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Twenty-Four

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For all it was worth, Bakugo Katsuki did not hate Midoriya Izuku.

He hated Midoriya’s stupid ability to keep pushing his limits even when he went past them. He hated his self-destructive selflessness, his self-sacrificing tendencies for the good of all. He hated that Midoriya always beat him nowadays, when Bakugo was the one doing the beating all this time. He hated that Midoriya had gone from zero to hero, that he had improved so quickly after middle school after a lifetime of being lame. He hated that Midoriya was no longer looking at Bakugo’s back, and that Bakugo felt like he was looking at his instead. He hated that Midoriya had been chosen by All Might, the only person he ever truly looked up to like the stars in his sky. He hated that Midoriya was improving by leaps and bounds and that Bakugo was sinking in a bog.

He hated that Midoriya was surpassing him.

“Get the hell away from me, I fucking hate you!”

But then again, saying that he hated Midoriya was so much simpler.

“I just figured it would be less awkward if we walked together,” Deku explained sheepishly, not at all thrown off by his childhood friend’s rude behaviour. He clutched at his backpack straps lightly, eager for Bakugo’s response. “We’re both heading home, so we’ll be going in the same direction anyway. It’ll be weird if we’re just following each other home.”

“You’re the one making it weird,” Bakugo clicked his tongue, throwing his bag over his shoulder regardless. “Doesn’t matter. I’m leaving.”

“See you tomorrow, Deku!” Uraraka called out from where she was talking to Tsuyu, waving goodbye in their general direction.

“Bye, Uraraka,” Midoriya returned the gesture enthusiastically, and jogged a few steps to fall in behind Bakugo as he exited the classroom.

Bakugo didn’t wait for him to make his way out, following the throng of students from other classes also heading home after a long day.

“It’s so exciting to be walking home together, Kacchan,” Midoriya started lightly, jogging up beside him. “We haven’t done this in a while.”

“Tch. I told you that we aren’t walking home together. Are you stupid?” Bakugo clicked his tongue in distaste.

“Fine, fine,” Midoriya conceded amusedly. “I’m glad that we’re walking in the same general direction at the same time.”

“Idiot,” Bakugo huffed, and sped up. Annoyingly enough, Midoriya kept up with him.

They didn’t talk much, at the very least, as Bakugo hated making small talk in general. Midoriya did make a comment or two, but Bakugo never acknowledged him, which killed the conversation rather quickly. By the time they were halfway home, Midoriya had tried (and failed) to talk to him about their next assignment, the villain attack at the mall over the weekend, the rainy weather, Bakugo’s parents, and a fat squirrel on a tree, and Bakugo did not want to find out what else he would try to talk about in the second half. Being around Midoriya was exhausting.

Thankfully, a corner store came up quickly enough, which gave Bakugo the perfect excuse to split up from Midoriya and his endless rambling.

“Alright, nerd. Go home on your own,” he shooed him off, stopping in front of the store. “I’m gonna buy a snack and I don’t need you hanging around me like a needy girlfriend while I do it.”

“Don’t cut your appetite before dinner.”

“Are you my fucking mom, Deku?” Bakugo growled, narrowing his eyes at Midoriya. “Leave me alone, nobody asked you.”

“Alright, I’ll see you in school tomorrow,” Midoriya conceded defeat, although the playful smile still hovered on his lips. “Have a good evening, Kacchan!”

“Get bent, Deku!”

Clicking his tongue, Bakugo watched Midoriya walk off, and waited for him to turn the corner before entering the corner store.

In truth, he didn’t really feel like eating anything, especially since his mother would get mad at him if he ate snacks on the way home. He didn’t feel like hearing her scold him like he was a twelve year-old child. Not today.

Still, hanging around stores and glaring murderously at the rows and rows of snacks and drinks as if he personally wanted to set fire to every shelf tended to get him negative attention from the shopkeeper. Indeed, the cashier, an elderly gentleman who clearly did not know Bakugo at all, looked at him suspiciously, and perhaps mildly worriedly. It ticked Bakugo off.

“What’re you staring at, old man?” he challenged, grabbing a random bag of shrimp chips off the shelf and stalking towards the counter. “I just want these, damn it.”

“Those are 200 yen,” the man replied calmly.

“Here’s your damn money.” Bakugo threw the exact change on the counter, and aggressively grabbed the chips off the counter.

“Safe walk home,” the shopkeeper wished him, seemingly appeased now that he knew that Bakugo was not a delinquent, just extremely grumpy.

“Whatever.”

He’d been in the store for a few minutes at least, which had probably given Midoriya enough time to get some distance. Relieved that he wouldn’t catch up to him, Bakugo popped the bag of chips open, and crunched on one.

He immediately remembered that he wasn’t very fond of shrimp chips.

“What the fuck,” he murmured to himself, and kept eating out of spite at the universe and Midoriya. As if Midoriya had had something to do with this, somehow.

Even though it was still relatively early in the day, darkness had already begun to creep on the city. Businesses had pulled out their awnings and houses had already begun to light up their porches. The sky had gone from light grey to full-on ash, heavy clouds promising a storm tonight. Bakugo immediately cursed himself for spending time in the store instead of going home. If he got caught in the rain, he would probably break something once he got home.

Especially if Midoriya made it home safe and dry instead.

He turned a street corner, munching murderously on a chip and causing a young woman walking towards him to switch sidewalks. Most people had come off the streets already, smart enough to catch the train or a cab home in this weather. Midoriya had chosen the best damn day to walk home.

Bakugo caught himself thinking about Midoriya again, and the chip in his fingers was crushed to bits when he realized it.

“Damn it!” he growled to no one in particular. “Fucking Deku, being annoying even when he isn’t here!”

Shoving a chip in his mouth, he turned into the parking lot that was a frequent shortcut towards his house. A cold gust of wind blew, and a few dead leaves rolled across Bakugo’s shoes. In the distance, the siren of an ambulance rang out and disappeared. In the corner of Bakugo’s eyes, the light of a nearby house turned off. The air smelled of garbage and humidity, the static of the impending thunderstorm making Bakugo’s hairs stand on end.

He munched on a chip loudly, just to fill the slightly unnerving silence.

His feet carried him halfway through before he caught movement in his peripheral vision, and in retrospect, he would not have died if he had not turned to look.

Because once he looked, there was nothing else he could do.

Midoriya Izuku, recognizable by his iconic mop of green hair, lied face down in a dark puddle, unmoving. Above him, a figure rose from a bent position, a long black cloak billowing in the wind around it. Underneath its hood, it wore a white mask, plain and smooth. It bore no eye holes, and yet, Bakugo felt observed.

The sight before him chilled him to the bone. The shrimp chips fell from his hand, crushed underneath the weight of the schoolbag that followed.

Bakugo did not realize that he’d moved until his footsteps echoed against the asphalt. His palms were covered in cold sweat, although that did not matter to him. Within seconds, his hands were heating up, and Bakugo Katsuki sprung forward.

“Hey dickbag!” he called, fearlessly summoning an explosion in his right palm. “The fuck do you think you’re doing?”

The masked figure did not move, which only served to aggravate Bakugo even more. Not caring about using his quirk in public, he let out a roar and lunged at the man, palms ready to fire.

He did not even blink.

And yet, the man before him disappeared.

“What!?” Stopping in his tracks, Bakugo spun around. The man now stood behind him, cloak still billowing in the wind. Midoriya was still at his feet, face down and motionless in the same puddle.

Growling furiously, Bakugo rushed forward yet again, a new explosion crackling in his palm before the figure disappeared again. Predictably, it appeared this time on Bakugo’s right.

“A teleportation Quirk, huh?” Bakugo snarled, switching positions seamlessly to attack the figure now on his right. “Don’t think I haven’t beaten people like you before, asshole!”

Saying nothing, the figure disappeared, this time reappearing on Bakugo’s left. Midoriya still lied motionless at its feet, face down in the same puddle as before.

And yet, when Bakugo turned to lunge at it once more, Midoriya’s voice rose from behind him.

“Ka… Kacchan, r-run.”

“The hell!?” Bakugo spun around, although there was nothing but thin air behind him. When he turned back to face the masked figure, Midoriya finally had his head lifted off the ground, dirty puddle water clumping his hair on his cheek. His eyes were half lidded, his lips parted lightly as if he was on the verge of saying something but couldn’t.

“Get out of here… Kacchan…” Midoriya’s voice slurred lightly, but undeniably, it came from the front this time. Bakugo flinched, entirely confused by the development, absolutely certain that he had not hallucinated Midoriya’s voice from behind him earlier.

“Oi, Deku! Don’t fucking tell me what I should do!” Explosions crackled in both his palms and he squared his stance. “Just cause you’re weak, doesn’t mean I am!”

“Kacchan, don’t…!”

