Guilt. That’s what it is. It sits in the back of his mind, weighs heavy in his heart. He can still see the trickle of blood running down Izuku’s wrist, painting his freckled skin red. Why Izuku never fought back was something he couldn’t understand. Why Izuku was so damn slow to respond to everything was something he tried to understand. Why Izuku was chosen as the outcast the moment he walked into their classroom was something he never paused to think about.
It stays with him, the guilt. He’s only eight by the time Izuku transfers out. It takes him a few years to sort thing out in his head, but he has plenty of time alone to think. Ripping out Izuku’s hearing aids, not once, but three times, wasn’t even the worst thing he did. He remembers the notebook. It’s cover was worn from being handled so much--being folded and unfolded as Izuku tried to write words fast enough to keep up with a conversation or handing it to others.
The notebook he threw was number 13. The window was open to welcome the breath of spring weather. It was almost may and a few days after Katsuki’s birthday. He doesn’t remember what Izuku did to piss him off that much--all he remembers is seizing the notebook and flinging it out the window and watching Izuku dive after it in a futile attempt to catch it. All that his fingers caught was empty air.
Maybe if you jump out of the window after it, you’d be reborn with working ears.
That’s what he yelled loud enough that even Izuku must of heard him perfectly. He doesn’t have an excuse.. He doesn’t deserve an excuse. When his mother finds out, she yells at him for an hour and grounds him for life. In the future, when he thinks of that day, he wonders why she didn’t do anything worse.
Izuku never showed up to school after that. He didn’t need to ask why. In less than a week, he went from the center of attention to the weird kid who spends too much time staring out of the window. It’s the same window he threw the notebook out of. If he looks down, he can still see the puddle it fell in.
Guilt is a terrible feeling. It makes his chest feel heavy, and it makes him spend too much time thinking about the past.
He is ten years old when he walks into his first JSL class. It’s hardly required of him, but he’s been running around in circles, and he can’t stop thinking about how he should apologize properly, in a way that Izuku will understand him clearly, in his language--in JSL. Walking into the classroom is terrifying. There are too many people that remind him of Izuku, too many notebooks that look like Izuku’s, too many voices that make him think of Izuku’s silence.
His hands shake when he tries to sign, and that leaves his meanings messy and unclear. Katsuki has always been a fast learner, so it doesn’t take him long to pick it up. He practices in the bathroom mirror at home, flipping through videos on his phone. In class, he’s forced to partner with the people around him to practice speaking, but he doesn’t make friends. His sentences are short and brief, most people tire of trying to talk to him after one day at most.
Katsuki transfers out of the damn school he’s been going to since first grade when he goes to high school. He leaves behind the people that know what he did. He leaves the people that turned their fangs on him when Izuku was gone. Some students hang around graduation exchanging numbers or writing messages on photos. Some of them go back to their classroom to say goodbye to their desks. Katsuki walks out of the front gates and doesn’t look back. He knows what’s written on his desk. There are marker smudges that never fully came off even with hours of scrubbing. There are words carved into the wood.
I hate you.
The largest spans the entire surface of his desk. He suspects someone used a knife to do it, since there’s no way a pencil would cut that deep.
If you jump out of the window, maybe you’d be reborn with a better personality.
His own reframed for his own sins. It’s fitting that it’s the longest message and the most permanent. It carves itself into his brain the way it’s carved into his desk. He knows he deserves some of the isolation and some of the harsh words, but seven years of it? Maybe. Even still, he thinks that people are shitty--not that he’s an exception.
In high school, he meets Kirishima. On a whim, he saves him from a couple of bullies--clearly upperclassmen and grade A assholes. And then Kirishima follows him everywhere. To school. From school. During lunch. Katsuki tries pushing him away like he does everyone else, but nothing has any effect.
“Why the fuck are you still hanging around me?” He asks when he finally snaps.
Kirishima just smiles. “You pretend to be an asshole, but you’re really not.”
Katsuki sincerely wonders if that’s true. He shrugs off whatever the redhead says after that. Apparently they’re friends. All he remembers of having friends is laughing with them one day and coming back to go die in their handwriting on his desk. Maybe Kirishima won’t do that. He didn’t think the other shitheads would do that either.
