Warnings: underage drinking and smoking.
Portrait Of You
As a general rule, Chuuya hates any assignment that takes him away from Yokohama for longer than a day. This one’s on the shorter side, a few days at the most, but it gets extra contempt for taking him to this place specifically.
“You’ve yet to tell me of any good reason I should offer you fundings,” he tells—Kurogiri, he thinks—the man whose ability seems to be constantly active, since his face is hidden behind a smokescreen, black as ink. “Or my attention, at all.”
He can tell Kurogiri doesn’t appreciate being talked down to by a seventeen-year-old, no matter how infamous a member of the mafia he may be. Kurogiri’s rather good at concealing it, all things considered. His tone hasn’t wavered and his attention is plenty.
The kid in the corner who keeps emitting poorly-disguised murderous intent might explain that.
“You won’t even take me to your leader,” Chuuya goes on, glancing back to Kurogiri. By now he’s having a harder time managing his own irritation—he wants to go home. “I’m sorry, truly, but the port mafia doesn’t take such easy baits.”
Why did Mori send him here?
“Our leader is indisposed,” Kurogiri says evenly. “Please be assured that we have no intention of making enemies out of you, quite the contrary.”
“No one wants to make enemies out of us until they have our money.” Chuuya can’t help the twitch of his own lips, and he knows it looks anything but friendly.
“We can find fundings elsewhere.”
Kurogiri is so close to snapping. The smoke around his head flares like a flame for just a second, and in the corner, the murderous child lets out a huff of breath that sounds like a wheeze of pain and a chuckle all at once. “You would regret not aiding us in the future. What we have planned—”
“Yeah,” Chuuya cuts in, “I’ve heard that before. If you don’t have anything to show now, then I’m not interested.” He hoists his folded coat up higher under his arm, places his hat back onto his head. “I’m out of here.”
He makes it to the first step that leads out of the decrepit bar when something brushes against his arm, making his elbow burn.
Chuuya kicks it away with enough strength to dig a crater through the opposite wall.
“You’ll stay here,” the child murmurs, and he’s not crouching in the shadows anymore.
There are disembodied hands floating around him. The wall Chuuya has just damaged trembles, and out of the debris at its foot another one floats up, bleeding black blood out of its knuckles, turning the pebbles clinging to it to dust. It flies back to where the boy is standing. He lifts his head to look at Chuuya. His mouth is cracked and dry, and his face is scarred.
He looks like a nightmare. This is by far the most repulsive gift Chuuya has ever seen.
“You don’t want to test me, boy,” Chuuya says lowly. “I’ve eaten bigger fish than you for breakfast.”
He lets power burst through the soles of his feet, and the concrete snaps under his weight, cracks appearing through the whole dining room’s floor like it’s made of glass. The boy stretches his mouth into a lipless smile.
“Shigaraki Tomura,” Kurogiri says, “that’s enough.”
The boy deflates immediately.
It’s almost disappointing. Chuuya doesn’t enjoy weak opponents and Shigaraki Tomura looks anything but weak. Looks aren’t everything, and an ability’s appearance doesn’t equate its strength—Elise is proof of that—but Chuuya can tell that there’s a hole at the elbow of his jacket, that his skin is singed and maybe even bleeding through the fabric of his shirt. This is a dangerous power in the hands of a dangerous-looking child.
“I’ll give you three days,” Chuuya decides. His words are for Kurogiri, but he’s looking at Shigaraki still. “Either let me meet with your leader when I come back or give me proof that the port mafia should kickstart that little gang of yours. Your choice.”
He doesn’t wait for an answer before leaving.
The air outside is a lot more breathable. This part of town is mostly in construction, the bare bones of cheap apartment buildings already standing tall, steel pipes bursting through the sides of the concrete walls that have been poured around their structure. It’s a crisp fall evening, and the wind smells like dust and rain.
Chuuya has a bet running with Dazai that he can stop smoking first, but what Dazai doesn’t know won’t kill him, so he lights a cigarette with a flick of his Zippo and inhales a fourth of it in one breath. Then he starts walking.
He’s never more aware of how special Yokohama’s situation is than when he’s out of it. The rumor that his city has a knack for attracting very powerful or very rare abilities is probably a hoax—Shigaraki and Kurogiri are both powerfully gifted—but the ministry pays special attention not to let vigilante activity happen on the premises nonetheless. Where the ministry fails, the port mafia succeeds. Gifts are not called quirks in Yokohama, and the ones who use them are not heroes.
Frankly, Chuuya is glad for it. His organization has enough colorful personalities as it is, he doesn’t want to imagine any of them running around in costumes, with logos and catchphrases and companies.
He’s in the process of trying to forget the picture of Kajii wearing spandex when he hears someone yell, “Help!” very faintly.
He stills in his tracks. There’s no one around that he can see; it’s Sunday, so the construction crews aren’t working, and not a soul lives here yet beside the villains holed in that underground bar-like place. Chuuya puts a hand on the handle of the knife at his hip.
“Up here!” the voice says, louder. It breaks on the last syllable as if choking back tears.
Chuuya raises his eyes.
There’s a little girl sitting perched on one of the windows of the building next to him, four floors up. The window is nothing but a gap in bare, grey concrete, and the inside of the building doesn’t even exist yet—she’s squeezing the ledge between her legs and shaking in a way he can see even from the ground.
“How the hell did you get up there?” he asks, bewildered.
The girl whimpers. “M-my quirk—” she starts, but then she leans a little too much to the side and has to straighten up quickly, and Chuuya can see just how her shoulders shake, from the fear and exhaustion—how long has she been there?
“P-please help me,” the girl says. She’s crying now, her words barely discernible between her sobs. “P-please call someone, I-I’m g-going to fall—”
“You’re not going to fall,” Chuuya cuts her off, because her panic his starting to make him anxious. “Just—hang on, I’m coming up.”
Using his ability is a bad idea, especially in Musutafu. He knows that. He’s under orders to be discreet, not to give out his strength, but he’s already made a spectacle of himself in front of the people he’s supposed to talk to, so it’s not like it can get any worse. He snaps gravity out of existence around himself and floats up to her level, pushing himself upward with his hands against the wall. She’s gasping at him when he reaches her.
Chuuya extends a hand forward. He’s holding himself still with the other, his fingers hooked into the corner of the window she’s sitting on. “Grab me,” he says. “You won’t fall.”
He expects her to say something silly and obvious like, You can fly! But all the girl does is grab his forearm with both of her shaking hands, and he winces, because her fingers dig hard into the bruises left by Corruption’s last use. She turns weightless the moment he touches her, and instead of the scared cry he expects her to give out, she says, “You have the same quirk as me!”
She doesn’t answer. It’s like all the fear has left her suddenly, and she laughs, launching herself off the window fearlessly and grabbing him around the middle.
“Thank you,” she says against his stomach. She’s still shaking.
Chuuya floats the both of them down with more care than he shows when he does it on his own. As expected, she collapses the moment her feet touch ground and he lets her own weight rush back into her, but it’s a harmless fall, just her behind on the grass.
