One night, Izuku takes them flying.
Well, jumping, really, but that sounds less romantic. He leads them through the city, green lightning flashing along his limbs as he leaps from rooftop to rooftop. Katsuki keeps his eyes on the night lights, yellows and oranges illuminating every building and sparkling like pinpricks from up high. Izuku just keeps his eyes on Katsuki.
He lands on a hill, giggling breathlessly when Katsuki falls out of his arms and goes rolling into a bush. They’re lost. Doesn’t bother them much, even though they might not even be in Mustafu anymore. Katsuki’s head pops out of the shrubbery. There are twigs in his hair, and he jump-tackles Izuku and almost sends them both tumbling downhill. “I wish we could see more stars from up here,” Izuku sighs, Katsuki a comfortable weight on his chest. The dew seeps into his hoodie insistently. “It’s a shame, living in the city. Sometimes it feels like the sky’s on the ground. There’s nothing to see when you look up.”
“Why the hell would you want to look up?” Katsuki says, purposefully resting his elbow on Izuku’s sternum and tickling him. “All the good stuff’s down here.”
“Flowers. Dogs. All that cheesy shit you like.”
“That’s true. I still wish I could watch the sun go down and see stars come up after. Lots of them, all as far as I can see. Like in pictures of space. I bet there are billions and billions of them out there. We just never noticed.”
“We’ll go somewhere,” says Katsuki, shimmying up Izuku’s torso so they’re face to face. The light from the city makes a halo around his head, bleaching the tips of his hair almost white while the rest of his face stays dark. “To the mountains, or something. We’ll take a trip. After we graduate, just you and me.”
“Nedzu won’t let us graduate if he finds out we keep sneaking out. And using our quirks in public.”
“We’re basically heroes. We’re allowed.”
“Not for no reason.”
“There’s a reason,” Katsuki says seriously. “Cabin fever is a genuine threat. If I have to stay cooped up in that dorm too long I’m gonna kill someone. Probably Kaminari.”
“You like Kaminari.”
“Fine. But he plays video games way too fucking loud.”
Izuku laughs. Katsuki makes fun of his laugh a lot, the way he kind of scrunches up his face and wheezes like he can’t breathe. Izuku knows he doesn’t mean it, though. Katsuki gets this little half-smile whenever Izuku’s giggle fits start, like he’s halfway between exasperated and amused and is trying to decide whether to laugh along or not. “You know you’re not fooling anyone. You don’t even roll your eyes when he calls you Kacchan anymore.”
“It’s your fault he does that.”
“Would you prefer if I called you something else?”
“Then I’m not sorry,” Izuku says, reaching up to plant a kiss on the corner of his mouth. Katsuki stays where he is, resting on his elbows, makes Izuku lift his head to get to him. Makes him work. Katsuki’s always been like that. He’s always planted his feet and made Izuku try to catch up, made him put in a little more of himself each time to bridge whatever divide lies between. Izuku doesn’t mind. He’s never minded. Getting to Katsuki has always been a goal. Somewhere along the way they figured out this was never really about hero work, but it’s okay. Izuku already knows he’ll always be okay with following where Katsuki leads. “Kacchan. My Kacchan. You’re my favourite in the whole world.”
They get back to school just a little after sunrise, sleepless and buzzing, with grass and dead leaves in their hair. Their classmates glance curiously between them but don’t ask. Katsuki and Izuku have always been a unit unto themselves, two halves of an inexplicable relationship that started way before UA and will last way after they leave. Nobody questions it. Nobody cares, probably, but Izuku indulges the thought that maybe he and his Kacchan are just a constant, an unremarkable part of the furniture that surprises nobody because the way they are is just right.
That’s a comfort. Their live are tumultuous, after all, what with villains and training and rescuing people every week. It’s nice to have something certain. At the end of a day filled with violence and adrenaline, Izuku knows he can come home to someone concrete.
They never do go to the mountains, in the end. Third year is so stressful they forget anything except school, and by the time graduation rolls around they’re keyed up and exploring their options and the thought of a private adventure just slips from their minds. Everyone else is the same. Uraraka cries and Iida cries and Todoroki spends a long time being nervous about branching out and away from his father. Kirishima goes back to Fatgum. Hagakure becomes a spy. All Might gives a farewell speech at the graduation ceremony that makes everyone go misty. Izuku and Katsuki hold hands the whole time. They’re both top of their class. The future seems bright.
They move in together, after a while. Katsuki joins Best Jeanist and Izuku trains under Gran Torino. They still take comfort in each other every day, curl up in bed and kiss and talk about how life is going.
It’s perfect. Being a hero is scary and grueling and uncertain, but this part is just right.
And then, one day, a child dies in Izuku’s arms.
Her name was Haruka.
It almost sounds like a question. Haru ka? Is it spring?
An earthquake brought a mall down on her. The building was supposed to have been earthquake-proof, ironically enough. One of the ones where the structure floated above its foundation, supported by steel ball bearings so they would shake instead of the walls whenever a tremor hit. But it was old. Ball bearings didn’t work right, or something. The whole thing collapsed and took out a row of shop lots with it.
Deku and Ground Zero had been first on the scene, breaking through rubble and digging out civilians while ambulances rushed back and forth. But they’d missed her. She’d been tiny and quiet, buried under debris and they hadn’t known to look for her until her mother woke up and started screaming. So Izuku had searched, and he’d found her with a gaping hole in her skull. A toy store. She’d died in a toy store.
Her parents are understanding about the whole thing. They invite Izuku to the funeral. Izuku doesn’t know why. “She liked you,” says Haruka’s father, voice faraway. “She was too young to really understand hero work, I think. But she liked your bunny ears. And your smile.”
He doesn’t remember much of it, to be honest. Just that it’s a lovely day and lots of people show up. He stands at the back with Katsuki in a brand new black suit. At the end of it Katsuki drives them home. Izuku stares out the window and doesn’t think of anything much.
They go back to work. Izuku keeps his hood on because he needs his sewn-on smile. Nobody blames him. Gran Torino says this is just something heroes have to deal with sometimes. All Might pats his shoulder and tells him it could have happened to anyone. Izuku knows that’s not true. All Might has a record. He’s never let anyone die.
Life goes on. The world rotates on its axis and people eventually start to forget. Katsuki comes alive again. He bounces back like he always does, because he’s always been stronger. He’s always been brave.
Izuku isn’t. He lies in bed every night and stares at the ceiling, wondering who would think to make a coffin that small. Just one meter long. Wonders if they’d carved it out of wood and painted it white and thought, I hope nobody ever has to use this.
She’d been four years old. Excited to start her first year of school, her father had said. Loved barbies and horses and the colour purple.
And dead. Surrounded by stuffed animals and broken concrete because Izuku got there too late.
He rolls over and wishes for sleep. It doesn’t come.
He doesn’t cry after the funeral, which is strange. He’s always been quick to tears. Too quick, if Katsuki is to believed, but he’s six weeks in and with no salt-stained pillow to show for it.
People have been very gentle with him as of late. Especially Katsuki. Voice quiet, words careful and padded up around the edges, as if Izuku’s about to crumble into dust. It’s silly. Izuku’s not the one in the dirt. He’s not the one who just lost a child. He’s still here, walking and talking and doing patrols and stopping bank robbers like normal.
“Maybe we should take a vacation,” Katsuki says off-hand one day. It’s early July. The sun’s out and shining through the window, making their apartment warm and yellow-gold. “We could leave the city. Go to Nara or something. See the deer.”
“Why?” says Izuku. He’s flipping through a damage report, making notes in dark blue pen. “You have night patrols in area 6 all next week.”
“We could go after.”
“We have to work.”
“Someone can cover for us. Just for a few days.”
“No it’s not,” Katsuki says, taking the pen out of Izuku’s hand. “You need a break. You’re exhausted.”
Izuku frowns and picks up another. It’s red. “I’m fine.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Deku,” Katsuki says, taking Izuku’s chin and gently forcing him to look up. “You’re a mess. You work sixteen hour shifts for no reason and I barely see you anymore. You don’t smile. You won’t look at me. Used to be a time I’d have to beg you to stop staring, but you’re not right. You’re not okay.”
He should be annoyed, probably. Or concerned. That Katsuki’s frowning at him with his eyebrows slanted up instead of down, but right now he just wants to get back to work. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“What happened fucking sucked,” Katsuki says. “But it wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you could have done. It’s been more than a month, Deku. It’s time to let go.”
Let go. Just like that. Like that’s going to stop Haruka being dead. “Leave me alone.”
“I’m not leaving you alone. You need to stop this. We can do something about it.”
“Can you not be stubborn just this once,” Katsuki says. It isn’t a question. “Everyone can see how bad you’re beating yourself up, okay? I can see it. I’m not gonna sit here and watch you collapse on yourself.”
Collapse. That word makes Izuku wince. “Yes, okay. I’m not super happy. But I lost someone, Kacchan, I fucked up. It’s normal to feel responsible for that. Someone who used to be alive isn’t anymore.”
“People die sometimes, Deku. You can’t save all of them.”
“Yes I can. I didn’t.”
“How do you think it could have gone differently?”
“If I’d been faster,” Izuku says automatically because possibilities have been playing in his head every day on repeat. Slightly different circumstances, vastly different results. Reciting them is easy. “If I’d checked better. If you hadn’t been setting off explosions right next to me and I could have heard her crying.”
“What, so this is my fault?”
“It’s both our faults,” says Izuku levelly. “I don’t know why I’m the only one who cares about that.”
Katsuki’s jaw tenses. “Don’t fucking pin this on me, Deku. I’m not wrong for moving on.”
“Moving on? Is that what that is?”
“If you’re going to say something, say it.”