He is sixteen when he sees Izuku again. It’s almost the end of April, practically the anniversary of the day he pushed Izuku too far. Katsuki ducks out of sight before Izuku sees him. After seven years, he doesn’t feel ready. Kirishima, who followed him of course, starts asking questions. Who is he? What did you do?
“It’s not important,” Katsuki says.
He feels off balance for the rest of the day, and that night, he dreams of the past. He doesn’t know precisely when he met Izuku, just that they were friends once. Actual friends. Like run around the playground and fall over laughing type friends. Then Izuku got sick. Katsuki dreams of the three weeks he didn’t see Izuku. The days are shadowy, and the memories feel cold. When he saw Izuku again, he had already stopped talking.
Katsuki would yell at Izuku. They were supposed to be friends, dammit, so why wouldn’t Izuku speak to him? His mother told him that Izuku was deaf. But if Izuku still reacted when he yelled, how could that be true? Katsuki dreams of the way he raged, and feels his stomach turn as he watches the memories flow past him and he is powerless to change the past.
His dreams turn red. He sees the blood run down Izuku’s wrist.
“It hurts,” he said.
That was the last thing he heard Izuku say, and all Katsuki had done in response was rage. Terrorize. Destroy.
“Don’t lie, Deku! You can fucking hear me, can’t you?”
He sees Izuku’s eyes swell with tears.
“If you jump out of the window-”
Katsuki looks down and finds himself on the windowsill. His dream makes the ground look farther than three stories away, but somehow he can still see the puddle. The things he shouted at Izuku echo in his ears, and he is falling, falling.
He wakes with a start and clutches his hand to his chest. He can feel his heart beating rapidly under his palm. The T-shirt he fell asleep in clings to his skin with cold sweat.
The next time he sees Izuku, he is alone. It happens when he walks into the center where he takes JSL classes. It shouldn’t be a surprise to Izuku there, but it still manages to send a shock through Katsuki’s system. This time he doesn’t duck out of the way. How much of a coward is he, anyway.
Izuku freezes when he sees Katsuki, and while he doesn’t run, his eyes dart to every corner of the room like he’s looking for an escape route.
Katsuki raises two fingers to his forehead and brings both hands down with one finger bent. (hello)
Izuku raises a single finger on his right hand and waves it forward. (what)
Katsuki repeats the gesture slowly and tries to make it clear. How shit is his signing?
Izuku takes out a notebook. With a clench in his chest, Katsuki sees that it looks almost like the one he flung from the window. It doesn’t have a number on it this time.
No offense, but I think it would be easier to talk this way.
No offense. Katsuki repeats in his mind. He’s been practicing for years, and Izuku thinks it’s better to write things on a fucking sheet of paper.
He frowns at Izuku, and does each sign with as much clarity as he can. (I… studied… to talk… to you.) He says the words aloud, too, both because it helps him sign properly and because Izuku might be able to read his lips even if he can’t understand his signs.
Izuku does something that’s too fast for him to process. When he sees Katsuki’s face, he repeats it. (to me?)
Katsuki nods his head. That, at least, is hard to mess up.
He places his left hand over his right and points it forward. (why?)
Katsuki shakes his head. He doesn’t know how to explain that he’s sorry in a way that’s adequate. There are some things that he will never forgive himself for, and if he can’t forgive himself, how the hell is he supposed to ask Izuku to forgive him?
Izuku considers his face for a moment. (Let’s use sign language) His right hand leaves his left shoulder slowly as he continues to watch Katsuki, like he’s trying to read all the things he’s not saying in his face.
He doesn’t know what to say next. Does he just spew some bullshit about the weather? Ask about his mother? Ask if he got bullied after he transferred schools? Something about the way Izuku looks at him makes him remember the first thing Izuku tried to sign. Something he only learned the meaning of years later. He points a finger first toward himself, then toward Izuku, then clasps his hands together, then points two fingers left. (Can we be friends once again?)
Izuku repeats it almost too fast for Katsuki to understand, but these signs are burned in his mind. Izuku asked him several times when they were younger, and he never even responded. His eyes are watery when he sees them from Katsuki now. Do you mean it?
Katsuki looks at his face and sees the confusion and the shock but also the hope. That’s the part that feels like it sends a knife through his heart. He has done nothing that should make Izuku look at him with hope. He looks at Izuku and nods. Yes
Someone knocks Katsuki out of the way, and he looks down to see a young girl. She has light hair, but round eyes like Izuku’s. She looks between them briefly, before she decides to give him a stern look.
