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Anxiety Antonym

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One foot in front of the other.

That’s all it is, that’s all they ask. It’s all he can do. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. One step. Then another. Then another.

Then several steps backwards.

The first time it happened, it was Ashido-san that found him. Izuku couldn’t recall how he got there; The last thing he remembered was going to the corner store for an afternoon snack, waving off Iida-kun’s offer of company. It’s just down the street and he’d only be a few minutes! But the next thing he knew he was huddled in a corner of the dorm’s lobby, snackless, sweat cooling on his forehead, an unyielding pressure gripping his chest.

Fingers running through his hair and soft cooing filtering down from above him. 

“It’s alright, it’s alright,” the gentle voice purred. “You’re safe.” Ashido-san’s register was lower than usual, but not unfamiliar; calming, like a lullaby. His fingers were twisted in the hem of her shirt and he wasn’t sure how that happened. He should have been embarrassed by the proximity, by the familiarity. But the tightness in his chest burst with a sob and he clutched at his classmate, his friend, his any-port-in-this-storm. She smelled like rose and vanilla and it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine. The thrumming in his chest eased.

The second time it happened, he was already on his way to the nurse for a scheduled physical. The elevator seemed to be taking a little longer than normal, felt a little smaller than it should have. The gray steel walls closed in on him like a vice. Trapped. He was trapped and he couldn’t escape, could only claw at squeaking metal as he slid down the wall and out of his mind. It's Ojiro-kun that discovered him, but it was Sero-kun that drew him out of the box with an extended arm and a warm smile.

The third time it happened, Izuku wasn’t as lucky.

Things were starting to feel normal. It had already been a few weeks since the attack in the panic room, and Izuku’s routine was just that - routine. Normal. Well, almost normal. 

Each day was a cycle of build and release. That low buzz licking at his nerves mounting, growing, ballooning - threatening to erupt out of his skin through every available pore. Small things dissipated it throughout the day: A clap on the shoulder from Kirishima-kun, a gentle arm squeeze from Uraraka-san, a rare smile from Todoroki-kun. 

But nothing eased his troubles like coming home to Kacchan.

No matter their hectic schedules, no matter the blooming static, at the end of the day Izuku could be assured of a casual embrace, a rough hair ruffle, a smirk. Sometimes a home-cooked meal. A kiss. All of the tension melted away in quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) moments together in the dorms. They’d sit side by side in the commons, watching whatever antics their classmates were up to, sometimes joining in. More often than not, Kacchan had an arm slung over Izuku’s shoulders or wound around his waist. Easy, affectionate. Protective. Grounding.

Although Izuku still attended many of the same courses as the rest of his class, more combat-focused ones were switched out in favor of auditing academic versions in General Studies. Kacchan typically kept him abreast of what he was missing after they retired to one of their rooms (usually Kacchan’s - and if there was a rule against after-hours fraternization, even Iida-kun turned the other way).

“Bird-Boy got the drop on him and you should have seen shitty Half-n-Half's face,” he'd say. Or, “Sparkplug was in charge of planning the whole shitshow. Can you believe that?" Or even, “You'd have been so proud of Uraraka. Not that I fucking was! Shut up, nerd.”

And Izuku would try to smile and the ache in his chest would only hurt a tiny, tiny bit.

Sleep didn’t come easy for either of them anymore - but always easier when they were together. Izuku had difficulty believing he could be safe; safe from the villains and shadows in his mind as well as safe from the lingering threat of real villains in the real shadows of their life. But when Kacchan's arms wrapped around him like a cocoon of spun, burnt sugar, he could let himself pretend.

“Nerd,” murmured into his hair. “Another one?”

Izuku’s skittering eyes landed on the illuminated numbers across the room over his desk. Barely past one in the morning. He had hardly made it into the night.

Arms tightened around his torso, and his traitorous pulse and lungs beat rapidly against them.

“Deku.”

Kacchan pressed his nose insistently into the back of Izuku’s skull. After a few unsteady breaths, Izuku released the tension coiled tight through his body and melted back into the chest behind him. “M’fine,” he mumbled.

“Yeah? Wanna talk about it?”

“No,” Izuku whispered, spinning in Kacchan’s hold and burying his face under his chin. He couldn’t bring himself to meet those searching ruby eyes above him even in the dark. The nightmares had their claws in them both; Izuku didn’t want to put his own burdens on Kacchan. But Kacchan was nothing if not stubborn. It was a quality they shared.

A warm hand cupped Izuku’s cheek before gently coaxing him out of his hiding place. Kacchan hooked his thumb under the chin in his hand and tipped it back slightly. Izuku kept his eyes closed. 

“Deku. Look at me.” 

Izuku’s eyelids were his last defense against the tears welled up behind them, but he obeyed, feeling the telltale trickle spill sideways across his nose and cheek to the pillow. 

“It’s getting worse,” Kacchan said quietly.

“No. It’s not.”

“Deku.”

“Please,” Izuku begged, suddenly loud, twisting his grip on the sheets between them. Then, quieter, “Please, Kacchan. Just let me go back to sleep.”

Lips covered his own, and Izuku let his eyes slip shut again. He breathed deeply through his mouth to fill his lungs with Kacchan’s air. The kiss was slow, and soft, and Kacchan drew a whimper from Izuku’s throat as he broke it and pulled away. That warm hand tucked Izuku’s head back under his chin.

“Fine. Sleep, you damn nerd. But we’re talking about it in the morning.”

They did not talk about it in the morning.

Izuku woke early, before dawn’s light had a chance to creep across the school grounds. He flit lightly about his room so as to not wake the boy still asleep in his bed. With a note left on the bedside table so his partner wouldn’t worry, Izuku slipped out the door. He hoped a quick run before the sun burned off the morning mist would help clear his own lingering fog.

But on the contrary, the static built at an increased rate as Izuku’s sneakers kicked at the polyurethane track. The sweat on his skin tingled as it was whisked off by the brisk wind that whipped behind him. Izuku ran fast, faster, faster, trying to outrun what he knew he could not. By the time the sun had risen and Izuku stopped by the locker room for a quick shower, his nerves were practically singing their own hysterical version of a sonata.

Predictably, Kacchan was waiting for him outside of homeroom, looking friendly as a polecat.

“What the hell, Deku,” he said through clenched teeth. “You can’t just disappear like that without saying something.”

“Um, good morning! Sorry, Kacchan!” Izuku swallowed his static. “I left a note!”

With a grunt and an eyeroll, Kacchan shouldered his way into the classroom, Izuku hurrying to keep in step. “Tch, doesn’t stop me freaking out for thirty seconds before I saw it. Use your head next time, idiot.”

Izuku frowned. He had specifically not wanted Kacchan to worry, but if he had woken him up to tell him, Kacchan probably would have stopped him from going or gone with him - when it wasn’t even a running day for Kacchan! Or, worse, followed through on his threat to talk about the increased rate of Izuku’s nightmares cutting into their sleep schedule.

They sat down at their desks, and Kacchan spoke quietly back over his shoulder, “So? Did it help?”

“Ah, actually--”

“Everyone! Class is about to start! Please take your seats and cease communications until sensei arrives,” Iida-kun bellowed out. 

Homeroom passed uneventfully, with Izuku’s anxiety buzzing along at a constant, manageable level, and soon enough he was hurrying out of the class to get to his next one. It was a remedial Mathematics in Combat course, and not located particularly close to the 3-A homeroom, so Izuku had to book it to get there on time. At least, that’s what he told himself. Kacchan’s next class was in the building next to it, and they had walked over together last time.

“Oi, nerd, wait--”

“Sorry Kacchan! I don’t want to be late! I’ll see you this afternoon!” Izuku called back as he took off down the hallway, leaving his heart behind him and hoping to leave everything else, too. Fast, faster, faster.

Izuku skid into Ectoplasm’s classroom with sparks at his heels and slipped into his seat at the back, avoiding the foreign looks on foreign faces. He waited for the adrenaline to subside and the vibrations to recede.

They didn’t.

It shouldn’t have been a problem. It should have been stable, safe, boring. Books and words and equations. But the hum was louder, here; Away from the security blanket that his close friends kept him wrapped in.

So it was this morning, surrounded by students he considered acquaintances at best, that Izuku lost himself for the third time.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

The clock hits the downbeat and his heart fills in the measure.

The static in the base of his skull wasn’t always there, was it? He tries to focus on Ectoplasm at the front of the classroom, saying something about numbers. This is important. Pay attention.

Tick bum bum bum, Tick bum bum bum, Tick bum bum bum.

Izuku looks down at his hands. Weird. He knows they’re his hands, he objectively knows this to be true. Same scars, same fingers. But they seem so far away. Like he’s watching them through a television screen. Did he always have hands? Isn’t it strange to have hands?

Hands that had been taken from him.

Tick bumbumbumbum Tick bumbumbumbum Tick bumbumbumbum.

His gaze sweeps across the room and it’s like opening his eyes in saltwater. Unfamiliar. Strange. Blurry. His vision rolls back in front of him to what should be an explosion of blond hair, but it’s a girl with long silver locks that Izuku doesn’t recognize. The static is in his ears now, pushing against his skull in waves until it seeps straight through.

Tick bumbumbumbumbum Tick bumbumbumbumbum Tick bumbumbumbumbumBAM.

 

Nothing.

 

When Izuku opened his eyes, it was not Ectoplasm in front of him, but instead Aizawa-sensei. Unexpected. The teacher’s eyes were lit up and his hair was defying gravity, which meant he was using his quirk. Was erasing someone else’s. Izuku blinked at him owlishly before realizing that his arms were bound to his sides with Eraser Head’s signature weapon. Damaged desks and chairs were tipped over and scattered all around them, and the Gen Ed students had all pushed back against the classroom walls, a line of Ectoplasm clones in front of them. 

His quirk was gone. His arms were bound. His quirk was gone. His arms were bound. A strangled sound ripped its way out of his chest as he began to hyperventilate. Trapped! Quirkless!

“Midoriya, Midoriya,” Aizawa-sensei hissed through clenched teeth. “Calm down.”

Izuku struggled feebly in his grip, distantly knowing he shouldn’t be fighting this but unable to stop himself all the same. Panic had spiked at the loss of his quirk and the restraints on his body. This was it, it was happening again, they were going to drain him, kill him! Kacchan!

Someone was screaming, but a flurry of sound like an avalanche of tinkling glass soon drowned it out.

“Midoriya!”

Izuku locked onto the familiar voice like a lifeline as his head whipped to the doorway. A sob of relief caught in his throat. Not an avalanche of glass, then. Ice.

“It’s alright. Let him go.” Todoroki-kun was in front of Izuku in what felt like a heartbeat, a cool and warm hand on either side of his wet face. The binding cloth released and Izuku fell forward to his knees, into the dual-temperate arms of his friend. He touched the top of his head to Todoroki-kun’s chest curled above him, his own heaving. Izuku grasped for any solid purchase in reality by pressing his palms into the cold linoleum between his knees. Sweat was built up thick and cool on the back of his neck. 

He let his mind run analysis to override the grief threatening to overtake him. How did Todoroki-kun get here so fast? For that matter, Aizawa-sensei? Izuku didn’t know where his old homeroom teacher was supposed to be during this period, but his classmates were a building away. How long was Izuku out? Wouldn’t Iida-kun have gotten here faster? Where was Kacchan?

“Midoriya,” rumbled low and quiet above him, stalling his muttering before it inevitably started to leak out. “You are safe. Can you hear me? Bakugou is on his way, he was right behind.. Ah. That’s likely him.” A new, explosive sound could be heard, much heavier and more thunderous than Todoroki-kun’s previous approach.

“What the fuck!” 

Izuku did not have to look up to know there was furious Kacchan in the doorway.

“Drop that shit, you don’t need to erase him!” The stomping drew near. “The hell are you extras gawking at? Don’t you have anything better to do?” Kacchan was whirling, snarling like a guard dog, and it was all Izuku could do to not fling himself into his arms and break down. Instead he buried his face in his own hands, his forehead still resting against Todoroki-kun’s sternum. He wished he could somehow borrow Hagakure-san’s quirk and just disappear. 

Ectoplasm rasped out a sound that might have been a sigh as his clones dissipated. “Class dismissed,” he spoke to the crowd. Izuku felt his stomach drop as he heard the other students begin to shuffle out of the classroom.

He twisted in the grip that still enveloped him. “No, stop,” he could barely sputter out, lifting his head at last. He had disrupted class, and now was responsible for cancelling it?! “You don’t need to-- I’ll leave, it’s not--”

“Shh,” Todoroki-kun soothed, holding him firm, running his hot and cold hands up and down Izuku’s arms. 

Izuku gaped at him, mortified. “Todoroki-kun,” he hissed, feeling his face burn hotter than any fire quirk. “I am not. A. Child.” 

His impassive friend merely tilted his head, then glanced up. Kacchan dropped into a squat next to them with a grunt. Before Izuku could protest, he was pulled into that broad chest he knew so well, warmth from a hand he knew even better rotating on his back. Tears of shame blurred his vision when the panic in his ribcage immediately dissipated from the ministrations. “No,” he choked out, pushing weakly against Kacchan, fighting against the overwhelming feeling of being calmed. What was happening!? He was a hero, not a fussy toddler! “I’m not. I’m not a child,” he repeated, but it was unconvincing even to his own ears.

“You’re all children,” Aizawa-sensei said flatly from above the three boys on the floor. “Problem children. But you’re my problem children, and thus my problem.” 

Izuku felt One For All surge back through his veins in a soft pulse as the erasure lifted. He could push away from Kacchan now if he wanted to, but he was too drained to care. Besides, the damage to his pride was already done.

“So. What are we going to do about this one?”

~

It’s not that Izuku was avoiding his mandated counseling session. It just so happened that each time it was scheduled he didn’t feel well enough to go. Purely a coincidence. His physical health following the incident was very important. He had to take care of himself! And sometimes that meant staying in bed and resting instead of seeing the UA counselor. It’s not like Izuku was dreading talking about what had happened to him. He definitely didn’t fear that he would be recommended to see a therapist, or a psychiatrist, or some equivalent. It certainly was not that Izuku was afraid he’d be medicated - or worse, kicked out of UA for being unstable and unworthy of being a hero.

Of course not.

The illness he felt now, gripping his stomach the way he gripped the pants material at his knees, wasn’t fabricated. But it also was not getting him out of it.

“Midoriya-kun, I’m so glad to finally see you,” the counselor, Yutani-san, said sweetly. She was probably in her late thirties, with a face that was round and pleasant and just beginning to crease with age. Wispy orange hair streaked with white wrapped around several sets of horns - antlers? Whichever they were, they made soothing sounds like wooden wind chimes when she moved her head and they knocked together. Izuku might have been imagining it, but he thought she smelled like rain. Her countenance should have set Izuku at ease, as he was sure it did for most students. But he only felt anxious. Still, he was very grateful it wasn’t Hound Dog on the other side of the desk. He was usually the counselor the student body interacted with, but Izuku wasn’t sure he could take being growled at right now.

Yutani-san folded her hands atop her desk, leaning forward, emitting those gentle knocking sounds. “Before we begin, I have to ask if you consent to Bakugou-kun’s presence during this session.” Her eyes flicked up to what Izuku knew was the angry blond loitering against the doorway behind him. He could practically feel the irritation rolling into the room. Her lips quirked with a small smile. “Since he has refused to leave my office.”

“I leave, and he fucking bolts,” Kacchan spat. Okay, maybe Izuku would still be getting growled at, Hound Dog or no.

Izuku twisted his head around, fixing his partner with a glare. “Kacchan,” he hissed. “Language!” He turned back to the counselor with an apologetic look after Kacchan rolled his eyes. “I’m not. I’m not going to bolt,” he mumbled. “And it’s fine if Kacchan is here. It’s.. better if he’s here, anyway.”

“Is it, now,” she said softly, her eyes flitting to Kacchan and back. “Would you say his presence has a positive effect on you?”

He couldn’t help the chuckle that huffed out of his nose, echoed by the snort he heard behind him. “Not always. But I feel safe with Kacchan.”

“And when you’re not with him?”

Izuku winced involuntarily. Without Kacchan was whispers, static, uncertainty. “Um. Not.. Not as safe.”

Yutani-san wrote something down on a notepad in front of her, and Izuku fought against the impulse to catalogue it as Tic Tac Toe. Stop it, brain. She folded her hands again with a smile. “And what happens when you don’t feel safe?”

With a swallow, Izuku steeled himself. He knew he wasn’t going to get away with avoiding the truth. After all, Kacchan already knew enough and his insistent presence behind him made it clear lying would not be an option. “I’m.. fuzzy. It’s like a constant pressure? And when it gets too much, sometimes I.. Lose myself. I black out, but I don’t.. Pass out. I just don’t remember what I do when I’m, um. Gone.”

“He flips out.” Kacchan said it so bluntly. Izuku’s stomach curled in on itself.

The pen moved against paper. Without raising her eyes, Yutani-san addressed Kacchan, “Bakugou-kun, I trust that you have Midoriya-kun’s best interests at heart and will refrain from speaking for him, especially in such a harsh manner.”

“Hah?! I’m filling in the fu--freaking blank!”

“I have been informed of what occurred in Ectoplasm’s class this morning, yes. I do not need further specifics.” She looked up and raised her eyebrows at Izuku. “I only want to discuss how you are feeling. Now, is it only Bakugou-kun, or are there others that you feel safe with?”

He opened his mouth to respond but Kacchan, heedless of the warning he had just been given, spoke up and cut him off. “He’s fine with the rest of my team - the rescue team,” he said. “It’s when he’s not with any of us that he loses it.” 

Izuku wondered if he’d ever stop feeling this embarrassed.

When Yutani-san’s gaze rose, the softness that had been there was gone and in its place was a tired, shrewd look that belied her patient tone. “Bakugou-kun, again, please do not speak for Midoriya-kun. I will have to ask you to leave if you continue,” the counselor admonished tightly.

Kacchan’s sharp intake of breath had Izuku bracing for a confrontation, but it dissipated into a huff and a string of barely audible, colorful curses. It was all the indication they’d get that Kacchan would acquiesce. 

The musical horns chimed as Yutani-san turned her attention back to Izuku. “Midoriya-kun?”

Izuku picked at the seam of his slacks near his right knee. “He’s right, though. But no one compares to Kacchan,” he said with a soft smile. In more ways than just this.

More writing, for longer this time. Yutani-san tucked a stray lock of hair back behind one horn with the pen. She seemed to be mulling something over as her gaze, gentle again, moved knowingly between the two of them. “How much time do you two spend together?”

If it were possible, Izuku would spend every single second of every single day within an arm’s length of Kacchan. That desire had probably always been there, on some level. After all, it wasn’t a new development that Izuku was always chasing after Kacchan. The new thing was that Kacchan let him. Let him chase, let him catch up, let him walk beside and in time with his explosive footsteps. 

And Izuku felt like he would drown without him.

“A lot,” Izuku admitted quietly.

“Would you like to tell me about your relationship?”

Izuku’s heart leapt.

What is the nature of your relationship with Bakugou Katsuki?

His breathing faltered and his hands stilled on his pants. Memories crept up the base of his skull unbidden and he fought desperately to tamp them down. But, a hand came down hard on his shoulder, jarring him out of his spiral before it took off. Protective. Grounding.

“Bad line of questioning, doc.”

The woman looked alarmed, her horns rustling like leaves. Izuku put his hand over the one on his shoulder, squeezing it tightly for reassurance. “It’s.. it’s okay. It’s just pretty much the only thing they asked me about when I was.. in the, um.” Chair. The word died on his tongue. Why was it so hard to say? How much did she already know? Izuku’s thoughts drifted back to the video recording he knew existed. He supposed he should be grateful it hadn’t been distributed to every member of the faculty.

Had it?

“I apologize if I said something that upset you,” Yutani-san said with a slight frown. “Know that if you are not ready to talk about your experience, it is perfectly okay and furthermore normal. If at any point you want to stop, you need only say so.”

Izuku’s head felt light. Not ready? That implied he was supposed to talk about it eventually. What was there to talk about? He didn’t even talk about it with Kacchan. Of course, Izuku rationalized that as Kacchan having already seen the gist of what happened with the video. He didn’t need to know about the rest of the week. He also gave plenty of details to the interro-- investigators, and Kacchan was there for that too. Why would he need to talk about it? Kacchan already knew what happened. Nothing to talk about.

Cold sweat and goosebumps. Heart pounding. Crushing pressure.

“Oi, Deku.” Kacchan’s gruff bark and harsh shoulder squeeze cut through the panic attack Izuku didn’t realize he was having. Right in front of the woman who probably held his future in her hands. His mouth was dry. He dug his fingernails into his knees and forced himself to look up into Yutani-san’s worried eyes. 

She studied him for a long moment as he struggled to even out his breathing, with Kacchan’s hand on his shoulder as a familiar and reliable lifeline. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, totally normal, everything’s okay. Please don’t commit me. Please don’t kick me out of UA.

“I think that’s enough for today,” she said, pushing back off of her elbows. She pulled a different, smaller pad of paper out of her desk drawer and began scribbling away on it as her horns made the sound of falling water. “Midoriya-kun, I am going to refer you to a specialist,” she began, and Izuku felt his heart sink. It was exactly what he knew would happen. “I am not qualified to diagnose you with anything - ‘doc’ is actually not accurate, Bakugou-kun - but I believe you are suffering from separation anxiety, panic attacks and dissociative episodes as a result of your PTSD.” 

Izuku’s brain ground to a stop. He understood the words she said but they didn’t make any sense. They weren’t things that applied to him. They weren’t things that heroes had.

“You can’t.. What? What the fuck is the point of you, exactly?” Kacchan’s grip tightened on Izuku’s shoulder, but Izuku barely felt it. Don’t be rude, Kacchan, he thought numbly.

She ripped the paper off of her pad and held it out. Her expression was fairly neutral, as if she was perhaps used to students mouthing off to her in such a manner, but Izuku didn’t miss the tension gathered under her eyes, or the subtle vibrations in her horns. “Bakugou-kun, I am just one of the school’s guidance counselors.” Kacchan snatched the piece of paper and the woman turned back to Izuku again, eyes falling soft once more. “Midoriya-kun. You are free to continue sessions with me, and I suggest that you do, but I believe you will be best served by a licensed professional.”

“I want to stop,” Izuku whispered absently.

“Unbelievable. Waste of our goddamn time,” Kacchan grumbled. “Let’s go, Deku.” He tugged at Izuku’s collar, and Izuku stood automatically. Yutani-san’s dark brown eyes followed him up, concern beginning to crease between them.

Pity, the voice in his head supplied.

After a robotic, jerky bow of thanks, Izuku turned and followed Kacchan out the door.

