The first time that Eri remembered having any kind of meaningful encounter with the loud boy with scary eyes had been during U.A.'s cultural festival.
“What do you wanna do now, Eri?” Mirio asked cheerfully, Eri's little fingers wrapped around his enormous hand as they strolled around outside. It was very colorful, with booths and streamers and lots of happy people and loud noises and yummy smells. It had been overwhelming at first, but curiosity overpowered any lingering fear she might have had. She'd never seen anything like this before!
Deku had run off somewhere not too long ago, but he promised he'd be back soon, so she wasn't worried. All that mattered to her was how happy he and Mirio had been when she finally figured out how to smile. That's what Mirio said they'd wanted in return for rescuing her, so now she could give it to them and make them happy!
“Um...” Eri looked around U.A.'s courtyard, surrounded by more colorful booths. There were lots of things to eat, but she wasn't hungry quite yet, and she wasn't sure what the other booths were for. “Uh, what else is there?”
“Well,” Mirio hummed. “We could watch people doing the obstacle course, we could go to a cafe and get drinks, we could find a place that sells toys, we could-”
Mirio's eyes followed where she was pointing, his face lighting up at the site of a bright stand where two students were handing out balloons. “They're handing out free balloons. Would you like one?”
Eri's eyes sparkled at the bright, pretty colors blowing in the wind. From her memory, Chisaki never got her any balloons. Just those random dolls and other toys like that. She never asked why they kept getting her stuff, but honestly, it didn't matter.
She didn't want to think about them anymore.
“Yeah.” she responded, realizing that she'd gone quiet. She didn't like the crease of worry in Mirio's brow. “Yeah, I'd like a balloon, please.”
His face eased, his own smile returning, and Eri could do nothing but smile back at the happiness radiating from his face. For as much as they wanted to see her happy, she just as badly wanted to see him laughing and smiling and glowing with joy.
A moment later, they were making their way through the crowd towards the balloon stand, Eri's eyes staring up at the colors in amazement. The first time she'd seen such vibrant colors was the striking green lightning of Deku's quirk, crackling through the air as the building came crashing down and the two of them shot up high into the sky. She vividly remembers the cloudless blue sky being just as beautiful.
“Can I have a green one?” Eri asked, holding tightly onto her hero's hand as they approached the stand. Her response was a wink and a thumbs up as Mirio began chatting with the people behind the stands. They were friends, apparently.
Eri looked around at the other stands around them, letting go of Mirio's hand and standing on her tippy toes to get a better look. There were lots of people, so it was hard to see everything that was going on around her. From far away, the sound of a crowd cheering could be heard, likely another event taking place somewhere, and Eri watched as other children ran around with toys and snacks. A little ways away, there was a stage where a couple of people were singing and playing instruments for everyone passing by. It wasn't as cool and exciting as the music that Deku's class played, but it was still very soothing.
Bouncing on her heels, Eri looked up at the next door booth, another food stall where they were making mochi by hand. Curious, she skittered over and attempted to peer over the stand, watching in fascination as the students worked on folding and hammering the dough. It seemed that a couple of other kids and families had become interested in watching as well, gathering around as loud, excited students ran up to the front and offered everyone free samples. Despite not being very hungry, Eri's mouth watered at the sight of them, remembering Deku's friend, Uraraka, she remembers, talking about how sweet and yummy mochi was and how much she loved it.
Eri had never had mochi before, so she was especially interested.
Luckily, the student noticed her staring, smiling down at her as she wrapped up two small dumplings in a tiny paper bag and handed it to her. “These are free samples, so you don't need money.”
Eri gasped happily as the little bag was placed in her hands. “Thank you, miss!”
The girl nodded kindly as she turned away, her attention now on the other kids standing around the booth as Eri looked inside the bag. There sat two little balls of warm mochi, freshly-made with a tiny white flower nestled between them and a white powdery substance sprinkled on top. Eri's eyes shone brightly as she stared at them, a giddiness welling up inside her. They looked so good!
But there were only two, and Deku would be joining her and Mirio again soon.
She deflated at that. Of course she was planning on giving the other one to Mirio, but then Deku wouldn't have any, and that made her feel bad. She could ask the nice girl at the booth for another one, but that would normally cost money, and she didn't want to take it from her.
Or she could just give hers to Deku.
She gasped at the realization. Of course! She could give these to Mirio and Deku as gifts. She'd never been able to do much for them after they saved her, so even if it was just a little thing, it was still something, and to her, that meant the world. Besides, she could always ask for her own mochi later. Maybe Uraraka would be willing to share with her.
With her mind made up, Eri briskly turned back to the balloon stand, where Mirio was still happily and enthusiastically chatting with his friend. Eri always liked seeing him and Deku like this, all excited and smiley and talking so fast that she didn't always understand what they were saying, but she nodded along anyway, because she loved their smiles just as much as they loved hers-.
She blinked, looking down at her empty hands in confusion.
It took her a moment to realize what was missing, swiveling around in a panic as she searched for her missing package. For a moment, she feared that her quirk somehow activated and rewound the little bag and its contents into nonexistence (though she didn't think that her quirk worked on non-living things), but then her eyes landed on a small tuft of fur, the flicking tail of a black cat pulling at her attention as it looked back at her, her dumplings held securely in its mouth.
“Hey!” she shouted, running after the cat as it took off. “Those are mine, for my heroes! Give them back!”
She didn't even think about the consequences at the time, purely focused on the disappearing form of the cat and her hero's dumplings as she gave chase. In a way, she almost felt like a hero in that moment, saving the day as she weaved through the crowds and kept her eyes squarely on the small little animal carrying her treats away. The only thought that ran through her mind was repaying her heroes, finally having a way to give back to them after everything they've done for her.
Her little legs began to hurt as she lunged, the cat startling and sprinting out of the way so fast that Eri didn't even see which way it went, letting out a quiet “oof” as her stomach hit the dirt and left her winded. She coughed as dust swirled in her face waving it away as she slowly pulled herself up. Next to her, the little paper bag sat in the dirt, dropped in the cat's frantic attempt to get away.
With a loud gasp that had her coughing all over again, she scrambled for it, quickly crawling over and snatching it before someone could accidentally step on it. Shakily pulling herself to her feet, she looked over herself, cringing at how dirty her pretty red dress had gotten. Aizawa wouldn't be happy about that.
But heroes' costumes get dirty and torn all the time, she supposed, carefully peering into the bag and sighing in relief at the mostly untouched mochi sitting comfortably inside. The cute little flower had been thrown around and crushed under one of the dumplings, but she didn't dare reach in and fix it, worried about getting any dirt and grime in the bag and ruining them. Wrapping the top of the bag closed and a triumphant grin on her face, she turned to find Mirio and tell him about her grand heroic endeavors.
And suddenly realized that she didn't know where she was.
Her smile fell as she craned her neck to look through the crowd, but she couldn't see Mirio from here. She didn't even know which direction she'd gone, so she couldn't even retrace her steps.
She was lost.
Terror filtered in slowly, spinning around to look for any familiar faces, Deku, Aizawa, Uraraka or Kirishima or Asui, anyone that she knew. Almost reluctantly, curling into herself and clutching the little paper bag close to her chest, she tentatively began walking forward.
“Mirio?” she called out nervously, stumbling through the crowd. “Mirio? Deku? Where are you?”
The loud, steady murmur around her was her only response.
Biting her lip, she looked back. Going forward would only get her more lost, so the most logical course of action would be to go the other way. With that in mind, she turned and started jogging forward, eyes scanning everything in front of her for anything familiar. A part of her was scared that being out here alone, surrounded by so many people, would mean that they would be able to find her.
She didn't want to go back.
But she was still at U.A., with safe people. Even if there's a lot of strangers everywhere, she was still with the heroes and at a hero school. It should be safe here.
It still didn't sit well with her.
Standing close to the booths, she noticed a group of children gathering in front of one ahead of her. Anxiously, she stepped forward, looking up at the student manning the booth. There were a plethora of toys in the booth, mostly little dolls and stuffed animals that the students were handing out to the kids surrounding the booth. She stood quietly in the back, peering over as an older girl handed off a tiger plushy of some kind. Another boy reached up for a Fatgum action figure and made Eri smile a little bit. He had helped her too, if she remembered correctly.
“Little Miss?” Eri startled, clutching her bag as she stared up at a student with wide eyes. The boy's smile was kind, eyes soft and sharp at the same time as he held a doll in front of her. “Would you like a toy?”
She remembered, in the back of her mind, a dark room with toys scattered around messily. She remembered the cutesy decorations and light filtering through the crack under the door, bandages around her arms and legs as Chisaki's friends would come in and give her toys, dolls and playsets and other things after cutting and tearing and again and again again again-
“N-no thank you.” she stuttered, quickly backpedaling away and diving back into the crowd in a blind run. She could feel eyes on her everywhere, strange adults looking down at her with uncaring eyes, bright lights shining down on her with muttering and humming machines and it hurt it hurt it hurt-
They're coming after her again!
“Mirio!” she cried, tears in her eyes as she ran as fast as her little legs could carry her. As long as she kept running, they wouldn't catch her, and then the heroes would come and save her. “Mirio! Deku! Aizawa! Where are you!?”
They were going to take her away!
“Please!” she sobbed, running blindly. “Please, help me! Aizawa! Dek-!”
