks under wraps. If I start leaking important intel now, what’s next? My real name? My address? My measurements? It’s a slippery slope, Dabi. First the tabloids catch wind of Hawks’s penchant for eating chicken at specific restaurants, then the next headline is what color of underwear I wear. Do you really want the public to have access to that kind of dangerous information?”

Dabi, of course, hadn’t laughed. He hadn’t even offered one of his famous “almost smiles” that often occupied the space that real, human emotion might otherwise occupy. He’d waved Hawks off with a scowl, a roll of his eyes, and slinked back to the window to enjoy his regularly-scheduled morning smoke. It had been enough to deter that nosy line of questioning, however, and Hawks was sure that deep down, Dabi really did appreciate his wit. He had to, after all, because he still hadn’t kicked him out of bed for making any corny jokes.

Yet, at least. But maybe he was on thin ice. He decided to tuck that thought away for later contemplation.

He’d taken his leave soon after Dabi had lit his cigarette, and Dabi himself had spent the day doing whatever it was that lieutenants in the Paranormal Liberation Front were expected to do. Shigaraki, recently, had taken off on a reclusive sabbatical to God-knows-where, more officially classified information not privy to rookies, no matter how crucial to the PLF’s success they really were. Hawks was content, for once, not knowing. He’d been keen to avert his eyes and find himself conveniently distracted during moments when important information was leaked. He wasn’t sure, still, where he stood morally among the spectrum of evilness that was the Liberation Front, but he was aware, at least, that he wasn’t at all interested in betraying their trust anymore. He didn’t ask what Dabi spent his days doing and he wasn’t sure if Dabi would even tell him if he did. But the silent mysteries between them meant little if that ignorance allowed Hawks to report nothing privately to his superiors. If he was allowed, for the few short weeks before he knew that the heroes would eventually ambush them, to play dumb and pretend that he’d been given nothing of substance to work with since he’d originally unearthed the very shallowest extent of their plans.

The end of the world might have still been coming for all he knew. For all he could tell, as he soared closer to the basin of Deika city in the gully of a clearing between the mountains and the trees. He recognized that things were moving along hastily, and that perhaps, someday, the newlywed bliss that he was currently cocooning himself in would no longer be sustainable. 

But it was nice, for now, to pretend that things could ever be that easy. That he could be happy with another person, and that could be all that mattered. All that would ever matter, forever. The rest of the world could burn to ashes around them as long as, for the rest of his life, Hawks could wake up next to a man that always smiled down at him like he was up to something and combed lazy fingers through his hair like he was a person, for one thing, and a person who deserved a wonderful, despicable, and terrifying man like Dabi’s full attention for an extended period of time. Hawks ached to spend however long his “forever” might have been with Dabi, with a man who smelled of campfires and something achingly too sweet. A person who was rough around the edges and sharp-tongued, but who saw through him even when he was pretending his very hardest to be whatever it was that the world needed at the time.

His ears burned under his earmuffs.

It hadn’t taken too long to develop this embarrassing habit to be overly-romantic. Although, no matter how often Dabi still chided him for staring too long, he might have rather been charred into a healthy portion of fried hero that could have been tucked neatly into a box just like the one in his arms, before he ever admitted to a single soul that these thoughts were real, and that he had them more often than he could even count anymore.

Sleeping with Dabi, for better or worse, did not actually alleviate even an iota of the frustration and need and want that rested inside of him. Maybe, for a moment, it had felt like relaxing a muscle that he hadn’t even realized he’d been straining. Maybe, for a brief duration, he’d felt relief upon finally achieving the single traitorous goal that he’d ever set for himself. But Dabi had returned that afternoon with chicken, just like he’d promised. And he’d been winded and clearly overheated, his hair damp with sweat, his movements slow and tired and his nerves clearly shot beyond the general extent that Hawks had ever admittedly seen him actually, genuinely frustrated.

And he’d said, upon practically shoving the plastic to-go container into Hawks’s hands, “Piece of shit restaurant downstairs didn’t have it. The only place was all the way across fucking town.”