~

“That accomplished nothing,” Kacchan snarled as they began their short trek back to the dorms. He scowled at the paper in his hand before shoving it into his pocket. 

Izuku wrapped his arms around his chest. The setting sun’s last breath of warmth was dissipating, making way for the cooler evening air. The day had been unbearably long and yet also passed by in an instant. He shivered. “Did it? She told us exactly what’s wrong with me,” he said quietly.

“Deku. Tree-Head said it herself, she’s not an actual shrink. She can’t diagnose you.” Kacchan wasn’t one for lying, but Izuku didn’t think he sounded particularly confident.  

He shrugged, pulling his arms tighter around himself. “Sounds accurate, though.” Izuku struggled to keep his voice audible. He didn’t want to admit it, but the writing was pretty clear. It wasn’t nothing. He wasn’t fine. His week in the chair was going to have a lasting impact beyond the damage it did to his body, which was almost already completely recovered. Izuku’s heroic journey just took a sharp detour.

They walked in silence for a few steps before Kacchan slung an arm over his shoulder. “Oi, nerd. We’ll figure it out. I’ll be there the whole time.”

Izuku’s throat tightened as he leaned into the embrace. Kacchan seemed like the only thing holding him together these days, and now he wasn’t so sure it was a good thing. Separation anxiety? Had he really become so dependant on Kacchan? 

It couldn’t actually be a bad thing, could it? If there was any silver lining to the absolute misery he had gone through, it was that he had come out of it with the relationship of his most important person not only repaired but rebranded into something else. Friendship. Support. Stability.

..Dependency.

Love.

Izuku would do it all again.

~

The next few days passed uneventfully. Izuku spent small amounts of time apart from Kacchan, and although the whispers and static and chills and the ache in his chest made their predictable return, he didn’t have any further episodes of losing time, of losing himself. He let it fold itself into a new normal and he began to forget about the crumpled piece of paper likely still living in Kacchan’s pocket.

Everything was fine.

Izuku’s heart and footsteps were light as he walked down the dorm hallway, a destination in mind he would have never dared approach only a short month prior. So much had changed in ways both good and bad, and this particular perk was definitely one of the good ones.

“Kacchan, are you here?” Izuku knocked softly at the door of Kacchan’s dorm room. After a few moments of silence, he knocked again. After a few more, he tried the knob and let himself in.

“Kacchan? I need to borrow your Statistics book, I lent mine to Kaminari-kun and he lost it and..” Izuku trailed off when he realized he was talking to an empty room. Smiling to himself, he let the door shut behind him with a click. It was still so surreal that he could just walk into Kacchan’s room like it was nothing, like he belonged here.

“Well, he won’t mind if I just take it,” Izuku muttered to the furniture as he crossed the room and scanned the bookshelf next to the desk. “He’s done with that course anyway.. Hm, hm, ah - here we go.”

Izuku lifted the book off the shelf, and nearly pulled something else along with it. A plain, gray padded envelope had been wedged between the Statistics book and its neighbor. Addressed to Bakugou Katsuki, that was nothing strange. But as his eyes flicked over the return address, his blood ran cold. Midoriya Izuku.

“What..” Izuku’s hands shook as he swapped the book for the envelope. It was postmarked over three weeks ago. His mind struggled to form thoughts and his lungs struggled to breathe as his fingers ran across the smooth paper, feeling for what was in the package. There were several small, hard rectangles inside, and the envelope was already torn open. “I didn’t.. send this..” he stated pointlessly. The thick cotton filling his skull couldn’t process anything right now.

Trembling, ice water in his veins raising goosebumps along his skin, Izuku tipped the contents of the envelope out onto Kacchan’s desk. Seven near-identical objects skittered across the flat surface. Near-identical save for the slightly differing labels on each one: Midoriya Izuku - Day 1; Midoriya Izuku - Day 2; Midoriya Izuku - Day 3; Midoriya Izuku - Day 4; Midoriya Izuku - Day 5 (Uncut); Midoriya Izuku - Intake/Processing; Midoriya Izuku - Lavatory.

Air rushed into Izuku’s lungs in a searing gust as he inhaled for the first time in an eternity. Izuku grasped at the desk’s edge, wood splintering under his glowing fingers as he desperately tried to keep the room from spinning out from under him. Whispers and shadows closed in, icy fingers brushing the back of his neck, sickness choking his chest and his stomach.

He barely registered the door opening behind him.

“Oi, Deku? Thought you were.. Shit.”

Izuku whirled, rotating with the maelstrom whipping around and within him. He lost connection with the desk and it threatened to sever the tethers grounding him in reality. He was rudderless; spiraling out of control and out of his body and out this existence.

He slammed back into cogency with a shuddering snap as Kacchan grabbed his shoulders in a bruising hold. Red eyes held his own for only a moment before Izuku rippled a fraction of One For All up his limbs and shoved, sending the other boy stumbling backward. Without missing a beat, Izuku snatched one of the tapes off the desk and chucked it at his partner. It bounced harmlessly off one pectoral and fell to the floor.

Kacchan winced, though likely not from any pain incurred by the tiny object hitting him.

“What,” Izuku choked out, grabbing another from the desk and flinging it. “Are these!!” That one narrowly missed Kacchan’s ear and instead found its target in the wall behind him. 

“Deku, stop--” Kacchan caught the next tape that came flying his way. He huffed out a breath. “You.. You know what they are. Fuck, this isn’t how I.. You shouldn’t have been going through my shit!”

“Don’t you dare!” Izuku practically shrieked, grabbing a tape in each hand and zipping them both across the room. One found its mark as it clipped across the blond’s forehead. “Don’t you dare! They were just sitting with your stupid books, where anyone could find them! Where I could find them! How could you not tell me about this?!”

“Because you’re dealing with enough shit!” Kacchan yelled back. “Although this sure as fuck wasn’t better.”

Izuku looked down at the last two tapes in his hands. Day 3 and Lavatory. Lavatory. There was nothing left for him to keep to himself, nothing that wouldn’t be exposed. His face burned as hot tears began to chart well-trod paths down his cheeks. He could crush these tapes in a second. It wouldn’t be hard. It would take almost no effort, he probably wouldn’t even need One For All.

He raised his eyes. “Did you watch them?”

Kacchan’s nostrils flared as he exhaled harshly, jaw clenched and mouth tight. Then he nodded.

The tapes fell from Izuku’s numb fingers, falling gently next to his numb toes as he wrapped numb arms around his numb chest. He had to leave. He had to get out of there. But where could he go? Izuku knew running back to his own room in this state could end in losing himself on the way. His only safe harbor was Kacchan.

Who was also the reason he was panicking.

Izuku pulled at his own hair in frustration. “You can’t do this to me, Kacchan! I need you! I need to trust you!”

Fingers splayed wide, Kacchan held his hands up placatingly, as if Izuku were some wounded animal. Those typically bright red eyes were clouded. “Deku. Look. It’s evidence. I wanted to see if not all of it had to be given to the police, where more people than just me are gonna watch it.”

None of the investigators, nor anyone outside of the rescue team, had seemed aware of the original tape’s existence. Had Kacchan withheld it all this time? Was he ever intending to turn it in? Hand these new ones over?

Did anyone else know the villains were still targeting them?

Day 3 and Lavatory stared up at Izuku from where they had fallen to the floor.

“Is that really why you watched them?”

Kacchan let out a long, ragged sigh like it was a breath he had been holding for a month. “Yes,” he replied slowly. “It just wasn’t.. the only reason. I also watched them because I had to. Had to endure it because you endured it,” he said quietly, raking a hand through his hair. “And I put you there in the first place.”

Izuku’s chest clenched painfully as he watched the grief and guilt dance across Kacchan’s face, tension gathered in the corners of his eyes and between them. Izuku had forgiven Kacchan but Kacchan hadn’t forgiven himself. Would probably never forgive himself.

“Don’t you see this is exactly what they want?” Izuku’s voice broke as he careened dangerously back toward hysterics. “They didn’t send you these to be nice, to give you evidence against themselves, Kacchan! They’re still pulling strings! Trying to set you off!” 

He clutched at the fabric over his chest, crumpling his tie and straining buttons, as if he could hold his heart together as the hairline fractures spidered across it. 

“Is this - us - even real?! Did they orchestrate that too??”

“Fuck no,” Kacchan spat, drawing himself up to his full height. A habitual sloucher, their height difference was usually not so stark. Izuku tried to shrink back but Kacchan was on him in a second. Those big, warm hands captured his face and glued their gazes together. “Deku. No,” he breathed, volume dropping significantly. 

“They didn’t orchestrate shit. No one tells me who I love but me. And above all odds it’s you, you little asshole.”

Izuku choked on a wet laugh, his throat thick with pent-up sobs but his heart pulled back from the brink of collapse. “Kacch,” he gurgled between the rough palms pressing his cheeks together.

Something dark flashed in red eyes, and Kacchan dropped his hands like Izuku had stung him. He stumbled back a few steps, face stricken. Izuku’s tenuous heartstrings vibrated. He knew that look.

“K-Kacchan? Was it..?”

“Fuck.” Kacchan ran his hands down his face. “You looked.. Christ, it was just like the night we found you. So goddamn vivid. Fuck.” 

Izuku inhaled sharply through his nose, his own distress momentarily forgotten.

The nightmares had their claws in them both.

When Kacchan looked at Izuku, he didn’t see Hero Deku. He saw a frail boy with blood pouring out of his mouth. A broken, useless thing in need of protection.

Because that’s what Izuku was.

Before he could assure his partner that he was, in fact, not bleeding out on the dorm floor, Kacchan stepped forward and abruptly crushed Izuku’s face into his chest with both arms. Izuku could feel the thunderous beat of Kacchan’s heart reverberating against his cheek.

“Sorry,” Kacchan huffed, nosing into Izuku’s hair. “Shoulda told you. About the tapes.”

Izuku nodded mutely by way of accepting the apology. Was there any doubt that he would? At the end of the day, he still trusted Kacchan.

Still needed him.

He breathed in that burnt sugar and let it soothe his frayed edges. 

After a long moment of just holding each other, Kacchan pulled back to clear the curls from Izuku’s forehead and press a kiss into their place. Izuku offered him a wobbly smile.

“Oi, oi,” Kacchan rumbled with a half grin. “Why were you even here? You tryna steal my underwear or somethin’?”

Izuku hiccuped out a chuckle. “Kacchan!” He thumped his fist lightly against the waist his hands were curled against. “I just came to borrow your Stat book. I have a remedial assignment and Kaminari-kun lost mine.” 

Kacchan’s grin widened. “Ain’t that rotten luck. Shoulda put the tapes in my Limited Edition Golden Age All Might #1 Comic Book, you’d never dare touch that.”

Izuku’s eyes widened in horror. “Kacchan, you wouldn't! Don’t even joke about that! You’d damage the spine, you’d reduce its value you, you’d.. What’s so funny? Kacchan! I’m seriommfs!”

But he couldn’t keep talking because Kacchan was already kissing him.

Izuku closed his eyes, allowing himself to focus entirely and only on Kacchan - Letting that smoky scent, sweet taste, rough voice and tender touch occupy every sense. Blocking out the small, innocuous rectangles scattered in a haphazard pattern around them; ignoring the weight incongruous with their tiny mass; shutting down the overwhelming uncertainty and dread belied by their miniscule forms.

It’s all he can do.

Chapter Text

“Therapy is hella manly, bro,” Kirishima beamed, flashing Katsuki his signature, sharp, megawatt smile as they walked down the UA halls on their way to grab lunch. “I’m proud of you for going!”

Katsuki snorted in barely concealed irritation. He wasn’t sure what exactly had possessed him to divulge their afternoon plans beyond a typical ‘I’m busy, shut up, it’s none of your business.’ But his team was still his team, and Katsuki was still in the habit of briefing them on things that concerned their centerpoint.

“It’s not for me, idiot. It’s for Deku. Obviously.”   

Kirishima’s smile faltered, but it was Sero on Katsuki’s other side that spoke up. “You sure? What about the, uh,” he dropped his voice, “Visions?”

Anger flared briefly in Katsuki’s chest. He now regretted telling these dumbasses anything. When had he gotten so open about this shit? Deku really was making him soft.

“It’s fine. S’nothing I can’t handle.”

Katsuki was handling it just fine, thanks. He declined to mention that this morning he had woken up in a cold sweat from a particularly harrowing nightmare. That wasn’t anything abnormal; of course he had nightmares. Deku had nightmares, too. They all had nightmares - it was unavoidable in this line of work. What was maybe less normal was rolling over to face Deku for reassurance and affirmation, and instead finding the boy with dead eyes, pale throat slit and bled out, deep crimson red saturating his mattress.

Katsuki wasn’t still asleep. He was fully awake.

Sero clicked his tongue in disapproval. “I don’t know, man, it sounds pretty serious. I’ve been in therapy for years for way less traumatic shit than what you and Midoriya went through. Hell, we went through some of it too, and I’ve already been talking to my therapist about it.”

His feet slowing to a stop, Katsuki eyed Sero incredulously. “You, in therapy? What the fuck was wrong with you, Tooth-Face?”

The other two stopped walking as well. They turned and stared back at him. “Really?” Sero gestured between himself and his redheaded friend with an extended finger. “I’m Tooth-Face?” 

Kirishima muffled his snorted laugh with his hand.

“And there was nothing wrong with me, sheesh. This is why no one wants to talk about this kinda thing, everyone has such a negative view of it. Sometimes you just need to work through stuff.” Sero gesticulated vaguely with his arms. “Like being encased in a glacier of ice and laughed at on live television.”

“Aww, buddy! Don’t feel bad about that!” Kirishima pounced, wrapping his arms around Sero’s chest and waist in a big bear hug. “Your fight was super manly!”

Sero rolled his eyes, arms held up and out awkwardly above the red koala attached to his midsection. He patted Kirishima’s gelled spikes gently. “After almost three years, I’m still not sure I know what that word means when you use it. And I don’t feel bad about it. Or, I don’t anymore.” He flashed Katsuki a grin and a thumbs-up. “Because of therapy!”

Katsuki glowered back.

“Tch. You’ve made your point.” Katsuki grit his teeth together. “I’ll.. consider it.” He absolutely did not want to admit he needed any kind of help. That was basically the Bakugou Katsuki modus operandi. But he also really, really wanted the visions to stop. Especially when each time he so much as glanced in Deku’s direction, his stomach clenched in apprehension, dreading what his mind might have him see instead.

Which was kind of a problem when he also didn’t want to let the nerd out of his sight.

Kirishima disentangled himself and straightened up. “That’s my bro! Now let’s get some food, I am legit starving to death. Oh!” He clapped a hand over his mouth, eyes wide and full of regret. “Don’t, uh. Don’t tell Midoriya I said that.”

Katsuki scoffed and clipped Kirishima on the back of the head. “He’s not a doll, he’s not going to break just because you’re being dramatic.”

The redhead barely registered the physical assault and hummed good-naturedly as the three of them resumed their meander toward the cafeteria. “He is a doll, though. Oh! Can I call him that? I think I’m going to start calling him that, yeah. Midoriya, you’re a doll! Thanks, babydoll! Hah, I can’t wait. He’s gonna get so flustered, it’ll be so cute.”

The icy feeling that raised itself along Katsuki’s skin was not pleasant. “Ex-fucking-cuse me? You call him that and I’ll rip your damn teeth out, Tooth-Face,” he snarled.

“We’re BOTH Tooth-Face, now?” Sero sputtered.

“Not if he rips my teeth out!” Kirishima crowed, with a grin so big Katsuki could probably count each pointy pearly white in question.

Really, why was he friends with these idiots.

Speaking of, idiot number three came speed-walking up to them as they turned the corner, cat eyes frantic and hands splayed out defensively. “Hey, hey! We’ve uh, we’ve got a problem,” Kaminari whisper-shouted as he approached. “Let’s go the other way, kay?” His arms made jerky movements at them, attempting to usher them back around the corner they had just come from.

“Hey, Bakugou!”

Kaminari groaned, burying his face in his hands. “Shit.”

“Hah?” The hairs at the back of Katsuki’s neck raised themselves as he sought the voice that had hailed him. He found his answer casually leaned against the hallway wall, shit-eating grin firmly in place on a shit-eating face. Katsuki didn’t know his name, but he knew vaguely who he was. Some upstart first or second year, some kinda great quirk, near the top of his class, bit of an asshole. 

Did not remind Katsuki of anyone.

The tension in the air, combined with Kaminari’s panic, led Katsuki to believe this shithead’s intentions were not friendly. His palms began to sweat reflexively.

“I hear your boyfriend gives really good head!”

Katsuki barely registered Kaminari’s pained oh fuck me through the whiteout that overtook his senses. Murder. He’d be expelled for murder, right? How much did justifiable homicide cover. Asking for a friend.

All three of his companions barely held Katsuki in place as he lunged forward with a feral snarl. “The hell you just say, asshole? Better walk that the fuck back before I shove it down your throat!”

The kid shrugged, unperturbed by Katsuki’s threat, picking idly at a fingernail. “It’s Midoriya that gets things shoved down his throat, isn’t it?”

“Dude, what the fuck?” Kirishima said softly in sheer disbelief, his arms hardening against Katsuki’s chest. His voice rose as he shouted down the underclassman, “You have two seconds to get the hell out of here, Heatsink, before I smash your face in myself!”

“No, no face smashing!” Sero hissed, extending a lanky arm to now hold onto both Katsuki and Kirishima.

A crowd began to gather.

Heatsink. This was the shitty kid with the thermal control quirk. Exactly the worst kind of matchup for someone like Katsuki. And Half-n-Half, Katsuki added to himself smugly.

“Aw, Bakugou, do you have two boyfriends?” Heatsink's lazy grin parted and he pointed to his bared teeth. “But I wouldn’t want to stick my dick in that beartrap either. Midoriya is a much better choice, what with the special training he got for it!” He palmed himself through his slacks, jutting his chin up with a wicked sneer. “I’d love to take him for a spin, but I’m much larger than a feeding tube.”

Katsuki’s blood ran colder than humanly possible. He felt Sero and Kirishima’s grips on him go slack, but he was rooted in place. The disgusting things this unbelievable asshole had said were completely overshadowed by the specific piece of information they were based on. This fucker couldn’t possibly.. Could he?

“Boss,” Kaminari whined in his ear, “He’s seen it. He’s seen the footage, somehow, I don’t know! He’s been bragging about it, I don’t know what to.. We have to like, damage control? Or something??”

How. How could he have seen it? Didn’t Katsuki have the tapes? Had this asshole found them?? Katsuki had moved them to a more secure hiding spot (and started locking his door) after Deku found them; there was just no way. But.. whoever sent them to Katsuki wouldn’t have mailed their only copies. The only footage he likely had sole ownership of was the two days of uncut footage, left running after the sick fucks left Deku to die.

But if this shitbag had now seen any it..

Katsuki scrabbled at the hard arm across his chest, disengaging it. He felt eerily calm. “Shitty-Hair. Find Deku, now,” he growled lowly. “Keep him away from his phone, the internet, the freaking TV. Don’t let him near anyone who isn’t one of us.”

“Bro, you’re gonna send me away right before a rumble?”

Sero smacked Kirishima on the shoulder. “No, no rumble! There will be no rumble!” 

“And you, Lightbulb, find a goddamn teacher. This is ridiculous.” Katsuki had barely finished speaking before the boy he was addressing was gone, pushed through the collected throng of gawking students, practically leaving a Kaminari-shaped cloud in his wake. Katsuki fixed Kirishima with a glare next, and the redhead held up his hands in surrender before jogging off toward the cafeteria.

Katsuki pinched the bridge of his nose. His brain raced wildly in time with his coursing heartbeat as he struggled to plot next steps that didn’t involve beating the underclassman into a bloody pulp. 

But somehow, no such alternate plan materialized.

He rotated slowly to face Heatsink, shaking Sero’s hand off his arm and stepping forward with intent. Katsuki smiled, rolling his shoulders, letting the anticipation of a good fight override the sick feeling in his stomach. This kid’s quirk might as well have been custom designed to counter Explosion, but hey, it’s not like they were allowed to use quirks in the school hallway anyhow. Of course, fist fights weren’t exactly permitted either, but he was at least less likely to get expelled for it.

The crowd buzzed in anticipation.

The asshole was smirking at them, waiting silently for Katsuki to engage. Grinning ear to ear. Smiling so wide, unnaturally so; splitting his entire face in half. Sharp and jagged teeth like knives that dripped down an impassive face, glinting with a promise to tear out throats. To spill life upon the floor. To take everything from Katsuki, for him, because of him.

Katsuki faltered forward on his next step, Sero catching at his elbow again. The air stopped in his chest as his entire body froze.

What the fuck?

“Bakugou,” Sero warned, digging his long fingers into Katsuki’s arm. “Seriously. I want to knock this douchebag’s teeth out too, but you’ll get expelled, and then how will you be able to help Midoriya? Don’t make me tape you; I don’t want to get expelled either!”

If Katsuki expected crowing from his opponent over his near panic, he was mistaken; Heatsink’s cocky expression cracked for the first time since he called them over. The manic, wild look Katsuki imagined was on his face was probably being taken for something feral, instead of something fearful.

Good.

“You’re lucky, asswipe,” Katsuki hissed, ignoring the cold sweat blooming on his skin as he backed down - just in time to see Jirou come skidding around the corner from the opposite end of the hall, panting. She locked onto Katsuki and immediately made a beeline for him, weaving through the tittering onlookers.

Stabbing Heatsink in the eye with an earjack on the way over.

“Yow! What the fuck, you bitch,” he sputtered, clutching at his face. So much for not using quirks in the hallways. She kept walking past him, not even deigning to acknowledge his existence behind her. Katsuki was. So. Proud.

“Hey, I’m fucking talking to you, don’t walk away from me!” 

Jirou whipped around. “Sorry, what was that? You want to explain to me, and by proxy the school board, of a hero school, what you were just doing? What you were just saying about a victim? Not very heroic, dickwad.” She flipped him off and spun back around, closing the rest of the distance between her and Katsuki in a heartbeat. “Come on, boss,” she muttered to him, taking his elbow. “We’ve got shit to talk about.”

Katsuki flipped Heatsink off too, for good measure, just as Kaminari reappeared with Vlad King in tow. The crowd began to disperse.

“Perfect,” Jirou said quietly. Then, with a dramatic point and a yell, “That’s the man, officer!”

Vlad King rolled his eyes and put his hands on his hips. “Alright, that’s enough, young lady. Come on, son, let’s take a walk.” He gestured to the underclassman, who followed the teacher down the hall with an angry glare shot back at Jirou. She blew him a kiss.

“Kyouka, have my children,” Kaminari said breathlessly. Katsuki rolled his eyes, but. He kind of felt the same way.

She flicked Kaminari’s forehead. “Ew, gross. Babies.”