“Maybe I’m a wimp like you keep saying,” Izuku says, going back to his paperwork. “But I can’t just turn this off, Kacchan. I can’t just stop feeling guilty. I can’t stop feeling responsible for a mistake I know I made.”
“You don’t think I feel bad too, asshole? You don’t think I was just as sad as you watching that coffin go into the ground?”
“I don’t know, Kacchan,” says Izuku. “You’re usually pretty good at being cruel.”
There’s silence for a long time. Eventually the sofa springs creak.; Katsuki gets up without a word and goes back to their bedroom, closes the door behind him and clicks the lock shut, oh so gentle. Disappears to be by himself and leave Izuku in silence. The sun eventually starts to go down. The living room gets dark but Izuku doesn’t get up to turn on the light, squinting by the window from what little reflects off the street lamps down below.
Katsuki doesn’t come out. Izuku finishes looking through his report and starts on another right after.
“I’m sorry,” he says the next day at breakfast. “For yesterday. Sorry.”
Katsuki eats his omelette. He leans back in his chair, regarding Izuku for a while, fingers drumming slowly against the table top. Izuku keeps his eyes on his soup. “What are you sorry for?”
Not you have no reason to be sorry. There’s a difference. Katsuki knows what Izuku did wrong, he just wants to make sure Izuku knows too. “I shouldn’t have said that. It was mean. I shouldn’t have hurt your feelings.”
“Did you mean it?”
“The part about me moving on too quick. Did you mean that?”
Izuku keeps quiet. Katsuki stares at him, quietly chewing his food. A pop song plays from one of the neighbour’s apartments, muffled and barely audible through the living room wall. Izuku methodically separates the fish from its bones.
Katsuki laughs. It’s an ugly, scratchy noise, aborted halfway because there’s nothing really funny about any of this. He stuffs the last of his rice in his mouth and stands up. “You’re doing the dishes. I’m going to the office. Don’t wait up.”
Izuku doesn’t really taste the rest of his food. Might be coming down with something from pulling so many all-nighters in a row. Carefully, he puts away the leftovers and finishes the washing up, then lies on the couch and studies the ceiling until his alarm rings and it’s time to go to work.
Katsuki doesn’t come home until long after Izuku’s gone to bed. That’s a clear indication he’s messed up, probably. It’s rare that Katsuki becomes avoidant. He’s not even angry, is the thing. Angry Katsuki gets right in your face and screams. Katsuki right now is just hurt and quiet and upset.
Rolling over, Izuku puts a hand on Katsuki’s hip. Katsuki brushes him off.
It’s juvenile, really, the silent treatment.
They’re grown men. Twenty-two, professional heroes. Izuku’s already apologised. If Katsuki wants to sulk and stare at Izuku across the room without speaking, then he can knock himself out. There are far worse things in the world than your boyfriend being mean to you one time. Like dying. Like watching a building come down on a kid.
So Izuku just shrugs and goes on with his life. Does his work. Runs his patrols. Stops a mugger from cornering a lady in an alley, takes him to the police and fills in the report on autopilot. Every day is the same. Just whatever. Izuku punches a villain and tries to remember if he had breakfast today.
Gran Torino pops up somewhere under his elbow. “I think you broke that one’s nose, son.”
Izuku looks down. The villain on the ground is writhing in pain. Izuku’s fist sparks green. “Whoops. Sorry.”
“Yeah? I’m fine,” Izuku says, flexing his fingers. The lightning fizzles out. Gran Torino squints at him but doesn’t press.
Katsuki’s on the couch when Izuku gets home. Izuku takes his utility belt off and hangs it on the coat rack, but Katsuki stops him before he can disappear into the bathroom to shower. “Deku.”
“Yeah?” Izuku says. It’s the first they’ve spoken in the past week. Katsuki hands him a brochure.
This is info for a psychiatrist’s office. The image on the front is of a kind-faced lady in a lab coat, printed on glossy paper and smiling at him with unseeing eyes. Izuku’s jaw tenses. “I’m not crazy.”
“I’m not saying you are. I’m saying you’re not the same. You don’t sleep or eat or talk about anything other than work.”
“I eat. I had dinner with you just last night.”
“Yeah, and neither of us said a word.”
“Whose fault is that with you refusing to look at me?”
“Will you fucking listen to yourself?” Katsuki says, getting off the couch and coming closer so they’re face-to-face. “Look. I’m looking at you, okay? I have been. I’ve been watching you for weeks, Deku, and you’ve changed. I’m not calling you crazy, but something’s wrong. It’s like someone turned your personality off and you’re walking around like a corpse. What happened fucked you up more than you’re willing to admit. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. We can get help.”
“Yes, we,” says Katsuki, poking Izuku’s chest. “Because I know you won’t try to fix this if I leave you to do it on your own. I can go with you or something, Deku. Go see someone. Talk about this shit since it’s obviously bothering you.”
Izuku sighs through his nose. He’s crushing the brochure, he realises absently, but he supposes it doesn’t really matter. He already knows what it says. “Thank you for worrying about me, but I’m fine.”
“You are not.”
“I’m a hero, Kacchan. We’re supposed to be, I don’t know. Steady. Role models. What are people going to say if they find out I’m seeing a shrink? You know everything we do gets leaked sooner or later.”
“Who gives a shit?”
“Everyone,” says Izuku, raising his voice without meaning to. “Everyone is going to give a shit, Kacchan. Successor to All Might, aiming to be number one, needs psychiatric treatment. Isn’t healthy. Isn’t normal.”
“You watched a kid die,” Katsuki shouts back. That’s almost a relief. At least he’s not ignoring Izuku anymore. “That’s not normal, Deku. None of what we do is normal. Who the fuck is going to blame you for needing the help?”
“You’re normal. You don’t need help.”
“Yeah, well, I’m tough.”
“So I just need to be tougher.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“No, it’s true,” Izuku says, putting the brochure on the couch. Whatever fledgling irritation Katsuki had brought up dies abruptly. Now he just feels heavy. “You’re fine. Everyone else is fine. I mean, I’m not really the one who should be upset here. I’m not Haruka’s family. And Gran Torino told me himself that this happens from time to time. Losing people.”
Katsuki frowns. “Well, yeah. So what?”
“So that means I’ll get over it. The way you did. The way everyone else does.”
“You haven’t so far.”
“I will. I just need to, I don’t know. Be tougher. Stop thinking about it so much. Stop,” he pauses, stomach flip-flopping uncomfortably for some reason. “Stop wallowing. I’m not the first hero to ever lose someone, right?”
“You’re not,” says Katsuki. He’s not yelling anymore. Still seems unhappy, though, little crease between his eyebrows standing out in stark detail. “It happens. To heroes, and firefighters, and EMTs and doctors and, I don’t know. Lifeguards.”
“And they get over it.”
“So I will too,” Izuku says. Sighs, really. “I’m sorry. For acting like I need help. And for implying you were wrong to move on. You’re not. I’m the one who hasn’t let go”
“Okay, but the shrink can help with that.”
“And I can do it myself. I’m tougher than you think I am. I know I haven’t been acting like it lately. But I’ll deal with this, okay? I’ll be alright.”
“Promise,” Izuku says, taking Katsuki’s face in his hands and kissing him. It helps, a little, to have a direction. To have Katsuki kissing back, however hesitant, to know they’re not fighting anymore. “Thank you for worrying about me. I just need a little time to be okay.”
“Okay,” Katsuki says. He doesn’t sound convinced.
Izuku kisses him again. “I missed you this week.”
“I’m tired,” Izuku says, reaching down and linking their fingers together. Softly, he presses a kiss to his boyfriend’s neck. “Come to bed with me?”
“I have to make dinner.”
“We can get takeout,” Izuku murmurs. Trails kisses along Katsuki’s cheek. “Please. I just want to be with you.”
“Okay,” Katsuki says and melts into Izuku’s arms. “Okay.”
He tries. He does try. Smiling helps. Hero work helps. Just a little. It’s a distraction, at the very least.
“So what she does is called reactive adaptation. Like, imagine if you could choose your evolution path and speed it up by a couple billion years,” Uraraka says, gesturing with her coffee. “Her body’s in a constant state of adapting to her environment, but in these ridiculous ways. So if she were to, say, fall out of a plane, she could just start flapping her arms real fast and her body would go: okay, we need to learn to fly.”
“The one thing is she can’t control it, it just happens spontaneously. Whatever adaptation takes the shortest time. So, let’s say she fell in the water. She’s hoping to give herself gills, but what actually happens is that her body adapts to use way less oxygen so she can hold her breath for ages. And because it’s always changing, it took years and years before they could pin down what her quirk was. You know?”
Uraraka falters. The steady stream of words fizzles out, and she studies her drink for a long, uncomfortable moment. “Normally you’d get really excited about this stuff. I asked her a lot of questions cause I figured you’d want to know. I thought you’d be interested.”
The twinge of guilt that comes with that is not unexpected. Izuku reaches across their little Starbucks table and squeezes her hand. “Sorry. I am interested. I’ve just been a little distracted lately is all.”
“Okay,” she says, watching him through her lashes. “Are you okay?”
“You’ve been kind of…” she chews her lip, clearly trying to phrase it delicately. “Unhappy. Ever since, well. You know.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know,” he smiles weakly. “Hard to convince yourself of that, really, but I’ve been trying.”
“You don’t really get excited about things anymore.”
“Deku. I just told you about a lady who’s basically indestructible. You weren’t even listening.”
“Sorry. I guess I’ve had a lot to think about this past couple of months. But you don’t have to worry about me. I’m coping.”
“Yeah. Kacchan and I are working through it. Talking about stuff, I guess. And, uhm. I’m trying my best not to think about it too hard. Focus on the positives and stuff.”