It’s then that Chuuya realizes he has no idea what to do with a lost kid in the first place.
He clears his throat. “Are you all right?” he asks awkwardly. “Should I—er—where are your parents?”
He winces—what if she doesn’t have parents? How many orphans are there in Musutafu? Chuuya doesn’t even think he knows anyone who has parents. He and Dazai don’t. Neither does Kouyou.
“How do you not puke?” the girl asks him.
Chuuya looks at her blankly. “Puke?”
“When you cancel the gravity on yourself, how do you not puke? I always puke when I do it.”
“When you…” He pauses. “You can control gravity?”
“Yes,” she says excitedly. “I told you, we have the same quirk!”
She touches the tips of all her fingers together, and then a few rocks sitting by her hip. Sure enough, the rocks start floating in a way he recognizes instantly. There’s no pull to be felt when he extends his own awareness toward them.
“Heh,” Chuuya lets out. He can feel himself smile. “What are the odds?”
“I thought you were just flying, but then when you touched me I recognized it,”—she pushes herself back to her feet while she talks, fast and bright—”it’s really special, isn’t it? There’s no way I wouldn’t recognize it, it was so cool!”
“Hang on,” Chuuya interrupts, because he’s starting to feel himself blush, “if you can control gravity then why were you stuck up there?”
It’s her who turns crimson this time. She looks down at her feet and mumbles, “I don’t know.”
The lie is obvious, but Chuuya thinks he can easily surmise what happened from that alone. She went up, took a break, and got too scared to come down.
Like a cat, he thinks.
“All right,” he tells her—he can spare her pride at least. “Is there anyone I should… take you back to?”
She wipes her face with the back of her hand. “My dad’s home,” she answers. “Mom’s at work. But I don’t wanna leave yet!”
“Why the fuck not?”
“Because you gotta teach me how to not puke!”
Chuuya stares at her. “No,” he replies. “No way. I’m taking you back home and then I’m leaving before I get accused of kidnapping you or something.”
“You can’t!” She grabs him by the arm again, painfully, and Chuuya could’ve avoided it but this isn’t a mafia kid, this isn’t like with Shigaraki earlier—she’s just a little girl. He doesn’t want to hurt her by accident.
It’s a little funny to feel her try and cancel the gravity on him to trap him, though. All he has to do is cancel it back again and watch her face grow redder and redder by the second. At least it is until he starts feeling a rush of overwhelming warmth and rage crawl up from deep in his stomach. There’s a stinging along his arms and neck that Chuuya has only ever felt when Corruption draws ink-black squirming lines over his skin. Pebbles and torn blades of grass start floating around them, and the air shimmers purple, and all of a sudden Chuuya remembers Sakaguchi Ango telling him about the dangerous singularities that happen when similar gifts are used against one another.
He tugs his arm out of her grip and steps away from her. The air stops glowing.
“What was that?” the girl asks, mouth wide open, and Chuuya’s stomach clenches on fear.
“Nothing,” he replies. “Look, kid—”
“My name’s Ochako,” the girl cuts in.
Chuuya hesitates. “Ochako,” he repeats. “I don’t know how long you were stuck up there. You should go home and… make sure you’re not hurt or anything. Your dad’s probably worried.”
He can see his words ring true in her mind. Her mouth turns down with acceptance and disappointment.
“Do you live far from here?” he asks as non-threatening as he can. He doesn’t want her to think he’s a creep, or anything—he has no intention of ever seeing her again once she’s off his hands.
“Just a few minutes,” she mumbles. “But I don’t want Dad to yell at me.”
Chuuya has no idea what to say to that.
She sniffs and rubs her nose again. “What’s your name?” she asks, eyes rising to meet his once more.
This is such a bad idea. Chuuya’s used to people trying to kill him and used to people expecting things of him and used to Dazai, but he has no idea how to deal with some clueless little girl looking at him like she’s never seen anything greater in her life. Like he’s her own personal superhero.
“Chuuya,” he says.
“Chuuya-nii-san,” she repeats, and her eyes are so bright.
Chuuya flinches. “No, just—just Chuuya’s fine.” Then, before she can say anything more disturbing: “Let’s get you home, all right?”
He doesn’t dare touch her, too afraid of what happened a minute ago, but Ochako shares no such fears. Her hand slides into his as if she’s done this all her life—holding the hand of criminals. All Chuuya can think of as she tugs him in the direction of her home is that he’s never held anything so small without destroying it.
The boneyard of half-risen buildings fades into recent, but finished, houses and gardens. Ochako walks him forward for about ten minutes, talking about her dad and her mom, a construction worker and a doctor’s secretary respectively, and her family dog named Max who’s apparently the softest poodle in the world, and how there’s a girl at her school whose ability is to fly and how Ochako is sure she can go higher than her if she trains. It’s why she got stuck on that window in the first place.
Chuuya doesn’t know how to answer, so he doesn’t. He holds her hand like it’s made of paper, like it’ll crumble if his grip is too tight, and he double-checks every crossroad.
Ochako stops at the very beginning of a short impasse, in front of a tiny house with a blue roof half-covered in crawling vines. It looks well-loved. Well-lived.
“That’s my house,” she says.
Chuuya lets go of her hand. His tone is flat when he answers. “Go on, then.”
She looks back at him like she’s about to say something, but the front door opens with a bang, and out comes the promised poodle, brown-furred and yelping loudly. He throws himself at her and she giggles, crouching to scratch him under his chin and between his forelegs as he licks her face eagerly.
A man comes out after the dog and yells, booming, “Ochako!”
She throws herself in her father’s direction, body glowing blue, floating weightless until she can wrap both of her arms around the man’s neck like she did Chuuya’s waist earlier. Chuuya doesn’t hear the words they exchange, though he can guess by the man’s tone that his anger is made of worry and not any kind of violence.
Something in his back shifts and relaxes.
The dog is sniffing around Chuuya’s feet in curiosity. Chuuya steps back, intending to make a quick departure now that he knows the girl is safe.
“Son,” Ochako’s father says in his direction.
He watches the man walk toward him with his heart beating hard against his ribs and doesn’t know what to do except steel himself. It’s the only reason he doesn’t recoil when a wide hand grabs his shoulder.
“His name’s Chuuya,” Ochako says excitedly, tugging on her father’s other arm. “He saved me!”
“S’that right?” he asks Chuuya.
Chuuya bites the inside of his cheek. “I didn’t really—”
“I was stuck up one of the places you’re building and he floated up and saved me! He’s got the same quirk as me!”
“Ochako,” the man groans tiredly, looking sideways at his daughter. “What did I tell you about using your quirk on your own?”
Her hands drop from his arm. She looks cowed. “M’sorry.”
He sighs. His eyes are warm when they meet Chuuya’s again, and Chuuya has to remind himself that he’s faced things more terrifying than genuine gratitude. “Well, thank you, son. Please come in, get warmed up—”
“I can’t,” Chuuya says, dislodging the man’s hand and stepping away, “sorry, I have to—”
Have to what? He hasn’t prepared an excuse for a situation like this because he’s never had to face a situation like this. Dazai would know how to smooth-talk his way out of it, but Chuuya’s first option is always blunt honesty, and for once, he doesn’t want to ruin what someone thinks of him by letting slip that he’s a criminal.