“Guys,” Sero said, snapping his fingers. “Can we focus? What the hell is going on?”

“Right.” Jirou motioned for the boys to follow her. “I can block our voices but I’d rather go somewhere more private.” 

It was still lunch time, a fact that Katsuki’s empty stomach would not let him forget, so most of the classrooms were empty. They ducked into one after a short walk down the hall. Sero closed the door behind them. They all took seats atop desks, with Jirou perching on the teacher’s at the head of the room.

“So,” she began with a frown, crossing her arms. “I have bad news and bad news. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Footage of Midoriya's torture got uploaded to a snuff site.”

Katsuki felt the blood drain out of his face. After getting no reaction from the tapes mailed directly to him, it suddenly made all too much sense that whoever was still harassing them would escalate to releasing them publicly. They weren’t done with him yet.

“Fuuuck,” Sero drew out, tugging at his hair and grimacing.

“UA is working on getting it taken down, but it’s not going to stop shitheads like Heatdick out there from seeing it before they do.” She gestured in the direction of the hallway with an earjack. “Which is pretty alarming, it like.. just got posted. I was barely on my way to find you when I heard him mouthing off. Might need to keep an eye on that dickweasel.”

Kaminari hissed through his teeth. “He’s an asshole but he’s even dumber than I am if he’s involved and putting a target on his head for us. What’s the second bad news?”

Jirou bit her lip. She looked cautiously, apologetically at Katsuki. “Brace yourself, boss. There’s.. way more than what we’ve already seen. It’s still edited down, but it’s taken from the whole week, not just the last few days.”

It should have been a shock. Should have sent Katsuki into a rage fit, punching and blowing up and screaming. Howling and retching and unable to process all of the pain and anger and heartbreak flooding through him.

As it did when he received all of that footage almost a month ago.

“I know,” he replied lowly. “I’ve seen it.”

“What?!” All three of the others yelped together. They gaped at Katsuki, their eyes wide and incredulous.

Katsuki rubbed at his temple with his eyes closed, inhaling slowly through his nose. “They fucking.. Sent it to me directly. Weeks ago. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen all of it.”

“Dude,” the three once again said simultaneously. They glared at each other.

Jirou turned back to Katsuki. “Don’t you think you should have told us this? This is a serious threat, boss!” She threw her hands out, exasperated. “Did you tell anyone?”

Katsuki scowled. “Aizawa got the letter that went with it. But not the tapes.” Katsuki bristled at the disapproving looks he was getting. “Look, I let the appropriate person know those assholes are still out there, that’s all that needed to happen! No one else had to watch it!”

“That is like, withholding evidence, boss! The police are gonna need that for like, the trial or some shit!” Kaminari flailed his arms wildly.

“Well, they have it now.” Jirou stared evenly at Katsuki. “Does Midoriya know?” 

Katsuki returned her stare defiantly. “He found the tapes in my room.”

“Hooooly hell,” Sero whistled. “Wow. Dude. Dude.”

“Oi,” Katsuki barked in warning. “I fucked up, okay? That doesn’t help us with this shit!” He gestured at Jirou. “He’s gonna flip if he finds this got out. Or worse, if he sees any of it. He hasn’t watched a single second and I intend to keep it that way.”

As if on cue, Katsuki’s phone began buzzing. His stomach sank as he saw Shitty-Hair on the screen. He wouldn’t be calling if it was good news.

“What,” he barely began before Kirishima was cutting him off.

“Bakugou you have to get down here, NOW.”

Katsuki was on his feet and out the door before he even knew where ‘here’ was.

“Where are you?” he rasped out, vibrating in the hallway, needing to know which direction to turn.

“The-- shit, the weight room-- Midoriya, please! You’ve got to-- shit, shit, shit--”

Katsuki twisted on his heel, rocketing down the corridor, his teammates’ shouts lost behind him.

“I just found him, he wasn’t at lunch, he didn’t pick up his phone, he must have already-- Ack!” A loud clang echoed through the phone. “Haha, that could have taken my head off, Midoriya! He’s already seen it, bro, someone sent it directly to him!”

Feet slapping, heart pumping, left palm igniting, running, running. Through his adrenaline surge he vaguely registered his annoyance that of course Deku was in the weight room during lunch instead of the lunch room.

Katsuki kept the phone pressed to his ear.

“I can’t bring him down! He’s not listening to me! And he’s-- shit-- Bro, he’s huge?? What are you feeding him? I swear he wasn’t this jacked this morning, but-- shit--” CLANG. “I gotta hang up, bro, I need both hands, sorry!”

Shoving the phone away, Katsuki spit out a mangled curse. None of the rest of the team knew about what really went down in the panic room, how One For All saved both of their hides by bringing Deku back to top strength in an instant. Because they didn’t know about One For All at all. It couldn’t be helped that their opponents saw the transformation, but with all five of them apprehended, they could at least hope to keep it under wraps and avoid anyone drawing any comparison to All Might. Katsuki felt the whole situation begin to slip through his fingers. First the tapes leaked, now Deku’s quirk was misfiring during his panic. How was he going to handle this?

At least it’s just Shitty-Hair, Katsuki thought with some modicum of relief as he skid into the weight room. Despite the fact that he could hear the machinery being thrown about as he entered the building like there was some kind of giant robot attack, no one else was around. 

Probably because they were actually at lunch like normal people.

“Finally,” Kirishima puffed out when he saw Katsuki, arms akimbo and breathing heavily. “Although I think he’s out of shit to throw at me.”

The weight room was absolute chaos.

Weights, machines, racks, everything, bolted down or otherwise, had been upturned and rearranged in the room like a bomb had gone off. The mirrors were shattered. The lights were blown. Kirishima looked banged up - his school uniform had certainly seen better days - but otherwise unharmed, thanks to his hardening quirk. Deku must have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at him. Maybe also the kitchen sink.

Katsuki’s eyes moved past the destruction to the reason he was here. Huddled against the far wall, was Deku.

Covered in blood. Jaw slack, body torn to ribbons. Dead.

Katsuki’s heart seized.

No no no no no no no.

He shook his head, clarity clawing its way through the ice water in his skull. No. No. Kirishima wouldn’t be so nonchalant. He steeled himself and looked again. 

Katsuki saw the real Deku, alight with green sparks and true to Kirishima’s word, jacked. His eyes stared straight ahead of him; vibrant, glowing, unseeing.

“Deku,” Katsuki breathed. Deku’s head snapped in his direction, and something flickered in his eyes. His face was wet.

“I know I should have called Aizawa,” Kirishima said apologetically. “But I uh, don’t have his number.” 

“Shut it, Shitty-Hair,” Katsuki growled. “Give me a minute. Go outside and stop the others coming in, they’re probably right behind me.”

Kirishima bobbed his head and slipped back out the door.

“Oi, Deku,” Katsuki called softly as he moved across the room.

“No, no! Please!” Deku held his shaking arms out, pressing back against the wall. Into the shattered mirror glass. Katsuki winced. Deku continued to plead as if he felt nothing. “I’ll be good, I’ll be good, I’ll be good!”

Katsuki’s heart fluttered in his chest, torn somewhere between rage and horror. Deku didn’t deserve this. All of the times he antagonized this boy, Katsuki saw many things in those big green eyes. But always an undercurrent of defiance and determination. It used to piss him off. There was no defiance in those eyes now. Just fear, desperation. Resignation.

It pissed him off.

His hands curled into fists.

It’s what they want. It’s what they want. It’s what they want.

Katsuki didn’t care.

He was going to destroy them.

“Please,” Deku sobbed, and Katsuki let his heart soften. He dropped to a crouch in front of the huddled mess, thankful that he seemed at least to be done destroying school property.

“Hey,” Katsuki began. “Nerd. Deku.” 

Deku flinched, but blubbering pleas continued to fall from his lips.

Katsuki threw caution to the wind, seizing Deku’s face roughly between his hands. “Izuku,” he breathed, before crashing their mouths together in only the basest definition of a kiss. He wrenched his head back out of range of any flailing limbs just as quickly.

Deku blinked rapidly at him, focus and recognition returning to his beautiful eyes. One For All released and the borrowed, beefed-up musculature shrank back down. Katsuki felt a little dirty pulling the name card, but it had worked in the past and he’d do it again if it helped bring Deku out of his fugue.

“Kacchan?” Deku jerked forward slightly, face pushing out of Katsuki’s palms, before his eyes widened in shock. He whipped his head back and forth as he surveyed the devastation all around him. “Oh my god,” he whispered, one hand hovering over his mouth. “I did this?! I did this!!”

“Whoa, hey, it’s alright,” Katsuki tried to pull Deku into an embrace before the other boy panicked his way right back into another episode. “No one got hurt, it’s fine.”

Deku held Katsuki back with stiff arms. “Kacchan,” he sobbed, “It’s not fine! I could have killed someone!”

With a snort, Katsuki overpowered Deku’s standoff and crushed him into his chest. He surreptitiously checked his back for damage, but Deku seemed alright aside from some minor tears in his gym shirt and a few shallow cuts. “Tch, you? Kill someone? In what universe? Everyone knows what a softie you are.”

“..Yeah. I guess now they do.”

Katsuki’s heart twisted. He clutched Deku even tighter to his chest, not minding the wetness soaking into his uniform shirt. What could he even say? Fury and overprotectiveness and despair warred within him. He felt helpless. This is why Katsuki usually defaulted to anger; it was easy, it was a known quality. 

He settled on being another known quality: a bit of an ass.

“You know, most people eat lunch during lunch,” he said lightly over the green curls tucked beneath his chin.

The boy stiffened under him. “I-- I have to catch up,” he protested weakly.

Katsuki couldn’t help the scowl that pulled down his features. “You’re pushing yourself too fuckin’ hard. If you had just gone to lunch like a normal person, you could have avoided ruining everyone else’s afternoon workouts.”

Deku wriggled in his arms, pulling back to glare at Katsuki. “And killed half the people in the cafeteria instead?”

“Half? Don’t flatter yourself, nerd.”

The look of absolute misery on his face was gone, but what replaced it wasn’t much better. Deku gesticulated wildly to the destroyed weight room surrounding them, panic lacing the edges of his voice. “Kacchan, please. I know what you’re trying to do, but look! I don’t even remember this! Did we fight? Did you have to fight me?” 

“Ah, no, that was me!” came a voice from the doorway, and Katsuki watched Deku’s eyes widen at what was surely Shitty-Hair grinning his stupid giant smile over Katsuki’s shoulder.

“K-Kirishima-kun!” Deku leapt to his feet, shaking arms held out at his sides briefly before they came up to cover his mouth. “Oh no, oh no,” he muttered into them. Katsuki twisted his head. Kirishima was still in his same, shredded set of school clothes, looking like he had lost a fight with a blender. The others were still nowhere to be seen, likely sent off to tell whomever needed to be told about the gymsplosion.

Katsuki followed Deku up to standing with a grunt. “Deku, stop. You know Brickhead over here can take what you throw at him.” He looked down at the gym equipment scattered with chunks of metal and bent machinery. “Literally.”

And there was the sunny, serrated smile in full force as Kirishima boomed out a boisterous laugh. “I’m fine, Midoriya! Don’t worry about me! I’m more worried about you! Are you okay, babydoll?” His wink was accompanied with tongue click and a finger gun.

Deku squeaked, wrapping his arms fully around his head as his cheeks reddened. “M-me?”

“Tooth-Face,” Katsuki warned with a growl.

Kirishima only laughed harder.

“Come on, they’re gonna close up the gym and send cleanup through, we gotta clear out. Can we eat? I’m like, extra extra hungry now.” He made ushering hand motions at the two of them, and they picked their way across the inanimate carnage to the doorway.

Immediately after Deku exited, but before Katsuki got out the door, Kirishima shoved something into Katsuki’s hand with raised eyebrows and a look. Katsuki glanced down. It was Deku’s phone, a huge crack running diagonally down the screen, which was frozen open on a text conversation from Restricted. The first message was a link, which Deku would have at least been smart enough not to click on. But after the link were the words ‘A sampling:’ followed by a flurry of images sent directly. Images of Deku. In the chair. Covered in blood and tears and misery. Being tortured.

The phone didn’t survive.

~

“Ohhh, are you making lunch?”

“Yeah, for me and Deku, you pink vulture. Buzz off.”

Ashido huffed indignantly, her black and gold gaze briefly hovering over Kirishima and flicking down to his destroyed clothing that he still hadn’t bothered to change. Even if she hadn’t been in the group text, it was honestly not that unusual of a sight. She flopped back down onto the couch where she had been lying down looking at her phone. “I’ve already eaten anyway, you big meanie.”

“Wait, what about us?” Kaminari asked frantically as they unloaded their groceries on the dorm’s central kitchen counter. “Don’t we get to eat too?”

“Nope,” Katsuki deadpanned, turning to pull the pots, pans and other tools he needed out. He had already been excused from his afternoon classes but now the rest of his idiots were too. After a brief meeting with Aizawa and a trip to see Recovery Girl, they were assured that everything was being taken care of and their focus should just be on keeping things normal. Get through the day, get to therapy, keep moving forward.

Kirishima laughed. “Guess we’ll just have to eat Sero.”

“What? Why me? I’d be terrible to eat, just skin and bones. And tape.”

“Babe! Don’t sell yourself short, you’re all lean muscle.”

“Besides, the skin is the best part, if we fry you.”

Katsuki spun around to tell them to shut the hell up, but stopped short when he saw Deku dissolving into a fit of giggles. A wave of fondness followed by a rush of cold passed through him as he realized how rare it was to see him smile, let alone laugh these days. 

“We don’t, haha, have to eat anyone,” he wheezed. “Kacchan got plenty of food for us to make.” Deku moved into Katsuki’s space, reaching for the cutting board and making like he was going to start doing prep. Cooking together was something they did fairly often now, but Katsuki was having none of it today.

“Tch, you aren’t doing anything, nerd. Go sit down with Raccoon-Eyes.” Katsuki pushed Deku out of the kitchen with a light smack on his rear.

“Kacchan,” he whined, but obliged, going over to sit down next to Ashido, who promptly smothered him with her signature brand of overly touchy affection.

Katsuki busied himself with preparing and cooking lunch, ordering his numbskull friends around with practiced ease. It was basic: pan-fried noodles and vegetables in a heavily seasoned sauce, but he could make large quantities of it practically in his sleep and it was fast enough that he wouldn’t spend all day on it. They only had two hours until Deku’s therapy appointment.

A few minutes before the food was ready, Kaminari’s phone chimed. His face darkened when he checked it. “Kyouka says it’s down,” he said quietly, with a furtive glance at the couch. “They got the whole site taken down. But she says it’s likely to pop back up somewhere else. They’re.. Let’s see, ‘preemptively triggering an offensive against known snuff sites.’ Ugh. Gross. This is so fucked up, man.”

“Whoever sent it directly to Midoriya likely sent it to Heatsink, and who knows who else,” Kirishima added in an equally low voice.

“Jesus,” Sero muttered.

Hands shaking near imperceptibly, Katsuki began distributing portions of the food into bowls. The rage inside him was always at a low simmer, but today it was almost boiling over. He was going to feed Deku, himself, and their friends. They were going to go see the specialist. And then Katsuki was going to hunt down and murder a bunch of people.

Metaphorically.

“Hey, we should do a big group dinner tonight, after you’re done therapy,” Kirishima suggested, as if reading his mind and intentionally derailing his murder plans. “Get the whole class to go. Maybe that big curry place downtown? It’d be on the way back for you, and they always have room for us.”

Katsuki looked over at the couch where Deku was animatedly yammering about something to Ashido, who nodded along encouragingly while she put tiny braids in his hair. What he really wanted to do tonight (after the therapy and the murder) was drag Deku back to his room, kiss him silly, hold him close and not let go for the rest of their lives. But Deku thrived when he was around all these idiots and it would be good for him. The kissing plan could just wait until after dinner.

“Sure, whatever.”

“Great!” Kirishima’s enthusiasm was overwhelming, a harsh contrast to the serious situation hovering over them. “We’ll take care of it! Meet us there at, say, seven? You should be done around then, yeah?”

Katsuki grunted an affirmation. “We might be a little late but not by much.”

“Yoohoo! Special baby delivery!!”

They all turned toward the booming voice in the entryway. Hatsume Mei strode in, gigantic grin spread wide under clockwork eyes, holding a small box aloft over her head like a trophy. She walked straight up to Deku and dropped it into his unsuspecting lap.

“Wah, Hatsume-san! What’s this?”

“Your new baby, custom built and hand delivered by yours truly!”

Deku looked at it like it was a bomb.

Which, honestly, it might have been.

“What’s wrong, aren’t you going to open your new baby??” Hatsume practically yelled, leaning down and crowding Deku, who had turned a lovely shade of cherry red, back against the couch. Ashido stifled a giggle next to them.

“Oi,” Katsuki barked as he carried two bowls of food over, placing them down on the coffee table. “That’s mine, get your tits out of his face.”

Hatsume spun, still grinning, completely unfazed by Katsuki’s comment. “It has all of the features you requested! It’s my most secure baby yet! Completely spoof-proof!”

“Kacchan?” Deku asked quietly, confusion evident in his face and question.

“Thanks, Goggles,” Katsuki addressed Hatsume instead. He had put in the order maybe an hour ago, shortly after he blew the old phone up. With the increased security measures following Deku’s abduction and subsequent infiltration, students now used their modified phones as a two-factor authentication for entering school grounds. Katsuki thought the turnaround would be too tight to get Deku a new phone before they left for therapy and was prepared to just pick up a temporary ID on their way out. But lo and behold, here was the mad inventor herself, with time to spare.

The girl was insane, sure, but the fact that she had already delivered the goods even with added bells and whistles was beyond impressive. A worthy, terrifying, ally.

“My work here is done! Mei away!” she burst into a fit of unhinged laughter, then motored out of the dorm as quickly as she had come.

“She is a robot,” Kaminari marvelled as the three other boys brought their bowls over. 

“Says the human phone charger,” Sero shot back.

“Kacchan.”

“Eat,” Katsuki ordered as he plucked the box out of Deku’s lap and replaced it with a bowl of noodles. “It’s a new phone. But it only can receive calls and texts from pre-approved numbers, and Goggles promises that can’t be faked.” It also had a few extra features: some kind of bio lock that would prevent others from accessing the phone and secure, advanced tracking so the team could pinpoint its location within a few feet. But Deku didn’t need to know that part just yet.  

“Ah,” Deku said softly, picking up his bowl and chopsticks, eyes downcast. “I suppose that’s.. For the best.”

Katsuki missed his laugh already.

“Yesterday Denki spilled his entire iced coffee on the floor because he tried to check his sharpshooter like a watch while holding it,” Sero announced.

Kaminari twisted to glare at him. “Dude!”

“And then he got a new one and did it again.”

“DUDE.”

They fell into a rhythm of good-natured ribbing and easy conversation as they ate, and although Deku’s bright laughter didn’t return in full, it made small appearances, and that was enough for now.

~

The therapist’s office smelled like old leather and old books. Which was admittedly kind of cool. Also not surprising given the full set of overstuffed leather couches and armchairs nestled between similarly overstuffed floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Katsuki also caught wafts of something pungent, which he suspected was from the electric diffuser on a side table pumping a steady stream of vapor into the air. The modern appliance stood in stark contrast to the old world aesthetic of the rest of the room; a space-age piece of white plastic tech sitting in a dark and moody pirate captain’s quarters. It was probably supposed to be calming. Essential oils and sage and crystals and bullshit. 

Katsuki thought it stunk.

“You were wise to come to me, boys, though I wish you had come sooner,” the therapist, who had introduced himself as Fukami, said pleasantly as he settled into one of the armchairs. He gestured for the two to sit down on the couch in front of him. Deku sat. Katsuki remained standing, choosing instead to linger by the windows that lit up the copious dust motes in angled columns of afternoon sun. This wasn’t really for him, anyway. He’d promised the nitwits he’d consider therapy for himself, and he knew he had to see someone about the visions eventually. But Deku’s situation was more important. For now, Katsuki was just here for support.

Although what he really wanted to be doing was off exploding the skulls of every sick fuck that had ever been draped in a gray linen suit, now that they had upped the ante with releasing the torture footage. That also would have to wait.

Deku needed this first. Skull popping second.

“My methods can be considered controversial, but I promise they get results.” He opened a notebook and began writing. Katsuki half turned toward the doctor with a raised eyebrow.

“Controversial, how?”

“Ah,” Fukami said with a broad smile. “Well, as you were informed upon your arrival, I use my quirk in these sessions. It is painless, I assure you, but it’s still frowned upon in some psychiatric circles. Now, shall we get started?”

Katsuki also frowned. “What the hell is your quirk, anyway?”

“Kacchan,” Deku admonished, fixing Katsuki with a warning stare. “I’m sure Fukami-hakase is going to explain, please be patient.”

With a snort, Katsuki crossed his arms and returned his attention out the window. Patient, he could be fucking patient. Katsuki had the patience of a damn saint.

Fukami chuckled. “All in due time. Now, Midoriya-kun, as I understand it, you’ve been having some difficulty in regards to your time in captivity, hm?”

Katsuki’s head snapped back over in time to catch Deku’s flinch. What the fuck? Deku wasn’t a goddamn zoo animal. This guy was really their best option? The ginger at the school was at least nice about it. Katsuki clenched his jaw. Patience.

“Um. Yes.”

“A whole week of torture must have been really hard for you,” he said with an exaggerated look of pity, his lips practically pouting as he nodded sympathetically when Deku flinched again. “Can you tell me about it? What exactly did they do to you? Don’t be afraid to go into explicit detail.”

The frown that had never left Katsuki’s face deepened. He didn’t like this man’s tone, nor did he like the way he so flippantly asked about Deku’s traumatizing experience like he was asking someone to recount what they had for breakfast. He sounded practically gleeful.

I do not need further specifics. I only want to discuss how you are feeling.

Why was this a complete 180 from the counselor?

Deku’s eyes flit frantically to Katsuki and back to the man in front of him. His mouth hung open and twitched, like he was trying to say something but couldn’t bring himself to. Katsuki could see the doubt and fear written plain as day in those wide green eyes when they once again flicked back to him. His blood boiled as he watched Deku’s fingernails sink into the leather of the couch.

“Oi,” Katsuki warned. He was pretty done with being patient.

“Mmm, are the memories painful?” The doctor asked softly, breathless.

Katsuki shot a look over to where this quack’s diplomas hung on the wall.

They looked brand new.

“Uh, um. Y-yes, very,” Deku whispered.

“Don’t worry, I can help you forget.”

The back of Katsuki’s neck had been prickling but now the hairs there nearly shot out of his skin. His pulse was beating rapidly, flight or fight kicking into overdrive. And of course, Katsuki only ever chose fight. He narrowed his eyes at the doctor, trying to discern anything from his overly plain features. Vague recognition skittered across the back of his mind.

