Chapter Fifty-Nine: In the Shadows…
Dabi lay back with his arms crossed behind his head as he stared at the ceiling of that cheap motel room. It wasn't anything special, but it was out of the way and nobody in the area asked questions, so it served its purpose.
These meetings wouldn't be possible in most other places. Security and all that. His features kind of stood out.
"So, you gonna be on the low for a while?"
His eyes trailed away from the ceiling to the opening bathroom door, where a young woman with striking, copper green hair was stepping out in an oversized t-shirt and underwear. She looked cozy and snug, even as she dabbed a towel at her face to wipe off any remaining moisture from her shower.
He snorted. "You could just light your hair up. Would get rid of the water faster."
"Boiling water does not look good on me," she retorted, half-glaring at him. "You didn't answer my question."
Dabi huffed. "Yeah, I'm gonna lay low. Boss man is up to something and everyone else has their own stuff to take care of. I'm not gonna play around with them. Got better things to do."
"So I've noticed," she grinned teasingly, eyebrows waggling up and down.
"Oh, you're complaining? I'll just drop you and pick up some other guy, then."
"I don't think you will."
She smirked. "No, I don't think I will, either."
He sighed and looked back at the ceiling as she walked over and sat on the edge of the bed, grabbing a brush from her bag. "You probably should, though."
"And I'm seriously telling you to cut that shit out," she snapped. "I've stuck with you for years and I'm not gonna quit now."
"No," she smacked his bare chest with her the flat of her brush and got up in his face, scowling down at him. "I don't know how many more times I've gotta drill into your dumbass brain that I'm staying. I have not been helping you hide from your dad for ten years on a whim or because I'm scared of your little villain compadres. You're stuck with me and you can't do a damn thing about it."
He opened his mouth to snap another insult out, only for her to lean down and shut him up in a much less conventional way. Dabi only let out a half-groan of heatless annoyance.
They parted and he muttered against her mouth. "I don't have anything to give you."
"You're enough," she murmured back. "You've always been enough, Touya."
"I hate that name."
"Well, I'm not calling you by your little emo villain name."
He barked out a laugh and she grinned at him. Moe threw her brush on the floor by her bag and dropped onto his chest, crossing her arms under her chin to watch his face. He was wholly aware of her weight against him.
So too, apparently, was she. Moe suddenly frowned and let her eyes trail down, running a finger along his sternum between the burnt patches. "You've gotten skinnier. I thought something felt off."
"You will be. You've got time to yourself while you lay low? I'm gonna make you eat."
"I could refuse."
"You can't cook."
"You burn food."
Dabi huffed. "So you're going to convince me to cook for myself?"
"I'm going to convince you to cook for us," she corrected, smirking. Her expression became serious a few moments later, traced with anxiety. "You need to take better care of yourself. Your health is already—"
"—I know," he sighed, reaching up with a hand to cup her cheek. Moe leaned into his touch and grasped his hand with her own, squeezing tight. Dabi closed his eyes.
They were silent for a while. Moe eventually turned her head to kiss his palm. "Promise to try. If not for yourself, then for me."
His thumb stroked the skin of her cheek. Soft. Warm. Alive.
"Ok," he murmured. The corner of her mouth twitched up into a slight smile and she leaned forward to kiss him. He breathed against her lips. "Ok."
The biggest problem with Gigantomachia, Tomura reflected, was not actually his sheer size.
His Chimera foe had the ability to alter his already immense body and become enormous. The Gigantification Quirk made him even larger than Mt. Lady when he really put it to use, although the Titan rarely grew that large to combat Tomura. His inhuman super strength wasn't the cause of Tomura's annoyance, either. Nor was it the incredible healing factor, undoubtedly gained from yet another Quirk All for One had gifted his most loyal servant.
No, the most aggravating problem Tomura had with Gigantomachia was simply the fact that he never stopped.
The sun had set and risen twice now since their fight had begun and Tomura was exhausted. Every limb weighed more heavily than it should and his head was fuzzy with lack of sleep. Sheer adrenaline and the rush of danger and combat kept him awake.
