A/N: Today on watching the world go to hell in a handcart, Incident Zero 57 is here!
I spent most of the last week catching up on my reviews and finally feeling happy that I had got on top of those, promising myself that I could go back to the three-weekly update that I promised myself I'd schedule. What then happened is the UK going into a heatwave, me having to deal with an urgent court case against an absolute nutcase, and a family wedding yesterday on upload day. The learning point is that even with your best-laid plans, the upload schedule currently rubber-bands more than Nejire's attention span… I am getting there, I promise.
Very pleased with the reactions to the last chapter and particularly the Yui appreciation- she's an underrated mine of potential as a character and I can't wait to show more of her in future. A few people have pointed out that I may have got slightly confused at one point and meant to say that both the Villains and Vigilantes had to flee through the Hero gate… honestly, I had meant for it to be simple but trying to create a sense of balance/realism means you overcomplicate it sometimes. If you can get past my slightly janky planning, hopefully you can enjoy the fight, those involved and the outcome… even if Izuku has a lot of explaining to do now!
Well… time for another chapter. And since we've had a lot of focus on the protagonists and the heroes recently… how about some old-school villainy?
Rikiya Yotsubashi, otherwise engrossed in the newspaper he had brought with him to while away his wait, heard the sound of the drop of water hitting a pipe somewhere in the building. As routine as clockwork, once every twenty three seconds. By now it didn't disturb him from reading the latest stock market predictions and making a mental note of potential investment targets, but it did make him file another mental note away… never to allow Geten to decide where they should meet.
It wasn't that his idea was bad. As much as the refined businessman and head of Detnerat wished things were different, the fact remained that the Meta Liberation Army operated in the shadows, the general public unaware of Re-Destro's existence. It was unbecoming of the heir to Destro's great legacy and the future leader of Japan, but for now they needed to keep things quiet and meet in secret. Even if it was beneath him, if a meeting couldn't happen in one of their offices, he needed to swallow his pride and make the necessary sacrifice.
That said, meeting in some abandoned warehouse made him feel like their common Yakuza allies. It was… undignified. Between that, and the drip of water that he just hadn't been able to discover the source of, Re-Destro almost wished he had insisted on holding this meeting closer to home. They were only little things, but Stress required only little triggers to up the ante.
Turning a page, Re-Destro began to consider a piece from one of Curious' acolytes, an article about Shoowaysha's latest acquisition as a publishing house that was so self-congratulatory that it almost qualified as mastubatory in its tone. Curious usually did such a good job at making sure her stories were grounded in interviews, bearing enough of the personal touch that she could make the story human; readers lapped it up, and so were more willing to accept the interpretative liberties occasionally taken in order to advance the cause, were ready to ingest the subtle references contained within. Since they had first met, there really was nobody quite like her at doing it… perhaps her students needed that little nudge as well.
He was only a couple of paragraphs in when the creaky warehouse door opened, a harsh grind of metal that he felt through his teeth. Re-Destro didn't look up, however, and as the sound of high heels clicking on a concrete floor approached, he didn't need to in order to know who had arrived. Instead, his eyes fell briefly to the watch on his wrist, a family heirloom passed down to him; while the watch strap had been replaced countless times to allow for the inflation of his wrist through Stress, the watch face was the same timeless classic worn by Destro at the very first Meta Liberation Army rally. "You're slightly late, Haruga."
"I'm not usually." Sway made a good point, as Re-Destro heard the speed of her footsteps and made a mental note. Even if her voice remained relatively level, she was walking faster than she normally would… something had gotten under her skin. "It's been an… exceptional twenty four hours."
"I can imagine." He still didn't look up from the newspaper, flicking back through several pages to find the article which would have caused her anxiety. The full picture of the abandoned prison van, a body under a blanket, and the rear doors wide open for all to see… an unexpected escape. "I didn't know that Lady Nagant was still alive."
"She shouldn't be." Sway's answer came out slightly quicker than perhaps she intended, and that raised Re-Destro's eyebrow. Sway's composure, doing the work that she did, was remarkable, and even at her most sly that composure had never cracked in the time she had been within the inner circle of the Meta Liberation Army. "I told them that she should have been killed."
"And yet they didn't listen to you at the time." Re-Destro carefully folded the paper and put it down on the floor beside him, making eye contact with the purple-eyed woman now as he raised his fingers in an L shape to make their usual sign. "I suspect that you had a few choice words about that this morning."
"The official line was that she died on a mission, while Tartarus held her in solitary confinement. Her existence within Tartarus should not have been leaked, but…" Sway shook her head, one purple strand of hair briefly falling in front of her eye, before signing back. "I should have been told before anyone took the decision to try to move her. Before something like this happened."
"You can't change the past. You can only learn from it, and move forward." Re-Destro looked Sway up and down, keeping his face as neutral as he could manage. "You learned from your mistakes. She may not have been amenable to your work, but everything you learned from Lady Nagant has helped you. Hawks is pliable, even where she was not."
"Hawks is one thing. But having Lady Nagant on the loose and teamed up with the Hero Killer should concern anyone."
"Stain is a valuable asset, even if he does not know that he is being used. All that righteous fury and bloodlust in one man… his continued existence helps further divides. As does the continued zeal of the Hero Commission in tackling the 'problem' he causes so uncompromisingly. Both of them aid the cause of liberation." Re-Destro shrugged, a small smile on his face as he searched hers for signs of any weakness. "Lady Nagant is just fuel on a fire that is already burning. Her freedom doesn't change too much."