It’s so weird. He’s never minded being a criminal before.
“I can’t,” he repeats, feeling pathetic.
“Nonsense,” the man declares.
Chuuya’s dragged inside the house before he can say anything else.
“Is that Ochako?” This is a new voice, Chuuya realizes, right as someone who can’t be anyone other than Ochako’s mother comes from around the corner of the bright-lit hallway. “Hey, darling,” she says when Ochako hugs her. “Where have you been? We were about to call the police, you know.”
Her husband tells her what Chuuya did; Ochako completes his tale with more admiration than necessary. By the end of it Chuuya has a third person looking at him like he’s someone great. It’s three people too many.
He’s not meant to be in warm houses alongside warm families. And the house is so warm, so alive, smelling of cinnamon and old wood. Chuuya hadn’t appreciated how cold the weather is before feeling all the shivers leave his skin.
“You’ll stay for dinner,” Ochako’s mother decides, and Chuuya’s refusal dies on his lips when he meets her eyes. “Come on, make yourself comfortable.” She gestures to the coat and jacket and gloves he’s wearing.
Chuuya’s saliva goes down painfully when he swallows. It’s the longest second in his life, that moment between looking at her hands and realizing that he doesn’t want to seem rude, realizing, also, what he looks like. He’s never felt ashamed of dressing expensively and ostentatiously, but he does, now, taking off his coat and trying his best not to look as she and her husband notice the knife sheathed at the small of his back. Peeling off his gloves and exposing the blue bruises marring each of his knuckles, palms, wrists and beyond.
They make no comment on it. Chuuya gets out of his shoes and lets himself be led into the living-room by Ochako, who’s tugging him by the sleeve of his shirt.
Dinner is an uncomfortable affair; Chuuya avoids questions about himself as much as he can, admits to not being schooled anymore and then shifts the conversation toward Ochako herself, who, he learns, is ten years old and not eight as he assumed. She’s in school, has good grades, and enjoys P.E. more than history. She wants to be a hero when she grows up. She’s already got her name picked—Uravity.
“Show them, Chuuya,” she says eagerly as her mom serves dessert, “show them your quirk!”
Chuuya’s lips thin, but he does. Ochako is absurdly delighted when he makes her chopsticks fly over her head. She squeals when he makes them turn around themselves and even fight together like tiny swords, and Uraraka Daisuke whistles, patting his daughter’s head.
“You don’t get nauseous at all?” Ochako’s mother—Uraraka Aiko—asks him, obviously interested.
Chuuya can’t look at her. “No.”
“You hear that, Ochako?” Daisuke says. “Maybe you’ll stop feeling sick too after a while.”
They all assume Chuuya used to feel sick while using his powers, but he didn’t. For the Tainted Sorrow comes to him as easily as breathing, has for as long as he’s been alive. Control is never something he has to fight for outside of Corruption—and with Corruption the fight is useless, so he doesn’t anymore. He doesn’t know why Ochako is having difficulties.
“Please teach me how to use it,” Ochako says again. “Please, please, please—”
Chuuya bristles. “I can’t. I told you already.”
“—please please please pleaseplease—”
“Enough,” Aiko says, wrapping a hand over her daughter’s mouth to muffle her words. She throws Chuuya an apologetic glance. “If Chuuya-san says he doesn’t want to, then he doesn’t want to.”
Ochako struggles out of her hold and says, loudly, “But it’s the first time I meet someone with the same quirk as me! No one’s gonna be able to teach me better than him!”
“The teachers at UA will, if you study hard enough to pass the entrance exam,” Daisuke says with a smile.
“It’s not the same.”
Chuuya is acutely aware of the looks that her parents throw him. The knife at his back feels like a burn wound, and he slips his hands off the table and into his lap to hide the bruises and scars. He knows why they don’t insist that he teach their daughter, though the occasion must seem priceless to them as well.
“Please,” Ochako repeats, turning tear-bright eyes toward him. “Gravity manipulation isn’t even one of the cooler quirks, and I can’t fight well. Everyone’s going to be better than me at UA.”
Chuuya has to resist the urge to snort. The last person who told him gravity manipulation was a weak power still cowers when they cross paths in the port mafia’s headquarters.
This is neither here nor there, though.
“Sorry,” he mutters. “I’ll be out of the city in a few days anyway.”
“You’re not from around here?” Daisuke asks him.
Chuuya meets his eyes when he replies, “No. I’m from Yokohama.”
For a moment he thinks he sees actual worry and fear in the man’s eyes. He thinks Aiko is going to throw herself at her daughter and Daisuke is going to yell at him to get out of the house and never come close to his family again. Yokohama, on top of the way Chuuya dresses, the way he behaves and the obvious blood on his hands, can only mean one thing, even this far from home.
But all Daisuke does after that suspended second is look sadly understanding, which means that Chuuya is the one who ends up staring down and feeling his face burn. He doesn’t know if it’s shame or anger. He just wants to be out of here.
“Even a few days is good,” Ochako says, completely oblivious. “Even one day is good.”
“You have school,” her mother chides.
“He can teach me after school!”
“We could pay you,” Daisuke offers Chuuya after a moment. “If that’s a worry.”
“What? No—” Chuuya knows his eyes are wide, and he can’t help but raise both hands and shake them around, though all that achieves is make Aiko wince as she takes in the bruises again—”I don’t need your money. I don’t want your money.“
”I’ll pay you,“ Ochako declares.
“With the allowance we’re about to suspend for putting yourself in danger?” Daisuke replies, amused.
Ochako turns red.
It’s obvious that they don’t have that much money, and Chuuya is intimately familiar with this. He’s not about to take more from them than some food off their table. “I don’t need money,” he repeats. “I have a job already.” He almost says, I’m here on a job, but then realizes how badly that could go, considering the kind of jobs they probably think he has. They wouldn’t be that far from the truth.
Ochako looks so very determined. Chuuya’s never met anyone who looked at him with this sort of bull-headed yearning; Ochako doesn’t see him as a powerful ability user or as one of the mafia’s most destructive hidden aces. Dazai stares at him kind of the same when he’s being stubborn, but he’s not… he’s Dazai. It’s different. Ochako most likely has never heard of Double Black and never will.
God, he hopes she never will.
“Fine,” he hears himself say. “Okay. Fine, I’ll try to help you. But only—” he points at her, stopping her in the motion of jumping in her seat, probably, “only if I can. And only for the next three days.” He’s going home after that even if he has to die trying.
It doesn’t matter how reluctant he sounds. Ochako’s face brightens like Christmas has come early, and she smiles, and Chuuya has not the faintest idea why that makes him feel better.
Dazai texts him that night, while he’s trying to find sleep in the shitty hotel room he rented. It smells like wet walls and the room service sucks. Chuuya went to a convenience store to get breakfast for the morning rather than risk anything from the restaurant. He’s been turning and tossing between the scratchy sheets for the better part of an hour, and because he smoked during the afternoon instead of abstaining, he wants to smoke again.