Tomura mentally cursed his Sensei. Oh, he knew Machia was by far the most difficult enemy he'd ever faced well before their battle had begun, but even so, this was ridiculous. Even Hisashi had admitted as much.
"Gigantomachia was once All for One's personal bodyguard," Hisashi had told him. "His original Quirk was Endurance, which converted his morale into stamina and physical energy. Since he was such a zealous follower of All for One, his ability to keep fighting at the time was nigh-endless.
"He's also unique amongst the Chimeras because he was able to receive all of his additional Quirks without his body being modified. Unlike myself and the remaining four Chimeras, he was born naturally."
"Sensei was still careful about which Quirks he gave Machia, I bet," Tomura mused.
"He was, but Machia isn't the most intelligent of us," Hisashi admitted. "He's an incredible source of muscle and a skilled tracker, but his blind devotion to All for One makes him simple-minded. That's why he's the lowest-ranked Chimera. Even if he possesses ungodly stamina and the ability to destroy just about anything, he's easily drawn into traps and builds up tunnel-vision on whatever task is at hand. Powerful, but too simple. A blunt, albeit effective, and very large hammer."
Tomura jumped away as Machia's enormous fist crushed a boulder into pebbles, scowling when the behemoth chased after him.
Aside from Endurance, he's got Pain Block, Gigantification, Energy Efficiency, Tough Skin, Super Sense, and Mole, Tomura thought. He hasn't really used Mole all that much, but I guess he doesn't need to bother going underground so long as we're fighting like this. Besides that and Gigantification, he doesn't have any Quirks that require direct activation, anyways. He's got a bunch of passives that become overpowered when they're put together. Stupid raid boss.
The Titan slapped his hands together in the space where Tomura's head had been not a second ago. Tomura retaliated by grabbing Machia's wrists and channeling Decay for just a moment before he let go and scrambled away. Hopefully, that would weaken Gigantomachia's blows for a few minutes until the monster's healing factor from Endurance overwhelmed Decay. Soloing a boss was a pain in the ass.
Then, out of nowhere, Gigantomachia stopped in his tracks.
Tomura stood tense and at the ready, immediately suspicious of the strange behavior. The Titan stared at him for a few moments and then growled. "Three hours of rest. Then we go again."
The Heir to Darkness raised an eyebrow. "You finally getting tired?"
"No," Machia denied. "Forty-eight hours, forty-four minutes. We rest for three hours each time. Then we keep fighting."
"Who the hell made those rules?"
"All for One did."
Tomura whirled around as Hisashi stepped out of Kurogiri's portal, eyeing the destruction around him lazily. His gaze finally fell on Tomura. "I see you've survived."
"Obviously," was the exhausted response. "What do you mean, All for One made those rules?"
"Training rules," he explained, watching as Gigantomachia dug a pit and curled up like a dog, falling asleep in two seconds flat. "When I used to train against Machia, All for One always stopped us at forty-eight hours and forty-four minutes. It's about as far as we could last before we absolutely had to rest, even if it was just for a few hours. That pattern repeated itself until one of us claimed victory."
Hisashi offered Tomura a box of food and several bottles of water. "Eat, drink. Then sleep. Clock's ticking."
After two days of hellish fighting, Tomura was too tired to argue. He snatched the food as he sat down and began to eat, glaring at Machia's sleeping form.
Round one's a draw, damn monster, he thought murderously.
Waiting for Hisashi to return from his visit to Tomura was just another absence for Spinner to deal with. He sharpened his sword absently, staring into the gleaming silver steel.
Things had been a lot quieter since Himiko had left with Izuku to the top-secret healing place, or whatever the deal was. Then Tomura had gone to try and recruit another Chimera, which would be a long process since Gigantomachia would only respect Tomura if their leader could defeat him in the first place.
Assuming Tomura wasn't killed, Hisashi expected their fight to last for weeks. Maybe months. Machia was an ungodly tough nut to crack.
Dabi had just up and gone off somewhere. When asked about it, he offered a middle finger as a polite refusal to answer. Spinner wasn't surprised. The guy liked his alone time. Likewise, Twice had taken a few days to visit Giran.
