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To Atone

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An Apology

 

It takes Izuku a moment to realize what's going on.

It's during of a fight, in the middle of fire and rubble, blood and death. Only this time the fight doesn't carry the promise of a victory or justice being served.

He readies himself to charge, to attack and then-

At first all he hears is a scream, one that tears through the air and goes straight into his brain-

"You useless fucking Deku!"

He's heard it a million times and more, words so intrinsic to his life they've become background music.

He doesn't think much of it, until he feels the impact and the blast that comes with it. One of Bakugou's explosions propels him away - away from the fight, the villain and the explosive hero himself.

Izuku manages to catch himself before he falls and yet the anger is there, simmering in his chest.

"What was that for, Bakugou!?" he shouts back at the other - his rival, friend or enemy – whatever they are now.

(No Kacchan these days).

There's no answer, no swears thrown back at him.

A shift in the atmosphere and his fury dissipates, melting away in the heat of the fires all around.

"Bakugou?" he tries, voice louder and laced with panic.

Worry sets root deep in his heart as his eyes search for the other. The curtain of smoke scatters and he spots him, metres away from where he was a moment ago.

No trace of the villain, as though he might have vanished into thin air. At the back of his mind Izuku registers his quirk might have something to do with teleportation but he has no time to dwell on it, more pressing matters at hand,

"Why did you push me away!?" he demands, voice harsher for once, "I could have-"

The words dry up on his lips and hang in the air.

As soon as he takes in Bakugou's state he knows. Dread spills into his chest and for one moment he doesn't feel panicked or desperate, just numb.

"No, you fucking couldn't," Katsuki shoots back, tone as biting as ever, "Hell, no one could have survived that hit,"

Midoriya shakes his head, running towards him and kneeling down, desperation washing over him in thick, strong waves.

The blonde's bloodied lips stretch into a small, brittle smirk, as though he's just won another round between them,

"Hell, not even you, Deku."

It's the closest he'll get to recognition from the explosive hero and it's what sends bells ringing in his head.

"K-kacchan," he whispers, the nickname rolling off his tongue like second nature.

It still sounds the same it did so many years ago. For a brief moment it's as though they're four again and their entire life is before them, rich with possibilities like the blue sky on a summer morning,

"Haven't fucking heard that in a while," Bakugou snorts, attempting to shake his head but too weak to manage it.

Izuku presses his hands over him, over his mangled chest, even as he realizes it's in vain. There's no power of friendship in the real world, he's learnt that the hard way.

He shoots up a frantic glance around, the world reduced to smears of black and red. Sirens wail in the distance and if he really listens, he might hear Uravity's voice from far away.

"Help will be here in a few minutes," he tries to assure, lips curling into a warm smile even as his cheeks are wet.

"Come on, Deku…" Bakugou begins, the sentence pierced by a painful cough and more blood, "Hell, we both know there's no way in fucking hell I make it."

Izuku realizes with the clarity of a cold January morning it's true - there's only so much that can be fixed. Even superheroes can't cheat death.

As if in confirmation Bakugou sounds almost peaceful, the way he never did during his lifetime.

Beyond the swears and harsh words there's acceptance in his voice and it's what scares Midoriya the most. Fury bubbles up his chest and he's ready to yell and smash and beg – anything to get the other back on his feet and erase the look of acceptance from his face,

"So what…you're just going to fucking give up!?" he screams, anger and desperation tearing through his words.

And that's a first.

It's as though their roles are reversed.

Now he's the one shouting, demanding answers. He can't help it, not when Bakugou's warm blood sips through his fingers. Not when he can see life slowly melting away from him, the raging fire in his eyes reduced to dying ambers.

Katsuki attempts to speak, throw back an insult or a dozen but never goes through with it, choking on his own blood.

Midoriya's eyes widen in horror at the sight and he wraps his hands around the boy's shoulders, clinging onto him. He pulls him against his own chest, allowing air to enter his lungs.

"Come on, Kacchan, what happened to beating me?" he attempts to tease, to provoke, praying it gets the rise out of him.

It works. One thing he can always rely on is for the other to be angry with him. Bakugou's incessant wrath is the one constant in his life and he's not planning on loosing it .

"Of course I'll fucking beat you, you useless Deku," the blonde insists, fingers curling into fists by his sides one last time.

Izuku can't believe he's lived long enough for those words to bring him joy. He clings onto the other's body, inhaling in his smell and ignoring the stench of blood and burnt flesh which invades his nostrils.

He lets himself hold him, be close like he never was before. He wants to confess, to say how many times he's wished for this, the intimacy between them a fleeting dream.