Hawks wouldn’t say that he’d heard wedding bells ringing in the back of his thoughts at that moment, that the sun through the window had cast a rosy hue over the room and he’d hallucinated Dabi himself riding shirtless along the countryside on a white horse, long hair flowing gallantly behind him as some sort of romantic violin quiver loped slowly in the backdrop of his imagination. But Dabi had looked handsome then, sweaty and moody and exhausted as he’d dropped down to rest at the end of the bed and combed his hands through his damp hair. Hawks’s heart had warbled the faintest of beginning thrums, thrums of compassion and affection that had planted themselves then, firmly, in the deep recesses of his chest. They’d bloomed over the following days that they’d spent together, the nights that never felt long enough, the morning, finally, just a few days ago when Dabi had asked him indirectly why he didn’t just move in instead of rushing all the way back to Deika City from Fukuoka every single day when he didn’t have to work.

“You waste too much time flying back and forth,” he’d said simply, distantly, with a hand scratching at the back of his neck as it often did when he was feeling bashful but would rather drop dead on the spot than admit it. “Why don’t you just bring some of your shit here so you don’t have to travel as much?”

That, in fact, had been when Hawks had first heard the wedding bells.

But that was beside the point, really. He was nearing Deika City now and the box of chicken in his arms was thankfully still warm. Dabi rarely ate much, and with a sensitive palate, he seemed keener to poke at a bowl of white rice than waste his time on fancy foods that he claimed tasted even worse on the way back up. So Hawks had ordered a hearty side of rice, too, which was tucked in the box with his dinner. He drifted slowly to the ground, his feet planted firmly on the asphalt of a clear spot in the town’s square, just a block or two away from the bed and breakfast and the small number of apartment rooms that were located on its top floor. He raised one hand in careful greeting to a few residents who passed him, bouncing on his feet as he redirected himself down the correct path and scuttled in the quickest direction of his new sometimes-apartment.

Sometimes he still slept back home, when he didn’t have any meetings with the Liberation Front on his schedule and he understood that his presence was absolutely necessary in Fukuoka—to keep his agency up and running, to avoid suspicion. To pretend, for now, at least, that he still desired to return to his old life as a hero once this war was over with and the villains were safely behind bars. It felt strange, too, to sit in a space that was suddenly even emptier than it had felt when he’d been living there full time, after he’d taken a few afternoons off from work to cart his most valuable and beloved possessions from his apartment across the city, the forests, and the rolling wheat and barley fields into the mountainous basin of Deika City. Then finally, upon arriving at the correct building, he’d hoisted them up the stairs into Dabi’s room. Dabi had complained, of course, when Hawks had attempted to shuffle himself and the old record player over the threshold as his wings kept getting stuck, refusing to assist him with his hands crossed loosely over his chest, a hip cocked out, and a sour frown drawn lightly over his downturned lips.

“When I told you to bring your shit, I meant like, you know…clothes and a toothbrush. Not all this.”

He’d tipped his head directly at the record player when he’d said it. Hawks had managed to wriggle through the doorway with only the smallest scuff scratching from the frame into the outer gloss veneer of the record player.

And he’d laughed then, releasing a few feathers to shuffle around some things on Dabi’s desk in order to make room for it. He only barely focused on them, as Dabi turned his head to study the way that they scooped up his things and nudged them around. His brows dipped and knitted. He looked like he was going to say something else, but he seemed to wrestle with himself before he elected to stay silent. Hawks didn’t miss the way that his fingers twitched, like he was considering simply lighting the whole room on fire and being done with it before they even had to have the very agonizing conversation about sharing this space now that Dabi had invited him to stay here, but thankfully, it seemed that this thought, too, was allowed to simmer in his head until it eventually died out.

With a newly-opened spot on the desk, Hawks inched awkwardly into the room with the too-heavy, too-wide and pointy-edged record player straining his arms. He’d placed it down carefully, backed away, and admired it while brushing his hands together in a triumphant, giddy sort of pose that quieted even Dabi’s most nitpicky responses before he even had a chance to open his mouth or make good on the snotty expression that was only growing darker on his face.