“Die!” Heedless of Midoriya’s stuttered warnings, Bakugo put his hands out in front of him, and fired off a powerful set of explosions. The blasts ripped through the air, but predictably enough, only hit the emptiness. The man reappeared on Bakugo’s left, Midoriya barely holding himself up on his shaky arms at his feet. There wasn’t a scratch on either of them.

This time, however, something changed.

“You know Midoriya Izuku?”

The voice that came from before Bakugo was deep, but distinctively feminine. That cleared up a little bit about the identity of the white-masked figure, at least.

“It doesn’t matter if I know the damn nerd or not! I’m your opponent!”

Charging at the woman, Bakugo began to get irritated when she disappeared, only to reappear right behind him.

“Ah. You’re the loudmouthed brat from the sports festival.”

“Kacchan!” Midoriya cried out weakly, practically begging with his glossed-over gaze. “Please… run! You can’t…”

“Shut up!” Bakugo interrupted him, rushing forward and releasing another explosion. He let out a wild cry and spun to his left, where the masked woman appeared, this time, a foot on Midoriya’s back. Izuku struggled to push against her boot, but his arms shook before he crashed to the ground again. There was no puddle to catch him this time.

“You are Midoriya Izuku’s classmate and friend, correct?” The woman asked again, her tone smooth and controlled.

“Shut the fuck up! You’re really pissing me off! Stop running and face me, damn it!”

Roaring, Bakugo sprang forward again, and let out a growl of rage when she disappeared, taking Izuku with her. He looked to his right and to his left, but she was nowhere to be seen.

“You will do.”

Goosebumps erupted across Bakugo’s entire body when a hand enclosed around his throat from behind, another hand pushing something plastic on his face. A pungent stench invaded his senses for a second, although he quickly realized he could not breathe.

Panic controlled him for exactly 2 seconds before he elbowed the person behind him, explosions aimed blindly at her. The hold on his neck relented and the masked woman stepped back to avoid his assault, although the plastic object, which he recognized as an oxygen mask, remained stuck to his face. Panting to catch his breath, Bakugo tore off whatever adhesive was keeping the mask on his face and threw it to the ground.

He spun around to fight the woman again, and the world spun with him.

“No, no, no.” Midoriya was begging again, barely keeping his head up. Before Bakugo could rush forward, he disappeared, along with the woman, reappearing several feet to his left.

“The hell did you do to me, you bitch?” Bakugo yelled, almost stumbling over himself in an effort to rush at the woman. Midoriya seemed frozen in place, and the woman did not move anymore either.

“N-No, get off… off of me!” Midoriya wheezed, and his voice came from Bakugo’s right. Before his eyes, Midoriya remained still, lips still parted in pleas that did not articulate.

Without any puns intended, a spark went off in Bakugo’s head.

“I’m seeing things, aren’t I?” he crowed victoriously, turning to his right. His vision swam dangerously as he did so, and he stumbled a few steps before catching himself. “Show yourself! I know you’re just hiding behind some stupid illusion!”

“And what if I am?”

Spinning around to the source of the voice with lightning speed, Bakugo did not even have to think. Almost instinctively, he fired a powerful blast, arching at the ground to limit surrounding damage. Let it never be said that he would never be a good hero.

The asphalt cracked under the sheer force of Bakugo’s attack, and Bakugo grinned wildly when smoke rose up, thick and grey. The smell of something burnt pervaded the air.

His victory lasted a second and a half before a harsh kick to the middle of his back sent him sprawling forward, all balance lost to whatever weakness made his eyesight blurry. Bakugo hit the ground face-first, his nose crunching painfully against the cracks that he’d made in the pavement.

Before he could move, a weight settled on his back, two weights pinning his forearms to the ground.

“Damn it!” Whatever he had to say was muffled as the oxygen mask was pushed to his face again, and the same pungent smell as before invaded his senses. “Get off me! Fuck you!” He thrashed as best as his weakening body would allow him, palms firing off explosion after explosion and only managing to crack the asphalt even more. The weight, which he recognized as someone’s knees, pinned both of his forearms and limited the orientation of his hands. Out of the corner of his eyes, he spotted Midoriya, lying down motionless once more, chest rising up and down in slow breaths.

Letting out a growl of frustration, and perhaps to hide the creeping sense of panic sneaking up on him, Bakugo tried to bite the hand holding the mask flush against his face, although he did not accomplish much with said mask in the way. Whatever was being pushed into him was robbing him of his energy, and even his consciousness. Bakugo kicked his legs backwards and got a hit on the woman’s back, and by the sound of her grunt, she did not expect it.

“Get the… fuck… off’a me…” To his growing horror, Bakugo realized that he was slurring. His tongue felt heavy in his mouth, his eyelids drooping heavily. He kicked again, running on adrenaline, but no matter how much he struggled, he felt his body giving in. His explosions were becoming weaker as well, his control over his Quirk fleeting away with his consciousness.

All lights and no sirens, an ambulance came skidding into the parking lot, stopping right next to them. Bakugo craned his neck painfully, bloody nose dragging across the ground in an effort to see the ambulance’s driver.

Said driver jumped out of the seat and hit the ground, and although Bakugo only saw his feet, he knew that the black-cloaked paramedic was no paramedic at all.

“What… the…” Fighting against the heaviness, Bakugo weakly followed the paramedic until he reached Midoriya. His rival was turned gracelessly on his back, not even reacting and flopping limply against the ground. The sight of his motionless body filled Bakugo with unprecedented rage.

How dare he give up? How dare he lose to these small-fry villains?

Bakugo gave out one last defiant cry, ripped from the bottom of his throat, and his vision dimmed. The last thing he saw was Midoriya being dragged towards the ambulance by his arms, his limp body catching every bump in the pavement on the way. He did not react.

Bakugo meant to sound outraged.

“De…ku…”

But as he blacked out, he realized that he only sounded desperate.

…-…-…-…-…-…-…

Bakugo didn’t dare say that he woke up, because in reality, it felt more like he drifted into a mild awareness. His head felt heavy, and his tongue was so dry it hurt to touch his palate. His vision was dim, only in spots of faded colour at first, and as Bakugo took deep breaths through his mouth, things became sharper. He tried to breathe through his nose, but a sharp pain made it impossible for him to continue. In the distance, he could hear voices, but he didn’t know if he was very far from the voices, or if he was just hearing things from underwater.

He tried to move, but that seemed to be too much. His eyelids dragged down again, and he passed out.

When he came to next, things seemed a lot clearer. He actually felt the cold cement beneath his cheeks, felt the pain racking his entire body. He felt like he probably would if he was hypothetically ever smacked by All Might.

Although he did get punched by Midoriya several times, and that was technically the same thing.

The thought of Midoriya suddenly snapped him to attention again, and the events that had unfolded came rushing back to him. The parking lot, the masked woman, the oxygen mask, the ambulance… several bits of it were missing, but he remembered most of it.

“An illusion Quirk…” he mumbled to himself, glad that he could regain some control over himself gradually. Moving his limbs still felt like a feat too much, though it did not stop him from trying. His fingers twitched, but no matter how much he willed it, his arms and legs would not move. His explosions didn’t come to him, either.

He could feel his heart beating loudly against the cold cement, but nothing else in his body could move. Bakugo tried to move, forced himself until he was shaking all over, but still could not get a single movement from his limbs. His body hurt and his head felt heavy again, exhaustion sweeping over him like a wave.

He felt powerless and entirely at someone else’s mercy, and it was the worst feeling Bakugo had ever felt in his entire life. Frustration didn’t even begin to cover it, tears pricking his eyes as he tried, over and over again, to fight the heaviness in his head and move his limbs. Being able to cry only made things worse; if Bakugo hated one thing above all else, it was being made to feel weak.

“Damn it.” His words slurred, his voice only a wisp. Tears ran sideways off his cheeks, and it enraged him further, if nothing else. His life was no movie, however. Despite the frustration coiling so tightly inside of him, he did not suddenly develop superhuman capacities to break out of his bonds.

His body was paralyzed, and he was helpless.

And though he was angry, he was also beginning to get scared.

He did not know when he closed his eyes again, but he opened them to the sound of voices nearby. His vision felt sharper now, and to his glee, he was able to flex his hands and clench his core. It was progress, however minimal. Trying to summon explosions in his palms felt futile, though. Not only was his body extremely cold, he couldn’t even feel the familiar feeling of his Quirk running down his spine and into his arms when he beckoned it into his hands.

He swore once more, and tried to flex his hands and rotate his wrists slowly, hoping to stimulate the rest of his body into moving.

Before he could get any progress done, however, a door behind him slammed open, shedding some light over his prone form.

“Who’s there…?” Bakugo growled, his voice still slightly whispery, and now raspy from his dry throat. “Show yourself… coward…”

Saying nothing, the newcomer came up behind him, and stopped. Not being able to see the person made Bakugo unnecessarily nervous, but he kept up the act anyway.

“Too scared to… show me your face?” He taunted lightly, smirking weakly to himself. The cold cement felt good against his cracked lips. “Dumb bitch… I’ll twist your neck when I… catch you…”

“Please save your breath.”

