Not a sound. It felt as if there was no soul out there. As if she was completely alone.
A deaf silence.
Or... maybe not quite.
You know that feeling when this annoying noise in your ears, the one that usually fades to the back of your mind and remains unnoticeable, gradually becomes louder and louder, until it's the only thing you can hear, and it begins to drive you mad?
Yup, that's the one. So no, it wasn't a deaf silence. It was a deafening silence.
Upon the realization that there seemed to be no other distinguishable shapes as far as the eye could see, her fear only creeped up even further. That endless black void was, to put it mildly, terrifying.
Where was everyone? Where was everything? Where was she?
Try as she might, she couldn't even scream. As if her voice was gone, not even a sound escaped her trembling lips.
By this point, she was desperate. There were tears streaming down her cheeks, or at least that's what she felt.
But after despair, came acceptance. A reluctant, and painful acceptance. Because if you were helpless to do anything, was there any point in struggling? What choice did you have but to accept it?
Was that really the only escape from this nightmarish prison? Was this really the only right choice? Was this the path of a hero...?
And then – a voice.
A single sound was enough to shatter the deafening silence to little pieces. She wasn't lonely anymore, she wasn't trapped in this nightmare anymore. She wasn't scared. A single voice had been enough to fill her with a sense of relief.
No. This voice – it brought about many feelings. Relief wasn't one of them.
Ever since that day, it was etched into her mind. She was sure she could recognize it anywhere. And she was sure it was forever going to haunt her in her memories and dreams.
Just a single word was enough to bring the image of his face into her mind. Or rather, the big hand covering his face, and the wavy light blue hair falling loosely around it.
A sight one couldn't not remember.
She tried to chase the thoughts away, she tried so hard. Yet, the memories still flooded her mind.
Or... was it really memories...? Things felt different. She felt like she really was back there, not merely recalling it.
Fear. Terror. Screams. Tears.
Courage...? Perhaps a little bit...
But also another voice. It screamed something. A name? This time, it brought nothing but comfort.
And then came warmth. Safety. More tears, this time caused by pure relief.
The first voice called again. A threat.
The warmth disappeared.
The second voice, screaming.
A sound of liquid splashing and dripping to the floor. The warmth never returned.
Then silence again.
A hand neared, reaching out, about to-
Unlike previously, this time she could physically feel her fear in the sweat dripping down her face and hands. The tears now blurred her vision, until a quick glance at her surroundings assured her that she was safe and sound.
Saeki Atsuhi was still in her dorm room at UA. Far from Kamino Ward, far from the League of Villains, far from the terrors that had haunted her in her dream.
It had been a couple of days since she'd started working on developing her Ultimate Moves in order to take the Provisional License Exam with the rest of her classmates. Progress was slow but steady, and she was sure she was going to make it by the tenth day.
All throughout, she smiled and laughed. She remained her cheerful self through and through. She remained the person she used to be. The person she wanted to be.
Yes, she tried to be brave in front of others. But on the inside... she was more scared than ever.
What an irony, no? To be so safe, yet so afraid.
She hated those conflicting feelings of hers. But even so, she couldn't shake them off. She could only do her best.
Naturally, her nightmares were also there to stay. At least for a while longer. And who knows, maybe if they liked it in her mind, they were going to settle there forever. Splendid.
Atsuhi sighed, turning in her bed and pulling up the blanket. Maybe it wasn't necessary during the summer, but oh, did she feel safer wrapped up in it. Sure, it was a child's way of thinking... But she was still a child, after all, as much as she wouldn't like to admit it.
I wanna sleep some more... But I don't know if I'm ready for another nightmare.
Atsuhi grumbled and furrowed her eyebrows. She hated nightmares. But there seemed to be a rule in this universe that ordered she be faced with everything she despised. How she envied all the people having a peaceful sleep right now.
She turned on her stomach, and used her elbows to support herself. Lifting up her torso, she checked the time on the digital clock above the headboard.