They both studied the record player for a short duration. Hawks, ecstatic, and Dabi, looking as though he was growing to hate it more and more the longer his eyes lingered on it.

Hawks had barked another laugh, stepping forward to clap a gentle hand on his back, “Come on, it’s not that bad. You have enough room for me here.”

“For you, yeah,” Dabi had told him, shaking his head and easing himself slowly towards the window for another aggravated smoke. As he’d lowered himself down on the sill, tugging the pack from his pocket and placing one cigarette between his lips, he added, “Not for your garbage though.”

Hawks, of course, had balked playfully at the suggestion. Gotten a few jabs in about the general decor of the room as he’d marched around and asked Dabi if he was actually in love with the gaudy default decorations and the dusty wall hangings and knickknacks that must have been purchased from an antique store some many decades ago. Dabi, too, had eagerly accepted Hawks’s invitation to argue, and inevitably, he’d ended it with a hand around Hawks’s throat and a knee between his thighs on the bed, and…

A whole lot of other things after, that Hawks didn’t allow himself to think about while he was in public.

But as it stood, all these days later, maybe Dabi was right. And maybe Hawks had recognized that he was right even back then. It wouldn’t have changed things, really, because he’d sensed that Dabi had been itching to blow off some angry steam while he’d studied the absolute cluttered calamity that Hawks’s recent move over had made of his bedroom. Hawks supposed that something like that would be anxiety-inducing even for a person who was actually capable of addressing and coping with their own feelings in a healthy, mature way. Dabi, as a person who was capable of neither, sometimes required a small amount of extra consideration. A watchful eye that spared Deika City from his fiery wrath, perhaps, and a gentle hand to guide him in the right direction when he needed something to funnel his rage into.

So despite the argument and despite the fact that they hadn’t actually discussed how to address the problem at hand, Hawks had made an effort to thin his collection somewhat. He didn’t know if Dabi was allowed to get rid of the decor in the room and if he even cared whether or not he was allowed to, but it was evident that Dabi owned very few actual possessions and that if someone was cluttering the room, it definitely was not him. And when Hawks attempted the next morning to find a clean pair of socks among the wreckage, he’d realized painfully that Dabi absolutely had a point when he’d claimed that a solid third of Hawks’s entire luxury-sized apartment back home would not, in fact, fit comfortably in a single claustrophobic bedroom. 

So Hawks spread the word that he was looking to give a few things away. This word fizzled out quickly among the snobby members of the once-Meta Liberation Army, but passed just as fast through the prior-League of Villains before it seemed that everyone was interested in receiving something. Twice and Toga had come up to their room a few days later to admire all the things that they’d heard him moving in through the walls. Twice had been smitten with the egg chair that was piled with a few of Hawks’s outfits that wouldn’t fit in Dabi’s closet or wardrobe, and Dabi had offered him a private, longing look as though begging, pleading for him to find an ounce of charity within himself and offer it to Twice as a gift in exchange for his patience during the noisy moving process. He was right next door, after all, which Dabi had so kindly neglected to warn Hawks about before he’d stayed over a few times. Twice had yet to mention whether or not he’d ever heard anything salacious, but when he and Toga approached Hawks to look through his things and he’d said, “I thought you were moving stuff in, man! You shoulda asked me for help. I almost came over and offered, but I didn’t wanna bother you. I heard you moving stuff around through the wall. They’re thin, you know. Just like paper! If ya sneeze too loud in there, don’t be surprised if you hear me say, bless you !” Hawks couldn’t exactly deny that his mind had immediately jumped to…

Just how many other things had Twice actually heard? Would it even be possible to look him in the eye after that? How much did a flight out of Japan to a remote desert island really cost? Was it worth it to avoid the rest of his life spent sitting across a meeting table from the guy who had surely inadvertently witnessed just about every humiliating thing that a person was capable of saying when under the right kind of duress? 

He’d coped with his sudden mortification by hastily offering Twice the egg chair. It seemed like the right thing to do, after all, since Dabi so desperately wanted it gone and Twice had most definitely been exposed to the sort of horrors that Hawks deemed unimaginable. And would, too, continue to be plagued by all of the terrible things that could be overheard through apparently “paper thin” walls that he shared with two newly-dating neighbors who couldn’t keep their hands off of each other long enough to do much of anything in a timely manner.