The voice that replied to him sounded like the one from the woman in the parking lot, but it was slightly graver. A man’s voice, Bakugo guessed.

“Go fuck your whore mom,” Bakugo replied in one breath, just to spite him, and smirked when a hand fell upon the collar of his dirty school uniform with a weary sigh.

“What are you, twelve?” The man sighed, and flipped Bakugo over.

The first thing that Bakugo noticed was that the man also wore a smooth white mask over his face. If he did not speak, Bakugo would’ve been unable to make the difference between him and the woman.

With glee, Bakugo realized that his mouth worked just enough for him to spit at the man, though it didn’t go very far, instead splashing on the man’s black boots.

“What’cha gonna do?” he taunted lightly, trying to focus on his articulation so that he could sound at least mildly threatening. “Throw lame insults at me ‘till… I die…?”

“Alright, alright, let’s go, smartass.”

With that, Bakugo was jerked up into a sitting position, and he hissed when his entire left side protested at being lifted off the floor so suddenly after being down for so long. His muscles cramped up and seized, waves of electric pain running up and down his body.

“Fuck,” he groaned out, although his pain was quickly forgotten when he suddenly began to be pulled by the collar, towards the door. “Hey, dude… what the fuck… you doing!?”

“We’re going to go see your friend,” the man simply replied, apparently much more talkative than the woman.

“I can fucking walk! Let go!”

“No you can’t,” the man stated matter-of-factly. “The anaesthesia is only just wearing off, let alone all the paralytics you got. You had that long-acting sedative, too, so you’ll be groggy for a while. You’ll have to move your hands first before trying to walk.”

“I can move my hands alright.” Elegantly, Bakugo flipped his captor the bird, with both hands, demonstrating the range of motion of both his upper extremities. Impressive, if he said so himself. “Suck my ass, dick-weed.”

Sighing, the man did not reply. Bakugo felt the cement scrape uncomfortably against his ass and his legs, but could only cuss the masked man out as creatively as he could, considering nothing else in his body wanted to work right now. Thankfully, they did not go very far, although the embarrassing circumstances of his transport made the whole ordeal seem like a lifetime.

Finally, he was dragged across a bland cement hallway, and they entered another room. This one was much larger, although it was no longer made of cement. Instead, the walls were grey and smooth, and Bakugo had no idea why this room was so different.

Still, in the corner of this room was Midoriya, on his knees yet undefeated, and that was all that mattered to Bakugo right now.

“Hey, Deku!” he called with the most strength he’d demonstrated so far. He smirked when Midoriya’s head snapped towards him, eyes wide and searching for him.

“Kacchan!?” he cried out, with so much more distress than he should’ve. Bakugo’s heart didn’t skip a beat, but it did lurch at least a little. “Kacchan, are you here?”

“What are you, blind?” Bakugo taunted, finding a little more strength in his limbs and trying to flex his knees. Sensing his movements, his captor let him go, and Bakugo hit the ground roughly with a smack. “Ow, what the fuck!?”

“Kacchan, where are you!?” Midoriya continued to call out, eyes roaming the expanse of the room and falling across Bakugo’s prone form several times, although he did not seem to acknowledge him. “Say something!”

“Oi, fucker!” Bakugo turned his head with some effort, glaring at the masked man standing above him. “Why in hell can’t he see me? You better not have fucked with his vision, or I’ll kill you!”

“He’s under Parallax’s influence,” the man replied, pointing towards the other end of the room. Bakugo painstakingly followed his hand to the other masked figure standing there silently, whom Bakugo had not noticed at first.

“Are you people some kind of sect?” he clicked his tongue, glancing at Midoriya, who still called his name desperately, crawling forward slowly on all fours. From his position, Bakugo couldn’t see much, but he seemed rather beaten up, blood on his uniform and bruises on his face. A few of his fingers seemed broken, although they didn’t look like they would when he used his Quirk.

“No questions for now!” the man shook his head, although it was hard to read his expression with that stupid mask on his face. As if by a wordless agreement, the woman on the other side -Parallax, apparently- began walking towards them, passing right in front of Midoriya without the young boy even react to her presence. He just kept calling out for Bakugo and calling out weak threats to their captors in between.

“Remain here until the drugs wear off,” Parallax finally spoke, and Bakugo recognized her voice from the one in the parking lot. “We have much to discuss once you are fit for that.”

“I ain’t telling you shit, you stupid bitch,” Bakugo spat at her feet for good measure as well, trying really hard to reach out and grab her ankles when she stepped over him, towards the door. Alas.

“Seeya!” The man waved provokingly at him, following her.

With that, the two masked people retreated to the door, Bakugo cursing their existence every step of the way. Only once they left did he actually turn to Midoriya, whose back was turned to him now.

“You better not have hurt Kacchan,” he called out to thin air, his voice raspy and wavering.

It was pathetic, really.

“Stop yelling, they’re gone,” he grumbled, mildly shaken when Midoriya immediately whipped around, gaze honing in on his prone form on the ground. His eyes grew wide, partly terrified and partly relieved. It was so weird to see such a genuine show of emotion being directed at him.

“Kaccha-ah!” Midoriya immedaitelly made a move to get off his knees to rush towards him, but he was only a few inches off the ground before he went tumbling down again, catching himself with his arms. “Ah, ow…”

“What, you forgot how to walk?” Bakugo clicked his tongue, disregarding the fact that he couldn’t move much of his body either.

“No, no… I’m fine.” He did not look fine, however. When he looked back up, Midoriya’s pale face was covered in a sheen of sweat, purple and red bruises standing out starkly in contrast. His jaw was clenched, biting back obvious agony.

“Did they roll over you with that damn ambulance, Deku?” Bakugo asked, watching Midoriya crawl closer to him. “You’re uglier than usual.”

“It’s nothing major, Kacchan. I’m okay.” Again, he was definitely not okay, especially the closer he got to Bakugo. By the time he had kneeling next to him, Bakugo could see every tense feature on Midoriya’s face, every displaced phalange on his broken fingers, and all the puncture marks littering his arms.

All the time that Bakugo had been sleeping, Midoriya had obviously been suffering.

Bakugo may have hated a whole encyclopedia’s worth of Midoriya’s attributes, but he sure as hell didn’t like seeing him suffer so much, all so needlessly.

He knew firsthand how terrifying being a captive could be. He didn’t know how long they’d been in here, or what they’d done to Midoriya, but he didn’t need to know any of that to be livid already.

“Kacchan, are you okay?” Midoriya asked, letting a small smile slip onto his face, and at that moment, Bakugo wanted to punch him.

“Shut the fuck up,” he growled. “Do I look like I got fucking rolled over by an ambulance? Your priorities are all messed up, Deku, so shut up!”

“I’m glad they didn’t hurt you,” Midoriya simply stated, putting a hand on Bakugo’s arm. “The paralytics wear off quickly after the last dose. You don’t have anything going into your IV right now, so you should be okay soon.”

“Get your hands off me.” Still, Bakugo was relieved to hear that he’d be able to move again soon. He couldn’t wait to blow the masks right off of their captors’ faces and then feed their own legs to them. “What’s up with this shit anyway?”

Midoriya’s face immediately went from a look of worry to one of discomfort. He bit his lip and sat back on his knees, glancing away from Bakugo. He was clearly hesitating to answer the question, and that only pissed Bakugo off even more. As if Midoriya didn’t think he was strong enough to handle the truth.

“They know about One For All.”

And okay, Bakugo expected to hear everything except that.

“What the hell do you mean?” He frowned, feeling some strength and feeling returning to his arms, just enough for him to start pushing himself up. “You really couldn’t keep your mouth shut?”

“It wasn’t me!” Midoriya protested. “I don’t know how they know, but they… they know about All Might and One For All. And they want it.”

“So?” Bakugo huffed, shakily pushing himself up into a sitting position. His legs still felt numb, but his upper body seemed to be supporting itself a lot more with each passing second. His head seemed a little less heavy, too. Whatever drug he’d been getting was clearly wearing off quick. “It’s not like you’re gonna give it to them, so it doesn’t matter.”

“Of course I’m not gonna give them One For All.” Midoriya actually had the gall to look affronted by the simple thought. “It’s just… they know. I don’t know how they found out, but they know that One For All is an ability passed down from generation to generation, and they know that it can only be transferred if the holder willingly passes it onto a person that willingly receives it… I don’t think they know about the whole DNA transferring, though… But this is definitely dangerous, they’re trying to get One For All out of me, and they seem to be willing to go to any length…”

“Shut your mouth, Deku!”

Midoriya immediately stopped his rambling, looking sheepish. When he glanced up at Bakugo, though, his gaze softened.

“Stop worrying about every little thing, damn it,” Bakugo continued, huffing. “You’re not gonna give ‘em your stupid power, so there’s nothing else to discuss. We just gotta find a way to get the hell out of here.”

