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Radio Silence

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The world didn’t end in a bang, or a whisper, but rather, one scream at a time.

She knows of others, all of the countless others, but remembers her scream being one of the first.

Ochako remembers it going a little something like this; the world endures a slow downfall, society crumbles within months, and the semblance of peace is lost practically overnight. It’s a drastic change from normalcy, the practice of life and living the same as it always was, to widespread panic, misunderstandings and eventual tragedy.

She remembers people acting… strange; there really is no other way to describe it. They walk down the road, eyes lidded and forward as they wander, no destination in mind, not a care in the world. They are often left alone to their own devices because, albeit awkward, there isn’t anything really wrong. There is one person in particular she recalls standing out to her one day; a neighbor from down the way acting with the same strange behavior as the others, mindless, wandering. She remembers on their face the blank stare they give her when she speaks to them, eyes full of something she can’t quite place, the nerves that crawl down her spine in the shared silence, and how intensely they watch her walk away when she does.

That same night, when walking by her parents’ bedroom, she catches briefly the news of what sounds like a cannibalism case. It draws her in, and she finds herself set next to her parents watching the story as it unfolds. A murder, especially one of that nature, and so close to home is uncommon. Rare even. She reels, hand quick to cover her mouth as the images change. There’s blood; so, so much blood and, not that she was ever curious, Ochako sees firsthand what the inside of a body truly looks like--the victim’s neck all but gone, trails of skin saturated too dark to be called red anymore. Her mother wonders why they thought it necessary to show any of this live on television, her voice soft and shaky as she speaks. Ochako remembers how she grips her shoulder tightly, wrapping her in a warm, protective embrace and when they show the face of the person responsible, Ochako is suddenly thankful she is sitting in her mother’s arms.

The neighbor from earlier stares her in the face.

This can’t be happening, but it is, right in front of her and suddenly she forgets how to breathe. That… that could have been me. It isn’t certain, but a part of her knows it's true. It was only hours before that she encountered this same man responsible for what now haunts her mind as she trudges out of her parent’s room, hours before that she approached him, friendly and inviting, a question burning on her lips. Hours before that she felt the same nerves that plague her now as he just watched her with what she now identifies as raged hunger (or something akin to it), and she can’t help but wonder what would have happened had she not walked away.

Ochako remembers this moment, the victims and not hers, as the first true scream.

She thought she would be numb to the feeling of apprehension, of fear and anxiety the more cases that became public attention. She isn’t, and a part of her doesn’t think she ever will be. It isn’t right, whatever it is, and sure as hell isn't normal—the world’s sense of what was long since gone, thrown out the window and locked away with no chance of finding the key. No one walks the streets alone, or without something to fend off one another—windows and doors are sealed tight and if at all possible, homes occupied at all times.

It started off as one man; one case, one freak accident still not fully understood and then it turns into something more; more cases, more culprits, and more similarities. It is worth looking into, someone decides, and when they finally stumble upon the source of it all, it’s much, much too late.

A cure. For cancer, of all things.

It’s ironic in a way, how progressive ingenuity meant to better, to save, the lives of those suffering inevitably becomes humanity's downfall. The disease itself is a terrifying concept, to those susceptible and even more to those successful in contracting it. They were exposed to the initial cure once it was made available and it showed promising signs of recovery; many thrive from treatments, ridding their lives of the uncertainty that was forced upon them. There are rejections, as with any experimental medicine, and at first glance it seemed the patients were no worse for the wear; studies shown they weren’t getting better, but they also weren’t getting worse. Or at least, that’s what they thought. There was only one definite.

Those who thrived were assumed to be immune.

Weeks went by and the epidemic spread, by means of cannibalism and immune failure of those treated who’d held out longer than the rest. Whatever this was wasn’t normal. But it doesn’t matter because this-widespread panic, distrust and fear of what may come next-is their new way of life.

Their new normal.

Towns are soon deserted, cities fall, and those unable to escape or defend wait for those who could save them—her and her parents included .

 

xXx

 

Ochako shakes her head, ridding her mind of the images. They're fresh, even three years later and they still hurt but she survives through the pain, just like she survives everything else. Her hand runs across the stone wall beside her; it’s cracked in some places, falling apart in other but it holds, sturdy and unrelenting. It stands tall against her height, a staggering twenty foot difference, and Ochako wonders in her travels just how long it took to create. She imagines on the other side there’s a breeze that spreads across the land, tainted in the stench of undead and debris but a breeze all the same. The air is stagnant within the wall, stale with an abundance of bodies and smells but its breathable, and considering the alternative, a godsend. Ochako looks to the ground, one foot in front of the other.

The ground is covered in only dirt, broken pieces of stone, and rocks, grass unable to sustain life. There were once patches scattered across Yuuei, the sanctuary, but they’d long been trampled over, forced into the ground by the weight atop them. Ochako is lucky if she spots a rogue flower, defeating all odds and surviving —like the rest of them. Uraraka closes her eyes briefly.

Its peaceful today, she decides.  

Beyond the wall and sounds of the compound are the unmistakable shrieks and groans of those infected. She sometimes hears them in place of what is actually there, replaying in her mind as if someone looped it on repeat, many sleepless nights and tired days the result. Today is not a day for fear to overcome her, for it to take the reins and steer her against her better judgement because, as she walks along the beaten path, she knows she’s safe. They’re safe.

And nothing like what happened before has to happen again.

Ochako turns the first corner of many, watching with interest men, women and teens strapped to the teeth with guns and ammunition, heading for the center meet point, she’s sure. They’re runners, and it looks as though they’ve just returned—by the gear they’re holding, she figures it was a search and seizure mission, information gathered from these paramount to their survival. She studies their body language; shoulders straight, backs tall, eyes straight forward and confidence in stride. A small smile finds its way into her features, twisting on the corner of pursed lips. They were in high spirits despite their expressionless facades, a definite tell tale of a success in mission. Eyes rise above, the sun casting a shine onto chocolate irises. Those were important, essential to their way of life; they meant nothing however, if more lives were lost than saved.

As her eyes fall downward, watching as the last runner ducks around the corner in pursuit of their squad, she finds a newfound confidence in her own steps, with the knowledge of not only a successful mission, but something much more invaluable.

No casualties.

Success was not a rarity in these times; supplies (no matter the amount) are often retrieved, new areas found and intelligence gathered, and on very, very rare cases, survivors located and liberated. Casualties were almost as common as their triumphs, a definite in their world of uncertainty and almost expected of every mission outside of the compound. One mission would prove to defy all odds though, success in task and success in survival. These were as common as finding those trapped in the dead zone free of bites, free from the consequence of coming into contact with the undead—becoming undead themselves. It was often celebrated, these feats and Ochako idly wondered if that was the reason behind the gathering today.

She shakes her head, dismissing the thought entirely. That wouldn’t make sense, and it wouldn’t; the runners ahead had only returned fairly recent, this gathering called upon, Ochako suspected, earlier than their arrival. No, this was in regard to something else, and while that should have raised many red flags, Ochako couldn’t find a reason to worry more than she already did.

There was a mission success, a complete success.

No doubt it would be celebrated later.

Paced steps turned into long strides and into a run. She runs with the knowledge of at least something to be happy about when she’s likely to be bombarded with news of anything but and it fuels her, gives her a drive and suddenly she’s face to face with people she knows, people she recognizes and people she doesn’t. Despite the number, she notes with sadness it’s a lot less than before, reminding her that the day is peaceful, but just as dreadful as always.

Ochako walks towards the makeshift stage, finding a place beside a friend as she waits. “Good morning, Shouto,” she says through the cacophony of voices surrounding them. His smile towards her is small but warm all the same, a nod in her direction enough to affirm she was heard. “There are quite a few new faces,” she mumbles to herself, not at all expecting him, or anyone for that matter, to have heard. “Liberated,” Shouto begins, garnering her attention despite how low he kept his voice, “two squads earlier, this lot was found with little supplies and cornered by hoard.”

He twists his head to his left, Ochako’s eyes following his movements. In total there are six, tucked safely together against the closest building; two girls sat on the step nearest the front, one cradling the other’s head as she hid from the world in her own hands. Ochako notices they are covered in dried blood, the bright scarlet a vast contrast to her own short, darkened hair and yet strikingly similar to the boy against the building to her comforter’s right. His features are soft in comparison to his hardened definition, despite what Ochako knew he’d been through, watching closely the girl who remains calm and collected, somehow as lively as her rose hair. Behind them sits two boys of similar build; one whose hair was as yellow as the sun itself, cross-stitched in black, mirroring the boy’s to his left. Ochako smiles warmly, her heart full as she watches them. They’re laughing. It’s refreshing to see if nothing else, happiness and laughter and the facade of normalcy still alive and thriving in these times, forced or otherwise.

“It’s impressive, having survived with little resources, taking on a hoard and saving another. ” Ochako hums in agreement, looking over the group; that explains it, she muses, understanding now how one could be so broken in the presence of five who exude strength. Her heart went out to the girl, remembering briefly the maelstrom of emotions she faced when put in a similar position.

It’ll get easier, I promise.

"It’s more than likely that they have him to thank; he was at the forefront when they were found.” Shouto recalls, his eyes lingering over the group until they come across the boy in question. He wasn’t hard to find, standing at the top of their pyramid, eyes shifting from left, to right, to left again. He was a seasoned survivor, Ochako decides, evident by how he watched over his group and still everything around him. “More than likely,” she mumbles, unable to look away, even as crimson meets chocolate.

They are unreadable, secured behind a wall of ice and stone but they remind her of rubies, of something so precious but tainted in so much red --the red of anger, of grief, of death and of duty. Uraraka can’t look away, doesn’t want too, even as he dismisses her. It’s only when Shouto nudges her arm that she rips her eyes away, in favor of the man standing behind the podium.

“For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Shouta Aizawa; nice to see you’ve all survived another day.” His words drawl on the edge of sleep and indifference, but they are not without concern; this Ochako knows to be the truth. He scratches at the scar just beneath his eye as he studies the faces staring up at him, lingering on Ochako and Shouto briefly. Her eyes fall downcast, remembering just how the scar got there in the first place. “We’ve lost a lot of good people as of late, and it’s likely that we will continue to do so.”

His voice teeters along the edge of sadness and sorrow, and Uraraka expects the worst, wondering if even the pending celebration of a success can lift the spirits after what he may say next. “With that being said, we’re working towards increasing our level of useful intelligence and decreasing the number of casualties, our first test run an overall success.” Waves of voices wash over the silence, questions and hums of confusion crashing over one another. Ochako glances over at Shouto, brows furrowed and he only shrugs, just as unaware it seemed.

So they wait, voices hushed by the wave of the Aizawa’s hand.

“This was only made possible with the assistance and dedication of the runners before us, without whom we’d have never gotten on our hands on the tech needed,” he begins, turning to grab the contents on the table behind him, “ and the ingenuity of our very own Mei Hatsume.” Tight locks of pink bounce with her every step as she climbs her way onto the stage. Ochako recognizes her right away; a sweet girl with the ambition to take on the world at every turn. With the look of unfiltered excitement she wore on her face, it seems she did just that.

“Thanks, Shouta!” Mei sings, faltering none as all eyes fled to her. “Alright, listen up! See this right here? They’re Bluetooth earwigs, rigged to one of many burner phones we’ve accumulated and each set with a GPS tracker and signal booster of my own design. With these, we can track your location in real time, giving us the ability to map off sectors, dead zones and anything else we come in contact with because apparently, satellites still function in this shithole.”

“There are still some kinks, but the last few runs prove well worth it.” Mei was elated; Ochako could tell just in the way she bounced on her toes and had she really accomplished what she thought, it was clearly well deserved. Another way to stay safe.

Ochako, tuned out from the rest of the announcement, idly wondered how things would have been had this tech been available to runners before them; how many in need of liberation could have been saved? How many casualties spared? Could she have saved them? Saved him ? Half-moons dig deep into her skin, tighter and tighter until she feels warmth around them, squeezing in reassurance. She finds Shouto staring at her, concern and understanding swimming in his eyes and he squeezes again, knowing her thoughts and willing them away completely.

We have it now, and it’ll make all the difference.

When she looks back to Shouta, Mei having stepped down from her speech, in his hand holding the key to the difference, she smiles. “Every runner has a squad, every squad an overwatch, every overwatch a duty; guide and protect.” The words ring in her ears, louder and louder until they’re drowning in the resonance of cheers; she tries to listen, to hear the sound beyond the wall that’s undoubtedly there but she can’t, because there is hope that suffocates it until it’s gone, if only for that short time. In that hope there’s a message:

We can survive. We will survive.

Ochako’s heard it, loud and clear.

 

Chapter Text

You’re going to have to choose eventually.”

Shouto watches as Ochako paces back and forth, and sits, and stands, and paces. It’s exhausting, the amount of energy she suddenly has, faced with a decision that dances along the line of what Shouto thinks she could easily do and what she thinks she shouldn’t. As he watches her struggle, her internal debate all but that exactly, it reaffirms in his mind that indeed, she will have to choose eventually.

It’s with what she decides, that Shouto hopes will bode well for all involved, none more than herself. “I know.” And she does know; it’s been an hour, two at best and since the announcement was made it’s all she’s been thinking about — should I or shouldn’t I? It still replays in her mind as she paces.

 ***

“We ask much of you all already,” Aizawa’s voice booms over the remaining cheers, garnering their attention in a matter of seconds. “Today, we ask just a little bit more.” Ochako feels in her chest how her heart clenches at his request, see’s how Shouto’s hands tighten at his sides and though what he says hasn’t yet left his lips, the words already freeze her in place. Here it comes, she breathes, while she still remembers she can.

Continue to protect our compound, protect our runners,” and when he looks directly at her, at Shouto, expectancy in his eyes, she knows what’s coming next. “or run yourself.”

Ochako sinks.

Not to her knees, or to the ground but more into the depths of her repressed memories; gunshots, knife fights, to do or to die and the price paid for either. She can’t hear anything that comes from his mouth thereafter, even as her eyes remain on him, she can’t feel Shouto’s hand in her own, how he tugs at it and calls her name. All she sees is the dead and the undead, the gun placed in her hand once more.

And left to her, the decision to pull the trigger.

 

***

Ochako shakes her head, stopping in her tracks to glance at Shouto, dirt kicked up from the peak of her shoes. “Have you decided yet?” He looks down, ignoring the concern in her eyes that he knows is there, instead looking over the tattered book in his hands; the spine is all but falling apart at the seams, pages darkened and chipped along the sides.

He fingers the exposed edge, opening it to a random entry, slowing the turning of the pages as Ochako sits beside him, knowing she’s likely skimming the contents. “You know I have.” She sighs, her hand reaching for the words written so delicately in front of her.

They were rushed, more scribble than anything legible but they hold the knowledge and heart that he too carried in immeasurable amounts. She wonders how long it took him to fill the book; the ink was far between the threads of each piece of paper but still shone bright through the wear and tear of age and overuse. “Have you told him?” Ochako didn’t miss how Shouto’s fingers curled around the book, holding it with what seemed a harsh grip, tightened when in truth it was with care, delicate as he reunited the cover with the pages inside.

“I plan to soon,” he says, admiring the script one last time before placing it safely in his sack beside him. Shouto feels a weight on his shoulder, locks of hair splaying across his arm and he smiles softly, patting her head with his free hand. “He’s proud of you, you know,” Ochako mumbles, placing her hand on his leg with a reassuring squeeze, his own atop hers as he returns the gesture.

I know.” There was never a doubt in his mind of that.

Still, hearing it made his decision that much more solid; he was doing the right thing. “You know he’ll be proud of you too, right?” She finds this hard to believe, despite knowing that it was probably true; he never was one to dwell on what was, only what is and what could be. Ochako could be out there, doing what she does best, but still... “I don’t think i’m ready to run that course again.”

I don’t know if i’ll ever be, is what she wanted to say .

She listens, the silence around them nothing more than false reassurance because she knows, they know, what lies just beyond their wall. It’s faint, possibly not even there, but they groan and screech and remind everyone it’s their world now — they as survivors along for the ride. “I want to help; I want to save everyone,” she starts, jumping from her seat and facing Shouto with a spin, “I just don’t know if I can... in that way anyway.”

He looks to her, expecting to see regret in her eyes, helplessness but finds neither and realizes he needn’t be worried; it was Ochako after all. She offers him a smile, one he is eager to return; she’s made a decision. When she turns to run, he doesn’t stop her, instead watches as she rounds the corner, more confidence in her stride and a resolve burning in her core.

Shouto shakes his head. He really shouldn’t have been surprised; she was a fighter when he first met her, knife in hand with a finger on the trigger, and a fighter still. Even if she is not on the front lines, her presence will be.

A damning force to be reckoned with.

They won’t know what hit them.

 

xXx

 

Aizawa loops her words in his head, because at first he couldn’t believe them. He looks to Ochako, firm in her request, and slowly repeats “you want to run as overwatch?” When she nods her head, he takes a seat; the day is already full of surprises .

I have to say, i’m shocked.” She figured he would be, unsettling herself when she made the decision. “ You were a hell of a runner back in the day, I thought for sure you’d join in again after you had some time.” Ochako smiles softly, looking to her feet as they bounce from heel to toe. She remembers those days; she remembers the lives spared and the lives saved, the supplies gathered, the countless miles traveled.

A part of her wanted to run again, to travel those many miles more, to scavenge for what remained. It was a time, where in the world full of dead, she felt alive. She was helping people, would give anything to feel that sense of accomplishment again; there was no price steep enough to stop her.

Except for what she’d already paid.

I don’t think I’m ready,” she says, peeking up through her lashes, “and I don’t know if I ever will be.” It’s a whisper, barely there and more to herself than to Aizawa but she know he’s heard; she can tell in the way his head tilts down, lips pursed softly, eyes searching through her own for something she can’t quite place. “But I want to help people, help us, and I think this is the best way that I can do it.”

Ochako believes this with her whole heart and through her unwavering confidence in her words, he believes it too.

Aiwaza stands, placing a hand on her shoulder with a heartening squeeze. “I think you’re right,” he begins, eyes on something other than her, “I can’t say you won’t be missed on the field, Miss Uraraka, but your inside knowledge will be of great advantage to the team you’re placed with.”

Ochako breathes out a sigh, worry ebbing away in a matter of seconds. Disappointment, disapproval; these were a few things she swore she would be faced with, but was relieved to find none. The ease in which she voiced her choice, and had it accepted made the two or so hours she spent debating it seem unnecessary and wasteful —she could have had a team and very well been coordinating their first run by now.

Aizawa removes his hand from her shoulder, not before giving her the smallest of smiles, and Ochako realizes that it wasn’t true, not be a long shot.

Those two hours made all the difference.  

This was never an easy decision, for her especially. There was so much at stake when faced with the choice and once upon a time, she lost everything as a result of a call made too hastily. Everyday of a year replayed in her mind —what went right, what went wrong, what could have changed. As she paced in the midst of her turmoil, Shouto could have easily jumped in, grounded her and walked her into a decision.

Instead he stayed by her side talking her down, listening and from this she learned something important; a decision was formed, one from which she found a happy medium and a path she could be proud of without sacrificing herself in the process.

You can help from the sidelines, sometimes more than you could from the front lines.

Thank you, Aizawa-Sensei.” He nods, eyes averting to the side. Ochako follows his gaze, finding in the distance a small group walking their way. She looks back to him, brows furrowed and wonders if he knew all along what she was thinking. “I had a feeling your decision would be something like this, though I’m still just as surprised.” Aizawa only shrugs when faced with her questioning gaze, arms crossing over his chest.

Nevertheless, when this lot offered themselves, I knew I was placing you with them — you having experience and the know-how that they lack,”  Ochako nods, her words dead on her tongue as the group comes into view. “just as what I wasn’t entirely sure.”  She doesn’t hear him, doesn’t hear the sound of the rubble shift beneath their feet and doesn’t hear their voices despite the closing space between them because all she can see is red and hear the anger and sorrow trapped in it; she’s enraptured by it.

Just as before she can’t look away, and just as before he dismisses her entirely, eyes closing and arms crossed — shielding himself, Ochako decides. “This is cell 3; Hanta Sero, Denki Kaminari, Mina Ashido, Eijirou Kirishima,” Aizawa watches them as he speaks, “with cell core Katsuki Bakugou.”  

Cell 3, your overwatch; Ochako Uraraka.” She is greeted with warm smiles, waves and salutes, and nothing at all. Katsuki doesn’t look at her, doesn’t speak, doesn’t react and she doesn’t know how to feel; insulted? Angry? Curious? Irate? “I told you before old man, we don’t need some coward of a sidelined babysitter.”

Perhaps insulted, but curiosity won over.

He pivots on his heel, walking away without so much as a breath in her direction and Ochako lets him, as do the rest of them. She lets him walk away with the assumption of her weakness, of her cowardice, of her inability because she sees the game he’s playing —she’s played it herself. “I hope you’re up for the challenge, Miss Uraraka,” Aizawa mumbles, rubbing his face with tired hands. Oh , I am, she silently hums, and she was.

Ochako greets the rest of her cell, warm and inviting, unaffected by his words. She hears how they apologize in his absence, adamant on how ‘he’s not that bad once you get to know him ’, and she is sure of it, glancing in his direction just as he rounds a corner.

There’s a wall he’s built, it’s thick with layers upon layers of build up and foundation, and she idly muses what was the cause of a structure so great. She has guesses but doesn’t dwell long on the unknown, doesn’t let it deter her either; if anything it pushes her to move forward and further.

It would take time, how much she wasn’t sure but eventually she would get through his walls —through to him— because as she looked to their barrier lining around the compound, the cracks illuminating on the surface just as the sun sets beyond it, of one thing she was absolutely certain.

All walls break.

 

Xxx

 

There isn’t much light around Yuuei, but enough that she easily makes her way to her destination, flowers in tow. They weren’t much by any means; tiny, likely to parish within a days time but it doesn’t matter because they were there and they were green. They were alive.

Ochako walks in between rows of stone, one in specific coming into view blocked only by hunched shoulders that she recognizes immediately. “How much have you told him, Shouto?” She kneels, sharing with him one of her few flowers with a kind smile, one he is hesitant to return. “ Not much,” he says as he turns the stem over in his hands, “I caught him up on the usual, told him about Mei’s hardware, about how I’ve chosen to run again.” Ochako hums in agreement, watching as he places the flower before the stone.

I take it you haven’t told him my decision?” She asks, already knowing the answer. Shouto shakes his head. Of course he didn’t tell him. “I figured you would want to be the first, am I right?”

He was.

It was why immediately after meeting her cell, she rushed over, stopping only when she spotted the rogue flowers. Shouto shifts his body to the side, giving her more access to the stones center, which she eagerly takes. She admires the crude writing on its surface, remembering just how long it took her, Shouto and Aizawa to forge it — coming up on two years ago.

Hey Izuku,” Ochako says softly, placing in front of the stone her own flower. You’re never going to believe the day I’ve had today.”

Chapter Text

Three streets down on your left, first on your right. The second building, first floor, 4th door.

Ochako repeats this word for word until there's no sense left in doing so, three streets passed and the turn on her left. She squints, studying the crude street sign on the corner of the first turn. Imperial Lane. It looks nothing like how she imagined it used to -the old metal stake long since corroded, replaced with a wooden one, a 2x4 nailed through. Was it always named this? Did it change once they took over what she now knew as Yuuei?

As she walks down the cobbled path, Ochako looks around her; it's nothing more than a portion of a small city they've occupied, her mind piecing it together as one of the busier areas of Musutafu, only bordered off from the likes of the world outside. The buildings are much like the wall surrounding them —cracked and fractured, pieces falling but holding on.

Ochako imagines them in their prime; tall and towering, silhouetted by the sun behind it, shadowing everything before it. She imagines how they would glimmer in the morning light, the sun reflecting off of pristine windows and polished steel. Taking the turn on her right, she's faced instead with reality; shattered glass crunching beneath her boots, rubble, and debris scattered, structures barely there. Her smile falters slightly, but she moves on, one foot in front of the other.

The building is bare.

Ochako closes her eyes as she stands in front of the steps; she sees shrubbery of greens with spotted color, its edges primped and proper. The steps are sandstone, or are they flagstone? When she opens them again it's gone, dying branches long since stripped of their glory and steps covered in years of devastation and dirt.

The glass door creaks when she opens it; the noise is drawn out, ominous, something out of a tacky horror film she remembers watching years before. Ochako shuffles through while studying the plain numbers decorating each door frame. 1, 3, she hums, looks to her right, 2, here. Her hand raps against the wood in thrice and she waits, anxiety brewing in her core the longer it stands between her and what resides on the other side. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

Ochako is blinded by white and the curve of his lips, eyes squinting as he greets her. "Hey, what's up?" He's nothing like she imagines, based on what little judgement she has formed; he stood protectively over his group and watched them with a nearly mirrored intensity of his assumed leader, her (despite the brief warmth he displayed on their meeting the other day) believing that he was equally as intense, equally as stern.

But he's warm, vibrant, inviting. She follows him through the door with little apprehension, her worry melting away. " Look alive guys, come meet our overwatch." Ochako flushes when most eyes flee towards her, but her smile stands, hand rising in a small wave. They greet her like they would anyone else and she feels less like someone intruding on their peace.