For his kindness and discretion, Twice had earned the chair ten times over. Hawks pretended that he didn’t see Dabi’s snide grin when he, Twice, and Toga toted it out of the room. And when he returned, Dabi was sitting in his regular spot by the window, but the gap that was left behind by the chair had been filled quickly by a pile of new “garbage” that he still needed to find a home for.

The egg chair did look nice in Twice’s room. He didn’t have a lot of decor, and he seemed to enjoy lounging in it during his morning smokes. Without wings, maybe it was far more comfortable to sit in, and Hawks found himself tickled by the idea that Twice shared his taste in decorations. That Twice, without realizing it, spent his mornings now perched on a piece of furniture that surely cost more than all of the other items in his room combined.

He’d claimed a few blankets, too. Nice, soft ones that Hawks had kept stored for the chilly winter months just in case he had company over who ran colder. He supposed that he didn’t really need them anymore, as Dabi functioned not only as a thorn in his side but also a very efficient space heater even on the warmest nights. He’d been happy to part with them, thrilled, even, when he’d informed Twice that they’d never been used and he’d been excited to own something nearly brand new. This theme persisted as he met with more people and gave more things away. A realization struck him and burrowed itself into his brain, an epiphany that these things that often felt like chains that bound him in a former life were capable of making the people who really mattered to him happy.

It was meaningful, in a weird way. A rebirth, maybe, as a person who could shed his former skin and use the very belongings that used to plague him to enrich the lives of the people he cared about.

He’d told Dabi about that, too, later, when they’d had some time to rearrange the room and tossed themselves after, exhausted, into bed for the night. He’d talked about the fake persona and the mountains of luxury possessions and the way that his entire life had started feeling like a plastic dollhouse that wasn’t really made for living in. Dabi’s eyes had been distant as he’d listened, as they’d laid together on the bed and Hawks had rattled off his tale, and Dabi stared up at the dark ceiling as the crickets outside grew louder and filled the gaps of silence between Hawks’s quiet, stilted words. Sometimes Hawks suspected that Dabi could recognize a piece of himself in the stories that he told. Sometimes he found himself wondering what might have happened to Dabi to churn him into the person that he was then, one arm under Hawks’s head and one rested lightly on his belly. Burned up and barely chugging along but still unshakably determined to see his convictions through before he incinerated himself from the inside out. 

Hawks had talked about his plastic life and his plastic things and how he’d felt like a doll that was carefully crafted just to be dressed up in nice clothing and paraded around for the enjoyment and safety and well-being of others. He’d talked about his guilt and his anxiety that he was wrong. The inescapable suspicions that maybe he was committing a terrible sin by defecting when the commission had conditioned him to believe that peace could only be brought about by his own great sacrifice.

Dabi was so quiet that he almost seemed to be asleep. And Hawks had feared as much as he’d peeked at his placid, open-eyed expression at random, particularly embarrassing intervals during his stories.

But finally, Dabi had turned his head, allowed it to drop against his pillow as his shadowed eyes had caught Hawks’s and pinned him there.

And he’d said, quietly, “You need to stop giving a shit what everyone else wants from you. All that matters is what you want. If you’re not a hero, a hundred other fake ones are gonna be scrambling to fill your space. So who cares? They’re all gonna burn eventually anyway.”

It shouldn’t have been reassuring, really. It should have frozen him to the core as it might have, many months ago, when he’d first encountered Dabi and learned exactly what sorts of people earned the title of “villain”. But it was comforting then, and Dabi’s voice sometimes drowned out the doubt that he felt while he continued working at his agency, while he rescued civilians and fought crime, and considered that very soon, the last shreds of the leash fastened around his neck by the commission and hero society in general might actually be severed completely.

But those things would happen later. As he waited, he continued struggling to pawn off the rest of his excess possessions.