“Oh! Yeah, okay. That’s good!”
Izuku relaxes, having thankfully picked the right answer. He doesn’t want to worry her. She’s so nice to him, and she’s got so many other things to deal with. And, really, he’s alright. “Sorry for not listening properly. Tell me again about your friend?”
“Okay,” she says. She’s got such a sweet smile. Izuku feels bad for almost making her lose it. “Pay attention this time, though, got it? This conscious evolution stuff is hard. If I have to explain it too much I’ll confuse myself.”
Izuku forces himself to focus. “Alright. I’ll try.”
Breathing exercises. That’s what he read online. Sometimes your brain thinks you’re in trouble even though there’s nothing really wrong. That’s a problem, in their line of work. Adrenaline and cortisol flooding your system when you need to focus. People think near-death experiences make you hyper-vigilant. They don’t. Most of the time the fear gets in the way. Makes it hard to think. Makes you sloppy.
“We had that!” Katsuki screams at him. His face is bleeding. “We had that. You shouldn’t have come after me, you let him get away!”
Breathe in. Count to three. Breathe out. “You were in trouble.”
“I was not. You know I know how to handle myself, Deku. That wasn’t real danger! That was a fucking plan that you messed up.”
Count to three. Breathe in. Count to four. “I thought you needed me.”
“For what? Yes, okay, he had me pinned, which I let him do because I wanted him close enough that I could take his weapon. You saw me go for it. I told you I was going to go for it before we went in. And what do you do?”
There are sirens. The police are searching, probably. “I made a mistake.”
“You ignored the plan. You ignored the plan and ignored the ringleader and you missed the sidekick because you didn’t even go for him, you went for me. You grabbed me and what did they do, Deku? What did they fucking do?”
“They escaped! And they threw a car at me. So thanks for saving me, you fucking asshole. Thanks for letting them get away and wasting an hour of recon. Thanks for making fucking Miruko and Woods go after them.”
“I,” says Deku, forcing himself to pause between breaths. In. Hold. Out. Hold. There’s no way he can say it. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry,” Katsuki repeats. They’ve destroyed a fire hydrant. A fountain of water has erupted behind them, drenching them and everything in a twenty-meter radius. They’re probably going to have to pay damages. Kacchan’s mask is ripped. His eyes are wild and wide and livid. “What fucking good does being sorry do, Deku? You fucked up. We were doing so well. What the fuck happened?”
Izuku squeezes his eyes shut. The sirens are getting overwhelming. “I don’t know.”
“Don’t,” Katsuki says, getting right in his face and forcing Izuku to look at him. “Don’t you fucking start with me. What happened?”
“I saw a crack in the wall.”
“A crack in the—” Katsuki stops. His face goes through a quick succession of expressions – confusion, realisation, rage. It would be funny if it weren’t terrible. “A crack in the wall. A fucking— a crack. And you thought the building was gonna come down. You panicked, didn’t you?”
In. Out. Four seconds. Three seconds. “I’m sorry.”
“You said you were over this. You fucking said it wasn’t gonna affect you.”
“We’re going home,” says Katsuki. His voice is low and scathing. “I knew you couldn’t fucking handle this on your own. We’re going home right now and you’re gonna fucking explain why you blanked out and fucked us both over.”
The journey home is silent. Not that they could have really spoken much anyway, since Izuku’s leaping from rooftop to rooftop and Katsuki’s jet-propelling himself after him. But it feels heavy. Izuku’s heart pumps in his ribcage, leftover fight-or-flight with nowhere to go. Katsuki’s here. He’s safe. Izuku’s not safe. Izuku’s made a mistake and Katsuki isn’t going to be nice and let this go.
They land on the balcony. Katsuki rips the glass doors open, spinning around the second they step into the living room and ripping his mask off. He tosses it on the couch. “Explain.”
“There’s nothing to explain. It won’t happen again.”
“Is that a fucking guarantee? Because I’ll tell you what it looks like to me, Deku. It looks like you’re still hung up over something that happened two months ago and you won’t admit how much it’s ruining you. And now that’s bleeding into your hero work. You lost your head for a second there and look what happened.”
“Nobody’s dead,” Izuku says. It’s true. No casualties. This isn’t a victory but it’s not a loss. He clings to that truth with white-knuckled desperation. “Don’t look at me like I’m the villain here, alright? I saw a threat and I took care of it. I took care of my partner. I was wrong about the threat this time, maybe I jumped the gun, but you can’t – you can’t act like I’m some kind of fuck up just for trying to keep you safe.”
“From what? What the hell did you think was gonna happen, Deku? You’re paranoid. It isn’t normal to see a little crack in the wall and assume the worst when there are armed villains right in front of you.”
“I didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“Do I look like I need saving? I’m not a civilian. I’m a trained hero, just like you! Do I look fucking fragile? Do I look like some damsel in distress?”
“I know you’re not.”
“We had a job to do, and you blew it because you freaked the fuck out!”
“Forgive me for being a little sensitive!” Izuku shouts back. “Because I’ve seen what happens when a building comes down, first hand. I’ve seen what a body looks like crushed under concrete. I’ve seen a brain. A brain, inside a skull, still bleeding. Because of the thing you said wouldn’t happen. Because I got there too late, and I wasn’t careful enough.”
“So forgive me for being over-cautious, Katsuki, forgive me for caring. Forgive me for being worried about my boyfriend, because I can’t let what happened to that little girl happen to you. Forgive me for treating you like someone more important than a coworker. Forgive me for panicking at the idea of losing someone I love more than anything on earth. I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry.”
He’s being cruel. He’s being unfair, throwing the word love around like that when he knows Katsuki’s so weak to it. He’s not lying, of course. The thought of going through life without Katsuki by his side is terrifying. The possibility of what could have been, if things had gone wrong and Katsuki had been buried under rubble, makes his stomach twist like he’s going to throw up. He shouldn’t be using that fear like a weapon. But there’s nothing else he can say. There’s nothing else that’s on his mind.
Katsuki’s tearing up. He’s angry and frustrated, like he knows how this conversation should be going but he doesn’t understand how to fix it. “We’re always going to be in danger, Deku. We’re heroes. We knew our lives would be like this. One day something’s gonna happen and one of us is gonna die. Even if we never get hurt, even if we retire at ninety, eventually one of us is gonna die.”
Izuku's eyesight’s blurry. He’s crying too, he realises belatedly, sweaty and filthy and scared out of his mind. “I think I understand what that means now. Watching a coffin go into the ground. I can’t do that again, Kacchan. Not with you.”
“You can’t worry about me like that,” Katsuki says. Scrubs at his eyes. The black face paint he uses under his mask is smudged. “We’re heroes. The civilians come first. We come second.”
“I know,” Izuku says, voice-whisper quiet. “But I’m never not going to worry. And if I even think you might be in trouble, I’m never not gonna want to save you.”
“You’re a fucking idiot,” Katsuki says. The fight’s gone out of him now. Izuku hates himself for being relieved. “Just… you can’t let this happen again, Deku. Our jobs are more important. You know that. You know that.”
“Yeah,” says Izuku, fiddling with a frayed edge on his uniform. “Yeah. I’m sorry.”
“Okay,” Katsuki says, resting his head against Izuku’s shoulder. He’s ever so slightly shorter now, after Izuku’s growth spurt, even though he’ll deny it to the grave. “No more of this. Please, Deku. You can’t let this hurt you anymore.”
“I know,” Izuku says and holds him. Breathes in. Counts to five. Breathes out.
The idea doesn’t leave. Of Katsuki dying, somehow. Maybe on duty. Maybe in a freak accident. Maybe caught up in some villain’s revenge.
It’s stupid, is what it is. Katsuki’s right. They went into this job with their eyes open, fully aware of the danger that comes with it. The mortality rate of heroes is high. Aizawa was very clear about that in UA. He’d advised them against forming romantic relationships with civilians, in a rare moment of softness. Said the strain was unbearable. Loving another hero would be easier, but still hard. Sharing the same understanding that neither of you would ever really be safe. You could try to bear that burden together, maybe, but it would still be precarious. Lost in a moment. That’s why so many heroes preferred to just be alone.
It’s never been an issue, up until now. Izuku’s always held the bone-deep confidence that he and Katsuki are truly inseparable. Katsuki’s a supernova in the body of a man – there’s nothing on earth that could snuff his light out. Nothing. Even if he managed to die somehow, he would find some way to come back. And he’d said it himself, in high school. That he was too proud to lose a fight. And that Izuku ever tried to die on him, he’d figure out how bring him back to life, if only to punch him in the face one more time.
That was then. Now Izuku’s seen his first corpse. The idea doesn’t stop niggling him, that it might not be the last.
There’s no real explanation. Katsuki’s not even the reckless one in this relationship. That’s Izuku, who still breaks a bone or two every month. Katsuki’s analytical and doesn’t make moves he doesn’t need to. And Katsuki’s not afraid for Izuku. Izuku isn’t afraid for himself either. He doesn’t matter. Katsuki matters. Maybe too much, because Izuku hasn’t stopped thinking about it since their fight. And Katsuki’s noticed. He always notices, and he hates it. Being treated like something fragile. He never makes anything easy, never just keeps his mouth shut and lets Izuku take care of him sometimes.
They argue about that a lot. Izuku doesn’t even really care. He’s never not going to worry. Katsuki just has to learn to deal with it.
“They’re explosives,” says Hagakure through their earpieces. She’s whispering, probably making her way out of the warehouse by now. “Nitroglycerin and uranium. U-235.”