Ochako takes a seat on the ragged couch next to the redhead, watching as they're quickly joined; one by one they gather around and she can't help but notice he's not there with them. Maybe he's still asleep, she reasons, watching how the boy with darker hair yawns as he stretches. Despite the early hours and the sleep she's almost sure she disturbed, Ochako is met with warmth, open minds, and open hearts and she hopes her smile in return is equally as welcoming. "I'm sorry to show up out of nowhere," she begins, embarrassment swallowing her when she realizes just how out of the ordinary it truly was, "and so early, but I just wanted to meet everyone since we'll be together and all."

She expects to see judging eyes and skeptical looks because it sounds so absolutely ridiculous to even to her (they're one step short of a war and she just wants to meet them, get to know them, pretend for once that everything is normal) but is only met with curious wonder and patience. She thanks them silently for it. "My name is Ochako Uraraka, and it's nice to officially meet you all." He chuckles beside her and she wonders if she's said something wrong. "No need to apologize, we were already up."  He assures her as he walks to the kitchen, returning with six bottles of water. "Drink?"  Ochako takes it with a smile and a hushed thanks. "Names Eijirou by the way; this is Mina, Hanta, and Denki." Her eyes follow where he gestures, pairing each name with each face as they greet in their own way—a wave here, a smile there.

"Speak for yourself, I'm still asle oof!"  Denki doesn't see it coming until its there; a throw pillow to the face, courtesy of Hanta. He sits there, mouth agape and eyes wide. The first to break the silence is Mina, hand quick to cover her mouth in a failed attempt at hushed laughter; Eijirou is nowhere near as subtle. "You awake now?" Hanta questions, his lips curving more and more until he can't stop its spreading, opened wide and amusement spilling from it. It's not long before they laugh at his expense, Denki included; it's light-hearted, warm, genuine and contagious —she's laughing alongside them before she knows it.

It's faint through the noise but Ochako hears it, the sound of a door opening and closing from the corner; she looks to her left and spots him, eyes sharp and focused as he makes his way by. He doesn't acknowledge them, doesn't spare them a glance and he's quiet—impossibly so. His steps are practiced, ingrained in his memory and she loses him behind the wall almost as quickly as she found him. He intrigues her; the way he stands alone but in front of everyone else protectively, how he plays the role of uncaring when it's so painfully obvious he does. He's a mystery, she's learned, one she very much wants to solve.

A challenge accepted.

"Hey Baku, come meet our overwatch." Eijirou doesn't flinch under the way he glares at him like she does when he comes round the corner, doesn't fear the way his steps are heavy, stomping over and snatching the bottle of water from his offering hand and he laughs with the rest when he spills some in his haste to open it. "Hard pass." There's a coldness to his voice and that fills the room; the way he avoids meeting her eyes doesn't go unnoticed, nor does the sudden anxiety that melts away when he turns to leave.

"Awh, come on, don't be such an insufferable hard ass." Mina too isn't phased by the harshness in his glare as he passes her because she's just as harsh, her expression letting him know it's too damn early for your shit. Almost no one is turned away by the actions he takes in order to try and keep himself distant, so why should I?  Ochako stands and follows him in his retreat, feeling every eye fall on her; she's suddenly too warm under the heat of their curious glances but she's right behind him now and she knows he knows she's there; there's no turning back. "Hi," her voice squeaks, the nerves pushing through her confidence and she immediately regrets it, "I'm Ochako and I'm excited to work with you." Despite his disposition and the way he stares at her with enough judgment to make her suddenly regret speaking, she was.

There's too much silence in the room.

He stares at her, sizing her up and she caves in on herself, finding comfort looking at everything but him. She notices how their apartment is ragged, unkempt, breaking apart —just like hers, just like everyone else's, she's sure. It's also large, a four bedroom if she'd have to guess and condition or not, they seemed to make it homey, livable. They are affected by the outbreak, but they've found a way to live through it in the end. Ochako glances back towards the eyes that never left her back; they're wide, mouths parted slightly or hung down altogether. Did I do something wrong?

He mumbles; it's soft and she barely catches it in her daze. "What?" She finds his stare with ease as his brows fold and his eyes sharpen. This time she doesn't flinch. "I said you're a fucking idiot, round face." A part of her saw this coming, the harsh, off-put attitude and disarming way he could make you feel so small; there was nothing to suggest he'd be anything less than his unfiltered self (whatever it was truly like) but she wasn't expecting… well, this. "I'm not—" her eyes fall and she stumbles over her words. I'm not an idiot, is what she wants to say, is what's on the tip of her tongue but she can't under the damning glare he's set on her. Ochako knows he has a way of making people feel small and she learns quickly that she's no exception. But the confidence is there and she finds, eyes tracing his figure until they meet scarlet in his with a defiance she didn't know she possessed.

It doesn't matter because he shuts her down the moment before her words are born.

"Are you blind? Or are you just that fucking ignorant? We're balls deep in this shit hole, fighting against who the fuck knows what and you're 'excited'." He air quotes her, shoving his implied perception of her naivety and she has trouble not immediately retaliating. "So what is it; do you find some sick joy in making people lower their guard? Because that's how people fucking die. Are you excited now? Excited to lose more lives?"  Ochako stays quiet, letting his words sink in. Is that what he thought of her actions, ignorance, and idiocy? That she didn't know what was going on around her or that she was simply ignoring it? She clenches her fists at her side, her knuckles white and trembling. He doesn't know what I've been through, how could he? She keeps it locked away, buried deep in the far recesses of her memory and refuses to dig it up again just to come to the defense of fucked up assumptions and misplaced anger by someone as standoffish as he was.

There are feet shuffling from behind her, a palm on her shoulder squeezing. "Come on Katsuki, that's too far! She was just trying to be nice."  Eijirou is in front of her, shielding her from his verbal assault, Hanta and Denki at her sides and she appreciates it because his judging eyes are off her and she can breathe, recompose. Mina holds onto her shoulder, her eyes firmly locked on her, are you okay they ask.

Ochako nods; she is, or at least she will be.

She removes Mina's hand with a warm smile, reaching out for Eijirou's shoulder; he stands to the side, still shielding. This is her fight, and she'll stand her ground -refuse to surrender, refusing to give in because when you give in -you're dead. "Katsuki," she rolls his name over her tongue, "I didn't mean—"  He turns his back to her, through the arch of his door in an instant. "I don't fucking care what you meant." He slams it shut in her face.

It takes a minute before anyone speaks, numb and dumbfounded to what actually happened. "God he's such a little shit sometimes!" Mina flings her hands to the air, tired and annoyed, making her way back towards the couch, Hanta and Denki in tow. Ochako lingers in place, eyes still firmly glued onto the barrier that separates her from him and raises her hand, stopping just short of the door. This isn't a good idea. Her hand drops. "Don't read too much into it, Ochako."  She notices only then that Eijirou hadn't left her side, eyes forward and a sadness to them despite the way his shoulders remain tensed. "Katsuki is… well, he's complicated but he doesn't have bad intentions."  She knows this but lets him continue. It takes him a minute before he does. "There's a reason for everything he does; this is no exception." He bites his tongue, refusing to say more and she gets it.

It's not his story to tell.

"It's fine, really," Ochako reassures him, offering a smile unaffected. He looks at her, searching and upon finding what it was that reassures him wholly, he returns it. She turns away, reacquainting herself with her seat and gets comfortable, listening to the half fumed rants and revived unabashed laughter that fills the space. Her thoughts remain on Katsuki. She knows his game, it's all too familiar; he'll be harsh, distant, demanding, always angry -always shut down. There's no room for allowing yourself any luxury beside the four walls you've enclosed around you and the minimal space in it. It's a lonely game, a dangerous game and one that can be beaten.

But until she learns exactly how he plays, she'll let him play on.

 

xXx

 

Ochako wasn't expecting a call this early, or this soon. She wasn't expecting to have to leave her newfound friends mid-story and definitely wasn't expecting to be nestled in the company of some faces she knew and some she didn't, all waiting for the man who called them to the tower in the first place. She looks around, searching for a familiarity of a friend but finds none. It shouldn't have surprised her as much as it did, because she knew why they weren't there and why they wouldn't be.

Runners had no need for Overwatch calls.

It was bittersweet, a part of her wanting to submerse herself back into the field with comrades from days past, to run freely but she knew why she couldn't —why she wouldn't. This is where she needed to be, so here is where she would undoubtedly stay. Aizawa stands before them, beckoning their attention before she has a chance to change her mind. "Thank you for meeting this morning; we've got quite a bit to cover."  His eyes are sharp, a vast contrast to the tired way they often fell. Ochako glances around; no one seems to be able to spot the difference in him. She can though, easily, and she knew what usually follows his sudden change. She stands tall, mind focused, ready for whatever he could throw at her.

"If you haven't had the chance to meet your cell, well tough shit because your first run with them will be today." She watches how every shoulder tenses, every breath gets caught, hers included. Aizawa rolls his eyes. "Don't give me those looks; it's going to happen eventually, so why not sooner than later." He has a point, she decides and best training was on the job training. Still, her subtle doubts remain. Aizawa waits for every hushed whisper to die before continuing. "We aren't sending you into the bear's den if that's what you're thinking. Just a perimeter clearing, to get you all familiar with what's to come from this point on." Ochako breathes a sigh of relief, not truly expecting him to do that and yet somehow knowing he would if he had his way.

"You'll each be paired with a tech, who will give you the rundown of your equipment, its function and how to use it properly. You'll have about an hour, so pay close attention; this is the lives of your cell on the line so you better know your stuff. Meet with your team after and then you'll have your sectors. We clear?" He doesn't wait for a response before he turns his back, his space taken over by an equal amount of whom Ochako assumed were the techs. There are faces older and younger, ones she recognizes from around the compound and some new to her entirely. She waits, watching how they pick through the number of people until they've found their match, by what criteria she's not sure but assumes they abide by regardless until her vision is blocked by a head of pink.

"Ochako, right?" She nods. "Names Mei; I've heard great things about you in particular. Ex-runner right? Mind if I take you under my wing?" Ochako wonders just how much she's heard and from who, a part of her already knowing the answer. She shakes her head, smile genuine and eyes bright. "Sure, I'd like that."

Ochako briefly wonders if Mei would ever consider becoming a runner, as easily as she maneuvers through the droves of people, her in tow. She decides against it shortly after, seeing just how she thrives with the gadgets around her, explaining them with ease as if they were each a part of her.

She guesses in a way, they were.

Ochako looks around her space as Mei breaks it all down; everything there had been altered in some way, by her hands, her ideas and that of her comrades. Bluetooth still connected to cell phones, but now they held more range, more capability, more freedom from its invisible tether —wireless charging and GPS tracking included. Old computers were new; screens were alive and buzzing with a crude satellite image of where they were and what was immediately around them, pinging the location of the Bluetooth now in her hand; it would only grow from their runs, she muses. From how Mei went on, there was even more than that available to them now than what was available before.

Ochako looks down to her palm in awe; this is the difference. There in her hand was a real-time connection between those safe in Yuuei and those running that they didn't have before, a way to relay more information—sooner. They could track more accurately, they could map more efficiently, they could expand. We can save. There would always be uncertainty, something could always go wrong, but now at least they had the tools to make it a little less one-sided and a little more hopeful. Ochako didn't know if the tears brimming were of happiness for what was to come, for the lives they could continue to save or despair for the lives lost, for what couldn't be changed.

"Mei?"

Her voice if soft and she doesn't think she's heard until she feels Mei's stare on her. Ochako looks up, meeting her curious glance with a trembling smile and watery eyes. "Thank you for this," she gestures to the table, to the gadgets,the difference, "for all of this."  Because without it, they were still at square one, fighting blind, losing numbers and barely scraping by. The past can't be changed, she thinks as she breathes in deep, but we can change our future. Mei places a hand on her shoulder, squeezing in earnest. "I know it's come a bit late, but it's here now."  She reaches for the device in her hand, replacing it with one better suited for her new position —an overhead set. It feels foreign in her hands, its purpose weighing on her. "With these babies, we can keep living, thriving and can keep saving in the name of those we couldn't save in the past. So what d'ya say, Ochako? You ready to make a difference?"

She doesn't say a word because none are needed, placing her comm on her head as she makes for the door leading to where she assumes her cell will be waiting. She's ready because Mei was absolutely right; they could keep living, could keep saving and they would. They would make a difference.

She would make sure of it.

Chapter Text

Ochako fingers the steel, memorizing the curves of the barrel and the divots of the trigger.

It’s cold against her warm skin, but it’s everything she remembers it to be and the memory burns. Her touch is tender as she traces it, her smile small but there. It feels the same, though she knew it would because nothing about it had changed.

She closes her eyes, replaying moments in a time long past of how she handled the weapon beneath her hand; Ochako chuckles silently, remembering it once to be the size of her, if not bigger. She was smaller back then; more fragile she’d admit and favored in the early days a blade that rested comfortably at her side. This weapon? It was strong, sturdy, and deadly, bringing to her a determination to get stronger, sturdier, and deadlier. She winces, remembering the first time she shot it —the recoil was deadly and her shoulder hurt for two weeks.

She eventually grew into her own; she grew into the force of the gun and the impossibly loud sound ringing that came with every shot. Still with her, now holstered on her lower back was her blade that saved her so many times before and would save her so many times again, though nowadays, like everyone else) she hoped to start (and end) every fight with that gun because it was quicker —safer that way.

Ochako peeks around; making sure no one is looking and removes her comm from atop her head. She grabs hold of the gun, aiming down the sight with practiced ease; she ignores how her eyes sharpen on an unknown target, how her breathing steadies and how right it all feels. Her finger ghosts the trigger— god I miss this.

“Heh, with how you hold that, I think you’d be a great runner.” Eijirou’s voice is close and the steps of her cell sound closer; as she lays down the weapon with a fondness in her eyes, she hopes with everything she has that what lays out in front of her will do for them what it once did for her. “She’d get too damn attached to the undead and get us all killed.”

“But you’re attached to your squad.”

It came out of her mouth before she could stop it. Ochako doesn’t miss how deathly quiet it gets, how his eyes drill holes deep into her back or how she can feel his anger rising, rivaling what he’d managed earlier that day. Her statement lingers and she refuses to take it back because it’s true; she knows he knows it’s true because it’s working him up, everything about him tense and on edge as he pieces together his rebuttal.

She turns to him, holding onto a barely intact defiance admiring with awe and unease just how red his eyes can get when tested. He’s ready for a fight, his body language screaming it louder than his words ever could —everyone can see it. “Nah, I bet Ochako here could take down just as many as we could.”  Eijirou is calm, sauntering casually between the pair, admiring the weaponry. Ochako suspects he did it on purpose, silently thanking him for it. “I wouldn’t say that,” she places the gun down, chuckling nervously, “but I think I’m better suited as overwatch; I’m not a runner, anyway.” She forces herself to believe this, despite her inner voice screaming at her in opposition. Denki slings his arm across her shoulders, bright and cheerful. “I don’t know, I think you’d give a zombie a run for its money,” his eyes sparkle with mischief, “after all, you managed to put Katsuki in his place.”  

His trigger is pulled too tight; Katsuki slams his hand onto the table, gun and all with a sound so loud it brought every eye to him. He doesn’t meet their glances, amused or curious, eyes firm on the spread of weapons as his hand finds the next one. He doesn’t say anything and words aren’t needed. They understand his anger and decide not to play with a loaded gun. “So, do you have any idea what we’re supposed to be doing? They didn’t tell us much when we were called.”

Ochako maneuvers her way from underneath his arm, turning back towards the table. She grabs five sets of earpieces, handing them off to everyone one by one. When she comes to Katsuki he ignores her, somehow like she knew he would and instead places it in front of him with enough force that she idly wonders if she broke the damned thing. “We were only told it was a perimeter check, but those aren’t too, too bad.”

She can see the familiarity of their assignment dawn in their eyes but also sees the hesitation and confusion. It makes sense, Ochako decides, because they weren’t part of something bigger than themselves before; she imagines they were forced together by a common goal, doing what they knew to survive, no rhyme or reason to their actions other than do. Live.

Her smile is sad when she looks them over but it doesn’t last long. They made it against all odds; they’d only continue to do so, she’s sure.

“You’ll leave through the gates there,” Ochako points towards the rough estimate of where it stands, “and do a basic walk through of the sector that Aizawa will give us. Sectors are usually small when in comparison to the wall, but can extend to about .8 klicks. There’s five of you so you’ll likely fall into something of a herringbone—one of you taking the head, three in the middle facing outward with Mina likely to fall center and the last of you guarding the rear. Salvage what you can if there’s anything left, make it back in one piece. Any questions?”

Every eyes, Katsuki’s included, were on her.

Ochako felt uncomfortable with the way they were staring, silently dissecting her and everything that came out of her mouth. She fidgeted in place after a while, boots kicking up loosened rubble, fingers nails digging beneath the surface of another. “Are… are you sure you haven’t ran before?” Eijirou sputters, not at all having doubted the idea (he’s sure everyone at one point ran, fought with their lives or died trying) but at the same time not waiting to believe it because Ochako was cheerful, warm and whole; everything you shouldn’t be when you’re one bite, one scratch, one maul away from being turned—or worse.

He assumed before that she wasn’t quite numb to it all when she opens herself to them with smiles and laughter and naivety, false or otherwise; there was a spark of rebellion, a seriousness she hid well sure, but nothing that would ever have suggested that maybe, just maybe, it was all for show—a mask of sorts.

Her eyes fall downward, feigning interest in their shoes and the surface beneath them. I could tell them, she thinks; a part of her feels like she should but the words don’t come, instead lodging itself in her throat making it harder to stay calm. There’s too much question in their eyes, too much pressure and it hurts to breathe. “Well—”

“I see you’re all prepped and ready to go; good.” Ochako smiles at the lazed drawl of his voice, how its presence calls their attention on him and away from her, letting her quickly regain the calm she hung onto by the thread of her skin. She glances upward, mouthing a silent thank you in his direction; Aizawl offers a nod.

“This will be your sector; I’m sure by now you know what to do.” He holds out the rolled piece of paper, loosening his grip with someone snatches it from his hand; he’s not all surprised that it’s Katsuki, watching as he shoves it in his pocket without so much as a glimpse. “But you didn’t tell us anything?” He hears the question in Mina’s tone, can see it on her face when he looks at her. Aizawl Ochako pointedly, something none of them miss, before he turns on his heel and departs. “Don’t think I need to.”

It takes them a few seconds to recover. “Well that was cryptic.”

Ochako watches in silence as they check and recheck their gear. They’re lined from head to toe in sleeves, despite the climbing temperatures and she’s not surprised; it’s feeble, but its added protection should they find themselves on the receiving end of an unexpected mauling.

They’re intense as they load their bags, calculating—fearful and somehow at the same fearless. Mina’s hands shake as she fills her clip but it doesn’t stop her from loading her primary and moving onto her secondary. Hanta looks tired; he’s frightened as he eyeballs his weapons but it doesn’t stop him from cracking a smile and chuckling when Denki’s actions call for it. Eijirou lets his mask slip when he can’t find his extra magazine, eyes feral and panic setting in and when Katsuki throws him an extra and he’s calm all over again.

She watches them and imagines it as any other day; they aren’t fondling deadly weapons in a fight against the undead but instead prepping for one wicked round of paintball against another team. They aren’t afraid of what will happen at the end of their game, if they’ll live to see the end because they’ll come back to their base, dotted with different hues of paint and smiles as bright as the sun, unabashed laughter ringing around them. They aren’t kids forced into adulthood, off into a war they didn’t ask for but somehow were thrust into.

No, they were kids—just kids, living for the sake of living.

“Ochako, hey.”

Her eyes focus on a hand waving sporadically in front of her, wondering how long Mina had been calling her and how long she was lost to her thoughts. The ache in her jaw, no doubt from gritting her teeth, tells her it was a good amount of time. “Yeah, sorry. What’s up?”  Mina eyes her carefully, concern evident but Ochako plays it off, head tilted to the side in question. “We’re about to head out,” the grip around her weapon tightens, trembling a bit and Ochako sees this. “You’ll be watching over us, yeah?”  

Ochako doesn’t answer immediately; she can’t find the proper words that will placate the obvious concern that plagues Mina because what could she say? Yeah, I’ll be watching from inside the walls—because that would really ease her mind. Ochako instead reaches behind her, unbuckling the holster that sheathes her blade and secures it onto Mina’s person. When she steps back to her front she smiles, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder and squeezes lightly. “In more ways than one.”

It was all Mina needs to hear.

“Come on, Pinkie; let’s move!”  Katsuki’s voice is gruff and demanding per the norm and Ochako can’t help but roll her eyes. “Go kick some ass.”  She says, passing with it enough support and reassurance that Mina believes it, her hands trembling that much less and her eyes shining that much more. She’s determined now; Ochako can see it in the way her solemn look once dark and saddened melts into one of courage, of a thirst for adventure and when she smiles, trailing after her cell seconds later, Ochako knows she’ll be just fine—with or without her added protection.

She reaches for her own comm, it hanging loosely on her shoulders and pauses just before she rests it on her head; when not lit with anger and hostility they remind her so much of the ruby she once imagined them to be, even as he stares at her with a look she can’t quite understand, only looking away when Mina passes him. He’s still as guarded, still fuming, still as unreadable but in a moment of lapsed judgement (on his part no doubt) she sees in him something she didn’t think he was capable of—fleeting, gone just as quick as it came. His eyes.

They’re softer, though not by much.

 

xXx

 

It would take getting used to, of that she was sure.

It wasn’t nearly as open as the land beyond the wall, lit only by the static fluorescence above instead of the warmth and vibrancy of the sun. It reminds her of a call center, each occupant sectioned off with three walls, filled to the brim with monitors and various items littering the desk; Ochako supposes it may have been what the building was used as or could have been used as, in another life anyway. She takes a seat in one of the unclaimed spaces, vacant on either side and calls it her own. She plugs in an unmarked flash drive, the end glows a bright green; a soft static buzzes in her ears. Mei’s a genius, Ochako’s sure because who else could take a headset and pair it wirelessly with a drive, the drive to a computer, the computer to a signal and back into a headset.

“Can you hear me?” She places her hand to her earphone as she waits for a response. “Yeah, read you loud and clear.” Mina, Hanta, Denki, Eijirou… of course. She’s not surprised when he doesn’t answer but she’s more impressed with the way everyone else sounds; clear, undistorted no matter the distance between them and the surrounding residual noise on both ends. Yeah, definitely a genius.

“Good,” Ochako situates herself in a more comfortable position, “I’ll be tracking your movements from here, but I need you to be my eyes since I’m not there.” Though I should be, her mind screams at her.

Behind the safety of the high riding walls guiding those who had the courage to step beyond their threshold was not something she ever intended to do but found her doing anyway. Ochako wonders briefly how Shouto is doing, who his overwatch is; she doesn’t doubt their skill, their instincts or eyes but she’s always had his back she’s not there. For Shouto. For her cell. For Izuku.

So she’d make up for it a thousand fold in only a way she could.

“So, let me see what you see.

 

Chapter Text

When he’s afforded a bit of peace in a morning that’s hell bent on giving him anything but, he should have known it wouldn’t last long enough for him to enjoy it.

He’s not surprised when they’re called to arms no more than a day after offering themselves to the cause, given little time to rest and even less time to relax because it was the nature of the world around them; the dead didn’t sleep and they sure as hell didn’t chill the fuck out. Knowing this should have placated his mood even just the slightest, but it doesn’t and Katsuki harshly shoves each arm through a thickened sleeve, his feet in a pair of worn boots.

He lingers in his space, expecting to be met with their appointed babysitter as soon as he barrels through his door, bright eyed, bushy tailed and right where he left her and he’s not quite ready to deal with her. More so, he doesn’t want to. Katsuki waits, hand palming the metal of his door and listens; there’s faint sounds coming from beyond the wooden slab that he can’t quite make out, deciding it’s too mundane to be anything that’s packaged with round faces and unruly optimism and with a twist opens his door. His eyes trace the layout of his space; she’s gone and with her absence comes stilled silence—comforting and unnerving.

Katsuki is alone, for what seems the first time in years and he hates how his shoulders tense and his fingers twitch, how his body is on edge waiting for something, anything, to happen. It shouldn’t fucking be this way, and this he wholeheartedly believes. He remembers a time where he was able to revel in the solitude without the fear of what lurked behind the corner—to be able to walk down a beaten path, defenseless, and enjoy life for what it was. Katsuki remembers a time where he didn’t have to put his life on the line for people he knew and people he didn’t.

A time he wasn’t a cold blooded killer, justified or not.

In his solitude, Katsuki wonders briefly if he can leave everyone behind; he finds it wouldn’t be hard, the door only feet from him and as his steps grow lighter the closer to it he gets, the more he believes it’d be better if he went alone. This ability to survive by any means and live on despite it wasn’t a life everyone could handle, having seen enough sanity lost to rival the number of undead roaming the streets. It too, took its toll on him, but he’s worked hard to enclose himself in four walls that even the undead couldn’t claw their way through. Their added company would weigh him down, only not in the way one would think, but in a way that would cost him more than just a life he’d worked tirelessly to keep.

He would spare them the slipping of their humanity after every life taken and would do so in silence and secrecy, from his solitude and detachment because dead or not they were somebody , once upon a time—a person with dreams, goals, blood in their veins and fury in their hearts. Katsuki knows all too well what the impact is capable of and without a sliver of a doubt knows they won’t be able to handle it for nearly as long. 