Toga claimed some scarves and sweaters. Spinner bashfully accepted his small collection of unopened DVDs and a few video games and their handheld consoles that hadn’t even had the plastic seals broken from the boxes yet. Mr. Compress eyed a few of his nicer suits and matching jackets that had been worn so infrequently that he’d almost forgotten that he had them, and while they hadn’t fit perfectly, he’d reassured Hawks that he could definitely find himself a proper tailor to mend them.

Hawks’s miniature, impromptu garage sale had cleared out at least a fraction of the confines of his apartment that he’d never used or needed. Dabi’s bed was refitted with his nicer sheets, with his plush, feather-stuffed pillows. With his downy duvet and the pillowcases with the nice, silky finish. His flatscreen had been far too big to fit anywhere comfortably in the room, so he’d left it mounted at home. Decided, as he’d studied his things, that he should have at least kept enough items there to abate any suspicion from the maids who still cleaned the place once a week. Dabi’s once-empty mini-fridge was filled with fruits and water bottles soon after. Dabi watched him flitter around and rearrange things and change up the cadence of his room wordlessly from the window over the duration of a few days. Moody and quiet and sleepy like a housecat surveying its owners as they went about their daily chores. He didn’t seem concerned when Hawks removed things from their spots on the shelves or shuffled the lithographs and paintings on the walls. He smoked and he studied Hawks and he kept quiet even when Hawks paused, noted that it felt too quiet, and placed the needle of the record over the disk, starting a new song.

It felt, perhaps, the same way that Hawks assumed he might have felt if he’d ever gone away for school. Like he was squeezing his belongings from his parents’ house into a dorm room that could never be big enough for everything, but somehow, he felt happier. It was freeing, perhaps, to shed the items in his possession that he’d never found the proper time in his previous life to appreciate. Like molting, maybe, like a bird dropping the overgrown underlayer of its winter coat for spring. Like a new beginning where he wouldn’t be alone again. Where maybe he would make new mistakes and find new things to regret, but Dabi would be there, watching him and smoking. Silently comforting even at his very worst.

That was the home that awaited him just a little ways more up the street. It was the entire reason why he shuffled so swiftly around the dawdling bodies of pedestrians, why he clicked restlessly at the crosswalk button and stepped out into the street the absolute first second that the white silhouette indicating “walk” flashed on the screen across the street. He wasn’t antsy and restless because he feared anything but losing precious time. Because his days were spent aching to return back to this place and to this life that he’d managed to carve out for himself, and he was eager, as soon as possible, to come back to it.

As the bed and breakfast came into view, he ducked into the first open mouth of an alleyway. Dabi had shown him some weeks ago that there was a secret back entrance where he could avoid the restaurant crowd. He’d memorized that path the first time that Dabi had led him through here, around the dumpsters and the backdoors of different businesses, through a small walkway overarched with backdoor balconies and tucked tightly between a long trail of each building’s backside. Along that path, another right. A staircase that shot straight upward to the second floor. He had a key in his pocket that would unlock the door at its crest. He tugged it from his pocket as he climbed the stairs, up and up, nearly a dozen, before he reached the final landing.

He was sweaty again, from the flight and the urgency with which he’d walked here. There wasn’t often ample landing space closer by, as the bed and breakfast was inconveniently located just in the center of town, but sometimes he liked the evening stroll, or he would, maybe, if he ever found himself less impatient to come home.

He unlocked the door, pocketing his key again and reaching for the handle. 

When he shoved through, he was let out at the opposite end of the hall. Toga’s door was open as he stepped around it, and he poked his head inside shortly and greeted her. She was sitting on her bed, admiring a small selection of needle-tipped weapons that he recognized from the pack that she often carried on her back. She waved at him, told him, “welcome home”. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever get used to being greeted like this. He didn’t know if the initial allure of finding himself among a crowd of happy faces that seemed genuinely pleased to see him once his shifts ended would ever go away entirely. Dabi talked about these people as though their interest in the lives of their comrades was intrusive or annoying, but Hawks found himself often basking in it. He wished Toga a good rest of her evening, his mood elevated somehow even higher as he tucked himself back in the hall a moment later. His grin spread from ear to ear and he found himself positively smitten as he toed the long, dusty, faded rug that unraveled itself like a guiding path to the room on the opposite end of the hall.