“Uranium,” says Katsuki. They’re crouched on the rooftop of a building in the abandoned harbour, watching a ship pull into the pier. It’s three a.m. People are coming out to unload the cargo, dressed in dark colours and moving quick and quiet. “What the hell are they trying to do? Make nukes?”
“U-235 is nuclear-explosive, yes,” says Eraserhead over the intercom. There’s muffled talking on the other end, and then his voice becomes clear again. “Alright. The priority here is to seize the asset. Prism, can you get on the ship before it docks? Approximately how much of it are we looking at?”
There’s silence for a good few minutes. The sea breeze ruffles Izuku’s hair. Absently, he puts an arm around Katsuki’s shoulders to keep him warm. Katsuki shuffles closer. “Huh. There’s barely anything here,” says Hagakure. “From what I can tell, there’s a metal drum of uranium. Two, four… six drums of nitroglycerin.”
“About a meter tall?”
“Hmm.” There’s silence again. A lone seagull circles the dark sky in hope of some late-night food. “That’s going to be a problem. A cubic meter of uranium weighs nineteen thousand kilograms. That’s not counting the drum. Think you can handle that, Deku?”
“Can’t be any heavier than a building,” Izuku says.
“Is this shit radioactive?” says Katsuki.
“Technically. It’s more stable than you’d think, though. Takes a long time to decay. You won’t be turning into a mutant, if that’s what you’re worried about, although you’ll need to report to the medics anyway as a precaution.”
“Gotcha. I take it the uranium is the important part, right?” says Izuku.
“Yes. Zero, you don’t interact with the asset. Go to the warehouse and create a distraction. Try to apprehend at least one of them, preferably one who doesn’t look like a complete moron. Deku, wait for Zero to start wreaking havoc, then grab the uranium and run back to base. Prism, stay on the ship and cover him. Do you copy?”
“Yes,” all three of them say. Izuku’s fingers tingle with green lightning. Katsuki stretches his arms and steps towards the edge of the building, hands on his hips as he does a quick check around the area. “Alright. No civilians I can see. Prism, tell me when to go in.”
“Roger.” Izuku steps up next to him. He pulls up his hood and puts one foot on the ledge. “Alright, the ship has dropped anchor. Zero, you’re up.”
Katsuki blasts off, Izuku hot on his heels. They split before hitting the ground; Katsuki throws himself towards the warehouse while Izuku heads for the boat, keeping hidden behind old buildings and in between shadows. The screaming starts. Izuku swears he can hear Katsuki laughing in the chaos. He suppresses a smile and waits for Hagakure to call him on board.
It goes perfectly. She points him to the crate he needs and he hefts it in his arms, sparks running up and down his biceps as he takes a running leap off the side of the ship and back on solid ground. Their base is a few blocks away, clear of civilians but too far to be seen by the weapons brokers. Izuku runs up the side of a building and into the air. “Coming in hot!” he shouts into the intercom.
“We’re waiting for you on the roof. For god’s sake, don’t drop it.”
Izuku zips across the skyline. Katsuki’s destruction spree is still distantly audible over the wind whistling in Izuku’s ears. He lands on the roof where Eraserhead is waiting and carefully, carefully puts the drum down, then turns around to run back into the fray.
“Mayday,” says Hagakure in his ear. “Mayday, mayday, I need backup.”
The ship explodes. Izuku, stomach dropping, runs straight for the flames.
Katsuki’s safe, thank god.
Izuku hasn’t slept much this week. He’s spent most of his time in the hospital waiting room, sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair drinking watered-down hot chocolate even though the doctors keep telling him to go home. Kirishima’s come by once or twice. He looks sadder each time Izuku sees him. Izuku doesn’t try to talk.
Katsuki’s hero armour saved him. There’s no permanent damage. Burns, plus several broken bones from the impact of having been thrown from the ship during the explosion. One of his ribs punctured a lung. He’s been in a medically-induced coma since Monday. To keep him comfortable, the doctors said, while they do a skin graft and drain the fluid from his lungs. Hagakure’s safe too. But the reason she’s okay is that she’d called for help and Katsuki had come. He’d grabbed her around the waist and thrown her off the side of the ship. Izuku should be more concerned about her, probably. She’d hit her head and almost drowned.
“Mr Midoriya?” says the doctor. She’s a middle-aged lady with a pixie cut. “Your partner is awake now. He’s asking for you.”
Izuku’s on his feet and following her without really thinking about it. She takes him into a private ward with security guards at the door. Katsuki’s in a pristine white bed, covered in bandages and hooked up to an IV. He looks tiny. “Kacchan.”
“Hey,” says Katsuki, voice scratchy. Izuku bursts into tears.
It takes ten minutes of standing there sniffling before he manages to take a seat. Katsuki reaches out one scarred hand to touch Izuku’s. “Deku. Quit crying, I’m okay.”
Izuku blinks away tears. He probably looks disgusting. “I was so worried about you. I’ve been waiting in the hospital this whole time.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“You tell me you wouldn’t have done the same.”
Katsuki smiles weakly. He looks so pale, with bags under his eyes and lank, greasy hair. “Yeah. You’re right. I would.”
He takes Katsuki home. Cancels his patrols, nurses his boyfriend back to health, hangs around their bed like a hawk in case Katsuki should ever need him. He doesn’t sleep well. Keeps having dreams about chemical explosions, ones where they dredge Katsuki’s body out of the water instead of finding him on land. Where he’s burned and bloated and won’t open his eyes no matter how many times Izuku calls his name.
Being awake isn’t all that much better. Their walls seem oppressive. There’s no danger in their apartment, Izuku logically knows, but that doesn’t stop his pulse racing at the slightest sound. Every movement Katsuki makes seems like it’s trying to invite disaster. He seems fine. He’s recovering well, in fact, but Izuku can’t shake the feeling that something is about to go wrong.
Katsuki watches him a lot. Quietly, like for once he doesn’t know what’s going through Izuku’s mind. Once or twice he opens his mouth like he wants to say something, but he always thinks the better of it before Izuku can ask him what’s wrong.
Izuku feels like he’s suffocating in their home. Sometime in the morning of the twenty-third day of August, he thinks maybe he’s about to break.
“I can’t do this,” he says quietly, sitting cross-legged on the living room sofa. Katsuki brews coffee. He insists on doing little things like that himself, even though Izuku always offers first.
The percolator hisses. Katsuki hisses back the way he always does. “What are you talking about, Deku?”
Izuku stares at the floor. “This. The uncertainty. Being afraid. I can’t.”
There’s silence for a second. Cautiously, Katsuki sits next to him, mug of black coffee in his hand. He’s lost a lot of weight recently, but at least he’s alright. “I don’t understand.”
“My heart just about stopped when that ship blew up, Kacchan. I knew you were in there. And I was too far away.”
“You were busy doing your job.”
“And you did something stupid. You used your quirk on a ship full of explosives. You knew what would happen, you must have. And you did it anyway.”
Katsuki has the decency to look contrite. “I needed to get Hagakure out of there.”
“At what cost?”
“We’re heroes, Deku. We don’t always get to think about the cost.”
“So I’m supposed to just stand there and watch you die? I’m supposed to be okay with that?”
“I did what I had to do.”
“No, you did something stupid and reckless and I almost lost you.”
“It’s done. Look, I’m sorry I worried you. I’ll be more careful in future, okay?”
“No you won’t,” Izuku says half to himself. “Because you were right. This is our lives. One emergency after another and sooner or later one of us is going to die.”
Katsuki puts down his coffee and rests a hand on Izuku’s knee. “Deku. Don’t freak out on me.”
“I’m not freaking out. I’m thinking. When Aizawa told us, I didn’t want to believe it. But now I think he must have been right.”
“About trying to love someone knowing they’ll never be safe,” Izuku says. He barely sees what he’s looking at anymore. “When I saw you in that hospital bed, I thought, this is it. This is what I have to live for. Waiting for the moment I lose you. Hoping it’s painless, at least. I don’t want to do that, Kacchan. I don’t want to watch you die.”
“Alright. I promise I’m going to be more careful about—”
“You don’t have control over this. None of us do. Aizawa was right. It’s easier. To be alone.”
Katsuki’s quiet for a while. The clock on their wall ticks, ten past nine. “Deku.”
“I love you more than anything on Earth, Kacchan. Too much to be around for when stuff like this happens. I can’t watch you get hurt over and over again. I’m not strong enough.”
“I’m not going to make you choose between me and being a hero,” Izuku says quietly. “I know which one you’ll pick. But I’m not doing this again, Kacchan. I can’t. If you’re going to get hurt, I can’t stand to be there when it happens. It’s going to destroy me.”
Katsuki’s grip on his knee is tight. It’s starting to become kind of painful, although Izuku doesn’t bother pushing him away. “You’d better not be breaking up with me, Deku. Not because of this.”
“I think I have to.”
“No.” Katsuki grabs his face and turns him around. “No, you’re not leaving me because I got hurt. You can’t fucking do that, Deku, we’re partners. We’re in this together.”
“Yes. Together. The idea of dying with you doesn’t scare me. But if you die and leave me alone, what am I supposed to do? I can’t lose a part of myself. What if next time you’re not so lucky?”
“And, what, you think breaking up is gonna fucking fix that?”
“It’ll help. Because if I cut ties with you now, when I know you’re safe, I don’t have to watch it happen. I don’t have to worry about you the way I worry about you now.”
“What the fuck?” Katsuki releases him only to shove his shoulder. “You fucking— are you listening to yourself? You’re being so selfish, you’re just gonna leave a lifelong fucking relationship because you got scared one time?”
