Growing up, Touya was used to being ignored. His feelings for his father, the admiration, the pride, the love he had, none of it was ever returned. He would know because he's been coughing up flowers since he was six and dear old dad said they couldn't train anymore. Even when his love for his father turned to hate, Touya still coughed up flowers. His mother, his siblings, they didn't love him the way he loved them.
And then one day, Touya burned, and Dabi rose from his ashes. Dabi didn't cough up flowers anymore, not even the ashy clumps that had gathered in Touya's throat at the end. Dabi was free from Hanahaki because Dabi didn't love anyone and swore he never would.
So when he meets his boss, a thin, twiggy man with bad skin and a worse attitude, he doesn't think much of it. Dabi plows through the missions he's been giving, succeeding at capturing the brat.
Dabi doesn't let himself become attached, because attachment burns inside him, the roots turning to bloody ash for him to choke on.
Shigaraki isn't worth the pain of that, so Dabi pretends he isn't coughing up burned flower petals. No, this is his quirk backfiring again, because Dabi swore never to love. When Shigaraki stands tall against the world even after he breaks down, Dabi pretends his cough is mocking. When Shigaraki climbs on top of the van for fucking intimidation points and crows his victory over Overhaul's defeated body, Dabi pretends it's car sickness that causes him to cough and gag so.
When pressed later he claims smoker's lungs, or a cold, or any reason to continue denying, to himself and the others that he is in love with this fucking gremlin of a man.
Dabi is inclined to ignore every single fucking part of his love, right up until he catches Shigaraki bend over the evening following the Overhaul incident, and cough his lungs out until he's choked up a collection of blue petals.
That, he can't ignore. Boss is... important. He can't let the mophead die without seeing their future come to light. That's all it is. It's what he tells himself when he corners Shigaraki.
"Who is it?" he asks, pretending he couldn't care less as he leans against the crumbling wall of their latest bolt hole.
"Fuck off," Shigaraki hisses, glaring with those eyes so like the bits of spider lilies that Dabi occasionally doesn't burn before coughing up.
"Don't want to. I got things I want to accomplish, that require you alive." Dabi drawls, pulling out some cigarettes to cover for his coughing. He can't let Shigaraki's obvious affection for someone else worsen his own condition. The Hanahaki isn't killing him right now, but even his fire can't burn the roots away entirely. Even if he's only living for revenge, he would like to not die to some stubborn flowers.
"It's none of your fucking business, ashtray," Shigaraki growls out, voice even more destroyed than normal from coughing up those damn flowers. "I can lead, and that's all you need to fucking know. These feelings will disappear soon."
Dabi rolls his eyes. "Ain't how it works, crusty. Only way to get rid of those roots is to cut them out or admit your fucking feelings. It don't have to be romantic to hurt, but romance will kill ya faster than any of the others." It's true too. His platonic seeking love as a kid was painful, but it was never going to kill him, even without his quirk killing the roots as fast as they could grow. Romantic love? That could kill even him if he lets it go on long enough.
Good thing Dabi isn't in love. He just... admires his boss. That's all.
"I don't love anything," Shigaraki growls out before choking on another flower.
The flower is a soggy blue thing, impossible to tell what it is by the tiny petals of an undergrown thing. Shigaraki decays it before Dabi can get a better look.
"I don't see what the problem is, boss. Whoever it is can't be that good. Just own up and you'll be fine. The league all loves you, so I doubt it's one of them. A hero? That could be an issue--"
"I told you to shut up! I don't need your help."
Clearly, Shigaraki does, because he coughs up another flower, decaying it as soon as it touches his hand. Dabi can't let this go. The boss is too important. Who wouldn't love him back?
"Is it that hero you think is cool? With all the students?"
Shigaraki grabs him by the throat, stopping Dabi's words in his tracks. One wrong move and he's dead. A horrible, terrible part of Dabi wants to force him to act, to kill Dabi here and now, but he won't. There's too much he still has to do to let Shigaraki kill him.