His hand is warm on the cold handle as he pulls it open and he thinks he’s in the clear. But when he finds it not budging more than half way, he knows he should have seen it coming. A foot is in its path and he’s not at all surprised to find it there. When he turns back,he’s met with every eye, solemn as they stare back at him and he should have known he couldn’t leave them behind. They wouldn’t let him, no matter how much they should have. Katsuki sighs. “Let’s go.”

 

xXx

 

The walk is silent, one foot in front of another, trudging. There’s weight with every step they take and it bares the load of uncertainty that rest equally on their shoulders. Katsuki keeps his eyes down and to the back of the pack, matching stride for stride Eijirou in front of him until he senses him stop abruptly, nearly colliding into his back. “Heh, with how you hold that, I think you’d be a great runner.” He is quick to shut down false praise, the words on the tip of his tongue and when he looks up to deliver he’s stands, enraptured, with the sight of her holding an AR like a goddamn pro.

His curiosity is piqued, the first question in mind wondering where exactly she learned to hold a weapon more than half her size but he decides he doesn’t care. “She’d get too damn attached to the undead and get us all killed.”

“But you’re attached to your squad.”

The truth is a hard pill to swallow, but never once did Katsuki think he’d choke on it. He doesn’t miss how deathly quiet it is around him, his body tightening in response—coiling as if wound too tight, ready to spring with the lightest of touches (whether from the unnerving stillness that prevents him from being at ease or the fact that she has the sheer audacity to call him out he is unsure). No one speaks and the longer her words linger, replaying again and again in his mind, the higher the heat beneath his skin boils and the redder his eyes burn.

When she doesn’t face him, he seethes and when she finally turns his way he can see just how defiant she is, bold and daring him to say she’s wrong because she knows she’s right. “Nah, I bet Ochako here could take down just as many as we could.” Katsuki entertains the idea, thinks it possible even with the way she holds herself against him, an otherwise unstoppable force.

“I wouldn’t say that,” she’s less confident when she answers this time, faltering, “but I think I’m better suited as overwatch; I’m not a runner, anyway.” Katsuki clicks his tongue; of course she’d break in the last possible moment.

He thinks of her as a child—fragile against the surface of this hardened life, bred in captivity and naive to what the world actually is beyond what she’s told. Katsuki wonders briefly if she’s ever seen anything beyond the walls that contain her; has she suffered, has she endured? There’s no fucking way. Or at least he thinks, knowing nothing about her and not caring in the least to find out. His attention i drawn from her to the table behind her, weapons gleaming in the mid morning light. “I don’t know, I think you’d give a zombie a run for its money,” Katsuki hears Denki’s voice, saturated in mischief, “after all, you managed to put Bakugou in his place.”

His fist meets the surface, hard. It rattles beneath his hand, items on top quivering from the force and he doesn’t turn because he knows every eye is on him, driving into him with question and unease; his eyes remain firm on the spread before him despite how his anger dares him to lash out—his point was made and heard loud and clear, he is sure. “So, do you have any idea what we’re supposed to be doing? They didn’t tell us much when we were called.”

Katsuki tunes them out, simmering down his anger and focusing more on what he may need because he doesn’t know what they’re doing but he knows he should be prepared for anything. He can sense her next to him and chooses to ignore her, still seething and when her hand comes down just as hard besides his, leaving behind a headset he is assumed to take, he briefly wonders if the damn thing still works. “We were only told it was a perimeter check, but those aren’t too, too bad.” Because there’s nothing beyond the wall that will cause them any fucking issues, right?

“You’ll leave through the gates there,” when she pauses, he figures she’s directing them towards where, “and do a basic walk through of the sector that Aizawa will give us. Sectors are usually small when in comparison to the wall, but can extend to about .8 klicks. There’s five of you so you’ll likely fall into something of a herringbone—one of you taking the head, three in the middle facing outward with Mina likely to fall center and the last of you guarding the rear. Salvage what you can if there’s anything left, make it back in one piece. Any questions?”

For the second time and by her, his curiosity is piqued.

“Are… are you sure you haven’t ran before?” Eijirou is careful in the way he asks and Katsuki finds a part of him is just as interested in what her answer may be as he watches her and the way she reacts. She’s silent (too silent in his opinion), eyes falling downcast and he can see the wheels turning in her head. Katsuki is perceptive, if nothing else and he learns quickly that there are two sides to her confidence and defiance and a spark that rivals his own versus the naive child he assumes her to be. What are you hiding, Round Face? Because it’s so painfully obvious that she is. “Well—”

“I see you’re all prepped and ready to go; good.” She smiles, breathes a little too heavily and he knows he’s lost the chance of her answer. While every eye follows the lazy drawl his eyes remain on her, examining. She mouths a thank you, he gives a curt not. Katsuki narrows his eyes, irate. That fucker did it on purpose. “This will be your sector; I’m sure by now you know what to do.” When he’s handed the map, he snatches it without so much as a single glance in his direction or at the object itself, tucking it into his pocket with a harsh shove. “But you didn’t tell us anything?” His eyes are still on her.

Does he even fucking need to ?

 

xXx

 

They’re silent as they prep their gear, checking and rechecking everything . Katsuki hates how he can feel the dread that rolls off of them all; how Mina is just too damn quiet, how when Denki makes a joke its light and hesitant and when Hanta laughs its forced. He hates most how Eijirou, always calm and collected, panics when he can’t find his extra clip and when Katsuki tosses one in his direction he has to force himself into calm again. It shouldn’t fucking be like this. They aren’t soldiers fit for war, only kids but as he hears a distant groan far beyond the wall that encloses them and how their hands grip tightly onto weapons they shouldn’t even have, he realizes that’s exactly what they now are.

Geared and ready, they trudge towards the wall, the gate and what lies dead (and undead) outside of it. They fall in stride, one foot after another until there’s only the sound of his own steps. Katsuki turns, finding himself far ahead of his team and without Mina entirely, her far behind and right where they left her. He can’t hear what she’s saying, what either are saying but he can see her stand rigid, trembling he thinks. Is she backing down? He wouldn’t blame her if she did, wants her to even. She’s strong, resilient, a fighter through and through but she’s no killer not yet and if he can avoid it, not ever.

“Come on, Pinkie; let’s move!” A part of him wants her to stay behind, to tell him that she can’t do this and that she’ll stay behind but instead he’s offered Mina bringing up the tail end of their cell and in their ranks within seconds. Katsuki doesn’t know what was said; he only knows that when she comes trotting his way her eyes are sharp, determined and she’s stronger willed than before. His eyes search for chocolate and find them in seconds.

She is an anomaly; fierce, aggressive, ready for an uphill battle in less than a moment’s notice , all fire and ice and unfiltered power until she is none of this naive, apprehensive, childish in tendencies that can get you killed quicker than it gets you anything else. It changes as quick as one’s luck and if nothing else, he is enthralled despite how he burns at his core. Katsuki remains unreadable as she stares back at him, always guarded and indifferent, fuming and only looks away when Mina finally passes him. He sees a blade attached to her person, one that wasn’t there before.

Sharp eyes dull and once she meets his gaze they soften if only just for that one moment before they harden again. He thinks she doesn’t see it.

She does.

 

xXx

 

When they reach the gate, Katsuki doesn’t let them leave. He’s quiet, calculating as his next words form and when they question him, he doesn’t answer right away. How the fuck do I say this? He’s not one for sentiments, doesn’t recall a time he ever was. He sighs. “This is your last chance. Go home.” It’s his last ditch effort to save themselves what’s to come once they pass the threshold. Save yourself for once, is what he wants to say but doesn’t. His team stands, stunned, his words unregistered and he understands because they sound foreign to him no ill intent, no profanity, just himself and his plea, unfiltered.

Does he doubt their strength, their will, their abilities? Fuck no. They are more than capable and he knows this. Before coming to Yuuei he was able to spare them the ultimate burden, taking from them the need to kill because he stood proudly on the front-lines handling that for them. Sure some made it past his defenses and forced them into battle, but he always dealt the final blow so they wouldn’t have to. Katsuki went through it early on, taken from it a pain that burrows deep down and from it built himself into what he is now, more or less intact (depending on who you ask) and capable of doing it all over again. When he found them all that time ago, they hadn’t been through it .

So from that point on if he could help it, he never let them.

He stares into the ground, the edge of the gate in his sights. There’s a reason this wall was built, reinforced and manned; a reason that they have cells and now overwatches. Shits changing for the worse— this much to him is clear. It’s becoming less like an equal fight and more like them prolonging their end, a battle not meant to turn in their favor despite the advances made. Katsuki turns to them, features hardened as he waits for their answer, because he’s not so sure he can spare them the pain this time.

“You’ve had our back for years, Bakugou,” Eijirou starts, first pulled from his shock, “do you really think we’re not going to have yours?”  He passes him without another word, stunned. When Denki cocks his weapon, he’s a little more than surprised and when he walks by with nothing more than a shit eating grin, he’s floored. “Besides,” Hanta starts, following behind Denki, “we can’t let you have all the fun now can we?” Katsuki is left with only Mina standing before him, unwavering and resolute and he knows he’s lost they aren’t going anywhere but forward. She rests her hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. “Let’s go kick some ass.”

Katsuki grins, just barely but it’s there —yeah, lets kick some ass . He reaches in his pocket, grabbing hold of the map and passing it to Mina, wordless. She understands and when Katsuki turns, facing the gate at the head of their cell, she stays behind him, centered.

When the gate opens it’s loud, ominous, inviting anything within a mile radius towards them and Katsuki decides to take the first step outside of the compound before anything decides to take a step in. The air is thinner than he remembers it; it’s less like the confines of what remains inside of the walls and more like the open world mixed with everything in it. When the gate closes behind them his muscles tighten in place, senses on high alert. Katsuki takes the lead, Mina tucked safely in the center, flanked on both sides by Eijirou and Denki with Hanta taking up the rear.

“Can you hear me?” Her voice carries over through the minimal interference with ease, light and airy and so unbelievably calm despite what they were to face. Guess she didn’t break the damn thing after all, he muses . “Yeah, hear you loud and clear.” When he refuses to answer, he expects to reignite the spark within her, the bold and the defiant but he’s only met with a brief silence which reaffirms in his mind that perhaps he’s right—it’s only been for show and she never was any of it.

“Good,” Katsuki raises a brow, listening, “I’ll be tracking your movements from here, but I need you to be my eyes since... I’m not there.” Her words are slow, deliberate, forced even. He hears how her voice, high and full of enthusiasm and misplaced hope is now long, drawn out and even—he hates why he notices in the first place. What the fuck are you hiding, he questions silently, and why the fuck does it bother me.

He hears a sound to his left, one not made by them and he refocuses, tense and alert. He forgets all about her, the way she changes and the secrets she’s hiding because she doesn’t matter—not now, not when the only thing that matters is what’s making that noise and where the fuck is it. Shoulders square, he raises his weapon.

“So let me see what you see.”

Chapter Text

Katsuki considers briefly, with what lies in his line of sight, sparing her the details.

There’s a building he remembers on his journey to Yuuei, one that stands proud against the harsh environment in a way that outshines the rest and one that he can just make out from his current position. While most were broken, some windows were still in tact, dirty but clear. He remembers passing them, getting a first look in a long time at his ragtag team covered in dirt, grime, blood and who the fuck knew what else from a view other than his own—Katsuki gets a first look at himself.

He recalls resting his hand on the pane, impressed by just how thick it really was. When he looks at the building as a whole, he realizes it is—was a bank. It makes sense he decides, that these windows of this building would withstand the world burning around it, undeterred from the ash and storm that promised everything from before being reduced to nothing but a fractured shell of what once was in the end. In banks we store treasures and the foundation of new beginnings, safeguarded by nothing more than steel and glass. Why were they any different? If this flimsy glass can fucking survive, then so can we.

When he’s finally called to catch up, he leaves the building behind, the glass and treasures and takes from it a new look from an old image. He squares his shoulders and lines himself at the forefront of his group, the fortress to them that the glass and steel is to what lies inside. It would remain, against all odds as it already had and despite everything thrown at it. So would they.

Katsuki grips his weapon tightly, finger dancing over the trigger. It’s been two, maybe three days since they’d arrived at the compound. Two, maybe three days since they left the world beyond these walls behind and whatever lingered within its confines to its own devices. Everything he remembers is different, dirtier, more broken.

Glass panes included.

His jaw is tight, teeth grating against one another. He was so sure; so sure that they would last, having weathered every storm from the outbreak till now and all odds driving down against it. Though through his frustration, anger bubbling beneath the surface for reasons that shouldn’t best him otherwise, Katsuki doesn’t know what bothers him more: the fact that the glass, strong and resilient, finally succumbed to the world around it or that in three days time, something reduced it to nothing more than added debris to the already growing piles.

That something, very likely to be closer to them now than before.

When he hears a second rattle to his left again, it takes him little time to whirl his body in that direction, eyes down the sight and barrel lined. He can hear the follow through of his team behind him, knowing with certainty they heard the same thing. “Keep your eyes sharp,” he warns, head nodding to their opposite direction, a silent signal understood when Eijirou checks his six and Hanta follows right after. It’s too quiet as the minutes pass, every sense on high alert as they wait and wait and—

“What do you guys see?” When she speaks in his ear following the silence, he nearly crawls out of his skin in surprise. He stays silent, paying her little to no mind because in truth, he doesn’t see anything. Or at least, anything he feels she should know about. "Well, ther—" Eijirou doesn't finish his sentence, his words dead on his tongue because he’s not sure what to say. He peers over his shoulder, a silent question lingering in his eye and when Katsuki meets his stare, sharp and defiant, his words revive.

“Nothing,” he clears his throat, “there’s nothing. It’s all good.” Or so he hopes, anyway. Ahead, Katsuki waits for what he swears is there and when nothing comes, nothing moves, he lowers his barrel a fraction of an inch. “Let’s move.”

It starts off slow, as they make their way towards what lies beyond the outer wall. With every step, they find something new fracturing beneath them—what is left of buildings, of glass, of the structures and the trees that once stood tall. There is no grass left, browned or trampled or both by the haste in escape or the haste in chase. The air is stagnant, ripe with what wafts from the undead who have been brought down, decomposing as a result. Katsuki wonders briefly why they don’t just clean the shit up since they run rounds along the wall. But in the end, he too, sees no point in doing so, stepping on the bones of what is left behind.

“What exactly are we supposed to be checking for?” Mina asks none in particular as her eyes wander the landscape. She thinks she sees something trudging in the distance and pauses. When Eijirou comes to her side, tense and alert and waiting for her say so, she shakes her head because it doesn’t move again. “Hopefully nothing,” Ochako hums, absent minded, “We usually use these type of checks to clear any undead around our border.” She thinks on her words, watching from her screen how they move and how what around them expands. She smiles softly. “And in this case map; cover what you can and come back safe.”

No shit , Katsuki thinks and he leads their run with his eyes down the sight.

The sun beats down on them as it rises high short hours into their run. Their skin is long since exposed to the elements around them—sleeves rolled back and pants bunched at the bottom in the hopes a lone gust of wind finds its way to them, sans odor if they were so lucky. It’s quiet within their ranks, words between them silent (nods and eye contact, them having been with one another long enough to decipher) much to Ochako’s annoyance. Feet drag across the terrain, tired and heavy, one after another until the sounds blend together but they never once drop their hands or the weapons resting in them, no matter how much their muscles scream in protest.

There is little to salvage they realize early on, anything left behind having been already taken or long since unable to use. It is purely a search and destroy situation; scout, and fend off if necessary courtesy of a bullet to what remains of the brain. Katsuki wonders idly if they’d find anything at all, assuming these runs were common enough with the set up in Yuuei. He gets his answer soon enough, impressed by the intuition and reflexes Hanta offers when he is the first to notice an undead in their vicinity and the first to shoot, awkward maneuvering aside. He seems to handle the death well, or if he's affected by the meaning of his actions, he doesn't show it.

Maybe having these idiots around isn’t a bad idea after all, he thinks and keeps them moving forward towards the end of their rounds.

The sooner, the better.

“Finally!” When they see the entrance to the gate, they all but forget the exhaustion that gnaws at arms, their legs and their minds and make their way towards it. "You guys did good for your first run. All that's left is—" Katsuki doesn't hear her, reaching for a button along the curve of his earpiece, pressing it with a distinct click; he stands, transfixed, because he‘s found something that speaks to him more. “What’s up Baku—” He cuts Denki off before he can finish, lone finger to his lips and an edge to his stare. “Hang on, I want to check something.” Because something's not fucking right.

Katsuki doesn’t wait for them to follow, hopes against it even, until he hears the snaps and breaks beneath their heavy steps and the readjusting of the metal in their hands. “Where are you going?” Ochako questions, unannounced to him, earpiece off and radio silent. Eijirou reaches for his own, fingering the trigger that shuts it down. "Yeah, Bakugou, where are yo—" He doesn't finish his sentence because he doesn't need to. He can see it, where he's headed; they all can (collapsing columns, shattered panes and jagged edges that wouldn't think twice before running you through).

Their grip gets a little bit tighter, their nerves a little more on edge.

After all, it's only been three days.

 

xXx

 

Katsuki cringes when a large piece of glass breaks beneath his boot, the sound echoing the length of the hall the trail of wreckage leads into. "What do I tell her?" Mina doesn't know what to say, doesn't have an answer for the question Ochako keeps asking, or more, doesn't have an answer that could placate the worry that dances with her words the more she speaks. Tell her to fuck off, is what he wants to say but doesn't, favoring a cut throat motion when his eyes find their way back into the dim lit space. "I can't just do that," she whispers, looking for backup that isn't there. Eijirou has long since cut his earpiece off, and she watches in abject horror how Hanta and Denki are quick to follow.

She bites her lip when they take another step inside, signal detached after a click, then two. "I can't—I can't just cut her off, Bakugou . " He barely hears her, shrouded in a silence that screams violently every second they're there but he feels her fear, how it pours from behind a brave that came from the very source she's wavering to detach from. He understands her hesitation. In a way, thankful for it even.

Ochako’s hiding something from them; it bothers him to no end how she expects from them a trust not carelessly given and in return can't give them the barest honesty she has, how she brings herself into their lives (at a godforsaken hour he recalls in spite) with some half planned attempt in camaraderie and bonding, and still hides behind a thinly veiled wall of half truths and wrap around details. He can see how she does it, because (though with years more hostility to his name) he sees how he does it, too. I’m not trying to be everyone’s fucking friend though, and in the sand draws the line between him and her.

Still, Katsuki doesn’t tell her to cut the line.

To him, she is nothing more than another pawn playing the same game of life as he, winding along the curves of the board for what lies behind the curtain at the end of the path, if such a ending exists. He can cut all ties, easily at that but despite his personal feelings towards her and what he sees as falsity, understands that while they remain unguarded beyond the compound limits, she remains their sole link to Yuueishe is their monitor, she is their tracker, she is their direct line to backup, supplies, rescue if necessary under the assumption there is a chance enough for an attempt.

He can draw a line between them, has and will again, but there will always be one that connects them in the end.

“Weren't some of these intact a few days ago?” It’s the same question he’s asked himself over and over since they began their run. There is a definite edge to Hanta’s voice, a mixture of confusion and concern and the same underlying shock that rents Katsuki’s thoughts and is painted on Eijirou’s face. He takes another step and distantly notices green and silver scattered among the rubble; a steal, if there was a need for it anymore. “Then what finally took it down?” He knows what, knew that Denki knew too. The question in his mind that has him trigger happy was how many, because there was no way in hell only one did this .

“Keep your eyes peeled, the fuckers could still be in here.” A part of him hopes they aren’t as he makes his way towards the counter, wishing they would have long since abandoned the building and found some other hole to fester and rot in. Katsuki rounds a corner, finger dancing over the trigger. Nothing. “Why are we here?” When he hears Mina ask, he idly wonders exactly whose question it is, her voice hushed and her hand over her mic. Cautiously, they narrow their sights towards the cube offices, separate and search only to find nothing once more. He should be relieved. He isn’t. If anything he’s more tense.  

Because it’s only been three fucking days. Because something’s not right. Because one undead doesn’t do this damage alone. Because if my hunch is correct , and as he looks around, he’s almost positive it is, then these fuckers are getting a whole hell of a lot smarter for having no functioning brains. Katsuki sighs, unable to say answer despite knowing the answer. Scarlet eyes linger towards the vault, the treasures behind and with impassivity, eyes how the ton weighted door is balancing on broken hinges, blood claws down the side. If they’re here, they’re there, he decides and lets the barrel of his gun lead the way.

In this windowless room, they hold their breath, the air saturated with dust and with an odor worse than the one that lingers outside. It’s much larger than the outside building gives it credit for, rows and rows of P.O. and lock boxes and tables that stretch the length of the room. Some are sealed shut with keys long forgotten, some doors balance on two (or in some cases, one) hinges and others are open, pieces strewn across the room, bent and broken.

A fucking mess, in every aspect of the word.

Eijirou walks ahead, fingering the doors and pulling back when he feels a sticky substance. Blood, or guts, he’s not entirely sure. He can hear the rustling of contents and crap behind him, Denki shuffling through the contents. “Can we get out of here now?”  Katsuki takes one good look around, sighing in defeat. Maybe they really did just up and leave. He lowers his weapon a fraction of an inch, forfeiting his search and turns to Mina with every intention of placating her thinly veiled fear as she waits at the vaults edge. Alright, you win, is what he plans to say, only he can’t. One word replaces it all.

“DUCK!”

She manages only fractions of a second before he pulls the trigger.

 

xXx

 

When Mina screams, it’s barely heard over a combination of sounds bullets firing, incoherent groans and the distinctive sound of flesh being separated by an unrelenting force. He races forward hurriedly, his cell in tow because there’s nothing worse than being cornered in a room with the only way out blocked by the undead (something Katsuki knows first hand and would prefer never to know again). Only when the body finally drops, falling back with a resounding thud , two, three, four —more take its place and they’re trapped for the time being.

She has no time to collect herself, her ear piece or her weapon, because one has found its way toward her, bringing her down hard to the ground and claws at her with persistence, held back by the strength of her own muscles that scream in agony. She struggles against the matchless force of a creature with no restraint and with one arm reaches for her gun. She chances a look, meeting eyes with Katsuki. He can see the terror that dilates her pupils, the realization that he’s busy, they’re busy, fending off the rest in an attempt to come to her aid and get them the fuck out. They aren’t close enough. Her gun. It’s not close enough. She’s on her own, weaponless.

In the cacophony of guttural groans and shrieks, Ochako’s voice pierces through the speaker of her ear piece that lies abandoned close by. “Mina, w— on?!” , “Are—s okay?! ” She can make out partial words through her own sounds of defense but doesn’t make a move to reach for the gadget; it’s just as far from her as her gun and it’s all that she has left to hold the teeth and nails back. So she screams. “Grounded!”  

Pinned down, with no chance of getting out on her own.

“Fuck—”

She is heard by Katsuki, the sound of his frustration and anger familiar and laughable had she been in any other situation. She is heard by Eijirou, whose efforts to get past the barrage of undead ring louder than anything Denki or Hanta could muster, valiant fight and continuous fire  notwithstanding. “Someone fucking get to her!” Katsuki scoffs with another shot, his ears ringing, pushing forward only to be pushed right back. If it were that easy, we’d fucking be there by now , he seethes. He doesn’t blame Eijirou for his concern and irrational thinking, no matter how annoying and how distracting, because it’s the same concern that dwells within him. Fear of loss.

So he fights harder, because he’ll be damned if he has to feel that again.

 

xXx

 

Mina, through her struggle, can make out very little of Ochako’s words, her body shifted further from her ear piece in every attempt to ward off the undead. She curses, muscles tiring and the distance between her and her attacker closing, damning them for lines cut and hers furthering from reach. Still she hears how Ochako tries, knowing its likely to fall on deaf ears, some of what comes through a repetition of past words Mina thinks. There’s no point in what she does next, of this she’s sure— she’s an overwatch, not a fighter, not a runner , but still she inches closer when by all other accounts she should focus on fighting back.

“Ochako,” her voice is strained as she calls out, hoping that she’s heard. She pushes forward, hoping to throw the undead off its balance, and it pushes back twice as hard, her head hitting the ground with a loud thud .

Her cell hears it. Ochako hears it.

White hot pain veins through her head and for a moment she’s disoriented, the weight atop her lessening if only for that moment. “Mina!” She hears how Ochako calls out for her, how they all do, but says nothing in return. She can’t. When her vision clears, she sees how the angle of its head favors an attachment to her neck and she lays frozen in fear as time slows. The sounds around her fade, leaving behind a silence that is louder, deafening. She closes her eyes slowly, waiting for the end because it’s there, staring her down with blank eyes filled with blood and rage and nothing at all.

“BRACE!”  

Her eyes snap open when she hears the fire in Ochako’s voice, concern and fear replaced with something she’s not quite familiar, something that doesn’t fit the Ochako she knows and yet somehow fits her better . With her left arm she stops the impact, forearm to chest, and shields her face from the spit and blood that falls from its mouth.

“KNIFE!”  