When Hisashi wasn't watching Tomura fight Machia, he was rarely around. The Chimera was trying to figure out exactly where Mugetsu had gotten off to after she fled with the rest of the unfamiliar villains that had interfered at the raid on the Eight Precepts. Kurogiri was helping with that to some extent.
Even Compress was leaving for a little while.
"You're visiting your grandfather?" Spinner asked. "That's not risky?"
"My family is comprised of criminals," Compress replied dryly. "My grandfather is no exception. They won't join us, but we have an agreement of no hostilities in the family. I'd like to meet with him for a while and see if perhaps he can't lead us to an opportunity or two."
It was a decent idea, he reflected. The League was certainly strapped for cash at the moment.
There was no fanfare as Kurogiri warped Compress away. Spinner found himself alone with the warper, staring into the reflection of his sword.
The room was silent, but his thoughts were loud within his mind. Everyone else was gone, busy with tasks of their own. What was he supposed to do? How could he contribute?
Hisashi eventually returned, offering a brief distraction.
"Hanging in there," the Chimera replied simply. "He'll be fighting Machia again in an hour or two. It'll be a long time before that monster gives in. Your leader has his hands full."
Spinner grunted and sheathed his sword, hesitating for a moment before speaking again. "I'm not sure what to do with myself."
Hisashi studied him for a second. "Why are you here?"
"Because I don't know what to—"
"No," he was cut off. Hisashi frowned. "Why are you here? With the League?"
"I'm following Stain's will."
"What do you mean, why? To cleanse this society of fake heroes."
But even as he said that, the words felt…empty to Spinner. Lacking, somehow. Hisashi obviously thought the same.
"I don't think that's why you're still here. Perhaps it's why you joined at first, but as things stand, you're really just tagging along. You're not following your own creed. It's fine to look up to someone, but if they dominate your being, then you're just a pawn with no will of its own. Is that what you are?"
"No? Then what are your ideals? Why do you continue walking this path?"
"What do you want me to say?"
"I don't want anything from you. But you might ask yourself what you want and what you're doing here in the first place. This life isn't for the faint of heart. You should know that by now, but if you don't even know your reason for being here, you won't survive. I promise you that."
Hisashi turned away and muttered to Kurogiri, who opened another portal a few moments later. The Chimera didn't even spare Spinner another look as he headed off to his next task.
The reptilian man looked back to his sheathed sword and ran his thumb along the handle ponderously.
Ochako glared at the orange in her hands with professional sternness.
"Now listen, you," she growled. "We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way."
"It can't hear you," Aizawa pointed out without even looking over.
"Surrender the goods or I'll have to use force," she continued, ignoring her teacher. Aizawa just shook his head and kept reading the news on his tablet.
"I've never heard someone interrogate a fruit before," Toshinori's voice was brimming with amusement as he sipped from his coffee.
"Orange peels deserve it," Himiko pointed out. "I can offer a knife to help."
"You hear that, villain? My partners are packing some heavy gear."
"Wait, no I don't. Couldn't bring it. Sorry!"
"Shh, the villain doesn't know that. They might still believe the bluff."
Izuku walked into the living space and blinked at the standoff going on between Ochako and her desired breakfast. "Um. Everything ok?"
She held up the orange between them, still glaring at it. "This criminal won't give up the goods it stole."
"…It's an orange?"
Himiko snorted and Ochako's pout deepened. "No, it's a villain! It's keeping my breakfast from me with that stupid thick skin!"
"I think the fruit rightfully belongs to the orange. You're technically breaking and entering with intent to steal and kill."
"Lies and slander!"
"If we weren't talking about a literal fruit lacking a brain or any sort of consciousness, I'd agree with Izuku," Aizawa commented flatly.
Himiko giggled and Izuku couldn't help but crack a smile at the antics of his friend. Ochako huffed and fixed him with a mischievous smirk. "Fine! You're the hero expert, so make it legally surrender my breakfast!"
She passed him the fruit, but as it left her hand, all five of her fingers brushed against it. Izuku couldn't help but laugh as the orange decided gravity was overrated and began to float to the ceiling.
"No! My food!" Ochako wailed dramatically. Her friends laughed as she reached up with a forlorn expression on her face. "Come back! I didn't mean it!"