Katsuki strode over to put himself between Fukami and Deku; towering over the slight man in the chair, chest puffed out, palms crackling.

“Say, doc, don’t I know you from somewhere?”

The man looked up at him with gentle eyes. “Hm. You might know me by my professional name,” he said lightly. 

“Which is fuckin’ what?”

He smiled, like a cat might smile at a bird.

“Gaslight.”

Katsuki was out before he hit the floor.

 

 

Chapter Text

Everything was fine.

Izuku’s heart and footsteps were light as he walked down the dorm hallway, a destination in mind he would have never dared approach only a short month prior. So much had changed in ways both good and bad, and this particular perk was definitely one of the good ones.

“Kacchan, are you here?” Izuku knocked softly at the door of Kacchan’s dorm room. After a few moments of silence, he knocked again. After a few more, he moved to try the knob but the door flew open under his fingers.

“Oh! Kacchan!” he beamed. “I need to borrow your Statistics book, I lent mine--”

“What the fuck are you doing here.”

The words shriveled and died in Izuku’s mouth as he looked up at Kacchan, his Kacchan, looking back at him with absolute, raw hatred in his eyes. Eyes that were puffy and wet, with fresh tear tracks shining down his face.

“I-- Statistics, book,” Izuku stammered. Confusion and panic bloomed violently as Izuku struggled to make sense of the look and the words he was receiving. Kacchan was clearly upset, looked like he had been crying. Izuku’s heart clenched at the sight. He wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around the pain and soothe it away, but the fury rolling off of the other boy in waves kept him rooted in place. “What, Kacchan, what’s wrong?”

Kacchan slammed his palms against both sides of the doorframe, and Izuku jolted. “Keep that fucking word out of your dirty mouth,” he hissed. “How dare you show your goddamn face at my goddamn door. How did you even get in here?”

Izuku could feel the threads keeping him connected snapping one by one.

“Wh-what?” he choked out. The tears sprang forth unbidden, as they always were, spilling over onto his face and squeezing his throat and chest. “I d-don’t, I don’t understand? What happened, what did I do?”

Kacchan was apoplectic; his eyes wild and bloodshot, teeth bared like rottweiler. Izuku had never, ever seen him so incredibly enraged - which was saying something - and it well and truly scared him. Cold dread gripped every internal organ, every available nerve ending it could get its icy fingers on. Had Izuku blacked out again? Had he hurt someone, hurt Kacchan?

“Spare me the fake waterworks. What did you do? What did you do?” he howled, repeating Izuku’s question with bitter mockery, undercut with horrid anguish. His words were thick and drenched in pain and Izuku numbly reached forward, needing to touch, to reassure, to comfort; despite his own distress. But smoke began to seep out from between the fingers gripping the doorframe and Izuku froze.

“Fuck, I should just kill you right now. Is that what you came back for? To ruin me completely?”

Izuku fell back a step, shaking. What? Wrong, wrong. This was wrong. Something was wrong.

“You. Have. Ten minutes to get the hell out of here, which you don’t fucking deserve, or I’ll drag you to Tartarus myself,” Kacchan snarled, his fingers crackling and his words sharp.

Tartarus. Tartarus? Tartarus.

The.. villain prison?

What did Izuku do?

Please, Kacchan; Izuku couldn’t get a single word to form on his dry tongue.

“And if I ever see you again,” Kacchan brought his voice down to a low and incredibly dangerous level, eyes glinting with malice. Izuku was quaking, trembling violently. He shook his head, tears continuing to stream down his face. No, no, no. This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be happening.

“I’ll kill you with my own bare hands, that’s a fucking promise.” 

Despite the threat, Izuku’s shaking hands lifted up again toward furious Kacchan in the doorway, reaching out, wanting, needing, begging--

“P-P-Please, K-Kacch, Kacchan, I--”

Kacchan’s lips drew back over sharp canines, feral and menacing. “I can’t believe you made me think I could love a worthless piece of shit like you.” 

Izuku’s heart shatters.

He’s drifting, barely holding on, barely anything to hold onto. He needs strong arms around him, circles on his back, burnt sugar in his nose, kisses in his hair, he needs Kacchan, Kacchan, his Kacchan--

But all he gets is a door slammed in his face.

He stumbles, stutters, slides down the hallway and over the stairs and through the woods, out doors that he doesn't open and over cracked concrete that he didn't cause. Feet are moving but why, and to where? One step at a time. That’s all they ask.

It’s all he can do.

Wrong, wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

What did Izuku do?

What can Izuku do?

It’s not safe. He’s not safe. Kacchan is safe. Not.. not anymore.

Wrong! Wrong wrong wrong!

Can’t stay here, can’t go home. Kacchan is home.

Kacchan is not home. Kacchan is not safe.

Die, die, die!

Wrong.

Wrong.

WRONG.

Izuku stands at the gates of UA without knowing how he got there. Time flows oddly around him, static and pressure keeping him completely disconnected from his own body. It feels like a dream. It must be a dream. The thought is oddly comforting, and Izuku almost lets it soothe him.

It’s just a dream.

Kacchan told him to get out of here. Izuku takes one step forward. Izuku has obeyed. Did he do good? Will Kacchan still want to.. What now? He has no next directive. No purpose, just fear and panic licking at every nerve and driving him forward, forward, away. One foot in front of the other. One step, then another.

It’s all he can do and it’s not enough.

Someone calls out to him.

Tartarus.

Izuku breaks into a run.

Fast, faster, faster.

Red sneakers on gray asphalt, a blur of light and blood left in streaks on pavement, on walls, on trash cans, windowsills and telephone poles.

The wind whistles in his ears and screams through his hair and Izuku is vaguely aware that he’s now sailing across the rooftops.

In his dreams, he can fly.

Ah.

It’s only a dream.

Teardrops fall like raindrops from the dark cloud that Izuku drags across the sky. It’s heavy with grief and green lightning; flashing and cutting through the golds and reds like a glowing jade knife. Something blooms out of his chest like an ugly wound, split and weeping and sick. Dark tendrils pour out of it and wind their way up and around his neck, pulling, choking, squeezing. Izuku tears it out, tamps it down, leaves it cold and dying on the city streets far below him.

It’s his heart.

Heartbreak and heartache have no place in a chest without a heart.

So Izuku puts it away, closes it up. He doesn’t need it right now.

He might never need it again.

Wrong. Wrong. You’re wrong, Deku!

Kacchan-in-my-head, you can’t live here anymore.

It’s not a dream. But it’s not real. What’s the answer, Kacchan?

What is the nature of your relationship with Bakugou Katsuki?

Izuku doesn’t know the answer.

Izuku doesn’t know anything.

Izuku is gone.

Chapter Text

Katsuki barely had time for the blood to settle in his veins before the knocking at this door returned, louder and more insistent this time.

His heart leapt into his throat.

He was going to have to do it. He thought he could just call it in, but.. He had to kill him, he said he would, he had to, he had to--

The door swung open and. It. Was.

Kirishima.

Katsuki stared dumbly at the smiling spectre standing before him.

“Yo, BakuBro! You are here! Hagakure said she saw you come back early. You ready to go? Everyone else is already headed to the restaurant. How was therapy?” He glanced over Katsuki’s frozen shoulder. “Where’s Midoriya?”

“You,” Katsuki barely breathed. He reached out, his fingers hitting the rough fabric of the uniform, intact and whole, the warmth of his skin. “You’re dead. You’re dead. I watched you die.”

“Haha, what?” Kirishima’s grin faltered before his eyebrows shot up. “Oh, shit, did you have a vision about me? Shit, man. Usually it’s just Midoriya. I guess I should be flattered? But um, that’s bad, bro! It’s getting worse.”

Katsuki’s knees buckled. He caught the doorframe for support, his fingers squeaking over scorch marks. “No,” he whispered hoarsely. “No, it wasn’t a vision. It was real.” It couldn’t have been a vision. The visions were gruesome, and realistic, but brief. This was his entire day, the worst day of his entire fucking life. Visions couldn’t have possibly progressed to this level. But he had looked so confused when he showed up..

And Katsuki had almost fallen for it. 

He wouldn’t fall for this either.

“But you, you’re not real,” Katsuki growled, drawing himself up to his full height, palms crackling. “You’re a doppelganger. A shapeshifter, a fake.”

Kirishima quirked his head to the side. “A whuh-huh? No man, I’m just me! Here, I’ll prove it-- remember our passphrases?” He leaned in conspiratorially. “HardShark,” he stage-whispered. He shot Katsuki double finger guns, sticking out his tongue. “And you’re Boom Boom Boy! Oh, shoot, I’m supposed to let you say yours. I always forget that part, haha. Hey, you know, we never came up with a codename for Midoriya! I’m thinkin’ something like beansprout. Or dollface! Where is Midoriya, anyway?”

“Stop saying his fucking name!” Katsuki hollered, punching his door with the side of his fist so hard it cracked the wood. The redhead stepped back in shock. “He fucking.. I.. I watched him kill you, Kirishima!”

Kirishima held his hands up. “Whoa, okay, real names, serious time. Bakugou, Midoriya threw a bunch of dumbbells at me, and I’m down one uniform, but he wasn’t in control and he didn’t kill me. You want to tell me exactly what you remember happening? From the beginning?”

Katsuki pressed his hands on either side of his forehead, willing the pounding in his head to subside as words began tumbling out of his mouth practically without his consent. “This morning, the three of us went to the weight room to lift. Halfway through, Deku suddenly revealed himself as a traitor; he’s been working for the League this entire time.. The kidnapping, the chair, the government organization.. Our relationship,” Katsuki spat bitterly. “It was all fabricated. And then he slit your throat. And he laughed.”

“My throat?” Kirishima blinked owlishly at Katsuki. “This throat?” He activated his quirk and poked at his rock-hard jugular with his similarly hard forefinger. “This tough-skinned, fairly resistant to knives throat?”

“You’re not invincible, Shitty-Hair!”

The placating hands came back up. “No, I know! I’m just trying to help you understand that what you saw wasn’t real with like, logic. Man, we didn’t even do sets this morning, this is more than just a vision, it’s like you’ve got a whole different version of today.”

Kirishima’s eyes flew wide open.

“No,” he said softly. He sucked air in through his sharp teeth. “No, no, no! Bakugou, where is Midoriya?”

Katsuki snarled. “Why do you keep asking--”

“What happened at therapy?!” Kirishima’s voice was high, tight, frantic. He pulled his phone out.

“Therapy? What the fuck are you on about?”

“Hnnnnn! No, no!! Gaslight, Bakugou! Gaslight! He.. He got you, he must have! Your memories are wrong, bro! Just like the cruise!” Kirishima began hopping from foot to foot, his shark teeth digging into his bottom lip. 

Katsuki stared numbly at his not-dead best friend freaking out in his hallway. “Impossible,” he muttered, shaking his head. “No, this.. This happened.” He touched his fingers to his temple, as if he could dip straight into his brain and pull the memories out to show Kirishima, despite his very presence being antithetical to their validity.

“Bakugou,” Kirishima grabbed Katsuki’s shoulder, hard, with toughened fingertips digging into his bicep. “Dude, okay, I get it? When you told us Midoriya wasn’t on that cruise, everything in my dumb head disagreed with you. And now it’s like, so stupid to think I ever believed that? Of course he wasn’t on a damn cruise! Can you imagine Midoriya, or any of us, just up and going on a solo cruise? In the middle of classes? You think if sweet baby angel Midoriya was a traitor, he’d blow his cover to just kill me? Come on, man! But that’s what this guy does! He makes you believe it! Shit!” Kirishima frantically punched the call button on his phone. “And he’s back, and they took Midoriya again!”

The world tilted.

Sweet, blessed relief washed over Katsuki. It wasn’t real? It didn’t happen. Kirishima wasn’t dead. Deku.. wasn’t a traitor. It hadn’t all been a lie. He felt dizzy and light as a massive, unyielding pressure that had been suffocating him with grief, anger and sorrow lifted off of his entire being.

Only to come crashing right back down when he realized that he just slammed the door in Deku’s face during a panic attack that he caused and chased him off campus after promising he was going to kill him.

“No,” he said absently. “They didn’t take him. He was here.” He gestured listlessly at the carpet under Kirishima’s feet, at the scorch marks on the doorframe. Dread curled in his stomach. “..And I was going to kill him,” he said with dawning horror. He was. He was sure of it. He very nearly did; every impulse he had was screaming kill kill kill when he had opened that door. What had stopped him? Katsuki locked eyes with Kirishima, voice spiking in volume. “I was going to kill him.”

The look Kirishima returned was full of pity and grief. “Baku-- Hey, we’ve got a situation,” he interrupted himself, turning his attention to the phone call. “Turn around, come back to the dorms. Is Kami or Jirou near you? Can you have them track Midoriya’s new phone like right fucking now? We’ve got a code red or whatever the hell the worst color is! Gaslight’s back and he gassed Bakugou and Midoriya is missing. Whoa, get back here, where are you going?” Kirishima jogged after Katsuki, who was already on his way toward the dorm’s exit.

“I have to.. Fuck. FUCK. I have to find him, if he’s innocent, I just.. I just fucking drove him back into their goddamn hands, AGAIN.” Katsuki roared, letting his anger and panic and guilt manifest into rapid explosions spilling out of his palms. It was happening again, it was happening again. He had Deku right there in front of him and all Katsuki needed to do was anything but exactly what he did: served him up on a plate to be devoured by these demons. Except this time, Katsuki had managed to fall in love with the idiot first and it was so, so much worse.

I can’t believe you made me think I could love a worthless piece of shit like you.

“FUCK!”

“Will you just wait for one goddamn-- Bakugou, will you just hold on one minute! You don’t even know where he is!”

“Well he’s not in the fucking dorm, shithead!” Katsuki snarled, continuing to stomp through the empty hallway of the empty building, the closed doors unperturbed by the trail of blood his heart surely must have been leaving in his wake.

“You don’t know that! We didn’t even check his room!”

Hot fingernails raked down Katsuki’s face as he seethed. “There is no fucking way he isn’t halfway to goddamn Spain right now after what I said to him, Shitty-Hair!”

“I think you should probably go to Aizawa, or Recovery Girl, maybe they can break the quirk--”

“There’s no goddamn time!”

“At least wait until--”

“Don’t tell me what to fucking do!”

“HEY,” Kirishima barked, snagging Katsuki’s wrist and fully hardening his body, anchoring them both in place. “You’re compromised, bro! You don’t get to call the shots right now! You’re not in charge!”

“Oh yeah?” Katsuki whirled, spitting and snarling like a rabid dog, futilely attempting to rip his caught hand out of the hardened grasp. “Then who is?”

“I am!”

Katsuki spun again, this time greeted by Uraraka walking in the front doors of the dorm, followed by the rest of his.. their team. Her team. She put her hands on her hips and tilted her head, eyes full of worry but hard and determined. “Ground Zero. We’re going to go get Deku-kun, okay?”

Kirishima dropped his wrist, and Katsuki swiped his fist across his nose before shoving both hands in his pockets and glowering at the floor. “Yeah. Fucking okay.”

She clapped her hands twice, pinkies outstretched. “Let’s roll out!”

~

“So you don’t remember going to therapy at all.”

“That’s what I fucking said, Tape-Face.”

Sero blew out an exasperated breath, pulling himself out of his seat and moving to the front of the van, where Iida was driving with Jirou in shotgun. He rested his ridiculous elbows on their headrests, leaning down to speak to them in a low voice.

“Okay, what about before that?” Ashido sat back with her arms crossed, one heavy boot up on the bench between Katsuki’s spread knees. Her gold eyes set in black searched his face with a calm scrutiny he wasn’t used to. “What about lunch?”

Ice prickled along Katsuki’s arms. The very question led him to believe it was a discrepancy in his memories. “Didn’t eat any.”

Huh. Katsuki didn’t usually skip meals.

On Ashido’s right, next to Sero’s vacated seat, Kaminari let out an indignant huff. “It is criminal that you could forget your own fantastic cooking, boss.”

Katsuki scowled. “Can you not with that right now? Uraraka’s in charge. Don’t disrespect her.” 

“Oh, sorry bo--kugou, Uraraka. Reflex,” he grinned sheepishly.

Uraraka, who was seated on the other side of Kirishima (who was on Katsuki’s left), waved off Kaminari’s apology with a smile. She was on the phone, but still paying half attention to the conversation in the back of the van.

Their briefing had been short but efficient, delivered as they collected their hero uniforms on the way to the vehicle they currently sat in. Katsuki didn’t have his gauntlets, but they were going for stealth over strength as a first response strike team operating solely under Uraraka’s discretion. She hadn’t given the school much chance to argue. They were already in the van and tracking Deku’s phone before she called it in.

He wouldn’t have wanted to take orders from anyone else.

“Alright, well we know your version of the weight room is wrong,” Kirishima began. “But before that.. You remember anything about Heatsink?”

Katsuki frowned. He certainly did not. “The fucking.. Freshman?”

“Second year, but yeah.”

“No, what about him?”

Katsuki didn’t miss the looks exchanged.

“How about the bad news I gave you?” Jirou called back from the front seat.

“Bad.. what bad news? The hell?” 

“Ah, best if I tell you later.”

Katsuki was already on edge, but having everyone talk about his missing memories like they were all in on some kind of joke was really grating his frayed nerves. He clenched his teeth together. “You’re all speaking bullshit. How do I know it’s not you lot that got messed with again, and I’m the only one who’s right?”

“Because I’m still alive,” Kirishima said matter-of-factly, eyebrows raised.

Okay, well. Fair.

Ashido knocked her boot gently against the inside of Katsuki’s knee. “Besides, you don’t really want to believe Midori is some kind of villain, do you?”

Katsuki shoved her foot off the bench in response. No, of course he didn’t want to believe that. But pending the outcome of their mission, this might wind up being worse.

“Hey Four-Eyes, can’t you go any fucking faster?”

“I am obeying the posted speed limit.”

Like that asshole wouldn't break the law the second it inconvenienced him.

“Hey, what about yesterday?” Kaminari brought the conversation right back. “He can affect a full week, right? Whaddya got for that?”

After recounting all of the mundane details of what he could remember from the past week, it was determined that everything prior to that morning checked out with everyone else's versions.

Todoroki, who had been leaning against the back doors and silently observing their exchanges, moved over to take Sero’s previous place of occupancy on the bench between Kaminari and Ashido. “We were under the impression that Gaslight could only make minor alterations. This seems pretty major, but limited in scope. Might be a power/duration relationship.”

He shrugged, crossed his arms and closed his eyes, and for all the world looked like he just went to sleep.

“This fucking guy,” Katsuki grumbled.

“Okay, well, keep me posted.” Uraraka lowered her phone and addressed the front of the van. “How is our target looking?”

“Still moving, ma’am,” Jirou responded, flashing her tablet behind her, as Sero moved out of the way toward the back doors, now that Todoroki had taken his seat. “We’re gaining on him steadily.”

Not fast enough, Katsuki couldn’t help but think as his leg began jackrabbiting into the van’s steel floor.

“Uh. I know that guy.”

All heads, minus Iida’s, snapped back to Sero, who was leaning on his forearm over the tinted windows and staring outside. He looked down at Katsuki with a worried expression, and pointed at a car trailing behind them. “You do, too.”

Katsuki hopped up, his heartbeat leaping with him. He peered out the dark glass to study the driver in the nondescript SUV, catching a glimpse in the waning sunlight just before he cut back behind another car. Shiny, gray skin. Pointy teeth, dead eyes. Gills.

“Are you fucking kidding me right now,” he hissed. “Was there a goddamn jailbreak they just declined to tell us about? Are Knife-Face and Scorpion coming to this party too?”

Uraraka was suddenly there, squeezing between the two of them. “Who is it?”

“Goblin Shark,” Sero supplied, indicating the vehicle now mostly obscured from view.

“I hate that guy,” Kirishima said to no one in particular. “He gives sharks such a bad name.”

“We’re being followed?” Ashido pushed up on Sero's other side.

Kaminari let out a moan. “Shit, Iida go faster!”

“No!”

All eyes on Katsuki. His pulse was still pounding, but it seemed to slow to a crawl as his brain kneaded through the panic point of the situation.

“They don’t have him,” he breathed. His eyes flit between the concerned faces of his companions. “They don’t have him.”

He locked eyes with Uraraka, big and brown and hard. He knew he couldn’t give orders, and his memory might be fried halfway to hell but he needed now more than ever for the girl to trust him.

“They’re following us because they don’t know where he is, otherwise they would just be there to ambush us. Which means we’re leading them right to him.”

Uraraka stared back at him for a long moment, searching his face. Then she set her jaw and nodded, and Katsuki let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.

“Everyone take a seat,” she commanded, and those standing rushed to comply. “Cellophane, take mine.” Uraraka pointed at her empty spot next to Kirishima. Sero made a sound of protest, but she shut him up with a glare and he scrambled onto the bench. She walked to the front of the van and put a hand on Jirou’s shoulder, pinky raised.

“Target?”

“Still moving, and pretty erratically.”

Atta boy, Deku. Katsuki didn’t know what god or stroke of luck to thank that Deku had managed to slip through their adversaries’ fingers, but his heart swelled with pride that he had most likely evaded capture. He really loved that little idiot.

What, you thought I loved you? With how terribly you’ve always treated me? That’s ridiculous. You’re pathetic.

Katsuki’s fond smile withered to a frown.

It’s not real.

But he didn’t know if he could take a full week of having it in his head.

“Change course, slowly. Don't make any sudden turns.” Uraraka leaned down and pointed at Jirou's tablet, presumably to a location on the map. “There. That's our new target, we'll curl back to Deku-kun once we're clear.”

“Aye-aye, ma'am.”

They rode in silence, the only sounds heard being the rumble of the road, the rattle of the shaking metal walls of the van and the general din of traffic outside. Despite the lack of conversation, the air between them sung.

Katsuki kept glancing out the back windows to catch the occasional glimpse of the fish face following them. He rolled his jaw as he considered the implications. 

From what he could piece together, the last time Katsuki and Deku were seen had been heading off campus to a therapy appointment that Katsuki didn’t even remember them making. Then Invisible Girl saw them come back earlier than expected and head straight into the dorms. Sometime between those events Katsuki had his memory altered, their assumption of it being done by Gaslight pretty much confirmed by the appearance of Goblin Shark.

Both Gasbag and this two-bit villain were apparently important enough to get sprung from maximum security prison. Presumably the panic room five were still in Tartarus, but there were at least enough unknowns left in play to jailbreak the others. It might only be a matter of time before they were all out.

If Gaslight had been able to attack them, why not capture them at the same time? Between him, Goblin Shark and whoever broke them out they surely could have restrained the two student heroes. Especially with the quirk suppressants and tranquilizers they’d used in the past. 