Her eyes widen and it clicks. With her free hand, she reaches for the handle that rests behind her, wondering how she forgot it was there, the bulge lying uncomfortably between her and the ground. Pulling it from its sheath, in one swift motion she runs through the neck of the undead, its dead weight falling onto her still braced arm, blackened ick pouring from the incision and saturating her shirt. She tosses the body to the side with what strength she has left, abandoning her knife and makes for her gun. One shot lulls the head of the attacker closest Katsuki, freeing his barrel and whose shot lulls the attacker closest Eijirou, whose shots knocks Denki’s and whose shots finished what remained.

Denki is the first who makes it to the door, weapon at the ready as he clears the few stragglers that litter the main hall, Hanta with an additional bullet to each body dropped for good measure. Mina reaches for her abandoned earpiece and knife with shaky hands, sheathing it seconds before Eijirou reaches for her and guides her through the arch. Only after they are clear of the vault does Katsuki follow, trailing behind as they leave the building.

When they are a far enough distance away  they slow their steps, breathing heavy and legs ready to give in to the weight they hold. Mina takes a breath, willing her nerves to calm and is immediately drawn into warmth and a tightened hold that holds her together and breaks her apart all at once. “Take a minute guys and then make your way back.” Ochako says softly as she wraps her arms around his middle with equal fervor, finding in his embrace comfort and assurance in spite of the fear that still lingers and mumbles a soft acknowledgment. Katsuki walks up to the pair, seeing in her eyes the distress he clearly sees in her body, how it shudders even when she tries to keep it together and in tune with Eijirou’s (though he suspects for an entirely different reason).

I’m sorry. He fucked up, bad and he knows it. He wants to say it, needs to but the words are never born. His eyes soften when they meet hers, pleading in only a way he can with her to forgive him for not making it to her, because his mouth is dry when he tries to voice it.

She understands. They always do, it seems.

With a nod, a smile and a promise of hell to come later she releases him, and he makes his way towards the front of their group, eyes alert and weapon drawn, giving them the security to breathe in peace. Collected, they reform their ranks and make their way back to the gates entrance, building long out of their sights but not forgotten.  

 

xXx

 

When the gate door opens and he’s met with round cheeks flushed in pink and a raging fire lit under her ass, Katsuki runs through every reason he could turn back around and take his chances with the undead, finding more interest in a fight with them than with her. He’s tired, so, so tired and doesn’t spare her more than a glance when he passes her, shoulder to shoulder. “Mind telling me why the hell you cut the line?” He knows the question is for him, but can’t find it in himself to care. He shrugs his shoulders and keeps forward. “Earpiece got lost.” Well, it’s not entirely a lie, having reached for it on his way back and met with only sweat soaked skin and matted hair.

“Bull shit.”

Katsuki stops, only because the way her voice settles in his ears is nothing like the few encounters he’s had with her thus far, something in her tone reminiscent of a challenge and after the day he’s had, he’s more than ready to fight. “How the fuck would you know?”  He looks over his shoulder, challenging. He thinks she will back down by his hardened gaze alone. He’s wrong. “For starters, I know the difference between a cut and a disconnect.” there is a sarcasm in her words, condescending in a way and his anger rumbles in his core. “I also know the only reason Mina got out okay was be —” Katsuki explodes.

“You don’t know a damn thing, Round Face,”  he towers over when he reaches her, expecting her to coil under the pressure. Instead he’s met with that same damn defiance from before and it pisses him off. So he aims low. "You don’t know what anything outside these walls are like, and you sure as hell don’t know when to back off, do you?” He hears how his voice raises with every word and when she starts to waver, he almost feels guilty. Katsuki thinks they will come to her defense like last time, stop him from burying her beneath his anger but when he glances back, they make no move towards him, to which he silently thanks.

“I’ll back off when you get over yourself and cooperate with someone other than yourself!”

Because she has fucking room to talk, right?

“Get over myself?” He repeats it just to make sure he heard her right and with every fiber of his being tries to reign himself in. “Okay, Round Face. I’ll get over myself as soon as you own up to the fucking lies you’ve been feeding us.”

Naturally, he fails.

Ochako stands, stunned, whether by the fact that he somehow knows she’s keeping her secrets or the fact that she’s looking her ability to keep them, she’s unsure. He picks up on this, and with every ounce of anger housed in himself, exploits it. “Yeah, you’re not as good as you fucking think.” Katsuki knows he should stop, sees the unease in the faces behind her and the small crowd they’ve managed to gather, their fear that he’s going too far. But she went too far first. “You’d think cowering behind walls all your life would make you better at keeping shit in, but really you just royally suck at it.”

When she doesn’t answer, he knows he’s won for the time being and when his exhaustion, anger, frustration and hurt catch up to him, he wonders if it was even worth it in the end. Katsuki pivots on his heel, ignoring every look thrown his way and focuses solely on the path that leads him to the isolation he desperately needs.

“And you know what? After what I’ve seen, I can promise you these shitty walls won’t protect your ass forever.”

Neither of them.

Chapter Text

No. No, no, no, no, no.

Her chair is long forgotten behind her, discarded by the force of her stand. Her hands hold tightly onto the edge of the desk, half-moons dug deep into the wood by her nails. Her eyes are firm on the screen, watching how five dots simultaneous shuffle across a line she knows they’ve crossed and only when they pause, sorting among one another does she breathe again. Ochako closes her eyes tight, relief washing over her in waves.

There’s a hand on her shoulder, one that squeezes in earnest and it takes her a moment to feel it through the tension her shoulders still holds onto. To her side is a girl, one she recognizes but cannot put a name to, her lips moving with what she thinks is her name falling from them. Ochako can’t tell, because she can’t hear it when by all other reason she should be able to. Every sound of concern, every slip of her name in question slips by her, every murmur of speculation lost behind static. It’s fuzzy, inconsistent, drowned behind the sound of her heart beating rapidly in her chest.

“Take a minute and then make your way back.” Her voice sounds different even to her, emotionless and it reminds her all too well of a time long ago (a time she’d rather forget). Ochako shakes her head, and focuses on the now. Removing her comm, she makes her way to the exit in haste, past all the lingering eyes and half formed questions. Mina replies but she doesn’t hear it, through the door and well out of range before she could. Whatever this was, it was too close, and these are the words that have her sprinting the second her foot touches the soil.

The air is still, even as it breezes past her, saturated in a myriad of smells some pleasant , others less than but it is on her side nevertheless, pushing her forward; faster. Her legs scream at her as she runs, muscles tightening with every step she takes towards the gate that’s closing in, but not quick enough. She‘s likely to beat them there, knows it for a fact even but she doesn’t care. I just… have to get there, and one foot after another, she runs even faster.

Faster, faster.

Ochako doesn’t stop even as she barrels past the oncoming crowd, slamming into shoulder after shoulder, afterthought apologies muttered only after she’s far past their ability to hear it. Her eyes remain firm on the gate, ignorant to the indignant cries she leaves in her wake, unaware of the hand that reaches for her arm until it grabs hold and stops her in her tracks. She turns, brows knitted together with a curse on her tongue but it falls short under the gaze of concerned eyes and a familiar face. “Where’s the fire, Ochako?” She stifles a dry laugh. Everywhere, but that’s an alarm she’d rather not raise.

Her response is heavy in the way of its silence, conveying the words that just can’t seem to come out and Shouto reads this in her eyes; they’re firm, falling to the side in favor of what it is she’s after, and back to him within the same second—wash, rinse, repeat. “What’s wrong, Ochako?”  Everything, is what she wants to say but doesn’t. “I… I just ne—” Her words are drowned out by the sound of the gate jarring open, metal scraping mercilessly against concrete and her head whips back in its direction. Shouto feels how she instinctively jolts forward, his grasp on her a firm reminder that she can’t leave, just yet anyway.

She looks to him; her eyes he sees something so painfully familiar—how they shine with concern, desperation and unfiltered anger directed at what he’s not sure and without thinking lets go.  It’s subtle, the smile she sends his way before she’s off sprinting once again, bobbing and weaving with little effort. Shouto follows, curiously.

 

xXx

 

The gate opens much too slow for her liking, second after second passing before she finally sees a row of colors dusted with debris, grime and the smell of what lingers outside clinging to them. Her cheeks are flush, anger bubbling when her eyes meet his. Ochako sees the exhaustion in him, in all of them, and thinks for a second that maybe now is not the time. She is given no more than a glance when he parades past her, shoulder to shoulder, and all restraint flies out of the window because how dare he .

“Mind telling me why the hell you cut the line?” The words come out before she can think to stop them, louder than intended and with every ounce of her anger tied in with it. Ochako turns to him, even as his back remains toward her and sees the interest her accusation alone has garnered as a small crowd forming with wide-eyes interest. He shrugs his shoulders. “Earpiece got lost.”

“Bullshit.”

Katsuki stops and she knows this will end in nothing short of an explosive battle between them. He looks to her over the cover of his shoulder and his eyes are lit with a mirroring anger much like before, the static between them palpable. “How the fuck would you know?” Ochako stands dumbfounded by his nerve. Is he actually serious right now? She’s sure he can see her shock as she wears it so openly on her face, fists tightening at her side in a poor attempt to reign in her mounting anger.

Ochako takes a deep breath. “For starters, I know the difference between a cut and a blatant disconnect.” Intimately, she wants to add but doesn’t, because in the end it’s none of his damn business. She figures the sarcasm dripping from her words is enough to make her point. “I also know the only reason Mina got out okay was be —”

She’s gone too far.

The words replay in her mind and she knows the implication they leave— you were reckless, impossible, and incapable of saving your friend because of your stupid choices. The way he towers over her in an instant, eyes straight down and sharp, she knows this is what he’s drawn from them and while guilt gnaws at her indefinitely, her anger is far more persistent. It’s harsh, but it’s true!

“You don’t know a damn thing, Round Face,” Katsuki starts, blood boiling, "You don’t know what anything outside these walls are like, and you sure as hell don’t know when to back off, do you?”

God, if you only knew how true that is.

Ochako takes a step back. In her forced silence, she recalls all the times she didn’t back off when she should have, and the prices paid each time that followed. His voice is rising, and she almost wonders if Shouto will barge in to her aid, knowing intimately just how far beyond the walls she’s been and how so very wrong he is. When she peeks back, she sees the question in his eyes, should I? With the faintest of movements, she shakes her head, taking his anger head on. “I’ll back off when you get over yourself and cooperate with someone other than you!”

It would be almost amusing, the expression married into his features, if she wasn’t so damn angry.

She trades one low blow for another (albeit his may have been unintentional but it doesn't make it hurt any less) hitting him in his overly inflated ego with the whole of the compound as witness to her assault. Still somehow, some way, he holds the upper hand and she doesn’t like it—the way he looks through her, unnerving and smug, as if he just knows something. “Get over myself?” The words slip through clenched jaw and grit teeth, as if trying not to explode, she thinks. “Okay, Round Face. I’ll get over myself as soon as you own up to the fucking lies you’ve been feeding us.” He fails, miserably and Ochako stands, stunned.

What—what is he…  She can’t speak, doesn’t know what to say even, her thoughts running far beyond her ability to catch up with them. Does… does he know something? Everything? How would he have found out? Or am I just losing my— how? The temperature of her skin rises, her hands trembling at her side, unveiled and not nearly as subtle as she’d like. Katsuki picks up on her turmoil despite her poor attempt to hide it and grins menacingly. “Yeah, you’re not as good as you fucking think.” He’s satisfied; so, so satisfied and she can tell with how proudly he wears it, but she pays him little mind.

There is too much unknown in the way he accuses her, telling her he knows without telling her what it is he knows and she’s caught somewhere in between curiosity, unbridled anger and shame. Why, she takes in a shaky breath, why is this feeling back again. Her arms wrap around herself, squeezing tightly. She thinks that someone, from his team or the crowd, will come to stop him as he takes it much too far, but they don’t. In a way, she’s thankful.

She doesn’t want rescuing, doesn’t need it and in some roundabout way, this anger towards her is deserved.

“You’d think cowering behind walls all your life would make you better at keeping shit in, but really you just royally suck at it.” Her head falls, eyes shadowed as she closes them tight. He just keeps going and going and it takes every ounce of self-preservation to keep herself intact, to keep her closed off from him, them. He assumes her fragile, a coward who spends her life behind the safety of walls and she has to let him, no matter how much it burns in her to prove him wrong. Katsuki turns, his back towards her and only then can she breathe.

“And you know what? After what I’ve seen, I can promise you these shitty walls won’t protect your ass forever.” He mumbles beneath his breath in his retreat, with the assumption no one hears what it is he says next.

She does.

 

xXx

 

He’s long since gone, having left her to stand amid a paralyzed crowd that slowly dwindles when there’s nothing left to be seen wondering exactly what it is he meant. Neither of them he breathed to himself, the words lingering in the space that continues to grow between them. Ochako is riveted in place; the words just don’t seem to add up but her confusion is soon overrun by immense guilt and what he means no longer seems to matter because I can’t… I can’t leave it like this. So she follows him, step for step, with every intention to yell, scream, apologize— something, until she’s stopped by the grip of a hand to her arm before she makes it even half way.

To her back is Eijirou, saddened despite his forced smile. “Just... just give him time,” he lets go of her arm, “it’s been,” he pauses, stumbling over his words, “well it’s been a day and we haven’t quite dealt with the scars from it.”

And it has; there’s no doubt about that.  

She sends him a small smile in acknowledgement and when he walks past, cell in tow, she lets him. Ochako watches silently how they all go their separate ways, eyes fallen, shoulders worn, every part of them fighting just to make it one step further and it serves to worsen the guilt that eats at her already. She saw the same slouch, the same tired, dull eyes worn by him and while there was a fire burning with his every word, she idly wonders how much it took out of him just to keep the flame lit. I should have stopped. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

“I went too far, didn’t I?” Ochako whispers more to herself than to Mina who remains at her side long after everyone else leaves. “Honestly, yes.” She didn’t think she could feel worse, but hearing it from an outside point of view, someone close to him say to her what she already knew was too much, she can’t help but curl in on herself. “He hates me, doesn’t he?” She wouldn’t even blame him if he did. When she thinks of everything he said to her, she decides it was deserved in some way—not the words, never the words but the rage and fight behind them and what she figures is hatred that pooled in his eyes.

“Probably, but then again he hates everyone.” It’s dry, forced and with little reprieve but Ochako laughs, knowing somewhere this to be true. She glances at Mina, who looks far beyond what is in front of her, eyes full, lidded and heavy. She’s tired, so very tired and Ochako knows she is far from being able to rest. “They’re going to call you all in for inspection, to make sure you weren’t infected.” She remembers it as a rigorous test; relentless, so much poking and prodding and much worse than any doctor visit she ever endured, lasting anywhere from a few short hours to entire days, depending.

For their sake, she hopes it’s the former.

“Understandable.” She’s much too relaxed in the way she answers, as if she’s resigned to the cards that fate has dealt her and Ochako idly wonders just how much she’s been through since the beginning of it all. “Are...” she hesitates, not quite sure how to ask, “Are you okay?” Simple, and yet behind it lies so many more questions— are you managing, will you cope, do you need someone, anyone, to help you through it all?

Mina glances back; a little livelier in the way she speaks. “Shaken up, but I’ll live. The boys saw to that,” she pauses, thinks on her words and smiles, reaching for the blade still safely tucked behind her, “—you saw to that.” It’s forced, how there’s a pep in her voice, a tune to it that wasn’t quite there before but she doesn’t comment on it. Mina hands her the sheathed weapon, appreciative of the short time held but the impact it made. Ochako is silent as her eyes trail the length of the enclosed blade, memories (fond and not so much) rushing by in a series of blurs and she closes her eyes to rid herself of them. “Keep it,” She pushes it towards Mina’s chest, with the hope it will continue to serve her as it already has. “You never know when you’ll need it again.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“Why’d you go outside the lines, anyway?” Ochako starts down the path in front of her, hands tucked in her pocket to hide just how often her fingers fidget when she asks. It’s a question that has clawed at the forefront of her thoughts and had she thought about it at the time, it is something she could have asked him directly. Not that he’d answer me anyway, she muses. “Something didn’t sit right with Bakugou.” Mina trails behind her as they wander, basking in the temporary peace. There are groans and screeches that sound beyond the wall still, but inside she hears nothing but her own thoughts.

Somehow, they’re just as concerning.

“When we got there, something didn’t quite sit right with us either.” Her brows are furrowed as she recalls the oddity that was their time at the bank, how something just felt… off from the start. Through her fear (vocalized often in the short time), she was not blind to what exactly drew Bakugou there, or more so, what she thinks did.

Three days’ time and, for a compound that clears its perimeter regularly it seems, a whole mess of recent damage lay right under their noses. “In hindsight, it’s probably better that we went there.”

“What do you mean?”

“Can’t say for sure.” There is too much still unknown, between themselves and what exactly it is they’ve seen and the only constant she is sure of is the nagging apprehension that rakes against her nerves. “But whatever it is, I know it’s not good.” Mina runs tired hands through her hair, hissing when her nails graze over a particularly tender spot. At first she questions why it’s there and where it comes from, until she sees the pooled concern in Ochako’s eyes as they sprint across her frame, giving her a once over before she rushes to her side.

Ah, right, and Mina recalls the resounding thud from before and the concern that paints across fair skin and pink cheeks reminds her of the spread across all of their features at that point in time. She chuckles. “Ochako, chill out; I’m fine.” This does little to placate her worry and she knows this, seeing how chocolate eyes still linger where her hand remains. “Trust me,” she begins, with thinly veiled worry in her voice, “there are scars far more concerning than the one on my head.”

“But what d—”

The words die on her tongue, watching how Mina drags her eyes towards an unknown place, solemn and saddened, until they meet her state and brighten again. Worry comes naturally to Ochako and nags persistently even as she lets Mina continue on without her. She wants to question but doesn’t, knowing somewhere deep down that Mina won’t answer. She’s already let too much slip, evident in the way she hurries to change the subject.

There’s a story behind the worse things that she speaks of, of scars not seen; it is a story Ochako realizes is not hers and therefore not her place to tell. So when she asks of the ways they will be inspected, desperate to cover her slip up, Ochako relents and tells her all she knows of a time she once went through. The questions are still there, the concern and the unease but she pushes it aside for Mina’s sake, distracting her with stories of the past when there’s nothing left to prepare her for until she’s collected by Aizawa.

By orders, she’s left to collect the rest, scattered across the compound in obscure places and as she finds them one by one, her dread grows—one is drowning in sound as it pounds against his eardrums, unaffected and solemn until she slowly turns down the volume, one is drowning in tears as he clutches a photo that, when pried from his hands and consoled until he can finally smile, is of him and Mina, and one stares at the wall blankly, only reached after a time of shouting his name and clutching his shoulders, shaking violently.

Everything about them, their quirks and mannerisms, become clearer—why Hanta always looks far beyond his line of sight in silence, why Denki and boisterous always seem to be in the same sentence and why Eijirou (beyond being nice for the sake of being nice Ochako likes to think) always seems to care just a bit too much in a world where caring so deeply can get you killed.

It’s all they can do to hide what lies beneath the masks they wear and the walls they’ve built, let down and catering to one another in the ways they seem to need but never again for someone on the outside.

As she finds them, one by one, Mina’s words finally make sense and suddenly those once thought were without have scars. They are not visible to the eyes of those who don’t search for them but they’re there.

Raised and angry .

It takes her hours to collect them, to bring them to Aizawa, and when he questions why she can’t bring herself to answer. It’s not my place to say , and she holds onto that reasoning even after he asks again. She looks to him instead, pleading for him to just leave it alone and she’s thankful when he does, leaving once more to find the last of her cell who’s everything short of vanished.

Her feet drag across the rubble in her search for him, ending in some of the most obscure places she can imagine he’d be because there’s no way he’d make it easy for me, and it becomes something of a game until hours pass and he’s still nowhere to be seen. Where on earth can he be?

 

xXx

 

Exhaustion seeps into every part of her and Ochako wants nothing more than to take the path that leads home instead of some forsaken place that’s becoming increasingly unlikely to have him—instead to a bed full of warmth and safety and a sleep that blackens away the stress that weighs heavily on her shoulders. I guess it can wait until morning, she decides, sun long since set and the idea of home just a little too tempting. She surveys her surroundings; it’s a part of the compound she doesn’t often travel, but she’s not lost. Met with a fork in the road, Ochako chooses the path on the right knowing it will, in the end, take her home.

The idea of sleep is a short lived reprieve to her aching muscles and tired mind, urging her to move just a little bit faster, only she doesn’t. There’s a flicker of light through a window above that catches her eye and shortens her steps, both bright against the darkness and dull still. Ochako is enraptured by the waning glow, and only recognizes just where she is when the outer edge of the building housing the light looks a little too familiar.

Their building.

With light dancing inside.

Is he— it’s the one place she never thought to check, because at the time it was just a little too obvious a hiding place. The more she thinks about it though, the more sense it makes; of course he would be there, because no one else was. Her thoughts are lost to the sound of her footsteps as she walks toward the building, apprehension wrapping around her nerves like barbed wire the closer she gets. There’s a silent voice she hears, desperate and pleading, that says she needs to get to him. When she found the others, they were scattered, tucked away in an isolation of their own design and he’s no different, only he’s been alone longer. Ochako speeds up her pace until she’s inches from the door.

It still creaks when she opens it.

With ease she makes her way towards the number 4 she knows belongs to them and raps against the wood. No one answers and she snorts, berating herself for having thought that he actually would have. Fingering the handle to the door, she notices absentmindedly the knicks and gashes against the surface, lines and cuts it has endured over the years. Scars. There are scars far more concerning—Ochako wastes no time jarring the door open and letting herself in.

She is met with black and all trace of everything but smothered away. There was a light; she saw it, swears by it even as it’s the very thing that pulled her here. By this reasoning, she decides he has to be here. “Katsuki?” Her voice is soft, barely above a whisper and silence is the only thing that responds. Her eyes find the door she remembers being his through the dark, and carefully makes her way to it. Ochako reaches for the handle, the metal cool against her heated fingers.

The handle turns, but she doesn’t open the door, one thought keeping her from doing so (and a potentially angry blonde’s image of anger notwithstanding preventing her). This isn’t my space, and decides against searching his room, a wrath spared she hopes. Ochako sighs, ready to believe the light was a tired stretch of her imagination, sworn by or not, until the faintest flicker of her hand’s shadow dances against the grain of the door she remains attached to.

But where is— she answers her own question when she looks to her right, a soft trace barely visible beneath the door of what she assumes is the bathroom. Her hand switches handles, waiting. He’s been in there a long time, she muses, assuring herself that she’s not about to make a huge (and embarrassing if she’s honest) mistake, but it’s Mina’s words that have her gripping the handle tight.

There are scars far more concerning—

Because he, too, has scars that linger beneath the surface of a well-placed facade and with them, his own way of coping. Ochako is fearful of the dread that pools in her stomach at the thought of what has kept him in his self-made isolation, and for just how long. She is fearful that her words from before aided in his need for solitude and she knows better than anyone what silence can do to a mind unhinged by anger. After all, it’s violent when it wants to be.

She is fearful of what she will find when she is met with him, of what he has spent years hiding and protecting and what damage it has done, will do, when finally freed from behind lock and key. Ochako is afraid; not of him, never of him, but for him.

Still, she braces for what she will find inside because she can’t turn back, every fiber of her being screaming to just get to him, damnit and she listens.

The handle turns and the door swings open.

She had every right to be afraid.

 

Chapter Text

He’s the first to leave.

It’s odd because he never is—always the last man standing, the last man fighting, there when everyone else ceases to exist. It’s in his very nature, to be first last and only; the shield in which people find safety is his back towards them and weapon towards the world. But this battle is a battle best fought alone, brutal and damning and so very desperate for a four wall enclosure. This fight he fights is one that starts in his core; it veins out and through him, painfully slow, until it reaches the surface and when it does, he will lose. He has to leave, because if he doesn’t…

They just can’t see him lose.

He’s all but running away, leaving her and her damned self-righteousness behind him, even as her words still stab into his mind over and over and everything is on replay. I also know the only reason Mina got out okay was— she didn’t have to finish, so he didn’t let her because he didn’t need reminding . It’s hot outside, so god damn hot but he’s on fire within, and it burns away at his restraint, his composure and he snaps on her.

Everything he says he knows he has little right to say but he doesn’t care. She wants to trade low blows, boy is he ready.  She curls in on herself after he drives into her as she did him and he almost feels guilty. Her secrets are hers; he knows this better than anyone, having quite a few of his own. He also doesn’t parade around under the false idea that he is the only one allowed to and is sure to let her know that is their difference.

In the end he walks away, despite his nature, because it’s all he knows to do when his muscles clench, his teeth grind, his inner temperature rising as fast as his anger. But still her damn words repeat, even as he’s far gone from where she stands and it drives hit after hit. Another hit to his pride. Another hit to his ego. Another nail into his coffin.

Katsuki pays little mind to how those around him can’t part fast enough, a line drove down the middle of the crowd as he stomps by—he is but a fire; raging, burning, roaring and they do all in their power not to get scorched. There are voices around him, questions, and assumptions and as he walks he crouches, core bent and eyes squinted because they need to shut the fuck up. The mainstream sound of the compound thriving. The outlandish noise that penetrates the walls from the outside. The groans, the moans. The voices. The thoughts.

It’s too loud.

Everything is too loud.

Katsuki is pushed far past the limits of his restraint and his steps become quicker, more desperate. He’s holding onto too much, as he comes to do often and his surface, that of a shield, begins to splinter as his foundation below is all but shattered—her nails adorning the surface, where she drove them into every space available.

