Chapter 1: Flesh, Bones, and Nightmares
A hushed faint drip echoed in the silence of a darkened room. No light reached its depths beyond that of a soft yellow-paned window. So small, was the opening that not even a child could escape through. Rusty iron bars lined the outer glass, preventing entry of any kind.
Dry, chipping paint flaked away in the slightest breeze, revealing the age that lay beyond the walls of the building. Shuffling sounds broke through the eerie quiet. The soft pattering of bare feet emerged from a corner while a young boy stepped into the light.
His legs were covered in a mixture of black dust and red, caked-on, dried blood. Scrapes riddled his entire body but were hardly noticed through the mess of massive purpling puss and reddened bruises. His skin seemed to be barely hanging on to his skeleton, draping like a loose quilt over his bones. His clothes, tattered and torn, hardly even allowed to be considered rags at this point.
The boy feebly lifted his shaking arm up to wipe away the tears from his blotched face. Quiet sniffling mixed in with the droplets of water that rained down from the ceiling, coating the floor in an array of dirty puddles. The chains around his wrists and ankles scraped against each other while he moved to the other side of the room.
His once vibrant emerald eyes were now swollen and dull. The usual sheen of life having been entirely ripped away. His mess of green curls now grew in a matted nest upon his head. The remnants of dried blood and mud sticking to every surface.
He walked to a small door and knelt down, waiting for the tiny slit on the bottom to slide open and reveal his one meal for the day. Right on time, the slot parted open and a metal tray slipped inside. The moment the young boy saw his food, his skeletal claws reached forth and snatched whatever he could before the guard decided to take it away once again.
They did that to him sometimes, enjoying his pathetic begs and pleas for mercy. He would cry for the food to be returned, but it never was. The guards would chuckle at the distraught whimpers that filled the damp air, mixing in with the rumbles from his ever-starving stomach.
The greenette, if he could even be called that anymore, managed to grab the entire tray this time and scurried away from the door back to his corner on the opposite wall.
He tore into the hardened roll, dipping it into the small cup of water he had, in hopes of being able to bite into the loaf. He eagerly devoured the small slice of meat he received, not caring that it tasted sour and slightly rancid. When he only had one meal per day, if that, he knew there was no point in being picky. He probably wasn't going to survive anyway.
After having scarfed his food down, he walked back over to the door and returned the tray. Within seconds, the door opened and a hand reached out to grab what was left.
"Hmm, wiped it clean again, didntchya, you greedy little fucker?" A guttural sound growled from the other side.
The whimpering greenette didn't know if he was supposed to respond with proper words or not, so he just made a soft sound to acknowledge the man beyond the metal doors. The sound ripped through his aching throat like sandpaper, grating across his skin from long days of nothing but continuous screeching. He didn't want to antagonize them any more than he already had in the past. Their hatred and anger for him ran so deep that his mere existence called for them to enter his cell just to shove his face into the slimy wet stones beneath their mud-caked boots.
He didn't know if he could withstand another beating at their hands anymore and they weren't even the beatings that he was locked up in this despicable cage for. No, those beatings were worse. Way worse. He would come back with the metallic taste of blood oozing down his esophagus from the tears his vocal cords received during their torment. It would take hours or days before he could move his muscles again. No help would come during this time, just allowing the skeletal bag of meat and bones to sit and rot in his own filth. His wounds would fester, oozing puss of all different colors and his mind... oh his mind... It was far too gone. Tossed into the blackened void of perpetual insanity with no hope of escape.
But, things were easier for the young boy this way. It was easier to lose his mind, obeying the commands given to him than to ever hope of escape. He had been here for too long... far too long. He wasn't even sure what his purpose was, what they were using him for, but it didn't matter. Days had gone by without a single sign of his saviors. Days that turned into weeks... Weeks that turned into months. The scratches on the walls were nothing more than a blurred mess, counting the passing time. There were too many to keep track of now. Too many. He couldn't even see them in the darkened room anymore, not that it mattered.