The impact was so unexpected that it knocked the wind out of her, sending her flailing in the air and to the ground on her back. She blinked in her daze, staring up at the beautiful blue sky as the sun shone brightly against her face, forcing her to squint against the light. For a moment, everything was quiet, nothing but the stirring of rubble and her own thundering heartbeat, hands gripping the open air where Deku was supposed to be, where she'd been clinging to his back as he fought tooth and nail against Chisaki so she wouldn't have to go back with him ever again.
Where did he go?
Wait, she wasn't even on that battlefield right now. There was no rubble anywhere. This was U.A.
She was safe.
She was safe.
She was safe.
Slowly, shakily, she pushed herself up, her eyes searching for her mochi bag before she noticed what she'd run into. She found herself staring at a pair of legs as the crowd flowed past them, paying them no mind. Tentatively looking up, she instantly recognized the bright orange shirt, a big white A plastered on the front, marking the person as a band member for class 1-A's concert. That meant that this person was from Deku's class.
And that meant that this person was safe.
She tried to make herself relax as she looked up, a pair of red eyes like hers looking back down at her. His eyes were scary, sharp and piercing and glaring at her with the power of the sun itself, and she almost felt as if she was being burned. His posture was slouched, shoulders low and hands deep in his pockets as his mouth twisted into a deep frown.
She bit her lip, head swiveling around until her eyes fell on the little bag, thankfully still closed and full, and quickly snatched it, jumping to her feet and stepping back. He was facing her now, the slightest bit of curiosity shining through his angry expression as he raised an eyebrow at her. Eri, still coming down from whatever bout of panic she'd just slogged through, could do nothing but curl into herself.
“Um...” she started, searching for words. Her mouth was suddenly really dry. “I, uh... You- You're in Deku's class, right?”
The other brow shot up, both high above his hairline. Eri swallowed. “Can... Can you help me? I'm lost...”
Scuffling her shoe against the ground, she looked away from his narrowing eyes, choosing instead to stare at the cracks in the grounds. The silence was uncomfortable as she rocked on her heels, back and forth as she clung to her bag. Glancing around her, she tensed up at the different people around them stopping to stare, stealing looks or blatantly watching them, and suddenly, she felt exposed, inching closer to Deku's scary-eyed classmate for some kind of protection.
There was a loud sigh above her. “Follow me, brat.”
She flinched at 'brat', but wordlessly obeyed regardless, reaching up to grasp the hem of his shirt as he stepped off to the side. He weaved through the people and stands effortlessly, many people even kindly and very quickly getting out of their way. Looking around, Eri still couldn't recognize where they were or where they were going. Entering a clearing with chairs and people with aprons running around, the scary-eyed teen pulled out his phone as they made their way to an empty table near a stand.
“Um, what are you doing?” Eri asked carefully, taking the hint and crawling onto a chair. Deku's classmate took a seat across from her as he poked at his phone screen.
He glanced at her, Eri shying away from his intense gaze, but he was looking back at his phone screen a moment later. “I'm texting Deku. It'll be easier to meet up here than wander around aimlessly.”
“Oh,” Eri nodded to herself. That made sense. “Okay.”
The two fell into silence after that, Eri swinging her legs around and quietly looking up at the sky. Every once in awhile, Deku's classmate would either growl or snort at something on his phone, but other than that, he was just as quiet.
More often than not, Eri's eyes would fall on the little cafe stand a few feet away from them. She swallowed, wincing at how scratchy her throat fell. In her panic from earlier, she'd forgotten all about how much it was starting to hurt.
“You want something, kid?” Eri jumped at the sound of his voice, looking up at his neutral stare.
It was the least scary that he'd looked so far, so she allowed herself to relax and nod. “Something to drink, please?”
He stared at her for a moment longer, a pause between them, before he abruptly stood up and strode over to the cafe stand. At the sight of him, the girl at the counter went wide-eyed, tearing her hat off and throwing it at the girl next to her before she dove behind a dispensing machine of some kind.
With a sigh, Eri set her paper bag on the table, biting her lip as she slowly pulled it open and peered inside. At this point, one of them had been slightly squished, filling slowly being pressed out of it, while the flower had been smashed into the other one. Eri's lips wobbled, shoulders sagging as she rolled the bag back up and sat back, staring at it dejectedly. In her mind, she knew that they would still taste the same, but they were still messed up and no longer worthy of paying her heroes back for everything they've done for her. Actually, now that she thought about it, even if they were still completely untouched, they would still never be enough to pay them back. Two little balls of dough and bean paste could never even begin to pay them back.
Which meant that this whole mess was completely pointless.
Eri sniffed, rubbing at her damp eyes. This wasn't something worth crying over.
A clink against the table pulled her out of her thoughts as her new companion sat back down, angrily tapping on his phone with a threatening snarl on his face. Blinking in confusion, Eri looked down in front of her, her eyes going wide at the sight of a tiny little cup of milk.
And three colorful balls of mochi on a stick.
“What's this?” she asked in wonder. She'd never seen such colorful desserts before!
The scary-eyed boy glanced at her with a raised brow, but focused back on his phone a moment later. “It's dango.” he said. “Eat it.”
They were so pretty, white, green, and pink dumplings stacked on top of each other with two little cherry blossoms sitting on the side of the dish. Eri's eyes sparkled, looking between the plate and her bag with a smile growing on her face.
This was perfect! It fixed everything!
With the most delicate precision that her little fingers could manage, she pried the mochi off of the stick, putting the pink one aside before opening her bag and picking up the green and white mochi to put inside and replace the messy ones.
“The h*ll are you doing?” Deku's classmate asked, confusion and slight annoyance painting his face.
Eri froze, as if she was caught doing something wrong, and shrunk back, putting the two mochi back on the plate. “I'm sorry.”
“Why are you sor-” His voice came out rough, startling her, but he paused, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before he looked back at her. “Don't apologize. I'm just curious.”
“Oh...” Eri let her shoulders relax, her eyes dropping back to the colorful mochi he'd given her. “Um, well I, uh, when I was with Mirio, a nice person at a nearby stand gave me mochi, and uh, I was gonna give it to him and Deku. You know...as a thank you.”
She frowned, looking over at the bag with a forlorn expression. “But then a kitty stole it, and I chased after it until I got lost, and even though I tried to protect them, they still got messed up. They were so pretty, but now they're all messy.” She wrung her hands nervously. “I thought that since these ones were still pretty and perfect and stuff, then I could give these ones to them instead.”
Deku's classmate stared at her for a long time, brows furrowed in thought, but a moment later, he reached over and carefully opened the bag, craning his neck to peer inside. He hummed. “They still look clean.” he observed. “You should give them these ones anyway.”
Eri blinked in surprise, straightening her back and tilting her head. “You think so?”
He sighed, considering his words carefully. “Look..., knowing those two sentimental idiots, or at least Deku, the two first ones will mean more. They're more...special, I guess.”
His face contorted into something resembling a sneer, and for a moment, Eri wondered if she'd upset him somehow, but he closed his eyes against and sighed. “Because you put effort into getting those.”
Reaching back over and plucking the bag off the table, he held it up between them, almost as if emphasizing something. “Those two were just handed to you, but these? Sounds like you went through a lot of sh*t to get these, just to pay 'em back.” He handed the bag back to her, Eri taking it and setting it in her lap, staring at it as he continued. “They put an effort into, er, helping you, right? You putting that much effort into giving back, it just means more. Trust me, I've known Deku for a long time. He'd like the ones in the bag more.”
Eri considered the bag in her arms, looking between it and the colored mochi on the table as if deciphering an intricate puzzle. The new mochi were a lot nicer and prettier, with colors and perfect shapes. The ones in the bag didn't look nearly as nice as the ones on that plate.
But she'd gone through all this trouble to get the bag back, so save the mochi she'd originally gotten just so she could somehow start to say thank you. In a way, his words were starting to make sense, because even though the new ones were pretty, the first ones had an effort. It was the thought that counted, as she'd heard people say sometimes. Aizawa said something along those lines when Eri mentioned all the toys that Chisaki would get for her.
Eri gasped loudly, eyes wide in sudden realization. It was the thought that counted. The toys were pretty and cute and expensive-looking, but she'd hated them. She hadn't wanted anything to do with them, but she could never figure out why. Was it because they weren't given out of love?
The mochi in that bag was her effort to give something out of love.
“Oh...” she muttered, shaken to her core by this new epiphany. Her eyes lit up with astonishment. “Oh!”
It all made so much sense now.
Slowly, a smile crept over her face, her face shining as she looked back at Deku's scary-eyed classmate. “I think I get it!” she squealed excitedly. She then gasped, remembering the treats in front of her. “Oh, and thank you!”
She quickly popped the pink mochi into her mouth, the filling's sweet flavor hitting her immediately. She giggled, her hands over her mouth as she chewed, legs swinging happily. A moment later, she was gulping down her milk, licking her lips and sighing with satisfaction. She eyed the green mochi for a moment, her mind already made up as she quickly grabbed it and shoved it into her mouth as well.
Just because she could, she stuck the last one back on the stick just so she could eat it the way it was served. It didn't change the taste, but something about it just made it more...fun.
She hummed happily, looking back over at Deku's classmate, head leaning against his hand as he stared off at nothing. He'd check his phone periodically, but didn't say anything, his face mostly expressionless. Eri watched him for a moment, eyes wandering around before she looked back at him, releasing a breath she didn't realize she was holding.
“I'm Eri.” she suddenly said, the older boy only glancing at her in response. “What's your name?”
He studied her for a moment, the crease in his brow was back as he leaned back in his chair, as if he was deep in thought. Eri waited patiently, gently hugging her bag to her chest as the silence stretched on.