"That's easy for you to say." Re-Destro blinked at her response, frowning at her snappy response. Did she forget her place? "You are the CEO of Japan's biggest support items company. You're a celebrity for everything you do, a huge name in business. Put simply, you're not high on the list of targets for the Hero Killer and the woman who inspired him."
"I'm the Grand Commander of the Meta Liberation Army. The last time I checked, the Hero Commission still labels us as domestic terrorists for our belief in the cause." Re-Destro wasn't going to rise to it, even as the faintest trace of accusation bubbled in his lieutenant's voice. He was prepared to let it slide in the circumstances, if only to see where she went next as he offered some balance. "And I don't believe the Hero Killer would tolerate our existence if he knew the truth, either. I suspect his ideal of a 'correct society' is at odds with mine."
"Perhaps. But their biggest enemy are the ones they perceive to be fake Heroes. And when Lady Nagant tells him about the work we carried out, how far the Commission used to go in the name of keeping people safe…" Sway shook her head. "He lacks the vision to see what good we can do now. He'll come for the President, for the higher-ups. For me."
Re-Destro kept quiet as she talked. They always knew this day would come, the second they began the long game of twisting the Hero Commission into something which they could topple on the path to liberation. The Commission would always be collateral so that the Meta Liberation Army could rise from the ashes and reshape Japan. But now, Sway was seeing herself personally as potential collateral damage as well. Her value was unquestionable and her loyalty to the cause inspired, and Re-Destro was pleased to call her such a close ally. But her old habits were deeply ingrained within her, so ready to deflect blame away from herself, so determined to claw her way to the top over others' broken bodies… watching her composure crack like a facade in the face of actual consequences was unbecoming.
"Curious is supposed to be managing the Hero Killer." Ah, there it was. The cornered animal, the knife in the back ready to go. Even as her voice remained calm, her poisoned words betrayed her fear. "But right now, her strategy is reactionary. Whatever my project with Hawks achieves, she uses Stain as a scapegoat, and tries to minimise whatever he has done whenever he has done it. We're catching up with him, rather than being one step ahead."
Sway stepped forwards and moved behind him, her delicate hands resting on his shoulders and massaging them. Re-Destro caught a hint of perfume, lavender like the colour of her hair. "We could be doing so much more."
There was something there, in the way she spoke, something which tingled at the edge of his skull and made his mood darken. He could already feel himself blotching underneath his shirt and jacket, but he kept his voice neutral. "And what would you propose?"
"We can control the narrative." Sway's words were honey, as she spoke freely. He could feel them, crawling across his skin. "The Hero Commission is afraid of Lady Nagant. The second she lashes out against them, their response will be inadequate. But if we lead by leaking her story, announcing her union with the Hero Killer, we get to dictate how the public sees her. Put a known murderer with the Hero Killer, and we delegitimise his cause, while weakening the Commission at the same time. I can-"
The speed at which he moved completely cut her off. One second she had been talking, massaging his shoulders and whispering in his ear, and the next one swollen black arm the width of a tree trunk had expanded and grabbed her around the throat, lifting her bodily off the floor as Re-Destro rose. "Do you think I can't feel it, Haruga?"
"Grk!" Her feet were dangling in the air, one of her heels falling off. "Re… Destro-"
"You still try it, after all this time." Stress hadn't fully spread across his whole body, but it was taking some effort to rein in his Meta Ability, and even as he tried to remain neutral he could hear the growl that had crept into his voice. "Your work is immensely valuable to our cause, as is your counsel to me, but the rooks and knights do not control the king, and no playing piece is indispensable in pursuit of checkmate. You forget your place."
Re-Destro took a moment, clenching his jaw and feeling the ripple of black across his face; within the vice-grip he had on her neck, the purple-haired Underground Hero shivered at the sight. "I am not one of your laboratory rats, Sway. You may twist others and make them your playthings however you please, but I am your Grand Commander. You do not attempt to manipulate me."
"You could not, no matter how hard you might try. How many more times do you have to try before you realise?" She didn't want to usurp him, he trusted her that much, but she was trying to influence him in order to protect herself. Such insolence could not go unchallenged. "I am the successor of the Great Liberator. My will is Destro's will. You may rule over the weak-minded and craven, inserting yourself into the back of their minds to fill the holes life leaves behind, but my convictions are ironclad. Insurmountable. Borne by destiny and forged in liberation… so I suggest you bite your tongue, Sway, and know that as far as I am concerned everything is in hand."
Re-Destro tensed his Stress-burdened muscles and squeezed his fingers, enjoying the widening of her eyes as his grip on her neck tightened. It was perhaps a little too far, but he had been in quite a good mood all day, and he just wanted to make his view crystal clear. "I assume you understand?"
He felt her attempt to nod, perhaps not the wisest choice with his hand around her throat. "Hahhh… yes-"
"Good." Re-Destro dropped her without warning, taking the briefest bit of joy in watching her stumble as she hit the floor with one shoe off. As she gasped for air, he held his inflated black arm out to one side, adjusting his tie with the other to straighten it again. "I would hate for you to lack faith all of a sudden, Haruga. Not when we're closer than we have ever been to realising the dream at long last."
"I…" Sway took a second to catch her breath, trying to compose herself again. "I have not… Grand Commander."
"Wonderful." His arm was mostly there now, Re-Destro taking his own deep breath and shuddering at the feel of Stress balling itself up within him again. "Lady Nagant is a strong Hero, but you haven't survived as long as you have throughout your career without being strong in your own right. If she comes for you… you have allies to support you. We are friends, are we not?"