“One time,” says Izuku hollowly. “You don’t understand, Kacchan. You didn’t see yourself all torn up like that. I am worried about you. All the time. Even in this apartment, knowing nothing can get us, I’m afraid. Being alive is fucking terrifying to me, because for a second I lost you. And if I have to go back to that feeling, that— knowing you’re gone, I’m going to break. I’m not strong enough for that, Kacchan. I can’t do it. I’m scared.”
There are tears beading in Katsuki’s eyes. Izuku feels heavy, like his organs are slowly turning to lead and trying to tear their way out of his body to escape the guilt. “I don’t believe this. You’re being serious. You’re actually fucking breaking up with me.”
“I’m sorry,” Izuku says hoarsely. “I love you, and I’m weak. I don’t know what else to do.”
Katsuki throws his coffee at him. It’s hot and ruins his clothes, but Izuku probably deserves it. This is the only way out, he thinks. And Katsuki can hate him for as long as he wants. Forever. As long as he’s alive to do it.
Their front door slams. Katsuki runs off without his wallet or shoes. Izuku leaves the door unlocked for him, and methodically cleans up the spilled coffee and pieces of broken mug.
Katsuki leaves. Moves into Kirishima’s guest bedroom, or something. Izuku doesn’t ask.
He throws himself into work, because that’s the only thing he really can do. Only thing worth doing, to be honest, since it’s not like he’s much use at anything else. He ends up leaving the apartment too. Everything here reminds him of Katsuki and makes his heart feel like it’s falling out of his chest, so he packs his things and moves to a dinky little one-bedroom in the outskirts of town. It’s near a park. Sometimes Izuku stands on the balcony and watches people walk around when he can’t focus.
Life goes on. Katsuki cuts off contact with him completely. Kirishima tries to call him a lot, but Izuku doesn’t pick up. Eventually he stops trying too. Izuku can’t really bring himself to feel hurt. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. He has nothing to offer anyone right now, and Katsuki needs Kirishima’s company more than Izuku does.
He hasn’t thought about Haruka in ages.
Okay, that’s a lie.
He hasn’t thought about her in… a while.
“Bread,” he mumbles to himself, pen in one hand and post-its on the other as he wanders around his apartment. “Olive oil, milk, eggs.” He stops in the bathroom. “Toothpaste. Disinfectant. Ambien. Gauze.” He’s meant to be meeting Uraraka and Todoroki today. Might as well do the groceries after, because otherwise he’ll put off leaving the house for another week.
He gets to the restaurant at half past noon. The waitress seats him in a booth by the window. Izuku notices a crack in the wall but tries not to eye it too hard, forcing his attention elsewhere every time he catches himself watching the plaster. By the time Todoroki gets there Izuku’s only halfway through the menu.
“Sorry I’m late,” Todoroki says. He’s grown his hair out some more, a sleek ponytail that reaches halfway down his back. “Uraraka’s not coming, by the way. She said something came up.”
“No problem,” says Izuku, accepting the water a waitress comes over to give him. “She okay?”
“She’s fine. How are you?”
“I’m alright. And you?”
“Hungry. I want beef.”
They end up getting fajitas to share, chatting about nothing and trying to come up with the perfect ratio of meat to guacamole. Izuku’s tortillas keep falling apart. Todoroki looks surprisingly at home with the concept of eating with his hands, taking polite little bites and remembering to dab his mouth with a napkin in between. “I did not want to spend the weekend wandering an amusement park with my father. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He got the number for my emergency phone and everything.”
“Yikes. What did you do?”
“Eventually I asked him to meet me outside Shinjuku station at four. He went. Ten minutes in, he called me to ask where I was.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him to get on a train and go home, because the answer was still no.”
Izuku bursts out laughing. Someone from a nearby table looks up. He ducks further in to the booth and tries ineffectually to reign it in. “Oh my god. He must have gone ballistic.”
“He was furious,” Todoroki says, resting his chin in his hand. “There you are. I was starting to worry I wouldn’t hear your helpless schoolboy giggling today.”
“You look unhappy,” he says. Izuku’s smile falters. “When I came in, I saw you sitting by yourself. You’ve been… sombre, lately. It’s uncharacteristic.”
“Yeah, well,” Izuku says, scratching the back of his neck. “Stress, I suppose.”
“You broke up with Bakugou a month ago.”
“Yeah. Papers had a field day with that one.”
“I heard from Bakugou himself, actually. We meet up for drinks from time to time.”
“Oh,” says Izuku. That shouldn’t feel like betrayal. Todoroki’s allowed to be friends with whomever he wants. “Is he… how’s he doing?”
“Coping, I guess,” Todoroki says, oddly contemplative. “Says you were acting odd before you broke up. Skittish.”
Todoroki doesn’t press. Izuku squirms under his mismatched gaze, but all Todoroki does is pick up his glass of water and take a long sip. “Is being alive fun for you?”
“Being alive,” he says again, swirling his drink in his glass. “Are you enjoying it?”
Izuku flounders. “I don’t know. I guess so?”
“Do you look forward to the next day?”
“Because I didn’t,” Todoroki says, blinking long and slow like a cat. “I went to bed thinking I couldn’t wait for the day to be over. Every night. It’s not the same as looking forward to the next day. I didn’t care about the next day. I just wanted to sleep.”
Izuku says nothing. Todoroki puts his glass down and traces the outside, little blooms of frost following his finger and dying out again right after. “I never wanted to die,” he says quietly. “Not exactly. But often I’d catch myself thinking it would be easier if I didn’t exist.”
“Todoroki,” Izuku says, reaching across the table to touch his hand. “I’m sorry. Are you… are you okay?”
“Now? Yes. Back when we first started high school,” Todoroki trails off, glancing out the window. A couple of kids skateboard past, yelling. “I didn’t understand. Why other people seemed so carefree. Why it looked like everyone was having the time of their lives and I was struggling to keep myself together. I oscillated. Between anger and numbness. Apathy and fear.”
“I never knew.”
Todoroki sighs. “You spend so much time inside your own head, you don’t realise the way you feel isn’t normal. You have no frame of reference.”
Izuku fiddles with his napkin, tearing it up into little pieces and gathering them up in a pile. “You think you’re just not trying hard enough to be like everyone else.”
“Yes. I didn’t know how else to be. There were a lot of things wrong with me, it turned out. With my upbringing.”
“Your father is a terrible person.”
“He put me through a lot. Realising that put it into perspective, how badly he’d messed me up.”
“Don’t be,” Todoroki says, smiling crookedly. “I never could have started fixing things if I hadn’t noticed what was wrong.”
The rest of their lunch is subdued. Pleasant, though. Todoroki’s never been talkative, and they get dessert and exist in each other’s space and for the first time in a while, Izuku feels somewhat at ease. There are no expectations here. Someone trustworthy is with him, and that makes it seem like, at least for now, everything is okay.
They split the bill and say goodbye at the door. Todoroki, in a display unusual for him, pulls Izuku into a hug. Izuku hates himself for being glad that Uraraka didn’t show. But, he thinks as he buries his face in his friend’s soft button-down, maybe this time she just knew not to interrupt.
They part ways. Izuku never does end up getting the groceries. Instead he goes home and crawls into bed, and sleeps like a dead man until morning. Just like always, he half-hopes the next day doesn’t come.
“Which one was the one with the robots?”
“That was Doom Doctor,” Gran Torino snorts. “I’m eighty and have a better memory than you do.”
“Sorry.” Izuku continues filling in the police report. The ground rumbles in the distance, but he ignores it. It’s just a sound. Can’t be real, or Gran Torino would say something. The walls stay right where they are. “And, uhm. He attacked the Sanrio building.”
“Lord. You were there, Midoriya, weren’t you paying attention?”
“You weren’t, else you’d remember.”
“I don’t. Please just tell me so I can finish this.”
A small fist comes for his head. Izuku catches it in his hand, stops it in its tracks and looks up. “Don’t touch me.”
Gran Torino blinks. Izuku releases him. Perhaps his tone had been harsher than he’d intended. “Sorry. Please don’t hit me, I’m trying to concentrate.”
“Right,” says Gran Torino slowly. “You… you do that. I’ll be going out for a bit. Stay put, you hear?”
Izuku sighs and puts the report aside to be completed later. He starts on another one, barely looking up when he hears footsteps, and the office door opens and shuts.
He works until evening. The sun goes down early these days, so he has to turn on a desk lamp before six o’clock. The clock ticks. It’s hard to focus today, imaginary noises and unwarranted thoughts interrupting him so he has to keep starting over.
The door opens. “Welcome back.”
“Hello,” says All Might quietly.
Izuku puts his pen down. All Might’s shutting the door behind him, dressed in a long black peacoat even though it’s not quite winter yet. “Oh! Hello. You didn’t say you were coming. Take a seat. Want some tea?”
“The countryside gets dull without city jaunts here and there,” says All Might, perching on the couch. “How’ve you been?”
“Alright,” says Izuku, getting up to rummage around in the kitchenette. “You just missed Gran Torino, he left a little while ago.”
“Yes. He mentioned he wouldn’t be around.”
“How’s retirement?” Izuku says. The kettle boils. He gets two mugs out. “Is your gardening going okay?”
“It’s terrible,” All Might says cheerfully. “My begonias keep dying and I’ve no idea why.”
“Oh dear. Maybe you should call someone for help. I’m sure Kamuri Woods or someone might have tips.”
“It’s alright. I’m rather enjoying muddling through on my own. It’s refreshing, having such silly things to worry about. Pleasantly mundane.”
“Sounds like fun,” Izuku says, handing him a hot black tea. It’s in an All Might mug, he realises belatedly. “You look good. Relaxed.”
“I am.” He takes the mug and sips carefully. Izuku sits down next to him. “I loved being a hero, my boy. But freedom is nice.”
“Do you miss it?”
