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Izuku sits crouched in the dimly lit hallway just outside the infirmary door, face down, head between his knees, trying to get the ringing in his ears to stop.

Somehow he isn’t crying. This comes as a surprise to him. He’s almost always crying, more or less, but now, when the situation truly calls for it, the tears won’t come. There’s plenty of ringing though. That low sound buzzing in his eardrums hasn’t stopped since he first recognized Toga’s latest disguise for what it was - and what it meant. He hadn’t been the only one the League had managed to capture today. A few hours before, when Toga had sidled in to resume his torture session, she’d been wearing another face. Violet hair. Violet eyes. A smirk that looked so wrong with her behind it.

“Hey, Deku! I brought you something.”

Izuku glances up from his dark thoughts to see Ochako making her way down the dim hall, carrying a wicker basket and a brown paper bag wafting with the smell of fried food.

She beams at him. “Recovery Girl called me. Asked me to bring you something to eat… and Shinsou’s cat,” she says, patting the wicker basket. A soft meow answers her.

Izuku stares at her blankly, not currently having the mental capacity needed to process what’s in front of him.

Ochako crouches down to his level, setting down the basket and paper bag, tilting her face inches from his. “How’s he doing?” she asks softly.

The question finally shakes him from his stupor. He fills her in on the details: flatly, impassively. So emotionless that it shocks even him. Isn’t he normally the crybaby of the class? Wasn’t All Might always reprimanding him for his waterworks? Where are they now? Why won’t the tears come, when his friend lies inches from death just a few feet away? For once, he doesn’t have the time or heart to figure it out.

“Well, he lost a lot of blood. Any more, and we probably wouldn’t have made it back in time. He was too exhausted for Recovery Girl to use her quirk, but she did her best to stitch him up and give him a blood transfusion in the meantime. Luckily he’s type AB, universal receiver, so I was able to give him some of mine.” Izuku holds up an arm fixed with an All Might patterned band aid. “Now we’re just waiting for him to wake up. Recovery Girl shooed me out of the room once she was done patching up my injuries and drawing my blood. Said I was getting underfoot.”

Ochako smiles faintly at that, knowing just how much that statement likely rang true. “How long till he wakes up?”

Izuku’s arm flops back to his side. He keeps his head down, purposefully avoiding eye contact. “We don’t know. It could be days. Or longer. There was a lot of blood.”

Ochako leans over and wraps him in her arms. “You did what you could, Deku. You got him out. You brought him to the place with the best shot at saving him.”

“Yeah, but if I had only known sooner… if I could’ve gotten there faster… I was toying with Toga. Leading her on. I wanted to see if I could learn more about their plans. But if I were being honest, I could’ve broken through those ropes a lot earlier. They clearly underestimated how much stronger I’ve gotten. I just… I had no idea they’d captured Shinsou too.” His voice chokes at the end of that sentence. Internally, Izuku scoffs at himself. Making all the right sounds, but still no tears. Maybe because he didn’t deserve to cry over something he caused.

“Izuku, don’t do this to yourself.”

“You don’t understand. I was captured first. She lured him in by pretending to be me. It’s all my fault. I was being stupid and trying to stake out the League on my own…”

At that moment, the door to the infirmary opens, casting the hallway in soft, incandescent shades that contrast starkly with the shadows’ muted blues. Recovery Girl steps out and looks over at the two teens huddled on the floor. For a moment, it looks like she’s about to scold them, but she thinks better of it. Instead, her face softens into a warm smile. “Miss Uraraka, Mr. Midoriya, I’ll be heading home for the night. But don’t you worry about your friend,” she adds, noticing Izuku’s questioning frown. “I’m leaving him in the care of the best nurse on the night shift, Miss Awase.”

A young woman with dark, cropped hair steps out behind the elderly nurse, giving the teens a politie wave.

“And I’ll keep my pager on me at all times, in case something comes up,” Recovery Girl continues, brandishing an ancient plastic device that looked like it predated the emergence of quirks. “But like I already told Mr. Midoriya, all we can do now is wait for young Shinsou to wake up.” Her mouth tilts into a frown. “In the meantime, please try and get some rest, you two. And for the love of all that’s good, eat something, Mr. Midoriya. You lost plenty of blood yourself from that Toga girl’s assault, and if we hadn’t been low on supplies, I wouldn’t have let you donate any.”

Having delivered her manifesto, the elderly nurse turns and makes her way down the hall. Awase gives the two teens a final sympathetic wave and closes the door, casting the hallway into gloomy blue shadows once again.

Ochako looks at her friend, letting him know with her eyes that she hadn’t forgotten where their conversation had left off. “Are you going to be okay?”

Izuku does his best to muster up a reassuring smile. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

The look she gives him says she doesn’t quite buy into that assertion, but nonetheless, she rises to her feet. “I’m assuming you’re staying here for the night.”

“Yeah, I think so.”

She glances at the closed door. “You should ask that nurse if you can sleep on one of the beds or something.”