"We are…" Sway looked like she wanted to say differently, given that he had just suffocated her, but she'd learned her lesson enough to bite her tongue. "She… can meet her replacement."
"Hah! Yes. I'm sure she would be grateful for the chance to take on your new protege. And of course, if you are concerned about your wellbeing… she is a sniper, no?" Re-Destro grinned the same charming smile he practiced a thousand times for press conferences, all teeth and little sincerity. It was about what she deserved, after that little stunt. "You might wish to commute via the metro for a couple of weeks, instead of taking the open roads into the office."
It was petty and nasty and completely unnecessary, but he didn't care. It was worth it for the flicker of irritation that she barely managed to disguise on her face, watching Sway squirm at the desire to bite back. "... Yes, Grand Commander."
"Capital." As Sway slowly and surreptitiously managed to find her other shoe and put it back on, a more genuine smile made its way onto Re-Destro's face. "You're forgetting the whole reason why we're here anyway, with all of this. Lady Nagant being liberated by the Hero Killer… our own similar operation was a success. The Commission haven't even realised that he's missing, have they?"
"Not yet." Sway massaged at the red mark briefly, moving to stand in front of Re-Destro and between him and the door through which she arrived. "I must admit, when you told me that Geten had moved to recruitment, I had… concerns."
"His strength is admirable. I knew he was the right person to trust for the job." Re-Destro took another look down at the old watch, reliable even after so many years of running. "He has been invaluable at weeding out those undeserving of a place within our esteemed ranks, those who would fail in the new world order. To ensure that a potentially valuable asset was able to be brought in… he has done well even by his own high standards."
"Still… I might not have picked to meet somewhere like this." Sway gestured at their surroundings as- yes, right on cue. The drip. Twenty-three seconds again. "The Commission don't tend to closely monitor where I go whenever I go on mission, but you… Detnerat doesn't even have an office around here. How do you not raise suspicion by appearing somewhere like this?"
"Miyashita is very good at clearing my diary whenever I ask him to, and very good at not driving me around when I tell him I'll handle my appointments on my own." Re-Destro shrugged, good-naturedly, before pointing to an old refrigerator and an earpiece which lay abandoned on the floor. "And Skeptic's Meta Ability use is very useful when it comes to creating a building owner or fellow businessmen to speak to. I used to find it amusing that Anthropomorph tended to create clones wearing suits whoever Skeptic tried to copy… now, it's just a reliable means of making anyone who sees me attending a site like this believe there is a business purpose."
"I see. I thought Miyashita knew of your… outside interests?"
"My political leaning? Not yet. I will tell him soon, though. It's inconvenient having someone so close to my inner circle who is not yet so enlightened, and I'd like to change that." Re-Destro nodded. "He has earned my trust by now to know the truth."
There was a loud noise from the door, and Sway smiled humourlessly at the fact their new arrival had knocked on the door of a warehouse neither of them owned. "Talking of moments of truth… this could go wrong."
"Relax, Haruga. Even if it did go wrong, that is within my expectations." Re-Destro raised his voice, loud enough that the person on the other side could hear him. "You're early, Geten. Enter."
The young man underneath the hood of the blue parka remained a mystery to Re-Destro. Most of the theories he had previously held had been proved to be entirely incorrect, something which should have infuriated the Grand Commander because of how Geten's real identity remained out of his reach. But Re-Destro had reached a point where he was content to allow the mystery to lie, for one reason and one reason alone… for the fact that actions spoke louder than words.
Of course, a mysterious stranger climbing the ranks within the Meta Liberation Army had raised its fair share of suspicion. Others among his inner circle had raised their eyebrows and expressed their concerns, that Geten sought to take power for himself, that Geten was an agent for forces unknown, that his heart was not really committed to the cause. But Re-Destro brushed these all aside when seeing the fruits of Geten's labours, when seeing how devout the boy was to the ideology of Destro, for the desire he had to achieve a world in which the strongest stood at the top and Meta Abilities were celebrated rather than shackled. He had taken on foes and rooted out traitors with great zeal and blind faith in the vision of the Army, and that was worth its weight in gold… as was his Ice Manipulation Meta Ability, for how his command of his powers made him one of their strongest warriors.
What he had achieved using those powers was no small feat, because the man behind him emanated raw power. Geten's job, for want of a better description, was to focus on recruitment, bolstering their ranks; he worked to identify those who sought liberation and tested their mettle and strength to see those who had strong enough convictions, those who had worth. So when Geten decided to target someone who was an existing prisoner, Re-Destro was willing to look past the concerns of those who thought it would compromise the Army's public appeal to welcome one with so much blood on his hands. If Geten believed it may be useful for the cause, then his judgment should be trusted.
The blonde man was tall and wide, enormous biceps and triceps hinting at the potent Meta Ability lying beneath the surface. He walked with shoulders raised and squared, simultaneously proud and confident in his own strength while also defiant against the world around him, and one look at Re-Destro's face told him everything he needed to know about whether or not he had committed the crimes attributed to him. It wasn't the scar that gave it away, fierce and red on the left of his face, nor was it the false eye which had been used to fill the void left by the scar. It was the look in his other eye, the sheer vindictive evil that brewed beneath the surface… Re-Destro had seen men like that before, and they were capable of such terrible things.