After a moment, he scoffed, shaking his head, but she never heard what he was about to say.
“Eri!” a voice rang out. Eri gasped, swiveling around to see two familiar forms bursting into the clearing and racing towards her. With a cheer, she leaped off of her chair and ran to them, meeting the boys halfway as Deku lifted her up into the air. “I'm so glad you're okay! You shouldn't run off like that! You scared us!”
He suddenly turned to where his classmate was. “Thank you so much, Kacchan! We really appreciate you looking out for her!”
“It's all my fault!” Mirio exclaimed, near tears. “I should have kept a better eye on you, but I got distracted! I'm so sorry, Eri!”
“No, it's okay!” Eri quickly cut in. She didn't want her heroes to cry! “I'm okay, see?”
“Your dress is dirty.” Deku noticed, setting her down. “What happened? Did you fall? Are you hurt?”
“No, I'm okay, really.” With a smile, she held out her little paper bag. “Ah, here! These are for you!”
Deku and Mirio exchanged looks of surprise before Mirio gingerly took the bag. Eri's smile grew. “I got them all by myself! But then a kitty came and stole it, but I wanted to give back to you guys somehow, because you've helped me so much, so I chased it, and I did fall and I got scared, and they got a little squished, but I got them back! I tried really hard to keep them safe so I could give them to you!”
“Eri...” Deku breathed.
“I hope you like them.” she said softly, wringing her hands. “I worked really hard to keep them safe...a-and Kacchan said-!”
When she turned and pointed, she paused, finding the table cleared and her new friend gone. Eri's shoulders sagged. She never heard him leave.
Eri turned back around when she heard a rustling sound, watching in anticipation as Mirio took one of the dumplings and popped it into his mouth. His face instantly lit up, making a noise of delight as he chewed. “No way! These are Shiruko's recipe! She makes the best mochi dishes ever! Oh man, she already left for the day! I thought I wouldn't be able to get any!” He clapped excitedly once Deku had taken the bag. “Eri, this is wonderful! Thank you so much!”
Carefully, Deku peeled the little crushed flower off of his dumpling, eating the pastry a moment later with an excited smile. Eri blinked as Mirio knelt down in front of her a moment later. “This was very kind of you, Eri, but next time, please don't run off by yourself. We were worried about you.”
“Well...” Eri kicked at the ground, staring at the cracks by her feet. “I was worried when you fought...um...Overhaul...”
Mirio gaped at that, clearly unsure of what to say. Deku cut in before he could figure out what to say. “We can discuss that later. What matters right now is that you're safe and that we're very grateful for your gift. That was very thoughtful of you and they were delicious.” Eri beamed. “Now then, let's go get you cleaned up, okay?”
Eri nodded, taking Deku's hand as they left the little cafe set up and went back into the crowded rows of booths with a new skip in her step.
It wouldn't be until many days later that she would see Kacchan again.
When Eri heard that she would be living at U.A. under Aizawa's supervision for 'the unforeseen future', she'd been ecstatic. She'd come to feel so safe and happy with Aizawa and Mirio and Deku and everyone else, and now she was going to be living with them. It was like a dream come true!
Sometimes, she was terrified that she would wake up from this dream, back in that dark room with toys scattered across the floor as light poured in through the crack under the door, footsteps echoing down the hall outside.
No, she's safe now.
Most of the time, Eri stayed in Aizawa's living quarters, or with Present Mic when Aizawa was teaching or patrolling. However, over the weekend, there was always a chance that both of them would be called out on the field for one reason or another. Since Mirio's class was often just as busy as trainees at different agencies, she couldn't stay there during these weekends, either.
So, it was decided that in those circumstances, she would stay in an extra room on the ground floor of Deku's dorm building.
No sooner had the decision been made did it come into play, several teachers being called out for a major raid taking place near the border of the Chiba prefecture. Because the sight was farther away, Aizawa and Present Mic wouldn't be on campus for the whole weekend, leaving Eri to wander Deku's dorm building. Honestly, she didn't mind, though she hoped that Aizawa was careful and that everybody came back home safe.
The dorm's common room was very green and comfy, with lots of Deku's classmates running around doing all sorts of different things. Some people were in the kitchen making something sweet-smelling, while others sat on the couches with board games, or just watching TV. On screen, Eri overheard stuff about the big raid in Chiba, but no names that she recognized were mentioned. Eri yawned, barely glancing at the time shown on the TV before Uraraka was taking her hand and ushering her down the hall.
“It's getting late.” Uraraka said, opening the door and flicking on the lights. The room was simple, with a clean white bed and bland beige walls. There was a dresser off to the side and a chest for any belongings that she might want to stash away. On the wall opposite to the door was a small window hidden away by plain curtains, a little fan, and a cute little star-shaped nightlight.
Eri looked at the little nightlight in awe. She'd never had one while held in Chisaki's base, leaving her in complete darkness at night. In a way, she was excited to sleep with a tiny, pretty little light illuminating a new room.
Wordlessly, Eri crawled up on the bed, Uraraka pulling away at the covers. “Maybe we should talk to Aizawa about decorating this place a little bit. You know, paint the walls a different color, nicer sheets and curtains, stuff like that. What do you think?”
“Maybe.” Eri thought aloud. She wasn't all that concerned about it, but the idea of being able to choose that for herself was still very appealing.
Nestled in her bed, Uraraka tucked her in with a warm smile. “Would you like me to tell you a bedtime story? Or I could ask Jirou to sing you a lullaby?”
With another yawn, Eri's eyes began to droop, and suddenly, she was sinking into soft sheets and fuzzy thoughts. Uraraka sighed. “Or you can just go to sleep. That's okay, too.”
Quietly, Uraraka turned on the fan, the low white noise soothing to Eri's ears, before carting her fingers through Eri's hair and slipping away. “Goodnight, Eri.” she whispered, turning the lights back off and slowly shutting the door. “Sleep tight.”
Eri smiled, heavy eyelids shut as she nestled into her warm, cozy bed and drifted off to sleep.
Everything was static.
Her bare feet pitter-pattered against the cold tile floor, or was it a sidewalk? She couldn't see past the encompassing darkness around her to tell, and the blinding white light drowning out the world ahead of her. There was no color, and Eri felt herself missing it.
“Now look what you've done.”
She ran as fast as her little legs could carry her, not daring to look back. She couldn't look back and see him slowly walking after her, as if he already knew.
There was nowhere she could run.
“Look what you made me do.”
The light brightened, and for a moment, one beautiful, traitorous moment, she thought that she made it, that she could escape.
“You've forced my hand.”
And then she reached the other side.
And suddenly, she didn't miss color anymore.
Because all she could see was red.
Red on the walls, red on the floor, red on her clothes.
Red on the bodies.
She recognized every single one of them, even when they were all in pieces.
She tried to speak, but no words came. Just the tears streaming from her horrified eyes. Almost in a daze, she stumbled to the closest body, unrecognizable if it wasn't for the stray red sneaker, and wondered for a moment if it was possible for her quirk to fix this.
If only she knew how.
“Poor little Eri...”
Leave me alone, her mind begged, her hands shaking as footsteps approached her from behind. She didn't need to look. She already knew.
“You know how to fix this.”
Softly, almost lovingly, a gloved hand rested on her shoulder, gently pulling her back, away from her heroes, away from her freedom.
Away from her everything.
“Come along, Eri.” he whispered, guiding her back down the dark path she'd come from. “Let's go home.”
With a loud gasp, Eri toppled right out of her bed.
She grunted as her little body hit the floor, her nightlight momentarily blinding her and the fan doing nothing for her but blow out into her face. She scrambled to her feet, her vision blurry with tears as she took in the room around her.
Beige, plain, moonlight.
No echoing footsteps.
Despite the breeze the fan was making, it was way too hot in her room, the walls seemingly closing in on her. Suddenly, the nightlight felt far more dim. Shivering, wiping the tears off of her face, she stepped forward, slowly reaching for the doorknob. A part of her was terrified, wondering absentmindedly what Chisaki would do if he caught her outside of her room again.
Opening the door was like proofing it to herself, proving that she was safe. She was still at U.A. with her heroes.
She didn't go back. She got away. This is her home now.
Peering through the crack in the door, she was greeted with a pitch-black hallway, carpeted and stretching out towards where the common room was. Carefully, Eri stepped out, the carpet under her bare feet more grounding than anything else. Since she lived in a dark place for so long, the darkness of the hallway didn't scare that much, even though her nightmare was making her heart beat rapidly in her chest and her eyes water all over again. The closer she got to the common room, the cooler the air became, a relieved sigh leaving her lips.
Peeking into the dark, empty common room, Eri blinked in confusion at the soft light streaming through the room.
She walked out cautiously, tilting her head at the sound of a faucet running. She didn't know what time it was, but she didn't think that anyone else was supposed to be up at this time. For a moment, her breath hitched at the thought of an intruder, but Aizawa had been talking to her about logical thinking, and if she thought right, then rummaging around the kitchen would seem kind of silly to do.
“You're a smart kid,” Aizawa had told her. “Wise far beyond your years. Be sure to make use of that head of yours.”
Lost in her thoughts, she didn't think about what she was doing until a spike of pain ran up her leg.
She cried out, falling back as she clutched her throbbing foot. Tears building up at the edges of her eyes, she lifted her foot to inspect it, biting her lip at the sight of a staple digging into the bottom of her foot. Thinking back, she'd felt much worse pain than this, but at least then, she'd been ready for it. With a whimper, she pulled it out, watching in horror as blood began to seep from the little hole, dripping down and staining the carpet.
