The sun had only just begun to rise a couple of minutes ago, its rays still shining rather weakly, though their light was bright enough to tint the previously pitch black sky into a calming mix of warm hues. The stars, which had riddled the night sky and had born witness to a fight that would change society forever, were now hidden by the creeping light of the sun which peeked above the horizon.
That day, the country had lost its Symbol of Piece.
Not literally, as the man was, fortunately, still alive.
But the Symbol of Piece that he represented was now gone. All Might was no more, the number one hero now reduced to nothing but another Quirkless civilian.
Of course, there was no doubt going to be plenty of media coverage on the topic across the next couple of days, maybe even weeks, so perhaps it was best not to dwell on it too much quite yet. If anything, everyone should've been rejoicing that All Might had defeated the villain in the first place. And that the two abducted students had been rescued.
But, among the surprisingly quiet hospital halls, all that hustle and bustle that seemed to have the rest of the world in an uproar now seemed so far away.
Even while All Might fought the terrifying villain now known as All for One, the heroes kept up with their tireless efforts of saving the civilians caught up in the clash of the century. While lots escaped unscathed, many wound up severely injured, and though the number of casualties hadn't been announced yet, it was sure to be bone-chilling as well.
In next to no time, medical teams had appeared on the scene to provide first-aid help and transport those in need of urgent treatment to a nearby hospital.
Naturally, the ones with life-threatening injuries were transported to the nearest location, while those with smaller wounds occupied a slightly further hospital.
With the advancement of a society full of different Quirks, came certain advancements in medical fields too. As such, only an hour or two after the fight and rescue operations, most patients had been taken care of, and worried relatives and doctors now awaited for them to wake up.
And so, the aforementioned hospital halls were much quieter than one would expect after a night filled with fights and destruction. This unnatural piece was only ever disturbed by the occasional hurried footsteps of the worried friend or relative rushing in to see an injured patient, or the chatter between nurses and doctors on their small breaks, if they'd for some reason chosen to spend them in the confines of the hospital building, as opposed to the fresh air they could breathe outside.
The small rays of light peeking through the windows of the halls shined white in contrast with the yellow (and sometimes flickering) lights of the hospital itself, giving the mostly empty halls a serene feel, as the colorful light seeping through the windows only barely lit up the edges of the few figures around.
That's how Ryuu spotted the two people talking at the end of the hall, one clad in white – a young nurse, by the looks of it, while the other sported a head of shaggy black hair, neatly trimmed for the conference that had taken place a few hours prior, the man still clad in the same black suit he'd worn during said conference.
Ryuu approached the figures and upon noticing him, the black-haired man gave a nod to the nurse, who then walked off in the opposite direction, leaving the two alone.
His eyes met those of his fellow hero and friend since their high-school years – Aizawa Shota, and then Ryuu looked towards the door Aizawa stood in front of.
"Are you ready to go in?" Aizawa asked, while Ryuu gulped in dread, giving a hesitant nod. The black-haired man moved to slide the door open, the blinding whiteness of the room inside seeping briefly into the much dimmer halls, until the two walked in, and the door was promptly shut once more.
Ryuu took slow steps, eyes scanning around the room, though he was still hesitant to look towards the only occupied bed in it.
Then again, he had no choice. He turned his head and his heart squeezed at the sight.
Atsuhi lay in the bed, sheets covering most of her body, though her arms remained on top and by her sides, her hands tightly wrapped in pure white bandages, which concealed what was underneath them. Not that Ryuu wanted to find out.
The girl looked to be sleeping, the pained expression that her features had been contorted in earlier, now replaced by a much more peaceful look, as she took slow breaths and regained all her lost energy in the faraway land of dreams. Or perhaps, she wasn't actually dreaming, for her face remained unmoving, showing neither pain, nor happiness.
There were lost of wires, tubes, and other stuff that Ryuu had frankly no understanding of, sticking out and monitoring his daughter's condition. But if the steady noises coming from the monitors beside her bed were any indicator, she seemed to be doing quite alright.
"The main injuries were on her hands," Aizawa suddenly began, and though he kept his voice low, he still startled Ryuu a little. "The police will question Bakugo soon enough, so he'll be the one to say exactly what it is that happened. But considering what we know about the League of Villains and their Quirks, our best guess seems to be that it was their leader, Shigaraki."
Ryuu moved closer to his daughter's bed while he listened, sitting on the edge of it and watching her, as he couldn't help but imagine every scene his fellow hero described.
"I take it you're aware of the nature of his Quirk – Decay," Aizawa continued, his hand subconsciously moving to lightly grasp his elbow, while the two remained silent for a few moments.