“Is your Quirk working?” Midoriya worriedly glanced at his broken fingers. “I tried using mine, but I can’t seem to call it forward. It’s blocking somewhere in between my head and my limbs…”

“Of course you can’t, you damn loser,” Bakugo scoffed, putting up a shaking hand. He conjured his explosions forward, but clicked his tongue in displeasure when only small sparks burst in his palm. So much for that. “Huh. It’s just cause I’m still frozen, okay?”

“I think they gave us something else, asides from the anesthesia and paralytics…” Midoriya flexed his hand, wincing at the displaced phalanges. “I’m not sure. Maybe a Quirk suppression drug?”

“Speaking of which, how the hell are they giving us all this shit?” Glancing at his arms, Bakugo palpated them only to be sure that there weren’t any intravenous lines hidden under an illusion or another. Although he was sure that they were dealing with an illusion Quirk, he still wasn’t sure of the Quirk’s specifics.

“Ah, check your legs,” Midoriya pointed at Bakugo’s legs, which were still bent underneath him. “I had an intravenous in my thigh.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Palpating his thighs, Bakugo indeed felt a little lump on the inner side of his right leg, and upon closer inspection, realized that his pants were not zipped up all the way.

Those fuckers had taken his pants off in his sleep to poke a needle into his thigh.

Midoriya flinched when Bakugo shoved his hand into his pants, practically roaring as he tore out the intravenous and tossed it into a corner of the room. At least he’d broken through his drug-induced paralysis out of sheer force of will (and rage).

“Who the hell does that, even!?” Bakugo kept going, buttoning his pants, apparently unaware that he had full movement now. “We’re sixteen years old, I could call the cops on these disgusting perverts and get their asses jailed for so long that their fucking grandchildren will have to carry out their sentence!”

“Kacchan, you’re bleeding,” Midoriya reminded him quietly, only to get the brunt of Bakugo’s anger as well.

“Who gives a damn, Deku? You askin’ to bleed too? Cause I can arrange that for you!” Still, Bakugo was smart enough to put his hands on his thigh where a patch of blood had already begun to grow where the IV had been. His yelling eventually faded into grumbling, and he settled.

“The walls are silicone,” Midoriya finally started again, glancing at Bakugo’s leg. “It’s a common shock-absorbing material, in case we tried to bust out of here with our Quirks. Not that we can use them right now, anyway.”

“I’ll just blast through the damn door when I get my Quirk back, then,” Bakugo huffed, glancing at the metal door. “These psychopaths were planning this for a while if they built a room to contain your stupid Quirk.”

“I don’t want to think about it.” Midoriya winced. “I’m sorry you got caught up in this, Kacchan.”

“Are you a fucking idiot?” Bakugo glared at him. “Just shut up. Let’s just wait for our Quirks to come back and get the hell out of here. My mom is going to yell at me to hell and back for this. Again.”

“I’ll tell her it’s my fault,” Midoriya offered with a weak smile.

“Yeah right. She’ll still go at me, because you’re some fucking angel in her eyes and I’m the literal devil that crawled out of her devil vagina.”

“Charming as ever, Kacchan.”

Bakugo breathed heavily to cover up a smirk that threatened to emerge, and closed his eyes for a moment to recollect his thoughts. He let go of his thigh, confident that the bleeding had stopped, and tried to summon his Quirk again. Still nothing. As Midoriya had explained, it felt like his ability was being stopped somewhere between his brain and his hands.

He didn’t know how to feel about that, so he said nothing.

He didn’t need to spend much time in silence after that. It seemed like only a few minutes before the door began to clink and clang, as if about a dozen bolts were being undone on the other side. Perking up immediately, Bakugo scooted back from the door, and perhaps just a bit closer to Midoriya. Just to mark his position in case they were victim to an illusion again, nothing more.

The door opened, and in strode the two masked figures from before. Their flat, blank masks divulged nothing of their intentions, and Bakugo hated not being able to read his enemies. Contrarily to what most people thought of him, he didn’t actually rush into battle without a plan. Usually, he took the time to observe his enemies before getting serious in his offensive strategy.

But now, there was nothing to observe. The two figures strode one next to the other, and Bakugo couldn’t even tell which one of them was the woman who kidnapped them, nor the man who was mocking them earlier. Even if he’d known, though it wouldn’t help him decide which one he wanted to blow up more between the two.

“Back for more, assholes?” Bakugo taunted, finding the strength to stand up, and although his legs shook, he was able to bear his weight. The anesthetics had worn off quickly after all.

“Excellent,” the woman- Parallax- spoke, although Bakugo still couldn’t tell which figure was which. “Let us begin.”

The figure on the right suddenly disappeared.

“I see right through your dumb illusions,” Bakugo snarled, clenching his fists. “Your friend is right there next to you, isn’t he? I’ll blow up this entire room if I have to to find him!”

“Your Quirk is still under the effects of the suppression drug, and will be for at least the next twenty-four hours,” Parallax answered to his threat, stepping forward. Bakugo did not move, quite sure that she was an illusion as well. The real enemy was probably walking around the room at the moment. “You’re at our mercy, both of you.”

“I don’t do well with threats, I’ll have you know,” Bakugo taunted, glancing back at Midoriya behind him. His classmate/childhood friend/rival was standing as well, although Bakugo took pleasure in seeing that he seemed to be hiding a little bit behind him. Good. He’d show that idiot Deku that he could handle this all on his own. “So cough it up. What the hell do you want with us?”

“Firstly, we’re not talking to you, you spoiled brat.” The voice that rose from Bakugo’s left was undoubtedly the man’s, but when Bakugo turned, nobody was there. For good measure, however, he still did swing his fist at the empty air with a feral cry, although he was unsurprised to hit the emptiness.

“Stand down, Xallarap,” the woman sternly returned, not moving from her spot.

“Xallarap?” Midoriya frowned. “So, uhh… is that his villain name? Because… Parallax and Xallarap…”

“Seriously?” Bakugo raised his eyebrow. “Parallax and Xallarap? You came up with that while playing Scrabble, or something?”

“Shut up, you brat!” Suddenly, Bakugo’s knees buckled under an invisible kick behind his legs. He stumbled lightly and kicked backwards, though he caught nothing once again (though he did pass uncomfortably close to Midoriya’s head with his leg). “Xallarap is a real word! It’s a concept from astrophysics!”

“You’re making this shit up,” Bakugo taunted, recognizing quickly that the man was the weak link in the villain duo. “No way anyone thought that it was a good idea to spell something backward and make it a science thing.”

“Eat your words, dickhead.” The man’s voice still came from the void, but a glance at Parallax’s blank face showed that she was getting a little bit impatient. Even through her mask, Bakugo felt like he could imagine the expression of exasperation. “I’m Google-ing the definition right now… and according to Wikipedia, xallarap is a ‘variation in gravitational lensing caused by the orbital motion of the source’. So there. If it has a Wikipedia page, it’s legitimate.”

“So it’s kind of like a traditional parallax effect, in that sense…” Midoriya mumbled unclearly from behind Bakugo, and Bakugo only heard him because he was used to his rambling. “Instead of being a shift caused by the motion of the viewer in space, it’s a shift due to the motion of the object being viewed…”

“Stop mumbling!” Xallarap called out, and a second later, Midoriya was on the ground, nursing his red cheek. Unlike Bakugo, however, he didn’t lash back out, clearly thinking.

Good. Then Bakugo’s attempts to rile the villain up had not been for nothing. He himself didn’t really understand any of the nerd things that Midoriya was thinking about, but if Midoriya had an idea of what was going on, he’d keep fighting.

“Enough!”

Parallax’s voice rang out loudly, booming deafeningly across the silicone-walled prison. A heavy silence followed, and Bakugo shifted his stance in preparation for whatever was to come. He could feel the tension crackling like static electricity in the air.

This was no longer fun and games.

“Bakugo Katsuki, stand aside,” Parallax demanded sharply, her illusion stepping forward. “Our target is Midoriya Izuku, and frankly, you are a bother, and you will be disposed of if you do not stand down.”

“I’d like to see you try, you cowardly bitch,” Bakugo spat to the side. “You can’t even fucking show yourself, hiding behind your damn illusions all the time. Are you that scared of me? I don’t blame you. I’m going to tear you to pieces when I get my hands on you, so get ready.”

“Move out of my way,” Parallax demanded again, striding up imposingly until she was an inch apart from Bakugo’s face. Bakugo simply smirked and tilted his chin upward in defiance.

“Fuck you.”

He seemed to be dulled a little bit still from the drugs, because he did not react in time to the fist that connected to his face right afterwards. It felt strange, like there was a lag between the sight of the fist on his face and the feeling of impact and subsequent burning pain of a bruised jaw, but Bakugo had no time to dwell on it.

The woman before him was not an illusion. He’d gotten her.

“Checkmate!” he grinned savagely, and kicked his leg out as quickly as he could.