When they stop parting for him, he shoves past. No apologies, no remorse even as they voice their indignation but because they are in his way, and his way is leading somewhere he’s not quite ready to be, he wishes them silent and moves past the next body in search of a space. It’s something they’ve all come to have in one way or another, temporary in a world that forces them to flee constantly but working all the same with each new place they find.

Yuuei is big, massive in comparison to some places they’ve found themselves and he’s sure there’s somewhere he can claim before he is forced to fight because there just fucking has to be one. Time ticks by and he’s paralyzed in the center of a square, eyes wide as they drag over the empty space that is still somehow full of everything he doesn’t need.

In a place with an infinite number of spaces to hide in, he curses not having found just one.

He’s clutching his hair, he’s pulling tight, he’s doing everything in his power not to just scream and no one stops to see if he’s okay. He can’t decide if it’s good or bad, how they leave him alone to his own devices, no matter how broken they are and continue to become but it’s all too much anyway—the splinters bend and snap more and more and he’s about to lose.

No, no, no, fucking no.

Not right now.

They can’t fucking see me lose.

His eyes drag across the nearest building and he’s not sure if it’s the universe’s sick sense of humor that brings him to his home or its way of telling him his last minute is up. Katsuki hopes no one is there; begs that they’ve found a space that is somewhere, anywhere else, and forces himself up the stairs. He nearly shatters the glass when he barrels in, hands over his ears when it creeks because it, like everything else, is too loud; he finds a small reprieve when he opens his own door, and is thankful when it’s silent.

Katsuki pauses, trembling, honing in on every sound despite how it hurts him—when there’s none, he breathes a shaky sigh. Thank fucking god , and he stumbles over his feet as he makes his way through the living room, acutely aware of everything but unable to do much more than shuffle by drunkenly in his current state. He rips off his shirt, discarding it somewhere to the side because the room too hot, because everything for him is too much. Unsure, he makes his way towards the kitchen, hoping that the solitude alone will steel his fragile nerves and let him just be. It’s asking much, too much he thinks when he opens the fridge, desperate for water and slams it shut when light floods in.

He is surprised the handle remains on the door, for as tightly as he holds it.

There is only white noise; it’s like an alarm sounding against the walls of his mind, bouncing back and forth and only ceases when it decides he’s had enough and only after several painful minutes. A drop hits the floor and he hears it—his own sweat that falls beaded from his forehead in his crouched state ripples against the wood and it’s too loud. It’s too fucking loud, but his breathing, now heard in between the noise, the beads of water that fall to the floor and every fucking thing else, is louder.

“Fucking stop it!” Katsuki screams to no one and nothing in particular, hands quick to mask the only way sound can hurt him. “Fuck just—” his teeth grind against one another, the scraping sound sending shivers along his arms because it sounds wrong , a noise that claws away at what the mind considers right. “Please…” his voice is shaky, uneven, and foreign in the way he begs, “Please just fucking sto—” his voice cracks, and the remaining strength he forces to stand as his one and only shield cracks alongside it.

A faint knock pulls him from his spiral, eyes wide with something akin to terror as he waits. Did someone hear him? Is someone coming? There are muffled voices from beyond the door and Katsuki doesn’t think twice about whether or not it’s from his door, tumbling over frantic feet for a safe space within a safe space. His shoulder collides with the wood when his hands can’t turn the knob fast enough, nearly slipping and falling onto the tile from the momentum of his panic and when he slams the door he winces, regretting it immediately thereafter. The pain is paramount, but he pushes it aside, ear to wood and listens.

The sound of silence.

Violent, but merciful.

Wherever the knock came from, it wasn’t from his door he decides and if it was, they’re gone now. He breathes a sigh of relief and welcomes the cool dark room he finds himself in—void of light, of noise, of anything at all. Katsuki makes quick work finding the sink as he fumbles through the dark, mouth still dry and still in desperate need of the water the light from before deprived him of. The faucet turns slow, the sound raking against his head but even as it penetrates, he finds he’s able to manage, the rush of the water against the porcelain calming in some off handed way.

Katsuki breathes, unsure. His skin is already degrees cooler, by both water filtering down his throat and the way the cold of the sink sleeps into his hands when he grips it tight. In, out. In, out. The rapidity of his chest begins to ease and, if only for the time being, everything becomes more manageable. In, out. In, out, he repeats until it's second nature to do so, until he can let go of the sink and not feel the weight of the world topple him over.

One finger lifts tentatively, another than another. His hands hover as he stands and he thinks it’s passed—not a fluke but a reprieve, one he doesn’t deserve but so desperately needs. He finds sanctuary in this room, and forfeits any thought of leaving, even when the dark becomes just a bit too much, fear of lingers in it climbing if only just. He reaches for the cabinet doors beneath the sink, fingering the shelves until he finds what he’s looking for, placing it in the corner of the porcelain.

From his pocket, he retrieves a lighter, one he carries with him always, and rips his finger down the metal trigger. It takes him only once to spark the flame and his eyes squint when it bursts to life. Katsuki waits a moment, letting himself adjust to the intrusion and is thankful when the dull light does little to hurt him. The flame dances on the wick, and he finds an eerie calm from it.

It’s fine. Everything’s fine.

Until red eyes stare back at him.

Red; bright, widening, not filled with the rage that usually rents the space but instead of recognition of just how red they are. Red, the color representing of the anger at the world that is a too familiar friend to him. It is the color representing of the love that once filled him whole, the same love that eludes him even now as it drowns in the same shade of red that colors the blood that could spill, has spilled and will spill again.

It’s a damned color, really, with nothing but pain and suffering that accompanies it and as Katsuki stares into the pool of red that seems to grow larger, darkening the longer he does, what he finds has his hands reaching for his head in an attempt to block out the sudden noise—heart racing in his ears, beat after beat, louder, harder, faster . In his reflection he sees the paced rise and fall of his chest, how within seconds he’s taken in enough air to ill his lungs and somehow at the same time feels how they beg desperately for it as if it was never there.

It’s painful, so painful as his lungs scream. “No, no, no, no—” There’s too much noise again, his heart trying to out sound his lungs in their protest, both somehow louder than the way he pleads to nothing and everything. It’s all too loud, too loud, too loud. Yet the truth that stares back at him is the loudest of all, and has him throw his clenched fist at his reflection to drown it all out.

Red. It’s just a less dense black.

The realization of how nothing can change, or more so, nothing will hurts more than the jagged slivers of glass that remain buried into his skin even as he pulls back from what is left of the mirror. When he sees how the world around him once white, wears the same black that he finds at the center of red, he theorizes the only way out is to swim in it, eyes lingering over the streams of blood that trail down his hand. Is it red, or black, he wonders idly.

It’s what has him reach haphazardly for the smoothest piece of glass that litters the sink top, knowing the cleanest cut will come from its edge, giving him the best results and, perhaps even, the answer to his idle question. It’s what has him tumble back towards the wall, half standing, half sitting against it, staring into the silver as a part of him looks back, eyes somehow darker than red he considers normal. Katsuki doesn’t recognize himself, even as he’s sure it’s him that looks back.

When he chuckles, it’s dry, humorless, and long since gone of any emotion other than a dangerous calm. The fire that boiled in his core, burning him from the inside out is nothing more than a doused flame, cool to the touch. The pain that burrowed in his chest, beating and pounding against his skin is gone.

The noise, all of it, comes to a screeching halt.

He doesn’t know how long he holds the sliver to his arm, or how long he’s remained trapped in his self-made isolation. The candle is nearly drowning in liquid wax and the pain in his muscles as he continues to hold himself in an less than desirable position suggests it’s been hours, but all sense of time is fleeting because the only constant is the edge against his skin as it presses against him, gentle yet aggressive.

He hears nothing. The blood rushing to his ears as he presses just a bit harder, the frantic beating of his heart against his chest as the tip of the edge draws a light, but angry pink line down his skin, the flicker of the flame as it (and himself if he’s perfectly honest) tries to stay afloat, how his name carries along the static noise in a soft question, just as he sighs. There’s just… nothing.

Katsuki brings the tip of the sliver back to the top of the faux line, and takes it down twice, thrice, until the pink line darkens. He has yet to truly break skin, but he finds it still tender to the touch, likes tiny fibers being severed one by one, painstakingly slow yet oh so satisfying. The onslaught of pain gradually growing clears his mind. He’s ready, he decides, to swim in red in order to escape the black.

But he can’t draw the real line; because he’s sure she won’t let him.

xXx

His name falls again from her lips in a desperate plea, terrified and body quick to lunge towards him in an attempt to stop whatever this is. He hears it, but only because she cries it in between the static, in between the beats, in between the white noise that rises higher and higher in his ears until it brings with it the pain he fought again and again to rid himself of. Get the fuck out, he wants to scream but doesn’t because it’ll only add to the pressure in his skull and the damning whine in his drums, and take the fucking noise with you.  

He can’t shield himself, can’t stop the onslaught of everything and he grits his teeth, barring them to her and the world silently, sliver still tightly gripped in his hand. Katsuki sees how, in her assault, she aims for his right side, his right hand in particular and for a moment he panics, fear coloring his voice because she can’t, she just can’t. “Get the fuck away from me!” His voice comes out raspy and harsh, something akin to both dangerous and desperate. He supposes in a way, it’s colored exactly as it’s meant to be. A warning. A plea.

He’s unsure when his thoughts demand he retaliate, swiping at her with a speed used only outside the walls of any safe space found, but he does and for a moment guilt swarms him.

Only a moment.

He connects with her face, can feel how her skin separates under the precise edging of the glass, can almost hear how each fiber snaps with how attuned his hearing now is—each bead of sweat that falls against the tile, the harshness of his breath and hers, everything too, too loud. He expects to see a gash, thick and raised, but finds only the thinnest of lines dancing across her cheek. Had he been in his right mind, he’d have thought to question just how she stumbles back with no more than a moment’s notice, escaping with less of a line than the one that still burns on his wrist.

He’s not in his right mind, not now anyway.

She’s off balance and he figures he only has a moment to act because, somewhere in the far recesses of his brain that can still coherently function, he knows she will recover quickly. He brings the sliver back to his wrist; ready to trace the already dotted line he drew, and instead pauses. She cries his name out again, her fear thinly veiled but it’s no more than a buzz in the back of his skull and dulled by the ragged way he takes a breath. He knows she’s close, mere steps from interfering again even as she pauses in wait but he doesn’t see it because his eyes are frozen on the sliver in his hands.

The once clean corner is tainted, stained in a soft red and he watches as it runs down painstakingly slow to cover his reflection staring back at him. There are too many truths in this one piece of glass, and he watches how his body wracks in shivers through it. It isn’t cold, but he also suspects that wouldn’t be the cause.

Because the red eyes that stare back are sharp but cold, lifeless, distant, much like the rest of him even with the subtle warmth of the candle still glowing as it kisses his skin and he knows this is a better reason for how his body trembles. He wonders if she too can see it as easy as he does, somehow knowing she can. Ashen streaks trace his cheeks from red to the edge of the glass, and only now does he feel how the rim of his eyes well up, hot and, if nothing more, annoying.

Katsuki feels weak, exposed but more than anything crestfallen. His eyes fall back on the single droplet that finds the bottom edge of the glass, running against his fingers. It’s red; the same red as his eyes, the same red as his escape, only it’s far less, stretched thin and resembling not much more than a dense pink. Blood. But it’s not his. It’s not his .

And fuck , how he wishes it was.

“Damn it!” Katsuki closes his eyes as he screams and welcomes the expected pain he knows will come, if only briefly. He’s heard stories of what’s to come after the last line drawn, how there is initial pain, varying, and then, in the words of some, peace. He suspects it’s more quiet and blank, a void of nothing (no sound, no static, no white noise, no beats), but in times like these, even that nothingness is welcomed.

He wonders idly what his pain will be—he envisions a sharp sting that stretches the length of his arm, jagged and angry, numbing as it’s coated in red and then slowly fades to black, like the sound, the sight, the smell. He thinks of warmth that will surround him, cradle him and carry him. A warmth deprived and a warmth so, so missed. Warmth that burns so fiery hot that cold stands no chance to penetrate. He wants it all, so god damn bad.

There is everything, but not at all what he expects.

There’s a sting, but it doesn’t stretch and is on the wrong arm. There’s a numbing but only due to the seconds that pass and not the coating of something sticky and pouring from the separation. There is only the black of the darkened room, but also the mute splash of color that is brought on by a barely lit candle that stands precariously on the sink. Katsuki opens his eyes; he sees all he can in the dark, smells all there is to smell. Sound slowly comes back to him, and though it doesn’t assault him like it did before, it’s just as painful.

There is warmth, small and concentrated, around his wrist that still holds onto glass, warmth that forces itself against his bare chest and braces against his left arm, carefully placed. The holds are firm and while he knows he could easily break through, he doesn’t, can’t, because he’s too transfixed on the cause. His eyes drag to the right.

Her knuckles are all but white as they cling to his wrist, both mindful of the glass that he holds in his hand and adamant that he is unable to make a move against himself, or her for that matter. Not that he would, not that he meant to, but given mere moments ago, he understands her skepticism. Katsuki follows the trail of her arm, until his sight finds the top of her head, hair splayed across his chest. It rises and falls in sync with the harsh, rapid pace of his breathing, and is all but shielded beneath the arch of his chin. She is impossibly still for much too long save following the pattern of his beating chest, and he tries to calm his breathing if only to understand what the fuck is going on, and what the fuck she’s doing .

Then he feels it.

One is warm as it trickles down his skin,  the other, a short distance from the first, burns him in ways he’d rather it not. Katsuki can feel the soft sputters of her breath that fan across him, and in time, the trembling her body succumbs, weak in nature despite how her hold on him remains firm. She is unhinging in his presence, spiralling further and further apart until all pieces held together are ready to scatter, but she holds onto the fleeting string of her sanity with everything she has and everything she doesn’t. For her sake or his, he’s not sure but doesn’t ask. He can’t. Words are fleeting and dry on his tongue.

“Please, -”   He idly wonders if she takes him into consideration when she speaks so soft, or if she just simply can’t speak. It’s softer than he’s ever heard from her before, barely above a whisper and broken. She takes a shaky breath and tries again, louder though just as cracked and he hates how his heart cracks with it (the traitorous thing), “please, Katsuki.”  

Every fiber of his being wants to fight, to push her away, to claim solitude once more and ride out the storm alone; he could, he knows he could, it wouldn’t be hard (years of practice safely tucked under his belt) but he doesn’t and he hates to think how in the past he would have but now…

Now he won’t even try.

The warmth that radiates from her, however small and focused, is enough to remind him of the warmth he clung to in his youth, the days before the end and while the separation between them is much larger than the separation of his skin, both drawn jagged and angry and in desperation for some kind of relief, he wants to cling to it, her, her warmth, if only this once. “Not like this,” she continues, pulling him from his musings as he stands pinned between her and the wall, hot and cold, transfixed. He focuses on the two lines that continue to mark his skin in wet continuance. “I can’t” she hiccups, short spurts of breath splaying across the wetness and he trembles beneath the sudden cold, “I can’t go through this again.”

Katsuki is unsure whether at this point she’s pleading to him or herself, because what she says, as he strains himself to hear, makes no damn sense to him. Bitten words rest at the tip of his tongue but when he opens, nothing short of a choke falls from his lips. He silently curses his inability to speak, to keep calm, to do anything other than tremble against her while fighting against everything else. His saving grace still rests in his hand, grip loose, and as if on instinct tries to bring his arms closer together because it’s his out, a way away from the pain and he wants it. Needs it.

She’s stronger than she looks, that’s for damn sure. He finds such difficulty in the simplest of actions, and if he thought it wasn’t possible, she proves just how much closer to him she can get, how much tighter her grip can be, how much closer her face presses into his chest. “Not--” she pauses, breathing ragged, “not  again,” and the wet against his skin near doubles, streaking down and he is gobsmacked to realizes only now what the hell it is. Tears. Fresh at that.

She’s crying against him.

Damn near falling apart, he thinks.

Between them, Katsuki is unsure who is trembling more at this point, whose tears are falling faster, whose facade is sure to break first but as every wall he rebuilt crumbles, and walls not even thought of fall, he is sure it is, will be, him. Still grating in the back of his mind, he replays her words from before, and her words now, how two different sides of her show and he knows little nothing of either. How the fuck is she so affected, runs through his mind at the same time as why the fuck do I even care stops it short. Something is short of clicking, but he’s nearly there. He can feel it.

The noise returns, only its infinitely worse. It’s the sound of her heart thrumming violently in his chest, against her cheek while tears free themselves from her tired eyes. It’s the sound of her sobs, though silent in every aspect of the work, but so very loud in his ears. It’s the sound of the pulsing his scarred wrist emits, the pain bearable but at the same time unnecessarily torturous. It’s the sound of blood rushing through his veins and clouding his mind, rushing from her split cheek, on his behalf. It’s the sound of her pleading voice, that replays every word in his head, that repeats on a loop, louder and louder until he can’t stand to hear it. His arms are pinned; he can’t stop the noise. It’s too fucking loud.

He snaps his head away from her, finding something, anything, to keep himself from curling in on himself, breaking more than he already has in front of her and it’s then he sees it.  

A peak of her wrist that makes itself known from beneath the sleeve of her shirt as she remains tied to him like a vice, silver, raised, enraged and fuck, does everything make sense then. “Please,” she all but begs and he can’t fucking breathe.

He wonders just how many times before tonight she’s lost it.

He wonders how she holds on against the sheer force that is his chest heaving as rushed, desperate breaths coming out in too short of bursts, the room too stuffy and not enough air to fill his lungs. His skin crawls with heat, his scars burn , the static is too loud, everything is too fucking loud and he wants nothing more than for it all to stop. She inhibits his self-made escape, makes it impossible to just draw the damn line and breathe in the relief. But, with every ounce of her strength she pours into him, despite the clear cut line he’s drawn between them, the walls he’s surrounded himself with, at one time, that she tries to claw her way through, he finally sees what it is she’s trying to say.

She is bleeding and crying all because of him and despite it all is still tethering him to the last pieces of his sanity while she loses hers, in a series of stories he has yet to know but suddenly needs to. She’s fighting for him, the same way his cell fights for him, only she’s louder—so much louder and, despite the edge she has on them having seen what they haven’t, with more working against her rather than for her, numerous occasions of him telling her in less words to fuck off. Still , how would their reaction be any different than hers?

The glass shard drops, missing his foot by mere inches.

He screams, and everything he’s holding onto, in his chest, in his shoulders, in his mind, in his heart, comes out with it. He screams for the pain that’s inflicted upon himself, by himself, in times he was weak, fragile, unable to hold it together and for the moments he’s still doing it. He screams for the memory of the two scars that adorn his chest, just beneath her cheek and that he knows she can feel, for whom they represent, for his inability to save them and their price paid because of it. He screams for himself, for everything he forces on his shoulders even though the weight is too much—has always been too much and for the relief that comes with finally, finally letting it out.

He screams for her, who holds onto him tighter as he does, despite where they stand with one another, regardless of the line that's still there and, if only for this moment, how she pretends it’s not—for the tears he’s caused even if by the next morning he will do his damndest not to care they were there anyway.

In a world where closed walls means safety, he will lets his down, wholly and let her in, because he needs it—the warmth of her embrace and how the comfort is just there, the reassurance that it is okay, Mina’s okay, everything (albeit in some fucked up way) is okay.

In an hour, he will rest peacefully for the first time in years, uncomfortably, jarred in an awkward position between her and a hard place, but she doesn’t let him go and for this, he is grateful.

xXx

When his eyes peel open, he is assaulted by light pouring in from his window and a soft rap at his door. His free hand shoots to his head, shielding from the intrusive stream that is hell bent on making his headache worse, and is relieved when the pain isn’t quite as harsh as he thought it would be. He pulls his hand back immediately after; wrapped around a space on his wrist and across his knuckles are layers of bandage he knows was not his doing, mainly because it was done right , dulling the pulsating that still pushes from beneath. He stares at it, mind blank until his sight focuses on the two small pills that rest carelessly on his end table, and a glass of water right next to it.

Katsuki rips the blanket from across him, and reaches for the capsuled relief, drowning them in too quick gulps of the still chilled liquid. It slides down his throat with ease, and it’s only then that he hears the soft rapping at his door again. He has half a mind to ignore, but he knows first hand just how damn persistent they can be when they want to, something he decides he’d much rather avoid. Slowly, he drags himself towards the door and rips it open, curse on his tongue that soon dies after. Eijirou stands there, blankets in hand, and he wonders just what the actual hell he’s planning on doing with them. “What?” he deadpans, raspy and not at all himself, the bite that usually accompanies his words just not there and with the look he receives, it's almost as if Eijirou was expecting it too.

“Aizawa’s looking for you,” he says carefully, because it is not normal for him to be this calm. Not. Normal. “So?”  His hand washes across tired eyes, thinks for a second he could use another drink and Eijirou doesn’t miss the fresh bandages he’s suddenly sporting, eyes trailing after it as they widen. There’s a look in them, something resembling of both pity and fear that disappears in an instant. Good. “Inspection,” he begins, and when Katsuki raises one brow, it clicks. “To make sure we didn’t get infection after,” he waves his hand aimlessly, not wanting to say it aloud. He is silently thankful for the gesture. “Didn’t Ochako come to get you, too? I know she wanted to...”

So that’s why she was there.

The nights events flood his mind in a series of scattered images, rushing past in a blur and the only constant is his pain long since passed and her. He idly muses if, because of him, she’ll get in trouble. A part of him wants to feel guilty, should feel guilty, probably. But she didn’t have to be there, he reminds himself, and squashes the guilt before it can burrow deeper. “Anyway,” Eijirou clears his throat, “we’re heading to Ochako’s. Want to come?”

He hates how his head snaps to his a bit quicker than it should have. He hopes Eijirou missed it, but the shit eating grin he sports and the bemusement in his eyes say otherwise. “Why.” Eijirou chuckles and he has half a mind to slam the door in his face. When he hesitates to answer, that gets Katsuki’s full attention. “We owe her,” he begins and in the back of Katsuki’s mind, feels he just might too. “She… she did a lot for me. For all of us.”  He knows he’s excluding him because there’s no way he could have known otherwise. He’s always alone when he fights. Always. They know this intimately.

“There isn’t much we can do to repay her for what she did,” his laugh is light, but melancholic too, “but we figure we can at least do something to show her we… well we appreciate it.”

This is the shit that gets you killed, shitty hair, is what he wants to say but doesn’t.

Because as he looks beyond Eijirou, Katsuki sees how the rest of them in their musings smile and laugh and breathe and live . It’s never been so quick, their recovery from the hell they put themselves through—they are fit to survive the world, as he knows they’ve always been but there are times where survival just isn’t enough. But today, for the first time, it seems they thrive and while he will never admit it aloud, he knows it’s because of her, whatever she did for them, that they do.

He stands, mere hours after his own breaking, in the face of those he can call friends, alive and pushing forward, if only because of what she did for him. It’s proof enough, he decides, of how she is indeed an anomaly, a fighter, in an arena much more pleasant than his own. She still pisses me off, and he thinks that may never change. “You coming, Bakugou?” He asks in earnest, waiting for him at the door, expectant. He scoffs, “Hard pass,” and the door closes even as Eijirou laughs him off.

Katsuki runs his hands through his hair, mindful of his still pulsing wrist. Its clumped together in some places, tossed aloof in others. He’s still shirtless from the night before, pants still saturated in outer filth and only god knows what else. I need a damn shower, he groans internally and takes two steps before he’s frozen in place.

On the other side of his bed, peeking from beneath where he tossed his covers haphazardly, lay everything short of a pair of boxers.

Well, Round Face thought of everything, didn’t she.

Chapter Text

For twelve hours at least, she holds him against her, jarred uncomfortably against tile and ground, taking the brunt of the discomfort upon herself so that for twelve hours at least, he sleeps soundly. She would have suffered for as long as it took to let him breathe, she thinks, but the streak of light that peeks through the cracks of the tattered window reminds her of just how close to dawn it is. They’ll be here soon, she decides, and knows somehow he wouldn’t want to be seen like this. Ochako doubts she was supposed to see it—doubts anyone has.

She holds onto him tight as she slowly maneuvers her way up, careful, with him in mind. The distance between them and the door is short, but she spends her time moving at a snail's pace, thanking whatever deity comes to mind that he stays asleep as she fumbles with the door, silently thankful that she is able to begin with, memories of less fond times and dangerously similar situations racing by in a blur. The door creaks and when he stirs, she is still. He falls back into his sleep and her muscles relax when she breathes.

With her foot, Ochako forces the door open and pauses, waiting, listening. It’s quiet, eerily so and with as much grace as a linebacker, braces Katsuki against the door long enough to open another. Of course THAT doesn’t wake him, she muses as she makes her way into his room, apprehensive to be in his space because despite what little choice he gives her under these circumstances (the couch far less comfortable than his bed she presumes), and it’s still his space.

She’s no more than an intruder, all things considered.

Ochako works fast, removing the covers enough to maneuver him under comfortably, placing them atop his shoulders when he shivers, when she lets go. She rolls her neck, a satisfying series of cracks left in her wake and looks to the sole window. It’s nearly morning, the beginnings of the son coloring the horizon line and kissing the navy sky. She only leaves him for a second, finding the necessary bandages and medicines just beneath the sinks counter, like she knew she would—a damn near requirement just to function inside the compound, on the off, though entirely possible, chance their needed.