When Izuku doesn’t answer, she gently kicks the paper bag by his feet. “At the very least, you should eat. I got you katsudon.”

Izuku smiles weakly, a touch more genuine than his earlier attempt. “Thank you, Ochako.”

His friend only furrows her brows at him in return, warping her forehead into wrinkles. “Take care of yourself, Izuku.” She turns and makes her way down the hall, heading back toward the dorms. Izuku watches her silhouette for as long as the dim fluorescent nightlights allow, until she blends in with the murk of the shadows and leaves him totally alone. Nothing but his thoughts and doubts now.

He glances down at the bag by his feet. It does smell pretty good, and he is hungry. And he knows it doesn’t pay to dwell on what he could’ve or should’ve done, at least not now. That’s not the best thing he can do for Shinsou. The best he can do is take care of himself, stay healthy - donate more blood if he needs to - and stay awake. More than anything, Izuku wants to be there when he wakes up. To apologize.

Because he is so unfathomably sorry.

He reaches down and unwraps the takeout from its paper shell, cracking open the plastic container and digging into the rice and fried pork housed within. He takes a couple grateful bites, silently thanking Ochako for remembering his favorite comfort food. It gives him a brief reprieve from the clench of guilt buried deep in his chest. He keeps eating, doing his best to ignore it - power through that useless, pointless feeling and regain his strength through the food - only to find himself feeling guilty over doing just that. Izuku takes a few more bites, but his mind keeps flickering back to the same thing, over and over, like a reel of film stuck on a loop.

Shinsou’s body, curled up on the ground in that disgusting room, coated in his own blood, barely breathing.

Izuku chokes on a mouthful of rice, coughing and spitting the partly chewed food back into the container. He lets the dish and chopsticks fall to the floor, clutching at his hair with his hands, tangling white knuckles into the strands until he feels like he’s going to rip his entire scalp clean off his skull. The pain helps block out that image, at least for now. He knows it isn’t helping anything to dwell, to beat himself up. He knows. And yet he can’t shake it. Something about that image tells him it’ll haunt him for the rest of his life.

He picks up the container and tries to keep eating. One mouthful at a time. He avoids the pork and egg, focusing on the plainer rice, hoping he can avoid making himself sick.

But every time he tries to beat that image back, a new detail emerges, arresting his attention. The shivering. Blue fingertips and lips, from the body’s natural efforts to conserve what little circulation it could still manage. That gash across his chest. The bite marks. Teeth marks.

There was so much blood.

When Izuku had found Shinsou, he’d been entirely coated in it, from neck to navel. It looked like a second shirt, a skintight bodysuit made of slick, rusted red, reeking of old pennies and replenishing itself with every heartbeat, the blood welling up from the slash across his chest. Izuku had done his best to stop the bleeding, ripping off what remained of the top half of his uniform and binding it into a makeshift pressure bandage, but it shifted around quite a bit during their escape... He’d been forced to be pretty rough with the unconscious boy, slinging him over his shoulders before using full cowling to carry them both away. When he’d delivered Shinsou to Recovery Girl, his wounds were still raw and bleeding.

Guilt stabs him in the throat at the thought, and Izuku sets down the takeout container for the last time.

A faint mewl jolts him from his thoughts, followed by a slight rustle in the basket resting next to his feet. He’d completely forgotten about Shinsou’s cat.

“Hey there, Bean,” he coos, opening the top of the basket and peering inside. He reaches a hand into the wicker frame to pet the small creature, but an indignant hiss out of the small cat makes him draw it sharply back. “Okay, I get it. You don’t appreciate being forgotten,” Izuku says, thinking for a moment. “Why don’t we bring you in by your master?”

It had taken until now for Izuku to realize that he’d been avoiding going back into the infirmary. Maybe he’d been worried that seeing Shinsou again would confirm how real it all was. Resurrect his worst fears.

Izuku shakes the feeling away, clearing it from his mind like unwanted cobwebs. Placing the lid back over Bean’s basket, he picks up the container and walks over to the door, turning the knob as slowly and quietly as he can. Once inside, he quickly scans the room for Awase, the night shift nurse. He’s surprised to find her fast asleep, curled up in the office chair usually occupied by Recovery Girl. The lights are turned down low, and the room isn’t much brighter than the hallway, with nothing but a few nightlights and the heart monitor beside Shinsou’s bed casting an eerie glow across the ghostly space.

Izuku shivers. He can’t stand to be here for much longer. Everything is dead quiet, interrupted only by Awase’s faint snores and the monotonous blip of the heart monitor. Treading as lightly as he can, he makes his way over to Shinsou’s bed, carefully depositing Bean’s basket at its foot, removing the cover and flipping it over to form a little makeshift bed for the cat. He scoops up Bean, ready to introduce her to her new spot, and for once she doesn’t protest. She must be able to sense that something isn’t right about this place. Maybe she knows her master needs her. Izuku read somewhere once that cats are pretty in tune with that sort of thing. Bean curls up into her new bed without a fuss.