“Oh, immensely. I still daydream sometimes about what it was like to be in my prime.” He looks smaller than Izuku remembers, leaning against the couch and half-buried in his scarf. Not in a bad way, though. Just blessedly normal. “But nostalgia tends to wear away rough edges. There are, in fact, some things I’d rather not live through again.”
Izuku sips his own drink, smiling crookedly. “You know, I wouldn’t have believed you ten years ago. That there could ever be any drawbacks to this job.”
“We all figure that out early on.”
“Yeah,” Izuku says, curling his legs up under him. The jitters of the day are slowly starting to fade, soothed by the presence of someone solid and warm and safe. “It’s hard. But it’s worth it, I guess.”
“It is. Should you be drinking coffee at this time of day?”
“Hm? Oh, it’s fine. My sleep schedule’s pretty wonky anyway.”
“You’ve had that habit since high school.”
“Since birth,” Izuku says, choosing not to mention how bad it’s gotten over the year. “Being on call for emergencies doesn’t help, though.”
“No,” All Might says, regarding him quietly. “And insomnia wears on you after a while.”
“It was nightmares, for me,” All Might says, nursing his mug. It looks tiny in his hands. “Nana told me she got hyper-sensitive. Every little noise woke her up. Always ready for an emergency, I suppose.”
Izuku watches him. “I didn’t know you got nightmares.”
“Often, and severe. Still do, sometimes. The things you see as a first responder can be horrific.”
Izuku knows. “I’m kind of dependent on Ambien.”
“Yes, I considered sleeping pills myself. They never worked because of my metabolism, but god did I try.”
“Oh,” says Izuku, studying his coffee. It’s beige and very sweet, exactly how Kacchan hates it. “That’s, uhm. Kind of reassuring. That it’s not just me. I’m normal.”
“None of us are normal, my boy. This job is hard. Excruciating, at times. All of us, in some way, are damaged.”
“What are you talking about?”
“There are few of us who make it to retirement, Izuku. Many fall, but still more quit because being a hero takes so much out of you. The physical trauma you go through yourself is bad enough, but seeing such suffering, over and over… it never ends. It starts to feel like the world is destined to die no matter how many times you save it.”
Izuku looks up at him. All Might’s expression is soft and kind, and a little sad. “But you’re the beacon of justice. You never gave up.”
“I came close. Many times, more than I’d care to admit. I kept my smile in public, yes. But no human being is equipped to deal with that much loss. Nobody can hold a corpse in their arms and walk away unscarred.”
Izuku swallows. “You wouldn’t know that.”
“You have a record,” Izuku says. His throat is starting to feel tight. “You’ve never lost a person. Not ever.”
“What an odd thing to say,” All Might hums. “Here? No, I suppose I haven’t. But I was your age once, you know. And this quirk,” he says, looking contemplatively at his hand. “Raw power, flowing through your blood. Sometimes, when you feel immortal, you forget how easily other people can be broken.”
His coffee’s probably growing cold. Izuku can’t bring himself to care. “When?”
“Three times. Back in the states, when I was first starting out. I knew how to fight. Didn’t know how to minimise collateral damage. It took a very long time, Izuku. Before I could stop thinking of myself as a murderer.”
“How did you get over it?” Izuku asks, voice quiet.
All Might looks at him. His smile is gone, face gaunt and terribly aged. “Not on my own, I can tell you that. It took years. Years and years of constant help, talking to someone trained to handle this the way I wasn’t.”
“You had therapy.”
“I had psychiatric treatment. And I know it seems like your friends are doing fine and you aren’t,” he says. “But sooner or later this job will take its toll on all of you. They don’t tell you that in UA because they don’t want to scare you. But they should. You either reach out, or you ignore your problems and let them break you.”
The ceiling fan whirs. Izuku stares at the floor and remembers to breathe. All Might sighs. Pats his hair, smooths it back from his head. “You’re not the only hero in the world, Izuku. There are others who feel what you feel. And there are still others who want to help. People without uniforms or special quirks, who can heal you, however you’re hurting.”
Oh. He’s crying. Feels like the first time he’s done that in a long time. He wipes a tear away. All his limbs feel so heavy.
Slowly, All Might puts down his tea and wraps Izuku into a hug. Izuku goes without a fight. “You’ve held yourself together for a long time,” he says, folding Izuku into his chest. “But I think, my boy, it’s time you let someone else do the rescuing.”
He sees a shrink. Some foreign lady recommended by All Might. It’ll be completely confidential, he’d been promised. Her office is a sweet, pastel yellow, full to bursting with posters and potted plants. There’s no desk. All the seats are arranged to face each other, surrounding a round coffee table with flowers in a blue vase. Izuku sits on the couch and waits, mug of complimentary hot chocolate in his hands.
The door opens. She’s younger than he expected, barely in her thirties. Dark skin and short hair, with a soft sweater thrown over her jeans. Her sneakers kind of look like his. “Hello,” she says in English. “You must be Izuku. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” says Izuku. She smiles.
She sits opposite him and asks him why he’s there. He tells her the gist of how things have been; Haruka, the insomnia, Kacchan. The hair-trigger nerves, the quick temper. How everyone says there’s something wrong with him even though he’s doing his job just fine.
She nods along, taking notes on her clipboard. “Have you ever heard of post-traumatic stress disorder?”
“Yes. I don’t think I have that.”
“I’m surviving alright. I’m just under a lot of pressure.”
“Surviving is not the same as thriving,” she says. “Would you say you’re thriving?”
“No. I suppose not.”
“PTSD is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a mental health disorder brought on by a traumatic event. Witnessing death for the first time - of a child, no less - sounds pretty traumatic.”
Izuku ignores the sudden memory of rubble. “Yeah. Unfortunately, it’s normal in this line of work. Seeing casualties.”
“Oh, I know. All my clients are heroes. Doesn’t mean they’re not still human.”
“Why don’t we try this? I’d like you to tell me everything that happened.”
“Oh. I, uhm. I thought I did.”
“The events, yes. This time I’d like to hear it in detail, on a deeper level. Your thoughts and emotions. I’d like to know what it’s like being in your head.”
Izuku scratches the back of his neck. “There’s not much else to tell. I’m having trouble sleeping, and flashbacks and moodiness. And, uhm, anxiety. I’m not sure my symptoms are all that bad, I think I’m just dealing with them poorly.”
Sun shines through the window. The doctor leans back in her chair, regarding him with her hands steepled and legs crossed in front of her. “Do you think I have any idea what I’m talking about?”
“I— what? Of course.”
“I’ll tell you what I see. I see a young man who’s been thrown into one of the hardest jobs in the world. Trained, yes, but not experienced. He’s dealt with something awful. The kind of death nobody should ever have to see. He feels responsible for it. It’s interfering with his life. Coming back in flashbacks, keeping him awake, draining his personality. Suddenly, everything seems dangerous. Nothing brings pleasure anymore. Being around people, even friends, is a struggle. And being alive is painful.”
Izuku says nothing. His fingers tighten, just a bit, around his cup.
“Existing shouldn’t have to hurt,” she continues, tilting her head. Her tone is almost curious, like she genuinely wants to hear if he disagrees. “Battling an undiagnosed illness is like fighting unarmed. You’re brave for doing it. You’ve stayed alive for this long. But wouldn’t you rather have a weapon?”
“I’m not sure I deserve one,” Izuku says quietly. “I had one job. I didn’t do it.”
She smiles, soft and understanding. The heater whirs, and she puts her pen down. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s start over, Izuku. Tell me what happened, from the top.”
Once a week. Every Saturday, four pm. He goes to the psychiatrist and talks, and she listens until he’s exhausted his words and has nothing else to say.
She puts him on… something. A combo of SSRIs and anti-psychotics to deal with the hallucinations. Gran Torino makes him take time off work to adjust. The side effects make him nauseous and slow, but it stops being unbearable after two weeks.
It helps. He still can’t sleep and maybe he’ll never feel really normal again, but it helps.
“I don’t understand why there need to be so many models,” Uraraka huffs, hair all piled up under an official Ingenium baseball cap. “They’re just dressers! How many different designs could you realistically need?”
“And here you thought getting your own place would be fun,” Izuku says, patting her on the head. “I told you to check them out online first.”
She harrumphs. “This is dumb. I’m just gonna show someone a picture of the guest room and ask which one I should get.”
She stomps off to corner a sales clerk, a chirpy man of middle age with wire glasses. He looks at the photo of her guest room and hums, a thick catalogue appearing in his hand in a puff of smoke. “You might want to try this line,” he says, helpfully pointing one out. “They’re down this aisle, to the left. Tell me if you need anything else.”
They thank him and go. Uraraka ooh and aahs over how sleek this one looks, completely forgetting her earlier irritation. Izuku keeps looking over his shoulder. The sales clerk is busy helping someone else. “That guy just summoned a catalogue out of nowhere.”
Uraraka looks up from inspecting a drawer. “Yeah, he did.”
“How did he do that?” Izuku says half to himself. “Is it a teleportation quirk? He didn’t even have to look at it. Does he have to know where the thing is first or does he just, like, think about it?”
The clerk wanders off. Izuku hums and looks away, jumping half out of his skin when he notices Uraraka’s come close to peer right into his face. “Deku.”
“What?” he says, going cross-eyed trying to look at her.
She watches him for a moment. “Nothing,” she finally says, leaning away to open another drawer. “Do you wanna go ask him about his quirk?”
“Oh! I, uhm. We’re here to get your dresser, I don’t want to waste your time.”
“Forget the dresser,” she says, gracing him with a sunny smile. Skipping closer, she takes his arm and tugs him back up the aisle. “Come on. Let’s go find him and chat. I really, really don’t mind.”