Her fingers are gentle as they dance across his skin, his wrist the first she tends to, followed shortly thereafter with his knuckles. Ochako is afraid her ministrations will wake him, watching how his brows crease under the foreign substance mixing with his raised and reddened skin, until they smooth over, once tightly secured in a wrapping of her own design. She lingers when she’s done, eyes training on the scars across his chest as his hand lies dangerously close to it. She wonders who they’re for, knowing somewhere deep down it’s the only explanation, because anything else just seems too unlike a coincidence—a question that burns on her lips but dare not falls from them.

So she busies herself instead, forgetting entirely the way she so desperately wants to know because in the end, it’s not her business. There’s a fine line between them, anyway, one she can clearly see. Aspirin, water, pants, shirt . She runs down the mental checklist as she fumbles through his belongings, careful and silent, rosy cheeks notwithstanding and abandoning his underwear draw because even she has a line she won’t cross. Placing everything where it can be found with ease, she slips away with one last look, soft, concerned and silent as she closes the door behind her.

Ochako rounds the corner before the rest of them can ever see her.

xXx

The break of dawn is too bright, even hidden behind the height of the buildings. A relatively short distance drags on under her tired feet, and it’s only when the sun beats down on her in the morning rise that her building finds her line of sight and she is granted solace inside of her own home. When she shuffled through her door, she doesn’t bother to take her shoes off, change, do anything remotely necessary because that requires more energy than she has. Everything is a blur except her bed, and her muscles instantly relax when she hits the mattress, strewn across its surface like one would discard a shirt and she is out before she remembers her bedroom door is wide open.

Ochako is reminded no more than ten minutes later, when a hand, gentle and unsure, shakes her shoulder until she peels her eyes open, wondering if they were just that silent or she is just that tired that she didn’t hear them coming. “Hey Ochako,” Mina whispers, shaking her shoulder once more for good measure, “hey, wake up.” She stirs, but not at all because she wants to. It’s only because she recognizes the voice that she knows who her vision blurred beyond the point of recognition is there, spots of color too bright to be anything other than the hair of those she knows.

“Hey guys,” her words are slurred, but more or less coherent, “what’s up?” She runs through the countless reasons why they would be there, so early even and her heart sinks. “Is everything okay?”

Because she did leave him to his own devices, after all.

“No, yeah, we’re fine.” There’s no hesitation in the way she answers, and relief floods her. She would have jumped had they said anything even remotely close to him needs you, exhausted or not. “We just,” Mina pauses, taking a fraction of a second too long to answer, “we just wanted to…” Ochako is worried, it’s written all over her face, “to take you out for the day.”

Not at all what she was expecting. She stares, caught in between some form of shock and curiosity, even as her eyes drop from the sheer force weighing them down. “I don’t—I don’t understand?” She doesn’t, not even in the slightest and she hopes even as she yawns, how it forces its way out of her mid-sentence, they catch on to just how much she doesn’t get it. “You did a lot for us,” Eijirou starts and she wants to stop him before he can finish.

Because what she did isn’t wanting, needing or deserving of some form of repayment, somehow realizing this as their end game. They are friends (at least she hopes they are, or that she can be seen as one) and friends are there for each other, no questions asked, no explanation needed. Friends do what they can for each other when they can—pulling them from the depths of their self-inflicted pain and troubles notwithstanding, a beacon in a pit of dark if only their light within shines bright enough to take it on. “And we know there’s nothing we can ever do to make it up to you.”

There’s nothing to repay, her mind wants to say but can’t. Let me sleep, her body wants to say but won’t.

“So we wanted to treat you today because we appreciate everything you did and it’s all we could think to do.” When Denki says it, it’s light, carefree, as if it’s the most obvious solution to their internal struggle and she is grateful, so grateful that they felt the need, no matter how misguided. Ochako looks to them, to all of them and sees in their eyes something vastly different then she remembers from just one night before—Mina’s twinkle and Eijirou’s shine, Denki’s burn with mischief and Hanta’s are just as warm as they once were.

They are not healed, not by a long shot and she doesn’t think they will ever be close but they are better , for the time being, because she took the time to make it so. It makes her wonder, as they stand awkwardly in front of her, if this is the first time. With one another doubtful, though the thought lingers in the back of her mind that they know better—or at least think they do, leaving one another to their own devices because it’s what they think they want, even when they scream silently for someone or something to make it go away. It is, in a way, the first time they’ve opened up beyond what they’ve created as their norm and it makes her next words hurt that much more.

“That’s sweet guys, really it is, but…” and it was; if at literally any other moment this opportunity was presented, she would have jumped on it, no questions asked. As it was, in this given moment, she is hard pressed to keep her body upright towards them, eyes open, and words coherent. When she sees it, the flash of guilt, of hurt, or of something in between that passes through the shine, the twinkle, the mischief, she comes to realize one crucial fact.

They don’t know.

“We’re sorry, were you sleeping? Did we wake you?” No she wasn’t and no they didn’t. She was up still from the morning before because she spent the better half of the  night and rising morning holding onto their cell leader as he spiraled into the darkest parts of his mind and, if reluctantly, let her drag him out by the skin of her teeth. But they don’t know that. And, even if it were to ease the guilt that somehow threatens to swallow her whole, she can’t tell them.

“No, no, just—” Ochako takes a deep breath, because she knows she’s going to regret this decision in the long run (if not minutes after, she thinks), “it’s really sweet, but I…” she gestures down, sheepish, and when she looks back to Eijirou, he catches on. “I need to get changed if we’re going to do this.”

She never imagined he could get as red as his hair.

“R—right! We’ll wait outside!” It takes him a minute to stammer anything remotely intelligible, but he does as he herds the two behind him out, their cheeks maybe a shaker lighter than his. It takes whatever energy she has left just to laugh but she does, and her exhaustion must show because Mina stares, picking her apart with nothing other than her furrowed brow and expressionless demeanor. “Are you sure, Ochako?”

Mina is intuitive, she thinks, because she’s not sure and she’s positive Mina can tell, despite not entirely understanding why. She knows, but she doesn’t know, and her facade holds only because of this. “I’m sure,” Ochako lies, forcing the guilt down, “promise.” And she does, because she would make herself sure, make herself capable of fighting back how her muscles scream when she gets up and how they beg for relaxation when she strains them to change, if it meant keeping them from feeling anything short of the happiness they worked so hard to get back.

It takes a minute before Mina decides she will accept her reasoning, silent and unknown, but when she smiles, Ochako feels the guilt fall away and in its place a newfound burst of energy that she hopes will last her through the day. “Okay!”

xXx

When she finally has the chance to relax, Ochako knows every part of her will be sore, but she swears her arms will suffer the most. By them, she is drug around town, both reintroduced to things she’s known of and formally introduced to things she hasn’t. If not for the way they bring her to them when she falls behind, she may have since kissed the ground—movements sluggish, far off and so, so tired. Ochako is impressed by the way she keeps them off her trail—how she catches herself when she slips into a daze or hides away when she can’t force back a yawn. She is not proud of the way she lies to them when they ask if she’s okay, if she wants to go home, if she’s too tired to go on, but the mirthful laughter, creased smiles and pure unfiltered joy that they radiate makes it all worth it in the end.

In spite of how she bends the truth, when she is asked if she’s having fun, this is the answer she can give freely and without a sliver of doubt. Because, protesting muscles and depleted energy aside, she is having fun. Sure, she thinks she would enjoy it more had she the power behind her steps to keep up and the mind to focus on each task they present her, but it’s because of them that she pushes forward despite everything, their happiness guiding her as she fumbles through the sleepless day and she enjoys at full it if only because they are, and because they deserve this.

Ochako shakes her head, refocusing when a hand waves in front of her eyes, frantic. They stare at her expectantly, as if there is a question since asked and they’re waiting for her response. A brief survey of her surroundings finds them standing in front of a lone hole in the wall kind of shop, much like the rest of the buildings and spaces in Yuuei if she’s honest, but this one she recognizes; a small delicacy inside the compound, with some of the best frozen treats left in this wasteland. She’s no closer to knowing what exactly they asked, though, no hint of the question that lingers in between them.

No idea how to answer.

So she stands, guilty because she thinks she’s been caught, that she’ll finally have to own up to why she seems so off put, dazed and confused and she’s not quite sure she’s ready to admit it. “Oh wait, I know!” She breathes, relieved, because they busy themselves and their focus shifts, granting her temporary salvation and a chance to snap out of it. When they look away, she smacks her cheeks a few times, head shaking. Get it together, she pleads in silence, feeling eyes watch her every move until she freezes.

They aren’t looking, she notices, but the feeling of being watched is still there, persistent and uncomfortable. It takes her a minute of searching before she finds him, across the way, eyes just as hard as the first time they met—still as unreadable, still guarded and secured, only not behind a wall of ice and stone, instead behind something softer, more accessible. Her line of sight falls back to them, still preoccupied and blissfully unaware. Of course he’s watching after them, and she can’t find a reason as to why she thought he wouldn’t.

Their backs are always watched, together or apart, and it is reassuring to know that when she can’t be for them, in every way she is able, that he will be—emotionally, she’s unsure but for every other way one can protect another, he is there, knife in hand and barrel pointed forward, a shield and a weapon. She breathes a sigh of relief, for whatever reason she holds onto it but when she feels the burn of the way they bore into her, she is reminded it’s her he’s trained on, not them. And for a moment, she can’t fathom why.

It only clicks when she takes a second too long to react to the way his head tilts to the side with a silent question, when, for the brief second she is beckoned upon, she answers with a smile that doesn’t come close to reaching her ears and a far off glance not anywhere near directed towards them. She is delayed with every response, every movement, every thought, and as time passes it becomes increasingly noticeable to those who pay close mind. She sees it, feels it.

With the way he stares, she knows he can see it too.

She finds calm with him noticing because he would know better than anyone what she went through, having been in her arms, under her watch and with her until she left him the next morning, conscious or not. He, if nobody else, would understand because he was there . This doesn’t explain why he of all people looks to her with what she mistakes for judgement in his eyes, as they search her for something she can’t see.

None of it means a damn thing because, even as justified offense finds its way to her with ease, concern pushes past and it's her that stares into and through him. From what she can tell, he’s well rested (more than her at the very least and she’s thankful), has recouped and looks a thousand and one times better than he did when she found him—broken, falling, close to not being able to pick himself up and she shakes her head to rid herself of the images because they scare her now just as they did then.

Her voice is silent, even as her lips move. Are you okay? He raises a brow and it’s the only sign she has that he understood, doubling as his answer when he remains still and silent. She didn’t expect much, because what leaps and bounds had she really made in their subtle game, the finish line in his trust, but he doesn’t dismiss her like she assumed he would and it’s a push past the starting line. Still, it’s none of my business.

But she remembers the night before, and it bothers her because she feels like it is.

Her hand is warm, gripped by another and shook. Mina’s smile is blinding when she sees it and as a yawn fights it way to the surface, she is reminded just why it is she pushes it back down. She says something, much too quick and with too much excitement for it to register in her tired mind, so she smiles along with the rest of them and it seems to suffice. She turns, and Ochako takes the momentary distraction to look back, catching his eyes and with a small parting wave of her free hand, allowing herself to be dragged off seconds later.

Katsuki stands there, watching and even when she’s long gone, he doesn’t move. His wrist pulses and his knuckles itch and he remembers everything. Every minute detail. She… she hasn’t— because it’s so painfully obvious she hadn’t, not yet and since when he’s not even sure, but he doesn’t know if he’s more dumbfounded by the fact that she’s still going despite it all or the fact that his damn cell hasn’t noticed that she's barely there even as they drag her off to god knows where.

Appreciation my ass, but then he knows they don’t know because of the way she keeps them in the dark, tactfully and with tons of practice he’s sure, and he’s suddenly not so surprised. Still…

It’s my fucking fault.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he hears her say it’s not, that it could never be, but he shoves her naivety aside, childish and inexperienced because the constant reminder beats him down and his hand reaches for his chest as his fingers tangle in his shirt.

In any other situation, she’d be good as dead.

He does his damndest not to care, because he shouldn’t and it’s not any other situation; it’s her being too damn nice to too damn peppy people who, in his opinion anyway, need to chill the fuck out and remember just exactly what goes on outside of their bubble. It’s her own damn fault ; she didn’t have to be there, she chose to and when he thinks of how he would fare, alone as time and time before left him, drowning in his own sea of red with no guiding hand to pull him from the crashing tide, the mere thought somehow hurts more than the familiar pain that comes with isolation, his old friend.

But he doesn’t care, or at least, it’s what he tells himself even as his jaw tightens and his eyes rip away from where her silhouette once stood, now dropped to the floor in a haunting reminder that if she were in any other scenario and if the odds weren’t in her favor, she’d be nothing more than an added scar across his chest because It’s my fucking fault , and there is where his faults are put to rest .

He’s quick when he turns to walk away but guilt is quicker, chasing him into a moments spiral that no one would see coming or going.

And if ever asked, it’d be all too easy to deny.

xXx

Ochako doesn’t know how she’s made it, but she has, all things considered. She allows herself to yawn freely only because they do, the high rise of the sun beginning to set and exhaustion finally caving in on them. She sits in the center of their couch, erect and stiff because she’s afraid if she even leans to the side, finding comfort in the arm of the sofa (or anywhere for that matter), she’ll lose her ongoing battle with fatigue and she’s fought too hard to lose now.

The voices blend together as they discuss the plans, the night not yet ending if they have a say. Mina sounds like Eijirou, Denki sounds like Hanta; they wrap around one another and soon she can’t tell who says what because it all sounds the same—blurred and muffled and not much different than listening from outside. If she were to look at them, focus on just one even, she’s not sure she’d be able to tell them apart, distinct differences and features or not.

At this rate, she doesn’t think she could tell herself from the undead.

Her feet would drag along the terrain when she would walk and it’s a step above the movements she’s seen and studied from her time beyond the walls. She’s sure if it wasn’t for the fact she really concentrated on speaking and annunciating, that her words would be as intelligible as the grunts and groans that come from them. At least I look human, but she doesn’t look in a mirror because honestly, she’s not convinced. Still, the ghost of a smile twitches on her lips until it’s smothered by another yawn.

They are none the wiser.

She’s not proud of it, disappointed in herself more than anything, but she pats herself on the back nonetheless because I’ve still got it, even if it’s something she never wanted to have again.

Ochako loses herself to her swimming thoughts, watching them move and talk and be but she doesn’t hear what they say despite the volume in which they say it, can’t follow them even as her eyes do, and instead just soaks in their presence because it’s all she can do. When the front door opens she doesn’t hear it, only aware because of the red eyes that find her and lock on and when they don’t react even as he stands among them, she doubts they heard either.

It takes them a moment, but Eijirou notices him first. “Oh hey, Bakugou.” There's a chorus of his name and he answers to none because he’s damn near floored to find her there, and awake to boot. Just how the fuck…? They’re off in their own world, he decides, because there’s no reason not a damn one of them couldn’t have noticed. He opens his mouth, a string of curses ready to fall but the moment she sees, delayed albeit, she stops him with a look, both hard and pleading.

He doesn’t fucking understand.

But then she lets him in on why.

Her head nods towards them, soft smile and warm eyes despite the fatigue that drag them down and he sees it, both in her and in them when his gears shift.

Witty smiles and challenging eyes, laughter that tumbles from their stomach and through their chest, animated movements and free limbs. Every curse drifts off his tongue silently.

Days like yesterday take their toll on them, the price weighted and steep, of this he's absolutely positive and there’s very little that can have them bouncing back as quick as they fell. It’s possible, though and he sees it in them, in what she chose to do for them, in the same way she chose to do for him. His fists close tightly at his side; he’s okay, better , because of what she did. He can only imagine the effect it had on them, only he doesn’t have to; he can see it.

She yawns and he looks at her again. She’s the walking dead, or damn near close, but as she watches them with the same vigilance as he does he understands why she lies every time they ask if she’s okay to keep going, even if he doesn’t agree.

Like him, she’d rather them be one hundred percent, even if it means she won’t be. Damn it, Round Face.

“Hey man, we’re about to pick a movie, you want in?”  He doesn’t; he wants to pass, to find solace in his space after the day he went through with the old man, but he doesn’t answer, not right away. He notices how when asked, Ochako pinches herself on her thigh and her eye creases to mask the slight pain. How in the hell is that even comfortable, he wonders when he finally notes how dead center and too stiff she is. He guesses it to help with staying awake, because for no other reason would anyone want to sit like that.

They’re waiting for an answer, from them both it seems and the second he sees her open her mouth to reply, another lie dangling on the edge he thinks, Katsuki decides he doesn’t want to fucking hear it. His dislike of liars stretches as far as his hatred for the world they live in, but he gets it and why she does it. But they aren’t stupid, distracted and naive sure, but not stupid. If not at all before, they’d catch on now because she’s hardly convincing anyone and just because he let her slide for their sake doesn’t mean they would. So he helps her save face, if only because it saves them from guilt in the process.

“Hey—ow, ouch, hey ma—what’s that for?” He can’t deny his amusement when he drags Eijirou by the ear, herding him into the rest of his cell and watching them topple over one another, a mess of limbs and colorful curses. “Bonding and shit,” he mumbles, and once they right themselves, he swiftly shoves them all out of the door in one seamless motion. He must have practice , she muses as she watches, mouth agape, and laughter bubbling from within.

He stops when he hears her laugh, soft and so, so tired. His eyes fall to the side and he watches her, how her hand covers her mouth and her eyes crease. “Katsuki?” When they close, he thinks she might not be able to open them again but she proves him wrong, meeting his glance with one of her own. “Thanks.” You owe me; he wants to say but remembers he can’t because it’s him that owes her. Ochako rests her head on the couch, breathes and is out in the same minute.

She never would have made it , but then again, he’s not so sure.

He doesn’t leave immediately, instead silently picks her apart because now more than ever she doesn’t make sense. What’s her game , he wonders, and how do I play? Because she is a liar but radiates nothing but truth, a naive child but wise beyond her years, inexperienced but then again…can he even say that anymore? Can he assume anything about her anymore? Of all things he is certain there are two sides, but only one her—the same one who pulled them out of their own spirals onto straighter lines, braved the dark and kept him in the light, despite the finite line he separates them with.

If nothing else, because there is nothing else, she has him curious.

He hears his name sound from down the hall and wonders just how long he’s stood there, creepily staring (fuck, he’s been doing that a lot) and he’s amazed there aren’t holes through her by now. He reaches for a discarded jacket as an afterthought, tossing it across her shoulders and ignores how she reaches for it in her slumber as he takes his leave, willing the idiots to calm down when he reaches them because for fucks sake, I’m here already.

He decides he’ll keep them busy for now, never admitting how he enjoys it, and slip away before they make it back home.

xXx

When Ochako peels her eyes open, she notices three things immediately and one later on.

First, it’s not evening; it’s morning, confirmed by the way light spills in through the window and how bright red numbers stare at her reading 7:15 a.m. when she finally finds it. Second, this is not a couch; instead she is in a familiar bed, in a familiar room, with a familiar window and a familiar clock. It’s her room, and no matter how hazy her mind is she knows she fell asleep on their couch with no idea how she ended up here . Third, this is not a blanket, despite how warm. She doesn’t recognize it at first because it’s not hers, and through the haze picks through memories of where she’s seen it because it’s so familiar. And when it hits her, red crawls up her skin.

It’s his jacket.

Ochako is distracted by a knock on her door. She is confused because she’s not expecting anyone and then she remembers how she’s usually the one waking them up before a run and panics. She fumbles through changing and shouting how she’d be right there, and when she’s presentable answers the door with a tired, but rejuvenated smile. “Sorry guys, I know I’m usually the one who wakes you up.”

She stands against varying degrees of teasing at Denki and Mina’s hands and joins in with them because she can. She doesn’t see how Eijirou just stares, bemused and at the same time surprised because they may not recognize the jacket that she chose (albeit absentmindedly they will find) to wear but he does . She doesn’t see how Katsuki just stares, until the heat behind it becomes too much and she realizes with wide eyes just why he is. He sees her in it, his jacket, and says nothing, his eyes flickering between her and it before they settle on her. She thinks his eyes soften but she can’t be sure, but at the same time she realizes the fourth thing that was not at all like before, he realizes it too.

The line between them, once sharp and definite, is blurred.

 

Chapter Text

“You’re heading out 2 clicks farther this—,” the sound of the gate prying open carries over the sound of her voice, clear but distant in the way it travels through the mic. It groans as it slides across the terrain, and when it’s open fully, there’s a smell in the air that lingers in, fresh and pungent.

It’s disgusting.

At least, there is no sound once the gate falls silent and he takes a step beyond its protection, nothing that draws his barrel to a point and his finger dancing over the trigger. “Gotcha.” He doesn’t catch the end of her spiel but Eijirou does, or at least fakes it well enough. She doesn’t repeat herself despite knowing there’s a chance she wasn’t heard—he’s pretty damn sure the sound of the gate reaches the far ends of the compound, and if she thinks she’s above a sound that powerful then her confidence rivals even his. He figures it wasn’t all that important when she remains silent. “Just do what you need to do and come home safe.”

Or she waited for when she knew she would be heard.

It starts off slow, as it always seems to and as they make their way further and further, he’s surprised to hear her less and less. Their first run, which seems so long ago despite having been mere days, reminds him of a time where she would question even the faintest of stops. He tests her, calls them to a pause for just a minute longer than what could be considered normal and he waits for her to speak. She doesn’t and, with a questioning glance from damn near his entire cell, fingers hovering above the triggers and barrels pointed everywhere and nowhere at once just ready for the call, he gets them moving again.

She’s there, he knows she is because he can hear the deep breath she takes just a fraction too close to the mic that hangs lax when they get going again. “.8 in and all’s clear,” he hears Mina radio in when they’re just about that far out, and Ochako confirms before going growing silent again. He’s curious and it pisses him off, because this is out of character for her and, despite how very little he has to go by, he knows it’s out of character for her. Katsuki curses how he even notices, more so how he seems to care. The feeling is fleeting, like most he comes to encounter, but it was there .

And he hates it.

“Bakugou.” A part of him knew, sooner or later, that they’d find their way back to this place, if by in passing or by their own volition. Hairs on the back of his neck stand erect, muscles coil, wound impossibly tight. The feeling is familiar, comfortable where it has no right to be so, and he stands before what’s left of the structure and curses beneath his breath because it’s too soon, the memory still fresh and still damaging.

They watch how his stare turns blank, hiding his anger, his pain, his sorrow under an impossible silence and while their fingers remain tight against the trigger, his falls slack. His guard is down and he’s vulnerable.

In more ways than one.

Mina reaches for his shoulder, the lightest of touches and when she does, thinly veiled worry seeping through the way she questions him, he’s reminded that in the end she’s still there. Worst never came, ideal or not, and they made it out relatively unscathed—physically sure, emotionally not so much. “It’s okay,” he hears just barely under the cover of her breath through his comm and he forgets she’s there, that she can see where they stand on a screen far beyond the inner walls and hear everything— how his breathing quickens, steadily erratic and how his teeth grind against one another, chipping away till one day they break.

The line isn’t cut, unlikely to ever be again and it’s how she says it, the same way she did the night before that he is reminded to breathe. Katsuki feels all eyes on him, waiting for his next move and he follows the rhythm of her breathing, crystal clear through the channels and, he suspects, meant specifically for him until he finds what composure he lost and clings to it with everything he has.

She’s not another tally, even as he’s reminded in a flash of images those splayed across his chest all but fully healed, his wrist still pulsing beneath the bandages, fresh.

Katsuki wraps his head around the idea that time will heal his mind, despite how it proves again and again that it will take and take and take and he idly muses, as he memorizes what’s left of the bank just how long time truly gave it before it fell.

How long time will give them before they do to.

“Let’s move,” he says, thankful when not one of them comments on the way his voice cracks at the end and he focuses on the fractures and breaks of debris beneath his feet because it’s better than hearing how they hesitate, short intakes of caution before they follow behind. When a shard of glass breaks, it both grounds and unnerves him because was there really this much coming here?

There’s a stretch of nothing and a good distance covered before Eijirou breaks the suffocating silence. “‘Bout 1.5 or so in; all clear here.” She hums her understanding, marking their position as they take it in.

This isn’t where they came in, because nothing looks familiar—a stretch of streets and buildings unlike any they vaguely remember on their journey to Yuuei, darkness and attention paid elsewhere only adding to the muddled memories. “Hey Ochako, are we gonna find anything out here?” Hanta’s question leaves them all in common understanding, is there even anything left?

Ochako hesitates before the answer comes to her. “Probably not, ” she pauses and they wait for the blow of an answer they know is coming, “if it hasn’t already been taken, it’s lost by circumstance or time.”

Great, because time hasn’t taken enough from them, right?

What’s the fucking point, he wants to ask but doesn’t. Because he knows why, and despite how endless of a battle it really is, it’s a fight they have to fight whether they want to or not. Survival is a game that waits for no one to play. “This particular spot hasn’t been hit yet, so we could get lucky.” Fat chance, a false hope and they all know it, but it keeps them moving forward because, while whatever they find (or don’t) might not be needed right this second, Yuuei houses an abundance and it’ll be needed sooner rather than later. They hope to find something, anything in this long since abandoned waste land, but hopes fall into the pit of their stomach and bile rises.