But… not like this, never like this.

Hope sprouts in his chest like a weed and he doesn't have the heart to crush it, ever the eternal optimist.

Bakugou will live another day and then another and he will, no,

they will -

"Just…I'll fucking beat you in the next life."

The world shatters and Izuku can't stop the strangled sob that flies past his lips,

"Kacchan, just please, no," he begs and it's like when they were kids, he's pleading once more except now everything is different, "Just please, hold on."

Katsuki attempts something like a snicker, the sound broken and out of place on his lips as they're stained red.

"Jeez, I'm the one who's fucking dying and yet even now you have to be a little bitch and cry."

Against all odds Midoriya smiles at it, realizing he already misses the jabs and insults and he hasn't even lost him yet.

It feels like it, the moment slowly morphing into a memory.

"I told you you'd be the death of me,"

The words resonate with him on every level, from his heart to his overanalytical mind because they're true, of course they are. It's because of him Kacchan will die, because of his own weakness, his inability to save everyone.

"I know, oh God, I know," he sobs, the sounds muffled against the other's chest, "I am so, so sorry Kacchan!"

For the first time in years he feels weak except this time no quirk can help.

There's another snicker, quieter than the one before,

"Who said I blame you?"

Shock washes over Izuku as he looks up, their eyes colliding, green falling over red.

Bakugou's eyes are half closed, as though it takes tremendous effort to keep them open and he knows from experience it does.

For once there's no anger in them, no lust to hurt and destroy. No aim to be alone at the top, rather something else entirely – a desire to help, to save. For one long moment, an eternity on its own, all Midoriya can think is how much the other has grown, how there isn't a trace left from the former bully.

It's a Catch 22 really, how in his last moments, in his loss and vulnerability Bakugou looks so strong, so mature.

Suddenly he's reminded why the boy used to be an idol for him and why deep down he never let go.

"I made the fucking choice, I took the hit for you," Katsuki points out, words barely above a whisper, yet speaking volumes, "So don't you fucking dare blame yourself, shitty Deku."

They both know he will but the encouragement still helps, especially when it comes from him.

His hands act on their own as he cups Katsuki's pale face, smeared with blood and ash. He half expects to be pushed away like every other time but it never happens. Perhaps it's because of the heavy blood loss and yet the expression in those half closed eyes tells him otherwise. It's as though there's some hidden reason for the hero to hold on.

Katsuki almost leans into the touch, which sends a jolt of electricity down his spine.

"I know you probably don't care but…I'm so proud of you Kacchan," he admits, wiping the tears away from his face with a bloodied glove.

There's no swearing, no explosions this time. For the first time Bakugou doesn't fight off his hand, his words, the silent offer for friendship, possibly more.

In fact he seems to welcome it, allowing himself vulnerability only in death.

Slim fingers curl around his and he's taken by surprise when the blonde pulls himself into a sitting position. Izuku's eyes widen in awe, gasping at the other's will to live, pure stubbornness preventing him from succumbing to death and then –

A pair of lips crashes against his own.

The world comes to an abrupt halt.

For a small eternity it's reduced to this - the tiny space between them. The bitter taste of blood, Kacchan's dry, chapped lips claiming his own. The way twisted fingers tug at his hair, pulling him closer, demanding to feel more.

As though they can make up for the all the time they've wasted, all the words they haven't said.

All the chances lost because of pride and fear.

But they have no credit left, the expolosive hero running on borrowed time.

When they part Izuku can't utter a single word, too stunned with the kiss and too scared with its implications.

"I would've fucking killed myself if I didn't do this," Bakugou grunts, tone uncharacteristically biting for someone who's about to die.

One for All or not, Midoriya can't do anything to keep him, make him stay.

It's as though he's powerless all over again.

"I've always wanted this," he admits because they've already lost a lifetime in secrets and he doesn't have the heart for another one, "Ever since we were kids."

To his surprise Katsuki's lips curl into a small, brittle smile. It looks absurd on his pallid, bloodied face. It's the most beautiful sight Midoriya has witnessed.

"C-consider this payback," Bakugou manages, as the grip on his hand weakens, "For everything I've fucking done to you."

There's a pause, one filled with Izuku's sobs and Katsuki's struggle to take another breath before he finishes,

"Sorry."

Chapter Text

 

Promise

 

Izuku wakes up in a hospital bed which really at this point is no surprise.

At first it feels okay, just another battle. For one short lived happy moment he forgets, basking in the realization he's come to cheat death another time, save another life and then –

then all the memories come back pouring over him, drumming over his head like bullets against a shield.