“Kid, what the h*ll?”
She gasped at the unexpected voice, shuffling back as she stared up at the new person wide-eyed. It was hard to make them out, their face shadowed by the bright kitchen light, but the halo of spiky blonde hair was enough to calm her down. “Kacchan?”
The figure slightly startled at the name, but crouched down in front of her a moment later, his red eyes practically glowing against his darkened face, and Eri finally let herself relax. He clicked his tongue at the staple in Eri's hand. “Of course. Those f*cking idiots.”
“You say a lot of bad words.” Eri mused. Kacchan raised an eyebrow at her, but said nothing else as he scooped her up, wordlessly carrying her back into the kitchen.
There was a kettle sitting on the stove, a light boiling sound coming from inside. Off to the side, a black mug with more bad words all over it sat by itself, a teabag of some kind sitting inside. Eri found herself being set on a stool, Kacchan roughly pressing a towel against the bottom of her foot. Eri tried to hide her wince when he looked up at her. “Hold this here. I'll get bandages.”
Eri nodded numbly, watching as he went and rummaged through the cabinets, reaching for a white box. She was quiet as he pulled out different supplies other than bandages. “What's that?” she asked carefully, eying the spray bottle nervously.
“Rubbing alcohol,” he responded simply. “So you don't get an infection. It'll sting a little.”
Eri curled into herself at that, but nodded anyway. The pain was never as bad when she was ready for it.
And he wasn't wrong. It did sting, a little burning feeling around where the tiny puncture was, but the next thing she knew, he was already wrapping bandages around her foot, and suddenly, it didn't hurt anymore.
“Oh.” she thought aloud. “That was okay. I've hurt a lot more than that before.”
The wrapping paused for a moment, but Kacchan didn't say anything.
Her foot was all bandaged up before she knew it, the squeal of the kettle cutting off any questions or comments that might be hanging in the air. Eri studied his work with interest, rubbing at the soft gauze with a shine in her eyes. Even if his hands were somewhat rough compared to Deku's, the wrapping was soft, almost like her fluffy pillows back in her room.
She grimaced at that. Aizawa might get upset if he found her still up so late at night.
At least she felt better. Not as scared.
“What are you even doing up, anyway?” Kacchan suddenly asked, peeling what Eri realized with excitement was an apple. “You should...you know, be in bed.”
He made a funny face, but neither of them said anything about it. Eri, frankly, wasn't sure what he was thinking. She just shrugged. “Bad dream.” she said simply.
Kacchan hummed in acknowledgment, grabbing a knife and skillfully chopping the apple into slices. He was quiet for a long moment, a contemplative, distant look in his eyes. “Do you...wanna talk about it?”
The remnants of icy fear crept up her spine, faint static images of torn up bodies and blood-soaked walls lingering in the back of her mind. Piercing, loveless eyes watched her from the darkness.
“No...” she said quietly. Another hum was his only response.
Eri's eyes went from clouded to glowing when a plate appeared in front of her. She stared at the peeled apple slices in wonder, her mouth slightly watering and a 'thank you' on the tip of her tongue when a callous hand placed a tiny cup of a sticky-looking golden-brown substance next to the plate. It smelled sweet, almost like candy, and Eri couldn't help but tilt her head in confusion.
“What's that?” she asked as Kacchan sat down across from her, nursing a steaming mug in his hands. “It smells good.”
“Caramel.” he said simply, taking a sip of his drink. Eri winced at the heat she could feel all the way from her spot by the counter. “It's what they use to make candied apples.”
Eri lit up at that, her smile growing as she quickly grabbed a slice and dipped it into the cup. “Is this right?”
A small nod from across the counter and Eri shoved the slice into her mouth, squealing in delight. “Yum!”
She ate in silence after that, enjoying her snack with a grateful smile while her companion stared off to the side with calculating, guarded eyes. A part of Eri wondered why he was up this late, but she ultimately decided that it didn't matter. He was older, so he could do stuff like stay up late to make scolding hot drinks that burn your tongue.
She didn't remember how long they stayed there, the comfortable silence intermittent with little quips and one-word answers to throwaway questions. She didn't remember cleaning up her mess either, even though she would come back the next morning and find the counter completely spotless, as if they'd never even been there in the first place. She barely even remembered her nightmare anymore.
All she remembered was her eyes growing heavy and strong arms carrying her back to her bed, not with the tenderness of Deku's or the warmth of Mirio's, but with a strength and firmness that, for some reason that she couldn't explain, made her feel just as safe.
The rest of her dreams that night were filled with candied apples and friendly smiles.
In the following weeks, Eri quickly realized that she'd made a new friend.
The common room of Deku's room building was always busy during the evening time, when the sun was just about to set. The people who came through were always different, though. Sometimes, she would see rowdy boys playing games on the TV, and if Kirishima was with them, he would invite her to try. She'd never even seen a video game before, so she wasn't very good, but it was still very fun. Kirishima's friends promised to teach her. Other times, all of the girls would be together doing each other's hair, and Uraraka or Asui would offer to braid Eri's. Their friend with the long hanging earlobes, Jirou, she thinks, would also often sing to her.
Sometimes, she would see people with bird heads and engines in their legs, while other times, she would see people with funny-colored hair and lots of arms. Sometimes, she would go to Deku's room, and he would tell her stories about their adventures as heroes and how much they were learning, or he would tell her stories about All Might, who he said was his hero, like how Mirio was hers. Eri knew that he was leaving out details in some of his stories, but she never asked him to elaborate.
Every once in awhile, though, if there weren't very many people in the common room and she peered into the kitchen, she would find Kacchan off by himself, making something that always smelled amazing. The first time she found him in there, neither of them said anything. She simply wandered in, peering around his side and earning a quick glance and a nod in acknowledgment, and she watched him work, trying to keep up with his quick movements and careful measurements. She happily took the offer when he gave her a free sample.
Sometimes, she would go find him, and Kirishima and his friends would be there with him, along with the pink-skinned girl. When he was with other people, he would yell and scream and curse a lot, and at first, it made Eri nervous, but he never hit them and they never seemed afraid, so she could only assume that everything was fine. It was just something to get used to.
He was always so quiet with her.
“Oh, come on, man!” one of Kirishima's friends, the bright blonde one, whined. “Just a little bit? Please? You've cooked for us before!”
“That doesn't mean sh*t! I never even invited any of you b*stards in here!” Kacchan yelled.
“Hey bro,” Kirishima spoke up with a shushing motion. “You're cussing in front of Eri.”
“I don't give a rat's a*s about that!” he shot back. “F*ck off, all of you!”
Another classmate, the tall guy with engine legs, suddenly appeared in the kitchen doorway. “Bakugou, please refrain from using such foul language in front of young children!”
“Nobody invited you either, Four Eyes!” Kacchan shouted. He barely gave him another glance before turning back on the other four. “Get out of here, you vultures! I'm busy!”
“But Blasty!” the four cried in unison.
Eventually, he managed to shove most of them out of the kitchen with sheer brute strength alone, though Kirishima left on his own, his bright toothy smile still plastered on his face. His cheeriness made Eri feel more at ease around such ferocity. Not even Chisaki was ever this openly hostile, and he killed people.
Kacchan eyed Eri carefully, the anger reducing to a simmer under the surface, before he went back to what he was doing, throwing seasoning into a boiling pot of something that smelled particularly strong. Eri followed him around wordlessly, unsure of what she should say, if anything.
“In my defense,” he started, an edge of irritation in his voice. “I've already seasoned it to my liking. Eating this would f*cking obliterate their esophagi.”
Eri remained quiet, tilting her head questioningly. Kacchan sighed loudly. “It would hurt their throats.”
“Oh.” she thought out loud. That made more sense.
“And they're persistent. Trust me, if I don't yell, they won't listen. Half the time, they still don't listen.” he complained. Eri simply nodded along.
“And by the way, for the record,” he continued. “I wasn't yelling at you. I have no reason to.”
Eri fiddled with the hem of her skirt. “I know.”
“If you want to leave, you can.”
“They'll all die if you don't come back.”
Strapped to her chair, bleeding, pain, hurts.
“You don't want them to die, do you?”
“I wanna go home.” she whimpered, shaking in her restraints.
“Silly Eri,” he soothed. “This is home.”
Stumbling out of her room in the dorms was easier the second time. No staples were left on the carpet this time, either.
And Kacchan was there again.
There was a vague tiredness in his expression, like he hadn't slept at all, and the way he slammed the kettle on the stove and threw the tea bag so hard that it probably should have exploded against the wall had Eri flinching and chewing the inside of her cheek. She couldn't think of anything she did to upset him, but she worried that she may have missed something somewhere along the line.
The plate of peeled apple slices and caramel helped to put her at ease.
Sitting there with their respective treats, neither of them spoke for a long time, Eri simply taking in his powerful aura, like a massive shield that could scare even the worst nightmares away. The exhaustion coming through worried her, though, different from the way he exuded energy every other time she interacted with him.
“Kacchan?” she asked carefully, watching nervously as he glared holes into the counter. He squeezed his eyes shut, brows furrowing impossible low as he let out a danger rumble of a growl.
For a moment, he stayed quiet, but he finally sighed, fixated on something off to the side. “I asked Deku about you.” he admitted honestly. “He...told me about Overhaul.”
Eri's eyes went wide.