“Be nice to my brother.”
“Brother?” Katsuki asks. He doesn’t remember Izuku having any siblings, but she does look a lot younger than they are.
“Be nice to him,” she repeats.
(I’m trying.) he signs.
Izuku raises his eyebrows. What?
He didn’t hear what she said. Obviously. Katsuki flushes and shakes his head. He doesn’t want to repeat that. Maybe his sister will tell him later anyway.
For some reason, Katsuki finds himself telling Kirishima about the meeting the next day at school. Maybe it’s helpful at some level to think about his interactions with Izuku. Kirishima doesn’t laugh at him, and he thinks that’s somewhat reassuring--if he had laughed, he probably would’ve gotten punched, or at least slapped away.
“You’re trying to do the right thing,” Kirishima says. “It’ll be okay.”
Katsuki wonders if that’s true.
He realizes, within a week, that his route to school crosses Izuku’s at the bridge across the river. It’s almost poetic how he happens to pause for a moment in the center of the bridge and just happens to see Izuku walking the other way. The wind seems to stop for a moment as Izuku turns toward him, hesitating in the middle of a step forward. They both freeze for a moment. The sun is in the sky behind Izuku, and it frames him with light. Katsuki has to squint to see him. For a moment, he loses himself in the scene. For a moment, he sees the hint of a smile on Izuku’s lips. And then the moment is gone. Izuku raises his hand in greeting and keeps walking.
He starts to wait for Izuku at the bridge when he’s done with school. He doesn’t know what he’s trying to do exactly, but his gut instinct tells him to be there. Searching for forgiveness feels like too much to ask for. Maybe he’s just looking for a kind of acceptance. As he waits, he practices signing. Sometimes he practices apologizing, but nothing he comes up with feels right. His hands freeze in the middle of words. If he’s this hesitant while trying to practice, there’s no way Izuku will understand. He brings a hand to a face and lets it go. (Sorry.) It’s one word he’s certain he’ll need to use.
A tap on the shoulder makes him whirl around ready to lash out. He drops his stance the instant he sees Izuku’s terrified look. His hands repeat the sign he was just practicing. (Sorry.)
Izuku’s face relaxes slowly.
As he starts to see Izuku every day, even for only a few minutes at a time, it gets easier to communicate. One thing he notices quickly is the range of expressions his face can make. Just the differences in his eyes speak volumes. He can understand at least half of what Izuku says without even looking at what he’s signing.
Izuku’s sister--who he eventually finds out is named Eri--joins them some of the time. Their apartment is nearby, so it only takes her a few seconds to get there. While she is quiet and polite most of the time, Katsuki knows her glare well, too.
The time the spend evolves from a few-second greeting to adventures that take until dinnertime. There are a few commercial areas nearby and sometimes just walking down by the river is enough. Eri warms up to him significantly after he buys her ice cream.
It’s one of the afternoons when Eri isn’t there that he finally pulls his head out of his ass and apologizes. Since he’s struggled with what to say until his brain felt like it was going to explode, he decides to ad lib it.
Izuku is patient with his crappy signing and the number of times he has to restart sentences. Katsuki hopes that part of what he said was conveyed properly. Izuku stares at him when he’s finished. Then he points a finger to himself, then at Katsuki, and clasps his hands together.
(Can we…be friends?)
Katsuki nods. This feels like a little bit of acceptance. Something inside his chest that he didn’t realize was tight loosens.
When summer comes around, he doesn’t have the same excuse to go to the bridge, but he goes anyway. Izuku lives somewhere nearby, so there’s a chance they’ll meet. Izuku finds him after a couple of afternoons that he spends walking up and down the river near the bridge. Izuku seems somehow anxious as he approaches, and when he comes to a stop in front of Katsuki, he doesn’t meet his eyes.
“Kacchan,” he says--except it comes out more like Kajjan.
He watches Katsuki’s reaction for a moment before he lifts a hand to his throat. (Is my voice strange?)
Katsuki puts a small space between his thumb and index finger. (A little.) He realizes that he’s said the wrong thing when Izuku’s face falls. He quickly puts his hands to his chest. (Don’t worry. It’s fine.)