"I hope that I have not interrupted anything, Grand Commander." Geten's fluffy-hooded head bowed respectfully as he approached. "And that you have not been too uncomfortable waiting here for me."
"It has a… certain rustic charm, this venue you have chosen." Re-Destro gave an appraising nod to the newcomer behind Geten, and mentally noted the plink of water behind him again. "You surprise me, Geten, I must say. Normally when you bring me potential recruits, you bind them in ice and release them on arrival. And yet you allow our friend to walk free."
"Even if I was able to overcome him… I am not certain my ice would have held him the whole way here." Re-Destro blinked at the rather frank admission from Geten. The young man was proud of his own abilities and usually so sure of his strength, such that he would not reveal a sign of weakness around a potential opponent. The fact that he was prepared to admit that his potential recruit could overpower his ice… perhaps that was a begrudging sign that Geten recognised true strength where he saw it. "His reputation is earned. It was one of the toughest battles I have faced since you promoted me."
"I'm rusty… that's how you won." The blonde man behind him rolled his shoulder, but there was surprisingly no malice in his gruff voice. "If I hadn't been spending the last few years down in Tartarus, you wouldn't still be standing, kid."
"Such confidence…" Re-Destro folded his arms. "I should expect nothing less from one of this nation's most infamous prisoners. Muscular… your reputation precedes you. There will be no household in Japan who does not know what you have done."
"Heh. And even I know who you are." Muscular had a grin on his face that was all teeth. "You're the guy that runs Detnerat, aren't ya? Oh man, I saw your face on the news before I went in. And this Geten calls you Grand Commander… you're the one in charge?"
"That's correct. If you are Muscular, then I am Re-Destro, Grand Commander of the Meta Liberation Army. We are not the only ones who see how broken this society is, but we are the ones who will do something to change it." Re-Destro bowed, but he didn't take his eyes off of Muscular once. He couldn't, knowing what the murderer was capable of. "You have already met Geten."
"And I've already met your friend too." Muscular sounded less happy about this as he set eyes on Sway, and beneath the surface of his arms something rippled. His Meta Ability was on edge. "Geten said you all wanted to change the world… so then, why am I seeing a Hero here? Especially her-"
"Goto Imasuji. It's been a while." Sway sounded ever so slightly smug as she addressed him. "I see Water Hose left their mark on you."
"They managed more than you ever did. Water Hose put up a fight… you just tried to fuck with my head and failed." Muscular glared at her. "Y'know, sending someone else who's stronger to take me on and bring me to meet your master… you're still as weak as you were back then!"
"You couldn't begin to imagine what I am capable of. Especially when I have a cause to fight for. What do you have, Muscular?"
"Something all of you want, or I wouldn't be here." The convict moved his attention back to Re-Destro. "But I don't like people wasting time and acting like they're better than me. Snakes like her, who think they're so superior and would stab you in the back when they get the chance. You want my strength, but why the hell should I care enough to give it to you?"
"Perhaps we should not have involved so many people, and shown our hand so early." The air had become slightly chillier around Geten as Muscular and Sway butted heads. "Grand Commander, if you have orders-"
"Patience, Geten. A little fire and temper is to be expected." Re-Destro held a hand up, and hoped that his lieutenant could see the flicker of black that ran across his palm. "Tell me, Muscular. Tartarus is rather sparse for outside news, but not so much for literature. Have you ever read Meta Liberation War?"
"Your little pamphlet? Yeah, everyone in there has. Half of 'em think it's a joke." Re-Destro felt his eyebrow twitch at the disrespect, felt something twist inside him, but bit down on his cheek to quell it. This could still be salvaged. "You're not the original Destro."
"No. I am his successor. Tell me… what did you make of it, when you read it?"
"It's words on paper. You can write whatever you want to say, but until things are done, words are just promises. I'm not the sort of person who promises."
"Quite. And neither am I." Re-Destro opened his arms wide. "Actions speak louder than words, don't they? You deliver on yours and do what you please, brutalising whoever you want because you wouldn't dare make a threat you can't follow through. And that makes us rather alike, Muscular."
"How?" Muscular was, Re-Destro sensed, holding back.
"You want to be liberated just as we do. You want to do as you please, to let loose on the world with your strength. And you place great stock in your own strength of will, as I do mine. You are a fit for our cause, as we are for what you want."
"And what are your actions compared to mine? You're hiding here in a warehouse-"
"But I am free to come and meet you, am I not? I am the CEO of the largest and fastest-growing private company in the whole country, with a schedule as thick as your arm." That one got a chuckle out of the murderer. "Investors, rivals, employees, business partners and more, all clamouring for my attention. And yet around all of that, I lead. I command. I have risen to a position where my Army numbers the same as it did when Destro first rose against tyranny, and the world is none the wiser. If I was an empty man, making promises I couldn't keep, how could I manage any of that?"
Re-Destro gestured at Sway. "And these are the people I align myself with, counted among our ranks. People with Geten's strength are one thing, but Sway's influence? We have the Hero Commission's leading Underground Hero, a woman with the ear of the President, within our ranks. We have businessmen, politicians, journalists… all leaders, all within the inner circle, and so many more throughout the Army. We promise many things for this broken society of ours, but we have all we need to deliver."
"Then why the hell would you even need me?" That question was not unexpected. "Why break me out and go to all this?"
"Because we will prevail. And we will reward all of those who fought for our cause, who lent their strength to break the shackles. You could rampage for nothing, and find yourself back in that same pit you were thrown into. Or…" Re-Destro held both his arms wide, and willed a little of Stress into them to emphasise the point. "You join us. And when the new world is ours, and the strongest are the ones who rule, you get to do as you please."