Because it smells like death, decay and other disgusting shit.

They’re cautious as they make their way down the street of an unknown district, reaching in their bags for something to guard from the stench. When they find their designated mark, roughly two clicks in, their hands are firm on their weapons, eyes sharp and nerves set. “Bogie, three o’clock,” they hear Denki call out damn near immediately and of their herringbone, he and Hanta take guard to the right, weapons trained, all others close behind. There’s a pause on all ends as they wait. They don’t fire just yet and it doesn’t move at all, sufficient time passing before they realize it’s not going to move.

“Corpse,” Hanta breathes through a cloth, muffled but coherent and their weapons lower a fraction of an inch. Step after step they move along, ignoring just now mounded the corpse is as they pass the narrow avenue, and pushing out of mind just how many there are. “Ambush?” Denki questions the obvious, because it’s not undead piled high and rotting away they find, but bodies of those spared the nightmare that is a full turn—fate still deciding something of equal stature should come to them all the same, albeit less painful, or so they hope.

“Maybe,” Eijirou is thankful for the rag that separates stench from senses as he inhales, “don’t see any bags or weapons around. Survivors?”

Well, obviously not.

“Doesn’t matter,” Katsuki turns, pivoting on his heel, forward and trained on multiple rows and avenues, “I’m not sticking around in this hell hole to find out.” Because it doesn’t matter who they were, how they got there or how they met their end—they’re dead, and there’s not shit they could do for them now anyway.

 

xXx

 

They find little to nothing, and they aren’t at all surprised.

Like Ochako warned, buildings are run down, time having lapsed over anything of value and circumstance toppling over whatever was left.

They split into two groups in every building they search, more ground covered in a shorter amount of time, they decide. It’s not without its risks, paramount and Katsuki half expects her of all people to object the second he relays it to his cell, but she remains impossibly quiet and lets him lead, even though he knows she’s bothered by it, in whatever sense of the word. It unnerves him, her silence and reluctance, because it’s not at all the fire that rises against his own, but in front of him lie more pressing matters so he pushes it to the side and leads.

Katsuki splits with Denki and Hanta, leaving Mina with Eijirou and she promises they’ll be careful and with the line always open before they part for their search. He’s not sure who she meant to reassure, him or her, but he hesitates before he takes a step in the opposite direction. They’ll be fine, they got this, and it’s the only way he can keep moving.

Hopes are raised early on when Denki crosses a decently stocked shelf a few minutes in, abundant with boxes of what could be considered useful items and he rushes towards them, almost neglectful of the sound he makes as he stumbles on. As he scans the covers of the boxes, some names scratch at the back of his mind in fleeting recognition while others call to him because he knows them. Holy shit what a find!

But they are of no use to him, to anyone in the end—he fingers the cardboard and notices their weight, empty, long since rummages through and he doubts there’s anything left behind. Denki tosses a handful to the side, “Guess this place was hit after all.”

But he doesn’t hear how they hit the floor.

“Maybe.” Hanta moves past him as he reaches for the discarded items because he hears it, and when they both look to him questioning, he holds in the air a small token that instantly reignites Denki’s spark.

A single foiled square of unopened pain reliever.

“Guess we got lucky, Round Face.” Katsuki secures the find in his bag when he radios the find, a small pocket to the front and when he turns back to them, he’s trapped under a look two parts knowing and surprised from each of them. No one moves and only when his glare shoots through them do their eyes stray towards anything but him. “Check ‘em all.” He doesn’t join them in their search and they don’t expect him to, because he’s needed on their six and the last thing anyone wants is for them to get ambushed under the high of a potential find.  

An hour and four buildings later, Mina stumbles upon a few boxes of opened bandages and fewer than ideal cans of something at least halfway edible. “Score,” she breathes and she knows she’s heard, if the soft sound of praise that flows through the comm is anything to go by. Mina looks behind her in search of Eijirou and when he’s not there she’s not all that surprised, shuffling feet and grumbles of nothing found only a few aisles from her position.

The distance between her and the find is, in all actuality, not that far but she knows anything can happen; the building isn’t thoroughly checked, her fingers dancing over the trigger even in her calm. It’ll be fine, she decides , a quick dash and retrieve, and back to Eijirou she goes.

In the time it takes her to reach for the items, she is ignorant to her surroundings, if only for that small moment. Her hand retracts just as one reaches for her, and it’s not long before she’s cornered by a rogue undead with, thankfully, nowhere near the speed and stamina one normally has. Its barely alive, all things considered, silent and brooding. It is brought to its knees before it even makes a sound,

Two shots is all it takes.

She’s barely able to take a breath, settle the nerves that spiked by encounter before Eijirou whirls around the corner, eyes plagued with fear and a hairpin away from firing. She can’t get a word in edgewise before the other three barrel through the door, weapons at the ready and their names pulling from Katsuki’s lips. “We’re good, man,” but it’s not all that convincing with the way his voice strains at the end because, like Katsuki he’s sure, he feared the worst to come.

Mina collects the items, worth two bullets and an insurmountable worry and holds them above her head in triumph. They close in on her, and she can feel the tension that builds on their shoulders, the concern, the terror and there’s nothing she can do but smile. Katsuki is affected by it the most, silent but still, it’s enough to placate them, and that’s all that matters. “Ochako, mark this building, yeah?”

“Yeah, just—” she doesn’t continue her thought, leaving them to guess, paused in a less than ideal situation on the off chance her words hold merit. “Spit it out already,” Katsuki coaxes, eyes still scanning their surroundings because if one was here ...

“Just—just keep on your toes.”

Obviously.

Still, there’s something calculating in the way she says it, muddled in worry and something he can’t quite place and it makes their skin crawl. “If there’s anything else in the near vicinity, that double tap let them know you’re there.” An afterthought, but they knew it. Anything with ears, proper functioning or not, heard those shots. Time is not on their side, as if it ever was, and Katsuki knows one of two things will happen.

One, let's say these fuckers are dumber than a box of rocks. He would take the blow to his ego and perception because that means he was wrong and, as he plays their chances through his mind, he hopes for it even because that means they have a shot—minimum fighting, minimum shooting and less a chance of being heard and hunted makes for a silver lining.

His eyes fall to the window of their current position and he bites his tongue. It’s getting late , evident in the way the sun falls to the side, still light and bright, but fading fast. Better coverage sure, but if they linger and lose the light, doesn’t matter how incapable their opponents are because they have circumstance on their side.

Or two, I was right and we are totally fucked. A worst case scenario that would simultaneously prove his theory and, in the end if they can’t wiggle out, get them killed. He grips his weapon tight, whirling towards the window, barrel pointed straight. They all follow suit behind him. “Hear something?” He doesn’t, didn’t, but he cant find his voice to calm their nerves so win sparse guilt, he leaves them to fester.

There’s a chance they could be surrounded, and if by some miracle they aren’t already (because there’s been a good lapse in time since the shots rang), they will be soon. This gives them little time to act and less time to plan. He doesn’t know this building, this area, doubts even that anyone in his cell does but he knows they do. They linger, shuffled steps and aimless wandering in this space; it’s theirs, paths they know if not by memory than muscle movement and the thought alone puts them at a severe disadvantage.

It’s also banking on the assumption there are more there.

Either way, luck is not on their side.

“What’s the move, Round Face.” He can feel all eyes on him but doesn’t meet the questioning glances (and probably unhinged jaws touching the floor) because he remains locked onto their front, hoping to whatever deity exists in a world where every turn is another way to get fucked that it’ll all be okay. “O—oh?” The way she pauses with shock shouldn’t bother him as much as it does, because do you really think I can’t put my ego to the side in a fucked up situation? He ignores the images of the bank as they race past his vision because that’s not the same.

“Bakugou, can we get out of here?” Mina whispers to him and apprehension veins through him because it’s too damn familiar. He sees it just as it rounds the corner, nose pointed upward, searching for something. Multiple somethings. Somethings that, while it has yet to become aware of them, they are very aware of it. Eijirou takes a step forward, ready to fire. “I’m gonna shoot it.” No one comments on the way his weapon shakes.

Katsuki doesn’t move, doesn’t speak, doesn’t stop him and whether it’s because he can’t or won’t he’s not sure, but when Ochako finally breaks the silence he can’t ignore the way it feels when everything doesn’t fall on his shoulders alone and, if just this once, he’s more than fine with it.

“Wait—” she doesn’t shout, but in dead silence there isn’t much difference. “Just… don’t shoot, not yet.” It takes her a minute before she speaks again, leaving them wound tight with no way to release. In that time, one undead passes and it’s only moments before another one appears. “Shit,” he hears Hanta say and Katsuki couldn’t agree more. “What’s the move,” he breathes again and this time, she’s ready.

“Blitzkrieg.”

“The fuck?”

Ochako’s quiet again, quiet enough that Katsuki hears how Eijirou is still trembling despite his efforts to hide it, how Denki’s breath comes out in quick, shortened bursts and he fears if he looks back, he’ll see the same look in Mina’s eyes from a few days ago. If she doesn’t say something soon…

“Blitzkrieg is the move.”

He thinks she’s joking and almost wants to laugh, but she’s not. “Wha he doesn’t finish his sentence because he can’t , tongue held down by astonishment alone, never mind how she goes on to explain. “Blitzkrieg is wh

“I know what the fuck it is,” because some time or another, back when the world made an inkling of sense, he’s read a damn history book, “what the hell makes you think that’ll work?” He shouldn’t be this worked up; if he was asked why, he’s not sure he’d even have an answer and would bite his tongue till it hurt. Regret threatens to rear its ugly head because he doesn’t know why he gave the reigns to her when he knew he should have taken lead. He can’t take it back though, not when there’s so much to lose if he does.

So he waits for one of a number of possible responses he would be faced with—she shuts down on them and lets him rightfully lead, she fights with the same fire that rages wildly in him until he backs down from lack of time alone, they collide and only when it’s at the last possible second do they let up because if they don’t, someone will die. Instead she is careful, treads lightly in the way she answers, not backing down but not lashing out. He expected many things.

This was not one of them.

“By my count we’re at two and there’s never just two.” He knows this, she knows he knows this. “You’re surrounded, or damn near close to it by now.” He knows this too, and it only serves to prove the point when another undead passes his line of sight, searching. “Fuck,” Eijirou whines; Katsuki thinks he might just lose it soon.

“We don’t know how many there are and they don’t seem to have noticed you guys just yet,” a blessing in disguise really, when it’s thought about it, “so you’re,” she hesitates, “you’re not cornered.” He sinks by the words alone. She’s not blaming him, they’re passed that point, but it still hurts, the wound still fresh. He sees why she hesitated and in some odd handed way, he’s thankful for the soft blow to his pride. “But they’ve drawn a line; you need to break it.”

He almost wonders if she’s talking about the undead anymore.

Her voice is soft; she doesn’t coddle him like a naive child, much like he realizes he treats her (hostility aside) and a part of him knows this, appreciates it even but all he hears is you’ve had your chance once and blew it and it does nothing to quell his surfacing anger. She’s not here, she doesn’t fucking know and how could she? She’s never once been faced with the shit he has, or so he thinks until he replays multiple accounts where she’s proven him so very wrong. Still…

“That’ll draw even more attention our way and we don’t know this shit hole like they clearly fucking do.” He tries so hard to keep his voice level because they’re likely to be found otherwise but fuck, does she make it hard. “If we are surrounded,” and he has a sneaking suspicion they are, if the slowly increasing number of undead are anything to go by, “you’re gonna get us cornered or worse.”  

Grounded. But he doesn’t say it. He can’t. So when she takes a deep breath, rebuttal on her tongue, he’s ready for a fight. “Just—just trust me, okay?”

The only sound is the scraping of feet from the outside, an occasional groan here and there.

There is a distinct air of confidence in the way she asks him to do everything short of drop all suspicion and take her word for it, but it’s muddled in with what he knows first hand is uncertainty, in only a way she is capable of. She doesn’t press the issue, despite knowing time is not on their side, because she knows the gravity of what she’s asking. She hasn’t lied to them, or at least not on an occasion he can recall, but she hasn’t been forthcoming either.

The only faith he has in any word of hers is that she will do what she can to keep them safe, so many words never spoken but they aren’t needed because she’s proved it already, in more ways than one. He remembers the care she took to burden the pain so they could breathe on their own, the way she pushed her needs aside to cater to theirs individually, much like he realizes she is doing right now.

He remembers how she held onto him that night even when he tried to push her away.

She asks him to trust her, and a part of him wants to because no matter how much he fights, he knows she deserves at least that, but it’s the part of him that finds safety in familiarity—behind walls, facades, stone faces and iced eyes that keeps him on guard, muscles tense, and jaw tightened. His head snaps up when he feels a firm grasp on his shoulder and he’s thankful for what (albeit little) restraint he has.

He’s met with a reassuring squeeze and a firm nod. Trust your gut, Eijirou mouths, because so far it has yet to steer them wrong (sure he’s fumbled them off track a few times but every path has detours they always argue). His cell stands, resolute and in waiting whether for his orders or hers because they’ve already decided; she’s more than earned their trust and if it comes down to it, they’ll follow her word.

So why can’t he, if only this once?

“What do we do?” She’s taken off guard, he can tell, because at first she doesn’t quite know how to respond, mumbling over what would have been a surefire answer had he not veered her off track, a subtle win for him he decides. “Holder your AR’s and tighten them down with anything you’ve got; draw your small arms instead.”

They do as told, pushing back the feeling of vulnerability that claws at their newfound burst of courage. Doubled mobility he admits but limited shots if shit goes to shit. Depending on the situation, it can go either way and he hopes to god she accounts for it. “It’ll get close, but tighten your herringbone and don’t break ranks.”

It takes a moment, but he sees what she’s doing and he thinks, if executed right, it might actually work . There’s flaws sure, every plan has them and the more she directs and positions them, the more he thinks she’s already acutely aware they exist and he will never admit it out loud, but her plan has years of experience and potential on his. 

It bares the question of just what exactly she hides from them.

On my signal, run like your life depends on it.” Laughable because it does and when she finally tells them to, just as an undead circles away from sight, they do. 

 

xXx

 

Ochako takes her time heading towards the gate.

Her feet take her along the path she knows well, where once, just a few short days ago, she couldn’t get to doors quick enough, to them quick enough. Today she breathes in the air, stagnant but full of the same smells she’s so used to smelling. She lets the sun set in the distance and takes time to admire the colors as they slowly begin to fade. When she passes someone, she is able to maneuver instead of barreling through and excuses herself when the need arises.

“No fire today?” This time, when she laughs, it’s real. “Not today, Shouto.” Granted they could have come close, but on all accounts she chalks today up as a win. Perhaps a celebration is in order tonight. “They even scavenged a bit on this run.” His steps fall into sync with hers as they make their way towards the gate, where he knows she will wait until they cross the threshold. Her cell or theirs, she always did.

“They make it out okay?” Despite her chipper disposition, he figures he’d ask knowing how well she can hold it together if only for everyone else. “They did.” Her eyes lose a bit of their shine, he notices. Ochako relents. “It—could have been a lot worse.”

“Ambush?”

“Cage in.”

She doesn’t elaborate and he doesn’t push her to, instead filling the silence with his presence, giving her something to cling to when it feels as though it’ll swallow her. “Remember my second or third run with the cell? The scavenge in that little risky dink town on the far crevice of Yuuei?” Shouto hums, the image of that day as clear as it always is—as they all are. “It was kind of like that.” Shouto stills and she doesn’t miss it. “I thought you said—”

“We didn’t lose anyone,” she reassured because she knows that’s where his thoughts were headed, “but we could have.”

“Doubt that.”

Her head snaps in his direction, one brow raised and a question on her tongue. “Just because you won't let them in doesn’t mean I don’t know about what you’re truly capable of.”  The metal creaks and the gate begins to open, the sound rattling the confines but it does nothing to rip her eyes from him. “There’s always that chance,” he’s not so naive as to think otherwise and hopes she knows that, “but I also know if you can prevent it, you will.”

“But I couldn’t b—”

“That’s the past.” She can tell it hurts him to say, sees it even in the way his expression molds firmly into indifference and his eyes force themselves forward. She’s not surprised; it hurts her to think about it, even to this day and expects no less from him, alongside an anger that should be there, aimed at her but never is. “Don’t you think it’s time to let it go and focus on the future?”

His words sting even when they aren’t meant to and he realizes it a fraction of a second too late. But she understands, and he knows she does, because she looks towards the gate just as it opens entirely and when her cell crosses through, together and alive because of what she did, she lightens the load that weighs down her frame. “Sure,” she reaches for his hand and squeezes, pouring every ounce of thanks and appreciation she can into the small gesture before she lets him go, “but only when you do.”

Ochako skips ahead, melancholic smile made whole when half of her cell races towards her with merriment on their expressions and laughter on their lips. Shouto watches from the sidelines how she pushes aside her own pain and woes that exist even now because right this moment they need the part of her that is all about them and the part of her she is willing to give. “Right,” he chuckles and makes his way to fall to her side again.

She won’t drop it, won’t let it go just like he won’t.

Because like her, he can’t.

Chapter Text

“Okay, okay, I got one.” It takes a solid minute before the laughter dies down, tears brimming and cheeks sore from the way they smile just a bit too hard. It’s times like these Ochako cherishes most; moments where, if only for those few short hours, they are free, living—everything is normal.

Here they are, surrounding a campfire among campfires surrounding them, something sweet and spicy in hand (a rare delicacy these days saved especially for times like this), lips saturated in mirth. It starts with what’s your favourite color, a simple enough question that even she finds easy enough to share and it grows—a favourite food, favourite singer of the good ol’ days, favourite past time. Laughter; so, so much of it.

She’s not quite sure how it came to this, the here and now where she sits among friends, her cell (both new and old, Shouto perched at her side) sharing what was once little mundane facts of her life that seem so far away but so important now. She doesn’t question it either.

It’s too precious to let slip through her fingers.

“What did you want to be when you grew up?” Hanta waits expectedly for the first response, no matter from who it comes because it’s all in good fun. They take their time, fondling through past memories until it’s beneath the tips of their fingers. In hand, they pull hard.

“Construction worker,” Eijirou takes a drink, letting it burn down his throat as he gathers his thoughts, “seemed fun once upon a time, creating something unbreakable.” They don’t miss how his eyes wander to the walls, the buildings that are their landscape, dragging over every crack that seems to spread and every chunk of concrete that is found separated from the structure as time continues to beat against it. When a piece falls in the distance, tumbling over itself in remote silence, he sighs. “Damn near, anyway.”

“Yeah, I could definitely see that in you.” They all could, because those dreams weren’t so far away once. “What about you, Mina?” A sole finger finds its way to her chin and she muses. “I remember wanting to be a chemist.”

“Wait, seriously?”

“Always the tone of surprise, Denki.” Mina chuckles, a smile pulling at her lips, “it came naturally to me; science, math, compounds. All that jazz.” It’s not long before it fades into something a bit more melancholic. “Come to think of it, had things worked out differently, I could have helped find a cure for this shitstorm.” Ochako knows there was no way of knowing and hopes Mina knows that too.

She beats herself down as she lets the words sink in, like they all do in some way, the constant what if that nags them all— what if I would have known before, could I have done something? What if there was a way to prevent it, would there have been a chance? What if. What if.

For a moment, no one says a word. What is there to say? It’s something that chases after them all no matter how far they run and while they want to console her, make her see its not her fault, could never have been her fault, they can’t. Gestures mean nothing and, in the end, change nothing. Words are fleeting, dry on their tongue.

“You still could.”

There is a hope in every eye that swims in silent despair, a fleeting spark that challenges the dark when they look at Shouto, ever calm and composed as the words tumble from his mouth with ease. There’s no pity in what he says, no sense of coddling in the way he says it. There is just fact, fueled by the same what if that threatens to bury them, only what if later.

“I could.” The gears start to turn, the hope that was merely a flicker roars in the light of the fire and Ochako knows that one day, when the world makes a little more sense, Mina could. “What about you Denki? What did you want to be?” There is mischief in his eyes, a dangerous curve to his lips and Ochako wonders just what can turn his expression in such a way. “Electrician.” Oh, okay then.

Hanta laughs. “Because getting shocked as a kid wasn’t enough for you?” There is a story behind this, one with no shortage of jokes made on Denki’s behalf she’s sure and one she finds herself itching to know. Ochako turns, ready to interrogate with a certain air of devilry that would impress Satan himself, but when she sees the abject horror that paints itself across his face, she buries the question before it had a chance to breathe. “I told you that in confidence you asshole!”

“Wait, seriously?!”

It shouldn’t be this funny, and a part of her feels guilty for laughing, but she can’t stop because it’s so innocent, and pure, and light. It’s everything that should be more common but isn’t and it spreads like wildfire, circling her until everyone joins in, Denki’s included. It rings, high pitches and melodic and when he walks right by, Ochako doesn’t notice. “Hey, Bakugou!” Mina breaks through the laughter and all eyes find him in an instant, “come join us!”

“Hard pass.” The answer comes without a beat missed, not so much as a glance in their direction and monotone, as if it’s much too common the way he functions on autopilot. It stings, much more than normal and for far more than just her, she notices. “Come on dude, get over yourself for once and do this for us.” No one is prepared, least of all, Katsuki.

Perhaps liquid courage was a bit too encouraging this time around, but when she stares incredulously at Eijirou, suddenly she doubts it. This has been a long time coming, and she wonders idly just how long it’s taken—a hardening in Eijirou’s eyes, direct and cold that has no earthly right existing in him penetrating the ice that is held in Katsuki’s equally direct glare.

Emotion finds him where it once lacked, a climbing irritation, one she knows having existing under its direct line of fire once before and it’s their meeting all over again, only it’s not.

It’s much worse.

She’s anxious; it starts in her stomach, apprehension and dread and it veins through her. When he turns, surprised and so, so pissed, she has to look away. “Back off shitty hair.” Ochako knows where this is going. She has to stop it. “He doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want to.” Her voice is small in comparison, even to her and saturated in something unlike the fire that has the tendency to burn within her.

Katsuki heard her though, surprised and for a moment his eyes find her and she feels it. Ochako is too warm. It has nothing to do with the fire. 

“Or what?” Eijirou stands, knees locked and rearing for a fight, “going to cut your losses and move on like the lone wolf you think you are?” He’s angry; it shows in the way his fingers curl and tremble at his side, how his voice rising high above the crackle of the fire. Or is it, Ochako wonders, grief, pain, something infinitely worse. “Eijirou, chill out man.” Hanta tries, because he sees the step Katsuki takes, they all do—calculated, timed, violent . ”Yeah, Ei, let hi—”

“What happens when you miss the chance, huh? What happens when you’re left with no one because you couldn’t be bothered to even fucking try!”

“Fuck you, Kirishima!”

It has to stop.

And for the briefest of moments, it does. They are rooted where they are, transfixed with no shortage of reasons—the punch one word away from being thrown that leads to a break no one needs, the words that linger between them with so much sadness and hurt but at the same time so much truth or, and perhaps above all else, Katsuki using his name (albeit his last) , despite how much hatred is clinging to it because he never does.

Ochako lets her eyes trace both Katsuki and Eijirou and there’s too much silence between them, to much brewing. She looks to Shouto, who is as silent as the rest and he offers her a glance. She’s quick to realize he’s in the same position as her—not her place to say anything, not the time. So, like everyone else, she remains quiet.

Because, in the light of it all, there is nothing to say. Or at least, nothing that would douse the flame and smother it without the chance of being burned.

It’s true, every last word and Katsuki knows this, but his reasons are true to him, regardless if they’re understood by anyone else. But he doesn’t tell them, he can’t, because there’s too much anger fueling too many blind thoughts and too much he could do to make sure that Eijirou knows how right he is. He could walk away; he’s good at that. “It doesn’t have to be everyone man.”

But he also can’t let it go.

Katsuki takes another step and the fire isn’t needed to see just how his eyes burn brighter than it ever could, scarlet and dangerous. Ochako looks to Shouto pleading, Mina to Denki, Hanta to Eijirou who remains firm against Katsuki. There's maybe a split second before everything goes to hell, rivalling outside the stone walls in which they’re kept.

Shouto stands, between them in an instant, a barrier in only a way he can be. Ochako fears it’s not enough because he doesn’t know. But she does. “Let’s just—” 

“Astronomer!”

She didn’t mean to yell, it just came out and too many eyes are on her whether for that reason or another. She feels every single one though, curious, shocked, mixed with something else she was not prepared for. Ochako  fiddles her fingers in her lap, nervous, because this is it, albeit unintentional—she’s opened the door she never wanted to. It’s too personal, too close to her chest, too much.

But the fighting has stopped, so she can’t turn back now.

I…” she takes a deep breathe, finding her voice, “I wanted to be an astronomer.” Ochako closes her eyes, diving head first into the swarm of memories to drag this from the depths and on the way she sees it all—her childhood, her home, her family, everything. Shouto finds his seat, abandoning what is left of the fight to instead place a hand on hers because he notices how her fingers dig into one another, half moons left on the surface of her skin by her nails. He also notices how Katsuki’s eyes tear from her to him, unreadable, but says nothing.