Had it been a hit-and-run? From what they knew of the memory quirk, it was gas-based and had a big enough range that the scum had been able to alter everyone at the school and surrounding area - although whether it had been all at once or bit by bit was unknown. Gaslight might have just gassed them on their way to or from the therapy appointment, without ever coming into contact with them at all.

Katsuki knew their MO was manipulation, but there were so many ways it could have turned out.

Were they just being toyed with?

“Ingenium, we have to shake our tail.”

“Understood, Uravity.” Iida hit a switch on the dashboard, and Katsuki could just barely see around Uraraka that a new set of gear shifters rotated out of the center console. “Seat belts, everyone.”

Uraraka stood between the front two seats, facing the back of the van with her hands on the headrests. She looked hard and imposing in all of her round-faced, five feet and pennies glory, backlit by the sun coming in the front windshield like some kind of chiaroscuro painting. Katsuki couldn’t help but stare.

“Let’s lighten the load, shall we?” She moved briskly through the van, starting with Jirou and skipping Iida, tapping each squad member once they had their seat belt fastened. When she reached Katsuki last, she hopped lightly onto his lap, and his arms came up around her automatically. “Ready, Iida-kun!” She slapped her palms against herself and Katsuki simultaneously, and he rose up against his seat belt, holding her in place as she floated with him.

Katsuki barely had time to register what had just happened when his stomach dropped out from under him.

It made some kind of sense that Iida would be well suited to driving, as he was himself something of a living engine. It was also conceivable that he might have access to a vehicle kitted out like the Batmobile by someone like, oh, Hatsume Mei.

Katsuki had just never actually considered it before.

He balled Uraraka tight to his chest as he was slammed against his seat belt, weightless and at the mercy of physics and Iida’s sudden, insane race car driving. Katsuki was used to moving at extreme velocities, but he was usually in control of the speed and direction. Not knowing when or where the turns and twists would occur was disorienting and nauseating. His vision blurred and all he could do was hang on through the blood screaming in his ears and wait for it to end.

“Uravity, NOW!”

All of their weight returned at once, slamming them down into their seats and wrenching the van askew at a sickening angle. Katsuki’s stomach rocketed into his throat, and he bit down hard on his lip and held his breath, waiting an agonizing moment for the van to right itself and crash back down to earth. Which it did. Katsuki could feel his very bones vibrate. 

He wasn’t sure if he was grateful or furious that he couldn’t see what the hell was happening. Probably grateful, given the constant stream of “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit,” coming from the front passenger seat.

The van screeched to a stop, and Uraraka leapt out of Katsuki's arms the moment the whiplash movement ceased, orders already rolling off her tongue. “Ingenium, kill the engine; Earjack, silence us. Shouto, chill the van, I want our body temperatures blocked. Chargebolt, pull the plug. Any residual electricity needs to disappear. Everyone else, don't move; we're going dark, now.”

The air dropped instantly in both temperature and mood as Todoroki pressed his right palm and foot against the van's wall and floor. The sound of the engine cut out. Kaminari looked like he was sucking in air as his outstretched fingers twitched, eyes closed. Jirou was just about the same as always from Katsuki's vantage, but her earjacks were attached to the dashboard.

Ashido had a fist over her mouth, eyes flitting back and forth. Kirishima's hand had made its way to gripping Katsuki's forearm, and at some point during the rush, Sero had taped himself to the wall of the van.

And they waited.

Katsuki fought against the urge to shiver as their shallow breathing manifested visibly in puffs of vapor. He hated cold, he hated waiting, and he hated feeling helpless, so this was a hattrick of some of his absolute least favorite things. He knew Radiohead was good at sound blocking - but surely the entire city could hear Katsuki's heartbeat thundering in his chest.

Still, they waited.

And waited.

And.

Waited.

Until Uraraka finally gave the signal and everyone let out a collective exhale.

“Holy fucking shit,” Ashido wheezed, along with a smattering of similar sentiments from the others.

“Okay, boot up, check our perimeter and get Deku-kun's position loaded,” Uraraka chattered along over the exclamations, and both Iida and Jirou hastened to comply, moving in tandem over the dashboard controls. “Stay frosty, everyone,” Uraraka cautioned, pulsing her hands up and down in the universal gesture for keep it down.

She took a slow, deep breath and glanced back at Katsuki. Uraraka still looked collected and badass as hell but he could tell she was running hot with adrenaline just like the rest of them. She raised her eyebrows and he inclined his head slightly.

He was very proud.

“We appear to be clear; unless they pulled the same trick we've got no signatures within range. Midoriya is.. okay, got him. He's stationary.”

Katsuki's breath caught in his chest. Was that a good or bad thing? Did Deku just stop, or had something happened? Was he hiding? Was Katsuki wrong? Had their evasive maneuvers only cost them time, sent them careening far off course while their adversaries were free to close in on their target unhindered? Were they already too late?

“--nd Zero, Bakugou-kun!”

He blinked, panting heavily, and shook out the sparks and smoke dancing around his fingers.

“Bakugou-kun,” Uraraka said gently, her eyes soft. “Have faith in Deku-kun. And yourself.”

He couldn’t bring himself to scoff. He just lowered his gaze, and prayed to anyone that would listen that they had made the right call. Kirishima squeezed his arm.

“Earjack, stay alert for anything suspicious in range. Ingenium. Let’s go get our boy,” Uraraka leveled coolly, resting her wrists against the headrests and staring off into the distance ahead. Just before a full-body shiver wracked her petite frame.

“And, Shouto? Could you turn the heat back on?”

~

“Ten minutes,” Jirou announced, and Katsuki snapped his head forward out of his slight doze. Everyone else similarly began adjusting themselves, rolling shoulders, checking gear, shaking out stiff limbs, detaching the last pieces of tape adhering to the van. Almost showtime.

Katsuki glanced out the window.

From the limited vantage of the back of a cargo van, and with the added disorientation of Iida’s high speed chase, Katsuki hadn’t been paying attention to which direction they had been headed or how long they had been traveling. Now recognition jolted through him as he watched childhood landmarks whip past and disappear behind them, even through the heavy shroud of night, streaking lights and distant memory.

They were in Shizuoka, where he had been born. Where he ran around as a snot-nosed brat for a few years before his family up and moved to Musutafu. Same as Deku.

Katsuki felt ill. Had Deku really traveled almost three hundred kilometers on foot? Even with his quirk, that seemed like it was really pushing it. The likelihood he had been taken went back up.

Ten minutes passed in a wink and suddenly the van was slowing down. Katsuki peered out the window. He wasn’t sure exactly where they were - some kind of wooded park? He couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that they had miscalculated, that they were headed into an ambush or worse, that they would just find Deku’s abandoned phone with no green-haired owner in sight.

But being in Shizuoka couldn’t be a coincidence. Katsuki had to hold on to that.

“Alright everyone, standby. We’re about a hundred yards from the target. Earjack, I’m going to need you to get close enough on foot to be in range of your hearing so we can assess our next steps pending what you find. Stay low, stay quiet, radio in and retreat immediately if there’s any sign of trouble.”

Katsuki unbuckled himself and stood. “I’m going with her.”

A few raised eyebrows and exchanged looks passed around before Uraraka turned to Katsuki with crossed arms. “Ground Zero, do not make me regret bringing you on this mission. You are compromised, and not just because of Gaslight.”

“You’re also not exactly stealthy,” Kaminari had the balls to add.

Anger was easy. Anger was like a second skin for Katsuki, something he could slip on easily and utilize efficiently. It was his go-to, his first response, practically his security blanket. It was a weapon and Katsuki wielded it as a master would.

But when he opened his mouth all that came out was, “Please.”

He could see the struggle in Uraraka’s eyes, but it hardened quickly.

“Bakugou-kun, you cannot go running head first into this. We need to know what we’re dealing with and face it as a team.”

“It’s alright, Uravity, ma’am,” Jirou piped up as she unbuckled herself and turned to kneel on her seat, facing the back of the van. “I can take him with me, if he promises to stay at the back range of my silencer and only advances on my command. It would be good to have someone closer than the van if things go south for me.”

Katsuki held his breath.

Uraraka huffed out through her nose as she shook her head slowly. “I’d be mad about this insubordination but I know I do the same thing to Ground Zero all the time,” she admitted with a small laugh. “Alright. But radio as soon as you have information, Earjack-- and you,” Uraraka turned her steely gaze back to Katsuki, walking over to jab him in the chest with a soft-padded finger. “Listen to her, and do not do anything that compromises her or this mission.”

In another world, Katsuki would flash a wolfish grin and deliver a cool-guy one-liner. Wouldn’t dream of it, Cupcake, before jumping backwards out of the moving van. In this one, he merely set his jaw and narrowed his eyes, nodding his thanks, before moving quickly and quietly out of the vehicle behind Jirou.

His heart was too heavy to be roguish today.

Once they were a little ways away from the van, Jirou stopped and turned to Katsuki. “Here,” she said, and straight-up handed him the end of her left earjack. “This will be the easiest way to keep you where I need you. I’ll tug on it to bring you forward.” She pulled out her tablet and zoomed in. “I’ve got a hunch, and I don’t think we’re going to actually run into any danger, so I don’t mind you coming along. But don’t be a dick and make Ochako mad at me, got it?”

“Got it,” he replied absently, still staring dumbly at the literal earpiece in his hand.

They moved forward in a stop and go pattern, low to the ground and staying in cover, using the darkness to their advantage. Jirou set the pace and pulled Katsuki up to her when she deemed it clear. For his part, Katsuki dutifully brought up the rear, focusing on scanning the trees and bushes for any ambushes or threats.

“Okay, I think I’m just about close enough,” Jirou said lowly after Katsuki had joined her again, her eyes not leaving the tracker. “Going to go just a few feet more, and I’m going to take that with me.” She plucked her earjack from Katsuki, and shuffled forward in a crouch, pressing her hand over her right ear.

Katsuki waited.

After an agonizing moment, she motioned him forward and he joined her in a squat. They were crouched amongst a cluster of foliage at the edge of a steep incline that overlooked a wide, dry creek bed bathed in moonlight. Katsuki didn’t see Deku, or really much of anything, but there was a wide-mouthed storm drain at the far end of the clearing and he could put two and two together. His heart started beating so hard he was sure he was interfering with Jirou’s quirk.

“I’ve got something, hold on--” she held up a finger, and Katsuki pressed his lips together. Waiting.

Her brows furrowed in concentration before shooting straight up. She locked eyes with Katsuki. “It’s him,” she breathed, snatching Katsuki’s forearm before he could bolt upright. “Wait. He’s talking to someone.”

Ice poured down Katsuki’s spine. Was he being interrogated again? Tortured?

Jirou’s face screwed up and she tilted her head further toward the sound. “Or maybe.. Oh. Oh, Midoriya,” she said mournfully, clutching at the fabric over her chest. “I should have realized, but it’s so..”

“Spit it out,” Katsuki snarled, struggling to maintain his composure.

“He’s talking to himself,” she said quietly. 

Oh.

“But none of it makes sense, it’s just.. Babbling, nonsense. And he’s crying. He’s in a bad way, boss. Bakugou.”

Katsuki stood up.

Jirou did too, pulled up by the forearm still clutched in her hand. She gripped both of his arms, hard.

“Bakugou, I’m going to radio the van. I swear to god if you storm down there I will see to it that you live in a personal hell of dissonance until graduation.”

He looked down at the girl in front of him, at her dark flashing eyes. 

Anger was easy.

“He needs me,” he said calmly. Through clenched teeth.

“Yeah? You think he needs the guy who just swore he’d kill him the next time they met? How you think that’s going to go over, exactly?” One earjack came up to press at her comm. She maintained her hold and eye contact. “Earjack to Ingenium.”

Katsuki’s chest constricted painfully.

I’ll kill you with my own bare hands, that’s a promise. 

“We found him. He’s alive, he’s alone, he’s unstable. Yes. Yes. We will hold our position, roger that.”

She ended the call and blew out an exhale before relaxing her grip on Katsuki’s forearms, never dropping eye contact. “Bakugou, please. Just trust us. For Midoriya’s sake. For your sake.”

Katsuki glanced down at the storm drain. If Deku was alone, then the biggest danger to him besides himself was now Katsuki. “Fine,” he spit out. “I’ll.. wait. But keep listening, and tell me the second something feels off. If he gets attacked I’m going in.”

Jirou patted his arms and offered him a half-smile. “You got it, boss.”

They thankfully only had to wait a few minutes before Uraraka showed up, but the only other team member with her was Kirishima.

“Report,” Uraraka demanded as the two joined their party, before Katsuki could ask where the hell everyone else was.

With a gesture down the slope to the storm drain yawning in the distance, Jirou detailed the situation. “No hostiles detected. Midoriya is alone, and I can pretty much exactly pinpoint he’s in that culvert.”

“And he’s probably been in a fugue state since I promised to murder him and slammed the door in his face,” Katsuki added gruffly, earning him some looks of pity. Kirishima bumped him with an elbow.

You always did like Kirishima-kun more than me. I was so jealous! And now I finally have him out of the way.

Uraraka drummed her fingertips together. “Ingenium is staying with the van, and I have everyone else spreading out in a perimeter to secure the area and guard us while we retrieve Deku-kun. Earjack, you will stay here while--”

“I go get him,” Katsuki finished for her. She pursed her lips and fixed him with a disapproving glare.

“Uh, dude, maybe let someone else? Also, maybe stop saying you were going to kill him?”

Katsuki grit his teeth and met Kirishima’s red eyes with his own. “He needs me. And I was.”

“Ground Zero and I will remain outside the drain while Red Riot goes in for Deku-kun,” Uraraka finally finished as if no one had interrupted her. Both boys turned to her in surprise.

“Wait, no,” Katsuki found himself objecting for an entirely different reason without realizing it. His blood surged in his veins and he struggled to reconcile vivid memories with what he knew was the truth. What had to be truth. “Don’t send him in with Deku, not Kirishima. Send me.” Katsuki’s voice was weak and pleading and he absolutely hated the sound of it.

“Bro, Midoriya is not going to murder me.”

Haha, so much red! What a riot!

“I saw him slit your throat, Shitty-Hair, it’s as real as any other memory I have.”

“I know, man. I know what it’s like. Sorta. But I’m alive, okay? And right now what you have to understand is Midoriya absolutely did not do whatever it is you think he did, and he’s probably scared and alone and thinks you want to kill him.” He turned to Uraraka. “Not to doubt you, Urara..vity.. Ma’am! But shouldn’t you go in? I wasn’t able to bring him out of his last episode.”

Katsuki snatched at Kirishima’s upper arm. “What last episode?”

“I know,” Uraraka said softly. Katsuki scowled at having yet another one of his inquiries about the day go ignored. “But I’m making the right call. Trust me, it has to be you, Kirishima-kun.”

Kirishima rubbed at the back of his head. “Man, if I had a yen..”

“Hey, I don’t want to interrupt, but Midoriya has been quiet for a few minutes,” Jirou called back over her shoulder from where she was standing closer to the edge of the cliff. “He’s still there, but the muttering storm has stopped.”

Katsuki’s pulse spiked. Was that good? It probably meant he had calmed down, but if Deku was cogent he probably had no idea where the hell he was or what had happened. With any luck he didn’t remember any of what brought or sent him here.

Katsuki was rarely that lucky.

“Let’s go,” Uraraka ordered, already moving to climb down the slope. “Ground Zero, Red Riot, with me.”

It didn’t take long to reach the entrance of the storm drain, even using slower stealth maneuvers as they approached, and all too soon Katsuki was mere feet away from the soft sobs echoing out of it. It took all of his self control, barely a few years of training, to keep himself rooted to his mark. He needed to focus on the mission, and not on his feelings. But still. Deku, his heart roared. How could he just stand here when the shitty nerd was so close and clearly suffering?

Suffering because of Katsuki.

With everyone in position - Katsuki on the left of the circular opening and the other two on the right - Uraraka gave the signal, and Kirishima nodded in affirmation. He shuffled his weight for a moment before calling out, “Hey! Midoriya!”

The sobbing stopped.

Kirishima popped his head around the entrance, and Katsuki could see his expression flicker in shock before settling into his signature, warm grin. “There you are!” he boomed jovially before bounding into the drain and out of sight.

“K-Kirishima-kun?!”

Katsuki let out a slow, shuddering, silent breath. Deku was lucid. They were past the first hurdle.

“Yeah! It’s me! Can I come in?”

“..Whuh, uh. Where.. Where am I?”

The redhead’s boisterous laugh echoed out of the chamber. “I honestly have no idea!”

Katsuki couldn't help his eyes rolling to the heavens. This idiot. This infuriating, lovable idiot.

“How.. How did you f-find me?”

“Tracked your phone!” Footsteps sloshing through water.

A bitter, wet laugh. “Oh. I'm.. I'm not thinking very straight. I didn’t know you could.. I should have turned it off. I didn't.. I didn't really stand a chance, did I?”

A pause. “You didn’t want me to find you?”

A longer pause, some shuffling. Then, very quietly, “Are you here to arrest me?”

“Why would I arrest you? Can I even arrest you? I'm not a--”

“I think I did something bad,” Deku interrupted. Then, suddenly louder, “If.. if you’re not here to arrest me you have to leave, Kirishima-kun! They can't think you're helping me.. I..I'm going to turn myself in.. I shouldn't have run, but I was s-scared and I--”

“Midoriya! You didn’t do anything bad, trust me!”

The sobbing returned in full force. Uraraka was giving Katsuki the hold position signal when he glanced up. She knew him too well.

“Y-yes I did, I must have lost c-control, and h-hurt someone, or or or--”

“Hey!” Kirishima cut him off. Then, softer, “Hey. Midoriya. Look, I’m going to give it to you straight, you remember how everyone thought you were on a cruise?”

“Uh-huh? B-because of the memory gas quirk..” A gasp. “Is that why I don't remember what I did??”

“Midoriya,” Kirishima squeezed out in a strangled groan. “You. Did. Not. Do. Anything. Wrong. Bakugou just thought you did because he got gassed. And I mean, maybe you did too? What do you remember, from like, this week?”

A slide, splashing water. “K-Kacchan?”

Katsuki straightened up. Uraraka repeated her hold signal, eyes hard and lips drawn tight in a line.

“Can you recount your week for me, please?”

“Um. I started my remedial academics on Monday, and there was the, um, 3-B team-up exercise I got to observe, you were paired with Kendo-san--”

Kirishima sucked in a breath. “Shit. He took the whole week from you. I didn't think he could just do that.”

I need to borrow your Statistics book, I lent mine--

“Wh-what??” Panic spiked in Deku’s voice, and Katsuki’s heart stuttered.

“That was last week. Aaahh, sorry Midoriya, I still don’t think I’m the best for this.. Is it okay if I go get--”

“Kacchan? Is.. is he here?”

Katsuki’s palms began to sweat.

“..Yes, but he’s not going to hurt you, I promise!”

“Kirishima-kun,” Deku sobbed, “I need him, I need him but he hates me, I don't know what I did, I don't know what to do--”

His years of training, of following commands and putting the mission above himself, completely failed him as Katsuki stepped into the entrance of the storm drain. Uraraka hissed behind him, but it was too late.

And Deku is there, and so is Kirishima, but they’re coated in blood and Deku is grinning, eyes alight with a sick, green glow--

“Kacchan,” Deku choked out. In the reflected moonlight Katsuki could just make out the boy huddled against a floor-to-ceiling grate holding back a quarter-wall of garbage, about fifteen feet into the drain. His school uniform was torn and filthy, soaked through from the half foot of trashwater he was sitting in. He looked awful. And yet, still, beautiful. Katsuki shuddered with relief and misery at the sight.

Kirishima, who was crouched a few feet in front of Deku, looked back in surprise. He held his hands up between them. “Uh, bro, I don’t know if you should..”

Katsuki tried to say words but they turned to sawdust in his mouth. He saw Deku, and Kirishima, and Shitty-Hair was alive and Deku couldn't possibly be anything other than the innocent boy he loved, and yet his jaw and fists clenched.

“Bakugou,” Kirishima warned.

Deku pressed back against the grate, trembling. Impossibly green eyes full of pain and fear, glinting wide and wet in the refracted light.

Katsuki’s heart broke. He’d desperately hoped to never see those eyes ever again. Especially not pointed at him, caused by him.

He stepped back, arms wide in surrender. Deku’s gaze flicked to Katsuki’s right, and in that split second Katsuki realized they had him cornered like an animal. The tunnel flashed green, and Deku bolted.

But. Even with One For All, Deku was exhausted, and slow. Kirishima snagged him as he sailed past, hardening his body and dragging him down to the wet concrete with a crash. The momentum carried them right into Katsuki, who braced himself and brought his arms around them both.

“Deku, it’s.. It’s okay,” the useless platitude squeezed through Katsuki’s thick throat as they held him down. Deku was hysterical: sobbing, shivering, babbling nonsense all while struggling to break out of their grip. But it was a losing battle. He was physically and emotionally drained after traveling such an obscene distance and sitting in a puddle of cold water. He had no fight left to fend them both off, and he collapsed in Kirishima’s arms, chest heaving as he wheezed like a broken accordion. The pitiful sounds punched right through Katsuki’s ribcage.

Another set of arms surrounded them, and Katsuki looked up to see Uraraka staring across at him with a tired but understanding, or at least knowing, expression. She must have called the others in when Katsuki overstepped - yet another set of arms, long and lanky with tape dispenser elbows, came around him next. Then a pink set, a frenetic electric set, and a set with punk rock fingerless gloves. Finally, Todoroki patted Katsuki’s head. This fucking guy.

Deku’s sobs reduced to whimpers under the all-encompassing group hug.

“Alright, problem children.” 

Katsuki’s head whipped around to see Aizawa inexplicably standing behind them in the drain’s entrance, flanked by Ponytail and the frog girl. He knew they had backup inbound but didn’t realize it was just going to be his teacher and a pair of his own classmates.

“We’re going underground.”

Chapter Text

Streetlights rolled overhead in pulsing waves, flooding bright into the car backseat before quickly wiping away again to darkness. White circles bloomed under Izuku’s face pressed up against the cold window. They grew and dissipated with an off-kilter rhythm just out of sync with the passing lights. If he tried really, really hard, Izuku could almost fool himself into believing he was just on the way home from some childhood trip, dozing peacefully against the seat belt until his mother leaned over, unclipped it, and carried him up to bed.

But his mother wasn’t driving.

“If you touch the radio again I am kicking you out of the car and also expelling you,” came the low growl from the front seat.

“Aw come on, sensei, it’s too quiet,” Kaminari-kun whisper-whined from the passenger side.

Ashido-san leaned forward and whacked him none too gently on the back of the head. “Midori is sleeping,” she hissed.