Well, it was worth a try. She wouldn't have minded getting up an hour or so earlier. You know, get ready in peace, maybe even have a little walk around, get some fresh air, make a proper breakfast. Anything to get her mind away from the haunting images that plagued her dreams.
But that was simply too early. She would be practically asleep by noon if she went through with the bright idea of leaving her bed now.
With no more good options on the horizon, she reluctantly buried her face in the pillow, muffling her second sigh, and found a comfortable position to continue with her not-so-peaceful sleep and hopefully happen upon a nice and happy dream this time around.
But of course, when had things ever been so simple in her life?
Beginning from the palms of her hands, a pain that had been unnoticeable at first, had suddenly become much sharper and stronger.
In other words – unbearable. An unwelcome feeling that was, however, here to stay. Between a few more grunts of pain, Atsuhi had shut her eyes tight in waiting for the sharpness of the pain to pass, and had sat upright in the bed. But with every passing minute, it became that much clearer that this was one of those 'favorite' times of hers when the pain was just too damn stubborn.
At four in the morning, with that terrible pain in her hands, she was just about ready to snap.
Okay, okay, calm down, Atsuhi – you've done this before, you'll do it again...
She took a deep breath, grit her teeth, and swung her legs to the side of the bed. It's not like she had a choice but to suffer through the pain until she took care of it.
Her fluffy green blanket was tossed carelessly to the side, but that was a concern for the Atsuhi a few minutes from now. You know, the Atsuhi who hopefully won't be barely suffering through her pain.
A quick look around the room, only lit dimly by a small night light beside the desk, later, Atsuhi spotted the pair of white slippers abandoned on opposite ends of the room. Slipping those on, she grabbed the sweatshirt hanging on the back of her chair (now thankful for being so lazy earlier that night and not putting said sweatshirt away), and clumsily slipped it on.
She hoped that, and the leggings she quickly put on, were going to be enough to keep her warm in the chilly almost fall weather. After all, the way from the dorms to Recovery Girl's office in the school should've been no longer than five or so minutes.
She was thankful to Aizawa who, after being informed of her condition and warned about side-effects such as this infuriating pain, had given her permission to use Recovery Girl's office whenever she needed to, even if it happened to be after or before school. Of course, in the middle of the night, she was going to have to do everything by herself.
Exiting her room, Atsuhi took care to close the door with slow and steady movements, biting her lip between the pain and every little sound the door made. Others were still sound asleep, after all.
It was a stupid dilemma for her. Should she be quick to stop the pain, but move carelessly and risk waking up her classmates, or should she move quietly and endure the pain much longer than she would've liked to?
Heh, I'm worrying about some trivial things, aren't I...
At long last, after her eternal descend upon the stairs, she could already see the light seeping in from the door. Of course, life loved throwing the unexpected her way, and she was overcome by another wave of sharp pain, flinching and grunting quietly again. Though it sounded more like a whimper than anything else. The pain was 'gone' (meaning, still very much present, but bearable enough so she could at least walk) as quickly as it had appeared, and Atsuhi went down the last two steps, turning behind the corner.
For a brief moment, she wondered if it really was the light from the windows that lit up the common rooms. Because she was pretty sure it was not supposed to be quite this bright, right...? It looked more like the lights in the common area were on.
Hmm, guess someone forgot to turn those off... Imagine if we were actually paying for all this electricity, geez!!
As she headed for the exit however, Atsuhi did not expect to meet a pair of crimson eyes with her own.
The boy's ash blond hair stuck up in all directions, while he sat comfortably on one of the big and wide sofas, feet up on the small wooden table in front of him. One of his arms was up on the armrest, and he supported his drooping head with his fist.
He wore all dark colors (his pants tinted a little more blue than his top), looking much like he did most days.
But unlike most days, today Bakugo Katsuki looked surprised.
It was the kind of rare sight you only maybe get to witness a time or two in your entire life. But Atsuhi was a little more lucky in that regard. She liked to think he felt more at ease showing his emotions around her. She tried her best to encourage him to do so too. Suddenly, she felt like there were butterflies fluttering around in her stomach, much like she had felt whenever he would compliment her, prior to realizing she actually had feelings for him.