His last ray of hope disappeared with each setting of the sun that he could not see. The only solace he found in the dismal, bleak existence of his life were his memories. He would lose himself to the dripping metronome, letting the repeated rhythm take his mind away to dream. Dream of better days. Dreams of laughter, smiles and soft whispers in the wind. He wasn't even sure if his dreams were memories of a life he used to love or... if they were of the fantasies that lulled his twisted mind to sleep. All he knew was that these dreams saved him. They saved the last bit of his soul that bound him to the world. They were the hope he clung to at night, the hope of a better future. The hope to feel the warmth of the sun on his skin again. To feel a gentle summer breeze. To hear the songs the birds sing to the early morning dew.
"Huh?! Did you fucking say sumtin' to me boy?!" The guard on the other side bellowed out; crushing his fleeting hopes once more. The boy shivered in fear, wondering what he did wrong this time. He thought for sure that if he remained silent, the guard would have been angered. He thought for sure that if he spoke an actual sentence then the guard would have killed him. But, in the end, it never mattered what he did. The beatings were going to come anyway. They were going to happen no matter what he did to prevent them. He could blink and receive a kick to the gut for that very action. That's all he was worth anymore. Nothing more than their personal ragdoll. A punching bag, a pleasure-token, a stress-reliever for their 'tough days'. A shriveled up image of the boy he once was.
"He fuckin' did, didntchya?!" The guard began to rattle the keys that dangled at his side, forcing them into the lock of the massive door. The broken boy slapped a timid hand over his mouth, trying to stop the cry of fear that threatened to rip from his throat. He wanted so badly for his nightmare to just end already. Sometimes, in the midst of all the pain and agony, he would let his mind wander... to a day where an ever-lasting peace could finally find its way to him. A sweet relief from the constant swirling torment that followed his every breath. He prayed... he hoped... he wished... for death.
The door to his cellar swung open on the creaking hinges before the greenette had the time to scurry away. The edge of the door smashed into the side of his face, causing his eyes to lull to the back of his head. His weakened body crumbled to the floor instantly, unable to sustain the energy against the new onslaught of pain. Not wasting any time, the guard went straight to work. His fist connected repeatedly to the broken figure on the ground below him. The toe of his boot broke the skin near his ribcage. The heel of his foot smashed against the outstretched hand. Screams of agony tore through the air until there was no more sound to bother the guard.
"Heh. Look at the disgustin' fucker. He ain't nutin' more than flesh 'n bones. Don't know why they keepin' him around no more," the guard said to someone over his shoulder.
"You seys you here for what 'gain?" He asked while crouching down to inspect the greenette who had already passed out. Blood dripped from the new wound on his face, mixing down with the filthy puddles of water in his cell.
"Was told to bring him to the lab. They're going to finally end his ass," a deep voice responded. The guard nodded in approval before taking his keys out and undoing the chains around the prisoner's arms and legs. He then pulled out the rags that their prisoner was to be dressed in to make him more 'presentable' to the scientists that would chip away at whatever little shred of humanity the shivering, living-corpse had left.
"Don't need these no more. He can't hardly move 'n stuff anyway," the guard huffed.
"Right. Do you have an extra set of keys to the lab door? I fucking lost the damn things my first day here. Being a rookie, the last thing I need is for the other assholes to look down on me, you know? If you got a spare to share, I'll buy you a beer?" The voice added.
The greenette stirred in pain, slowly coming back to the nightmare of his life, his ears burning at the voices above him. His mind continued to dance in the dreams that plagued his every waking moment. The dreams of a shattered future that lay just beyond his reach.
"Heh. I's about to get to leavin' anyway. Take 'em, but don't tell no-ones where you got it from. You got 'nother pair of arms to help you carry the garbage?" The guard asked while standing up and undoing the ring of keys from the belt around his waistband.
He handed the keys over to the cloaked man and started to saunter away in his drunken stupor. The newbie placed the keys in his pocket while bending down to lift the feather-light body of the greenette up into his warm arms. Instinctively, he cowered away from the touch, curling himself into a tight ball, praying for the inevitable pain to go away.
"Yeah, there's the lazy bastard now," the voice scoffed.
Another hooded figure approached quickly from around the corner and headed directly to the pair. He passed the wasted guard without sparing him a second glance.
"Oh yas! The boss don't care if yous have your way with the trash neither. He don' look it much, but he takes it like a pro! Hahaha!" The guard added, letting his repulsive laughter dance down the hall. Before he turned the corner to leave... he paused, finally coming to his senses.