“I’m not.”

“You should be.” Aizawa-sensei flicked his eyes back at Izuku in the rear-view mirror as light washed over them.

It was true, he should be. Izuku was bone-weary and exhausted. His muscles hurt from overuse, ligaments and tendons ached from overextension, and the pit in his chest felt deep and raw. It was like he hadn’t slept in days and had tipped so far past tired he merely existed, humming along like a fluorescent light left on and forgotten in an abandoned store. But despite being so tired his eyelids didn’t droop; the fuzzy warmth of sleep eluded him, staying far off in his periphery.

His mind was too awake.

After the day’s smeared blur, now everything was too crisp, too sharp. Too painful. Burn marks on a doorframe, red eyes lit with loathing. It had been.. a misunderstanding. Kacchan had an implanted memory that caused his reaction, and Izuku had lost a swath of real ones. In a week their minds would right themselves: Kacchan's false memory would fade away, left only with a vague impression, and Izuku’s missing days would return.

But Izuku would still be left with the memory of what happened in that hallway.

And so, he supposed, would Kacchan.

Izuku wanted to run, to keep running. He had tried to. But his feet and his mind were slow and his body was weak, and he had been wrestled into this car and torn away from Kacchan before he could even comprehend that almost his entire class had shown up to retrieve him from the gutter. If it really was his class. Who could he trust? Not Kacchan, not his own mind. Was it really his teacher in the front seat? His friends in the others?

Did it matter?

And how could he even run now? They took his shoes.

“C’mere, sweetie,” Ashido-san beckoned, holding her arms open in invitation. Izuku stared blankly for a moment, hating the immediate and visceral tug he felt toward her. But he was unbuckling his seat belt and crawling across the leather before any I’m not a child protest could even form on his tongue. If it wasn’t real, if it was actually a trap, Izuku was too far gone to care.

“Hey, seat belts on in this car.”

“Hush, you old goat,” Ashido-san scoffed, pulling the center belt around Izuku as he moved up against her. “There, he’s buckled, okay? Here hon, put your elbow here. There we go.” She wrapped Izuku in her arms and immediately began running her deft fingers through his hair, gently detangling knots as she pulled his head down onto her shoulder. 

“Old..? I’m in my early thirties,” Aizawa-sensei muttered as he smoothly changed lanes. “I told you not to touch the radio. I’m expelling the both of you.”

“It’s chill music! It’ll help!”

Izuku inhaled vanilla and rose and it wasn’t burnt sugar but it was still good, was still at least a decent facsimile of the desired effect.

“Sorry I smell so bad,” he mumbled quietly. They had stripped him; peeled him out of his sweat and sewage soaked school uniform right there in the middle of the forest, naked as the day he was born, before towelling him off, bundling him in soft cottons and packing him away. But he could really use a bath.

The chuckle under him jostled his head slightly. “Oh, honey.” Ashido-san squeezed him before returning to combing through his curls. “Turn that brain off and go to sleep. I've got you.”

God, he needed this, and he was so tired of denying it. Tomorrow, if it came, he could berate himself for being needy, for being weak. Tonight he deserved to be a child curled up in the back of a car under someone's loving arms, the rhythm of the road and the streetlights and a soft melody lulling him to sleep.

~

“--m up, I'll get him.”

“Shh, keep your voice down then.”

With a click, the pressure around Izuku’s midsection released as the seat belt snaked back into its home. It was quiet; the absence of the car engine deafening in the vacuum it left behind. The warmth under him shifted. A whine escaped his lips as he chased it, caught somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, a heavy layer of mental cotton keeping him from jolting awake - keeping everything sluggish and fuzzy. Sudden pressure under his armpits pushed him further to the surface as it pulled him up into the air.

After a brief moment of weightlessness, Izuku fell heavy over a hard shoulder, held firmly in place by strong arms. He clutched weakly at what he expected to be shirt fabric, but found only skin. Izuku inhaled sharply. Sandalwood and citrus; not burnt sugar.

“Kirishima-k..kun?”

“Heyyy, buddy. Just gonna get you upstairs, alright?”

“Mm.” Izuku attempted to nod but his head only bounced with the movement of the steps under him. Kirishima-kun wouldn’t have seen it anyway. “You’re not wearing a shirt.”

“Ha, nope! Usually don’t, with my costume. Took my shoulders off for ya, though, so yeah I guess I’m extra shirtless right now.”

“Mnmhm.”

“Alright, almost there.”

Lights and voices and sounds blended together in a pleasant mix of sensation, wrapping Izuku in a muffled blanket of murmurs and color bleeding ever so gently through his ears and eyelids.

Then, suddenly, light bloomed bright and harsh above. Izuku flinched away from it, but didn’t have time to hide his face before he was being slid off of that shoulder and deposited onto a seat. Izuku blinked rapidly and blearily, panic pulsing as he tried to take stock of his surroundings.

He was in a washroom, that much he could discern, and not much of one from the blurry glimpses he got. It felt sterile, public. Cold. Izuku shivered, tamping down unwelcome, hazy visions of being stretched out in a metal tub, stripped, washed, processed. Were those.. New memories? Fake ones?

It was fine. He was with Kirishima-kun, he was.. Safe.

Izuku shivered again.

“Where’s Kacchan?” The words were out of his mouth, soft and pleading, practically involuntarily.

“He’s around, don’t worry!”

Izuku worried.

A large shower took up half the room, but there was no curtain or door. A far cry from the cozy bathroom on the third floor of the safehouse, although the company was the same, and Izuku suspected the activity would be too.

Sure enough, a faucet handle squeaked and a rush of water sputtered to life, filling the room with its white noise.

“Do you wanna get undressed while it heats up?”

Izuku nodded, the heavy bobbing motion nearly sending him tumbling off of the stool he sat on. The shirt he was wearing was suddenly up and over his head, his arms along for the ride, before he noticed Kirishima-kun had even come back from over by the shower. “Wait,” he protested, but his pants and underclothes were already suffering a similar fate as Kirishima-kun finished undressing him. He had been naked in front of the redhead plenty of times already, for this exact purpose even, and Izuku was past the point of being modest. But he wasn’t coming off of a week of starvation this time; he could take his own pants off. 

Stripped, washed, processed. 

“I could have done that,” he mumbled hoarsely as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, trying to adjust to the harsh overhead lights.

Kirishima-kun’s hearty laugh helped ease the sting of embarrassment, as it always did. “Just giving you a hand! Can you stand?”

“Of course,” Izuku nearly scoffed, rising up off the stool.. And then immediately collapsing into Kirishima-kun’s arms as his legs gave out under him. He stared dumbfoundedly at the forearms he clung to. The last vestiges of sleep dulling his senses fell away and Izuku was suddenly, acutely aware of how much his entire body felt like jelly. “Wh.. What?”

Kirishima-kun snaked an arm around Izuku’s waist, scooping up the stool and repositioning it under the shower. He eased Izuku into the spray and back down onto the seat. Izuku barely registered the hot water cascading down his back. He knew he had exhausted himself, but why couldn’t he stand at all? Was he regressing??

“Do you, ah, know how far you traveled today?” Kirishima-kun’s tone was light, just audible over the noise of the shower, as he gathered soap and shampoo from the other side of the room. He deposited the bottles outside the edge of the open shower before selecting one and a washcloth.

“No?”

Kirishima-kun squeezed out a dollop of soap onto the washcloth, lathered it up and began scrubbing Izuku down. The chocolatey scent of cocoa butter and something else - lavender? - rose up with the shower steam. “You ran over three hundred K,” he said, punctuated with a whistle.

Izuku’s stomach dropped. “That’s.. not.. humanly possible,” he whispered in disbelief.

“Lot of things are that shouldn't be, these days,” Kirishima-kun chuckled. “But you really pushed yourself, even with your quirk. You’ll probably be back on your feet tomorrow! But it’s like old times tonight, you and me. Hope you’re ready for the best shampooin’ this side of the Pacific!”

Numb, numb. Izuku was under hot water but he just felt numb. How did this keep happening? How was he supposed to get better, become a hero, save people, if he kept destroying himself over and over again? To make no mention of whatever the hell he was supposed to do about Kacchan; Kacchan who he couldn’t stand to be apart from but whose eyes full of hatred cut a jagged gash across his chest and straight through his heart.

The numbness shattered and Izuku wept.

To his credit, Kirishima-kun let him cry. He worked the shampoo through Izuku’s thick curls, gently massaging his scalp and then diligently, methodically finished bathing him. But when the water shut off, the waterworks didn’t.

Spare me the fake--

Izuku only cried harder.

A towel draped over Izuku’s shoulders and it shook with his sobs. Kirishima-kun rubbed his back through it.

“Hey,” he said, his voice soft. “It’s gonna okay, y’know?”

“No, it’s not,” Izuku responded, bitter and thick with emotion. “I’m supposed to be a hero, Kirishima-kun. I’m supposed to save people. Instead, I’m this.” Izuku gestured to his broken body, his broken mind, his entire broken self with both hands, wincing at the movement and the associated pain.

“Yeah, and you know what you are?”

Izuku looked up morosely. “If you want me to say ‘a hero,’ I just said--”

“A people, Midoriya.” Kirishima-kun’s expression was open, earnest. “A person. You get to be saved, too, bro.” 

Oh.

Izuku lowered his eyes. He didn’t have a response to that. Even if he did, his throat was too constricted to allow it to pass.  

“Come on. Let’s get you dressed and to bed.”

~

“Where are we?” Izuku lifted his head as much as he could from where he was slumped over Kirishima-kun’s back, arms around his neck. Riding piggyback was slightly less embarrassing than a princess carry or being tossed over a shoulder like a sack of flour, he supposed. They weren’t in the safehouse or anything like it. It looked like a floor of a normal office building, empty of workers. They passed Sero-kun and Kaminari-kun, both wearing yellow and black pajamas in inverted color distributions (the former’s were more yellow and the latter’s more black), lounging on a couch. The two both gave them smiling waves as they walked by.

“Don’t right know myself,” Kirishima-kun said. “We’re all just kinda holed up here until Aizawa tells us otherwise. Probably get a proper briefing in the morning once everyone rests up. It’s been a long day!”

They turned down a hallway toward a wing of what looked like private offices, passing Jirou-san in purple pajamas.

“And, um, Kacchan?”

Izuku thought he knew the answer, but. He had to ask.

“Ahh, sorry Midoriya, you can’t see him just yet. Soon, though, I hope.”

He couldn’t stop his heart from sinking.

“Here we are,” Kirishima-kun announced as they stopped at an open door. Inside, instead of an executive’s desk there was, inexplicably, a bed. Uraraka-san was sitting on the edge of it, wearing an oversized set of pale pink and black silk pajamas that matched the ones the others had been wearing. That matched the green ones Izuku was wearing.

Where did these color-coded pajamas come from?

She stood up as they entered, stepping out of the way for Kirishima-kun to deposit Izuku onto the bed with only a small squeak - definitely from the springs and not from the boy. Izuku sat back on his heels, looking up at his two friends backlit by the hallway light.

“Deku-kun! How are you feeling?” Uraraka-san’s words were bright and cheerful but her tone was understated, understanding.

“Bad,” he said simply.

With a small smile, Uraraka-san reached out and cupped the side of Izuku’s face, taking care to not touch him with all five fingers. She delicately ran her thumb under his eye. “Yeah,” she said. “I figured.”

“I’ll leave you to it, I’m gonna go get the rest of this off,” Kirishima-kun gestured to his lower half, still clad in his hero costume. “..And go see Yao-Momo for my jammies. Feel better, dollface!” With a grin, a wink and a twirl of the cape around his waist, he was gone.

Izuku blinked at the open doorway. He looked back up at Uraraka-san as she withdrew her hand and walked over to stand at the door. He pointed at himself. “Uh, me?” 

She chuckled. “Well, I can’t say that’s never been a nickname applied to me, but yes, that one’s for you, Deku-kun.” She offered him another smile, softly lit in the city lights shining in through the window to her left. “Ready for dinner?”

Izuku's stomach gurgled loudly at the mere suggestion, betraying him. He blushed.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Uraraka-san said. She nodded to someone unseen in the hallway. A moment later Todoroki-kun appeared at the entry, a steaming bowl held in his left hand and a frosty glass of water in his right.

“Todoroki.. kun,” Izuku said by way of greeting, earning a nod and the slightest smile in return.

The aroma of food wafted in with its carrier, and Izuku’s mouth watered. A sharp pang shot through his chest. Through his stomach. Izuku had a.. complicated relationship with food. When things got bad, Kacchan invariably cooked something: oodles of fresh vegetables and meat seasoned to perfection with, as cheesy as it sounded, love as the secret ingredient. It could have been a slice of bread but if Kacchan’s hands had wielded the knife, it never failed to put Izuku’s myriad woes aside. At least temporarily.

If Kacchan wasn’t facilitating it, there was a high chance that Izuku just wouldn’t eat.

Izuku very much doubted Kacchan had cooked this.

Todoroki-kun handed over the water first. Izuku offered a quiet thank you before he drained it, chugging the chilly liquid so fast it hurt. He hadn’t realized how utterly dehydrated he must have been until the water touched his lips - and then suddenly it was as if he had been in a desert for days. Todoroki-kun tried to snatch it away but he was distracted by soup; for once, Izuku was faster.

“Midoriya, pace yourself. It’s not going anywhere.”

Izuku licked the last of it from his lips. Like a stray animal, he often couldn’t shake the fear that there wouldn’t be a next glass, wouldn’t be a next meal.

And yet.

Shaking his head as Todoroki-kun tried to hand over the bowl, Izuku was keenly aware of the look exchanged between his friends over his head. A lump lodged itself in his throat and his stomach tightened.

“Deku-kun, you have to eat something,” Uraraka-san said gently from behind his shoulder.

“I’m not hungry,” Izuku asserted weakly.

Another flick of mismatched eyes. Todoroki-kun lifted the spoon out of the bowl with his right hand, the slightest frost on his fingertips wicking away the steam. He raised it to Izuku’s lips; Izuku opened his mouth automatically. Obediently.

Hot, salty broth was sliding over his tongue before Izuku had processed what he had done. He swallowed, slowly, unable to raise his eyes. His face burned with shame.

Don’t do that!

I can feed myself!

I’m not a child!

Izuku closed his eyes against the swell of hot tears, fighting desperately to keep them in. He opened his mouth and accepted another spoonful, then another, then another. Until the soup was gone and so was Todoroki-kun.

The door shut with a soft click.

Dark green silk gathered between white knuckles kept Izuku’s gaze, held tight over trembling knees. Uraraka-san approached with soft footsteps, gently disentangling Izuku’s fingers before interlacing them with her own.

“Deku-kun,” she said, voice soft and delicate. “Bedtime?”

Izuku looked up at her at last. Her smile was utterly disarming; whatever protest was on his tongue, whatever humiliation wrapped around his throat withered away to nothing.

Uraraka-san pulled back the covers, tugging them gently out from under Izuku’s knees as he crawled clumsily over to the pillows. The prospect of sleeping in a strange place without Kacchan was not one he had been looking forward to, but since it was fairly apparent they were being kept apart, he might as well get on with it. To his surprise, Uraraka-san climbed in after him, pulling the covers up over both of their shoulders.

“U-Uraraka-s-san?” Izuku rolled his head on the pillow to face her, and although he was very grateful that he had been able to brush his teeth after showering, he wished he hadn’t just consumed an entire bowl of fragrant soup. Shouldn’t he brush his teeth again? But he was already in bed, and he didn’t want to be a bother, and--

“Deku-kun, I know you have trouble sleeping without Bakugou-kun, and I’m sorry he can’t be here with you right now,” Uraraka-san said, her brows drawn together over sincere eyes.

“But I’m not going to leave you alone tonight.”

Izuku’s throat constricted and his vision blurred. With everything that had happened, the adrenaline and the exhaustion and the confusion had pushed the hum, the buzz, the creeping, tickling spectre of his anxiety to the back of his brain. Now in the calm stillness of this borrowed office-cum-bedroom it threatened to bully its way back to the surface. But as Uraraka-san gently wiped away a track of wetness from his cheek, he felt it recede back into the shadows.

Floral notes of juniper filled the bed, sharp and sweet and not quite like sugar, though it satiated him well enough.

“Thank you,” he whispered, and shut his eyes.

~

“You’re not supposed to be here.”

Izuku spun, but his vision remained static; inky swirls of darkness and flickering, nondescript images.

Who’s there? he called, though he had no voice.

“Useless,” they hissed.

I’m not, Izuku wanted to say.

“You are. You were born useless, you continue to be useless. You will always be useless.”

“Worthless.”

Izuku covered his ears. No. It’s not true.

“It is. You failed, failed and failed again. Your only use is in your death. Stop resisting, and fulfill it.”

He fell to his knees.

“Deku,” a new voice growled.

“Means useless!” the old voice howled.

“Deku-kun,” a third voice whispered.

Means do your best, Izuku whimpered.

“No!” it screamed.

Izuku stood up, two hands pulling him upright. More hands at his back, his waist, his arms, his legs.

I’m not useless! I’m the Deku who always does his best!!

And that’s all that they ask.

~

Recently, if Izuku so much as dozed off on the couch in the dorm commons, he’d awake with a start - confused, disoriented, panicked. But despite these extremely unfamiliar surroundings, Izuku awoke slowly, calmly. Normally. He reached out automatically for Kacchan in bed beside him. His hand hit empty sheets and he recoiled, suddenly remembering his situation and grateful that Uraraka-san was already out of bed. That could have been embarrassing.

He inhaled deeply before releasing a long and loud yawn. It kind of felt like waking up in a hotel. Clean and pleasant and bright.

“Good morning, Deku-kun!”

Izuku rolled, twisting under the covers to face Uraraka-san on the other side of the room, already up and dressed in casual clothes. He sat up quickly, pulling the bedspread up to his chest, embarrassed to be still sitting in pajamas in front of his friend despite having just slept next to her all night long.

“G-good morning! Uraraka-san! Did, um. Did you sleep okay?”

“Oooh, Deku-kun!” Her tone was warm even as she chided him. “I should be asking you that! I slept fine, how are you feeling?” 

He lowered the covers and his defenses, swinging his legs out over the side of the bed. With a huff he pushed himself up and to his feet. He wobbled, but stayed upright.

“Better,” he responded truthfully. “Actually, really good. Huh, that’s..” Izuku trailed off, paling as panic began to simmer under his breastbone. There was no way he should have felt this good after how he felt last night. “Uraraka-san, how long have I been asleep?!”

She laughed, patting him reassuringly on his arm. “Just the one night, don’t worry. We’ve got a healer here who can’t heal wounds but can make sleep more effective. He came by shortly after we went to bed. You got like, a week of rest in one night.”

Izuku looked down at himself. Under the dark green, silk pajamas, his battered body felt good. Felt great. He let out the breath he had been holding.

“Wow. That would be amazing combined with Recovery Girl,” he mused, tapping his chin thoughtfully just before a pinch on his upper arm brought his attention back to earth. “Ow, what?”

“I know a brewing muttering storm when I see it,” Uraraka-san teased. She handed him a set of clothes to change into.

Running a hand over the soft fabric, Izuku frowned as the enormity of the entire situation began to sink in. “Uraraka-san? Do you know if.. If my mom’s okay?”

She smiled gently. “Your mother and Bakugou-kun’s parents have been moved to a secure location for now. These horrible villains seem fixated on the two of you but we’re not taking the chance that they won’t go after family if they get desperate.”

Oh. Izuku was glad his mother was safe, and with Kacchan’s, but hated that it had come to this. He caused so much trouble for everyone.

”I’ll let you get dressed. Then we’ll get breakfast, and caught up with everyone else.”

Does that include Kacchan? Izuku wanted to ask.

But he didn’t.

For now, having his body obey him again would have to sustain him.

Even though he knew it wasn’t enough.

~

“Ah, Midoriya-san, Uraraka-san! Perfect timing!”

Izuku glanced over toward the source of the voice as they entered the central, open area of the office floor. Several couches and desks had been arranged in a haphazard circle and, combined with the matching pajamas some of his classmates were still sporting, it gave the whole affair a charming sleepover feel. If you could ignore the circumstances that brought them here.

Yaoyorozu-san set a tray of teapots and cups down on one of the desks as they approached. “Good morning! I just finished brewing. Black or green?”

“Yesss,” Uraraka-san nearly hissed, in just about the cutest way you could hiss. She made grabby hands at the cups. “Green, please!”

“Of course,” Yaoyorozu-san said as she began filling a cup on the tray from one of the teapots. “And for you, Midoriya-san?”

“Um, black, thank you.” Izuku tried not to notice that all of the rest of the eyes in the room were on him.

“Here you are.” She handed the two teacups over, complete with matching saucers. “How are the clothes, Midoriya-san? Do they fit well enough?”

The teacup rattled in its saucer as Izuku fought the urge to wrap his arms around his face, which would be difficult to do while holding a cup of scalding liquid. He was wearing a simple and comfortable set of casual clothes that Uraraka-san had given him: just a t-shirt and lounge pants that might as well have been something he already owned. The shirt even said ‘shirt’ on it.

“Ah, y-yes! You’ve been making them, Yaoyorozu-san?”

“I have, indeed!”

A slight, cheeky smile tugged at Izuku’s mouth. “But what about the economy?”

Yaoyorozu-san clapped a hand to her cheek and undulated the other one back and forth. “Aha, Midoriya-san, your tea will get cold! Sit, sit!” And she ushered him over to the couches.

Izuku sat in an open spot next to Tsuyu-chan. He had glimpsed her and Yaoyorozu-san last night before he got shipped off, and was frankly surprised to see the former among his rescuers. From what little he had gleaned, it appeared that the largely student-comprised group was acting independently from the school, which didn’t seem like something Tsuyu-chan would have approved of. Although Aizawa-sensei's involvement might be an explanation.

Tsuyu-chan leaned toward him with long finger against her chin, large eyes raking over him. “Midoriya-chan, you look unwell, kero,” she croaked.

He frowned at the tea cradled in his scarred hands as he let the heat seep into his fingers. Izuku thought he felt pretty good, all things considered.

“Now you look worse.”

“Tsuyu-chan,” Uraraka-san admonished, shooing the other girl over to make room so she could sit down between them. She balanced her teacup and saucer in one hand while she squeezed Izuku’s thigh with the other. “You look fine, Deku-kun,” she said quietly.

Taking a sip of tea with a nod in place of responding gave Izuku the out he needed to get the tightness in his throat under control. He proceeded to down the rest of it in one go, not minding the burn as it rushed down to his stomach.

“Morning,” Aizawa-sensei grunted as he entered the ring of couches. His hair was pulled back in a low ponytail, and Izuku was surprised to see him without his capture weapon around his neck. A man Izuku didn’t know trailed just behind him on his right, yawning, wearing striped pajamas that looked nothing like the ones Yaoyorozu-san had made. An oversized sleeping cap pulled down over his eyes and nose formed a hero mask.