"Heh. I like you. You actually believe all this. You might actually put it off, and you might be right." Muscular's arms rippled again, and Re-Destro found himself briefly recalling what he had been able to find out about his Meta Ability… Pump Up, as it appeared to be called. "You wanna know what I think, Grand Commander?"
"I don't think there's a force in the world that could prevent you telling me."
"Liberation? I think your idea of liberation is a fucking joke." Something inside Re-Destro began to boil. "All this talk about armies, and soldiers, it's all about following orders. You're not trying to free people here, you're not trying to change the world for people like me. You see other people have power and are in charge, and you want that, so you'll use freedom as a promise to keep people dancing to whatever tune you decide you're playing."
"How dare you-"
"Nah, you don't get a say in this, kid." Muscular cut across Geten, whose fury at hearing their core ideology trampled on by a maniac had come out. "You're not the one calling the shots. So if your Grand Commander wants to say something, he can say it right here. And if he really believes in action, then he'll fucking do something, won't he?"
Re-Destro began to let Stress spread through him like fire in his bloodstream, as he lifted his head. "You lack vision."
"Even with one eye, I see better than these two do." Muscular was clearly straining for a fight, waiting to see if Re-Destro would move. "I'm not gonna bow my head to people who expect me to fall in line, and claim I'm being liberated because of it. If your words mean anything… prove it."
"I presume…" Sway caught sight of a flicker of black somewhere on his face, and sighed. "He wants a fight. Of course."
"He challenged us, Sway. He wants me to show how far I'll go to fight for this cause." Re-Destro flexed as his arm grew thicker, watching Pump Up kick into life and fibres of muscle flare on the arms of his opponent. "Fine. On your head be it. What is your price, if you win or I am forced to submit?"
Sway frowned at him. "You can't gamble the leadership to this brute, sir."
"He's not…" Geten sounded almost excited underneath the hood, in a murmur Re-Destro only just picked up. Apparently his younger lieutenant's faith in his conviction was absolute.
Even so, Re-Destro pretended to ignore the ice wielder. "Why not? If there are no stakes, he won't take us seriously."
"Hey, your Hero friend might want to take your throne, but I'm not after a title, old man." The arms of his opponent had gone a disgusting flesh-red as fibres of muscle enveloped his arm… it almost impressed Re-Destro if he hadn't seen stronger. "Put your money where your mouth is if I win. I'm walking out of here, not back to Tartarus, and going free. Properly free, not the bullshit kind you believe in, you hear?"
"A fair compromise. We'll discuss what I want when this is over."
Muscular's grin was savage, and not at all in response to Re-Destro's vow. It was the grin of a killer, of bloodlust and adrenaline and mania. "Look at you with your arms blowing up! Not what I expected from a slouch in a suit, but still… you're puny! An inferior version of me! But hey… it's your funeral!"
Muscular moved, blurring as he launched forward…
And Re-Destro grinned, finally able to let loose. "Stress Output… 40%."
The boiling sea of fury and liberation inside him, poured out into his body at long last, was borne out of the pent-up anger and indignation that he had forced himself to swallow over many weeks and months. Every bit of disappointment at business deals which hadn't gone to plan, every nugget of annoyance when his lieutenants bickered like children or his soldiers failed to capitalise on something, every deep breath he had been forced to take when someone sullied Destro's name or mocked the ideals he stood for. His opponent was strong… but he was Re-Destro. And only the strongest deserved to succeed.
Two enormous black arms caught the swing directed his way by Muscular's inflated right arm, the impact making a clap sound which echoed around the warehouse. Geten and Sway had wisely side-stepped the battle as they saw it coming, and that meant Re-Destro could pivot and throw his opponent bodily, launching Muscular at the wall with a crash.
"Graagh!" Even having hit the brick of the warehouse face-first, the serial killer was animalistic, back on his feet immediately and charging forward. This was the measure of him that Re-Destro had obtained in their discussion; impulsive, rash, speaking his mind. His honesty was as brutal as his violence, his methods as simplistic as his worldview. He was a force of nature, yes, and Re-Destro could see why others had been overwhelmed by his murderous tendencies, but he was a man of no substance or vision… he could not lose to someone so simple.
Re-Destro lunged forward, meeting him halfway with arms now larger than Muscular's own. Even as more muscle fibres billowed and tried to form shape and bulk, Re-Destro closed up and didn't allow him the time to take stock. Grabbing out with meaty black fingers and the strength of his own convictions, Re-Destro tore at him, then again, then again, ripping out the fibres as they formed and causing the murderer to bellow. A punch to his ribs felt strong, but the black mass of Stress that had spread across his chest took the hit. "You are nothing."
Muscular's response was to bite down hard on Re-Destro's inflated left shoulder through the suit, causing Re-Destro to bark out at actually feeling that and slam down an inflated black fist on top of the killer's head. The force of the blow was enough to make Muscular stop the bite, but before he had time to react Re-Destro's other arm came swinging up, grabbing the man by the throat before driving him down against the concrete floor. "Bastard!"
"50%." Re-Destro's response was to inflate his legs and straddle down over his opponent, holding firm even as more fibres grew and tried to give Muscular the strength to push Re-Destro off and get back onto his feet. "Not even my full power, and look at you. You lack… so much conviction."