"Wait a minute," he said cautiously. "Yous 'bout let me leave without catchin' your name! You can't buy me that damn beer if you don' introduce your name, you damn rookie!"
The guard turned around and made a tutting sound, waving his finger in the air disapprovingly. He looked up at the duo before him, wondering vaguely when they started having the new recruits wear blackened cloaks like that. He waited expectantly for the introductions to begin. It wasn't every day that someone offered to pay for his booze, so he wasn't about to let the opportunity just slip by.
"Oh that's right, where are my damn manners? Here, IcyHot, hold the stupid nerd," the cloaked man said.
He handed the prisoner over to his accomplice before swiftly walking down the corridor. In the blink of an eye, he was face to face with the unsuspecting guard. The disgusting excuse for a human didn't even register that the cloaked man had moved. Before he could even react, the hood blew away from the man's head, revealing the most vicious of sneers the guard had ever seen in his entire life.
"Y - Yo - ?!" The guard gasped, but the sound never even made it passed his lips. The last sight he saw was of piercing crimson eyes and striking champagne spikes of hair before his world turned black.
"I'm... your worst fucking nightmare."
Chapter 2: Tomorrow is Another Day
That's all the more Izuku Midoriya could say about how he was feeling in the moment.
All around him was water while he sat on top of the faraway hill to observe the inner workings of the corporation below him. His mess of curly green hair blended in perfectly with the bushes he was huddled down into. His partner, Katsuki Bakugou, was perched on one of the creaking branches up above the greenette in an attempt to get a better eagle's eye view.
Izuku brought the binoculars up to rest against his emerald eyes. The pale-white building came into focus while the Pro-Hero scoured their targets every movement. The torrential downpour had the greenette shaking in his boots because everything had been soaked to his very core. He shivered while trying to wipe the water away from the lenses so he could adjust the dials. Everything was coming in blurry because of the amount of water around them. Every little move that Izuku made had mud sloshing in every direction. It was impossible to hear anything over the rainfall, but that's exactly what they were hoping for.
The monotonous drone of never-ending thunder overhead drowned out every little detail. It drowned out the sound of their steps. The hitched breathing in their chests. The soft shuffles in the night. The blanketed curtain of water obscured their vision, but this was good. This was okay. This was exactly what they were hoping for. Nature's ultimate cover. If they couldn't see or hear their targets, then the same must have been said about them.
They were perfectly hidden from sight like a snake, eagerly awaiting their prey to step just a little too close before they struck with their deadly venom. They twitched in anticipation, every breath catching in their throats while they stalked their prey in the dead of the night. As silent as they could be, scouring the land for any movement that spelled danger. But, they knew there shouldn't be any. The enemy was supposed to be caught entirely unaware. In and out. That's all the more they needed for this operation to be considered a success. Once they saved the victims, all hell was going to break loose from the heroes in waiting about half a mile away.
After nearly six months working on this case with Katsuki, Izuku was ready to get to the bottom of it all. They had been hired to investigate rumors of human trafficking that quickly led to something more sinister. The original speculation was that the humans were being sold into slavery or the sex trade. Instead, they were being used for several sick human experiments, on top of everything else.
After digging around, Katsuki approached Izuku with a new lead that he had been given by a colleague, Fumikage Tokoyami. A lead that brought them to the doorsteps of the very building they were currently staking out. The operation was to be executed as stealthily as possible. Everything was covert and on the down-low, because the place they were going to try and infiltrate was most likely holding innocent civilians. They needed to make sure they were able to sneak in without being noticed.
'Do you see anything, Deku?' Katsuki's voice sounded through Izuku's earpiece. It was a soft hush that was whispered into the night. If he wasn't wearing the technology, Izuku doubted he would have been able to hear the explosive blond at all.
'All I can see are two at three o'clock and one posted at the entrance,' Izuku responded. '12 o'clock.'
Katsuki and Izuku did their best to locate the three targets through the dense cover, entirely missing the eerie sound of soft thudding footsteps that approached; masked in the dead of the night by the torrentuous downpour from all around them.
"Don't forget the eight at your six," a sinister whisper sounded right next to Izuku's ear.