It didn’t take long. And through the door, as he slotted his second key in the lock, he could hear the scratchy, lilting tunes from the record player carried gently through the room.

When he stepped inside, clicking the door closed behind him, Dabi was waiting, as he usually was, at the window sill, a cigarette resting unsmoked but burning slowly down to the filter between his lips.

His eyes drew gradually from the street down below to Hawks. His lips tugged up at the corners but he didn’t entirely smile. He didn’t raise his hand in greeting or ask Hawks how his day went, but his eyes, and where they met Hawks’s, felt like a “welcome home”. It was strange and mysterious and invigorating still, to shrug off the daily mask of “Hawks: The Hero” and still be recognized when he arrived back home as nothing but the man who lived secretly underneath.

“You really brought chicken again, huh.” It was too flat to be a question. Maybe it was more of an observation. Dabi’s brows were raised and the small stick of ash at the tip of his cigarette broke off and powdered the windowsill as he talked. He tugged it from his lips, flicking the remaining ash through the crack of the open window. The record player continued loping slowly through its tune. The evening sun cast a golden ring of light through the dirty window, bathing Dabi in an orange glow that bounded like firefly tails against his smattering of piercings and his silvery staples.

“You’d be surprised how often I can eat chicken,” Hawks told him lightly, stepping on the back of one boot to tug it from his foot without the use of his occupied hands. 

Dabi scoffed.

“I usually am, yeah.”

Hawks bit his lip, his mouth scrunching in a cheeky, angular smile as he managed to free himself from one boot and began struggling with the other. Dabi only half-watched him, keeping his head turned towards the window as smoke skimmed through his barely-parted lips. The light breeze through the window carded through his hair, exposing, for brief moments, the ashen roots that were growing in tiny streaks of white there, where maybe, soon, Dabi might ask him to help him dye it again.

There were still a lot of things about Dabi, about himself, about all of this that he didn’t understand. There were a lot of questions that he’d never figured out the proper way to ask. At night sometimes he found himself curled around Dabi’s nimble, overheated body. Hawks himself was frequently tucked under the downy duvet to conserve whatever heat the flimsy walls of the bed and breakfast provided. Dabi was always leaning outward, barely allowing a single corner of the blanket to touch him, too hot to sleep in anything but a t-shirt and a loose pair of shorts. And Hawks wondered about how he became that way, if it was just something that always had been, or if at one point as a child Dabi had activated his quirk for the first time, wondered if it hurt every kid, wondered if something was wrong with him, if things would be okay without any ability to foresee a future when things would eventually turn out like this.

Hawks could relate to the subtle tragedy of an origin story like that one, and perhaps that was why he kept himself awake so late at night contemplating it. Wondering, too, if maybe every child who would someday grow up to become a villain shared the distinct experience of something—whether it be Twice’s loss of hope or Toga’s seemingly eternal Hell parading around in a mask that didn’t quite fit, the unjust hatred that Spinner faced from a conservative community who judged him solely because of his supposedly “inhuman” features, or… whatever, once upon a time, had forced Dabi to devastate his own body. He’d never been brave enough to ask, had, instead, entertained himself with the prospect of someday opening up more fully about his own moment, the “when” that dictated the winding, broken path that he’d eventually take to get here. That time, when he was barely old enough to think for himself, when he’d been asked a question that many adults someday learned to regret.

“Are you willing to sacrifice everything in order to become a hero?”

It wasn’t fair to ask that of a kid. He knew that now, knew it in the dark, chilly corners of Dabi’s rented bedroom, knew it when his feathers shuddered and his breath caught, thick and tacky and difficult to breathe around in his throat. When Dabi, too, roused from sleep just barely enough to roll over and twine those long, rough-skinned arms around his shoulders and pull him close into the furnace of his chest.