When are u coming back? Dazai asks him.
Chuuya frowns at his phone, squinting from the light. What’s it to you? he types.
The response comes within a minute: HQs r boring. He’s punctuated the sentence with the most extensive sad face emoji Chuuya has ever seen. I wanna know if u cheated abt smoking.
He lights a cigarette after that, opens the window as far as it’ll go to lean out to breathe the smoke into the cold night air, away from the smoke detector.
Ur smoking right now aren’t u!
Shut the fuck up. And I’m coming home in 3 days. 4 max.
Chuuya flicks the ashes off into the three-story fall under his window. There’s an ember glowing two windows to his left, the proof of another tenant who can’t find sleep. Just like him. Just like Dazai.
Maybe it’s no coincidence that Dazai only ever texts him when he’s away, or that Chuuya can’t find sleep outside of Yokohama.
B waiting for u at ur place when u get back ;), Dazai says.
“Fuck off,” Chuuya mutters. Don’t you dare break into my apt, you freak, he sends.
Dazai replies with a badly edited picture of a smug-looking cat surrounded by knives.
He finishes the cigarette quickly; takes cold water out of the fridge to get rid of the dry ache in his throat; eats half of a pear.
He finds sleep easily when he gets back under the blanket, Dazai’s voice running in his mind, Ochako’s smile printed inside his eyelids. He doesn’t dream at all.
Chuuya learns several things about Uraraka Ochako the following day.
The first is that she is as moody as he was at her age. She’s sulking a tempest when he gets to her house around six in the evening, face withdrawn and voice rough from yelling. Daisuke is the only one home aside from her, and he tells Chuuya that she got into trouble at school for racing up the air with that flying girl she mentioned yesterday.
“If you hadn’t accepted so graciously to help her we’d have suspended the lessons too,” he tells him in a whisper, like Chuuya is someone that innocent civilians living in happy homes can be jokingly conspiring with instead of a time bomb waiting to explode. “So we had to ground her for the week on top of taking away allowance privileges.”
He seems in a good mood, but there’s a crease of worry between his eyebrows that’s digging deeper and deeper by the minute. Ochako stopped whatever tantrum she was in the moment Chuuya appeared; she’s in her room now, getting changed out of her uniform and into clothes she can afford to dirty a bit. Daisuke looks relieved and scared all at once.
Chuuya says nothing. He remembers pranking Kouyou by crawling over the ceiling of her bedroom and dropping on top of her like a brick, Dazai standing in the back and muffling shrieking laughter into his bleeding hands. He remembers Kouyou as a teenager with her hair in disarray and her voice bordering on screams, begging Hirotsu to inculcate dignity to them so she can have ‘One fucking day of peace’.
It’s a law of the universe that children find a way to be children no matter the circumstances.
The second thing Chuuya learns about Ochako has to do with her ability, once he tells her to give him a demonstration.
Ochako has little white patches of skin on each of her finger pads. To be able to make anything weightless, she has to touch them with it. Chuuya learns quickly that the full scope of her powers as of now consists in cancelling an object’s gravity and giving it back. There are no grey areas for her to manipulate the way he does. It’s a straightforward power with straightforward limits, dangerous if used right but rather harmless overall. She can’t densify anything’s gravity. She can’t stop things in motion if she doesn’t touch them.
She has no Corruption.
The reason she gets nauseous is a mix of regular motion sickness and the fact that unlike him, she doesn’t seem able to extend her power around herself. Chuuya doesn’t just cancel gravity. He can control it however he wants, he can direct it sideways or up in spite of Earth’s attraction. He can be weightless or he can weigh a ton. His control is so total that he’s never met the limit of how far he can go yet, outside of Dazai stopping him in his tracks.
Ochako cancels her own gravity, and her stomach and inner ear don’t like the shift. It’s a matter of habit—nothing he can help her with.
The third thing Chuuya learns about Ochako is that she’s talkative.
“Are you a hero?” she asks him, ten minutes into the lesson.
He eyes her warily. “No.”
“There are no heroes in Yokohama.”
It perplexes her. “Why?”
Because we’re all villains, Chuuya thinks. Because we’ve all got blood on our hands and the ministry is too scared to stop us and we don’t know how to live any other way, and sometimes we’re happy like this, and you wouldn’t understand.
“I don’t know,” he lies.
“But you’re so strong,” she says, voice high with admiration, brown eyes wide with dreams and determination. Chuuya makes her float in place with his own powers to see if it makes a difference in her nausea just because he can’t stand to see himself how she sees him.
“How old are you?” she blurts out an hour later, in the midst of everything else she’s asked and said.
“Oh… you’re older than I thought.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re short,” she replies, matter-of-fact.
He makes mud and grass chase after her around the backyard for ten minutes. She laughs and laughs and laughs.
I have a student, Chuuya tells Dazai that night. He’s back at the hotel with warm food in his belly from the dinner Aiko and Daisuke forced on him. Ochako was so tired by the time it ended that she almost face-planted into her dirty plate. Daisuke carried her upstairs while Aiko bid Chuuya goodbye, her smile warmer than it was the day before.
? Dazai sends back.
Some girl who got stuck at a construction site. Chuuya pauses, not knowing how to finish the text. I helped her out. Turns out she’s a gravity manipulator like me, he settles on.
Chuuya groans. I’m still around for a bit so I said yes when she asked for pointers is all.
It takes a while for Dazai to answer. Chuuya chews on some leftover hard candy from the day before, wishing he could buy wine but knowing it’s not worth the trouble of getting it. He doesn’t have any bartender conveniently indebted to him here.
Chuuya’s phone buzzes. Don’t get too attached, is what Dazai wrote him.
Chuuya stares at the message for a minute before throwing his phone across the bedspread.
He knows Dazai’s right. Musutafu is about the antithesis of Yokohama where abilities are concerned. The city’s a potpourri of flashy advertising, of capitalism built on the back of hyped vigilantes who now have but the name of heroes rather than the fabric. Not a day goes by here where Chuuya doesn’t cross paths with petty criminals chased by men and women in colorful costumes, themselves chased by flashing cameras and phones. It’s like a circus. It’s nothing like the port mafia.
The only people who know of Chuuya’s exploits are his boss and those who live to tell the tale; and the tale is told in whispers around meeting tables, never flashed onto TV screens for the uninvolved to consume. HERO NAME v. VILLAIN NAME, the screens say, red or blue background on the left where a hero smiles, purple or black on the right where the villain stares, mouth open to show teeth.
Chuuya knows which side of the screen he’d be on. He knows what Corruption looks like.
(Dazai took a picture, once, close enough to Chuuya’s face that Chuuya near had an aneurism once he saw it because what the fuck were you doing standing so close to me and taking pictures I could’ve died I could’ve killed you—
He looks like a monster in it. His face is bloody and bruised and his mouth is open on screams that leave his throat raw for hours afterward, teeth red with the blood he’s vomiting, lips purple, eyes crazed and unseeing.