He anticipated the satisfying contact of flesh and bones under his leg, but his smug expression quickly morphed to shock when his leg simply went through the woman’s body, her image remaining untouched.

“What?”

His momentum carried him too far in the absence of anything to stop his arc, and coupled with his moment of confusion, Bakugo failed to react to the hook to his face again. When he recovered and kicked back, though, his leg went right through the woman once more.

Parallax punched Bakugo again, and Bakugo raised his arms to counter her incoming hook. His eyes widened when her body went right through his arm, but his face still burst into needles of pain upon contact.

“Kacchan!” Midoriya cried out behind him, clearly coming to the same conclusion as him- that this didn’t make any sense.

“Don’t distract me, Deku!” Jumping back to regain his footing, Bakugo charged forward at the woman in a series of acrobatic moves. An uppercut here- right through her jaw- and a knee there- right through her stomach- and Bakugo still hadn’t achieved anything except getting a few new bruises on himself.

He hardly felt the pain, but the frustration was what drove him over the edge.

Driven by the increasing pressure inside of him, Bakugo faltered slightly, and soon found himself reaping the consequences of his failure when a hand suddenly closed on his neck from behind him, and an overwhelming force shoved him face-first to the ground.

His nose crunched against the ground painfully, and Bakugo hissed in pain. However, he could not retaliate as both his arms were caught in a tight grip, his wrists being tugged against the small of his back. He tried to wriggle and kick his way out of Parallax’s grip, but he suddenly felt rough rope coiling around his skin.

“There. That ought to do the trick,” Parallax sighed casually, as if this was nothing but a mild inconvenience for him. Bakugo growled loudly and kicked, but could not get out of her grip. Soon enough, his ankles had been bound as well, until he could only do the worm on the cement floor.

“Kacchan?” Midoriya cried out in alarm, glancing around. “Kacchan, talk to me, what’s going on?”

“Can’t you fucking see what’s going on!?” Bakugo growled, wiggling.

“No. I can’t see you right now,” Midoriya calmly answered, glancing around him. “Your voice is coming from my right.”

“I’m about three feet to your 1 o’ clock,” Bakugo huffed, watching Parallax get up and stand above him like an entitled asshole.

Midoriya did not answer him.

“Hey! Dickwad!” Bakugo wiggled angrily once more. “Answer me!”

“Kacchan?” Midoriya called out after a few seconds of silence, sounding more worried than before. “Kacchan, say something!”

“I’m yelling, you deaf fucker! What else do you want me to say!?” Bakugo flipped himself onto his back to be better able to glare at Midoriya.

“Okay, that’s enough,” Parallax sighed, walking towards Midoriya. “Both of you stop yelling. Bakugo Katsuki has been neutralized and is frankly nothing but a distraction, and therefore it’s best you no longer communicate with him. Now, Midoriya Izuku, onto the actual issue here.”

“Give him back!” Midoriya demanded, the familiar fire lighting up in his eyes. He widened his stance and put his fists up, ready to fight even without One for All in his veins. “You better not have hurt him.”

“He is inconsequential. Focus on me.”

“Inconsequential, my ass!” Bakugo bit out. “I’m gonna tear your flesh from your bones when I get out of these!”

“I’m not giving you One for All,” Midoriya gritted his teeth. “It’s been entrusted to me by All Might… there’s no way I’ll let you get your hands on it!”

“Fuckin’ tell ‘em, midget,” Bakugo grunted under his breath, letting his anger simmer under the surface instead and settling down to observe what was happening around him.

He took a deep breath, and laid still.

Suddenly, the view around him changed.

Parallax was no longer standing by Midoriya, but was standing at the other edge of the room, accompanied by Xallarap at his side. They both did not move, simply observed Midoriya.

As for him, Midoriya was glancing into thin air in front of him, frowning like he was listening to someone speak. However, Bakugo heard nothing.

Still, he listened to Midoriya answer to whatever he was hearing, repeating over and over again that he would not budge in his determination. Typical Izuku bullshit, as usual.

And then, Midoriya doubled over, clutching his stomach. Bakugo’s eyebrows furrowed in alarm.

Parallax and Xallarap still stood in the corner, unmoving. And yet, Midoriya still swung into thin air, fighting against something that Bakugo could not see. He cried out periodically and clutched at his arms and his side, spitting to the side and then jumping back in against his invisible foe.

Bakugo followed his movements, and for the love of all that was holy, could not understand what the hell was going on.

Soon enough, Midoriya was slammed against the wall, clutching at invisible hands around his throat-seemingly. He seemed to be gasping for air, even if there was nothing around his throat, and Bakugo’s confusion turned into mild panic.

What the hell kind of Quirk were they even up against?

“Deku!” he called out, having had enough of his own powerlessness. He gave a hard swing with his pelvis, and used the momentum to push himself up and roll on to his knees.

The scene around him shifted, and suddenly, Bakugo could see what Midoriya saw.

That being Parallax, holding Deku against the wall, her hands squeezing his throat so tightly that he was bruising under her grip. Midoriya’s face was flushed as he gasped for air, clawing fruitlessly at Parallax. His arms were covered in new bleeding cuts, presumably from the short knife that Parallax held in her other hand. There was a heavily-bleeding wound in his right abdomen as well, probably a stab.

“Deku! Get your shit together!” Bakugo called out, trying to rise to his feet despite his bound ankles and wrists. However, it was harder to do than it looked, and Bakugo promptly lost his balance forward, falling right back down to the cement face-first.

His face was seriously getting tired of hitting the floor.

Taking a deep breath, Bakugo glanced back up.

Midoriya was struggling against thin air again, going limp. His arms were clean of any (new) injuries, and no blood actively pooled against his clothes.

Parallax and Xallarap stood in the corner, unmoving.

And suddenly, Bakugo began to understand.

“Deku!” he called, staying as still as possible, trying to test out his theory. If it was right, then what he saw right now was reality in its more objective form. “Deku, it’s not real!”

Midoriya did not respond, taking a few more rasping breaths, and then stopping his movements altogether. His arms fell to his side.

“Damn it!” Real or not, Midoriya was still losing it, and Bakugo couldn’t just stand by and watch him die (even if he absolutely, totally, and entirely hated him, of course). He rose onto his knees again, trying to force through the thick ropes, but it seems like they were very objectively wrapped around his wrists, no illusions involved.

As soon as he moved, the illusion slid back into place, and Bakugo watched Midoriya slide to the ground, released from Parallax’s grip. His face was pale, his lips bloodless, and his chest no longer rose.

Bakugo lost it.

“Deku!”

Parallax turned to him, expression blank.

“I’ll kill you!” Bakugo roared, struggling anew against his bonds. “I’ll destroy you!”

Parallax still watched him struggle, not saying a word. Bakugo knew that this was an illusion that he was seeing, but he couldn’t take it anymore. He hated not knowing what was real and what wasn’t.

He wasn’t even sure if Deku was still alive. Did people die in reality when they were killed in the illusion?

The ropes loosened, lubricated by the blood from Bakugo’s raw wrists, although Bakugo himself did not feel the blood slide down his hands. In fact, when he slipped his hands through the rope and finally got free, his wrists were clean, not a single chafe on them.

He didn’t have time to try and understand.

He made quick work of the ropes around his ankles, and then charged at Parallax like a wild animal.

“Die!”

Tiny explosions came from his palm, nothing large enough to cause actual damage, but Bakugo punched through Parallax all the same. Predictably, he went right through her, although he was unconcerned with her at that point.

Rushing past her still form, Bakugo ran to Midoriya, and knelt to check for a pulse.

Nothing beat against Bakugo’s fingers on Midoriya’s bruised neck, and something inside of Bakugo broke.

He let his hand drop, and fell back against his heels.

He didn’t know what to say.

The scene suddenly shifted, and Midoriya shot up, gasping for air.

The wounds on his arms were the scabs from before, and his neck was untouched. His face was pink with life and purple with his initial bruises and his chest heaved with heavy breaths. His clothes were covered with dust, but not a speck of fresh blood.

Bakugo was pulled out of his stupor by the sting of pain in his arms, and glanced down to see that his wrists were chafed raw and bleeding lightly.

Parallax was gone from behind them, now advancing from the other side of the room with Xallarap at her side.

“I died,” Deku stuttered out, shaking visibly. His hands went to his neck, rubbing at the skin, as if in disbelief. There were tear tracks on his pale cheeks, his wide eyes glistening with residual terror. “I… I was dead. Wha-What…?”

“It was an illusion,” Bakugo breathed, his heart catching up on the few beats he’d lost earlier. “What the hell kind of Quirk is this…?”

“Parallax.” They both spun around when Parallax spoke up, stopping halfway through the room to leave a safe distance between them. “The apparent displacement of an object viewed from two different points of view. My Quirk can be your greatest fantasy or your worst nightmare. It is the ability to make someone live an illusion of my choice, but only in relation to another person.”

