Katsuki's struggles had long ceased by now.
Instead, all he could do was stare with wide crimson eyes at the aftermath of the scene which had unfolded a mere few steps away from him. All the while, the scream that had cut off long ago still rung in his ears, the scene itself replaying with it, as if right before his eyes.
Shigaraki dropped the girl's small and trembling hand, and slowly got up from his crouching position beside her.
Meanwhile, Atsuhi curled upon herself the moment her hands had been set free of the villain's grip, her body on the floor looking even smaller. Her hair fell loosely over her face, hiding her expression and even the small cut on her cheek from the fight that had taken place before she and Katsuki had been abducted. But it couldn't quite muffle the small whimpers, interrupted by sharp yet quiet sobs and cries of pain, that still escaped the lips she was biting on hard in order to mask any such sounds, as she clutched her hands close to her chest, her whole body trembling violently.
No matter how he wished she wasn’t in such great pain right now, Katsuki could only assume she was also keeping her eyes shut tight, the tears streaming down her obscured cheeks.
A cold kind of rage swirled in his chest, the kind that only made him glare the hardest glare he could muster at the villain, while plotting his graphic murder in his head. Shigaraki stepped away from the girl beside his feet, ignoring her whimpers, and being careful not to step in the small pool of blood that had begun forming beside her, starting from where she was tightly clutching her hands, and slowly increasing in size with time.
"Now, let's try again, shall we?" Shigaraki spoke, and though his face was still obscured, Katsuki could sense the smirk in his tone from a mile away. He grit his teeth, an action which made an audible sound. But a sound that, much like Atsuhi's cries, went ignored and, if anything, served to fuel the villains' satisfaction even further.
It was all a not-at-all subtle sign that he had to listen. Listen and comply.
Shigaraki trusted Katsuki would know what would happen otherwise.
The villain took his silence as his cue to speak again.
"Heroes have it tough. It's unfair – how those who lose are never encouraged, and how those who are innocent suffer what they never deserved," Shigaraki explained, motioning with a small nod of his head towards the girl lying on the ground, while Toga stood beside her and observed her with that morbidly curious face of hers, eyes darting to the blood on the floor as if she'd go and have a taste of it if she could. "They can never win, can they?"
All the while, Katsuki's mind proved empty, with no thoughts of any overly-complicated plans, only a single goal ahead.
"And I know you love to win." Shigaraki made a dramatic pause, giving Katsuki just enough time to feign a reluctant compliance to help move the villain's plans along as quickly as he could. There was, after all, little time to lose. "Dabi," Shigaraki suddenly called. "Untie him."
Though a small argument ensued that Katsuki would immediately go wild once set free, the villains assumed he knew better than to try something funny like that, and Twice was appointed to remove Katsuki's restraints.
Twice moved in closer and carefully removed all the complicated equipment keeping the boy in place, then went to untie his feet too, as Katsuki rubbed at his sore wrists with a solemn expression on his face, and cast a quick but expecting glance at the wounded girl.
Perhaps he should've been surprised, but the moment he met Atsuhi's half-lidded and somewhat dazed green eyes, and saw the small nod she managed through the pain her face was contorted in, he realized how lucky he was.
When I said that you were strong...
I never said I wanted you to show me that when you were in so much pain...
Damn, Atsuhi... Just hold on a little longer.
Then, it all happened in the blink of an eye.
Because the moment Spinner and Toga began squirming for apparently no reason (of course, Katsuki knew better – it was Atsuhi that did it), he used the momentary distraction to send a powerful blast right at Shigaraki's face, knocking the hand that had covered his face all along down to the floor.
In the clearing smoke and shocked stares of the remaining villains, Katsuki made use of his now free legs and moved, stopping before the only partially conscious girl and standing in front of her protectively, as he turned to face the villains once again.
Way too soon for his liking, the remaining smoke had cleared and all eyes in the room were now on him. He smirked. But he hoped he was the only one who noticed it was the kind of smirk one showed only when their mind was going crazy and needed all the reassurance it could find. And although Atsuhi couldn't see it, he knew it was a hero's duty to smile to help others too.
But it was fine. She was going to see that 'smile' of his, no matter what.
I ain't letting it go any other way.
"No way to make me listen now, you shitheads!!" Katsuki cried, taking another small step back and closer to the girl at his feet. He cast her a brief glance, making sure not to take his eyes off the villains any longer than he had to.