Dazai was silent when he deleted the picture. He looked like he was sorry.)
Ochako would have a red or blue background behind her name and her smile.
Chuuya thinks on it during the day: Ochako doesn’t have the fine-control he does, nor the range, but their abilities are close enough in nature that he almost—almost—triggered something dangerous when he met her. Which means there’s probably more similarities than he can think of as of now. Maybe she’ll grow into it later. Gifts can be finicky like that, occasionally.
In the meantime, he can teach her what he uses zero gravity for.
“You said you were bad at fighting, right?” he asks her once she’s done doing all the boring control exercises he remembers fashioning years ago.
“Yeah,” she replies with a pout. “I’m learning karate but…”
“That’s fine,” Chuuya says. He’s on his way to earning his second dan in karate, but she doesn’t need to know that. “Sometimes martial arts aren’t the best. The field can teach you more.” She looks defeated, still, so he adds nonchalantly: “Wanna learn a sweet move?”
Her smile is all teeth.
Chuuya checks behind himself, to make sure the door leading to the garden isn’t open, because he’s not sure what Aiko or Daisuke would say about him teacher their daughter something she can potentially use to hurt others.
Think of it as something she can use to protect herself, he tells himself.
Chuuya winks at Ochako before running a few steps and throwing himself at the wall, hands extended forward. He makes himself weightless before touching stone and then pushes; it’s a move he uses by shifting his gravity around to make it more powerful, but Ochako can’t do that, so he makes do without. His body flies like a bullet to the wall on the other side of the garden, and the sound it makes when the kick lands is loud.
“Amazing.” Ochako is standing with her fists clenched, body shaking with excitement.
It’s a flashy move. It’s more effective in close quarter combat than anything, and Chuuya has used it to kill or at least seriously knock out in the past. But Ochako has no inkling of that.
“It’s, um.” He clears his throat. “We’ll start slow, all right? I don’t,” he points an accusing finger toward her, “want you to use it against classmates or to show off or anything. Only if your life is in danger, or if you have proper supervision. We good?”
“We good,” she replies, solemn.
He doesn’t know how much he can trust her, but it’ll have to do.
Chuuya lets Ochako start by floating gently from wall to wall, pushing herself back and forth with her hands and feet. He takes a quick trip to the bathroom by the entrance of the house, checks his phone in case new orders have come in or Dazai tried to message him, but there’s nothing.
There’s a murmur while he washes his hands whose words he can’t discern until he turns off the faucet. Then he catches the end of a sentence, “—so young,” said in Aiko’s most anguished voice, and he feels his heart fill with ice.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Daisuke says. They must be standing in the kitchen, which is the room farthest away from the garden’s door but closest to the bathroom. “He wouldn’t let us even if we tried to help him. And it’d put us in danger.”
Aiko is so silent for a moment that Chuuya thinks she must have left. “He’s always carrying that knife.”
“He won’t use it on us.”
“I know, it’s just… Those bruises. He’s seventeen. He looks like—”
She doesn’t finish, and Chuuya doesn’t need her to. His can see his face in the mirror above the sink just fine, his stupid face and his stupid long hair and his eyes like a murderer’s, no matter how much he smiles.
“He probably grew up with those people. I looked it up a bit. Apparently they take them in really young. Orphans,” Daisuke adds, like it explains everything, and it does.
Chuuya dries his hands and opens the door.
Daisuke and Aiko jump in place, turning to look at him in a single move; Chuuya stands in the entrance of the kitchen and stares at both of them in turn.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he says. “Or Ochako. I’m sorry if I acted in a way that made you think I would.”
They exchange a look. “You didn’t,” Daisuke says—his hand wraps around Aiko’s hip as is seeking comfort, and her fingers link with his. “Ah, sorry, kid. We didn’t know you were—”
“I don’t need saving,” Chuuya cuts in. He sees Daisuke suck in a breath as he continues. “Yeah, I’ve hurt people. Tons of people. I’ve killed a few.” Aiko flinches bodily. “I’ll go if you don’t want me around you or your daughter. I get it.”
“Chuuya-kun,” Aiko says, with despair on her voice.
“So don’t you dare judge me or my life,” Chuuya goes on, frowning. “I do what’s necessary to protect the people I care about, and that’s all you need to know about me. I’m not some poor kid that just needs new parents to be set straight. I know what I’m doing and I’m proud of where I belong.”
It’s true. Chuuya feels profoundly stupid for the shame he’s felt in coming here. He loves Yokohama, he loves his home. He’s loyal to the port mafia and he has a family—he has a sister in Kouyou. He has a partner in Dazai. He’ll do anything to keep them and the roof above their heads safe, even if he has to kill for it.
Chin up, Chuuya says, “I’ll go tell Ochako goodbye.”
He doesn’t sleep that night. It’s not the temperature because his room is cold, enough so that he has to wrap himself in blanket and bedspread at once. It’s not nicotine addiction because he indulges that, cigarette after cigarette over the dirty ledge of the window while the same person two rooms over does the same. He tells himself it’s not the See you tomorrow! that Ochako shouted at him as he left, or the happy bark of Max the poodle at her feet.
It’s almost four in the morning when he gives in and calls Dazai.
“What’s up?” Dazai answers after only a ring. He doesn’t sound tired at all.
“Musutafu is the fucking worst,” Chuuya says. “If I have to see one more moron running around in spandex I’m going to do the villains a favor and kill them myself.”
“I thought the villains ran around in spandex too.”
“Whatever.” Chuuya taps his cigarette to make the ashes fall. His insomniac neighbor’s window is closed this time. “The point is, this place is fucking ridiculous.”
Dazai chuckles. Chuuya hears the awful creaking sound that his desk chair makes when he rolls it around through the static. “I’m sure they say the same thing about Yokohama.”
“Yeah,” Chuuya mutters, thinking of Ochako’s parents’ words.
They’re both silent for a moment. The night is icy, the cold stinging every time Chuuya inhales from his nose and making something painful flare in his chest as it goes down. He sucks in more of the cigarette to distract himself from it and almost jumps when Dazai lets out a loud, “Hah!”
Chuuya pushes the cigarette away from his mouth. “I’m not.”
“I win,” Dazai continues, delighted.
“Oh come on,” Chuuya says, rolling his eyes. “Like you haven’t been cheating.”
“Can you prove it?” They both know he can’t, and Chuuya grits his teeth when Dazai snickers. “Admit it, Chuuya. You lost this one.”
Chuuya will die before he confesses to the warmth that spreads through him upon hearing Dazai say his name. It’s not heavy with pity or regret, the way Daisuke and Aiko say it; it’s not full of innocent misplaced adoration like with Ochako; it’s just his name, attached to everything he is and isn’t. To everything Dazai knows he is and isn’t. Undemanding and true.
“Fine,” he says. “But I know I’ll win about drinking.”
“No you don’t.”