They were connected in some way, even if he’d never been capable of looking at the pieces closely enough to figure out exactly how they fit. Even though, now, as he finally freed his other foot from his boot and carefully stepped into the room with dinner and Dabi still ignored him, he told himself that it didn’t matter much. It didn’t change anything. Where they came from and the roots that they’d trimmed from the rotten ground that birthed them were of little consequence when they had eventually managed to come together. Maybe semi-broken, but still living, somehow. Maintained by hatred and bitterness and the clawing desire for a brighter future, but united nonetheless. 

It felt comfortable in ways that made him antsy. Felt “right” in ways that often made him feel guiltier than he reminded himself that he had any business feeling.

To find himself surrounded by people who could relate to the plight of a person whose life had been preemptively ruined before it had even been given a chance to start—it felt like home in a way that no overpriced and over-decorated apartment ever could. Felt comfortable how he’d never managed to feel at his agency, with other heroes or the commission, or even parading around in his own false skin for the adoring fans who could never recognize just how fabricated every facet of “Hawks” really was.

Dabi wasn’t often soft or kind. He didn’t offer to help Hawks set out the foldable table that they kept stowed under the bed for dinner. He didn’t ask Hawks about his day or kiss him sweetly on the lips. He didn’t care to know about Hawks’s past and divulged little information, still, about his own.

But he was here, now, and they understood each other. And Dabi looked at him, stole peeks of him through the fog of his cigarette smoke and the tendrils of sunlight that cast thick glimmers through the window, the way that a person might have looked at another person and not the way that a fan looked at a hero. Not the way that the commission looked at their pawn.

Not the way that Hawks looked at himself, either, like a broken thing that needed to pretend as desperately as possible that it wasn’t broken. Like a thing that might have barely managed to convince the world that everything was okay, but deep inside, it recognized that something was very, very wrong with it.

Right now, however, Dabi was looking at him with scathing disbelief. Most of the expressions on Dabi’s face day-to-day could admittedly be defined by the “scathing” prerequisite, and Hawks couldn’t resist smiling just a little bit wider when he caught the way that Dabi’s eyes lingered on the chicken once he tugged open the corners of the box. It seemed that he might have actually suspected that Hawks was messing with him, that he couldn’t have believed that someone could actually handle eating more or less the same thing every night if they could help it. Hawks knew that he couldn’t explain it properly, given that Dabi couldn’t exactly understand the nuances of taste and the importance of finding one food that he could truly eat for every single meal for the rest of his life.

But Dabi did pause when Hawks tugged the rice out, too. He lingered there for just a moment, then flicked his gaze quickly back to the surrounding city through the window, practically spitting out his next breath of smoky air.

He stayed there for a few moments, even as Hawks left the table in search of the pillows that they kept in his now-overstuffed wardrobe. He found them underneath a pile of clothes that Dabi had already nagged him two or three times to reassess, although if memory served, he’d said something far more abrasive, like, “If you’re not gonna wear this tacky shit, stop hogging all the closet room with it.”

Dabi didn’t really understand fashion and Hawks didn’t really understand how to let go of things, even if they weren’t useful. He hadn’t worn the silk button-down in months that he moved away from the top of the pillows and jammed into an empty space that barely had enough room for it. He hadn’t even tried on some of the shoes that were still tucked in their boxes, surely still fitted with the tags that they came with. But it was hard, too, to shake the feeling that maybe someday he would. Maybe someday it would matter even though it truly didn’t matter now. And when he closed the cabinet doors and held the pillows awkwardly in his arms, he caught Dabi, again, openly staring at him.

He’d lit a new cigarette. Hawks wondered if it would be another day when he wouldn’t be able to eat dinner.

He smiled, however, and made his way back to the table. He set out Dabi’s pillow just in case he’d be willing to join him and willing to at least attempt poking at his rice. He placed water bottles from the mini fridge next to both of their to-go containers and seated himself soon after, turning his smile back to Dabi at the window and watching him there for a short moment as Dabi watched back and allowed his cigarette to smoke further and further towards the filter in unmoving silence.

“Are you just gonna stare, or do you wanna eat?”