If they pulled off a massive attack like that, all just to get me... There's no way they're gonna kill me... They need me.
And as long as I don't let them near Atsuhi, they can't hurt either of us.
Not any more than this anyway...
With every new thought, his confident smirk fell further and further. He clenched his fists tight, his nails leaving deep marks in his palms.
This is nothing compared to the pain she must be feeling right now. Those fucking bastards.
We have to get out of here. As soon as goddamn possible.
Yet another gritting of his teeth.
We don't have time...!
She could only see Bakugo's back, but she couldn't help but give a small smile, knowing he wasn't going to see it. She was glad she could help, even if only a little, her Quirk coming into use one more time.
And for all she knew – perhaps one final time.
She wondered if this was something she could ever hope to recover from.
Not that she had that kind of long-term plans anyway.
Right now, all that mattered was staying conscious long enough to maybe even get some help.
Through her messy bangs that fell over her face, she finally opened her tightly-shut eyes and peeked at the room.
All the hazy silhouettes blurred together, coming in and out of focus, as all objects in the room wandered between a mess of shapes and colors, and misshapen look-alikes of their real form. Every once in a while, albeit briefly, the blur would become just distinguishable enough to make out a rough outline of the dim room.
She could make out what she assumed to be Bakugo standing just before her, his body towering above hers but also making her feel much safer, even with his mere presence.
There were a handful of even blurrier people some ways away. But not one moved.
There were voices, though all remained muffled, conversing among each other somewhere in the distance. But within a room as small as this one, was there any distance to be had?
And though her sight and hearing remained dodgy, for reasons unknown, she could make out a sharp smell that pulled her attention away from her wandering thoughts, back to the dim room and dirty floor she lay and bled upon.
In an instant, the stale smell of old wood and the faint stench of alcohol attacked her senses.
And with the smell that brought her to reality, returned the pain as well.
Oh, the pain.
It hurt so badly.
So, so, so badly.
It was unbearable.
Every time she got hurt, she always thought it'd never get any worse.
She was sure today would be when this thought remains true.
Every nerve in her body was on edge, as her mind screamed for her to make it stop.
And yet, everything hurt like hell.
The bright red hue that stained the wooden floor she lay on and quickly soaked up in it, becoming an ugly brown color instead, trickled drop by drop from the hands she didn't even have the strength to clutch beside her chest any longer.
I didn't even see what happened.
I just... I just felt it...
I don't want to know what happened though.
If I look, I'll probably pass out for real... Not that I'm so far from that now anyway...
Ah, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts.
And yet it hurts so, so much that I can't even understand what hurts anymore...
Is it really all that selfish? To want us to get out of here so bad... Just so all this pain can stop...
Bakugo-kun, please... I'm begging you...
Suddenly, as if to break her non-existent piece, Atsuhi's hearing returned out of the blue as well. And aside from the faint ruffling of turning heads she could barely make out, the first actual words that she heard came from somewhere behind the closed door that served as the only barrier between the abducted students and the freedom they'd been denied.
"- mino Pizza Delivery!!" No sooner had the sentence sent a wave of confusion throughout the room, than the door had flown off it hinges and, creating a gigantic hole in the wall, a person jumped into the room.
In the next moment, all members of the League of Villains had found themselves immobilized, as restraints akin to wood branches wrapped around their bodies.
Though she lacked the strength to even gasp out loud, Atsuhi's eyes widened upon noticing the people entering the room one by one. Her vision hadn't really cleared yet, but even if by colors and assumptions alone, she could make out all the new arrivals.
All Might himself.
A shorter hero clad in yellow she couldn't recognize.
This time, she did gasp out loud, just as Bakugo turned towards her, back now facing the villains with no worries that they might attack again.
Atsuhi's sight became blurrier and blurrier, but not because of her slipping consciousness or overwhelming fear. Whether due to relief, or perhaps excruciating pain, tears welled up in her eyes. And upon the sight, she even managed to squeak out a single meek word.
"Our young superstar – Kamui Woods! The speediest old guy we have – Gran Torino! And the long-time UA graduate hero and father – Lava Floor! There's nowhere left for you to run, League of Villains! Because we... are here!!"
A few simple sentences from All Might were all it took – both to make the villains feel as if they'd been defeated, and to give the heroes a boost of confidence, essential for the rescue operation's success. It truly felt like an honor – to even be mentioned in the same line as all those admirable heroes. But this was a matter of excitement for a different day.