"Right. Wait! Wha - ?!" Izuku felt something pierce into his neck before he even had the chance to activate his quirk. He quickly jumped away from the source of pain. The initial flash from One for All's lightning alerted their targets to their location but that was a minute point at the moment.
"Ah! Shit! Deku!" Katsuki hissed, leaping down to join his partner in the fray. Izuku had his own hand clamped around his neck while the duo braced themselves, back to back. Utterly surrounded.
"Ambush!" Izuku exclaimed while staring into the faces of the eleven assailants in total. There was no way they were going to make it out of this fight unscathed.
"I can fucking see that! Are you good, Deku!?" Katsuki hollered behind him. The roar of the clashing from the skies above worked against them more than it had for them.
"Y - Yeah! Just... nicked me!" Izuku yelled back over his shoulder. They braced themselves for the onslaught of quirks to head in their direction. Each one began dodging and counter-attacking to the best of their ability while they tried to stay on the defensive, but it wasn't looking too good.
'We need back-up! ASAP!' Katsuki alerted the heroes through the headset that were waiting to barge in to come to their aide. While fighting off the group in front of him, he ended up becoming separated from the greenette. Flashes of quick lightning were all the more signs that Katsuki had to see Izuku's condition and... it wasn't looking too good. The greenette's movements were slowing down heavily with each passing moment.
"Deku?!" Katsuki snarled while grabbing onto a fist that was thrown his way and tossing the attacker over his shoulder.
"T - Tired, K - Kacch..."
Izuku stumbled forward and fell into the arms of a large man. The villain quickly hoisted the greenette over his shoulder and took off at a speed that Katsuki had never known was possible. With just a blink of an eye, Izuku was gone. Stolen away in the dead of night... No sounds left behind. No kicking or screaming. No fights being put up. Nothing. Just the thunderous roar of the storm all around Katsuki while he watched helplessly as the tiny hero was taken away for a long time.
" - ou don't understand! If I hadn't listened to the fucking birdbrain the - !"
The sound of soft beeping slowly registered in the mind of the waking greenette. He could hear the muffled lull of a conversation that echoed throughout whatever room he was currently laying in.
"No! You're not thinking rationally, Bakugou. It wasn't your fault. Tokoyami LIED to us! He betraye - "
His eyes blinked against the harsh light that blinded him, forcing him to squint while taking in his surroundings. Several monitors were attached to him from all sides. Each one showing various numbers and lines that he never really understood the meaning behind.
" I fucking get that, you bastard!"
Izuku's eyes wandered over to where his partner was yelling across his hospital cot to the greenette's best friend on the other side. Their argument held a certain tone to it. A tone that hung heavy in the air; reminding everyone that could have been around of their sadness; their loss.
"Then... It's okay to go home, Bakugou. He's safe now. I'll call - "
Todoroki tried to steer the exhausted blond away from Izuku's side. He hadn't left it since they managed to pull Izuku from the hellhole he had been living in for over a year. Katsuki refused to leave when he felt he was the reason Izuku had been taken in the first place.
It was his fault for listening to the tip. His fault for not noticing that Izuku wasn't just nicked, but had been injected with something. His fault for separating away from the greenette while they fought. His fault for not being strong enough, not being fast enough to pull the greenette out of harm's way. To stop the ambush from even taking place. All of it. For the entire year that he relentlessly searched for his partner; his rival; his childhood friend. For the entire year... he never gave up and never once stopped blaming himself.
Now, Izuku's weakened body was wasting away on some medical cot possibly never to awaken again and if that happened? Well, then Katsuki would forever remain by his side. He had already let the other Pro-hero down enough. Katsuki could tell from the damage that Izuku's body had that the greenette would never be the same again.
"I'm not fucking leaving his damn side. I left it once an - and he was just gone. FOR A FUCKING YEAR!"
"Ugh, will you two please... shut up?" Izuku's raspy voice interrupted the argument that was taking place over his resting body. A loud gasp came from the duo overhead and they both surged forward to wrap Izuku in their arms. It was a strange sensation to the greenette, but he welcomed the sudden affection anyway.
"What's g - going on?" Izuku questioned. They pulled away with puzzled looks on their faces, glancing at each other to try and silently figure out what Izuku was meaning.