“It p*ssed me off.” he said, his voice low. “That's all it is.”
Eri stayed silent, images flashing through her mind of blood and death and nothingness. She heard screams and pleas and war cries, overlapping her own complacent silence. There was no point, after all. She could never escape him.
She would never escape.
And if she didn't go back, he would hurt them.
“F*ck, oi, kid.”
She didn't want him to hurt them.
She startled at the feeling of a warm hand on her shoulder, a sweet smell wafting into the air, like her caramel apples. She leaned into the scent, tears streaming down her face as she took in the moving scenery, the faded blanket of darkness that was the common room. Light from the kitchen streamed in as she found herself curled up in someone's lap, the sweet smell and a sudden wave of exhaustion lulling her into a fitful, dreamless rest.
“I shouldn't have brought it up.” she heard him say as she drifted off to sleep. “That's on me.”
It was the most sincere apology she'd ever heard in her life.
He stopped talking about it, but he didn't let it go.
He was irritable for days afterward, mere glances at him making his face contort into something a bit more dangerous, more nasty. It got to the point that he broke a plate in a fit of rage while cooking, leading to an especially aggressive screaming match with a few of his other classmates. Eri stopped following him around in the kitchen for a while after that.
Kirishima promised her that he was also really stressed with school and it wasn't just about her past, and he definitely wasn't trying to scare her, while Deku explained that Kacchan reacted to a lot of things with anger, including other emotions. Eri didn't quite get it, but she trusted Deku, so she took his word as fact.
“Hey Eri,” Deku started as she went to leave his dorm room. Eri watched him curiously as he fidgeted with his hands. “When I talked with Kacchan, ...something he said had me thinking...” he explained, eyes shining with sincerity. “You-... You know that...that you're allowed to be upset about what happened, right?”
“What?” Eri asked in confusion.
“What happened to you was wrong.” he said simply. “If you're mad about it, you're allowed to be mad.”
Eri wouldn't understand what he meant until the next day. “Oi, kid, come with me.”
Eri obeyed wordlessly, eying the apple in his hand with anticipation. No matter how many she was given, she would never grow tired of them.
Stepping onto the elevator, the two of them fell back into their usual comfortable silence, Kacchan crossing his arms with a deep frown on his face. Eri rocked back and forth on her heels, watching his face for what felt like minutes before her gaze fell back on the big doors, a ding! sounding out as they opened up. She didn't know what floor they were on, but she'd never seen the stairwell at the end of the hallway before. From there, she followed Kacchan up the stairs, observing her new surroundings with curiosity. At the top of the stairwell was a door, light pouring through a small window that had heard squinting her eyes. The door was pushed open, and suddenly, a cool, comforting breeze was blowing through her hair.
Eri stared in awe at the darkening sky, slowly turning different shades of pink and orange. She hadn't even known that there was a door that led to the roof, but being up so high reminded her of the bright blue sky, clinging onto Deku's back, draped in Mirio's cape, soaring through the air with green lightning and soft yellow energy dancing around them like a veil. The memories of exactly what happened during that battle were fuzzy, but she still thought of it fondly.
It was the day she started to become free.
With a long sigh, Kacchan made his way to the high ledge, taller than she was, anyway, and sat down against it, staring up at the same sky she was mesmerized by. Eri joined him a moment later, taking the offered apple without complaint and happily chowing down on it. Apparently, he'd brought himself a snack as well, a big red pepper that he bit into like how she ate her apple. She thought it was strange, but she didn't say anything about it.
She was starting to really appreciate this, these quiet moments with a strong presence by her side. It was sweet and kind like Deku or Mirio, but it was strong, steadfast, and she hadn't realized how much she wanted something like this until now.
Deku really had some amazing friends.
“Why aren't you mad?”
The question startled her. Glancing over at Kacchan, she found him staring off again, glaring coldly at the open sky above. Eri turned back to her apple, taking a bite as she mulled over the strange question. Was this what Deku was talking about?
It didn't really make sense to her, thinking about it. What was she supposed to be mad about?
“What do you mean?” she finally asked.
Kacchan side-eyed her, and she almost flinched from the intensity of his stare. “After everything Overhaul did. Why aren't you mad?”
Eri pursed her lips, fingers tightening around her apple. She shuffled nervously against the little wall, pulling her knees to her chest with faraway eyes. “I...don't know?”
He was watching her now. She could feel his eyes boring into her. “I, uh, I mean, that's just how things always were.”
She doesn't really remember what her parents looked like. She thinks that there was a time long ago, before she was given this cursed power, that they loved her. “My quirk is dangerous. I'm dangerous. People who tried to save me always got hurt.”
Mirio collapsing from his injuries. Deku falling to the ground, struggling against the effects of her quirk.
“Do you want them to die, Eri?”
Her breath hitched. “It's j-just how it was...” she sobbed. “There was nothing I could do, s-so I just-”
Eri jumped, turning back to him. He was snarling at the ground, teeth clenched and grinding together, and she tensed at the uncontrollable ferocity.
“I...” she tried. “I just... Chisaki said-”
Another jolt ran through her system as he leaped to his feet, pacing around angrily. “That's all bullsh*t! Don't listen to a single word that Overhaul f*cker ever said!”
His burning, piercing eyes turned back on her, and she swallowed thickly as he stomped his foot with a resounding slam. “None of that was on you! Sh*t was f*cked for everyone, but that wasn't on you! He took your freedom! He took your childhood! He hurt and manipulated you and that's straight f*cked! You should be p*ssed!”
Eri stared at him with wide eyes, trying desperately to register the onslaught of words being thrown at her. “That's a lot of bad words...”
Kacchan continued to seethe, something far and cloudy in his eyes. The look he was giving her was calculating, almost contemplative, like he'd seen this somewhere before, and Eri wondered just what he was seeing.
Because there was passion behind his voice. He spoke like he meant every single word.
“He hurt you and everyone you care about.” he said heatedly. “And then he tried to pin it on you. Kid, how does that make you feel?”
Eri's thought process abruptly spiraled.
How does that make you feel?
“He wanted to hurt them.” he emphasized. “How does that make you feel?”
Eri thought that she might have bitten into her lip. There were tears welling up in her eyes.
“I...” she started, but the words were caught in her throat.
Emotionless eyes watched her in the darkness, gloved hands reaching for her uncaring form, and she watched on, accepting, understanding, giving up. She always just took it.
All she was ever allowed to do was just take it.
Mirio's warm embrace. Deku's smile.
She doesn't have to take it anymore?
“I... Can... Am I allowed? To be upset?”
Bakugou grinned dangerously, wild and crazed. “You have every d*mn right, kid.” he said proudly, radiating with conviction. “You have every right to get mad, so get mad.”
Something was burning in her chest. It felt like a fire roaring to life, as if the world was opening up to her all over again. Just like that day at the festival, after Deku's class performed their hearts out and everything lit up into something bright and beautiful and the upward movement of her lips had just come so naturally.
And now there was a new emotion there, one that had her bouncing on her heels, puffing out her cheeks and squeezing her fists. She pumped her arms, a more growl-like hum erupting from her throat, and suddenly, she felt like she could run forever.
“Get mad...” she mumbled to herself, determined. “How do I do that? I wanna get mad! Teach me how!”
His grin became impossibly wide. “Well, kid, it's a good thing you're talking to a certified expert.”
“I am mad!”
“I SAID GET MAD!”
“ONE MORE TIME!”
Apparently, Aizawa was not very happy with Kacchan teaching Eri bad words.
After screaming her throat raw, a flood of pent up sadness and hurt that she'd never even known about until now fueling her, Eri found herself quickly ushered out of the dorm building by a cackling Present Mic. She was sore for days afterward and she didn't see Kacchan at all for a long time, but that first night, she'd slept better than she ever had in her whole entire life. Or at least, as far as she could remember.
She found herself smiling more, found it easier to accept kindness and to come to Aizawa when she had nightmares, found more joy in her time spent with her heroes and their friends, and all of a sudden, U.A. really did feel like home.
She needed to learn more feelings, because this was a change that she really, really liked. Her loved ones seemed to agree.
When she did see Kacchan again, coming back to the dorms one evening due to an unexpected late-night patrol for Aizawa and finding him just entering the common room, she immediately ran up and hugged him as tightly as she could. He didn't hug her back, but that was okay. She didn't mind.
He did seem to mind some of his classmates laughing at him for it, but Eri had learned by now that when he screamed at them all to die, he didn't actually mean to literally die. That, and he even let her help him and the big sugar guy cook dinner!
When Asui tucked her into bed that night, Eri couldn't help but smile as the cute little nightlight and the new pink curtains adorning the window. It wasn't much, but it was more than enough for her.
Everything that everyone has ever done was more than enough for her.
Don't stop. Keep running.
“Where are you going, Eri?”
I don't want to go back.
“You don't have a choice.”
There was blood on the walls, bodies in pieces, weeping and sobbing.
It hurt so bad!
“You know what you have to do.”
She shook where she stood, unable to breathe as she took in the carnage, recognized every single corpse.
All of their friends, all of her family.
“You did this to them.”
“You need to come back now, Eri.”
This isn't right... This isn't fair...
Clenching her teeth, she fell to her knees, gripping her hair as tears fell to the concrete floor.
It was almost like a realization. Enlightenment.
“I hate you...” she breathed. “I hate you.”
The lights in the common room were still on.