But the butterflies, along with Katsuki's surprised expression, disappeared in a flash. Now that her sudden appearance and the distraction it had caused him were old news, his eyebrows furrowed again, making him look a whole lot more like the Bakugo Katsuki everybody knew. He didn't even move his body, only letting his shoulders relax and turning his head to the side, though his eyes strayed away from the girl standing a little ways behind him.
"Why the hell are you walking around here in the middle of the night?!" he asked, his tone not nearly as hostile as usual. Yet, it still sent a pang of sadness through Atsuhi's heart, upon making her remember that there was, in fact, something wrong.
He didn't ignore me this time, at least... I'd say that's an improvement. Though ignoring someone when it's just the two of you at 4AM isn't exactly natural...
Under any other circumstances, she would've smiled and told herself that this rude way of speaking of his was just like a trademark. Because it didn't mean anything.
But now...? Now she wasn't quite so sure anymore... What if... What if he really meant it?
This was simultaneously the Bakugo Katsuki that had risked his life for her at Kamino, and the Bakugo Katsuki that hadn't spoken a word to her since then.
"Oi, you gonna answer, or what?" he grumbled, crimson eyes staring into Atsuhi's again.
It's not like I can just tell him 'Oh, you know, I'm in too much pain from that wound I got when I was kidnapped because of you, haha, nothing much!'...
I don't know why he's trying to distance himself from me like this... But if it's because of guilt...
"Ah, well, nothing much really... I just needed a glass of water is all! In fact, I was just about to go back to my ro-" But just like that, without even letting her finish her sentence, that annoying sharp pain returned again for a brief second. Which, of course, was more than enough to make Atsuhi flinch sharply.
Oh no, no, no. Now!? Of all times? Seriously!!
It was a somewhat funny sight. She claimed she was fine, then suddenly grit her teeth and clutched her hands beside her chest. You know, just for fun or something. Katsuki on the other hand, shot her quite the skeptical look.
And if looks could speak, she was sure this one would be saying something along the lines of 'Yup, I totally believe that you're not currently clutching your hands in pain. Also, kitchen's the other way, so good try, but no.'
Of course, it was just a hunch.
"..." Katsuki kept looking at her with a frown, until he sighed and got up, going around the sofa he had been sitting on, and turning to face her, as he spoke. "You really think I'm that stupid? You haven't stopped doing this-" He motioned to her clutched hands, and continued. "-since you got here. So now – will you tell me what the hell's your problem?"
I seem to have forgotten just how easy it is for Katsuki-kun to see through anything I say... While I appreciate this whenever I'm having trouble with this whole 'actually speaking about your feelings' thing, I sure do hate it now.
Well, if lying's no good, then...
Just a single word. A single word, which left Katsuki staring with a dumbfounded expression.
If this were a comedy show, Atsuhi would've dashed away in the opposite direction, leaving Katsuki to continue with his dumbfounded look. Only problem was, he was kind of blocking her way right now. Perhaps on purpose, perhaps not.
"No?" he asked, absolutely confused.
"No...?" Atsuhi repeated, this time a little more unsure. In the span of a single second, Katsuki's face shifted from surprise, to sheer confusion, to anger again.
"The hell? What's wrong with you!?"
I might be just imagining things but... he looks offended.
Only then did Atsuhi realize her mistake. And the fact that she should probably think before she speaks next time. She waved her hands around nervously, trying to explain her stupidity away.
"N-no, I didn't mean that I don't want to tell you, it's just that I can't... because, um... I don't want to make you..." It felt like every new word had her digging that hole she'd suddenly found herself in deeper and deeper. But, she couldn't have made things any worse than they'd already been anyway.
"Make me feel guilty." The way Atsuhi had flinched upon hearing his words should've been an obvious sign that he was, in fact, correct. Especially if his following sigh was anything to go by.