“I’ll be brief since most of you already know what’s going on.” He looked right at Izuku, who couldn’t help the involuntary inward curl of his shoulders. He was probably the only one who was out of the loop. Izuku glanced around the room; no Kacchan, Kirishima-kun or Sero-kun.

“Six days ago Gaslight, Goblin Shark and a third villain, Powder Coat, escaped from the mid-security facility they were being held in. They likely had help. Gaslight used his quick to cover their tracks and the jailbreak wasn’t discovered until he had already attacked Midoriya and Bakugou. We are unsure at this time whether he posed as Takamura or if they are one and the same, as the psychiatrist has yet to be located.”

Izuku frowned, brows furrowed tightly. “That wasn’t the name he gave us,” he said automatically. “He introduced himself as Fukami.”

Everyone turned their attention on him.

“Midoriya, you remember the attack?” Kaminari-kun quirked his head like a curious cat, the effect aided by the curled-up position he was in on the couch across the circle. He was still wearing pajamas and looked barely awake but he zeroed in on Izuku with alarming sharpness.

Static flared at the base of Izuku’s skull and he jolted to standing, losing his grip on what he had held in his hands. Tsuyu-chan caught the empty teacup with her tongue, but the saucer shattered at his feet.

Izuku pressed the heels of both hands to his temples, blood coursing in pounding, rapid throbs through his veins. He remembered the attack? He remembered everything.

His missing week of memories was back. When had that happened?? There was no pop, no flash of light, no dawning realization. The memories had slipped back in, slotted right into their waiting, empty spot as if they had never left in the first place. Now Izuku couldn’t even remember what it was like to not have them. It was suddenly too much to sort through, to even know where to begin.

“Deku-kun!” Uraraka-san had her hands on his wrists, tugging them away from his face. His chest was heaving; he was hyperventilating. His fingertips came away from his scalp wet and red. “Hey, hey, can you look at me? Can you breathe with me? In,” she said, inhaling long, loud and slow through her nose, her head tilting back and her movements exaggerated. “Out.” She loosely pursed her lips, letting out her breath in a steady stream through her mouth. “In, out. In, out. Okay?” With a gentle press, she pushed Izuku back down to his vacated spot on the couch. Indistinct words and voices surrounded him. Somewhere off to his left, a blur of pink left his vision.

Izuku was reeling. Everything that had just happened the night before was now compounded with everything that had directly preceded it: the therapist's office, the weight room, the text messages, Yutani-san, Ectoplasm’s class, the plain gray envelope wedged next to Kacchan’s Statistics book. And on top of all that, he shouldn’t even have these memories back for another six days. Was the timeline off? Had he been hit.. earlier? Did they have the details of the quirk wrong? Was Kacchan’s false memory gone too??

“Deku-kun, please,” Uraraka-san was crouched in front of him, his bloodied hands held loosely in her own. “Talk to us. Don’t do this all in your head.”

Izuku blinked rapidly. He was surprised, for once, that his internal dialogue hadn’t spilled out.

“I remember,” Izuku began slowly. “Everything. Not.. not anything between when Gaslight knocked us out and, uh, when I was back in the dorms.. Still fuzzy on where that picks up. But. The rest of the week, yeah. That’s back. I don’t know why, though.” He frowned down at the girl in front of him. “You meant it when you said I had only been asleep for a night, right?”

“Of course!”

“Then, why..” he trailed off, as Uraraka-san dropped his hands and Ashido-san sat down next to him, returned from wherever she had gone with a damp washcloth. She pulled his hands into her lap and began gently, thoroughly cleaning his fingernails. He watched her work in a detached fashion, feelings of protest overridden by the burning questions posed by his returned memories and if the same was true of Kacchan.

Tsuyu-chan began cleaning up the broken porcelain.

“Maybe taking memories doesn’t last as long as changing them,” Todoroki-kun offered from his perch on one of the desks.

“Or it’s a range thing? And we’re out of it?” Jirou-san suggested.

Aizawa-sensei had watched entire entire scene unfold with his arms crossed and his brows creased. “What’s more important now is that Midoriya’s memory has returned and he can fill us in on what happened yesterday afternoon. Right, problem child?”

“No!” Izuku snapped, before immediately rushing to apologize, tugging his hands out of Ashido-san’s grip to flail them wildly. “Sorry! I mean, yes, but, c-can’t we see if Kacchan is back to normal, first? Please?”

His hands were captured again just as quickly. Ashido-san tutted at him as she finished up, asking, “Can someone go check on blasty?”

“I’ll go,” Iida-kun volunteered, putting down his own cup of tea and heading for the stairwell.

“There,” Ashido-san said as she returned Izuku’s hands to him. “All done with those. Lean down so I can get your cuts.”

“Ashido-san, please, I’m fine, can we--”

“Lean. Down.” She puffed her cheeks out and scowled at him. He sighed, tipping his head down into her hands. Gentle fingers parted his hair and the washcloth swiped between them. “They’re not too deep,” she mused. “But we’ll probably want to put something on them.”

“Alright,” Aizawa-sensei groused. “While we wait--”

“There hasn’t been any change,” Iida-kun announced, already back on the floor and hurrying away from the entrance. “Bakugou-kun still has the quirk in effect.”

“Great. Now, can we discuss--”

“Well that rules out distance,” Jirou-san said flatly, twirling an earjack as she pushed Kaminari-kun, who had fallen asleep, off of her shoulder.

“Could still be differences in how the memories were affected.” Todoroki-kun abruptly hopped off of his desk, spreading his arms wide. “I’m going to go get dressed.” And he left.

Izuku watched him and his dark blue pajamas disappear from view. He thought of his own set and the extra restful night of sleep as his eyes swung back to those still present, stopping on the man beside his teacher who had yet to introduce himself. “The sleep quirk,” he murmured as they locked eyes.

Aizawa-sensei followed his gaze. He nodded at the man with a grunt. “This is Power Nap. He’s one of my old colleagues.”

“Did you heal Kacchan, too?” Izuku couldn’t keep the panic out of his voice. He held his breath; waiting, hoping.

The man shook his head, stifling a yawn. “I can only use my full strength on one person at a time, and it was determined that you needed all of it.”

Izuku clenched and unclenched his fists, his breathing rapid and shallow. Uraraka-san had said he had gotten a week of sleep in a night, that had to be what broke Gaslight’s influence. “Can you.. Use it on him now?” He licked his lips, glancing quickly between the man and his teacher.

With a grimace, Aizawa-sensei shook his head. “We don’t know that’s what returned your memories, Midoriya.”

“It.. it has to be!” Izuku stood back up, shaking. “Maybe Gaslight’s quirk doesn’t wear off after a week of time, but a week of rest? Of the body healing itself, expelling the effect?”

“Nah, that can’t be right,” Kaminari-kun said with a yawn. “We barely slept the whole time we were looking for you, and our memories righted themselves on time. Would have taken longer with how sleep deprived we were.”

Tears pricked at the corners of Izuku’s eyes. “Then.. maybe it’s the body’s perceived time?”

“That’s not quite how my quirk works,” Power Nap said with a yawn.

“It could just be a coincidence, kero.”

“B-but--”

“Or the quirks cancel each other?”

“Bakugou-kun only recently woke up, he likely won’t be able to sleep again soon, anyway.”

“We could s-still--”

“What if we got Midnight?”

“Everyone, not all at once!”

“Why would Gaslight not just use the real therapist’s name?”

“Please!!”

The din died down immediately with Izuku’s frantic shriek. His freshly-cleaned fingernails dug into his palms. “Please,” he repeated, quieter. “Can we at least.. try? It’s the o-only thing we can do besides wait, and I..” he trailed off as his throat threatened to close up. I can’t wait that long. He pressed his hands against his eyes, trying to stem the incoming tide. “I kn-know why you are k-keeping us separated, but, but. But I n-need him,” he hiccupped. “So, please.”

Arms wrapped around his own. “Deku-kun,” Uraraka-san breathed. “We’ll try, okay? Right, sensei?” She looked pointedly at the Eraser hero, who sighed heavily.

“Fine. Power Nap, go see if you can fix my other problem child.” Aizawa-sensei jerked his thumb at the stairwell, and Izuku sagged against his friend in relief.

“Right away, Eraser Head.”

“In the meantime,” Aizawa-sensei said forcefully, his tired eyes boring holes into Izuku. “Let’s go over what happened with Gaslight. If anyone who is not Midoriya speaks over him, they’re expelled.”

~

A knock at his open office-bedroom door brought Izuku’s attention away from the window, where he had been idly watching the sinking sun paint the cityscape in vivid gold. After debriefing with Aizawa-sensei, Izuku had been largely left to his own drifting devices for the rest of the day - although this had been the longest anyone had left him alone. He twisted to see Iida-kun in the doorway holding two small drink cartons.

“Sorry to bother you. Do you have any interest in a refreshment?” Iida-kun held up the boxes in offering, a smile along with them.

“Sure! Come in.” Izuku unfolded his legs from where they had been hugged tight to his chest and hopped off of the windowsill. In just a few steps he was across the room, accepting the proffered drink. “Ah, orange juice! Are you sure you don’t need this, Iida-kun? I don’t know what the food situation is, here, actually..”

“There’s a fully stocked vending machine on the third floor. On top of that, we’re not in complete lockdown - although near enough to it. Still, food supplies shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Oh, good. That’s good.”

“Yes! Yes it is.”

Izuku fiddled with the paper flap on the top of the carton.

“Ah, well, I should let you rest--”

“Do you want to drink this with me, Iida-kun?” Izuku’s words tumbled out in a rush. “I mean, ah, do you want to sit down? And.. um. S-stay for a bit?”

Iida-kun regarded him for only a moment before his stern expression softened. “Of course,” he replied, before stepping into the room, pulling the door shut behind him.

“Sorry if you're, um. Busy.” Izuku sat on the edge of the bed, and Iida-kun followed suit next to him. The comings and goings of the operation were unknown to Izuku and he was still largely left in the dark.

“Never too busy for a friend, Midoriya-kun!” Iida-kun announced, punctuating his statement with an arm chop from the hand not currently occupied with juice. “Never too busy for you,” he added in a much lower voice.

With a smile, Izuku popped open his drink and took a swig. The orange liquid sliding past his tongue was cold but Izuku felt warm.

They sat together like that, side-by-side, drinking in companionable silence until the last fingers of sunlight slipped out of the window and the hush of dusk filled the room in its place.

It was only a few moments more before Iida-kun spoke up.

“Midoriya-kun.. I’m afraid I have a confession.”

Izuku jolted, turning to face his friend, whose hard stare stayed fixed on the empty carton in his hands.

Iida-kun grimaced. “I hope you will not think less of me, although it’s hard to imagine you won’t. When.. When you were attacked by Gaslight, and Bakugou-kun was compromised, Uraraka-kun took charge of your.. team. She tapped me to assist. And do you want to know something terrible?” His fingers tightened on the cardboard but his eyes remained down. Izuku held his breath.

“I was elated. I was happy. Isn’t that awful? I took pleasure in your misfortune because I saw it as an opportunity to prove myself, to finally.. join the team.” He dropped his voice to just above a whisper. “Join the family.”

“Iida-kun..”

“I’d beg your forgiveness but I do not think I deserve it.”

“Iida-kun.” Izuku wrapped his fingers around a thick wrist, sparing the carton in Iida-kun’s hands from being crushed further. “Of course I don’t think less of you. I understand.”

Their eyes met. “You do?”

Izuku squeezed his forearm. “You’re not the only one who wished you were at the safehouse with me.”

“Midoriya-kun, I..”

“Listen, Iida-kun. Please.” Izuku opened his hand to wave it vaguely at the rest of the office floor. “What I have with the others? It’s not.. It’s not good.”

“What? Surely you don’t mean that?” Iida-kun’s eyebrows furrowed and his eyes searched Izuku’s face in the increasing darkness.

Izuku sighed, dropping his gaze back to his own juice box. “Maybe it’s unfair to say it’s not good. But my life.. doesn’t feel like mine anymore. I’m so dependent on them, and they treat me like I can’t take care of myself at all.” He dragged a fingernail in a circle around the waxy surface of the carton, frowning. “If we’re a family, I’m not even the child, I’m just a sick pet.”

“Midoriya-kun,” Iida-kun exclaimed in a sudden burst, grasping Izuku’s hands in both of his own, knocking their empty drink cartons to the ground in the process. “Don’t say that about yourself! I assure you, no one thinks that.”

Izuku blinked at him in surprise, glancing down and back up again. After a moment, he pushed Iida-kun’s hands back to their owner. “In any case, it’s actually nice that I don’t have the urge to crawl into your lap.” His neck flushed hot as he frantically waved his arms in front of his face. “Th-that came out wrong! I J-just mean that you treat me.. Normal.” His wrists dropped heavily between his knees and he shrugged one shoulder half-heartedly. His throat fluttered as he swallowed through the building sob. Weak, weak.

A large hand came down heavy on his shoulder and gripped firmly. “I’d never treat you as anything less. But you should talk to the others if this is how you feel.”

City lights had begun to replace the velvety dimness in the room, but it was still dark. Even so, Izuku turned to hide the wetness that rolled down his right cheek. He nodded mutely as he wiped it away.

“Bakugou-kun will be waking up soon,” Iida-kun said softly, releasing Izuku’s shoulder with a parting pat. 

“Yeah,” Izuku whispered.

But would Kacchan?

Chapter Text

“Ah, ah, ah. Eyes on me, Kacchan.”

Katsuki looked up. The Deku before him, twirling a knife and a crooked smile, had his other hand fisted in bright red hair. So red. So bright. Impossible to look away from.

“It’s okay,” Kirishima said, and he smiled. So bright. So sharp. Sharp like the blade that split open his throat.

Katsuki fell to his knees as he wrapped his hands around the weeping wound on.. Kirishima’s neck? Deku’s neck. Blood flowed freely across his fingers, mixed with daisies and rose petals. No, no, no.

“You can’t save me,” Deku gasped through the blood and flowers in his mouth, starlight pouring from his eyes.

Katsuki felt like he was the one choking.

“Don’t you dare give up on me,” he growled, nearly throttling the spectre as he desperately tried to stop the unending streams of red and white and gold.

I’d never give up on you, Kacchan.

Katsuki turned, and a third Deku stood behind him, eyes tired but fierce and glowing. His mouth was set in a grim line.

So don’t give up on me either.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” the doppelganger above him hissed, pointing the knife over Katsuki’s head at his other self.

Looking down at what he held in his hands, Katsuki understood. Mournful, evergreen eyes stared back. “I’m sorry,” Katsuki said lowly as he cupped the fragile face. “This isn’t you.” He pressed a kiss to this Deku’s forehead, and the boy dissolved into petals and stardust.

“And you,” Katsuki snarled as he rose to his feet, feeling a hand slip into his own. “Tch. What the hell are you even wearing? Since when can you tie a tie correctly?”

Hey.

Katsuki grinned, spinning to pull Deku, his Deku, into his arms. “What? It’s true. If you were a villain you’d just wear a shirt that says villain, not a fuckin’ waistcoat and black gloves.”

It’s your subconscious, Kacchan.

Katsuki stilled. Was it?

He turned, and the villain was gone.

~

“Hmm, one more I think.”

“You sure?”

“Hell yeah!”

Katsuki opened his eyes.

“What the hell are you two numbskulls doing?” He propped himself up on one elbow to glare at Sero and Kirishima sitting on a desk together next to the door. 

“Bro! You’re up! We’re trying to see how many layers of tape I can harden through,” Kirishima explained with his ever-present smile, waving an arm covered in so much tape it looked like a cast.

“I find it literally impossible to believe you’ve never done that before.” Katsuki kicked off the thin blanket tangled around his legs and rose out of the bed. He immediately headed for the door.

A long arm out to block his path. “Whoa, hold up a minute! Where are you going?”

Katsuki glared at him. “To Deku. Now move, before I snap your twiggy arm, Tooth-Face.”

Sero’s eyebrows shot up. “Hey, yesterday was the first time you called me that! Are your memories back to normal?”

Cottony static danced at the edges of Katsuki’s mind, still waking up. He scowled. The whole reason he was completely screwing over his sleep schedule a la turning into a vampire was to fix his memories, and now it was hard to know what they had even been before.

With a pop, Kirishima tore through the thick coating of tape on his arm. “Can you tell me what happened yesterday in the weight room?”

Katsuki rolled his eyes. “Tch. Deku kicked your ass with a lat machine after the sick fucks sent him that snuff site,” he growled, old anger flooding right back into place. “And then we had lunch and went to therapy except Gaslight was the goddamn therapist.” Katsuki knocked Sero’s arm aside and strode out into the hall. “Tell me what floor he’s on.”

“Wait, wait,” Kirishima jumped off of the desk and rushed out after him. “It sounds like you’re golden, bro, but we’re supposed to get you cleared—”

Katsuki whirled, planting his open palm flat on Kirishima’s sternum, eyes flashing. “If you keep him from me for one more goddamn second I will burn this building to the ground.”

“That would be.. kinda counter-productive?”

“I’ll get Aizawa,” Tape-Face muttered as he took off down the hallway. Katsuki glared after him.

“Is Deku that way, too?”

“No,” Kirishima admitted with a wince. He nodded toward the stairwell in the opposite direction. “But we should really wait for Aizawa, Midoriya is, well—”

“Is what?” Katsuki snapped, heart racing. “Kirishima. Is what.”

Kirishima clicked his jaw shut, blowing out a sigh through his nose. “He’s really shaken up, okay? He’s been asking for you non-stop, but—”

Katsuki didn’t need to hear any more. He would find Deku himself. He took off down the hallway, his feet slapping on the cold linoleum until he skid into the stairwell. He cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered.

“DEKU!”

He strained to hear a response through the approaching footfalls behind him.

A muffled noise, and then: ac ch an?”

Above.

Katsuki rocketed up the stairs, taking them two, four, six at a time, aided by his explosive palms. He lost count of how many flights he ascended, until, finally, finally—

“Kacchan!”

Katsuki looked up, and a floor above him he could see Deku leaning over the railing, someone else’s arms wrapped around his chest.

“Deku-kun, wait!”

Deku surged toward the stairs, only to go flying ass over head as he hit the top step, floating upward toward the higher floors. 

“Wah!”

“Oh! Shoot! Deku-kun, I’m sorry, hold on—”

“Don’t drop him!” Katsuki snapped. Deku was positioned right above the center of the stairwell - a straight shot to the ground floor below. Katsuki ignited his thrusters and flew up, straight toward his shitty nerd tumbling without gravity like a leaf. Slamming his bare feet into the railing, now a full floor above Uraraka, Katsuki snagged the metal bar between his heels in one hand and the collar of Deku's shirt in the other. Green eyes blinked back at him, shiny and wet - and upside down.

“Hey,” Katsuki grinned, unable to suppress the giddy feeling, the rush of relief at having Deku back in his grasp again.

“K-Kacchan,” Deku warbled, reaching out with shaky arms. His legs pedaled uselessly above him.

Katsuki tugged, and Deku drifted forward until his brow bumped against Katsuki's nose, eyes pressing close until they went out of focus. 

Deku's fingers threaded themselves into blond strands. “I thought I lost you,” he whispered, barely audible through the building sobs.

“I thought I lost you,” Katsuki murmured into the thick green hair floating in every direction. “Again.” He tugged once more on Deku's collar, pulling the floating boy further down.

Deku laughed, his eyes now aligned with Katsuki’s throat. “Kacchan, what—”

But anything further he wanted to say was cut off by Katsuki locking his mouth with the one now directly in front of it. The kiss started slow, but picked up pace and fervor as the need to devour, to claim, to keep overcame him. Fingers tightened in his hair.

“Excuse me, as romantic as this is, you do know I have to hold him up the entire time, right?”

Katsuki groaned into Deku's gasping, tittering mouth before hopping down to the landing. Now with both arms available, he easily rotated the nerd like a pinwheel, planting him on his feet and holding him there by his shoulders. Deku's freckled cheeks were bright pink, his fluffy green hair now even fluffier fanned out without gravity. His smile was wobbly and goofy and perfect.

“Oi, you can let him go,” Katsuki called back down the stairs. Deku immediately barreled forward the moment he got his feet back under him, his wet face burying into Katsuki’s neck and arms pinching too tight around his torso.

“Kacchan, Kacchan, Kacchan,” Deku moaned softly, chanting the name like a prayer. His sobs were muffled against Katsuki's skin.

Katsuki didn’t realize how fast his heart had been beating. Now it began to slow, matching time with the one it was pressed against. He brought his arms around shaking shoulders and it was like coming home for a blissful moment before Deku’s entire body seized up under him. Katsuki froze in turn.

No, no, no—

He kept his arms locked tight as Deku tried to push back out of them, knowing he should just let him go but unable, unwilling.

“It’s me,” Katsuki said raggedly, as if it made a difference to the boy struggling in his arms. After all, it was Katsuki that had promised Deku death the next time they met. “I’m not gonna.. fuck, I’m not gonna hurt you. It’s just me.”

The tension drained out of Deku all at once and he sagged forward, face pressed into Katsuki’s chest. He was trembling. “Kacchan, oh my god, sorry, I don’t— Sorry. I just.. I got a little mixed up. Sorry.” 

Katsuki blinked back the tears that burned him, sudden and hot. He had almost fooled himself into believing that everything was fine; or at least only as awful as it had been two days ago. Now he was just making Deku’s life worse.

As if that was new.

“Everything okay?” Uraraka was just a few steps below them now, advancing slowly. Warily. Further down Katsuki could see Shitty-Hair's shitty hair, coming into view with a similarly concerned expression beneath it.

Katsuki’s stomach soured. He couldn’t fault them; they didn’t have blind loyalty to Katsuki and he wouldn’t want it. If anything, the fact that his team wouldn’t hesitate to take him out if he became a threat was part of why he respected them.

Deku unrolled from Katsuki’s embrace and Katsuki let him go. “We’re okay,” he said, looking up at Katsuki as if it was a question.

Katsuki didn’t know the answer.

~

A single finger remained hooked around Katsuki’s left pinky, a lifeline tethering the two boys together under the conference table like they couldn’t bear to be separated. And they couldn’t - even if something tense and sick wedged between them as they sat side by side. They were in the designated ‘war room’ that had likely been originally designed for budget meetings and conference calls, now used by a handful of wannabe heroes on the run.

Without much of a chance to talk about the previous day, all Katsuki could do was act like they could just pick back up where they left off before it. With the way Deku clung to him it was clear he wanted to do the same. So they put it aside.

Always a good idea.