There was a tearing sound as Re-Destro pulled again at the tight cluster of fibres around Muscular's right shoulder, the villain roaring. "Your will is naive… and your idea of liberation is meaningless!"
Re-Destro chopped down with a hand as thick as a girder, the crack of bone sounding out. "My will… is Destro's will. Unbreakable… unstoppable!"
"So let me make this clear…" Re-Destro reached down, grasping at one area which was not being reinforced by muscle fibres and using his other arm to pin Muscular's left arm to the floor with ease. "In words you can understand…"
He grasped, and only then the villain realised what he was doing, but to the credit of Muscular there was no fear in his remaining eye. Even at the point of no return, the instinct to rampage and frenzied bloodlust were all that propelled him forwards. "If you're not with us… then you're against us."
There was a visceral and foul sound as he tore at the villain's throat, and an awful sound as Muscular burbled blood and air, his windpipe splattering away out of Re-Destro's grip. "And I… will not lose."
Even as the light very quickly faded from Muscular's remaining eye, as the fibres flaring behind him died down and slowly stopped rippling, even as the blood spewed and the strength faded from the arm pinned to the floor, Re-Destro's gaze held firm. Making sure that his enemy stayed down, that he would remain defeated, that his triumph was total and that Muscular would not get back up any time soon… only when he was certain did he relinquish his grip on the remaining arm, and take a deep breath out. "My will… be done."
There was a long couple of seconds, punctuated by the plink of water that had annoyed Re-Destro ever since he stepped foot in the warehouse. Eventually, Geten was the one to step forward, standing slightly away from his leader. "My apologies, Grand Commander. I was the one to liberate him and suggest his recruitment. Our time… has been wasted."
"... So has a perfectly good suit." Re-Destro forced Stress back down inside him, storing away the frustration of seeing blood over the sleeves of his jacket and across the front of his shirt. After getting it back inside him in a ball and feeling his inflated body return to normal size, he exhaled, and wiped his bloody hands on the legs of his trousers as he stood up. "I am more concerned about that, Geten. Recruits are not hard to come by."
"My car is outside. We can stop somewhere before I drive you back to your office, if it assists you." Sway offered a handkerchief to him, which he gladly accepted. She had no issues looking down at the gore and taking in the body which he had created, something which he knew came from several years working underground and seeing this side of the criminal underbelly first-hand; he was pretty sure she would have caused similar scenes herself through Hawks. On the rare occasion Geten killed, his victims were encased in ice, so it was clear he was not used to sights like this. Sway, on the other hand, was all too matter-of-fact about it. "I might need a little time to think of what to do with the body, though."
"Call Skeptic. This might be a chance for our Yakuza friends to handle some clean-up operations for us." Re-Destro allowed himself a little smirk at the chance the Shie Hassaikai might end up running errands for them. "If not, then whatever you can spin with a tip-off…"
"Consider it done." Sway looked down her nose at Muscular's corpse. "You are aware I thought this was a bad idea."
"If you're about to say 'I told you so', I might not be in the mood to hear it," Re-Destro replied, cheerfully.
"Of course not." The look in her eyes gave the truth away. "But in all honesty, to see someone so unable to compromise in order to achieve the liberation he truly desired… it's sad."
"He agreed with us in some respects, as well," Geten added, pointedly looking away from the body. "Beyond sheer strength, life has no value… he saw that just as I did."
"Yes. But I fear Destro's ideals would have been tainted by allowing someone like him to represent them. Violence for the cause is one thing, but for his own enjoyment…"
"True. He couldn't hold up to Destro's legacy, in the end, and that's all that matters. The rest is… water under the bridge." Re-Destro balanced his own mood, and offered Sway her bloody handkerchief back. "I am sure plenty of your other recruiting options will offer us more anyway, Geten. Do not be disheartened."
"I will only be concerned if it sets us back," the ice-wielder replied, nodding underneath his hood. "Liberation has never been closer."
"And you need not worry on that front." Re-Destro waved a hand and began to walk towards the warehouse door, his two lieutenants falling in step alongside him. "The Phoenix Festival is beginning in earnest, and I eagerly await its peak. Curious has joined Trumpet in Deika City, Sway's own works are in hand, and our dear Yakuza allies have ramped up their production immensely to meet demands under Skeptic's supervision. Everything that transpires is in my design… I'm even writing my speech as we speak."
He snorted to himself, as he adjusted the cuff of his shirt and saw how the crisp white fabric had been stained red. "Still, we have enemies, so perhaps instead of wasting your talents on recruitment I should involve you with a little project to deal with those, Geten. Skeptic is very keen to have some assistance."
"As you command, I will."
"Good. Good… tell me." Re-Destro chuckled. If they were about to start fires… Geten could light a match underneath one person in particular. "How much have the others told you about Katsuki Bakugo?"
Even on her days off from work, Inko Midoriya found herself hard at work.
Hisashi's death on the day of Incident Zero had hit her in ways she had often had to mask from Izuku growing up. She'd had to be strong for him, raising him herself and dealing with the many curveballs thrown up in Izuku's life from his unexpected Quirk development and all of the chaos when the true nature of his Quirk was revealed. It had meant that she'd had to steel herself, shedding tears when Izuku was in bed and otherwise putting on a brave face to move forwards.