So, I guess he figured it out, huh...
I'm starting to suspect he's hiding a telepathy Quirk or something.
"So... you're awake because of those injuries?" If it were anyone else, they would've surely freaked out when hearing this tender note to Katsuki's voice. Though Atsuhi wondered why he was speaking to her normally again. Not that she was complaining.
"Y-yeah, that's right..." Now it was her turn to feel guilty. She lowered her head, focusing on her slippers, after realizing she didn't have the guts to look Katsuki in the eyes. Was that how he had been feeling all this time?
Naturally, a heavy and awkward silence fell upon them. It was something that had only happened a few times whenever she'd been with Katsuki, and Atsuhi was afraid that soon this might become the norm for them.
Said silence was, however, briefly disturbed by the sound of shuffling and a few footsteps. When the noise stopped, she looked up, only to find Katsuki sitting on the sofa's armrest and looking at her expectedly.
"Well? I don't have all the damn time in the world. Where were you going?" Meanwhile, Atsuhi just stood there, looking at him, but finding herself unable to utter a word for a few moments.
"Um, I was going to Recovery Girl's office – you know, the one in the school? Though Aizawa-sensei did say there would be nobody there at night, so I guess it's up to me to- wah!? Wait, where are you going!?" During Atsuhi's explanation, Katsuki had headed for the door, turning his back to her. Only when she called to him did he stop, turning just his head to look at her
"What, you're not coming? I was going to help you, you know?" He cocked one eyebrow up, as if adding in an extra question like 'Are you stupid?' Katsuki then looked away and muttered something. "And I am kind of at fault for what's happening..." But in the quiet and empty room, Atsuhi did hear him.
And she smiled. Those butterflies in her stomach from earlier returned in no time, making her realize just how lucky she was to have his help. To have him by her side.
"Coming, coming!" she laughed, jogging a little to catch up to him, as the two left the dorms.
Thought it was the middle of the night, UA's entire campus was bright and shining, the only real clue as to the actual time of day being the crescent moon up in the sky. Even the stars that normally littered everything around, were now hidden away by clouds, which blocked their beautiful light.
All the lights lining the short path between the buildings of the dorms and the school itself, made it seem as bright as day.
That was only the second time Atsuhi had ever walked this normally routine path of hers in the night, as opposed to the early morning, and as such, she was still entranced by its beauty. It was almost like an illustration straight out of a fairy tale. Or a beautiful super hero comic book. Either way worked.
While her eyes scanned everything around her, and she tried to take in as much as she could to savor these beautiful memories, her gaze inadvertently wandered to the ash blond walking in front of her.
Wait... in front of her?
She smiled, resisting the urge to laugh out loud, since she preferred not to break this peaceful walk of theirs.
It almost looked like Katsuki was the one going somewhere, and Atsuhi was just there to keep him company, not the other way around. But she knew. He was always like this – full of pride, with a strong will, sometimes even stubborn and- oh, there were so many amazing things she could find about him.
So many amazing things she had found about him. If anything, she felt stupid for not realizing this any sooner. If she had, perhaps she wouldn't have waited so long to tell him how she felt, and perhaps there would've been a better time for it. Perhaps he would've given her an answer too...
I... have to bring it up now... If I put it off any longer, things might just get worse... I don't want them to be worse. I just... want everything to be like before.
Upon the depressing thoughts that flooded her mind, Atsuhi felt the stinging in her eyes, the push to let a few tears slip.
But she shook her head. If she went to plead with him while balling her eyes out, that wasn't really fair now, was it?
She didn't want to deal with this uncomfortable silence, with this sinking feeling, with this awful mood. Not anymore.
No, she wanted this loud, short-tempered, and confident Katsuki, who hid his gentle interior around others, back.
So, she got a hold of herself, took a deep breath, and opened her mouth to speak.
"How did you even plan to do this alone?" But it wasn't her voice that said this. Katsuki had interrupted her, without even knowing she had anything to say (since his back was still turned to her).