Ryuu could tell the villains were surprised by their sudden appearance, no doubt being fooled by Aizawa's words during the conference which should have aired on TV just minutes prior. It was an essential tactic really – make your opponents think they're safe, and then strike just when they let their guard down.
But in a case such as this, even if their guard had not been lowered, the heroes surely would've had the advantage either way. With the team of five (including Edgeshot who had entered last) inside the hideout, and a handful of police officers, some other powerful heroes, and, last but not least, Endeavor himself, keeping watch outside to make sure no villain slips away unnoticed, it was as if they had it in the bag. The villains were simply surrounded.
Of course, now that the plan had finally been set into motion, Ryuu didn't give a damn anymore.
No, instead his eyes scanned the small and dimly-lit room, as his heartbeat accelerated with every passing second. It didn't take long before he spotted the head of ash blond spikes and the matching strawberry blonde locks that were slumped on the other person's shoulder.
Ryuu had noticed the two kids at the back of the room when he'd first walked in, and his heart had squeezed upon the realization that his daughter lay barely moving with a puddle of blood forming beside her. He could only guess that in the commotion that had ensued upon the heroes' arrival, Bakugo had picked Atsuhi up and lifted her on his back, probably taking the chance to make sure she was conscious too.
Ryuu wasted no time running over to the two students, followed closely by All Might too, though the latter's priority was warding off any who might try attacking, while the former had been tasked with making sure the hostages were alright.
"Hey, you're both fine now, we're finally here..." Ryuu spoke as he approached Bakugo, who at first looked on in confusion and took a cautious step back, arms tightening around the body of the girl he carried on his back. It was only after said girl muttered a barely audible word that he realized who he was looking at.
"Dad...!" Though weak, Atsuhi's voice was laced with relief. Bakugo's face lit up with recognition, likely laying eyes on the hero he'd used to admire for years for the first time in a while. In fact, he felt stupid for not recognizing even Lava Floor's costume, a suit much too similar to that of his daughter.
"Yeah, it's me. I told you, you're both safe now so don't worry. I'm so sorry. It must've been so hard for you. Thank you for holding out until now," Ryuu spoke, as he shot a concerned look at Atsuhi's pained face, his eyes then drifting down to the arms she had wrapped around Bakugo's shoulders, and then her hands which left a brownish stain where they barely touched the boy's black t-shirt.
"Oi, you heard that, right? Even All Might's here." Bakugo turned to say to Atsuhi, who in turn nodded weakly against his shoulder and lifted up her head to get a better look at the unfolding scene.
Ryuu's thoughts suddenly became even more worried, noticing his daughter's half-lidded eyes and her drowsy speech.
They weren't late. But he feared that the damage had been already done. Though he knew no amount of self-loathing and guilt were going to save their lives. They hadn't turned back time four years ago.
This time, there was no need to turn time yet. And he planned to make sure no such need was ever going to arise again.
Ryuu grit his teeth, but still put a hand on Atsuhi's back, giving her a gentle and reassuring squeeze as he leaned in closer to her and spoke in a hushed voice.
"It's okay. There's a few doctors outside, they'll fix you up in no time." He received a quiet hum of agreement from the girl. That didn't help the sinking feeling in his stomach that only grew, as the thought that the remaining scars were going to be more severe than he thought, plagued his mind.
He continued rubbing circles on his daughter's back when, upon noticing Bakugo looking at her in concern (which, if the stories he'd heard from Atsuhi were anything to go by, was not something he was willing to display for everyone), turned to give him a silent nod of gratitude for taking care of her as long as he had.
Since he wasn't sure whether it was okay to carelessly move Atsuhi around like that, Ryuu grabbed a small roll of bandages from the pouch of medical supplies attached to his costume's belt, and gently wrapped them around the girl's injured hands. He took care not to tighten them too much and upset her wounds, but also had to ward off any potential debris and dust to prevent infections.
However, although he was a hero, a person used to even the thought of death, both his and that of others, he couldn't help but frown at the sight. A situation not at all helped by the fact that it was his daughter's injuries he was looking at. He knew that he could only trust in the abilities of Recovery Girl and other medical experts to give their best. All the while, a pang of guilt shot in his chest every time Atsuhi flinched or grit her teeth at the sudden pain he'd accidentally caused her.