"Why are you two arguing over me and... why do I feel so... light?" Izuku pondered. His head was thrumming against the light that dangled above his bed in the room. He could tell that he was in a hospital, but he didn't know what for.
"The last thing I remember is being knocked out by someone on my mission? But everything else is so... foggy. Where was I at?" Izuku tried to sit up but his arms and legs just weren't feeling right.
"They kidnapped you and took you to their pathetic excuse for a lab, Deku," Katsuki openly explained.
"What?" Izuku's eyes widened and his gaze shot up to stare at the duo before him. "You're l - lying."
"Why the fuck would I lie about something like that?" Katsuki grumbled. "You were there for a year. We just got you back a week ago. Are you trying to tell me you don't remember any of that?"
"N - No, no. That's not it. I just... I do, but I - I don't... I - I... I..." Izuku's breathing began to pick up a notch and his heart rate monitor started to spike. The familiar encroaching grasp of panic began to seep into his bones while he struggled to remember the traumatic events that landed him in the hospital. Only bits and pieces would surge forward, reminding him of the screams that bounced off of the pure, white walls for so long. His throat was dry and scratchy. His arms and legs were nothing more than feathers. He was weak now. A shell of his former self and he couldn't remember how he had gotten to be that way.
"It's okay, Midoriya. Just breathe. You're safe now. Bakugou and I made sure that every single one of those villains were apprehended. We're sorry it took us so long, but we finally did it." Todoroki's soothing voice broke through Izuku's small panic-attack while his warm hand made small circles around the greenette's back. Izuku could feel Todoroki's palms brushing against his exposed bones and winced at the strange sensation.
"I'm going to go tell the nurse that you've woke up, okay? Bakugou, stay here with him." Todoroki turned on his heel to walk out of the room.
"I planned on it," Katsuki murmured under his breath.
"Kacchan? Why are you here? Where's Uraraka?" Izuku questioned.
"Don't know where round-face is. You're probably better off without her being here right now if you ask me. I'm here because... because I didn't save you in time, Deku." Katsuki sighed deeply and pulled up a chair to the side of Izuku's bed. He reached a hesitant hand down to clasp around the frail wrist in an attempt to comfort the greenette and show his sincerity.
"I don't blame you, Kacchan. That was a shitty situation," Izuku chuckled, making light out of everything. He felt Katsuki squeeze his wrist in response, but the blond said nothing. He was clearly hurting over not being able to protect Izuku and that wasn't something that sat well with the small male. So, Izuku gave a slight tug on his wrist until he was able to pull his hand up to grab Katsuki's palm in his own. Katsuki said nothing in response to the gesture, but simply squeezed once more.
"A whole year, huh?" Izuku murmured. "I missed a lot then, didn't I?"
Katsuki hummed lightly, not trusting his voice to betray the overwhelming feelings of guilt and regret that settled deep in the pit of his stomach. It was like someone was holding him down from above while they stood on his gut, sneering at the pain when he struggled to break free from their grasp.
"I... I was... so scared, Kacchan. They did... so many things. So many. An - And, I couldn't get away. No matter how hard I tried. I couldn't escape. It was like they were toying with me. Sometimes, I think they let me try to run only t - to send others after me. Like, some type of... of cat and mouse game? And then the parties... The things they did to me at their parties. The parties for the rich to splurge over all of us that were locked up. It was... sick. So fucking sick..." Izuku's soft whispers broke the silence between them and each passing word only made Katsuki want to retch at the thought of what the hero had gone through.
"D - Deku..?" Katsuki's voice cracked slightly and his grip tightened. "It'll all be okay now. Really. They're gone forever for what they did to you and all the others were saved. You don't need to force yourself to remember it at all, okay?"
"Y - Yeah, okay." Izuku laid his head back against his cot while they waited for the doctor's to arrive, never once letting go of Katsuki's comforting grasp.
"Psychogenic Amnesia," the doctor began to explain. Izuku shifted uncomfortably under her scrutinizing gaze. He could hear the faint buzzing from the fluorescent lights that were flickering impatiently overhead and the small hum was beginning to irritate him. The air around Izuku felt stale, dry almost and his throat was starting to mimic it. Each raspy breath he took, the saliva in his mouth seemed to evaporate; leaving nothing behind except a cracked Sahara desert.