"Pardon me?" Katsuki sighed, the way one sighs when dealing with people who just don't seem to get anything. Atsuhi hoped it was an exaggeration. Seems like her confusion hadn't helped any with his weird behavior.
"You were going to Recovery Girl's place, right? To take care of yo-” He made a short pause, as if trying to retract his words. “Whatever. That's right, isn't it?" He waited for her to nod. "But I assume you also know we're not allowed to go there after curfew? Not to mention that if you're in this much pain, you won't be able to do shit..."
Well... he's not wrong.
Sure, Atsuhi avoided the topic, pretending it was nothing, because she didn't want him to feel bad. Of course, when you consider that he could both see through her lies with ease, and push her to give him an honest answer because he was just that stubborn, perhaps it would've been easiest if she just told him herself the first time.
"Aizawa-sensei gave me permission. As long as it's for this reason," Atsuhi motioned to her hands (though she avoided showing the left over scars). "I'm allowed in here whenever. And it's not my first time going there alone..." Katsuki's eyes widened briefly, but then he looked down, hands on his temple, as if disappointed. With himself.
"So you're telling me, this isn't the first time this has happened?"
Atsuhi paled. She hadn't meant to let that slip out. Speaking in front of Katsuki was sometimes too easy. She looked away from him, aware he didn't even need an answer to confirm his suspicions.
"That's what I thought..." Just before Atsuhi could panic that the atmosphere was going to become all awkward again though, Katsuki spoke up once more. "Is it that bad?"
The girl suddenly stopped walking altogether. She looked at him, trying to decide what to say.
"Of course not! No, I'm totally fine! It's a little uncomfortable, yes, but you don't have to worry!" All the while, she didn't even look at him. Which was his first clue that Atsuhi was lying. The fact that her words sounded incredibly sarcastic was probably the second clue. And if he wanted to, Katsuki would've surely found another dozen or so.
"If you were 'totally fine', you would've been sleeping in your goddamn bed right now." He then continued walking, leaving Atsuhi no choice but to follow after him. And if she had been just a little further away from him, perhaps she wouldn't have caught his next words. "What made you think I worry about shit like that, dumbass."
He had just contradicted himself. That very last sentence of his had already sounded so caring, yet he claimed he wasn't worried. Atsuhi couldn't help but smile again. Even the fact that he was actually talking to her was a major improvement already – was this weird behavior of his just her imagination? Maybe her anxieties had really just gotten the better of her? It was as if her face radiated happiness.
"Why are you grinning like a lunatic?!" Katsuki suddenly asked, making the girl relax the corners of her mouth a little. But just a little.
"Hmm, nothing much. I'm just happy things are like they were before!"
"Like they were before?" Katsuki cocked his head to the side, a funny habit that didn't fit his image of a tough delinquent all that much. Atsuhi realized it was time to address that problem she'd been mulling over for days now.
"It's just that... ever since what happened at Kamino... you... you were avoiding me, weren't you?" Katsuki froze. He looked away and a brief silence ensued. The two had already reached the school, having gone past the front gate, and lingering at the entrance while Atsuhi waited for the boy to find the words to answer her, and finally begin walking again.
Suddenly, Katsuki let out a loud sigh.
"Dammit, I had no idea you were going to take it so personally." He slung an arm above his eyes, hiding them from view. "If anything, I thought you wouldn't want to see me anymore. After all, I'm the dumbass that got you into this mess of a situation. I couldn't stand myself, so you have full permission not to speak to me anymore." He let one of his eyes peek from beneath his arm, looking at the girl, until he sighed again and removed his arm from his face entirely, lowering his head and rubbing his neck to calm his nerve. "Then again, looks like that won't be the case."
The way he was acting – it was something even Atsuhi hadn't seen before. It was always her feeling down, her needing reassurance, her doubting herself. She knew he had trouble voicing his feelings most of the time, but if the way he was acting right now was any indication, it really did look like he just wanted to say-
"Sorry. For every damn thing that's happened to you sine we met, and especially for what happened there..." Katsuki went silent.