“Unfortunately, the person being seen through the eyes of the one affected by the Parallax is free from its effect. But have no fear, that is why I am here.” Xallarap gave a thumbs-up, only getting more on Bakugo’s nerves. “My Quirk allows me to make that other person feel exactly as they are being viewed by the target of the Parallax. In other words, it’s a vicious circle, heh.”

“Can I just say that you talk too much and that you’re extremely confusing?” Bakugo hissed at them. “Try shutting the fuck up for a change. I don’t care what your dumb Quirks are, even if I could understand whatever the hell you’re blabbering about! It won’t stop me from blowing your cowardly asses to the moon!”

“I think I get it,” Midoriya shakily admitted, turning to lock gazes with Bakugo. “Xallarap is under Parallax’s Quirk’s effect at all times. Parallax is making Xallarap see us in whatever states she wants. And Xallarap is making sure that we fully experience whatever he sees.”

“In order words, you monkeys are useless without each other,” Bakugo smirked, clenching his fists. “I knew you were weak losers from the start, but this is too good. Get ready to die!”

Letting out a war cry, Bakugo sprung out of his crouch with lightning speed, and swung at them, not caring which one he hit first.

They did not move, and Bakugo did not care for anything but the apparent certainty that this was no illusion.

He swung his fist with the intention to kill.

He never made it. He was almost there when suddenly, pain exploded within him.

His feet left the ground, and Bakugo felt his lungs collapse. The agony blinded him for a second and a half.

When his vision returned, he glanced down and saw the metal spike protruding through his back, right through his heart.

“Kacchan!”

“Th-This is… just…” Bakugo felt his breath leave him, and his hands shakily grasped the steel pike. It was slippery with his blood, blood that dripped down his entire body and pooled in the space below his feet.

Cold. Cold. So cold.

“-cchan!”

He couldn’t breathe. His muscles were seizing. His hands slipped off the pike. He no longer had the energy to keep his head up.

“-uki!”

There was pressure on him, but no feeling. He was numb. His eyesight went black. His ears were ringing.

And there was so much pain, pain like Bakugo had never felt before. And he could not scream. He had no energy.

His heart beat against metal a few more times, and gave up.

Bakugo did not slip away softly as he always thought he would die.

He drowned in excruciating suffering, and let his terror accompany him into the abyss.

…-…-…-…-…-…-…

And suddenly, he was back.

He was screaming even before he opened his eyes, frantically clutching at his chest. The phantom pain of death still remained fresh in his mind, and he shakily clutched at his heart, although there was nothing there.

His clothes were intact. His skin was unbroken. He was lying down on the ground, and Midoriya was next to him, crying his name.

“Kacchan! Kacchan, oh thank goodness,” he clutched Bakugo’s shirt, bending over him. “Oh god… Oh god, you… you…”

“What the hell.” Bakugo’s voice was raspy, rough. He pushed Midoriya away weakly, the other boy falling back on his heels to look at him with his wide, teary eyes. Bakugo’s hands would not stop shaking, even as he pulled himself into a sitting position, rubbing at his face. “What the hell was that?”

“You died,” Midoriya murmured in disbelief.

“Like you died earlier, strangled to death,” Bakugo completed. “It’s… it’s all an illusion…”

“Illusion or not, it will hurt. I will promise you that much.” Xallarap spoke, and they both simultaneously froze, not daring to look behind them, where they knew the two villains were standing.

“Midoriya Izuku,” Parallax spoke, her voice loud and steady and chilling. She was no longer playing a game with them.

And for the first time since they got here, Bakugo fully and wholeheartedly felt afraid.

“Transfer One for All to me,” Parallax demanded.

“No!” Midoriya shut his eyes, gritting his teeth. “No, I won’t!”

“Do it!” Xallarap warned him, and when Bakugo blinked, the man was right next to him, a knife to the side of his neck.

Bakugo felt the cold steel against his skin, and goosebumps erupted across his entire body.

It was an illusion, he repeated to himself, it was all an illusion.

But when Xallarap slashed the serrated knife across his throat, the burning agony was very real.

Midoriya screamed again. It must have been him, because Bakugo could not scream, his mouth flooding with blood. He doubled over, clutching at his neck, but every rapid beat of his frantic heart pumped blood out of him in jets.

He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe- blood entering his lungs like a tsunami and making his chest heavy, so heavy that his entire body fell forward against the ground. He tried to rasp something out, a word, a breath, anything, anything but blood, but he could do nothing, red staining his teeth and his lips and soon the entire side of his body when he fell into the puddle of his own blood.

“Kacchan!” Midoriya screamed, hands scrambling to staunch the blood from his torn artery. They both knew it was futile, and Bakugo’s hands were too cold and numb to feel Midoriya’s grip on him.

He died watching Midoriya sob his name like a prayer to some nameless god.

…-…-…-…-…-…-…

He came back in the same haze of phantom pain and chest-squeezing panic, shooting up onto his knees and vomiting to the side. He clutched at his heart, feeling it race a mile a minute under his ribs, but he could only revel in the fact that he was still alive.

Midoriya’s hands were on his shoulders, shaking him, and Bakugo wanted to yell at him to stop, but he could find no words. He was too busy catching his breath.

“Give One for All to me,” Parallax demanded yet again, and Bakugo watched Midoriya’s face contort in suffering.

They both knew what would follow.

“No!”

This time, dying was blissfully quick.

Bakugo felt hands around his head, and only had time to watch Midoriya shove his hands over his mouth to muffle a scream before his neck was twisted and snapped.

Lightning ran down his spine, lighting his entire body on fire. Electricity crackled across his neurons, pain sparking all the way from his toes to his brain.

And then, it was over. Bakugo’s vision had gone black, his hearing had drowned out, and he no longer felt the ground beneath him. He didn’t even feel the pain.

He simply floated in an abyss of darkness, all alone, and it seemed like an eternity in solitude before his heart finally beat its last.

…-…-…-…-…-…-…

“Please stop it!”

When he came to, he was lying in Midoriya’s lap, his head pillowed on his thighs. Above him, Midoriya was crying, fat tears rolling off his face and thankfully avoiding Bakugo’s face as they dripped down onto his lap.

“Stop it, stop hurting him!” Midoriya cried again, and Bakugo was so, so grateful to feel the pressure of his hands around his shoulders. He’d take anything to get over the feeling of floating in emptiness that remained fresh in his mind from his last experience with death.

“Deku…” he rasped, shakily pushing himself off his lap. Midoriya gasped and shut his eyes tightly, another choked sob escaping his lips.

“No, no…” he sniffled. “No, please!”

“Then you know what to do.”

“I can’t!” Midoriya cried out loud, and raised his teary eyes to exchange glances with Bakugo. “I can’t!”

“I know,” Bakugo murmured, and it was all he had time to say before he was pulled away from several hands.

The people that dragged him away had no faces, probably because Parallax had not put much effort into imagining their details. All that mattered was that they were dragging Bakugo across the cement with strong grips, and a few others were holding back Midoriya’s wildly struggling form.

In contrast to his last death, this one was painfully dragged out.

They kicked him and beat him, with bats and poles and crowbars, over and over, across his entire body. Bakugo’s left knee snapped and his ribs cracked and his right shoulder dislocated and he screamed, he screamed, he screamed. When he threw up the first time, it was bile, and the second time, it was blood. He could barely see in front of him, every kick to the head robbing him of his vision, and every kick to his chest robbing him of breath.

His intestines split open. His trachea collapsed. A broken rib pierced through his lung. His abdominal aorta ruptured. Some part of his lower spine broke, mercifully taking away the pain of his mangled legs. His head fractured and his brain bled right into his skull. He didn’t know what it was that finally killed him. He didn’t even know how long it took. All he knew was that it felt like a lifetime of crying, and hearing Midoriya cry.

He was so grateful for being dead that he didn’t even think about coming back to life.

…-…-…-…-…-…-…

But he did. He did come back to life, in the same place and in the same position where he’d died, curled up to protect himself from the people standing around him that had beaten him to death last.

“Midoriya Izuku!” Parallax called out, and Midoriya fell forward against the ground, letting out a loud, heart-breaking scream.

“I can’t!” he repeated, pressing his face to the cold cement. Bakugo knew that he couldn’t, and how much it hurt him to say those words.

The hands grabbed him again, and Bakugo numbly let himself be dragged to his knees. His eyes were riveted on Midoriya’s form, unnecessarily held down by two faceless people at his side, unnecessary for he knew that there was nothing he could do.

It did not suit Midoriya to look so defeated.

“Deku,” Bakugo called out, his throat aching. “Deku… Get up.”

Midoriya raised his eyes, red and puffed from all his useless tears, and Bakugo locked glance with him, holding strong until a gag was tied around his mouth. He watched Midoriya until the very last moment, when a blindfold was tied around his eyes.