Eri stared in confusion, squinting through the bright lights assaulting her vision. There were still fresh tear tracks on her cheeks, glistening in the warm light, but she ignored it as she crept out into the spacious room. It seemed that the kitchen was empty, lights off and every left where it was supposed to be. It was odd, and it had her wringing her hands anxiously.
“Hello?” she asked tentatively. “Kacchan?”
Something stirred behind the couch, Eri jumping at the sudden movement. A familiar tuft of blonde hair peered over the side, matching red eyes locking with her own. “Oh, it's you.” a tired voice rumbled.
Something was different.
Eri watched silently as Kacchan pulled himself up, slowly wandering into the dark kitchen with Eri trailing him. He rubbed at his eyes sluggishly, flicking the light on as the little rewind quirk user pulled herself up onto her usual seat. He was mumbling something to himself, almost like Deku but more viciously as he searched around the kitchen for something. With a long, tired sigh, he eventually came back with what she realized was a peeled, sliced peach.
“No apples tonight, kid.” he muttered tiredly. “We're all out.”
He was slouched low, head and crossed arms resting against the countertop and gaze going right through her. If she looked close enough, she could see the beginning of dark circles under his eyes.
“Are you feeling okay?” she asked worriedly, stuffing a peach slice into her mouth.
His eyes shifted, as if he was seeing her for the first time. He stared at her like that for a long time, to the point where she wondered if he was falling asleep.
“Don't worry about me, brat.” he finally said, going back to his thousand-yard stare as Eri quietly ate the rest of her snack.
Neither of them said anything else that Eri could remember. She did know for sure that he'd carried her back to bed after she'd eaten all of her fruit. It wasn't as good as apples, but she was still grateful.
She didn't have any more dreams that night.
The room was cold. That's the only thing he could tell from where he was. The room was cold and his hands hurt.
But he knew exactly where he was. The underlying smell of mold and alcohol was all the evidence he needs.
He couldn't move his hands, held in place in front of him and leaving them shaking and freezing. Tightly clenching them over and over gave him an old sense of control, forced feeling into them when the restraints' padding was so tight around his arms that he swore it was cutting off blood circulation.
He didn't realize it was dark until a cloth was pulled away from his eyes, the dimly-lit bar and the psycho girl's toothy, demented grin predictably greeting him. She didn't say anything this time, but frankly, she didn't need to.
On the other side of the room, Handsy was watching him curiously, unmoving as the world itself held a certain static texture that left him with ear-splitting white noise.
But he bore it. He'd done this song and dance enough times to do so.
Just wait it out.
“You're a stubborn one, aren't you?”
He went to cuss him out, to yell, throw back some smart quip to annoy him, but he couldn't, a familiar muzzle strapped around his mouth.
He felt his blood pressure spike. That was new.
“Always so stubborn.”
He glared back, refusing to wince at the intense static noise when the small TV across the room suddenly turned on.
“Today, Japan mourns the loss of its greatest hero.”
He breathed in harshly, bowing his head and squeezing his eyes shut.
“The memorial service will be held in-”
He almost jumped at the sudden blare of noise, hunching over further and forcing air to keep entering his lungs.
“Look what you did, Katsuki...”
He knew what he would see if he looked. He knew.
The scarred hand digging into his hair didn't give him a choice, forcing his head up. His eyes snapped open at the sudden movement, falling on the pile of bodies in front of him. He recognized All Might's weakened form immediately, something in his chest twitching painfully. Bright red and stifling green hit him a moment later, yellow and pink and black painted with blood and deep inside a pile that seemed to grow larger and larger the longer he stared.
“What hero,” Hands B*stard spoke smugly. “Would do such a thing?”
He was standing, staring down in horror at the blood completely coating his hands like gloves. He felt like he was soaked in it from head to toe, shivering at every droplet sliding down his face, his back, his neck, falling down into the puddle pooling around the feet.
Drip, drip, drip.
Through the static, if he listened closely, he could hear the jeering crowds, booing and screaming and crying out in fear and disgust.
The muzzle was still there, immoveable as he struggled to rip it off of his face. It hurt, as if it was attached to him, fused to his skin, as if it was welded on. He wanted to scream, to yell, to curse everything to the ground. Anything.
“You're no hero.”
Was that All Might's voice, or Aizawa's? Or maybe it was Kirishima? Or it could have been Deku.
Maybe it was all of them.
Maybe it was everyone.
The f*ck does it matter?
There were hands on him. Dozens of them, all clamping around his arms and clothes and head. He could feel one wrap around the nape of his neck, yanking him back and sending him into a panic. Struggling only seemed to make their grips tighter, like a moth tangling itself in a spider web. In the distance, a tall man in a dark suit simply grinned at him, a hand on Handsy's shoulder as they watched him disappear.
What does it matter...
There's nothing left but darkness.
And it hurt.
Peering into the common room that morning, Eri found it almost completely empty.
She'd woken up more rested than she'd been expecting, pulling herself out of bed and wandering out to find if anyone else had gotten up yet. The sun was pretty high up in the sky, so she could only assume that she'd slept in pretty late.
She saw a flash of bright red in the kitchen, Eri smiling as she ran over and peered in. She almost laughed at the comically panicked look on Kirishima's face, sprinting around the otherwise unoccupied kitchen with smoking pans and burnt food. He rubbed his forehead as he dumped charred, brick-head bacon into a trashcan, a look of frustration painting his face that had Eri feeling bad for finding it funny.
He didn't seem to notice her, stepping past her and out into the common room as the front door creaked open, a mop of green hair poking through curiously. “Why do I smell something burning?”
Kirishima groaned dramatically. “I tried to cook my own brunch. Turns out, I destroy everything I touch.”
Deku looked somewhat amused, tilting his head with a lopsided grin. “Have you tried asking Kacchan?”
Biting his lip, Kirishima wordlessly pointed at one of the couches. As Eri, still hiding in the kitchen, craned her neck to get a view of whatever he was pointing at, Deku's eyebrows shot up high above his hairline.
Kacchan was asleep on the couch, face slightly contorted in discomfort. Thinking back to how tired he was last night, it didn't surprise her that much that he'd fallen asleep down here. It was still strange, though, since she'd never seen him sleep before. In her six-year-old mind, she'd wondered if he ever slept at all.
“How long has he been here?” Deku asked, a hint of concern in his voice that had Eri tensing up.
“No clue.” Kirishima responded, rubbing the back of his neck. “I found him like this. He's been here for hours at least.”
Deku hummed, biting his lip. “It's so late in the morning, almost noon... Is he sick? He's sweating a lot.”
Gingerly, Kirishima stepped forward at the question, resting the back of his hand against the ash blonde's forehead. He didn't even stir. “No fever. Maybe he's overworked himself?”
“Maybe...” Deku mumbled. “He's always been so strict about taking care of himself, though...”
Eri's lips wobbled. He'd been so tired last night. Was he not feeling well?
And he'd stayed up to comfort her.
She felt confused, wondering if she should be feeling guilty or not. Between everything that she'd always known and everything she was learning now, she just didn't know how she was supposed to feel.
Worried, for sure.
Maybe a little guilty.
Cautiously, Kirishima rested his hand against the sleeping blonde's shoulder, gently shaking him. “Hey, bro, you might wanna wake up.”
“Look, he's gonna wake up cranky, either way. Might as well give him the chance to go to his room before the others find him, if nothing else.”
“Or...you could carry him?”
All of them jumped at a sudden low moan, Kacchan sluggishly shifting in his sleep. Deku, for some reason, was slightly startled, skittering away to watch from a safer distance, while Kirishima seemed to hold his shoulder tighter, brows creasing in worry as he shook him harder. “Dude, wake up.”
There was a whine, like a high keening sound, and Kacchan shifted again, his face twisting into one of pain. Kirishima's breath hitched. “Come on, wake up. You're dreaming.”
Deku took a step closer, one good look making his shoulders tense. “That's no dream.”
Loud crackling had Eri leaping back in fear, Deku's eyes going impossibly wide as he almost instinctively scrambled away. Kirishima, meanwhile, lunged forward, a look of horror in his eyes and a curse under his breath as he grabbed his classmate's hands and yanked them towards his own hardened body and away from the sweat-soaked couch.
The sound that followed was the scariest thing she'd ever heard.
It was loud, like when Deku threw his strongest punch and the air practically split apart. Even as she pressed her hands against her ears, it left them ringing against the sound still reverberating from the walls, almost enough to distract from the bright spots dancing in her vision. She heard something crash a moment later, a yelp from Kirishima that sounded more surprised than pained.
Terror seizing her heart, Eri dared to look back in at the chaos taking place in the common room, only to backpedal so fast that she tumbled right over as Deku sprinted past, not caring what he knocked over as he yanked a giant plastic mixing bowl out of one of the bottom cabinets and shoved it under the faucet. Out in the common room, Kirishima was shouting, the blaring crackling noise and much smaller boom!'s nearly drowning him out. Daring to peek back out, she could see Kacchan thrashing wildly in Kirishima's iron grip, eyes shut tightly and teeth grit as he fought.
“Bakugou!” Kirishima yelled seemingly right in his ear. “Bakugou, you're okay! It's just a nightmare! Wake up!”
This is a nightmare?
She didn't even notice Deku leave until he was out of the kitchen and skidding to a stop at Kirishima's side, the mixing bowl now filled to the brim with what Eri could only assume was freezing water. Eri didn't like seeing Deku look so scared, but frankly, she was scared, too.
Vision blurring, she darted back into the kitchen, curling up by the counter as she desperately pressed her hands against her ears. It was getting harder to breathe, the world spinning as she roughly rubbed at her eyes, a sob escaping her throat.