Several moments flash before his eyes: the fight, Katsuki pushing him out of the way, the smirk on his lips, his last breath, hot over his neck.

No saving this time around.

Izuku clings onto a corpse, sensing the warmth as it bleeds away from him, life dissipating into stale air that reeks of death and loss.

The villain reappears then, a mocking smirk over his thin lips.

"Well, isn't this a touching scene," he teases, joking over Izuku's pain and Bakugou's sacrifice.

Deku has never gone insane before…

He's never let the animal come out. He's never allowed anger to override his instincts, reduce him to a force of nature, one that wants to clash and tear and destroy.

This day he does.

"You'll pay for this," he swears and lives up to his word, until the monster before him is reduced to nothing.

He has intent to hurt and he knows it. A small, lost part of him tells him it's wrong, it's wrong to hurt another human beyond serving justice, even one that has taken others.

(Isn't that what villains do?)

And yet he doesn't care, not today. Not when Bakugou is dead on the ground, all his anger and pride, dreams and ambitions gone.

Not after their kiss, not when he knows what they could have had.

The villain has taken everything away from him and for one long moment all he can think is – why not do the same?

(Haven't all heroes struggled with the same question?)

It's Uraraka hand on his shoulder than stops him, grounds him.

"Deku!" she cries out, voice loud and frantic as it echoes through the torn city and remains sealed in his brain, "Deku, please stop!"

She's the one that pulls him away from the edge, before he can do the unthinkable.

The villain is locked safely in prison and Midoriya is grateful, even as a small part of him, one that sounds oddly like Kacchan, tells him he doesn't deserve such a getaway.

 

xxx

 

Waking up in the hospital bed is not a strange thing these days. What is strange is seeing his childhood friend in the chair next to him.

He's weak so he allows himself to believe, stretch out a hand and feel the other's pale skin underneath his fingertips.

It feels warm, so starkly different from last time.

"You do realize I'm not fucking here, right?" Katsuki snorts, red eyes as angry as ever.

He looks real, the scene between them feeling strangely like reality.

That or Izuku just wants to cling onto it, keep Kacchan to himself for as long as possible. Perhaps there is some selfishness in him after all.

"Don't kid yourself," the blonde goes on, as he gestures to himself, "Just a figment of your stupid imagination."

The room is perfectly silent, the only sound that of his own steady heartbeat, echoed by a machine.

"I know," Midoriya confirms, voice bearing more finality than he can handle, "But… I still want to keep you."

He reminiscents of all the words left unsaid, the stolen glances and accidental touches, the things they could have done. Now in retrospect it all looks glaringly obvious and he has to wonder why he'd miss the signs.

"Stop with your stupid-ass overthinking and shit," the taller man grunts, leaning back against the plastic chair.

Izuku licks his lips, unsure what there is to say. Vaguely he realizes next time he opens his eyes Bakugou won't be there, rather six feet under.

The thought of it makes something cold and slippery coil around his neck and threaten to choke,

"I…" he begins, words dry and empty on his lips, "You didn't have to do it."

Katsuki scoffs but doesn't comment further, opting instead to look away, focus on the plain white wall behind Izuku as though it's a more interesting sight.

There's another beat of silence,

"I already forgave you," he admits, voice soft and soothing, "Years ago."

Bakugou flinches at the words, finally meeting his gaze. This version of him looks vibrant and fresh, all bright, saturated colours and sharp edges.

He looks so alive it brings tears to Midoriya's eyes.

"Fuck all that sentimental bullshit," he growls, like an angry dog who's denied a treat.

Izuku stretches his hand on instinct and laces their fingers together. A blanket of nostalgia drapes over his shoulders and regret bubbles up his chest.

"I should've told you while you…" his voice betrays him, breaking at the end, "while you were still here, Kacchan."

The other man grunts,

"What the fuck makes you think I didn't know?"

He smiles at the statement, such a Bakugou thing to say, he must give credit to his own imagination,

"Because I know you," he responds, bitter sweetness poking through the edges of the words.

Katsuki sighs and suddenly the vibrant air around him is gone, his eyes duller. It reminds Midoriya of the fight, of clinging onto a corpse, begging death to make an exception, bring him back.

He closes his eyes, as though that might repel the memory…

It does the opposite.

When he opens them again the room's empty but he can still hear a small, angry voice,

" Get the hell back to sleep."

He can't cling onto consciousness, not when the heaviness of reality falls over him, threatening to break him. He succumbs to his dreams, welcoming in the darkness.

Perhaps there he gets to play with Kacchan , like old times.

 

xxx

 

Uraraka tries to cheer him up, offer optimism and happiness all bundled up in nice, soft words.