“Do you own a journal?” asks the doctor.
Izuku smiles. “Several. I used to get made fun of a lot because I wrote everything down.”
“Perfect,” she says, handing him a piece of paper. It’s got columns printed on it, four squares by four in neat rows. “Then you’ll like this. I have an exercise I want you to try.”
Izuku looks at the headers. “Trigger, flashback, feared outcome, realistic outcome.”
“It’s a common practice for people who have anxiety disorders. Often times you notice your fear is disproportional to the actual event, right? The next time you start getting panicky, I want you to fill this table in.”
She walks him through it. First, the trigger, the thing that causes the anxiety attack. Next, the memory that comes with it. Jot it down instead of trying to suppress it. Third, the ugly thoughts that come creeping in after. The exact thing he’s afraid will happen this time. Last, think. Don’t feel. Give his rational brain a voice and work out what’s going to happen in real life. He sees the logic in it, he supposes. To name the demons, give them a face and a form he can see. Make them seem like real things, not just shapeless horrors in the dark. Makes it easier to break them down, systematically show himself why they can’t exist. Like being young and convinced there are monsters in the closet until you turn the light on and see nothing there.
He doesn’t do it, the first time. A minor earthquake hits the city and he spends thirty minutes hyperventilating under a table.
The second time goes better. He writes his list when his head starts to clear, brings it with him for his next appointment.
“What do those words look like to you?” the doctor asks after reading it herself. Izuku chews the inside of his cheek and tries not to feel ashamed.
“They’re the ramblings of a madman.”
“This isn’t you,” she says gently, tapping her finger on the third column. “This is a panic attack. The work of a disorder that’s interfering with part of your brain.”
“But I thought it.”
“It doesn’t feel connected to you, though, does it? Now that you’re calm. You barely remember why you felt like that.”
“I guess so.”
“Think of it this way,” she says, leaning forward in her chair. “Think of a dog. Normally, it’s friendly. Sweet. But when its life is in danger- I mean, really in danger- its thought processes shut down. It doesn’t care about being nice. It will bite, and scratch, and panic, to keep itself alive. Your brain is doing the same thing right now. The difference here, is that a lot of the time the danger isn’t actually real.”
Izuku drums his fingers against his knee. “I’ve been in danger. A lot. It’s… rare. That I get like that, when I’m working. But when I’m having an anxiety attack, it feels like I’m going nuts. Like I’m going feral.”
“You’ve had a lot of emotions over the course of your life.” She holds her hands out like she’s measuring something. “For the vast majority of that, you’ve been alright. That part is you, the stable part. The part you recognise. The panic attacks, the flashbacks, those are blips in your timeline. That’s a health issue.”
“So I’m sick,” he says, chest feeling heavy.
“Right now? Maybe,” she says, giving him back his list. “But here’s the good news, Izuku. This illness can be fixed. And you’re a hero. You were born to fight.”
“You’ve been staring at the wall for a while now,” says Todoroki.
Izuku tears his gaze away. “Sorry, I— sorry.”
Todoroki watches him impassively. The police are carting a bank robber away. The only reason they’re both here is because they happened to be in the area, but they’re good at working together. They saved the hostages in under an hour. Now adrenaline’s still thrumming in the tips of Izuku’s fingers. That villain had had a tornado quirk. Not enough to level a building, but he worries.
“Midoriya,” Todoroki says quietly. “The bank’s not going to collapse.”
Izuku shuts his eyes. Breathes in, breathes out. Forces himself to slow down. “I know.”
“Even if it did, we’re both here to help. Everything will be okay.”
“Yeah,” Izuku says. Lets the sudden bad memory pass. “Sorry. It’s just, you know. Flashbacks.”
“I understand,” Todoroki says. The sirens wail, police cars heading back to the station. The EMTs mill around. Nobody’s hurt, so all they need to do is make some checks and they can leave too. “Does it help? Having a name for it? Knowing it’s PTSD?”
“I don’t know,” Izuku tells him truthfully. “Sometimes it feels like a sentence. Like I have a sign hanging around my neck saying I’m not normal.”
“And other times?”
“Other times it’s an explanation,” he says. A young couple walks out of the bank together, clinging to each other, scared but safe. “I’m not making this up. I’m not just, like, not trying hard enough. I have a problem and that’s why sometimes coping is so hard.”
“That’s good. That you’re learning to be gentle with yourself.”
“Yeah. And for what it’s worth,” says Todoroki, bumping their shoulders together. “Compared to before? I think you’re better. I think, one day, you’re going to be alright.”
“I gave the bad thoughts a name,” Izuku says, kind of self-conscious. He’s left his jacket on the coat rack because the heating’s turned up so high today. “I pretend it’s a different person saying it. A villain or someone. Makes the words easier to ignore.”
“You’ve figured out a way to distance yourself from the intrusive thoughts,” says the doctor, nodding along. “Clever. Do your good thoughts have a name too?”
“My good thoughts?”
“Yes. The part of you that says, ‘I think this will work out’. Or, ‘I’m doing really well lately’. Who says those?”
“I do, I guess.”
“I— I don’t know. Do I?”
She smiles when he tilts his head. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the way you talk about yourself is rather unflattering.”
“Sorry,” he says, somewhat sheepish. She smiles wider.
“Don’t apologise. What I’m saying is, you’re very hard on yourself. Ideally, you’d be able to say good things to yourself regularly, but right now you can’t. You’re kind of hard-wired to put yourself down.”
Slowly, Izuku nods. “When I try to compliment myself it feels like I’m telling a lie.”
“So what if you pretended your good, positive thoughts were being told to you by someone else? Someone you trust? Would they seem more believable then?”
“Maybe,” he says thoughtfully. “I’ll try it out.”
He does, when he goes home. Looks at himself in the mirror and tries to start somewhere simple. “I have nice eyes,” he says to himself, then immediately goes red because he sounds like an idiot. “Someone else,” he mumbles, pinching the bridge of his nose. Someone whose compliments he likes. Someone whose opinions he trusts and respects, because maybe that way it’ll sound more real.
He thinks. A memory comes to him in fits and starts, of him lounging on the sofa in early spring. Katsuki’s there, wearing a stolen t-shirt, tilting Izuku’s chin up with his fingers. Studying his face with no trace of shame, from his chin to his lips to his freckles. Deku. I like your eyes.
Izuku sighs. Now the words make him feel soft and warm, spoken in Katsuki’s voice, quiet but gruff. “Thanks,” he says, only half to himself, alone in his tiny bathroom in sweatpants and mismatched socks.
He stops a school bus before it can crash.
The brakes had stopped working, it looks like, and the driver hadn’t been able to stop them rolling downhill. Izuku isn’t even in uniform. He’d just been out running errands when he heard the commotion, and had jumped in front of it without a second thought.
There’s a nasty Izuku-sized dent in the front of it now. But the kids are all safe, and the driver’s counting them off and making sure they’re okay. His shirt’s torn. Izuku sticks his fingers through the holes and frowns. May be able to mend it, although it’s probably going to be lopsided and weird.
Something small and noisy cannons into his legs. Izuku oofs and looks down.
It’s several somethings. Children, his brain reminds. “Thank you!” one of them cries. That starts off a chorus of thank yous and we love yous and you’re the best.
He smiles and kneels to talk to them. Two little boys attach themselves to his arms and someone else clambers onto his back. “Are you Deku?” says their ringleader, who can’t be much older than eight. “Where’s your costume? Don’t you have bunny ears?”
“That’s me. I’m not actually on duty right now,” Izuku tells her. Someone’s trying to get onto his shoulders. “But I sure am glad I found you guys. That was a busy intersection you were heading for. Thank goodness none of you are hurt.”
“You wouldn’t let us get hurt,” says a boy in his ear. “You’re Deku. You can do anything.”
Izuku’s heart twinges. “Well. I wouldn’t say that.”
“Thank you for helping us,” says the ringleader. “My mom says you’re a good person because you try your best to save everyone.”
“That’s what a hero’s supposed to do,” says Izuku seriously. “I’m just happy to help.”
A blue stuffed dog is thrust into his face. A boy in a parka’s materialised at his side. “You can have Peanut. As a thank you gift.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to take away your friend.”
“He’s a present,” the boy insists. “You need a sidekick. You work hard and you’re all by yourself.”
“I don’t mind being alone.” Izuku takes it. The ribbon around its neck is a soft, pastel purple. He smiles. “But thank you. I’ll treasure him. Forever and ever.”
The kids, for some reason, cheer. Izuku, toy in his jacket and hole in his shirt, forgets about the groceries, and spends the next hour taking turns swinging his tiny new fans around instead.
“This PTSD thing is frustrating,” Izuku says, leaning back in his seat. “I have a career and other people to worry about. I don’t want to be held back. There’s so much else I want to explore.”
The doctor smiles. “Oh, Izuku. That’s what I’ve been hoping to hear for months.”
“Thank you for coming,” Izuku says.
Katsuki scowls at him. He’s still so handsome, although maybe Izuku’s not allowed to think that anymore. He’s in a leather jacket and jeans, white t-shirt tight across his chest. Izuku feels a little shabby in his hoodie. “Yeah, well. The only reason I’m here is because Kirishima made me promise to go. You wanted to talk, so talk.”
“You were right,” Izuku says. Straight to the point because he doesn’t deserve much of Katsuki’s time anymore. “About me needing help. I should have listened to you. I was stubborn and afraid.”
Katsuki watches him for a long second. Izuku breathes in deep and looks him in the eye, lays himself open to be read. “You saw someone.”
“A psychiatrist. Foreign lady. She’s nice.”
“What did she say?”