"Stay out of it. I'll decay these feelings before they become a problem. Don't say anything or I'll really kill you."
Dabi grunts out an agreement, and all at once, those fingers leave his throat.
He stares after Shigaraki as he storms away, wondering who that crusty fucker would be in love with.
He watches the league interact after that, looking for any sign, needing to know who Boss is in love with, needing to know who might be killing him.
Twice? Twice is handsome enough that Dabi could see the boss developing a crush. He's strong and kind, and just as murderous as the rest of them. But Mophead doesn't pay him a lick of attention, or at least no more than the others.
Compress? While the older man is mysterious enough to be interesting, yet again no extra attention is spared.
Toga is kind of like their kid sister, so Dabi doesn't look at her too closely. While age-of-consent laws mean nothing to criminals, it's more an agreement among all of them to keep Toga safe from that kind of life that makes him disregard her as competition.
Spinner is the most likely culprit, Dabi decides. Lizard-boy and Mophead like to discuss game bullshit that he doesn't understand and talk in gaming metaphors. If any of them were to catch the boss' heart, it would be the mutant. Dabi tries to bite back his jealousy when he catches them chatting.
The spider lilies taste even more bitter coming up.
Worse still, Dabi keeps catching Shigaraki coughing up tiny blue flowers in clumps. He can never get a closer look before they are dust on the floor and sparkling rubies are glaring up at him. Blood stains chapped lips, smeared over his scar so that it looks like the old wound is fresh again.
Dabi leaves without another word because he knows if he opens his mouth clumps of spider lilies will fall like so many sorrows.
Who the fuck could it be? Boss doesn't interact with many people outside the league. Despite his teasing, Dabi doubts it's that one hero Shigaraki says is cool. He's ruled out the others besides Lizard-boy, and even that doesn't seem likely. Hell, of the two, Dabi would expect the Hanahaki to grab Spinner long before it grabbed Mophead.
Dabi's Hanahaki is worse than it's ever been before, the roots growing faster than even his flames can destroy, whole spider lilies falling from his lips with only the barest bit of ash clinging to them. He thought revenge would kill him, not the damn flowers, but when has life ever worked out for him? It's more painful than he thought it would be, more painful than the petals he used to cough up as a child wondering why his family didn't love him the way he loved them.
Dabi doesn't wonder anymore. One look in the mirror is enough to explain that.
"Shit, you too?" Shigaraki's raspy voice surprises him, and Dabi whirls, the spider lily still caught in his hands. He doesn't even realize until eyes the same color as the flower widens in surprise, and that's when Dabi lights up the wet petals in blue flame. Ash falls around his hand, but that doesn't stop Shigaraki from coming closer. "Who?"
"I'm gonna say the same damn thing you told me," Dabi snaps, hands still ablaze. "Fuck off."
Shigaraki steps closer despite the threat, crowding Dabi against the wall. "Fuck that, you're too important to the cause. Who is it, Ashtray?"
Smoke billows off of Dabi, but his threat is pretty meaningless. He wouldn't do that to mophead. It would make things so much easier if he could destroy the source of these roots, but he wants this love a bit more than he wants the pain to go away.
Jagged fingernails rest on staples, the finger calluses catching on the thin metal. It's closer than anyone should ever let those deadly digits.
Dabi shivers at the touch.
"Scared?" the warbled voice asks, but Dabi stares him down, not letting the proximity bother him.
"I'm not telling you unless you tell me who has you coughing up whatever flower that is."
Shigaraki's grin is twisted, wicked, a few specks of blood on his lips. "I'll let you guess. I looked it up, and they're hydrangeas. Make of that what you want."
Hydrangeas? The flowers didn't seem to be big enough to be hydrangeas, but Dabi is no expert on flowers or their language, despite his rich traditional upbringing. That was always more something Fuyumi was expected to learn, not a young boy. And it's not like Hanahaki was perfect for the fucking flower metaphors. He keeps coughing up spider lilies even though they mean death and parting, not love.