“Lupin’s barkeep owes me one,” Chuuya replies, smiling before he can help it. “So unless you’ve been ordering water during your little outings with Oda and Sakaguchi…”
There’s a second of silence before Dazai sighs dramatically. “Damn you, Chuuya.”
He has to bite his lip to keep himself from laughing. “So we said a week, right.”
“Two. Two weeks of you paying for my groceries.”
“And two weeks of you paying for mine.”
“This is so unfair,” Dazai complains. “Everything you buy is expensive.”
“Not my problem, Dazai.”
Wind comes in from up front, pushing Chuuya’s hair out of his face and numbing his nose and cheeks instantly. He has a scarf around his neck that does little to stop the shivers erupting around his collarbones. He closes the window and sits on the edge of the bed, rubbing his elbow with his free hand, seeking warmth.
“I can’t wait to be home,” he says.
“Missing me?” Dazai replies, and it’s mocking, but Chuuya isn’t stupid enough to think that Dazai has missed a second of the vulnerability he just showed in admitting it.
“As if.” He scoffs. “I just wanna be able to watch TV without hearing about heroes and All Mights and popularity rankings.”
“I’d look rather fetching in spandex, I think.”
Chuuya does laugh at that. “You’d have to get rid of the bandages. That’s villain couture.”
“Then I guess my dream is shot.” There’s a bumping sound over the line, probably Dazai’s feet hitting the top of his desk. “HQ’s been quiet without you around.”
It’s as close as he’ll ever get to saying I miss you.
“What about that student of yours?” Dazai asks a little later, voice gone soft with understanding.
Chuuya looks at the ugly, mold-stained ceiling over his head. “She’ll be fine,” he says. And then: “Ane-san was right. There’s nothing on the outside worth being hung up on.”
Kurogiri isn’t more forthcoming during his second visit. The bar is as cold and unappealing as it was three days ago, and Shigaraki isn’t here this time for Chuuya to consider asking for a good fight. Chuuya tells the man what needs to be told.
“You’ll regret this,” Kurogiri says, like the self-righteous and idealistic fool he apparently is. “In a few years Yokohama’s port mafia will regret not making friends out of us.”
“Is that a threat?” Chuuya asks agreeably.
Kurogiri straightens up from his slouch over the bar. “It’s a warning,” he replies.
Chuuya lets the Tainted Sorrow flow out of him and catch at the very air, heavy and looming. The walls and floor still bear the marks of his last visit, although the rubble has been cleared; he sees Kurogiri struggle to stay standing and proud. The good two feet of height he has over Chuuya are his only weapon now.
“I could destroy this place in a snap of my fingers,” he says. He’s not gloating. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew, villain.”
“You can’t kill me,” Kurogiri declares.
All Kurogiri does is meet his eyes, supposedly—Chuuya can’t see the man’s eyes through the smoke—and it’s true that Chuuya doesn’t know what his ability does other than make him look ridiculous, but the reverse is true as well. Kurogiri doesn’t know what Chuuya can do. No one in Musutafu does. He would be met with fear if a single soul here had witnessed the carnage he leaves behind when he lets himself go.
In a way, Dazai’s absence is their only saving grace.
Chuuya smiles widely. “Petition us ‘in a few years’ with more than just big words,” he tells the fuming silhouette in front of him, “and maybe my boss’ll bother sending an executive.”
It’s almost night when he walks out of the building.
Chuuya has already booked his train home. He has a couple more hours before he needs to be at the station to catch it, and he intends to spend them in a park somewhere, smoking until the sky is black. It’s no use keeping up with the bet now that Dazai knows he’s lost.
He makes his way through the dark and deserted construction zone with his hand on the handle of his knife. He’s biting his lips as he walks, so hard at one point that he feels dead skin tear off and tastes blood at the tip of his tongue. It’s not like him, and Kouyou will have his head for it once she sees, but Kouyou isn’t here to stop him now. So Chuuya chews at his own lip and sucks blood out of the tiny wound and doesn’t stop (walking or chewing) until he hears a voice call his name.
He recognizes Ochako immediately, but he can’t release his grip on the knife even when she’s run all the way to where he is. He just stands still with his lip caught in his teeth and watches her pant, hunched over before him.
He unclenches his jaw. “What are you doing here?”
“Mom and dad said you weren’t coming back,” she heaves.
She straightens up to look at him. She’s trying to inhale deeply through her nose, probably as some sort of instructor told her to do, but all she ends up doing is coughing and hacking and having snot run over her lips.
It’s then that Chuuya realizes she’s only wearing a thin long-sleeved shirt, no scarf or jacket. “You’ll catch a cold,” he growls, sliding the coat off his own shoulders. “Why the fuck did you come here?”
“I was looking for you!”
She lets out an oof when he wraps the coat around her, probably with more strength than necessary. It’s so big on her that a third of it trails on the ground, catching dust and dirt, and she has to struggle to hold it in place around her neck. She grins at him. “I found you,” she says.
“Yeah, you did.” Chuuya feels the beginning of a smile on his lips, but it dies too quickly to show. “Fuck. Your parents are going to kill me.”
He doesn’t answer, just takes her by the arm and starts walking in the direction of her house. Ochako follows with dragging steps. She stumbles a couple times on the folds of the coat as she goes.
The dry cleaning for that is going to cost him a fortune. Chuuya wonders if he can reasonably excuse it as part of the groceries Dazai is going to pay for him.
“Why didn’t you come?” she asks. There’s no mistaking the disappointment in her voice, and Chuuya tries not to let it get to him. “I waited for hours.”
“Couldn’t,” he answers. “Sorry.”
“Dad just let me wait there and wait and wait and then I had to force him to tell me that you weren’t coming at all.” He feels her kick his shin and winces—that’s going to bruise. “You said three days. I want three days.”
“Too late now, isn’t it?” Chuuya looks at her over his shoulder. She tugs her arm back, trying to make him stumble; Chuuya responds by fixing all gravity at his feet, and then she tries to cancel it on him, and Chuuya stops using his powers for fear of hearing Corruption’s rumble through him again.
“You’re a liar,” Ochako says.
Chuuya drops her arm. “Yeah, I am.”
She glares in silence for a good ten seconds before sitting on her butt in the middle of the path, staining his coat even more.
“What are you doing?” he asks tiredly.
“M’not going home until you teach me,” she mumbles.
“I can’t. I have a train to take.” He’s horrified to see tears gather in her eyes at his words and swears under his breath, “Fuck, fine. Just ten minutes, all right? Then I’m taking you back home before your folks have a stroke.”
She wipes her eyes with the back of her hands. “Deal,” she says.
There’s no one around. Night falls early enough now that the hour isn’t entirely unreasonable for a ten-year-old to be out alone—it just looks like it is. Chuuya sits cross-legged next to her and looks pointedly at his own feet so he doesn’t have to meet the looks she gives him above the collar of his coat.
Fortunately, he’s accumulated some experience in dealing with her. He takes a handful of pebbles in his hand and says, “Wanna see who can make those fly the highest?”
Ochako is a sweet girl. Earnest and stubborn and a little selfish, like him, in a lot of ways. She takes half of the rocks out of his hand and immediately touches her fingers to them, making them glow blue for a second and sending them up, up, up.