“I have this fascination with the stars, the sky, the idea that there’s something more out there; that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.” Ochako isn't sure anyone is listening, doesn’t know why the words are falling from her mouth but she knows it’s keeping them all grounded, distracted if nothing else despite how she no longer can touch the ground.

The memory has her hollow, weightless because it was a time not so long ago but still so far away, buried beneath death, decay and a whole lot of other shit. She takes a shaky breath, eyes still shut but the weight of his hand is on hers and she feels it, how it anchors her giving her something to hold onto until she’s grounded again.

“When I was old enough, I started studying everything I could about space—theories, facts, fiction.” She remembers a time where she would dress up as various stars because stars mom, get it? It’s punny, and while it brings a smile to her face, she casually leaves this out. “There was never a time you couldn’t catch me looking to the sky; I used to every second I could.” Ochako opens her eyes.

When did he sit down?

He’s there, across from her and next to Eijirou (which she suspects is equally surprised even though he remains focused on her) and his stare is intense. Ochako recalls a time being trapped beneath crimson and remembers it well, rendered breathless because it’s different this time; warm, sincere, curious.

Ochako finds her footing, held down by him and she taps the top of Shouto’s hand because it’s okay, I got this. So he lets her go. “My parents often told me I had my head in the clouds,” it’s the first time she’s mentioned them aloud and she winces, “my friends did too. I guess they were right, you know?”

“Did you ever want to go into space?” Mina has her thinking for a brief second and a smile eventually finds her face. “Maybe once? It definitely would have been cool.”

“Did you have a favourite star?” Denki tries and when she answers, his smile is just as bright. “Favourite nebula?” Another answer. And so they come, one after another, firing at a rate she can barely keep to but every question is satisfied with an answer and Ochako muses, maybe it’s not so bad. If anything, the smiles that come with her giving them an inch is worth the pain of dredging up memories of long forgotten dreams.

“Why’d you stop.”

She’s taken back, his tone two parts accusing and monotonous and she pauses, debating if this will be the one question she refuses, if only because of the way he asks. When her eyes meet his, she expects the same look she’s always given—one that drives her away to find comfort in anything else, only its not there. Ochako can’t look away, doesn’t want to even but something scratches at the back of her mind and pulls her brows in. “What?” She never stopped answering?

“You used to, right?” Oh, that. Well, yes, often in fact. But how would he know? Ochako pauses, rummaging through lasting words until she finds where she sprinkled in the sparse information that gave her away, albeit unintentionally, cursing because it's there in the open but in awe because wait, he was actually listening? She sits, silent, words lost to her and she only breathes because his voice is too soft, cuts too deep through her defenses. “Why’d you stop?”

Because she’s not a child anymore. Because it’s too painful. Because it cost her everything, once. She harbors it all, instead gathering her knees in her arms as she rests her head on top. It takes her a moment before she answers and the truth of it all hurts as much as the words do. “Having your head in the clouds stops you from seeing what’s in front of you.”

He would understand, because he once accused her of the same thing, in so many words.

Katsuki flinches but does nothing, silent and trained on her. She knows he sees how her eyes dull as they get lost behind her bangs, how she curls in, how the smile she puts on when the stares become too much is nothing short of a false imitation of the one she’s capable. Everyone can see it, but she does little to hide it; she’s bare, vulnerable and if only for this once, she’ll let it be known she’s human, capable of something other than the facade she puts on despite how well she does it. “Ochako, wh—”

“Shouto,” he casts a shadow over their flame as he looks to his left, “Ochako.” His greeting is stern, friendly enough and it tears her eyes from the ground, and everyone else’s to him. She sees from the corner how they tense in his presence, how Katsuki pulls himself forward when the rest of them fall back; he’s ready for a fight if it comes down to it, for any given reason. But there is no threat.

Only a familiar face, for her at least. Though unfamiliar is the AR strapped to his back at this hour, secured on broad shoulders and in his hand, one that mirrors. “Tenya.” Shouto stands, reaching for the free weapon when handed and it’s only then she realizes he’s gearing to leave. “Wait, where are you going?”

And why, for the love of sanity, at this hour? 

“Night run.” Ochako looks at him with a look they’re both too familiar one of concern, trepidation and on her tongue a quip that, if nothing else, will guilt them into doing anything but. It’s not that she thinks them incapability (knowing first hand just how capable they are), but fear demands she try and Shouto knows this all too well. “There’s something that was brought to light that needs looking into.” His eyes find Katsuki and while she misses it, he doesn’t.

“On whose guard?”

“Aizawa himself.”

Tenya hopes this will placate her, but somehow knows better when she takes a step forward, fingers twitching at her side as if reaching without distance. Shouto reaches for her shoulder, calming intent because he sees it too. “I’ll be fine,” he starts, and it does nothing to ease the tension in her shoulders, “Tenya’s on my 9, remember?” He says this with the hope she won’t force herself along, for the sake of old times, when she’s found peace (however forced) with the past because of her present.

And this she sees as clear as the weapon in his hand.

“Who’s on your 3?” Bold as ever, venom on her tongue.

“Asui.” Just as quick, calculated and concise.

Offense rents where common sense should be, because she is his three, always has been his three and, when put to reasoning, it makes sense that she would be replaced because she made it so. She couldn’t handle repeating the past so she took the chance to not let it fall in her lap again.

Ochako doesn’t blame him, but she also can’t help the rage that bubbles beneath her skin, justified reasoning be damned. “Well who's—” On your six, but this, she does not finish.

Because the words die on her tongue the minute his eyes harden, the part of him that she knows exists even still (despite how it all but died alongside him) pushing aside his more calm nature and she’s afraid.  Not for herself, Shouto would never, but of the anger she knows he harbours—the anger that, after all this time, still has yet to find her. It’s coming; and the longer she waits for it, the less she thinks she’ll survive it in the end.

“Trio...” She can tell it hurts him to say, that perhaps he was thinking the very same thing. Shouto struggles to find his wording and Ochako wishes someone would say something, anything, to fill the silence that surrounds them . The air is too thick, too hot, too hard to breathe in and it’s all over again that she loses what confidence she has, unraveling as she feels every eye on her.

When Tenya steps in, they both are silently thankful.

“We will be good hands, Ochako.” She never once doubted this, but she doesn’t trust herself to speak, so instead nods. Shouto offers her a small smile, one that she can’t return and he leaves her to stand alone, following Tenya closely.

Minutes pass and she’s still there, still standing and still staring at the space Shouto leaves behind and no one says a word, leaving her with shaky breathes, fisted hands and drowning thoughts. What if something happens and i’m not there? What if three isn’t enough? What if they don’t come back? Is that my fault for not trying hard enough? What if—  

“Demolition.”  

Definitely not her train of thinking, but it effectively derails every negative thought nonetheless. Ochako turns just a bit too quick, because there’s no way I heard that right. But she isn’t wrong; his eyes are still trained on her, as if waiting for her to realize that yes, he said it because yes, he sees her fighting and no, he doesn’t know about what but he’ll be damned if she fights it and loses. “What?”

Katsuki squints, annoyed, because you heard me the first fucking time. But it’s not only her that looks at him with something akin to shock and awe he realizes, but every part of his cell—those who know this story and those who don’t, who eagerly wait for him to finish.

He has a mind to leave it alone, let the word linger and let them fester just because he can, a devious smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. But then he sees her and the way she hangs on his word, hoping she’s not wrong despite knowing she’s not. Katsuki caves. “When I was a runt, I wanted to do demolition.”

Ochako smiles, and he looks away.

It’s the first of anything she’s learned from him willingly, aside from what she already knows—brash behavioural tendencies and his ability to be prone to unfiltered anger though, astonishingly, never fully controlled by it. He is a puzzle; she’s said this before, but it’s the first piece she’s received from open palms and, she notes with unbridled satisfaction, the first wall to go down.

“That’s right,” Eijirou starts, mischief in his eyes and Katsuki can already feel the payback coming, “I seem to recall you were gonna destroy shit and I was gonna rebuild it.” She giggles, hand over her mouth in a poor attempt at hiding it but it breaks through. They all follow suit and rose finds his cheeks too easily. He’s exposed; stripped of his shield and tossed into the fire to burn of embarrassment all because he was an asshole and Eijirou decided to grow a set tonight of all nights.

Katsuki smacks him, pure reflex he would swear when asked later on, but doesn’t deny it in the end. He deserves this; even he can admit he’s been an ass (though never out loud, he would never give them the satisfaction) and he will take it as it comes, begrudgingly. At least she stopped fucking fidgeting , noting distantly how she finally took a seat because for whatever reason and above all else that is what bothered him the most.

But then she stops laughing, abrupt and crestfallen and veiled concern finds him all over again.

“So let me get this straight.” Ochako pauses, gathering her thoughts and leaves them on edge, until her hand raises and she points one finger in his direction. “Demolition.” She says it so matter of fact, like it’s the most obvious profession in the world that he could have chosen then or now and it pins him to his seat. She follows the line, “construction, chemist, electrician.” Her finger stops on Hanta and she waits with a question in her eyes. “The medical field, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

Ochako nods—it was.

“Astronomer.” She points to herself, then nothing. He waits, like the rest with bated breath because she has a point clearly and still nothing. She’s done little more than state what’s now the obvious and Katsuki has half a mind to tell her to get on with it already, but he doesn’t. Instead he watches her as her hands fidget in her lap, nails digging beneath nails and raking against skin, eying the flame hard enough to stare straight through it.

He’s bothered again but lets her be. Because what would it look like for him to snatch her hands away, separated and confined, to anyone who didn’t understand why it is bothering him so damn much that she’s doing it. He doesn’t even know why, and chooses valiantly to ignore that realisation. “Hey, ochako?” Mina tries and he realizes he’s not the only one concerned, albeit for a different reason he thinks.

“We could rebuild the world.”

It’s just above the hum of a whisper, barely audible over the crackle of the flame and goes nearly missed. Katsuki clicks his tongue, ready to drag the words out of her because what are you going on about, Round Face, but he’s taken back, breathless when she finally looks up.  

“We could rebuild the world.” She’s heard this time, her voice stronger, louder, as if the knowledge she has now proves that without a sliver of a doubt, they could actually do it. Ochako looks to each of them, challenging. “Destroy everything,” she begins with Katsuki, bold in how she almost dares him to do so, “put it back together again.” Eijirou’s grin is face splitting, nearly taking him down with the whites of his teeth—or with the loud as fuck slap on the back that has him tumbling forward, probably.

“Light it all,” Denki interrupts with a resounding hell yeah and when she keeps going, Katsuki wonders if anything could stop her, “patch it up.” Her eyes, always soft and warm, are harder than he’s ever seen before. “Keep it from happening again.”

She never includes herself, something he notices almost immediately but he doesn’t ask why because, for what he comes to realize is the first time in a long time, she looks to the sky.

It takes his breath away.

Briefly, Katsuki imagine a small girl; face just as round and eyes just as bright; a dreamer, who wants nothing more than to reach what can’t be reached. He imagines a girl who palms for the stars, if only to use them as a stepping stone to grab onto what lies even further beyond. He sees her, as she is now and, despite how hard he tried and everything he threw in her way, how she still managed to reach him.

He steps over the already blurred line.

He can’t look away, doesn’t want to and he doesn’t care that everyone is staring at him, questioning, teasing and god only knows what else. His only saving grace is that she doesn’t notice, drawn to whatever it is that calls to her because even he can’t justify why she holds him so intensely. “We could rebuild the world,” Ochako says for the third time as she smiles, eyes tore from the night sky and brought back to reality, finding him with ease.

And for the first time, Katsuki believes her.

Chapter Text

Successes like these are far and few.

Miles are logged, new areas discovered and turned over, even a few supplies found scavenged. There was minimal undead roaming the streets, the few that grew bold shot down with one to the chest and one to the head and with ease they carried on. Most importantly, no casualties. Not even a close call.

There should be more of this, Katsuki thinks as they make their way back, eyes roaming across the terrain in wait for anything to show itself. It’s been a smooth run thus far but that doesn’t mean it’s over; it’s far from that. His cell’s steps are lighter, more confident, more pronounced. They’ve grown into their own, each and every one of them can defend and attack on queue and he’s so immensely proud, in silence.

But his steps are heavy.

A itch in the back of his mind formed as they prepared to leave the compound, unconcerning at first. Still, Katsuki runs down a mental checklist as they cross the gate’s threshold, for good measure he decides because scratching does nothing to make it subside—

Weapons. He tightens the grip on his own for good measure, eyes glancing to his side where his firearm rests comfortably, check.  

Supplies. He jostles a bit when he takes a step—water sloshes in a closed container somewhere in the depths of his bag, spare bullets shuffle, a few snacks he remembers tossing in probably buried beneath it all, check.

Idiots, he doesn’t bother to turn, not when each of their voices stands out against the monotonous hum of the wasteland stretched before them. Each fall in line, their go-to herringbone, their enthusiasm damn near smothering him, fucking check.

She’s quiet though, and he idly muses that this is the feeling wracking his brain.

But the itch never faded. If anything it grows as they continue their run, smooth sailing and too fucking easy as it is and some rational part of him in the depths of his mind convinced that something is not right but what?

Well, he has no fucking clue.

“There’s the wall,” Mina starts, an extra pep in her step as she hangs on Katsuki, “we’re almost home.” He brushes her off and she laughs, falling in line once again. “Yeah.” If she notices his less than enthusiastic answer, she doesn’t mention it but he doesn’t think she does, mind wandered within seconds. 

Katsuki turns and when he sees nothing out of the ordinary (or rather, nothing that warrants this unease that plagues him), he sighs. Everything is as it should be—Mina is right behind him, as she always is, Eijirou to her right and Denki to her left, Hanta in the rear casting glances behind him every now and again. They’re conversing, small talk but still alert, always alert. 

Katsuki slows his steps, taking in their surroundings a bit more cautiously, eyes tracing over every last piece of anything and still there’s nothing. Then what the fuck is this feeling?

“Yo, you good, Baku?” He’s tired, drained; it’s too damn hot outside and he just wants to fall against his mattress and pass the fuck out. Physically spent, sure (these runs are tiring) but okay. Still, his steps grow heavier and he knows it’s not from exhaustion. 

The itch begins to scratch on its own, dragging against his mind, clawing deeper and deeper the closer they get to the wall. A warning, if he’s ever seen one.

But what the fuck for though?

“Yeah, I'm good.” He’s not, not even close but he’s not about to tell Eijirou that until he knows just what it is that’s bothering him so damn much. He hates lying, berates anyone caught in the act but for their sake, he’ll do it. No point in getting their defensive up higher than they already are over nothing, right?

Fucking hypocrite.

Minutes pass and the wall looms over them, shading them from the intense heat but the sun peeks through holes worn in some places. They’ve been there, ever since they arrived because no structure can stand indefinitely in this environment but they’re bigger now. They cast a fracture of light against the shadowed terrain, man made scars and it is this that sends a shiver down his spine.

It’s partly what sent him to Aizawa just days before, a fire in his eyes and a warning on his tongue. He goes unbelieved because you’re being ridiculous, brat and oh, how he wished he was. They’re not smart, he says. The walls are weathering, sure, but safe, he says. Katsuki takes the dismissal with a grain of salt, rooted in place and daring him to prove it—show him he’s wrong. When he can’t he sits down and Katsuki tells him why he couldn’t even if he tried.

And then the fucking night run.

That, he was not expecting. Something he said must have triggered a nerve, planted a seed of doubt that should have already been there and forced his hand. Nothing lasts forever and these walls are proof.

Still, he is most surprised by her, as he always seems to be, when she stands her ground against the runners of that night, the quiet bastard that holds her hand just a little too long and the four eyes that call him to action. He is impressed if nothing else when she challenges the call, made by someone she trusts and for reasons she’s not privy to know.

She is a force to be reckoned with until it goes too far, a line she’s crossed and he’s not sure where or how, until she curls in on herself and is half the fighter he’s seen her be and he can’t fucking stand it. 

There is a question there, lingering in the dead of silence and he wants to ask, so fucking badly when it crosses his mind.

Who the fuck were you, Round Face?

Because there’s no reason, overwatch or not, that she should know that much of a cell placement and the way they run, no reason she should be familiar with the guns they wear on their shoulders with the fondness and intensity that she is and absolutely no reason she should know the outside walls better than those who’ve actually been there. 

“Katsuki?” He’s pulled from his thoughts when he hears her voice, crystal clear through the earpiece. It’s monotonous, distracted and nothing like it usually is, all bright and cheerful and annoyingly her. He doesn’t answer, not that she expects him too, only waits.

“I need to ask a favor.”  

Well, I need answers, but he smartly bites his tongue.

“What’dya want, Round Face?” Because lying beneath the red flags and the walls is a curiosity that burns and burns, questions that teeter on the tip of his tongue and a need to know just who she is, despite not knowing why he cares so damn much to begin with. 

He ignores every eye that finds him, questioning stares, smug grins and all.

His device beeps in his pocket and it throws him off guard, reaching for it cautiously. His cell gathers around, peeking just enough to see a series of numbers, coordinates, dart across the screen.

“Wait, isn’t that...” Denki’s right and that should concern him even more.

“The back wall?” Katsuki questions, eyes tracing the structure in front of him, following the line until it bleeds into the distance. “What the fuck for?” 

She doesn’t answer right away. 

It’s her silence that puts him at pause, his earlier apprehension taking a back seat to the uncertainty that swallows him when she refuses to speak. He imagines her mind running through a mill of words, careful because it’s him and he is no less than volatile in the best of times. “What. the. fuck. for, Round Face.” 

He's unapologetic, fully aware of his accusatory tone, how he enunciates every word and how it demands an answer that she still, as seconds pass, has yet to give. “Bakugou—”  

“You feel it too, don’t you?”

It is not the first time she had rendered him speechless.

It is, however, the first time he is relieved that her innate way of reading him, his movements and his silence, assures him that he is not crazy—that something is off and that, for once, he’s not the only one who sees it. He doesn’t know what the wall has to do with it, but it seems she does and it’s this reason alone that he plays into her hand.

He starts walking, leaving behind eyes wide and mouths agape with every step. He follows a whim blindly, one that is not even his own and that is what has them hesitant to follow. 

“Bakugou, are you sure?” Mina asks and he’s not sure how to answer. The fear that coats her words is familiar, reminiscent of a time very similar to now, uncertainty keeping her in place even as his feet keep moving. He doesn’t want to leave her behind but he will, knowing Eijirou will remain at her side even as he keeps moving.

“‘M not.” And he would be lying if he said he was. But the warning is there, taunting and it just won’t go away and he’s not the only one who seems to be drawn to it. Then there’s her, the way she asks him like she would do it herself if she had the chance, but doesn’t (at least not right away), so by default he’s her next best bet. 

Katsuki doesn’t put it past her to go off alone, wander to the edge of the wall until she finds what finally scratches the itch that keeps on digging and by then, it might be too late.

A risk he refuses to take.

for reasons he won’t quite own up to.

The footsteps behind him that gradually grow means they won’t take that risk either, whether for him or for her he’s not entirely sure but either way is thankful that he keeps hearing them. “Thanks, Kat

“Don’t thank me just yet, Round Face.”  

A hunch. It’s all he has to go by, all they have to prepare them for what they may, or may not, find. He’s curious, that much is certain and it’s what keeps him moving forward despite how all he wants to do is turn back; he has to know. Is my hunch right? He can take the fall if it’s wrong, hopes for it because that means they’re just a little bit safer. But if it is… what the fuck do we do, then?

Katsuki lets the negative thoughts fade, focuses instead on the sound of the terrain shifting beneath his feet with a subtle crunch, remnant glass breaking and dust kicked up from his heels. They trek in silence, apprehension and focus. Every eye shifts from left to right to left, every finger hovers and every nerve remains tightly coiled. What was the edge of the wall keeps going, corners and curves until the horizon stretches into structures that far supersede the wall much like it does inside.

It’s here they learn just how large Yuuie is, would have continued to be, had the wall not been. 

“Keep your eyes peeled,” he hears Eijirou call out, weapons trained in the same breath. They find a rhythm with practiced ease, each step calculated and precise and fallen in line with the steps in front of them, Katsuki’s as lead. 

“Any idea what we’re walking into?” He would have laughed had the thought of sound in this moment not absolutely shared him shitless. 

It’s darker over here; the space is illuminated only by what remains of the sun peeking over the wall as it creeps towards the horizon line nearest the gate. On the other side. Every snap of debris that litters the ground beneath their feet resonates ten fold, shadows around them dense and cast by buildings that remind them just how small they really are. There are too many places for infected, among god knows what else, to hide.

Every sound hits different in the dark.

“I’m not sure,” they forget she's there momentarily and he hears a weapon jostle in someone’s hand, “I— it’s just…”  

A hunch.

“Right,” because he gets it, she knows he does, “so check your shit and let’s make it quick.”

Their ranks break apart as they begin the search but remain close, always within sight of one another just in case. It’s quiet, save for the sound that resonates from their movements, harsh breathing and the hum of life inside the walls. At first it’s hard to differentiate, until they can pinpoint what's alive, thriving against all odds and what's dead and doesn’t, couldn't, even come close.  

“What do you see?” Her voice is above a whisper but they hear her loud and clear.

“Nothing,” because there was nothing to see. If it wasn’t veiled by the dense shadows that frequent nooks and crannies, it was destroyed by time and left little to the imagination. Everything was gone and if by some miracle it wasn’t, eyes tracing what is thought to be there in the shadows less rummaged through, then it was damn near close. 

Still the feeling doesn’t fade and he doubts it does for her, either.

“Can we leave now?” It’s unlike Hanta to sound anything less than collected, calm despite the fear that clings to him, lives in him like it does the rest of them. He doesn’t blame him. His own skin crawls the longer they’re there, unable to find a damn thing worth mentioning and unaware of what very well may be there.

They’re sitting ducks, just waiting for the boogie man to come out at them, or worse. 

Katsuki shakes off the nerves that make his shoulders tense and steadies himself. There’s nothing here he decides and turns. “Yeah, let’s—”

He can’t fucking breathe .

Every word left on his tongue dies, trapped behind the same force that  withholds every breath he suddenly can’t take. They need to get out, get far the fuck away from there because this spells nothing but trouble. Katsuki is thankful what managed to come out was some semblance of a sentence, leading them away because he doesn’t think he could form one if he tried. Not now, anyway.

How the fuck did I miss this, knowing exactly how he did and hating how lowering his guard is the only way he could have. 

Eyes are conditioned down sight, through a lense on some occasions and everywhere and nowhere at once on every other. He is no exception; there is very little that could penetrate his focus as long as he’s beyond the walls, with or without his cell. There’s too much to risk if something did.

His curiosity, once, and they nearly paid the price for his mistake with his life and theirs, making damn sure every day since then that nothing would penetrate it again. Ever.  

Not even by light that by all other reason shouldn’t be there.

Katsuki inches closer to the steady stream even as they rear to leave, steps of his cell falling soundless to the blood that rushes to his ears. They’re still close, his cell; their presence lingers in the space behind him, a part of him knowing they wouldn’t leave without him and somehow hoping for once they would.

The light is the only point of reference, everything else swallowed by the shadows cast, his eyes taking far longer than normal to adjust. A calloused hand run across the textured stone covered in ick, shielding the pinhole stream and freezes once it flickers back to life.

His hand trembles.

He can hardly see it, but light is not needed to recognize cratered holes that stem from this source, where stone used to once exist, now buried beneath his own two feet, probably. Concentrated. Deliberate.

Fracture lines stretch from point of impact, spidering to god knows where and Katsuki imagines if he could see, there’d be a hell of a lot more covering a fucktonne more space.

He pulls away, foreign residue and gathered dust still stuck to the surface of his hand and for a moment, he wonders just what the hell it is. Katsuki leans forward, curiosity having him sniff once, twice and he’s hit with a stench both foreign and familiar that his stomach tumbles and reels, nausea climbing his throat and burning his mouth.

“Bakugou?” Mina whispers, but in this soundless space, she may as well have been screaming. Along his arms, his skin raises and Katsuki stifles a shiver.

This, this shit right here.

It's apprehension; the dread that clung to him as they made their way back coming full swing, punching him in the gut and refusing to let him breathe. Or maybe it’s the stench of blood, rotting decay, and who the fuck knows what else that is embedded in the fractures, eating away at the already crumbling stone like acid.

“Katsuki?”  

It’s these jagged lines cratering from a barely there hole, light from the other fucking side pouring through, that will only grow the more it’s clawed at that has him stepping away from the shadows and into what light is left because there’s a fucking end to this hell, right?  

And when he sees the expanse of the wall and just how far they go, he fears numbers he didn’t think we’re possible.

Bakugou?!”

It’s the sound that penetrates the silence when he turns, faced with guttural groans that start as one and grow into so many more, limbs that drag across the dirt in the same way a hunter stalks its prey—much like they do when they're on the attack only it’s not them, not this time. 

It’s the first shadow of doubt cast that him wondering just how long it took cities to crumble—that bank, from so long ago, to fall.

How long it would take them to fall. 

Because Katsuki is right—about the walls, about the infected, about everything and for the first time that he can recall in his lifetime, he fucking hates that he is.

“What’dwe do?” Gods, how he wishes he could give Denki an answer, rip apart the fear that ties them down and pull his shit together—get them out. But when he opens his mouth, he is voiceless.

They were fucked.

And there wasn’t a single thing they, or any fucking one, could do about it.