Izuku doesn’t stay for long after that, and Katsuki feels a seed of worry.
The next day, Izuku is even more nervous when he appears. He tries to speak again, but this time, Katsuki really has no idea what he’s saying. After a minute of trying to figure it out, he draws a circle with his fingers. (Moon.) He forgets that tsuki --moon--sounds a lot like suki --I like you. Izuku only blinks his eyes a couple of times and drops the subject. Something about the interaction worries Katsuki, but he can’t figure it out. He’s distracted from his worry when Kirishima calls him to remind him that there’s a festival coming up.
“You should go with him,” Kirishima says.
“You learned how to speak without your voice for him, now he’s trying to find his voice again for you.” Kirishima pauses. “At least think about it.”
He does think about it. He thinks about festivals and fireworks. He’s avoided them for so long since he didn’t have friends to go with and he didn’t want to see his classmates if they were there. He wonders if Izuku would even want to go with him. Two days later, he asks.
(The festival--do you want to go) He hesitates before bringing his hands side-by-side. (…together?)
Izuku frowns in concentration, like he’s trying to figure it out. After a moment or so, he nods slowly. Katsuki feels something warm rise in his chest. The feeling stays with him for the rest of the day and the next morning, too.
Eri appears in the door beside Izuku when Katsuki goes to pick him up for the festival. They’re both wearing yukata, and he tries not to be too annoyed when she announces that she’ll be tagging along. That worry pales, however, when Izuku’s mother appears, too. Katsuki remembers her vaguely, and he is sure that she knows who he is. There is something cold in her green eyes as she looks at him.
“I’ll walk to the festival with you,” she says, and Katsuki knows better than to try and stop her.
She leaves them near the entrance of the festival, and Katsuki is grateful for that. As they walk and explore, Izuku seems quieter than usual--less animated. But on the whole, he seems fine. Maybe he should have been watching more carefully. When Eri leaves them, too, Izuku gets more distant or somehow distracted. Katsuki doesn’t know the proper way to ask if anything is wrong. Maybe Izuku really doesn’t want to be there with him, after all.
They search for somewhere to sit and watch the fireworks. They pass by Izuku’s mother and Eri on the way to an open bit of grass near the top of the riverbank. Izuku excuses himself for a moment, and Katsuki doesn’t think anything of it.
Izuku doesn’t return after five minutes. Or ten.
An anxiety places itself in the pit of Katsuki’s stomach. After twelve minutes, he gets up. Fuck, something feels wrong. Maybe Izuku went to sit with his family. He didn’t. He glances around the crowd and sees Izuku nowhere, and the panic sets in. Something guides his feet along the pavement, faster and faster, as he somehow manages to dodge the other festival-goers.
His instinct takes him to the front door of the apartment building where Izuku lives and then up the stairs. He climbs nine flights of stairs as fast as he can. By the time he reaches Izuku’s floor, he has a sharp stitch in his side and his breath is coming too fast. He forces himself not to hesitate.
The door to the apartment is slightly ajar. Katsuki pushes it forward cautiously. The lights are still off in the apartment, like no one is there, but the open door disturbs him. He steps further inside. He feels a breeze from an open window-- the window-
Katsuki feels his blood run cold. He sees Izuku framed in the window. The light from the fireworks that just started glow around him. His feet stand on the wall of the balcony, and he balances delicately halfway over the edge, halfway not. A silent scream builds in Katsuki’s throat.
If you jump out of the window…
For an instant, he sees Izuku in perfect clarity, his head turned a little, like he’s at least aware that someone is in the apartment behind him. The wind ripples through his hair and the light cloth of his yukata. The light that dances around his silhouette makes him look ethereal. For an instant, Katsuki thinks he has never seen something more beautiful nor has ever felt something so terrifying.
When the instant is up, it feels like the universe is set in motion slowly. Izuku raises one foot to take a step, and Katsuki launches himself forward. He hardly registers the pain that blossoms in his shoulder and races down his arm. All he knows is that if he lets go, Izuku will fall. He was the one who told Izuku to jump. He has to be the one to save him now.
He stares down at Izuku’s face and sees the concern and the confusion. Why. Katsuki doesn’t have time to answer. His muscles strain against the forces of gravity, and there is only so much they will bear before they falter. He doesn’t remember if he yells or not, but every fiber of his being is screaming no. Fuck no.. If there’s any justice in this shithole of a world, Katsuki knows he should be the one to fall. He prays to every deity he can think of. He needs another moment, another ounce of strength.