“You know, sensei, I really thought you meant we were going literally underground,” Kirishima said brightly as he leaned on the windowsill and surveyed the dark city streets below. As usual he was unfazed by casually announcing his ignorance. “This is like the safehouse but an entire office building, it’s wild!”

“It’s not like the safehouse,” Aizawa replied from his seat at the head of the conference table. “There are no quirk-designated operators nor is there anything fancy about getting in and out. It’s just a vacant office building that everyone else thinks is an accounting firm. You’ll do well to remember we’re only performatively hidden.”

Kirishima backed away from the window.

The grip around Katsuki’s finger tightened. “How long are we staying here?” Deku’s voice would have been light to anyone else’s ears, but Katsuki could hear the strain in it. The desperation. How long am I staying here, he meant. It might not have been the safehouse or the panic room but Katsuki could tell Deku was already viewing it as another prison.

Aizawa sighed. “Unfortunately I don’t have an exact timeframe, but ideally not for very much longer. These fronts are only ever intended for extremely temporary use. How long we stay depends on our next course of action.”

“..What are our options?”

“Go back to school, remain vigilant and hope nothing like this happens again. Go into hiding, hope they lose interest.”

Kirishima frowned. “That's an awful lot of hope.”

“We— We just have to try harder next.. time..” Uraraka trailed off. Her expression clouded, staring down at the table as she pressed the heels of her hands into its edge.

Next time?

“Hiding for how long?” Kirishima crossed his arms. “Feel like they’d just pop back up the second we do. Think they’d really lose interest?” 

Katsuki snorted. “Fat chance. Who’d lose interest in me?”

“Exactly,” Deku said quietly, his free hand coming up to tap at his chin. “Think about it. What do we know they want?”

“To kill you?” Kirishima supplied helpfully.

Deku winced. “Well, yes, but I'm just a means to the end. If they just wanted to kill me there was no reason to release the, um, f-footage. We already had our appointment with Gaslight scheduled.”

“And he could have killed you himself. Ah, sorry, Deku-kun.”

“It's me,” Katsuki said, voice low. “They're trying to piss me off.”

Aizawa drummed his fingers on the table top. “If it was just that, then they’ve already succeeded. They’re trying to weaponize you.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Bakugou. You nearly killed Midoriya in broad daylight. Do not take this lightly.”

“My p-point is,” Deku’s voice spiked in volume. Katsuki could feel a tremor through their linked fingers. “They’re not going to stop. Even if I die, if Kacchan doesn’t turn into some kind of unhinged villain, they’re just going to change tactics, switch targets.” He gestured vaguely at Kirishima, at Uraraka. “You’re all in danger.”

All because of me.

“So, what, we just.. What, exactly?” Kirishima scratched at the back of his head.

“Go to sleep,” Aizawa said with a shrug. “It’s late. I have some thinking to do. We’ll pick this up in the morning. Dismissed.”

“What?! I just fuckin’ woke up!”

“Fine. You stay. Everyone else: out.”

“Wait, what?” Deku looked wide-eyed between the two of them for only a moment before Uraraka and Kirishima, moving like a single, well-oiled machine, hooked their arms under Deku’s armpits and pulled him up out of his seat. “H-hey, stop!”

“Movie night, Deku-kun!”

“Seriously? W-wait, wait, Kacchan—”

“It’s alright, nerd. I won’t stay long.” Katsuki’s heart squeezed as Deku was whisked out of sight, already anxious without having eyes on him.

“Make it quick,” he growled through clenched teeth as he turned back to the head of the table.

Aizawa looked mildly nonplussed. “I thought you wanted to stay up with me.”

“You and I both know you have some shit to say to me directly, so spit it out.”

The smallest hint of a smirk tugged at Aizawa’s mouth. “Can’t get anything by you. All right. Nezu wants to give new identities to Midoriya and his mother. Take them off the grid, sever contact with you entirely. Permanently.”

Katsuki reeled back like he had been slapped. 

Deku would have to leave UA, his dream school. Start a new life. His hero career would be over.

Their relationship would be over.

“Isn’t that a little fucking extreme?” Katsuki hissed, struggling to keep his voice down. “It’s not like him to tuck his tail and goddamn roll over for villains. And it’s me they’re after, not Deku.”

“Yes, it is extreme. It’s not something to be done without serious consideration. But Nezu thinks Midoriya is particularly vulnerable, and this will stop him from being killed.”

“Will it?” The static in Katsuki’s skin was electric, keeping him on the edge of a dangerous precipice. Was he about to lose Deku, forever? “What guarantee is there that these fucks won’t find him, where we can’t do anything about it?”

“Absolutely none.”

Jaw snapping shut, Katsuki spread his arms, bewildered; lost.

“I don't intend to follow through with Nezu’s request. Aside from the extreme nature, you’re right: there’s no guarantee the people assigned to transition him can be trusted. We’d likely be sending him to his death. But. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make Nezu think we are complying.”

Katsuki narrowed his eyes. “You don’t trust him.”

Aizawa sighed. “I will be perfectly candid with you, Bakugou. This operation is extremely unorthodox; you are still students, and this should be handled by Pros. But we don’t have the luxury - Every single further person involved raises the chance of being compromised, whether it’s from themselves or their associates. Especially someone at the very center of the school. It’s already a risk involving Power Nap, but he runs this sanctuary and is one of the few people I do trust.”

“Then who the fuck is watching our parents??”

“Mic and Midnight. The rest of the people I trust.”

“And what, we’re going to fake the principal out?”

“We’re not doing anything, yet. I’m just laying out our options. But it presents us with an opportunity to draw out these parasites.”

Katsuki stared hard at his teacher for a moment before it clicked. He clenched his jaw and slowly shook his head. “You want to use Deku as bait,” he said in disbelief. “No. Absolutely not.”

“They are not going to relent. They'll come for you both again.”

“What happened to ‘there will always be villains,’ hah? How we can’t live our life in fear or some shit?” Katsuki’s heart was beating against his breastbone as he dug his fingers into the unyielding table. This was absurd; they needed to keep the nerd as far as possible from these monsters, not waltz him back into their claws.

“Which is why I do not want to hide. We will go on the offensive. It’s the only way to stop this.”

“Not if it puts Deku in danger. Hasn't he been through enough?”

“No,” Aizawa said flatly.

Katsuki choked.

“You are training to be heroes. You will always be in danger, from now until the end of your lives. There will be no respite, no comfortable retirement. You will die in the field or in the hospital. This is the reality you signed up for. Do you think he’s the first hero to be captured, tortured? It’s career ending for most of us. But not all. Not that problem child. Don't lose sight of who he is just because your teenage hormones have gone all maternal.”

Katsuki wanted to spit, to curse, to grab Aizawa by the throat and.. what? Tell him he was wrong? He wasn’t wrong, and Katsuki knew it. Uraraka had said they couldn’t keep Deku in a cage, but frankly that’s all Katsuki had wanted to do. Keep him close. Keep him protected. Keep him safe.

Keep him from living his life.

That life. The hero life that ended young and bloody more often than old and celebrated.

But it was madness to act like nothing had changed and Deku was fit to return to it.

“You’ve seen what’s happened to him,” Katsuki hissed, keeping his voice as low as possible. “How it messed with his head. The episodes he has.”

Aizawa nodded. “I have. And ideally you would both be on the road to recovery through therapy but life isn’t being very fair, is it. These villains have to be eliminated. You might think you’ve been particularly unlucky but the fact that you’re both breathing proves the opposite. That luck might not hold out for a next time.”  

He thread his fingers together as he leaned forward on his elbows. “There’s something else. UA is catching hell right now all over again. The media’s gotten wind of the torture; they’ve been airing blurred versions of it.”

Katsuki’s heart sank. With everything that had happened, he hadn’t yet processed the ramifications of the footage being uploaded. It had been taken down, that should have been the end of it! But of course it wasn’t the end of it. “They can’t.. They can’t fucking do that!”

“Unfortunately, they can. His name has been withheld and they blacked out his face and hair, but anyone could put two and two together if they knew about the initial attack. And even though we kept his name out of the official statements, it spread.”

Running his hands through his hair, Katsuki tried in vain to stop himself from absolutely losing his entire shit. 

“And his mom? What if she sees it?”

Aizawa tilted his head. “Precautions have been taken to keep your parents away from the news while they’re under protection. After that, unfortunately, there’s not much we can do beyond advising her of its existence.”

They’d never escape it.

“Look. We’re not making any plans or decisions tonight. It’s been a rough two days. You’re likely not tired yet but Midoriya probably is. So. Go get some rest with your, what, boyfriend?”

The tips of Katsuki’s ears burned hot. “We use ‘partner,’” he grumbled.

With a shrug, Aizawa nodded at the door. “Fitting. Goodnight, problem child number two.”

~

“Oi, Ponytail,” Katsuki called as he rounded the corner to see only one of his classmates in the open office, sitting at one of the desks that was turned askew. “You seen Deku?”

Yaoyorozu looked up from the large book she had been leafing through. Her face stood out - lit up under the soft yellow of the desk lamp, in stark contrast to the otherwise dark area. “I believe everyone else is just one floor up, in the screening room.”

“The.. what?”

“A media room with couches and a very large television screen. It takes up half the floor and says ‘Screening Room’ on a plaque outside of it, you can’t miss it.”

“..Thanks.” 

Katsuki moved toward the stairs but stopped after a few steps. He turned halfway back to the girl at the desk.

“What are you doing here?”

Yaoyorozu sat up straight. “A-ah, Aizawa-sensei felt my quirk would be advantageous for material and supply creation while—”

“No, I don’t mean why are you in the building. Why are you sitting here by yourself? I'm assuming everyone else is upstairs watching some shitty movie?”

The girl looked taken aback, a light flush dusting the tops of her cheeks. “Oh, well. I thought it would be beneficial to brush up on my polymers during this downtime.”

Katsuki scowled. Nerds, all of them.

“Fuck that. You wanna be on this team, you gotta come suffer through the gooey friendship garbage too.”

Yaoyorozu frowned. “While I appreciate the offer—”

“You don't need any brushing up. I've seen you fight. You've got that shit on lock. Why are you really hitting the books?”

Katsuki knew he had a certain intensity to his glaring but it was undermined by standing there in the dark.

Her eyes skittered away as she drummed her fingers lightly along the surface of her book. “Well, to tell the truth, Bakugou-san, I'm nervous. This kind of.. Real, undercover operation is largely uncharted territory for me. I don't have any idea what is ahead of us or what will be expected of me. I agreed to come immediately, for Midoriya-san, but..” she trailed off, gesturing vaguely and elegantly with one hand. “I'm afraid of failing him.”

“That makes two of us,” Katsuki grunted. He shoved his hands in his pants pockets and jutted his chin at the stairs. “Come on. Movie friendship rainbow vomit time now, fear tomorrow.”

~

“Alright, what is the deal with the goddamn pajama party?”

True to his suspicion, Deku and their other classmates were all curled up or sprawled out in the screening room. The matching, colorful sets of bedclothes all of them were dressed in gave the bizarre effect of looking like a fashion spread in a magazine instead of a covert operation where they were in hiding from a shadow group of chaotic lunatics.

“Oh, I made them. It’s not much but I thought it would help everyone’s comfort level,” Yaoyorozu supplied matter-of-factly.

Katsuki looked down at the plain black cotton sweatpants and tank top he was wearing. They might as well have been his own, but he knew they weren’t.

“Where are my silk jammies, hah?”

The girl next to him in the doorway balked, stuttering out, “I-I-I didn’t think you would w-want something so extravagant, and I thought— well, it just seemed—”

“Kacchan.” Deku’s admonishment floated over from the other side of the room in the dark.

“Relax, I’m just fucking with you. These are perfect. Thanks.”

Katsuki made a beeline for Deku, stepping over Sero starfished out on the floor and kicking Kaminari out of his way for good measure. His heart seized as an unearthly light from the screen cast his target in muddy, bloody hues; eye sockets empty with shadow and head lolled off his neck at a sickening angle. The scene abruptly changed and it was just Deku, alive and wedged into a loveseat next to Uraraka.

Guess that was still happening.

Uraraka vacated her seat and Katsuki slipped into it immediately, wrapping his arms around the nerd’s waist and pulling him fully into his own lap. He needed to hold him tight, feel his pulse, the warmth of his skin. Needed to feel his chest rise and fall. Needed it like Deku’s heart was the only thing running Katsuki’s.

He reveled in the relief that washed over him just by being so close, breathing in something floral and sweet as he nosed soft curls. “Mmm,” Katsuki hummed.

“Get a room!” Sero crowed, tossing a pillow at them that Uraraka deflected as she crossed back over to join Asui on another couch. The pillow floated to the ceiling.

“K-Kacchan!” Deku protested, wriggling in his grip, gasping when Katsuki sank sharp teeth ever so gently into his shoulder. “In f-front of everyone!”

“They all know you’re mine. Always been mine.”

Deku tensed. “That’s not true,” he said quietly. His head turned and a single green eye, shadowed from the glow of the screen, fixed on Katsuki warily. “You know that’s not true.”

Scowling slightly, Katsuki tightened his arms around Deku’s midsection. “The hell? Course it is.”

With a huff, Deku attempted to extricate himself from Katsuki’s bear trap but remained firmly in place. There was still no contest between them if One For All wasn’t in play, and Katsuki knew the nerd wouldn’t dare activate it in front of everyone for something like this. Sighing, Deku relented, dropping his head back onto the shoulder behind him. “What did Aizawa-sensei want?”

Katsuki placed his hand over Deku’s chest, right above his heart. Through the silk he could feel the gentle beats pulsing against his fingers. Strong and steady yet still so soft and fragile. Could Katsuki really let Deku be involved in an offensive operation against their enemies? Was it even his call to make?

“We’re gonna talk about it in the morning. But, more importantly, I think Nezu is the mole.”

Deku rolled his head toward Katsuki’s face. “He’s a mouse.”

“He’s a rat. I think he’s been working with the gray suits this whole time.”

“Kacchan. He can’t be.” Deku craned his head back to brush his lips against Katsuki’s ear, murmuring, “He knows about One For All.”

A chill rolled down Katsuki’s spine, although whether it was from the breath or the words in his ear, he couldn’t be sure. If the principal knew and was in cahoots with Knife-Face surely he would have tried to wring it out of Deku when he was sticking him with needles and bleeding him dry. Or when he had him by the hair and on his knees in the panic room. Or passed out on the floor of a fake therapist’s office.

“Gck-k-k, you’re crushing me, Kacchan!”

Relaxing his hold, Katsuki let Deku slip off of his lap and back into his previous spot against the couch’s arm. He wasted no time draping his own arm over Deku’s shoulders, tucking him securely back against his side. A snapshot of the scene could be easily mistaken for a normal movie night in the dorms. The rest of the class was either asleep or engrossed in their own hushed conversations while the movie played on, indifferent to the lack of attention it was receiving.

“Oi,” Katsuki said quietly after a few minutes of pretending to watch the screen. His chest felt particularly tight and his lips dry as he prepared to face head-on what he had been avoiding all evening. “Look, Deku, I’m.. fucking sorry, I should have trusted you, I—”

“Kacchan don’t,” Deku interrupted, digging his fingers into Katsuki’s thigh and shaking his head. “It’s not.. It wasn’t you. Gaslight’s quirk is extremely powerful. It’s a miracle we got through it unscathed.”

“Unsc— Deku, you.. We found you in a sewer in Shizuoka.”

Deku clicked his tongue. “You’ve found me in worse places.”

Katsuki snorted, flicking lightly at Deku’s ear. “Smartass.”

With a small chuckle that morphed into a yawn, Deku smoothed his unruly hair into some semblance of place before resting his head on Katsuki’s shoulder. “I’m honestly trying not to think about it.” His words were small and made Katsuki feel even smaller. “It’s easier if I just pretend it didn’t happen.”

Katsuki clenched his jaw. That didn’t seem good, but who was he to say so? If he could wipe the past two days away he’d do it in a heartbeat. He might not remember the exact specifics that had him blow up with murderous intent, but he still remembered terrified eyes full of pain and heartbreak and wasn’t sure if they’d ever leave him.

“Hey. Let’s go to bed. I’ve seen this movie already, and it sucks.”

~

“Kacchan, you just woke up. You don’t have to— ” Deku cut himself off with a yawn, slumping back bonelessly on the bed, excess green silk pooling at his sides. “—stay with me,” he finished sleepily.

Katsuki snorted. “Hah? Alright then, I’ll just leave. See ya in the morning.” He opened the office door perfunctorily for a moment before snapping it back shut. His eyes rolled to the ceiling. “Deku. Look at you.” 

Deku had fistfuls of sheets in both white-knuckled hands, eyes wide and face stricken. “I— I,” he stammered.

“Oi, nerd, I’m not leaving,” Katsuki growled, striding across the room to climb onto and unceremoniously stretch himself out over the bed. He stabbed the pillow with his elbow and propped his head on his fist. With his other hand, he reached to poke and smooth the worry lines between worried eyes. “Idiot. Would you think about yourself first for once?”

“Don’t tease, Kacchan,” Deku mumbled. He curled himself into a fetal position, knees against Katsuki’s abdomen, arms wrapped tight to his own chest. He tucked his chin down and his mop of curls fell sideways across his face like a green curtain. “I’ll have you know, I begged to have Power Nap use his quirk on you. That was for me.”

Goosebumps prickled along Katsuki’s arms. He brushed the hair out of Deku’s eyes, pinning it back to his forehead. “You begged?”

“Y-Yeh.. No, I mean.. Yes. I h-had to, they weren’t listening to me and, I,” Deku swallowed, eyes dark and shining. “I needed you. I.. I always need you. So. Pretty selfish.”

Katsuki grit his teeth. “Begging is hardly putting yourself first, shitty nerd.”

“It.. it sounds worse than it was! Th-the point was when I did it, I was o-only thinking of myself. I ignored Aizawa-sensei, I wasn’t thinking of the mission or anyone else at all.”

“That’s not really.. Oi, what the hell is this?” Katsuki had run his hand through Deku’s hair, only to brush fingertips over shallow cuts in his scalp.

“Oh!” Deku jerked back out of Katsuki’s grasp, covering his head with his hands. “Uh.”

“You do that to yourself?” Katsuki asked quietly.

“Uh,” the other boy repeated, averting his eyes as his face reddened.

“Deku..”

“It's fine!”

“Deku.”

“Yes, okay?” Deku bit back, voice suddenly tight and strained. “Is that what you want to hear? Yes! I did it to myself! I was freaking out and I dug my fingers into my head and I didn’t even realize I was doing it because, surprise surprise, I’m still broken.”

The word hung heavy in the air between them.

“..Hah?? You are not—”

Deku’s fingers flew to Katsuki’s lips. He shook his head, eyes clouded. “Kacchan. I can barely function. I ran halfway across the country just because you yelled at me. I have blackouts, panic attacks, nightmares; I'm always anxious and everyone else barely trusts me to walk on my own two feet - for good reason! Forget being a hero, I can hardly be a human. I’m no stranger to injuries but this one.. It’s too much.”

Katsuki drew back to dislodge the fingers silencing him, pulse thrumming in his ears. “Deku, what the hell? This isn’t an injury. You were tortured.”

Deku flinched, violently.

“Don’t say that,” he said hoarsely.

Katsuki narrowed his eyes. Had he really never said it before? Had they spent all this time completely avoiding talking about it directly?

“It’s true. You were tortured for a week.”

Another flinch.

“S-stop! It wasn’t.. they barely did anything to me!” Deku insisted. His entire body shook with every word he cried out.

“What?” Katsuki barked. He shouldn’t be getting angry, not now, not at Deku. But ‘barely anything?’ Ridiculous. What Katsuki found in that dungeon was more skeleton than person. “Are you kidding me? They fucking tortured you. You were kidnapped. Drugged. Chained to a chair—”

“Kacchan, don’t!” Deku gasped, clamping his hands over his ears. Katsuki grabbed his wrists and wrenched them back off.

“Poisoned, starved, ruthlessly interrogated—”

Deku dug his knees into Katsuki's stomach, straining his arms in an attempt to pull away. A flicker of pink lines and green sparks danced over his skin before fizzling out to nothing.

“Sleep deprived, fed with a fucking tube, had half your body dissolved—”

“Please, Kacchan! Stop!”

“Left to die in a puddle of your own blood and piss!”

A strangled noise escaped Deku's throat as he struggled against Katsuki’s hold, fully kicking and thrashing now. “Ple-ease! I’ll be good, I’ll be good, I’ll be—”

Katsuki's heart slammed into his sternum with the force of a freight train as he slapped his hand over Deku's mouth. They both froze; the room silent save for the pounding of Katsuki’s pulse and the choked whimpers against his palm. What the hell was he doing? Trying to brute force Deku into an episode?

“Don't beg,” Katsuki said through clenched teeth. “Not me. Not anyone.”

Deku peeled Katsuki's hand away from his face with shaking fingers, glaring back with watery eyes. “Don't m-make me! You think I want to? I c-can’t help it! I told you, I’m broken. I’m weak, I'm ruined.”

Katsuki seized Deku's shoulder, gripping hard and dragging the other boy toward him across the sheets. “You are not ruined! You are not broken. Listen to me, something really fucked up happened to you—” Katsuki tightened his fingers as Deku squirmed, eyes squeezed shut, trying to back away. “It did! It did, Deku. It happened to you and more bad shit keeps happening to you. You’ve barely had a single goddamn second to breathe, let alone recover - so don’t tell me that you’re fucking ruined when they’re still stomping on your neck!” 

Sobbing, Deku buried his face in his hands, curling his body into a tight ball. Katsuki swiftly rolled him over, pulling Deku's back flush to his own chest. Their racing heartbeats ran together as Katsuki pressed his face into green curls. 

“You are not weak. You survived.”

The wail that tore itself from Deku’s mouth was horrible; viscerally full of pain and anguish as it wove its way through Katsuki’s ribs and wrapped tightly around his heart. Deku's body continued to shudder and shake as he wept, and wept, and wept. He had been putting on weight but he was still thinner than he should be, frailer than he had any right to be, and Katsuki's arms easily enveloped him as he held him throughout it. Over time the sobs turned to rocking hiccups which made way for rattled breathing, until even that faded out and the boy in his arms succumbed to sleep.

“You are strong,” Katsuki murmured to unhearing ears, the city lights the only witness to the words that slipped out. “You are strong as fuck and I love you, you little shit. You always push me to be better and it pisses me off. You think it's you that needs me, but it's me that can't do this without you.”

So don’t give up on me now.

It was true that Katsuki had only woken up just a few hours ago. So he stayed awake, on guard and ever vigilant, as if he could fight the intangible nightmares that lurked far out of reach with his tangible fists and feet. As the sky began to lighten with the first blush of dawn, Katsuki’s eyes slipped closed, weary and dragged down by far more than just physical exhaustion.