By the time he was done, she was even more dazed than before and, for all he knew, she couldn't even feel her hands, let alone the pain coming from them. In the background, All Might conversed with the leader of the League – Shigaraki, and tried to find out from him where their leader was hiding.
Things didn't seem to be going well though, as just when Ryuu finally laid a hand on the two's shoulders and began guiding Bakugo who still carried the girl towards the exit, Shigaraki suddenly raised his voice.
And just as he did, Ryuu's eyes widened upon noticing the dozen or so portals of black liquid opening up throughout the room.
But, no doubt worst of all, he didn't even have the time to react, when the two kids beside him coughed up the very same black liquid, which soon engulfed their whole bodies.
In the span of mere seconds, the two had disappeared from his side, his hand now simply hovering in mid-air and body frozen in shock.
They had disappeared.
They were, once again, gone.
"God, this stuff fucking stinks," Katsuki grumbled, after the much smoother landing than the last time he'd been teleported against his will (something which he really shouldn't be getting used to), not to mention the added factor of the girl he was carrying. A fact he was reminded of when Atsuhi too let out a few small coughs, making him realize it wasn't just him that had been taken away. Again.
"My apologies, Bakugo, Saeki. I simply brought you two along as Tomura has deemed you to be important pawns for his grand plans." Katsuki's eyes briefly widened, though he quickly composed himself and wiped the surprise off his face, instead glaring at the man in a formal black suit, whose voice remained muffled through the odd mask that covered his entire face.
Soon enough, the same stinky Quirk had teleported the remainder of the League of Villains along as well, now with two fewer conscious members,.
This guy... The way he speaks... And with how destroyed this whole place seems to be.
Is it just me or is this some strongass villain...?
Katsuki grit his teeth, brows furrowing, as nerves caused a cold shiver to run down his spine.
So... we escaped one trap... Only to fall into an even bigger trap, eh?
He knew he didn't have time. If Atsuhi's weakening breaths against his back were any indication, that is.
It was time for one more fight.
Dodging yet another knife thrown at him, Katsuki only had but a moment on the ground, before he was forced to launch himself up with yet another explosion to evade the hands of the mask-wearing villain who had captured him in the first place. And even then, in midair, he had to sharply change directions, when some measuring tape tried to wrap itself around him, as ridiculous of a weapon as that might have been.
He landed again and had a few seconds longer to catch his breath this time around, before a small voice from beside his ear warned him.
"To the left...!" Atsuhi had woken up a little, no doubt shaken by the sudden slew of attacks in what was essentially a one versus six fight. Now she tried to make out approaching shapes through her blurring vision and warn Katsuki of any sneakier opponents. Though he knew that, on the inside, she must've been feeling awful for only being able to do so much.
With a frustrated sigh, Katsuki took note of her warning, and jumped to the side to avoid yet another attack. He couldn't keep this up for long. It was taking all his concentration to even barely avoid all these attacks, and he was quickly losing energy (the fact that he had been kept hostage and given no food for over 24 hours certainly not making things any better), moves becoming sloppy, and breath always seeming to run out.
He didn't even want to imagine what a burden the two must've been for All Might, who had arrived at the scene less than a minute after them, and was now engaging the villain with the black mask, who talked crazy stuff about having multiple Quirks. They had to get out of there as soon as possible.
Upon hearing a quiet mumble from Atsuhi, he stopped to catch his breath again and as he jumped up in the air again, spoke.
"What was that?"
"It's just..." the girl began, voice shaking but surprisingly audible, even through the explosions and nearby blows sounding all around. "You should leave me behind and go, Katsuki-kun..."
At first, Katsuki had been taken aback by... his own name. For a second there, he thought he might have been going crazy when he'd heard not his last, but his first name leave Atsuhi's lips. In the end, he reasoned that she was quickly losing her grip on what was happening and had likely let it slip without even noticing.
Next, he realized what she had actually tried to tell him.
He did not give it any thought. He just scoffed, responding while still dodging the countless attacks sent his way. Let's just say that this wasn't the most perfect of circumstances for conversing.
"That's bullshit," he quickly cut her off when he realized she wanted to give reason to her ridiculousness. "You and I both know I'm not doing that. What, I leave you behind, I run, and then? The hell am I supposed to go? You didn't really think this through, did you?" He remained silent for a moment.