The orange looked ready to stand defiant in the wake of her plea.
And then, quite simply, it shot downwards into her open hand.
Aizawa frowned at the sudden silence and looked over his shoulder at the frozen shapes of his students and colleague as they stared at the innocent fruit held in Ochako's still-outstretched hand. "What?"
Ochako stared at her would-be breakfast with wide eyes. Slowly, her gaze lifted up to Izuku. "You saw that, right?"
"Uh-huh," he looked dumbfounded for a moment, then his expression cleared. "Can you…can you do it again?"
Ochako let the orange go and they all watched it climb back up. Aizawa squinted at the object of disturbance, more keen on the fruit than any other food he'd laid eyes on in his entire life.
Without touching her fingertips together, Ochako lifted her hand back up towards the orange. On some unspoken, silent cue, the orange rocketed back down to her hand with a loud smack.
"What the hell?" Ochako breathed.
What the hell, indeed.
It was midday when Inko arrived at Olympus in a small plane with Eri and Ochako's parents. Upon arriving, they were given VBs and a cabin right next to their children's, got their rooms set up, and were then escorted to meet with Izuku and Ochako.
They were brought to one of the main medical facilities and were ushered into the observation room of a scanning bed. On the bed was Ochako, wearing a medical gown and sitting still as the scanners did their work.
Nakira waved them in as they were tentatively led inside and stood up to shake their hands. "Mr. and Mrs. Uraraka, I presume?"
"That's us," Teshima replied, eyes locked on his daughter. "What's going on?"
"Just finishing up a scan," Nakira answered. "I'll explain once we're finished."
She walked over to the computer a pressed a button down for a second. "Ochako, your parents have arrived. They're with us now."
Ochako didn't move—undoubtedly because she needed to remain still for the scan—but she mumbled back. "Hey mom. Hey dad."
"Hi, sweetie," Yuriko called back, smiling a little worriedly. Behind them, Izuku was quietly hugging Inko and Eri while Aizawa held back a bit to give them some space.
Another minute passed and then Nakira tapped the touchscreen. "We're done. You can get up now, Ochako."
The girl in question sat up and looked over at the glass wall separating her from the others. She smiled brightly at her parents and waved at them as the door clicked unlocked and they were allowed to enter. Aizawa trailed behind them with the wheelchair.
Yuriko hugged her daughter close and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "How are you?"
"Good, I think," Ochako squeezed her back. "A little weird, but good."
"I'll explain," Nakira answered, inclining her head towards the exit of the room. "If we might move somewhere a bit brighter? There's another patient due for a scan here shortly."
"Of course," Teshima nodded, helping Aizawa move his daughter into the chair.
They moved to an empty lounge room; a wide, open space with large windows to let in plenty of natural light. All of them took a seat at the table (though Ochako of course was rolled up between her parents and Eri climbs into Izuku's lap) and waited briefly as Nakira walked over to the coffee machine and grabbed one of the pods.
She walked back to Ochako and offered her the small object. "Could you demonstrate for us?"
"Sure," Ochako took the pod and pressed all five of her fingers to it. As expected, the pod began to float as gravity was removed from the object. They all watched as it neared the ceiling, and then Ochako lifted her hand towards it.
The pod zipped to her hand, defiant of gravity still, but drawn in by some unknown force.
"You couldn't do that before," Teshima murmured, frowning. "Could you?"
"No," Ochako shook her head. She tossed the pod to the side and watched it float to the refrigerator before she summoned it back to her hand. "I just found out about this earlier today."
Nakira nodded. "That was the reason for the scan. Her Quirk has undergone Accelerated Metamorphosis. It's more commonly known as 'Awakening', but the phenomenon is exceedingly rare."
"I've heard of it," Izuku cocked his head back, frowning curiously. "It's not understood all that well, but sometimes during intense situations, a person's Quirk will just…suddenly evolve or take on traits it didn't have previously. You'd think something like that would be really common for heroes, but even then, it's so rare that some people think it's only a myth."