"You're... beating around the bush, aren't you...?" Ryuu finally realized and, tearing his eyes away from the unconscious girl for a second, he cast a tired look at Aizawa. "Just say it. Better to just get it over with already."
Aizawa hesitated for a second, glancing at the file and doctor's report he held in his hands. He then sighed.
"The skin on both of her palms was disintegrated. Emergency grafting of artificial skin was performed as soon as she was brought here. By this point, they're waiting for Recovery Girl's arrival for any further help, though they're not entirely sure just how much help she'd be." Aizawa stopped, and moved to sit on the edge of the unoccupied bed, leaving the papers he held beside him.
"In the end, Recovery Girl can only help accelerate the healing process. She can't heal something that wouldn't even heal in the first place." Then Aizawa took the file and handed it to Ryuu to read through for himself, watching as his brows furrowed in worry with each new detail.
"We can take a look at the documents for leaving UA afterwards."
This time, Atsuhi's father was caught by surprise.
He suddenly looked up from the papers in his hands, only to find Aizawa's serious eyes locked onto him. The teacher took that as his cue to explain.
"After so many incidents, it's understandable. First, there was USJ. Then, the Hero Killer Incident at Hosu. And now this. Clearly, UA has been unable to protect her all this time. It's a regrettable decision but we're the ones to blame."
"W-woah-" Ryuu tried to interrupt Aizawa. "I... I understand what you're saying, Aizawa-kun... And I've certainly thought about it briefly.” He paused and sighed. “However... call me a bad parent if you will, but I've never thought about taking this decision on my own.
"This is Atsuhi's future we're talking about here. Freak incidents are bound to happen, regardless of which school she goes to. In the end, I trust you and all the other heroes at UA to take care of her for me. But most importantly of all, I trust her and her judgment.
"I'm aware most parents in my place would react differently. Then again, most parents in my place might not be heroes themselves. I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I take this away from Atsuhi. It's her decision through and through. If she wants to leave UA, then so be it. But if she doesn't... if she still insists on following so closely in the footsteps of her mother and I, then... I can only give her my fullest support..."
Ryuu finished, leaving Aizawa ready to protest, and perhaps maybe tell him that he was being unreasonable.
But he never got the chance to.
Out of nowhere, the quiet hospital halls were suddenly filled with the loud echoing sound of rushing footsteps, followed by the calls of at least two or three voices, all just close enough to distinguish that they were screaming something along the lines of 'Get back!' and 'You're not allowed there!'
The two heroes looked at each other in question, wondering who the 'intruder' might've been.
And just like that, they soon got their answer, when the door of Atsuhi's room was hurriedly slid open, and in the entrance now stood a young boy with ash blond hair sticking in any and all directions. He stopped and rested his hands on his knees, chest moving up and down as he took deep breaths after his sudden sprint.
Both father and teacher stood and looked at him wide-eyed for a second, until Aizawa shook his head and got up, walking past the boy, as he mumbled something about dealing with the nurses outside. The ash blond's crimson eyes followed him, until he exited the room and slid the door closed behind him.
And so, Saeki Ryuu and Bakugo Katsuki remained alone in the room with the still unconscious Atsuhi, a heavy silence falling over them.
Wasn't he supposed to be with the police? Aizawa-kun said they haven't questioned him yet.
Meaning he came here without their permission.
Meaning he came here just to see her.
Ryuu smiled without even realizing it, glancing at the sleeping girl.
You're lucky to have someone as caring as him around you, Atsuhi... I almost feel I don't need to worry quite as much with him by your side...
He was forced to shake away these thoughts when the boy cleared his throat to get his attention.
"I... don't usually do this kinda shi- stuff," Bakugo began, catching and correcting himself, before he could let his typical swears slip out. "But..."
And then, Bakugo Katsuki looked away, perhaps embarrassed, straightened his arms by his sides, and bowed, while Ryuu stared at him speechless.
"I apologize for everything that happened. It was me the villains were after and I let Atsuhi get caught up in it too. In the end, it was my fault she got hurt."
The shocked silence continued for a few more seconds, until a quiet shuffling accompanied Ryuu's movements, as he got up and walked over to the boy, placing his hands on Bakugo's shoulders and making him lift his head and stop bowing.
"You know, blaming somebody else is easy. You're right, I can say that it was all your fault. Atsuhi can say it too. And that would be it – a cop out." Ryuu noticed that Bakugo's face contorted briefly upon the mention of Atsuhi blaming him as well. "So, precisely because it's just so easy, I don't want to do it. A hero's job is never quite as easy anyway. Instead, perhaps we should look towards the future and figure out how we're gonna deal with all this from now on, yeah?