She had inherited from her husband, and there had been substantial payouts both from life insurance he had taken out with his work in the United States and from the Hero Commission's victim compensation fund for Incident Zero. She hadn't, therefore, been forced into finding work to support Izuku and (soon after, considering he lived with them too) Tenko for some time. But as they grew older and headed to UA High, the fees involved in sending both of them to the most prestigious hero academy in Japan meant that Inko couldn't sit on her laurels. Balancing a new job with supporting her two boys (Tenko counted, even if he wasn't blood related) was a lot, but she would do whatever she could for them as they did for her, helping out around the house and making sure she didn't break her back on her own.
Still, some things were things only a mother could do. It had been a rollercoaster to hear from the boys, Setsuna and Himiko about what had happened at the USJ, not least when she heard that of all people Izuku's Quirk doctor was the man behind the attack. She had been so incredibly distraught when she heard how severely the Nomu creature injured her son that Tenko had to come with her as support to make sure she could see Izuku; the sight of her son lying so still on a hospital bed would have been too much alone. That wasn't within her power to prevent, and Inko knew it was a possibility of hero work even without the complex history of Izuku's Quirk, but it didn't make it any easier to know that people had specifically targeted Izuku and done this to him.
There were things that she could do, however. She might not have been able to track down the people who had hurt her son and make them pay, nor could she have fought them even if she had; giving her Quirk (something she had always considered inconsequential) to Izuku rather impeded her against someone who had made a creature as strong as All Might. But she could help her son out in other ways… and she'd found one in her time off, as the sewing machine whirred.
Izuku's costume had been torn to shreds by his attacker, and the original was with the Support Course for fixing. Apparently they were going to be making an upgraded version with more reinforcement and better protection, as well as restoring the original. But Inko didn't want to just leave it up to them to repair something she and Tenko had poured hours into. She wanted him to have something to wear which was made by her hand, whether or not UA decided to supplement it by custom-making Izuku protective gear to wear on top. It was probably really silly to anyone else when the original was being fixed too, but… Inko felt better this way. It meant she could give him something, and if it meant she could see his mood perk up, it would all be worth it to her.
The whirring of the sewing machine almost made her miss a strange noise in the living room, around the corner. It was only because she had released the foot pedal that she caught the sound of a creak of furniture, something she recognised. That was Tenko's end of the sofa, where Tenko had (by throwing his scrawny frame down without care over the years) worn the springs to the point that they made a particular noise every time he sat down.
It was strange to hear that, and Inko looked up at the All Might clock which a young Izuku had insisted they put up in the kitchen; even after Incident Zero, it remained firmly in place, as did the rest of Izuku's memorabilia in his room. The boys weren't normally home from UA this early, and she hadn't heard them come in. "Izuku? Tenko?"
"Not quite." The voice was older, and sounded quite cheerful, and set hairs on the back of Inko's neck on edge. That voice was familiar, from the depths of the past and from the stories of her son and his friends. "Mrs Midoriya. It's been a little while."
"Pardon the intrusion and the lack of notice." The next voice was deep and rich, and not one she recognised, but given everything Izuku had told her, she knew who that was. "We're not exactly able to come and knock on the door."
… They knew where she lived. And they'd turned up just like that, in the blink of an eye before she knew anything about it. Inko took a deep breath, and looked over towards her mobile phone on the side-
"We're not here to hurt you. We just want to talk."
Inko paused, finding her voice from somewhere despite the dread creeping over her. "That's exactly what someone who would want to hurt me might say, isn't it?"
"A fair point. But if your son has told you anything about the last few days, you'll know why I value him so dearly," the older voice reasoned. "And anyway, we wouldn't have announced ourselves like this. You wouldn't have known anything about us if we wanted to hurt you. Call it… an exercise in trust."
Inko evaluated her options. It was true, they could have killed her without knowing if they had already made it into her living room. If she called anybody to help, they could also kill her or run away before anyone arrived. And worse, if she called someone and they didn't run… they knew about Izuku. And that way, his secret would be out before he even had a chance to prepare. "I'm… coming in."
"Very wise." The deep voice sounded amused. "It's a lovely house you have."
Inko took a deep breath, briefly looking over at the knife block before shaking her head. She couldn't face carrying one, she wouldn't know what to do with it (Himiko apparently knew a little too much about what to do, but Inko wasn't her) and it wouldn't have done anything to defend her against something like Izuku faced. Honestly, the best she could do was steel herself and hope it would be over soon… it was a wonder she hadn't fainted yet. "Why… why are you here?"
"Simply to make acquaintances. It's been an awfully long time since we last spoke, face to face." As Inko stepped up and rounded the corner into her living room, the kindly old face of the man she once knew as Doctor Tsubasa smiled at her. "Hello, Mrs Midoriya."
"It's a pleasure to meet the woman behind young Izuku." The black cloud in a suit that loomed besides the sofa, the one Tenko had called Kurogiri, bowed his misty head when she came into the room; Inko felt herself pale and had to grip onto the doorframe to prevent herself stumbling out of shock. "Raising him with powers like All For One… it can't have been easy."
"Interesting…" The Doctor raised an eyebrow, reading her face behind the weird goggles he wore. "Not one flicker of surprise when we named it. How long have you known?"
Inko took a long breath, debating what she could say and willing herself to not crack when she spoke. "... Long enough. He… inherited it from your master? The one who fought All Might?"
"That's correct. You'll understand why it is imperative to us, therefore, that Izuku is allowed to explore his powers." The Doctor's moustache twitched into a smile that sent a shiver down Inko's spine. "We don't want his potential to be wasted."
"I can tell that he hasn't already, looking at you." Kurogiri's yellow eyes bored through her. "The Doctor told me you had a Quirk, but… I cannot sense one, when I look at you."