"There's not a lot of data related to Quirk Awakenings," Nakira admitted. "The phenomenon seems to be very specific, and the few documented cases detailing Awakenings show each individual who experienced it had a different catalyst to trigger their Quirk's evolution. There was a man decades ago with a Quirk that could mildly accelerate his body's natural healing ability. He was in a bad car accident and would have died from the impact, but the shock or severity of his wounds triggered his Quirk to Awaken and hyper-accelerated his healing. By the time heroes got him out of the wreckage, he was shaken, but virtually unharmed."
Ochako set the coffee pod over the table and pressed her fingertips together, watching as it dropped with a light tap. "What does this mean for me?"
"Quirk Awakenings are specific to each individual, of course, but generally they don't affect the daily lives of those who experience them," Nakira answered. "Since you're training to be a hero, though, it means you'll have to work until you understand exactly how your Zero Gravity Quirk has changed."
The girl smiled a bit. "Sounds hard, but also kind of fun."
Yuriko looked away from Ochako to Nakira. "How has she been doing?"
"Her recovery only started recently, so it's early days yet," she replied. "But we've already confirmed she has some feeling in her legs. Given the proper time and treatment, we're confident she'll regain full usage. We estimate a full recovery could take anywhere between three to six weeks. As the body regains sensation, it's not uncommon for a recovery to accelerate. Her brain will remember how to move properly again sooner or later."
Nakira looked up next. "Mr. Aizawa, if you would take Mr. Midoriya and his family to meet with Mr. Yagi and my sister, I'd like to finish going over the details of Ms. Uraraka's recovery with her parents in private."
Aizawa nodded and stood up with Izuku, Inko, and Eri. "Come on. They should still be at the gym."
"See you later, guys," Ochako waved as they left. "Deku, I need your brain later to help me figure my Quirk stuff out!"
He smiled back bashfully. "Sure. See you, Ochako."
The day passed by quickly after that. Izuku and Himiko took a physical test with Okeele, who confirmed they were both in pretty good shape on that end. There had been a couple of anomalies, though.
"Physically, you're in good shape," Okeele had told Himiko. "But your nutrition needs work. Your bloodwork came back and you're a little too low on iron and certain vitamins for my liking. The shortage of iron in your diet might also contribute to your cravings. Blood carries a good dose of it. I think we'll get you on a good nutritional plan and put some daily supplements into your diet to get you back on track."
She'd looked at Izuku then. "As for you…you're mostly good, but I'd like to get you in the scanner bed tomorrow. Himiko as well, most likely."
"Why?" Inko had asked anxiously.
"These, for one," Okeele had taken Izuku's scarred arm and given it a good squeeze. "Appearances aside, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the previous disfigurement of your fingers and increasing weakness of the arm has virtually disappeared."
He'd looked at Himiko and she'd answered immediately. "Overhaul. I used Overhaul on him…too many times to count. Maybe it reset the damage?"
"It's certainly possible."
"Why did the scars stay, then?" Inko frowned.
"It's possible that Overhaul was based on Himiko's image of Izuku," Okeele theorized. "Have you always known him with these scars?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
"It could be you subconsciously kept his appearance more or less how you remember him best. Perhaps if you consciously tried to use Overhaul with the intention of removing the scarring, it would disappear. Of course, all of this is purely hypothetical."
"No offense, but I never want to be Overhauled again. Ever."
"None taken. I don't want it."
"Aside from double-checking old damage," Okeele had continued. "We need to see how your Quirks are affecting your bodies. Both of you have expressed Quirks with negative effects on your health. It's mostly likely because of the Chimerism, but taking a deeper look might give us insight we could use to negate or at least mitigate future damage. Himiko's Blink Quirk and Izuku's low heat resistance especially seem to be the most problematic."
Once that conversation was over, they'd retreated to the cabins. Well, Izuku had gone back with Inko, Eri, and Toshinori. Himiko decided to spend some more time outside. He suspected she felt a little uncomfortable around his family right now, but he'd talk to her about that later. She probably just wasn't sure how to act around them.
Catching up with his mom and Eri had been a relief. It had only been a few days, but it felt like forever since he'd last seen them. They wound up in a big group hug with Eri smooshed in the middle until Izuku feared she'd die of oxygen deprivation.