She was terrified.
Above the crackling noise, there was a count to three, followed by the piercing sound of a wall of water splashing violently against a solid surface.
There was a loud yell, a body hitting the floor.
“Whoa, dude! Calm down! It's just us!”
With a small cry, Eri quickly pushed herself to her feet and looked back out into the common room just in time to see Kacchan back himself into the foot of an adjacent couch, eyes wild and unseeing and chest heaving. He had one hand tightly gripping the back of his neck, the other stretched forward with more bright lights and crackling noises. Kirishima had his hands up defensively, shirt burnt and soot coating his torso. Deku, meanwhile, was pressed up against the wall, expression caught somewhere in between fear and relief.
“It's just us.” Kirishima repeated soothingly, struggling to catch his own breath.
And then it went quiet, save for Kacchan's heavy breathing and the noise from the sparks in his hand. Absentmindedly, Eri realized that she'd never known what his quirk was.
After what felt like an eternity, watching as Kacchan's eyes refocused and the wildness was replaced with a big wall of rage, the elevator dinged, the big guy with lots of arms leaping out as soon as it opened with his fists raised. At the same time, a girl ran down the stairs, Jirou, she remembered, looking particularly pale.
“What happened?” the big guy demanded, gaze flickering between all three of them.
Deku tried to respond, a flood of unintelligible syllables spilling out of his mouth, but Kacchan acted first, shakily jumping to his feet and darting out of the room before anyone could say much else. Deku looked somewhat panicked, jolting at the slamming of a door, but Kirishima had a hand on the freckled boy's shoulder a moment later.
It went deathly quiet all over again, Deku fidgeting awkwardly as everyone else just stared at each other. Jirou was the first to break the silence. “Was that a nightmare?”
Kirishima huffed tiredly. “You can tell?”
“Yeah.” she responded coolly, though there was still a crease of worry. “I heard 'em a lot for a while after Kamino. They were rarely that bad, though, I think. Maybe once or twice? You guys were loud.”
Eri pursed her lips. Kamino?
“Yeah.” Kirishima breathed. “Yeah, it's been a while. Last time he had one that bad was months ago.”
“And not down in the common area.” the big guy commented. Deku continued to fidget in discomfort.
“I mean,” Jirou shrugged. “He has been coming down here by himself every other night. I assumed it was 'cause of the nightmares.”
Eri gasped, followed by a whimper. “Kacchan has nightmares?”
She flinched as all eyes locked on to her. She curled into herself, arms pressed against her chest as she took a step back. If she thought Deku's eyes were wide before, they were about to pop out of his head now. “Eri...” his voice wobbled. “How...how long have you been here?”
She looked down at the tiled kitchen floor, looking away from the two less familiar students. “I...” she tried, tears she didn't notice had been welling up falling from her eyes. “I don't... I'm sorry...”
“Oh, no no no.” Deku hushed, quickly walking over and pulling her into a tight hug. “Don't apologize. You didn't do anything wrong.”
Eri sniffled, face stained with tear tracks as her breath hitched miserably. “Why does he have bad dreams?” she suddenly asked.
Deku's grip tightened. “...Everybody has bad dreams sometimes.” he explained. “It's normal.”
“No, but...” she muttered, haunted. “He looked so scared...”
The other three all gave each other unreadable looks. Eri fidgeted in Deku's arms. “I have bad dreams about bad things that happened to me... What happened to him?”
“What happened?” she cried, pulling back to look him in the eyes. His expression became pained at the sight of her tears. “What happened? Why was he scared?”
“What happened down here!?” someone shouted from upstairs, cutting off Deku's response as his classmates began to filter into the common room, all wide-eyed and nervous. Deku cringed, unsure of what to say, while Jirou and the big guy went to calm everyone down, explaining what they knew to the best of their ability. Kirishima, meanwhile, had disappeared completely.
Eri, realizing that no one was gonna answer her question in all this chaos, decided to leave as well, hoping to be able to clean up her face and gain some semblance of control over her emotions.
And then she was gonna figure out what was going on.
People really didn't like talking about this Kamino. That was the first red flag.
Since it was the weekend, nobody was going to school, and Aizawa wouldn't be back until Monday, so Eri had all the time in the world to investigate and ask questions. She tried to pester Deku and Kirishima about it, but neither of them would go into detail, simply giving her sad smiles and telling her that she didn't need to know. That Kacchan would be fine.
It didn't help as much as they seemed to think it did.
She went to Uraraka and Asui next, shying away from the haunted looks hidden in their eyes. Uraraka had snapped out of it first. “Where did you hear about that?”
Eri fiddled with the hem of her sweater. “Because...he's been helping me after my nightmares...and...” she swallowed. “I didn't know that...”
That he was helping her get over her nightmares while dealing with his alone, all at the same time.
It made her want to cry all over again.
Uraraka smiled sadly. “Kamino was...a scary and sad time for everyone.”
Eri felt Asui's hand cart through her hair. “You already carry a heavy burden.” she said. “Please, don't force yourself to carry someone else's, too.”
“Bakugou's really strong.” Uraraka added. “He'll be okay.”
Eri frowned, but was still ushered away. She simply pouted, lingering tears still welling up in her eyes, and pressed on.
She was determined to.
When she talked to Kirishima's friends, they all went wide-eyed, giving each other shocked looks before they tried to change the subject with jokes and forced laughs. When she talked to the rest of the girls, they said the same thing as Uraraka and Asui, the girl with long black hair having an especially distant look in her eyes. Everyone else simply turned her away, reassuring her that it was in the past and that everything would be okay. She wondered if Deku and Kirishima were asking people not to talk about it or if they just didn't want to.
She decided on the latter. She trusted them.
She was getting desperate and frustrated, especially the longer that Kacchan was nowhere to be seen. Even into the evening, he was off by himself somewhere and she had no answers. Something in her chest was growing hot and her heart beat strong against her chest. She'd never been so determined to do something before. She'd never had the strength to be determined before.
And that determination finally paid off when she approached the boy with funny-colored hair.
She'd entered the elevator with him, little hands balled into fists as she pouted harshly. Looking up at the guy next to her, she took interest in his blank stare and big burn scar. He looked back down at her, giving her a small wave before he returned to staring at nothing.
“Um...” she started, scuffing her foot against the floor. He glanced back down at her. “Can I... Can I ask you a question?”
He tilted his head, quiet for a moment. “Okay.”
She twiddled her thumbs, staring at the floor for a moment before looking back up at him. “What's Kamino?”
His head whipped back towards her so fast that she wondered if he hurt his neck. It was quiet between them for a moment. “It's a place.”
They continued to stare in silence, Eri beginning to feel strange as he wordlessly watched her. Eri looked away first. “What kind of place?”
“Not a good place.” he said solemnly. “...Wait, do you mean Kamino, Kamino Ward, or the Kamino Ward incident?”
Eri looked back up at him confused. Standing right next to him like this, he was very tall. Not as tall as Mirio, but she still had to crane her neck to meet his eyes. “What do you mean?”
The elevator dinged, the boy with funny hair stepping off. Eri followed him as he continued to stare ahead. “Kamino is a district, Kamino Ward is a building, and the Kamino Ward incident...” he hesitated. “...Is something that people don't like talking about.”
Eri's eyes glowed with determination. “That.” she said. “The...incident. I wanna know about the incident, mister... Um...”
“Shouto.” he offered, opening the door to his dorm room. Eri gasped, staring in awe at the beautiful room. It was very different from Deku's or Uraraka's, with wooden walls and tatami mats.
“It's so pretty...” she whispered.
“Thank you.” he responded simply, kneeling down. Eri sat down in front of him expectantly as he stared off to the side. “Kamino, huh? Haven't thought about that place in a while. Why do you want to know about it?”
“Because...” she started, swallowing heavily. “Because I...I- I wanna know why Kacchan has nightmares.”
Shouto's eyes widened minutely. Eri sucked in a long breath of air. “He's been...helping me with mine...and I never knew that he had them, too..about this Kamino place. I wanna help.”
Shouto hummed, leaning back to stare up at the ceiling. Eri didn't know what he was thinking, but he hadn't told her to forget about it yet, which was the farthest she'd come to answers so far. “I suppose that adds up. He can be weird like that, acting like he only cares about himself, only to take care of everyone except for himself. I'm surprised that so few people have noticed.”
“...I don't get it.”
“It's okay. I don't either.”
Eri stared at him with a matching blank expression.
“...Right, Kamino.” Shouto sighed. “Well, there's more to it, I think, but I suppose the bad stuff really started when we all went to a secret camp to train our quirks over the summer, and a bad guy called Shigaraki had this...idea.”
Eri let out a shuddering breath, realizing all at once that she was really about to get her answers. She sat there, enraptured by Shouto's story, gasping and awing as he told of him and Kacchan, fighting against a villain called Moonfish, about getting control of Dark Shadow, of blue flames.
Of a scarred hand wrapping his hand around his neck.
The portal closed, Shouto paused in his story to reminisce, expression sad, and everything crashed into Eri all at once.
They took him away.
Bad guys took him away.
She went cold, rigid, eyes wide and expression blank.
Did they lock him in a room?
Give him toys that meant nothing?
Strap him to a chair?
Tell him lies?
Did they hurt him?
Did they hurt others?
And tell him it was his fault?
“All Might led the raid to rescue him.” Shouto explained. “He's Midoriya's hero, but I think he's Bakugou's, too.”