"That, and I'm afraid what Atsuhi would think when she wakes up and finds out that I've pinned all the blame on you..." Ryuu laughed, as Bakugo couldn't help but see the similarities between him and the girl that they talked about. It brought him the same kind of comfort that her presence and her smile always seemed to carry. Truth be told, he felt that much more at ease.
"Say, Bakugo-" Ryuu suddenly began again, his tone this time carrying a hint of ease, as if he wanted to put an end to all the wisdom and reflecting for now. "How did you get here in the first place...?"
Bakugo stiffened, making Ryuu realize that, true to what he had assumed, the boy wasn't supposed to be here.
"I..." Though he hesitated briefly, Bakugo knew he owed it to the hero to at least explain that much. If anything, he was surprised Ryuu hadn't asked him about everything that had happened at the villains' hideout yet. "I was supposed to get a checkup from a doctor before the police brought me in for questioning. But all the doctors at the scene were busy, so they brought me to the nearest hospital instead. Even though I insisted that I was fine the entire time..." Bakugo crossed his arms and pouted.
"Anyway, I had to wait here until they find someone who was free but then I heard the two nurses at the entrance talking about 'the girl that had been abducted by the villains'. They said she was here and happened to mention the room number too. After that I just... came here..." He then paused, as if waiting to be scolded. Though he should've known no such thing was going to happen. Instead, Ryuu chuckled.
"Ahaha, goes to show you how cautious the police officers escorting you were being." His laughs quieted down and he shook his head. "Thank you though. Atsuhi can get quite reckless. So I'm grateful to you for protecting her. Really, I am!"
Bakugo was left speechless.
As such, he was glad that Aizawa (who had come in again and was now leaning on the door frame) cleared his throat, making them both look at him, before his eyes shot towards Ryuu.
"The doctor wants to see you to talk with you about a few things."
Ryuu sighed but complied anyway and walked out, shutting the door behind him.
And of course, leaving Bakugo inside.
It was weird to think about.
How just two days ago, they were still at Training Camp, doing some ridiculous exercises to improve their Quirks, and even stupid 'fun' activities such as the Test of Courage.
How in just a brief second, all that fun had gone down in flames (somewhat literally, considering the fire the villains had started at the forest), and how just an hour or so after the initial attack, they'd been abducted.
They'd stayed at the villains' hideout for about a day, one suffering a terrible injury, while the other was forced to only watch and fight with the guilt.
And how now, they were finally safe again.
Katsuki replayed all those events in his mind, struggling to even realize they had really happened. But it was a reality he was forced to confront as he gazed at the girl laying on the bed at the end of the room.
There was so much he had yet to comprehend.
What had really happened that night? Who was this guy in the black suit? Why had he almost defeated All Might? Why was All Might keeping this other form of his a sectet for so long?
Why was Deku acting like this...?
And yet... Right now, none of those things seemed to bother him.
Instead, he subconsciously moved closer to the bed, lingering at the end of it for a little, before he sighed and sat down at the very edge, still giving Atsuhi all the space she might need, even though she was asleep.
I've... never really seen you like this, have I...?
I always say that you're strong and whatnot but I'm only now realizing that... heh, for all I know, you might be even stronger than me...
Never before had Katsuki seen her as vulnerable as she was right now.
Her sleeping face looked so peaceful, and yet it held none of the joy and reassurance that her smile always radiated.
He... almost wished to lean in and brush her hair away from her tired face, or lightly touch her cheeks, or even...
The hell!? That would just be creepy…!! At least it would be, if I do it while she's sleeping...
Ugh, what's with all these stupid cheesy thoughts...
So, Katsuki tried to clear them away by shaking his head.
But all that did, was replace them with a different memory.
”The thing is, Katsuki-kun… I… I like you...”
That was not the time to say shit like that, you know? You can be such an idiot.
You didn't even give me time to respond before you slipped away back then.
Here I was, thinking it was just going to be another one of your ridiculous and baseless worries. Huh, maybe I'm the idiot...
You didn't even get to celebrate your birthday properly... It all just went to shit...
His eyes were pointed at the girl's face, sure, but he wasn't really looking, instead choosing to focus on his thoughts.
That is, until Atsuhi's face suddenly moved, eyebrows furrowing a little, as her mouth contorted and she didn't look serene anymore, but rather – troubled.
"Atsuhi...?" he let the name slip out, unknowingly leaning in a little further, only to hear the small noise that escaped her shut lips, as if she groaned a little in her sleep.
Was she having a bad dream?