Just as he turns away to make his exit, something makes Izuku pause. He freezes in place, one foot still extended, ready to reclaim his dismal post in the hall, while the other holds back, telling him his job isn’t quite done. He glances over his shoulder, eyes flitting first to the cat, curled up at the foot of the bed, and then to his unconscious friend. He turns around again and walks up to the side of the bed.

He can’t say for sure what drove him there, and he still can’t explain why the tears won’t come. Izuku looks down at his friend’s sleeping face, tracing the far from peaceful expression knotted into his features, and only one thing comes to mind.

“I’m sorry.”

The words tumble out in a whisper, broken and useless. He knows Shinsou can’t hear him, that he’s saying it more for himself. The realization sparks a renewed swell of guilt in his chest, spreading like a rot. Something in him aches, and it forces him to move before he’s entirely consumed by it.

It’s a bit like all the times he’d rushed headlong into danger to save someone, all those times his feet moved before his head had a chance to catch up. He walks back over to the bed and climbs into it, swinging himself gently over the metal guardrail lining either side, painfully careful not to jostle Shinsou too much. He stretches out beside his sleeping friend, resting on his side and sliding neatly into the small space between the unconscious boy and the edge of the bed. He searches Shinsou’s face for the tiniest hint of a stir, but none comes. Shinsou remains placidly trapped somewhere deep inside himself. If it weren’t for the shallow motions of his chest and the faint sounds of the heart monitor, Izuku would think he was already gone. Icy tendrils of dread pool in the pit of Izuku’s stomach at the thought.

Swallowing the fear, Izuku stretches out a hand and splays it gently over the bare skin of Shinsou’s chest, just above the thick bandage reaching diagonally from the left side of his torso to the right of his stomach. To keep the rising panic at bay, Izuku needs direct, concrete proof of his friend’s continued existence. He presses his hand against Shinsou’s chest, adding pressure in the futile hope that it would somehow help. He focuses on his fingertips, tracing the building heat at each individual point of contact, like faint embers, glowing in the eerie blue gloom of the infirmary. It’s comforting, just feeling Shinsou’s warmth. As he lies there, tucked neatly on his side, gaze focused on his outstretched hand, Izuku starts to count Shinsou’s breaths, to give himself something to focus on. One, two, three, then four... The rhythm is soothing, like a lullaby.

Miraculously, the makeshift serenade works wonders that the katsudon never could. The jarring nightmares that had been haunting his mind’s eye fade, replaced by a blank, neutral void. As Izuku concentrates on Shinsou’s breathing, he loses track of the fear rising like bile in the back of his throat and replaces it with the placid onslaught of unconsciousness. Izuku even finds himself breathing along with him.

Izuku doesn’t realize when he’d fallen asleep, but moments later, he’s jostled awake by a weak grip on his side, followed by a voice, hoarse from disuse. “Midoriya... what are you doing?”

Izuku bolts upright, pushing himself sharply off the hospital bed. He hears a hiss of pain, and he glances down to find Shinsou looking up at him, eyes narrowed into slits as he winces. “S-Sorry!” Izuku responds automatically. A second later he finally processes what he’s seeing. “S-Shinsou?!” he exclaims. “You’re awake!”

“Unfortunately,” Shinsou replies, hissing again as his response sends Izuku into a renewed wave of excitement and flurried motion.

“Sorry!” Izuku repeats, forcing himself to lower his voice and control his movements. He carefully lowers his head to Shinsou’s level, dropping his voice to a whisper. “Shinsou… I was so worried! You were so hurt. We thought it would take days for you to wake up, if not longer.”

Shinsou grins faintly. “Well, I never was any good at sleeping.”

Izuku stares at him blankly for a second, then dissolves into quiet, slap-happy laughter. “I c-can’t believe… I can’t believe…” he starts, but he finds himself unable to finish the sentence, interrupted by a stinging at the corner of his eyes. Now of all times, the tears finally come. A second later, he’s sobbing, droplets streaming down the sides of his cheeks in droves. He pitches forward, leaning his forehead against the place on Shinsou’s chest where his hand had been moments before, counting breaths. Without thinking, he reaches for Shinsou’s hand, gathering it in his own hands, as if he were afraid it would crumble to dust.

A few moments later, after he’s regained some composure, Izuku raises his head from Shinsou’s chest, releasing his hand and looking down at him, eyes set and serious. “Shinsou, I am so sorry, I will never put you in that kind of situation ever again. I care about you too much. More than I realized.... I’m so sorry.”

Izuku feels his face flush, his mind finally catching up with the full weight of his words.

Shinsou stares up at him blankly for a few agonizing moments, eyes still clouded by pain and fatigue. Eventually, he musters enough strength to give him a reply, raspy and faint. “Well that makes two of us… I’m sorry too, Midoriya… because I don’t regret what happened… I’d do it over if I had to… you dumbass.”

Izuku chokes out a laugh, grabbing Shinsou’s hand again. “That makes two of us.”