"Oho? Now that is unexpected. I remember yours…" The Doctor was holding a cane, which he tapped against her carpeted floor as if the memory had come back to him. "Low-level telekinesis, if I recall. Attraction of Small Objects? How much you must love him, to give him a part of yourself."
"That's right. I do love him. And you… you upset me." Whatever depths Inko managed to drag it from, her voice shook with anger when she next spoke, to the point that it made the Doctor raise his eyebrows. "You. Hurt. My. Son."
"I tested him. He disappointed me." If he had been intimidated, the Doctor didn't show it, and there wasn't a shred of remorse in his voice. "But he's not completely without hope, Mrs Midoriya. He's slowly learning to use All For One as intended… he just needs a nudge or two."
"And we intend to give him those, in due course. That's why we came here." Kurogiri's black fog cast strange shadows over the photograph of Inko and Izuku, framed on the wall. "Simply for a declaration of intent. So that you're aware, as his guardian… we don't intend to give up on what we started with the USJ."
"Then if you're doing declarations, let me say this." Inko took a deep breath, and when she next spoke she smiled sweetly at the Doctor. "I don't know how many more monsters you have. It doesn't matter that your friend can teleport, or that your master was a villain, or that I don't have a Quirk anymore. If you hurt my baby boy, there will not be a single corner of this world in which you can hide where you will be safe from me."
Kurogiri made a noise and twitched, as the Doctor chuckled. "Is that so?"
"That's not all. I'll go further." Inko didn't know how she was still standing, her heartbeat basically in her head from how loud it was, but she carried on. "I'll make you a promise, too. I promise that whatever you do, however much you try, Izuku will disappoint you. That he'll still be my sweet son, that he'll help people, that he'll be the best Hero you've ever seen. No matter what."
"Well, we'll see. There's calamity ahead, Mrs Midoriya… are you sure your son will be able to survive that?" The Doctor smiled to her so benignly it was obscene. "Sooner or later, he will see. And what legacy he leaves behind… I rather look forward to finding out."
"What's that?" The Doctor paused. "Kurogiri, you…"
"Where…" The warper's voice had changed and gone softer, higher-pitched, in a way Inko hadn't been expecting. Not only that, but when his eyes blinked again they were not yellow, but light blue. "Where am I?"
"... Not this again." The Doctor sighed, pointedly not looking in Inko's direction and flipping a button on his cane. Inko's eyes widened as he pressed the button and a short buzz was heard, a crack of electricity running across the metal collar worn by his eldritch companion. "Kurogiri… how do you feel?"
"... eurgh." The deep voice had returned, the eyes fading to yellow. "Doctor… did it happen again?"
"Unfortunately. It appears I have more work to do when we get back to the lab." Only now did the Doctor shake his head, daring to turn around and look at Inko. "Your son… he does rather make things difficult, doesn't he? Poor Kurogiri isn't quite the same anymore."
"He's stubborn… that's my son for you." Inko smiled, but it wasn't to taunt the Doctor. It was fond, knowing just how strong Izuku's resolve was and how much he had unsettled these two terrifying villains. "And he doesn't really know the full lengths of his power yet, does he?"
"Nowhere near." The Doctor stood, unsteady on his feet, before turning to Inko and offering her a shrug. "Time will tell, really. Whether he can command All For One… or whether it breaks him."
"It was a pleasure to meet you again, Mrs Midoriya. I'm sure we'll see you again soon." The Doctor clicked his cane. "Kurogiri… let's go home."
For an awfully long couple of seconds, the dark clouds from the top of Kurogiri's head flared, as the Doctor walked backwards and disappeared into the wall of mist which had formed in their living room. Finally, Kurogiri disappeared in on himself, the living room feeling empty and silent in their absence…
And Inko shuddered, slipping to her knees and letting out the tears she had been holding back the entire way through the encounter.
What on earth was she meant to tell Izuku?
A/N: You didn't think Garaki and Re-Destro were both going to sit on their hands while Izuku and co keep going with classes, did ya?
I fucking love Re-Destro and I know I've said to so many people throughout this story at various stages- I think the Meta Liberation Army were wasted. I want to emphasise both the sheer menace a group like that have in the background (because of canon's unrealised potential) and Re-Destro's own personal strength, because he very nearly defeated Tomura but for Tomura having his own version of a protagonist-flashback-powerup and finally going off the deep end. I hope his strength comes across here, as much as his fundamentalism and zealotry does, and I hope you've enjoyed the dynamic with Sway; in my head I see them both as Megatron and Starscream, albeit that Sway wheedles less than Starscream does and has a lot more dignity.
And as for Garaki… we've had enough chapters without Shigaraki's number one fan turning up in Izuku's life through one way or another. He's a dangerous man and he's not going to be deterred even if he's scared shitless of what's awake in Tenko, because All For One means far too much for him to let go. Kurogiri, on the other hand… Izuku's attack on him at the USJ continues to have consequences. Stay tuned for more on that one.
As ever, thank you all for continuing to support this fic and for all your kind words in reviews one way or another. It means a lot to see so many of you still enjoying this fic, and I look forward to writing this fic still because of those reactions. Please let me know what you think of the chapter in the reviews, please favourite and follow if you haven't already done so, and please share with your friends. If you want to chat more, please come and join the Ignite to the Call Discord where I am a moderator and IZ has its own channel; the join code is zV7WX3SB.
Ya boy, out.