Izuku orders his lips to curl into a smile, despite himself and for her.

"I'm sure he's at a better place now," she says in the end, the idea safe and comforting but still little more than an empty cliché.

Midoriya vaguely wonders if it ever brought solace to anyone.

In the end neither of them keeps up the act.

"He didn't deserve to die like this!" she whispers, burying her head against his bandaged chest.

(It's funny really, he doesn't even register his own injuries).

"I know," he nods, voice coarse and empty as he runs his scarred fingers through her hair, not sure who's comforting who.

 

xxx

 

His mother brings him sweets and a bunch of books, like she's done for the last one too-many-to-count times when he's landed in the same position.

"Izuku, I'm so happy you're okay!" she exclaims, stray tears in her green eyes, a mirror of his own.

There's something beyond her happiness and relief and he doesn't have to search deep to find out what it is: Her own son gets to live while Mitsuki's remains forever at the age of twenty six.

"I'm fine, don't worry," is all he can reply, the smile on his face rehearsed.

Inko nods but her face tells him she knows him better than to believe it. A stray beam of sunlight hits her face, bringing out dark circles as they clash against pale skin. She looks older, as though the past days have morphed into months.

"Oh, baby,"

She leans in and pulls him into a hug and all Midoriya can do is break down. He doesn't feel like a hero or an adult even, rather a small, weak boy who's just lost something he's never really had and struggles to comprehend what comes next.

"Sh-sh, it's okay," his mother whispers, rubbing lazy circles at his back.

He allows himself the vulnerability – if Kacchan can, so can he – lets himself melt into the embrace.

For one short lived moment he's six again and everything will be okay just because his mum is there.

Then he remembers Katsuki's own mother and the illusion is gone.

 

xxx

 

Everyone comes at the funeral.

Izuku can't help but frown at it, hearing Kacchan's voice in his head as he swears about "Stupid fucking journalists" and "Fake ass friends".

Back when they were kids Bakugou loved the attention, the praise and awe in the eyes of their classmates. They followed him around, like sunflowers turning to the sun and he bathed them in his own blinding light.

Time passed though and he changed: all that mattered to him was his own approval.

"Izuku,"

Todoroki's low, pleasant voice and the arm on his shoulder tears him away from his thoughts,

"Hello," he greets politely, words coming out of his mouth on autopilot.

The taller man nods solemnly while Momo gives him a comforting look, clinging onto her husband's hand. He doesn't miss the glint of gold on their intertwined fingers. (He even got to be their best man but now the wedding feels like a lifetime ago).

"We're sorry for your loss."

He gives them a curt nod, unsure what else there is to say.

(When All Might passed away he was in the same position, being offered awkward hugs, frail handshakes and empty words while all he could do was nod.

But, as his memory insists in the nagging voice of nostalgia, Kacchan was there too back then.

For whatever reason that makes up all the difference.)

 

xxx

 

All Might's funeral was on a rainy day mid-November.

Deku remembers it like a scene from an old movie: everyone clinging onto black umbrellas and happy memories of someone gone. It was all a haze, one big mess of tears and dirt.

He saw it fitting, as though nature itself wept for the fallen hero.

Bakugou's funeral is during the summer, one of the hottest days in early August when the sun shines so brightly it's blinding.

Somehow Izuku finds it even more suitable.

 

xxx

 

Kirishima gets up to speak and only makes it to the first few words before breaking down, manly tears running down his pale face.

"He wasn't just a hero to me," he admits, words dangerously shaky.

There's a pause, as though memories flash before his eyes and his lips curl into a small, bittersweet smile,

"No, he wasn't just a hero, he was my best friend."

Tetsutetsu has to get up and marsh to the podium, wrapping a protective hand around his fiancé's trembling shoulders. It seems to work wonders as the redhead continues without wavering.

It's a beautiful speech, a stab to your heart but still emotional and sincere, much like Kirishima himself.

 

xxx

 

Deku isn't asked to say anything and he prefers it that way for they were never truly, really friends past the age of four.

Always something close, more than acquaintances, less than enemies and not nearly loves.

All they have is one tender moment at the very end, when it was all too much and too late.

He shouldn't make a speech; Kacchan and him both have wasted any right to.

 

xxx

 

"Despite his rough exterior, he was kind at heart," Uraraka admits, a soft smile on her face as she shows strength, "Someone you could always rely on to help you, regardless of how much he'd swear while at it."

Quiet laughter runs through the crowd and Izuku finds himself smirking, a million different pictures flashing before his eyes.