Squinting his eyes, Izuku could easily make out the dripping of the salt-liquid along the doctor's jugular. It trailed over her flesh and traced down the protruding blood vessel. If he focused intently enough, it was almost like he could hear the pulsing of each heartbeat that surged her decadent metallic liquid through her body. Izuku's eyes continued to stare at the spot on her neck that appeared to be juicy - so succulent - until a raspy voice pulled him out of his reverie.
"Did you get all of that, Midoriya?" Todoroki questioned. Izuku looked up at his best friend with a blank expression and shook his head.
"Uhm, n - no. Sorry, I'm just so... thirsty," Izuku responded sheepishly. Todoroki let out a low sigh and shook his head in frustration.
"Alright, listen to her this time. I'm going to go get you something to drink, then," he stated, only to turn around and leave once more.
Katsuki was still patiently holding onto Izuku's hand and for once, Izuku was finally beginning to remember that it was a little odd of him to do. He hadn't left the greenette's side this entire time and they had spoken softly to each other. It was like Katsuki had suddenly started to care for Izuku's well-being more than the way he viewed their rivalry.
Sure, ever since they graduated and began to work at the same agency as Pro-Heroes, their rivalry had hit new heights. They would banter about work to each other all the time and eventually, they were paired up to be a duo, working with each other as partners. It was an amazing dream to Izuku, really. But now, Katsuki was acting like he viewed their rivalry to be that of a friendship and that was something Izuku thought would never happen between them again.
Granted, Izuku had always seen Katsuki in the 'friendship' light ever since they worked things out to an extent their freshman year. But, still. This was new. It was different. It was a change he wasn't expecting, but... it was nice.
"Like I was saying," the doctor began once more. "We believe you have Psychogenic Amnesia, or sometimes called Dissociative Memory Loss. It occurs primarily in PTSD patients of ours. Sometimes you'll remember things vividly, so vividly that you'll believe you're actively experiencing your trauma again. Then, other times, you'll feel like you're living in a foggy-haze that's so dense you can't even think of your own name. But, don't worry. We've got plenty of therapy solutions for you to undergo whenever you're rea - "
"KAH-HU!" Izuku coughed heavily into his arm and held up a hand to silence the doctor. Immediately, she approached him and began to inspect his lungs to see if there was something she had missed. Ignoring the hacking fit that erupted from him, she started to feel things out. Once he had finished, she made Izuku do a few breathing exercises before backing away.
"Strange. We can't risk you getting sick right now, but I don't hear any obstructions in your airways. We'll err on the safe side for now though and get you set up on some antibiotics. On that note, are there any other questions? We've got tests that we still need to run, otherwise, your physical therapy and the rehabilitation look good to proceed shortly," she explained. Todoroki entered the room again and passed Izuku a bottle of water only to resume his position leaning back against the wall across from Izuku's bed.
"Thanks, Todo. Before you go, Doctor," Izuku called out to her. "How long of a rehabilitation am I looking at? I really want to get back to the field whenever possible."
"Right, I completely understand that. Unfortunately, your muscles are extremely feeble right now. It's going to be a long time. The earliest I can see you finishing is by 6 months, but even that is going to be hard to accomplish." The doctor turned away without another word and left the trio to their thoughts.
Katsuki glanced down at the beaten figure of his partner and clenched a fist to his side. The look of despair on the greenette's face was more than he could bear. Izuku wasn't supposed to look so broken - so lost. He was supposed to flash one of those blinding smiles their way followed by words of reassurance. Followed by words that screamed he hadn't given up yet. Words that screamed it was only a matter of time before they were back at it all again.
Instead, what Katsuki saw sitting against the cot before him were the ghost of the starry eyes he had known his whole life. Nothing in them held the glint - the determination and fight - that Katsuki prayed to see again. It was one thing for the hero to be alive, but that didn't mean that he was well. And Katsuki would be damned if he didn't get his rival back. He would be damned if the greenette's eyes didn't gleam with life - teeming with that same unrelenting drive that got him where he was. The drive that had him standing in the top ten brackets with Katsuki. Together - the Wonder Duo. Katsuki couldn't be a part of that duo... if Izuku wasn't there with him.
"Don't worry, Deku. Just six more months and you'll be out there by my side again."