Eri nodded along numbly as he spoke of a battle, of this All Might, throwing everything he had into saving one person.
Of losing his quirk because of it.
Eri noticed belatedly that it was getting harder to breathe.
She tried to listen to how the story ended. About who was okay and who wasn't. About how those villains got away and were still out there somewhere.
In the end, it didn't matter to Eri. All that mattered was one singular thing.
That bad people took him, and they wanted to use him to do bad things.
And they hurt his hero.
“Look what you made me do.”
“You don't want them to die, do you?”
“You know what you have to do.”
There was a burning feeling in her chest, running through her veins and making the room feel unbearably hot. There was a distant ache, a pain that she both wanted to cling to and make go away forever. She clenched her teeth, staring down at Shouto's tatami mats with tights fists and furrowed brows as teardrops fell to the floor.
She was used to bad things happening to her. She'd accepted that bad things happened to her, and she could endure it. She could live with it, because she had to. There was never another option. She'd had no choice.
It was different when it was someone else.
It was different when it was someone else who was hurting like she did. It was different when it was someone else who had to carry that burden.
It wasn't fair. It wasn't right.
It made her feel sick to her stomach. It made her want to yell and cry.
It made her... It made her...
She bolted to her feet at the realization, tears forgotten as she spun on her heel and charged out the door. “Uh-! Thank you, Shouto!” she cried out as she shut the door, leaving the bewildered teen behind in order to gather her own thoughts.
She needed to see Kacchan.
She needed to see Kacchan now.
But she'd already looked everywhere for him, searching as she questioned people, in the kitchen, in the common room, outside the dorm building, she even loitered around the bathrooms for a little while. At one point, she'd dared to peek into his room, only to find it empty. She left soon after, unsure as to whether or not she was welcome in there.
She sobbed in pent up frustration, kicking at the carpet for good measure. She didn't know who she was mad at anymore. Was it the villains for doing bad things? Was it Deku and everyone for keeping secrets? Was it Kacchan for never telling her about this? Was it Chisaki? Was it herself?
Alone in the hallway, she didn't know anymore.
So she began to cry.
She wept silently, not wanting to bother anyone or make Shouto feel like it was his fault. She just didn't know how to feel about all of these feelings, all of these emotions and new things and everything's changed so fast and so suddenly and-
Her head whipped around, suddenly locking onto the staircase at the end of the hall, the one that led up to the roof. She hadn't even realized that she was on this floor.
It didn't matter, though. She was stumbling her way up anyway, as fast as she could without tripping and falling.
Because he had to be up there.
He had to be.
The door was already ajar, so she had no problems tackling it open. She stood there, catching her heavy, quick breaths as she took in the setting sun. A breeze blew through her neatly combed hair, tickling her horn and drying over her tear tracks. The sky really was beautiful.
Face still contorted in foreign emotions, fists clenched and breathing ragged, slowly turned, eyes landing on a lone figure sitting by the ledge of the roof. He had his back propped up against the little wall, leaning heavily against it as he watched the same sunset that she was. She couldn't see his face, but she didn't like how still he was.
It felt like an eternity before he acknowledged her, matching red eyes barely offering her a glance. His glare softened when their eyes met, but not even a moment later, he was looking back at the horizon. “What are you doing here, brat?”
She sucked in a shuddering breath, pushing herself to walk up to him, to stand in front of him and face the past, what happened to him, what happened to her.
“Why didn't you tell me?” her voice shook, and he finally looked at her. His sharp features shifted into something strange, a cross between confusion, annoyance, and concern, but he didn't say anything, simply staring up at her. She clenched her teeth, wondering how many tears were left for her to cry and she took a deep, shaky breath.
“Why didn't you tell me you were like me!?”
Something startling flashed across his eyes, but it happened so fast that she missed it. So many emotions passed over his face that she couldn't even count them all, let alone figure out what they were, but he eventually decided on the scariest-looking pout she'd ever seen. “It's not important, kid. Just forget about what happened today.”
“No! I can't!” she cried. “Why didn't you tell me you had bad dreams, too!? Why didn't you tell me people hurt you!?”
“Why didn't you tell me that they tried to use you too!?”
For a moment, there was actual fear in his eyes, and it scared Eri more than anything else had U.A. ever had, but it was smothered just as quickly as it came, replaced by a nasty sneer. “It's not the same thing.” he snarled.
“They wanted to use you!” she yelled. “They wanted to make you do bad things!”
“I didn't live like that!” he spat. “Don't go comparing yourself to me! I can actually take care of myself!”
“That's mean!” she shot back, forcing her wobbly voice to work through the tears. “And that doesn't matter! They still hurt you!”
“Those f*ckers never touched me!”
“That doesn't make it any less bad and scary!”
“Just drop it, kid! It doesn't matter, so just forget about it!”
“It does matter!
“Aren't you mad!?”
He jolted at that, blindsided. Eri pressed on. “They hurt you and people you care about!” she cried. “How does that make you feel!?”
“That's low, kid.” he growled.
“They took you away! You're allowed to be mad about that, aren't you!? You told me I could be mad, so you can too, right!?”
He wouldn't lie to her, would he?
“We're allowed to get mad, right?” she sobbed. “So get mad!”
She heaved from the effort, forcing air into her lungs as he stared at her with wide, disbelieving eyes. The silence that followed was deafening, only the soft, cool breeze and Eri's own huffing and puffing accompanying them. She didn't like how quiet Kacchan was being, his gaze slowly falling to the floor.
With a tch, he turned away. “It's not the same.” he forced out.
“It's not.” he said. “Bad things happened to you for no reason. Bad things happened to me because I did bad things, too.”
Eri went quiet at that, watching as Kacchan glared harshly at the setting sun. “Heroes aren't always nice people.” he said cryptically.
Eri pouted, staring down at her shoes and the wet droplets by her feet. Wringing her hands, she searched for the right words, for something to say. Anything.
“He can be weird like that, acting like he only cares about himself, only to take care of everyone except for himself.”
She still didn't quite get it, but that didn't sound like a bad person to her.
Kacchan was staring off at the sunset again, expression worn and tired. Eri sniffed, looking back at her feet, back at the floor, and felt herself tense up all over again. She felt that heat, that energy that made her want to yell more, to be loud and make people understand.
She wanted him to understand.
Understand that the bad guys were bad, not him.
That the bad guys did bad things, not him.
He should be mad.
He should be angry.
Eri's expression hardened, resolve sound as she took one more deep, loud breath, pulling in as much air as her little body could possibly handle.
And standing on her very tippy toes, fists high in the air, she screamed as loud as she could.
Kacchan's eyes snapped back to her, the only readable expression on his face being that of shock. He blinked dumbly, mouth slightly agape, staring at her as if she'd grown three more heads, while Eri held her pose, face set with conviction and pride. He let out some kind of strange, soft wheeze, still in the throes of disbelief, but Eri didn't even give him a chance to recover.
“Get mad!” she demanded, stomping her foot. “You're good at being mad! Get mad!”
Kacchan sputtered, desperately trying to regain his composure. “I'm always mad!” he huffed.
“Then get mad!”
He grit his teeth, eyebrow twitching and veins popping. “I am mad!”
“You should be!” she cried. “They took you! You should be!”
“F*cking h*ll, kid-”
“I AM MAD!!” he roared.
Eri threw her fists back in the air, seemingly satisfied. “Get angry!!”
“Tch.” Expression crept through the look in his eyes as he pinched the bridge of his nose as he got to his feet, clearly knowing exactly what she was doing. For a moment, Eri thought he might just leave, but then he leaned back, took a deep, resounding breath, and opened his palms, loud crackling sparks dancing along his fingers.
“I'M ANGRY!!!” he screamed, so loud that birds were scared out of the nearby trees and Eri thought her ears were ringing all over again.
But she grinned, hands pressed against her ears and tears in her eyes. “Now repeat after me!!”
A lot of people were not pleased with their f*ck Shigaraki chant that lasted well into the night.
And neither was Aizawa, who heard about it as soon as he got back. Eri didn't see Kacchan again for a while afterward.
However, she still cherished that time after they were done, lying on their backs with sore throats staring up at the stars, even if the conversation was less than pleasant.
“Did they lock you in a room?” she'd asked.
He was always quiet for a moment before he answered. “...No. Got strapped to a chair, though.”
“...Didn't cut me open or anything.”
“Oh... That's good.”
“Was he ever nice to you?”
She frowned. “...Yeah. Almost always said things in a nice way, with a kind voice...and he'd give me lots of toys. I think he wanted to make me want to stay.”
“Yeah... Were they nice to you sometimes?”
“...I guess. They wanted me to feel comfortable. ...They wanted to make me want to stay, too.”
They went back and forth like that for a while, until Jirou had come and found them. Eri had to leave soon after.
It was okay, though, because for the next few days after, she didn't have any nightmares. Sleeping was easier, and talking about her nightmares was easier.
Talking about her past was easier.
Hadou told her one day that she seemed happier, like a blooming flower. Eri didn't notice the difference, but she did feel better, so maybe that was it. Deku and his friends would say similar stuff whenever they saw her roaming around the campus with Aizawa or Mirio. Even when the nightmares came back, at least she could still go find Aizawa, or whoever was there, and she could ask them for apple slices and caramel.
The next time she saw Kacchan, coming to the dorms for a visit and finding him just cleaning up after making something in the kitchen for Kirishima and their friends, she immediately ran up and hugged him as tightly as she could.
This time, he hugged her back.