Dabi didn’t twitch when Hawks spoke to him and he didn’t recoil at his slightly passive aggressive words. He did, however, finally take a drag before putting out his cigarette on the window sill and flicking it through the open crack, watching it idly and blankly as it surely tumbled down from the second floor and rolled somewhere between the cracks in the sidewalk concrete.

Then, gradually, he turned his eyes back to Hawks, then the food, the pillows, the water bottles.

He sighed, easing himself up.

“Fine,” he said then, flatly, “since you’re always so weird about eating together.”

Translated from Dabi language that Hawks had, over the last few weeks, become fluent in, this meant: Since it’ll make you happy, of course I’ll sit with you.

Hawks broke apart his to-go chopsticks. He uncapped the containers of sauce and clapped his hands together happily as Dabi slowly lowered himself down onto the pillow across from his. This expended a lot of effort, tugged at the more awkward staples at Dabi’s sides that Hawks had traced some nights while Dabi was slipping slowly into sleep. Hawks didn’t mention it, of course, but turned his attention instead back to the mouthwatering view of his chicken in its container, then to Dabi’s still-steaming rice in its styrofoam cup. 

“This place makes super good rice. You’ll love it.”

Dabi gave him a look, as though to say, ‘Don’t push it’ and Hawks distracted his big, dumb mouth by dipping a piece of chicken in sauce and quickly taking a bite out of it. Deep fried heaven. He hummed happily. His wings shuddered mirthfully behind him. Dabi’s frown, when he looked again, was curled upward ever so slightly at the corners, but he, too, refused to acknowledge what he was thinking in words, instead, poking at his rice with his chopsticks and raising a small pinch of it carefully to his lips, as though he didn’t know what to expect when he finally took a bite.

The chicken, while half an hour or so older than fresh, was delicious. Fried to perfection and just as savory and flavorful as the chicken of his greatest dreams. The record player skidded to another song, resetting the tape that spun on its wheel as the needle lifted to adjust itself. Outside, through the still-open window, Hawks could hear the muffled conversation of passing pedestrians and the persistent thrumming of cars, birdsong, and city sounds. The gentle whistle of the mountain wind easing its way through everything. The wardrobe door was bulged and wouldn’t ever close properly, not with everything overstuffed inside of it. Dabi’s shelves were stacked with an eclectic mixture of the bed and breakfast decor, some random odds and ends that perhaps Dabi himself had put there, and a myriad of Hawks’s overpriced “garbage”—Dabi’s words—that he didn’t have the heart to leave behind.

It was warm today and Deika City was alive with popping, excited nerves and rumors that life as they knew it would be changing very, very soon.

Somewhere in the distant mountains, Shigaraki slept, and his awakening, drawing only nearer every day, would be the harbinger of change that the villains here had been working towards for many, many seemingly fruitless months and many years of directionless, miserable living that someday, hopefully, would be worth it.

Dabi, across from him, continued eating his rice. His stoic face gave little away, but he finished the container. He picked at the small kernels left behind in the bottom corners and he looked at Hawks, watched him eat, sat quietly and wordlessly but saw him as Hawks wasn’t sure that anyone had ever seen him before.

As Takami Keigo, maybe. As a man who wasn’t a hero playing a villain playing a hero, or as the guests on Miyagi’s canceled late-night show. Not as a symbol or a pawn or a plaything, but a person. A human, a creature who was flawed and was allowed, finally, to be flawed. And maybe, in some secret way, Dabi also saw him as a person that he cared about very much. As he’d shown sometimes, subtly, in the way that his lids lifted and his frown evened out when he stared at Hawks and watched him move about like there was nothing more entertaining to look at.

When Hawks swallowed another mouthful, Dabi asked him, “Is it good?”

And Hawks, for a moment, faltered.

His wings shuddered. The sunlight reflected from the tiny flecks of silver piercings dotting Dabi’s face, caught in his black hair and the gray roots and sat warmly over his narrow shoulders, on his pallid skin. In the deep recesses of his beautiful eyes.

Hawks’s smile widened. He dotted his napkin at the corners of his mouth.

He said, finally, “It is.”

And added, just a second later, “It’s perfect, actually. Everything is perfect.”