Chuuya’s rocks don’t stop glowing red when he sends them flying. After a moment Ochako’s are invisible against the darkening sky, and Chuuya’s act like a beacon in the distance.
“Why didn’t you come back?” she asks him again.
Chuuya’s hand clenches into the dry grass and dust. “Your parents didn’t want me to.”
“Grown-up reasons. They don’t want me to be around you.”
She looks at him like he’s grown a second head. “Why?”
Chuuya gives her a lopsided smile and says, “Figure it out.”
It’s what he tells Dazai when Dazai’s in one of his moods.
Ochako doesn’t get it, of course. She scowls at him and kicks her legs in front of her, making more pebbles jerk away from her feet and causing some nearby, unseen cat to flee and hiss at them.
“I don’t want you to leave,” she mutters. “I’ve never met anyone else with the same quirk as me.”
“I’m sure gravity manipulators are dime a dozen.”
She just frowns even harder. “You’re the first one I’ve met, though. And none of the others are as cool as you.”
It tugs at his heartstrings in a weird sort of way.
Chuuya almost jumps when he feels her fingers slide into the opening of his sleeves. He wants to ask her what she’s doing until he realizes that she’s looking at the marbling of blue bruises over his forearms in wonder and childish disgust. “How’d you get those?”
She doesn’t mean to hurt him—it’s the only reason Chuuya doesn’t slap her away when she presses into the inside of his wrist with the hard tip of her index, as if trying to see if the bruise will dispel at her touch.
“My, ah. My quirk can become a little… dangerous.”
She lifts her head to look at him again. “Dangerous?”
“It’s…” Chuuya can feel his heart beat at his throat. It’s worse than nausea, worse than the bad kind of cigarette, the one he keeps smoking because he ought to even though his body obviously rejects the poison for what it is. “It screws up with my body a little. No one hit me or anything, it just kind of… makes my blood vessels explode.”
“That’s bad, right?” she asks, worried.
It’s really bad. Chuuya used to be able to keep Corruption going for a dozen minutes at a time when he was younger; last week, it wasn’t four minutes before Dazai had to stop him.
“It’s fine,” he tells her. “I have a friend who can help me when it gets like that. It’s just a little side-effect.”
She pokes him in the arm once more before taking back her hands, to his relief. “I hope I don’t have it,” she says.
They sit in silence as night spreads over their heads. Dusk is a quick affair at this time of the year, but even so, Chuuya knows they’ve been here longer than ten minutes. He doesn’t say anything, though.
“Will you call me?” Ochako says.
Ochako nudges him with her foot. “Can I call you? Or write you?”
No, he thinks. And, at the same time, I wish you could. Daisuke and Aiko wouldn’t want Ochako to be in contact with him, especially not in secret, and he can’t give her his address for obvious reasons.
“Listen,” he says, turning toward her. “I’ll give you my phone number, but you have to promise me two things.”
Her face lights up like fireworks. “Anything,” she says.
“First,” he raises one finger for emphasis, “you tell your parents that you have it. And if they don’t want you to use it, then you don’t.” She looks about to start arguing, so he raises another finger and continues, “Second, you only ever call me from phone booths and stuff like that. Never from your cellphone or your parents’.”
“I don’t have a cellphone,” Ochako mumbles.
“Good. I better not find out you called me from a personal number.” He debates with himself for a moment, wondering if he should say more; wondering if he should tell her that those are not just arbitrary rules but ways to keep her safe. It’s not too long of a shot to imagine someone discovering that Chuuya spent three days in Musutafu—it’s not paranoia to think that a determined enough mole might find out about the girl he taught here.
Ochako looks so happy, though. He finds that he doesn’t want to worry her.
She rummages through her pockets for a moment—and then his coats’ pockets, he notices with a smile—before her shoulders slump, defeated. “I don’t have a pen or paper.”
Chuuya chuckles. “Gimme your arm.”
He’s got a pen in his back pocket of his slacks that he took from the hotel lobby when he left this morning. It’s a fake-fancy thing in plastic that takes him three tries to get working at all. Ochako squirms while he writes his number along her forearm in blotchy blue ink, and he tugs her sleeve down as far as it’ll go when he’s done, so no one can see.
“You wash that as soon as you tell your mom and dad, okay?” he insists.
She nods, serious as a tomb. “Okay.”
He knows this looks like a game to her, but it isn’t to him. He can’t tell her that, so he just ruffles her hair despite her protests and hoists her up to her feet one-handed.
It’s so easy to find the way back to her home. Chuuya doesn’t let himself think too hard about anything as he walks it with her hand clutched in his. Her parents seem to be there, because soft light pours out of every curtained window, and Chuuya stops on the other side of the road she lives on. He won’t approach any further.
“You tell your parents…” He pauses. He’s not sure how to finish this line of thought.
Ochako tugs on his hand insistently. He looks down at her.
“I forgot to tell you who you remind me of,” she says, excited. “The Hair Hero, Cell Death!”
“The what now?”
“She’s not the most famous but she’s my favorite. Your hair is pretty just like hers.”
Chuuya stares at her in silence for a moment. Then he laughs, too loud and too bright, each breath that shakes itself out of him warming his body against the icy air.
“It’s not funny!” Ochako complains. “She catches villains with her hair. You know what, never mind, your hair sucks.”
He rubs the top of her head harshly. She squirms, tries to wiggle her way out of the hold, saying Ow repeatedly.
“Kick the ass of whoever’s bothering you at school,” he says, grinning.
Ochako pushes his hand away from her head. “I thought you didn’t want me to fight.”
“I don’t want you to use that move I showed you against kids, but feel absolutely free to fight.”
He watches the smugness radiate out of her and feels more accomplished than he would if he’d brokered a deal with Kurogiri and his gang.
“Go on,” he says softly, pushing her toward her home, where she’ll be warm and loved and no doubt grow up to be a spectacular hero. “Tell your old man about the number. And tell him and your mom that… that they can use it, if they need my help one day.”
Dazai’s waiting for him at the station in Yokohama, his suit singed and soot-stained and his nose clogged with cotton to stop bleeding.
“You look like crap,” Chuuya says once he’s stepped off the train.
“Well, hello to you too,” Dazai drawls. His voice has a nasal hint to it that makes him wince, disgusted. He takes the cotton out of his nose and says, “Gross.”
“Sparring against Gin-chan happened. That girl has a grudge against me, I swear.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Chuuya replies mildly.
A simple spar doesn’t explain the evidence of fire on Dazai’s outfit, but Chuuya is pretty sure Dazai will tell him about that later, so he doesn’t ask. He falls into the rhythm of the other’s steps beside him as they walk out of the station and into the streets. It’s even colder here than in Musutafu.
“You lost your coat,” Dazai comments, seeing him rub his arms over his jackets’ sleeves. He doesn’t press the matter further, though.
They hail a taxi by the entrance. Dazai opens the door for Chuuya when it stops, puts one hand at the small of Chuuya’s back as he leans forward to get inside of it, right above the outline of Chuuya’s holstered knife.