Even then, he held onto the image of Midoriya, he kept him in his mind and kept him close. He kept him close as the only thing he had left in here.

A hand gripped his hair, and his head was shoved forward. Bakugo felt icy water strike his skin like a slap before he felt his breath exit his body at the shock.

The cold numbed his body, so that the only thing he felt was the burning of his lungs. They seemed to be squeezing, shrivelling in his chest in a desperate attempt to find any air they could. The gag in Bakugo’s mouth, saturated by water, only drove more water into his lungs, and he couldn’t even gasp.

His heart began to beat faster as panic settled into his gut. Out of everything so far, drowning was the most terrifying. He couldn’t even see anything, nor hear anything, all voices muffled under the water. Every time he gritted his teeth, the gag squeezed more water into his mouth.

He struggled, of course he did. Not necessarily out of defiance, but definitely out of desperation.

He needed to breathe. He couldn’t breathe.

They pulled him up, out of the water, and the gag was lifted.

Bakugo almost didn’t realize that he was breathing again until Midoriya’s sobbing renditions of his name reached his ears.

He spent no words on him, knowing to cherish every second he had coughing and gulping down greedy gasps of air. It felt like he was only breathing for half a second before the gag was shoved back through his lips, and Midoriya’s words turned into screams again.

Bakugo only had to listen to him scream for seven thundering heartbeats before his hearing was drowned under the water again.

He was shaking, either from the cold or the pain, or from the terror settling in his heart.

Knowing that this was all an illusion was no longer a comfort. It felt real to him- and it felt real to Midoriya. That was all that mattered.

Bakugo felt like he would be sobbing if he could breathe right now.

They pulled him back out of the water, and when they pulled the gag off of his mouth, he did sob, but only once. Only once, and then he was coughing, his chest wracked with violent shakes. He couldn’t even hear Midoriya anymore, and briefly wondered if they’d done something to him, too.

It didn’t matter.

He was shoved under yet again.

It was the only time that Bakugo found himself wishing that he could die faster.

…-…-…-…-…-…-…

When Bakugo came back to life this time, he took big breaths, savouring every milliliter of oxygen that inflated his lungs. Simple things seemed like a blessing- the feeling of the floor under his knees, the sound of his heart in his ears…

The residual smell of chlorine and water ingrained in his brain.

His eyes snapped open to see Midoriya kneeling next to him, fists clenched on his knees.

“Kacchan…” he murmured, his expression absolutely broken.

The empathetic idiot was probably hurting a hundred times worse than Bakugo right now. Bakugo’s pain would pass, eventually it would… but Midoriya would be having nightmares about this for the next decade, and Bakugo knew that for a fact.

He knew Izuku all too well.

“Please, I can’t watch this anymore,” Izuku sniffled out, his voice breaking. “Please… please, I’m begging you… I’m begging you, don’t do this anymore…”

“Then you know what to do,” Parallax spoke, her voice awfully steady for someone who was actively torturing and murdering a pair of teenagers.

“You can’t,” Katsuki sighed, and sat up. He already knew. “I know you can’t hand over your shitty Quirk.”

Izuku curled up even tighter over himself, his entire body shaking.

“I wouldn’t want you to, anyway,” Katsuki sighed, and got to his feet.

His legs shook and his heart beat rapidly, but Katsuki kept his shoulders straight and walked towards Parallax and Xallarap. The two standing before them were probably illusions, but Katsuki glared murderously at them as if they were the real thing.

“Look forward to it. I’m going to kill you,” he promised to them in a low hiss.

The two villains glanced at each other through their blank masks, then simultaneously turned back to him.

“Huh,” Xallarap shrugged, putting up a large syringe and needle. “Me, too.”

Katsuki struggled when the faceless people held him in place once more, though it was only for the sake of a struggle. He only struggled because he wouldn’t forgive himself if he ever gave up. Even when he knew that he’d been beaten.

A needle slid smoothly into the large veins in the back of his forearm, almost painless compared to all the torture he’d gone through before. Xallarap was able to inject three-quarters of the syringe before Katsuki managed to pull hard enough to get the needle to slip out of his vein, and Katsuki reveled in his momentary victory.

It was entirely momentary.

It took fifteen seconds for the medication to kick in, the average time it took for blood to circulate from his arm to his brain. And when it hit, it hit hard.

Katsuki felt like something had snapped in his brain. Everything felt wrong.

He turned around to glance at Izuku, taking in his worried, guilty-looking expression. Around his entire body, Katsuki could see a halo of light. As if Izuku was an envoy of the heavens here to save them both.

They both knew that was a lie.

Katsuki’s body seized up and froze for a whole second, and then his knees buckled below him. He fell face-first to the cement (again), and his limbs began to twitch, out of his control.

The twitching turned into full-blown convulsions very quickly. Katsuki felt like he was losing his mind, his entire body out of his control. His arms hit the ground to hard that they bruised, and his neck cracked every time he threw his head around. His face scraped on the cement until it was covered in scratches and blood.

And Izuku was at his side, holding his hand through it all. Katsuki couldn’t see him, nor feel him, but his twitching hand had a weight in it and Katsuki was so, so grateful for that.

Izuku turned him on his back at some point, and Katsuki was grateful not to keep scratching his face on the floor, but the motion made him nauseous and he threw up, bile splattering all over him and falling into his windpipe. He couldn’t even cough, his diaphragm convulsion like every other one of his muscles. It felt like he was choking on something, but he couldn’t get it out.

And Izuku was there, holding onto him, turning him on his side, and Katsuki would never admit that he was glad that Izuku was the one at his side while he slowly began to die.

In school, they told him that the brain sustained damage after as little as a minute without oxygen. Katsuki definitely wasn’t keeping time, but it sure felt like he was seizing for a whole lot more than a minute.

His thoughts became muddled, slowly but surely, until there was nothing left for him to think about. And then, he couldn’t think. He didn’t know anything.

All he knew was pain. Pain in his muscles and pain in his head, although he didn’t know why his head would hurt. Perhaps his heart would have hurt if he still had the ability to feel emotion. Perhaps he would have remembered- something other than pain.

Pain, pain, pain, and a strong pressure in his hand that wasn’t quite pain, but wasn’t quite pleasure.

Katsuki stopped hearing and seeing and feeling and thinking and finally, when he was nothing more than an empty shell, he stopped breathing.

He was dead long before his body finally went limp.

…-…-…-…-…-…-…

When Katsuki was snapped out of the illusion, he found himself in Izuku’s arms. Izuku was shaking, clutching him tightly, and Katsuki had half a mind to push him away and act disgusted.

But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

He had died six times already -six? Was he counting right?- and all six of his deaths were still fresh in his brain and in his bones. He fancied himself a fighter but this… this was nothing he could fight against.

Izuku was crying enough for both of them, and that was reason enough for Katsuki not to shed tears.

“I’m fine,” he whispered, setting his chin on Izuku’s shoulder, even if he didn’t hold him back. His arms still hurt from the phantom sensation of cramping muscles.

“You’re not!” Izuku sniffled, squeezing him close now that he was back to consciousness. “You had a seizure for over ten minutes, Kacchan… And before that, they drowned you eight times until you died… and before that, they beat you for fifteen minutes… and before that-”

“Stop it,” Katsuki ordered, gritting his teeth. He knew all too well how terrifying the situation was, and he didn’t want to hear it again. He didn’t want to relive every one of his deaths. “I know. This is a shitty situation. We just gotta outlast it. I’m sure someone’s looking for us.”

“You were right all this time, Kacchan,” Izuku murmured. “I am useless. All I’ve been doing is crying and watching you die, over and over again. I feel so powerless… I just wish I could save you.”

“I know.” There was movement from behind them, and Katsuki did not dare pull away to look. No pun intended, it felt like death itself was looming over him. “It’ll be alright, so don’t be a wimp and give up already.”

“I’m so sorry, Katsuki, I’m so sorry,” Izuku whispered, pulling back to look into his eyes. Katsuki let him, and breathed deeply, taking comfort in their proximity.

A hand fell upon his head, tangling roughly in his hair and pulling his head back. Izuku’s next breath ghosted upon his exposed neck, and it was all the comfort that Katsuki was allowed.

“I know,” is all that he could say, because he knew that Izuku was making the right decision, and forgave him for his sacrifice.

This time, after the faceless illusions held him down and sawed his arm right off in a hellfire of agonized screaming and squelching flesh, Izuku crawled to him, and held him close. Katsuki emptied himself of his blood all over Izuku as Izuku rocked him back and forth, his hitching breaths a morbid lullaby that lulled him into his eternal sleep.

This death was the most pleasant of all.

…-…-…-…-…-…-…

Katsuki only kept his sanity because of Izuku.

He didn’t know how many times he died- he lost count after the twelfth time. Over and over again, his body hit the floor, bleeding or broken in one way or another, and over and over again, Izuku was with him, ushering him into the momentary reprieve of his own death before the illusion wore off, and they were both clutching at each other in desperate apprehension of the next one.