If so, Katsuki really wanted to put an end to it already. It wasn't fair. Not after she'd just lived through the worst of any nightmare she could imagine. Then again, he wondered how much longer the events of that night were going to haunt her in her sleep.
He moved his arm, placing a gentle hand on her now trembling shoulder, and carefully tried shaking her awake.
And – it worked...?
One of Atsuhi's green eyes peeked beneath her eyelid, focusing first on the unfamiliar ceiling, then wandering briefly among the room, until it finally settled to look at Katsuki. Soon, her second eye opened too, and through her still furrowed brows, her blurry sight slowly adjusted to make out the figure sitting at the edge of her bed and giving her a worried look.
"Katsuki...kun?" she finally croaked out, though her voice sounded pretty weak and hoarse, no doubt a side effect of having stayed completely silent for a few hours.
Suddenly, Katsuki's heart sank. Did he really deserve to be the first face she saw after waking up? Wasn't she in this mess because of him in the first place?
Upon receiving no answer, Atsuhi moved her head to look around the room once more, before she turned her eyes back to Katsuki, who gave a tired half-smile, half-smirk in return.
"Good morning. Took you long enough." Atsuhi chuckled. This felt a little like when she had woken up after falling asleep on his shoulder in the bus a couple of days earlier.
"Don't worry... It wasn't a very good sleep anyway..." Katsuki's face twisted in concern.
"Why? You had a nightmare?"
"Mhm..." Atsuhi closed her eyes and looked as if she sank further into her pillow. "How'd you know...?"
"You were turning and groaning in your sleep. What was it about?"
"Mmm, I don't remember... Actually, I feel so light-headed right now… I doubt I'll remember any of this when I wake up again... I can't even feel my hands, so I imagine the amount of painkillers in my system right now..." She chuckled again, as if she were telling a joke.
"That's not funny, you know..."
"I know... But it's fine... It also means you can say whatever and I probably won't remember... It means that I can say whatever too..."
"Whatever, you say?" Katsuki went quiet for a second.
"Whatever you want, Katsuki-kun..." That's when he remembered.
"You've been calling me 'Katsuki' ever since we were at Kamino..." Hearing this, Atsuhi looked surprised.
"Have I...? Ah, I'm sorry... it must've slipped out... I'll try to-"
"I didn't say you shouldn't..." He could tell his face was heating up. He... wasn't blushing, was he?
"Oh... Haha, that's cool then... Anything else that's on your mind...?" Katsuki noted that her speech was much more clear now, compared to before, when they hadn't yet been rescued. Though she still looked tired, she at least seemed to be doing fine.
"Yeah, actually." As she listened to Katsuki, Atsuhi yawned a little, eyelids already beginning to droop down again. "What you said while we were fighting..." But the boy's words forced her to pause mid-yawn, turning to him, only to look away with reddened cheeks immediately after.
"I did confess, didn't I...?"
Ah. So it was that.
Atsuhi smiled at him.
"Yeah... It was exactly as I said. Katsuki-kun, I like you." Said boy gasped in surprise, when he heard her repeat her confession again. "You can tell me your answer now if you want to... And if you have one. Though... you'll have to tell me again later..." She only mumbled the last few words, as she turned her head to the side, her blinking soon consisting of keeping her eyes closed longer than they remained open. At this rate, she was going to fall asleep any moment now.
So Katsuki thought-
Might... as well...
"I..." he began, causing Atsuhi's half-lidded eyes to look at him again. "I think I feel… the same…?" he mumbled, though it still seemed to have been loud enough for Atsuhi to hear, as she smiled wider, eyes now closing fully.
"That's... good to know..." But by the end of her sentence, she'd already drifted off to sleep again. This time however, she didn't look serene or vulnerable. She looked... happy.
Katsuki smiled at the sight.
Saying what had been on his mind for so, so long... It felt good. It felt really good. And he was sure that it would feel even better, once he told her again when she woke up later.
But his smile then turned to a solemn frown.
Yeah, it would've felt quite nice.
It sure would have.
He got up from the edge of the bed, moving towards the door so he could alert the nurses (and perhaps Eraser Head and Lava Floor as well) that Atsuhi had briefly woken up.
But for him, this was it.
The last chance.
No way was he going to let her be caught up in something like this ever again.
Because of what he said to her just now, because of what he felt – that is why she always seemed to suffer, to get hurt and struggle.
He didn't want to let it happen. Not ever again.
Katsuki cast one final and regretful look at Atsuhi's sleeping form, a peaceful smile on her lips, and clenching his fists, he grit his teeth.
With that, he slid open the door and walked out.
He didn't plan on coming back.