This isn’t exactly usual. They’ve picked each other up before when it was needed—when one of them had no other way of transport, or if they had to jump from one assignment to the next, but Dazai doesn’t tell him about any assignment or order. He just sits in the back next to Chuuya and murmurs the address to the driver, who takes one look at them and is smart enough not to ask questions.
“So did you buy me a hero costume?” Dazai asks halfway into the trip.
Chuuya glances at him from the corner of his eyes. Dazai’s staring at the blur of Yokohama outside the window, street lights and passersby and sometimes the gleaming ocean.
“It must be hard to find one that truly shows off my qualities,” he continues.
“That’s because they’re nonexistent,” Chuuya replies. “And no, I didn’t. If you wanna play dress-up, do it on your own time.”
“That hurts, Chuuya.”
Chuuya stares at his own window. It’s warm in the car but warmer inside his chest, like it’s been since he saw Ochako hop toward her house, dwarfed in his dusty coat, whispering Goodbye, Chuuya over her shoulder like she’s scared her neighbors will hear her.
“I bet you couldn’t find one your size outside the kids’ aisle,” Dazai says, sliding a mocking smile in his direction.
“Fuck you, Dazai. They had tons of suits my size in the adults’ section.”
“So you did check.”
Following the pace of their banter is as easy as falling, as long-lasting as knowing how to ride a bike. Chuuya thinks he could do it even with years of not seeing Dazai—just watch the look on his face, hear his smart words, and know how to respond. He does it at seventeen and he’d do it a sixty. After only five days apart, it’s like Chuuya never left at all.
He turns his head toward his window fully, so Dazai won’t see the smile on his lips. “Just shut up, will you.”
Night uncoils around them, the cold kept at bay by the car’s air conditioning. Chuuya feels something warm land just above his knee as the port mafia’s skyscraper looms closer to them, and he says nothing even though this is nothing like before, nothing at all.
Dazai’s hand squeezes his thigh, and Chuuya feels like he’s at the beginning of something. Like the road they’re on will lean up toward the sky and never stop.
Ochako’s victory comes in the shape of a single, but deep, graze high on Bakugou’s cheekbone. She put it there before dropping all the rumble of the arena on him by pushing her weightless body feet-first in his direction with all the strength of her arms against the destroyed floor. She knows he’ll need sutures for it; she knows he’ll collect his medal at the end of the day with an ugly plaster over his face to hide it.
The rest is defeat.
She’s all out of tears after her parents’ call. She wouldn’t want to leave the infirmary even if she could; her face must be blotchy with bruises and snot and salty, dry trails. What hurts the most is her pride and confidence. Those, she can’t bear to show to her classmates.
She looks at the phone in her lap and thinks that there’s only one person she wants to hear from.
It’s stupid, she knows. She hasn’t called Chuuya in years. He’s been forgotten with the same ease that all children forget things, people, gone from her mind because he’s been gone from her immediate vicinity. Object permanence isn’t learned at ten years old. Chuuya’s probably forgotten about her too.
She can’t even remember what he looks like. When she focuses she can recall a fancy suit and leather gloves and orange hair. The shape of his face has melted into nothing, and the voice she associates with him is vague enough that it can’t be anything but her own half-hearted imagination.
She still knows the phone number he gave her by heart, though. Her fingers type it in with no need for thought, and her thumb presses the call button after a moment of hesitation. She’s shaking from more than just pain when she presses the phone against her ear again.
It’s still warm and sweaty from her last call. Gross.
“Nakahara,” Chuuya says curtly after only two rings, and Ochako is struck so dumb by how familiar he sounds that her eyes burn.
She shoves her free hand against her mouth to choke out the sob that wants to tear through.
Chuuya doesn’t wait long, only clicks his tongue in annoyance and says, “Who is this?”
“Ah,” she lets out in a breath. “This is, um, Uraraka—I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—”
It’s only a murmur. She doesn’t know if she’s going to be able to answer, but it doesn’t matter, because Chuuya’s voice is muffled next, like he’s talking to someone else on his side. The faint background noise vanishes a moment later.
“I’m, I’m sorry if I’m bothering you,” she says lamely.
“You’re not bothering me.”
His voice has always had that raspy-smooth quality, she remembers now, though the smooth is more pronounced. Like he’s irritated and not at the same time—like he doesn’t know how else to speak neutrally.
Chuuya is silent for a second before speaking again. “Are you all right? Should you be calling anyone?”
“I’m—” she stops, eyes wide. “Wait, what?”
He chuckles. “I mean your injuries. You didn’t look too hot toward the end.”
Her mouth gapes.
“You were watching?”
“Yeah, of course.” He sounds faintly surprised. “I saw your name on the class list. It’s the first time I bother watching UA’s sports festival—it’s more interesting than I expected.”
Her face splits into a grin in spite of her tears; she rubs them away with the flat of her hand and grips her phone tighter. “M’sorry I sucked.”
“You didn’t. That kid you were up against looks like a piece of work.”
It’s her turn to laugh, albeit bitterly. “He’s, um. I kind of have a grudge against him,” she admits.
“I couldn’t tell,” he replies dryly.
Ochako clenches the thin sheet spread over her legs between her fingers. She doesn’t know how to keep the conversation going—Chuuya doesn’t sound interested in small talk, doesn’t seem like he wants to ask about her life or her parents. It’s not out of indifference, she thinks. She feels at ease with him all the same.
“I hope his face scars,” she blurts out.
Chuuya laughs brightly—she remembers his face all at once as if it’s never left her mind, a hard smile and a hard voice and serious blue eyes—and he says, “That’s the spirit.”
Pride swells between her ribs.
“How are you?” she dares ask.
It takes a moment for him to answer. She hears something shift, like he’s decided to lean against a wall or a chair. “I’m good,” he says. “Working. Keeping an eye out.” He doesn’t precise what for.
“Do you still have long hair?”
“Sure. Do you still get stuck up trees like a cat?”
“It only happened once,” she protests. “I’ve made tons of progress.”
“I saw,” he replies, and he sounds fond.
There’s a deep, flat voice coming from his side of the call. It becomes faint within a second because Chuuya must have put a hand against the receiver so she can’t hear. Ochako waits out the conversation that follows and knows with disappointed certainty that he’s going to hang up soon.
“I have to go back to work,” he says once whoever came to talk to him is gone.
“Can I…” She bites her lip. “Can I call you again later?”
“Yeah,” Chuuya breathes out. “Yeah, of course.”
Silence stills the air around her. Ochako remembers the promise he made her swear when he gave her this number—he’s going to be mad when he realizes that she called from her cellphone. It makes her smile shakily.
“That was a pretty sweet kick you used at the end,” Chuuya says eventually. “He probably only avoided because he stumbled.”
“Doesn’t matter. He still won.”
“Mmh.” She knows he’s smiling too, now. “Still. Very nice propulsion.”
Ochako closes her eyes from the sting of the setting sun, lips stretched so wide they ache, and she says, “I learned from the best.”