"Not to mention-" A grunt upon evading two villains one after the other interrupted him mid-sentence. "The Atsuhi I know wouldn't say shit like that. What happened to getting out of this alive, huh?" The girl sighed.
"Soon enough, I'll probably black out, Katsuki-kun... You'll literally be carrying me around like dead-weight," Atsuhi mumbled as Katsuki noticed that this 'soon enough' might be any moment now, judging by her weakening voice.
If I lose her now, who knows what's gonna happen.
I have to keep her attention on the real world somehow...
"Say, how 'bout this-" Katsuki ducked to avoid a kick, then continued. "You tell me what it is you promised to say when we were back in the forest. Sound good?" He could tell Atsuhi flinched a little and then her grip around him tightened, though he wasn't sure if it was because of the question he'd asked, or the fact that he had launched himself up in the air with another explosion.
"Come on, you really wanted to say it, right?" Katsuki called when he realized the girl hesitated. He then felt a small sigh on his shoulder and Atsuhi began.
"I... kinda realized this a while back..." she spoke in a meek voice. But a meek voice was still better than silence. Not that the League's relentless attacks were going to give them any goddamn silence. "I would've told you sooner but I was looking for an appropriate occasion... That's not right now but... I was originally going to say it today. You know... 'cuz it's my birthday and everything..."
Katsuki would've been lying if he said he was taking in each and every word. His goal was to make sure Atsuhi didn't lose consciousness any time soon. She could always tell him everything again later. But if he were to miss evading even a single blow, one or both of them might not live long enough for the girl to share this.
Honestly, he had no idea what he was expecting to hear.
It was probably her worried mind getting the best of her and making her feel like she had something really important to say.
Atsuhi's next words rooted him in place.
"The thing is, Katsuki-kun... I... I like you..."
Atsuhi had said it somewhat casually.
Katsuki's mind however, went completely blank.
In fact, he would've surely been hit by the villain's next attack, whatever that may have been. If the villains hadn't suddenly all turned to look at the big spike of ice that had materialized a little ways beside them, as if from thin air.
But the surprises didn't end there.
As if Katsuki's mind wasn't already running haywire, three figures slid upon the ice and jumped up towards the sky, briefly soaring right above where Katsuki was desperately trying to fight off his six opponents.
It all went down quickly from then on, as if in a blur.
Kirishima calling for Katsuki and reaching out a hand, Katsuki telling Atsuhi to hold on tight and her quietly humming in agreement, as he used both his hands to launch himself high in the air while still carrying her, then grabbing Kirishima's hand with his own.
Even the villains desperately trying to chase after them and Mt. Lady's last-second reappearance to stop them before they could reach the kids.
All happening so, so quickly.
Before he knew it, Katsuki's feet were on the ground again.
But this time? This time he was far, far away from the villains, from those captors, far away from danger.
And upon realizing how far away from said danger he was, he suddenly remembered Atsuhi's untimely confession, while the three boys who'd rescued them had stopped to catch their breath.
"Oi, Atsuhi," he began in a quiet voice, stopping himself before he could inquire about the meaning behind what she'd said (a meaning he assumed he understood correctly, but decided not to get too helpful quite yet), and instead realizing he had to find somebody to help her immediately. "We're outta there. This time for real."
As he spoke, Katsuki's eyes scanned the crowds and tried to find anyone who could help – be it an actual doctor, a police officer, a hero, or even just a civilian for fuck's sake!
And then he froze.
He never got his answer. No quiet hum, sigh, or even a groan.
Atsuhi remained completely silent.
He could still feel her heartbeat pressing up against his back, but suddenly it felt as if his own had stopped.
Not noticing the worried face Deku made, or even the approaching Todoroki and Ida, moving in to help take the girl off the ash blond's back and gently lean her unconscious body against the concrete wall nearby, Katsuki panicked. And in the meantime of course, the scene quickly attracted the attention of the unsuspecting passer-by.
Katsuki lost himself in his desperation.
"Atsuhi! Oi!! You held out for so long, come on!! Just wake up, goddammit!" He tried shaking her awake but instead...
That was all he got in return. Silence.
His heart beat so fast, threatening to thump its way out of his chest. His arms were shaking too, though that went unnoticed by him.
He didn't even realize the little bit of liquid that had gathered at the corners of his eyes.
And yet, the girl didn't utter a single word.
Instead, the slow and weak rising of her chest and the silent prayers that she'd be okay, were all the hope that Katsuki had left.
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