“Post-traumatic stress disorder,” Izuku says, forcing himself not to look away. It’s not something to be ashamed of, she’d told him. It’s a sign of having lived through something hard. “I’m on medication now. And therapy.”
Slowly, Katsuki sits down. The café’s almost empty. Izuku comes here a lot by himself, when he needs to be out of the apartment. The baristas don’t bat an eye at seeing two pro heroes hanging out. “What’re the meds?”
Izuku sips his hot chocolate. He’s already ordered Katsuki a black coffee, and it sits on the table between them in a big porcelain mug. “SSRI’s, for brain chemistry stuff. And anti-psychotics. For the hallucinations. Smaller dose, though. Than the SSRI’s.”
“Mostly auditory. Ground shaking, plaster cracking, stuff like that.”
“I see.” He sips his coffee. It’s near boiling, but he doesn’t seem to notice. “Is it helping? The treatment?”
“A lot. The meds are slowing me down a lot, I’ll admit. Brain fog. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate. But it’s better than the alternative, so I won’t complain.”
Katsuki nods. His expression’s smoothed, somewhat, like he’s no longer quite so disgusted at Izuku’s presence. Izuku’ll take it. They haven’t spoken to each other in almost a year, but awkwardness is better than outright hate. “Why?”
“You didn’t listen to me,” Katsuki says, one arm draped over the back of his chair. “Why’d you finally decide to get help?”
“All Might said I should.”
“Of course. He tells you to jump and you jump.”
“It’s not that.” Izuku chews his cheek, tries to gauge how much of the story is his to tell. “He told me… how hard it gets. Staying in this business as long as he did. There was a lot of it I didn’t know. A lot of stuff that I thought made me crazy, but he knew exactly what I was talking about. He knew what to do. The doctor is a friend of his, in fact. He gave me her number.” He lowers his gaze. Thinks of how it used to feel like static in his head, how that’s slowly starting to come back to colour. “I think Gran Torino made him come talk some sense into me. It was getting… hard. Existing like that.”
Katsuki’s gaze doesn’t falter even though Izuku keeps his on his drink. “Existing like what?”
Of course he’d ask. Katsuki never makes things easy. Izuku knows that. “Being afraid. All the time. Feeling like I was losing my mind. Having parts of myself seep away without me noticing. Forgetting things, going into a panic over the slightest thing. It felt like my brain was giving up on me. We both know what it’s like, to be bleeding out, dying,” he says quietly. “This was almost worse. I couldn’t fix the wound. I didn’t know where it was.”
A coffee machine steams. Someone comes in, and the baristas call out a hello. The door swings slowly shut behind them, chime jingling softly in the wind. “I’m sorry,” Izuku says, words coming out dry and uncomfortable like cotton wool. “I hurt you. I shouldn’t have pushed you away when all you were trying to do was help. None of that was your fault, Kacchan. I made a mistake and screwed us both over.”
Cutlery clinks. Katsuki takes a deep breath, lets it go. “I’m still mad at you, Deku. I’m going to be mad for a long time.”
“You can’t apologize and expect everything to be okay. You threw us away. Didn’t even try to fix it.”
Izuku shuts his eyes. “I know.”
“But,” Katsuki says, voice quiet but gruff. “I’m glad. That you’re not hurting as bad anymore. Dumb as hell, aren’t I? You ripped my heart out and I still worry about you, even now.”
Izuku looks at him. For the first time he sees the bags under Katsuki’s eyes, thinks that maybe he’s not the only one who feels like he’s lost control of this year. “It’s not dumb,” he says, corner of his mouth lifting, just a bit. “I know where not we’re not even friends anymore, Kacchan. But I feel just the same.”
“I saw him,” says Izuku. “My ex. A week ago, just the two of us.”
“And how’d that go?” asks the doctor. She’s in a light green sundress today.
“Better than I’d hoped. I still don’t think he likes me much.”
“What did you talk about?”
“How I’m doing. And I apologised. For leaving him. He was never the problem. Breaking up didn’t solve anything.”
“And what was the problem?”
“Being afraid,” Izuku says. The window’s open. A car honks outside. “I was half-right, I guess. Seeing him get hurt that time was horrible for me. I don’t know if I can go through that again.”
“But being apart didn’t change much.” He studies the scares on his hands, a crisscross of gnarled tissue he barely notices anymore. “Even if he’s not my boyfriend. Even if we never speak. I’m always going to worry, because I’m always going to care. Getting hurt is just a part of our lives. I may as well be there to help him get patched up after.”
She nods, makes a note in bright pink pen. “That’s a pretty big thing you’ve figured out. Maybe you should tell him.”
“Yeah,” says Izuku. “Maybe I will.”
He visits Haruka’s grave sometime in spring. On a weekday at noon, when he’s sure nobody will be around.
He brings her daisies. Not appropriate for a dead person, maybe, but they’re bright. Colourful and fun, like he thinks she might have liked. There’s a carving of an angel next to her tombstone. Ever-watchful, just to make sure she’s alright.
“Sorry I haven’t been to see you all this while,” he says, kneeling in front of it. There are so many flowers he can barely read her name. “I should have come earlier. I got a little caught up in some things.”
A bird chirps. He’s probably getting grass stains on his jeans. “I, uhm. I brought you something. Flowers. And this,” he says, tugging a pastel purple ribbon out of his front pocket. “I’m sorry I didn’t know when your birthday was. But a little boy gave me something a while ago. A stuffed doggie. It’s called Peanut. He said I needed a sidekick, because I spend too much time on my own.”
He ties it in a bow around the angel’s wrist, in careful, if lopsided, loops. “You spend a lot of time on your own as well,” he murmurs. “I promised I’d keep Peanut, but I thought maybe a little part of Peanut could stay with you too. Too keep you company, like he does for me.”
The makeshift bracelet flutters in the wind. “I’ll come visit you soon. Everyone misses you so, so much. I didn’t know you, Haruka, but I know you were loved.” Sitting back on his heels, Izuku wipes his eyes and dredges up a smile, just for her.
“Did you know Eraserhead and Present Mic were together?”
Izuku looks up. Katsuki’s still looking out at the park, languid and relaxed in the dying light. They’d dragged the loveseat out onto the balcony to enjoy the approaching summer sun. Izuku’s feeling soft and warm, but maybe that’s just from the beer. “Since when?”
“Before UA, even,” Katsuki says. He looks almost at home in Izuku’s crappy apartment, in a soft hoodie Izuku thinks might once have been his. “Did a damn good job of hiding it, but we talk sometimes now. They’re basically married.”
“Oh. I had no idea.”
“Dumb bastards,” Katsuki snorts, tilting his head back to take a sip. Izuku watches the bob of his adam’s apple absently. “Said all that shit about not falling in love because it’s too hard, then went and started boning. Hypocrites.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Izuku says without thinking. Katsuki looks at him. “I mean. Caring about someone. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re sleeping with them. You’re still going to care.” He swirls his drink in its bottle, watching the bubbles float up. “Once you fall in love with someone, in whatever way, you worry. You can try to cut ties but it won’t change. So you might as well stick around. Be there for them. To help them recover.”
“Guess that’s true,” Katsuki hums, turning to watch the sun go down.
He looks calm. It’s taken a while to get them this far; he’d been aloof, after Izuku had reached out that first time. Guarded, unwilling to forgive. But Izuku had kept trying. Slowly, with genuine, bumbling steps. They’d met up a couple of times, with someone in between to soften the divide. Kirishima, and sometimes Uraraka. Started texting. Gradually got to know each other again, on Katsuki’s terms, until they could be in the same room and just talk. No memories, no bad feelings. Just them.
And one day, they’d stopped needing a buffer. One day Katsuki had asked Izuku to go see a movie alone. They’d hated it, and spent all of dinner making fun of the main actor. For the first time in a year, Izuku heard Katsuki laugh.
Now they’re here. Not where they used to be, nowhere close, but comfortable. Maybe Izuku could even call them friends.
“You know what I haven’t done in a while?” says Katsuki, apropos nothing. “Gone hiking. We should go sometime. One of the weekends. Leave the city, hang out in the mountains.”
Izuku blinks. His heart wobbles a little in chest, but this time it’s not from fear. “Oh. Okay.”
“Yeah.” Izuku smiles. Something nameless settles itself across Katsuki’s shoulders, lightens his posture just a bit. Makes him seem less world-weary and more at peace. “Yeah. I’d like that.”
“Cool,” Katsuki says and sips his drink. “Yeah. Cool.”
So this is it. This is Izuku, still here after he thought he was crumbling. Broken and wobbly but healing, figuring things out as he goes along because that’s about the best he can do.
There are still bad days. A lot of them, days when he’s jittery and overwhelmed and his senses decide to play tricks on him. But he’s alive. Not a rising star like he’d thought he’d be back in high school, leaping out of All Might’s shadow to cast a light of his own. But that’s okay. For now, he’s happy right here, down on earth, just trying his best. Putting himself together, piece by piece. One foot in front of the other. This is okay.
They fall asleep like that. Katsuki with an empty bottle in his hand, and Izuku curled up next to him. Further from Katuski than he wants to be but still grateful for where he is. Comfortable and warm. Safe. Not happy, not quite, but close.
The noises of the city die down. The stars come out, few but bright, and Izuku stirs against Katsuki’s shoulder. He forgot his Ambien, he realises dimly. But it’s fine. Maybe he doesn’t need it. Just for tonight. Just for this moment.
Tomorrow they’ll both wake up sore and cold. Katsuki will complain for ages and Izuku will be late to work, and All Might will take one look at him and smile.
But they’ll deal with that when it comes. For now, face pressed against Katsuki’s sweatshirt, Izuku shuts his eyes and goes back to sleep.