The first are ugly and unpleasant, stained with petty childhood fights and teenage angst.

The second scream of animosity and rivalry and yet…somewhere in between the jealousy and hate there is still the strive to be better, the way they pushed each other harder on their way to accomplish their dreams.

And finally there's a different kind of memories, soaked in nostalgia and a barely there sense of longing. All those stolen glances, words left unsaid, little nods that acknowledged each other's success.

The weight in his chest feels a little lighter, he shouldn't cry for what he's lost, he should cherish what they've had.

 

xxx

 

The feeling is short lived, shattering as he spots Bakugou's parents, two small black figures hunched over a coffin.

Izuku flinches, the sound of Mitsuki's crying ringing through his mind and playing like a broken record.

For once she speaks gently as she bids her last goodbye. She doesn't scream or swear, no energy left in her. It's both a surprise and yet it isn't.

"Izuku," her voice sounds soft, rid of blame and hate. He thinks that makes it all the worse.

"I'm so sorry," he apologizes, the words rolling off his tongue like a plea, "I'm so, so sorry I couldn't protect him."

Masaru offers a sad, knowing smile and a shake of his head,

"There was no protecting Katsuki," he tells him, taking one last look at his son, "You and I both know he would stop at nothing."

(Izuku tries not to think about how pale and peaceful Bakugou looks in the coffin, how out of character it is for him.

In the end he chooses to think that man isn't really him, just a decoy, a mere shadow of the boy he once knew).

He bites his lip so hard he nearly draws blood, the image of the hero in his last moments sealed in his mind.

Ground Zero didn't go out in a blaze of glory, no grand explosions to signify his end. It was quiet, one last breath in his embrace, a quiet apology that only he heard.

"I'm proud of him, you know," Masaru finishes, lips curved into a bittersweet smile.

The words do something funny to Izuku's heart but he still nods, pushing back tears – Kacchan hated it when he cried,

"Yeah, me too."

Mitsuki throws her arms around him, as though he's the only thing left of her son.

Slowly he hugs her back, rubbing random patterns at her back and whispering empty words of comfort – just like in rescue training.

One glance at her and he sees Katsuki again, that's how similar they are.

What frightens him the most is how quiet she is – a mirror image of the blonde boy he held onto as he took his last breath.

 

xxx

 

He stays the longest, losing track of time.

The sun starts to set, bathing the landscape in gold and crimson as it creates an atmosphere of finality.

Green eyes glued to the tomb stone before him, Izuku reads,

" Beloved hero,"

It makes him shake his head, knowing Bakugou would've hated it. King Explosion Murder comes to mind and he can practically hear Kacchan screaming the words in front of the class. It makes him smile, despite everything else.

A lifetime of little moments flashes through his mind, all filtered through the prism of nostalgia.

The two of them as kids, teens and finally adults.

Everything from rooms filled with All Might figures, through their school uniforms stained in each other's blood, quiet afternoons at the academy spent studying…Morphing into unstoppable forces that aim to save the day, each in their own way.

His mind follows Katsuki making a full circle, from the brave little kid, to the bully and finally, finally what Izuku knew he was all along – a hero at heart.

"Quit acting like a fucking drama queen," he hears the familiar voice, echoing through his mind.

"Kachhan…" the nickname hangs in the hot summer air as he turns to take one last look at his friend.

He wants to cling onto the illusion, lace their fingers together and never let go.

But…

There are more important tasks at hand, he has a whole world to protect and friends that feel like family who need him as much as he needs them.

"Told you to move the hell on," Katsuki grunts, lowering his gaze into a glare that hides a little too much.

There's a beat of silence and all he can hear is the wind playing with his hair,

"You know what to do, nerd."

Izuku stares at the grass under his feet, impossibly green against the white of the tombstones,

"Yeah," he murmurs, unable to let go just yet.

Another pause, filled with hesitation,

"Take care of Kirishima, mum and dad for me," the blonde instructs in a low voice, mirroring his own thoughts.

He pauses, as if choosing the right words,

"And the world…but that's a fucking given, isn't it?"

Midoriya looks meets his eyes, one last time before he says goodbye.

(That's not really true, last time was back there, at the site of death and destruction. Now is just the kind of goodbye he would rather have.)

The sun is already setting and the sky starts to change colours, reminding him that night is impending.

"I will," he asserts in the end, voice steady and secure.

The illusion starts to fade,

"It's a promise. I'll be the number one hero, for you and me both."

Kacchan smiles at him, the current moment already a memory. It's a pretty sight, even if it breaks his heart.

The words are barely a whisper, dissipating in the warm summer air,

"See you later, Deku."