Atsuhi, on the other hand, stared at him wide-eyed. She... didn't expect for him to really say it. To actually apologize.
She wouldn't have minded either way. She knew what he wanted to say, but she would've been okay even if he hadn't actually said it. Was 'sorry' even a word she'd ever heard from him before?
While she tried (and failed) to process Katsuki's apology, he went to her and gripped her wrist, guiding her frozen body inside the school and to the nurse's office. After making sure she'd followed him inside, Katsuki let go of her hand and closed the door, leaving the two alone and silent in the small room.
He began looking through the different drawers and cabinets, searching for bandages, painkillers, or whatever Atsuhi might have needed right now. His search didn't last very long however, as the girl's quiet voice distracted him from it.
"Katsuki-kun... I... I know you won't believe me when I say it but... I have never once considered this to be your fault." Katsuki stopped moving, but didn't turn to look at her. Meanwhile, Atsuhi looked at her hands, and her eyes traced the new marks on them. Marks that weren't going to go away. "In fact, I don't see these scars as a result of anyone's mistake. Not mine, and not yours either. To me, they're more like a reminder. A reminder that if I don't give it my all, I won't be able to protect others from feeling the same pain I felt. So... So because of this-"
She walked over to Katsuki, and just as he turned around to look at her, she put her hands on his shoulder, leaning in to look at his eyes.
"So because of this, please, stop blaming yourself for what happened! No one else thinks so. And you shouldn't either."
Atsuhi couldn't focus enough to read all the emotions that took their turn on Katsuki's face, for her attention was soon shifted to the new warm feeling on her upper arms.
Katsuki had raised his own hands, gently gripping the girl's arms, while his features were contorted in an unexpected, but somewhat familiar way. As if there were tears threatening to spill from his eyes.
Not a second later, Atsuhi's body was enveloped in a strong but tender hug. And it felt... it felt so, so pleasant.
"K-Katsuki-kun, what... what are you..." But she couldn't even bring herself to finish that question. Instead, she let herself relax in his embrace, laughing to herself upon remembering that this felt very similar to that time she'd accidentally fallen asleep on his shoulder in the bus a week or so ago. But now, it was so much better. She'd hugged him once before too, yeah. But there was something different this time.
Today, she was not only seeing, but also feeling this side of his that he usually hid away. It was a special privilege, reserved perhaps only for her.
Atsuhi closed her eyes. Yup, she could definitely get used to having his surprisingly gentle hands wrapped around her waist, and his warm body pressed up against hers, and-
She stopped herself before she could go too far with her thoughts though. Not to mention that her cheeks were likely redder and warmer than they'd ever been before. If she didn't know any better, she would've thought she was suffering a scary fever. At this realization, she suddenly flinched, alerting Katsuki too. His grip loosened, but he buried his head even further in the girl's shoulder.
"Goddammit, Atsuhi... I promise you're free to get mad at me, to hit me, or anything else later... Just... give me a minute... Who would've thought worrying about someone would be such a shitty feeling…"
She could easily feel how his chest vibrated with every word, how he wavered a few times. Soon enough, she couldn't stop those pesky tears of her anymore, and sniffed a few times, moving her arms to finally hug back.
"I don't mind... W-we-" her words were interrupted by a quiet sob. "We can stay like this as long as you'd like... I like it anyway..." As Atsuhi fully relaxed in Katsuki's hold, the two moved simultaneously, leaning their heads against each other, their foreheads touching.
With one final squeeze from Katsuki, his grip finally loosened completely (much to Atsuhi's disappointment), but instead of pulling away, he gripped her arms again, pointing his crimson eyes at the green orbs mere centimeters away. Then, he spoke, almost in a whisper.
"You have no idea how happy I am that I found someone as amazing as you."
Just a second later, their lips met.
And nothing, not even the deaf- no, deafening silence, in a nightmarish prison could ever stand a chance against this blissful late-night moment.