Though, maybe that should be a warning.
"I can't fucking figure it out, alright?" Dabi snaps, still so close. He could close the distance, could kiss those stupid chapped lips any second now. "I figure it's not someone in the league, and it's not that hero you think is cool, so I don't know who the fuck it is. You don't interact with just anyone."
Shigaraki presses even closer, his grin more manic than before. "No one in the league, huh? What about you? I know you and Twice are pretty close, but otherwise, you're always off 'recruiting'. Fall in love with a potential ally?"
Dabi's eyes narrow, and he can't stop the frown of disgust. "Twice is just my friend. Besides him, none of those weaklings are worth anyone's time, much less mine. I have shit to do, goals to reach. Can't focus my feelings on some waste of space."
Is it Dabi, or is Shigaraki getting closer? He can smell day-old energy drinks on his breath, the cheap deodorant they stole from the last convenience store, and the leather of that big black jacket boss prefers these days. The proximity is heady, going to his head and making it hard to think.
"So tell me who it is," Shigaraki whispers in his ear, a command, a plea, Dabi can't tell anymore. "Tell me, so I can kill whoever dares take you away from the league. From me."
"Ain't going nowhere," Dabi says back, voice just as low and whisper quiet. "Never leaving you." Shigaraki's fingers tighten on his face, one still held precariously away.
There is an eternity that they watch each other, seeking something in each other's gaze. They seem to snap at the same time, lips meeting in a crash, teeth clacking from the force. Dabi can taste blood from the recent flowers, a copper tang that does nothing to sour his enjoyment of the kiss. Shigaraki presses him harder into the wall, plundering for everything he wants, and Dabi is inclined to let him. It's no declaration, but it seems to help the roots constricting his lungs, makes them loosen their hold.
Then Shigaraki pulls back with a gasp. "Fuck!"
Dabi pants, not sure what to do. Was that a love confession? Or sexual tension? Should he bare his soul, or force Shigaraki to do it first? Or worse, walk away and let the damn roots in his lungs kill him before his revenge can?
Shigaraki's fingers still grip his face, holding Dabi to the wall with no escape unless he wants to burn his way out. Then he's leaning forward again, his whole body pressed up against Dabi's. "I don't do love," he whispers, but his face is softer than the words would imply. "But if I had to love anyone, it might as well be you."
Dabi snaps forward, heedless of the danger in that touch, and slams his mouth onto Shigaraki's. He kisses him for all he's worth; trying to pour all his love into this kiss so he doesn't have to say the words.
Eventually, the kiss ends, and the slim form pinning him pulls back. "You have to say the words for it to work. I asked Mister to be sure. I'm sick of coughing up these damn flowers. Do you love me too?"
"Goddamnit, of fucking course it's you," Dabi snaps, feeling the embarrassment burn his cheeks. "Who else would I fall in love with? It had to be the worst person possible."
Shigaraki snorts. "Like I chose any better. Have you ever looked in a mirror, you zombie fuck? I didn't fucking plan on falling in love with the burn ward victim."
"Shut it," Dabi growls, pulling mophead in closer for another biting kiss. This time he draws blood just because he can, biting into those chapped lips.
Shigaraki returns the favor until they're dripping blood down their chins and grinning like monsters at each other. The grip of the roots is gone, and based on the way boss breathes now, they've gone from his lungs as well. For once Dabi is free of the choking ash, not because he's alone in the world, and has burned away his ability to love, but because someone saw something worth loving in him. Boss seems just as surprised that anyone could love him, almost frantic in his kisses and touches.
Slowly the energy fades, and Shigaraki pulls back, allowing Dabi to stand on his own two feet again. He thumbs a staple that's started to rip Dabi's cheek and presses a gentle kiss to the trickle of blood. "Mine," he says.
"'Kay, mophead. But your mine too."
Shigaraki nods, and presses one more soft kiss, so unlike the frantic ones of a moment ago on his lips "Fine with me."