Didn't stop her from holding his leg in a vice and refusing to let go.
He'd missed her.
They spent what was left of the day talking. Himiko returned later in the evening, and Ochako's family shortly after her. By then, Inko and Izuku had already been hard at work in the kitchen making dinner for all of them.
"Dig in!" Inko announced as the food was laid out.
Aerin looked upon the golden crown of the Temple Mount and pondered.
Beneath the stars, Jerusalem still bustled around him. Though many slept, the city had been the site of religious wars for countless years now. The arrival of Quirks had only intensified the violence by those who saw the flux as a 'sign of God'. Undoubtedly, someone somewhere was being killed or doing the killing.
He found the concept of religion to be an odd one. For so many people to dedicate their lives and souls to a being—or beings—that couldn't be proven to exist didn't make much sense to him. He could understand the idea of living a certain way for a greater purpose, and it wasn't like he had a problem with people who chose to follow a religion.
But there was one unavoidable issue beliefs in a higher power brought about; there would always be conflict between different sects. Wars and bloodshed for the sake of deities who might not even be real. And he who held the keys to heaven ruled the world. Everyone else would be doomed for some sort of purgatory, after all. Or so the religious leaders said.
He loathed the idea.
"Love thy enemy, indeed," he muttered under his breath.
The earpiece he wore cracked to life. "We're clear. Whenever you're ready."
Aerin only responded by lifting a hand, palm-up in front of him. A spark of red formed in the center and began to build up from the vast well of energy within its creator.
He regarded the Temple Mount again. It was an important religious site for three of the world's major religions. For Christians, this was where the son of God prayed daily with his disciples. For Muslims, it was where their Prophet left Earth to visit heaven on a winged horse. For Jews, the Foundation Stone beneath the dome was where the planet was first created.
Aerin had no quarrel with any particular religion. On the contrary, he would have been happy to let people believe what they wished. If only people could worship and still love all those who thought differently. If only there could be harmony instead of violence. Instead of hate.
A fruitless wish in today's world.
This would not solve the underlying problem, he knew. But it would leave a scar in the very bones of cultures and religions the world over. He would destroy the cancer at the source. Perhaps then there would be hope for peace.
If not, he'd wipe the slate clean. People could start again. Gods were only figments of their imagination, after all. They would make new ones.
The spark in his hand swelled vastly for a few moments and he held it above his head. A deep red nova lit up Jerusalem as bright as the sun. For a second, the city watched it with baited breath.
The spark compressed into a sphere the size of an apple. The energy within surged and fought to be freed. White formed at the core.
"I wonder," Aerin thought aloud. "At the end, will you fear hell? Or heaven?"
He snapped his fingers. The spark ruptured.
Red swallowed the city.
A/N: Alright, I am back. Still alive, somehow. Work has eased up a little so I'm only physically exhausted all the time. Got the insomnia dealt with. Thank gods for that.
So since I've been gone, I have:
1. Survived through the most brutal cold snap in Texas I have ever experienced in my life. This included 74 hours without power until the inside temperature of my house was down to 48 degrees.
2. Gone through my second covid scare (I tested negative again, thus I am happy).
3. Helped tear up my neighbor's house which was ruined when a huge pipe burst and flooded the building.
4. Shimmied my way through the stupidly tight spaces in my attic to locate and fix no less than two broken pipes (they were small, the damage was minimal).
5. Been dealing with stubborn pythons who refuse to eat for months and thus worry me out of my mind (they are now eating again, the little bastards).
6. Learned that my grandfather's mobile home has burned down for the third time in his life.
Needless to say, I've had a fucking year. It's not even April yet.
I've rewritten this chapter, as you have undoubtedly noticed. Very little remains from the original chapter that wasn't received well, drove me to the edge of my sanity, and prompted this hiatus. The hiatus is now over. Whoop-de-fuckin'-do.
I'm also rewriting Challenger, my Pokemon fanfiction for those of you who give a shit about that.
That's all from me. I'm not doing review responses. I'm too tired. This chapter is small, but I don't care. Take it. Take it away.
Have a better day than me!