With an almighty burst of energy, he manages to switch their places. He stares up at Izuku’s face as he falls. Don’t you fucking dare jump now , he thinks. His body plunges into the water of the river below, and he feels the oxygen in his lungs leave him. His thoughts are murky and confused. He wonders that if, by switching their places, he has somehow made up for his sins. Maybe he will be reborn. Maybe he’ll get a better personality or be the one who spends a lifetime listening only to silence.
And then there’s nothing. Emptiness.
He doesn’t know.
He can’t feel anything, and his thoughts seem unworried and unrushed. There is nothing coherent in his mind.
Then something rouses him. It runs through every cell of his body and brings him back to consciousness. As he comes into alertness, he feels that every muscle is stiff and every bone is bruised. He opens his eyes to a dimly lit room. Out of the gap in the curtains, he can see the moon. After a moment of looking around, he realizes that he’s in the hospital, which means he’s not dead.
Something urges him to sit up. He has no idea how long he’s been out for or what damage he sustained, but it doesn’t feel too horrible to move. His system is sluggish from disuse and painkillers, but every part of him seems to be functioning. He flexes his fingers a few times. As he looks around the empty room, he realizes that there’s somewhere he has to be.
Before he can think about whether it’s a bad idea or not, his feet are on the ground and the IV is out of his arm. The absence of the needle stings slightly. Katsuki walks through the halls of the empty hospital. There are some nightshift people somewhere, but luck is on his side and he sees none of them. As he continues forward, his pace quickens.
He follows his instinct without hesitation. It has never lead him astray yet. His feet pound across the empty sidewalks of the sleeping city. He runs until he finds himself at one end of the bridge. In the bright light of the moon, he sees Izuku. They stand opposite each other on two banks of a river, on two ends of a bridge.
They meet in the center. Izuku drops to his knees and he follows. His heart pounds in his chest until he feels it reverberate through his body. There are bandages that wrap Izuku’s arm, and a healing scrape on his face. His hair is disheveled, but his eyes like are vibrant. Izuku reaches for him, but stops half way. He drops them slowly and looks up at Katsuki. He points a finger at himself, then at Katsuki, and before he can finish the question, Katsuki covers Izuku’s hands with his own.
He lets one hand rest on top of Izuku’s but uses the other to jab a finger in Izuku’s direction. (You.) He brings his hand to the side of his head and closes his fingers. (Idiot). He glares at Izuku. (Don’t ever fucking do that again.)
Izuku lets out a weak laugh. The moment he realizes it, he claps a hand to his mouth. Katsuki pulls it away.
(I want to hear you)
Izuku relaxes slightly, then he raises his eyes to Katsuki’s face.
He opens his mouth. “Suki.”--I like you. Katsuki hears it without a doubt.
(Me too) he signs.
He takes on of Izuku’s hands and raises its palm to his mouth. “I like you,” he repeats aloud. Even if Izuku can’t hear him, he can feel the breath of air and the movement of his lips.
To make sure he gets his point across, he traces the hiragana onto Izuku’s hand. I like you, he writes. Izuku looks at him with eyes that speak volumes. Shithead, he adds quickly, before Izuku starts to think of him as anything too sappy.
He feels the tears fall onto his hands before he sees them in Izuku’s eyes. Izuku reaches for him again and doesn’t stop halfway. Katsuki puts his arms around Izuku’s back. He feels warm, and most importantly alive.
As he continues to spend time with Izuku, he gets better at signing--even if Izuku stops him to ask, (why is the word you sign best ‘fuck’) As he continues to be a part of Izuku’s life, his mother seems to forgive him a little--that must have something to do with him nearly dying to save him. Eri continues to tag along frequently, though she also leaves them alone at the right moments. Katsuki honestly can’t tell if she’s cheering them on or not. His own mother yells at him for a while, too.
With Izuku, he looks at things differently. He learns to be gentle (some of the time) and kind to others (on occasion). As his relationship with Izuku progresses, he gets too much relationship advice from Kirishima. And he learns that, even with whatever their past contains, the future is more important--Izuku’s future-- their future.