When they gave Katsuki drugs that paralyzed his diaphragm, Izuku bent over him and shakily breathed into his lungs for him, although it didn’t keep him alive for very long. When Katsuki was soaked in gasoline and set on fire, Izuku jumped to him to either put out the flames or burn with him, but the flames never harmed him. When the faceless illusions summoned firearms to shoot Katsuki to death, Izuku stood in their path, though they went right through him and buried in Katsuki’s flesh regardless.

It became so easy to forget that everything was an illusion.

And when they remembered that it was all an illusion, it became that much harder to bear- for they were suffering, and couldn’t even tell what was real, and what wasn’t.

…-…-…-…-…-…-…

Izuku categorically refused to hand over his Quirk, and Katsuki would never admit that he was proud of him. Izuku was soft-hearted, and Katsuki had been afraid at some point that Izuku would give in, only to save his friend from his suffering. However, watching him fight in his own way, Katsuki realized that he wasn’t giving Izuku enough credit.

He’d been able to make a choice that many would not have been able to make; that of sacrificing the life of a loved one for the greater good.

Katsuki hated to admit it, but maybe Izuku wasn’t all that bad after all. He definitely wasn’t a shit hero- never had been, really.

He opened his eyes to the familiar sight of Deku hunched over him, caressing his hair. He clicked his tongue and swatted him away, phantom pain spiking through his arm at the action. He couldn’t recall how he’d died this time- had his skin been flayed from his bones? Had he been poisoned with cyanide?- and he was exhausted. Everything felt blurry, and suddenly, Katsuki was afraid that he was running a risk of dying for good.

He was just so tired.

“Hey,” Izuku gave him a weak smile, letting him sit up. “Still haven’t given in.”

“Of course you haven’t,” Katsuki clicked his tongue, hiding the anxiety he felt at the thought of his next death. They both covered their anxiety very well, in fact, probably to keep one another in passable spirits.

They couldn’t give up now. They’d been here for so long that their parents, teachers and friends had definitely noticed their disappearance. All Might himself was probably out there, searching for them.

(A part of Katsuki’s brain reminded him that everything was an illusion in here. Had they truly been here all that long?)

“You’re quite problematic, Izuku Midoriya,” Parallax spoke up, which was a rare occurrence now as she seemed to be saving her futile words. “How many times will your friend have to suffer and die because of you? How can you call yourself a hero if you don’t do everything you can to save him?”

“Oh, shut it,” Katsuki grunted at her. “Deku won’t fall for your stupid mind games.”

“I’m not going to give you One for All,” Izuku stood his ground fiercely. “All Might entrusted me with this power, and it’s not a power that should be used for evil. I won’t let villains like you ever get their hands on it!”

“Seriously?” Xallarap groaned dramatically. “We’re running out of creative ways to kill Bakugo Katsuki. Won’t you make our job easier and just give in?”

“I don’t think that word is in Deku’s vocabulary. Trust me, I know that best of all,” Katsuki huffed, and enjoyed the light upward twitch of Izuku’s lips at that. His face was pale, his expression haggard, but Katsuki was glad that for just one second, he’d been able to uplift his heart.

“You’re killing Bakugo Katsuki,” Parallax warned him.

“No, I’m not,” Izuku answered, tilting his chin up proudly despite everything.

“No, he’s not,” Katsuki added, just for good measure, and watched as a faceless illusion materialized in front of him. The illusion’s hand clamped around his neck, lightly, teasingly soft.

And then, the illusion’s face twisted, and morphed into something more familiar to everybody.

“Yes, he is,” Midoriya Izuku spoke up, and his hand tightened on Katsuki’s throat.

Katsuki froze. Izuku froze. Time seemed to stop for a few heartbeats.

And then, Izuku launched himself at the fake Midoriya.

“You won’t do this!” Growling, Izuku punched the illusion, although predictably, it went right through the other Midoriya. “Damn it! Damn it!”

“Kacchan,” the illusion mocked, and Katsuki’s breath hitched as the hand tightened lightly. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t react to the sight of Izuku slowly murdering him.

“Don’t do this!” Izuku yelled again, trying to kick through the illusion, and going right through it. “Stop it! Stop!”

“You know how to stop it!” Parallax’s voice rang out from everywhere at once, imposing and deafening. “Hand over One for All! Hand it over to me!”

“I won’t!” Izuku bit out, shooting off a smash at the illusion in his desperation. A bit of wind blew around them, but Katsuki recognized that Izuku’s Quirk was operating at very weak levels, and thus was still under the influence of the Quirk suppression drug. One for All was no help here.

“How annoying,” the fake Midoriya cooed, rolling his eyes. They were a brilliant green, captivating and toxic all at once. Katsuki couldn’t seem to tear his gaze away. “I wish you’d only look at me, Kacchan.”

“You’re not Izuku,” Katsuki simply bit out, glancing up at the real Izuku, who was desperately trying to grab the fake Midoriya somehow.

Their gazes crossed, and held each other. Izuku’s was desperate, and Katsuki’s was resigned.

“Kacchan, I wouldn’t-”

Izuku disappeared.

Katsuki remained alone, alone with the fake Midoriya still holding onto him.

“I’m so glad it’s just us two now, Kacchan,” the illusion sighed in satisfaction, using his free hand to caress Katsuki’s face. “I want you to focus only on me.”

“I’m focused alright,” Katsuki growled. “Focused on finding a way to destroy your existence.”

“You wouldn’t do that to me, would you, Kacchan?” the illusion’s face fell into an expression of shock, kind of like a kicked puppy. It was a very typically-Midoriya look. Still, Katsuki had known him for far too long to fall for something like that.

“If you were real at all, you would know that I would kick Deku’s ass into outer space any fucking day. Don’t test me.”

“Alright.”

Suddenly, the fake Midoriya let him go, and sat back on his heels. Katsuki lightly rubbed at his neck, trying to wipe off the ghost touch of the illusion.

“Then go ahead… Kill me.” Izuku’s glance fell to the floor. “It’s my fault we’re here… It’s my fault you got caught up in all this. You have every right to hurt me.”

“What the hell is this supposed to be, huh!?” Katsuki glanced around him, but he was alone. Somewhere in the emptiness, the real Izuku was probably crying and screaming at him to look his way, but Katsuki couldn’t.

Or perhaps the real Izuku was the one in front of him now.

“I can’t give them One for All, Kacchan,” Izuku continued, tears welling up in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Katsuki didn’t answer. He didn’t want to play this game.

But his brain was fried after having died so many times, and he was so bone-deep exhausted that he didn’t know anymore. Nothing felt real to him. He didn’t know how to feel or what to believe anymore.

He didn’t know if Izuku was real anymore.

“They’re going to keep hurting you, and I know I can’t stop them…” Izuku wiped away his tears angrily, but they kept coming. “All I want is to save you, but I can’t. I can’t save you. Damn it… I can’t save you…”

“Stop it,” Katsuki found himself saying. “Don’t be an idiot, Deku. Stop that.”

“I’m sorry, Kacchan…” Sliding forward, Izuku put a shaky hand on Katsuki’s. He linked his broken fingers lightly, and Katsuki numbly followed. “I don’t want you to get hurt for me anymore. This is my mess, and I’ll sort it out myself. You’ve suffered enough.”

“Deku…?” Katsuki frowned, glancing down at Izuku’s mangled hand. It undid itself from his own and ghosted up his arm, briefly breaking away to curl one of Katsuki’s wild locks behind his ear before settling on his jaw almost lovingly. His other hand mirrored the motion on the other side.

“I’m so sorry, Kacchan…” Izuku murmured, and his hands slid from Katsuki’s jaw, onto his throat.

“Izuku?” The name slipped out of Katsuki’s lips unbidden, and his eyes widened as Izuku’s thumbs began to dig into his trachea.

“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…” Izuku continued, and Katsuki’s mind swam.

He couldn’t tell if this was the real Izuku or not.

He couldn’t tell, because Izuku would never do something like this, but also, he would.

Katsuki couldn’t tell if this was real or not.

The pressure of his collapsing trachea was real. The warmth of Izuku’s constricting palms was real. The sight of his tears, rolling off his face one after the other, was real. The quaking of his voice was real.

The rasping of Katsuki’s breathing was real.

“Izu… Izuku…” Gasping, Katsuki put his hands up to clutch at Izuku’s wrists, and his hands landed on warm, hard flesh and bones.

He didn’t know if Izuku Midoriya was real.

“I can’t let you hurt any longer, Kacchan.” Izuku pressed harder, dragging a choked gasp from Katsuki. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you.”

“No… no…” This was all wrong. This couldn’t be happening.

Katsuki’s mind worked lightning-fast to try and figure out what was going on, but he was too exhausted to figure anything out really. Under Izuku’s shaking grip, he allowed himself to be lowered to the floor, softly, gently, like he was being laid down on a bed of roses.

His hands stayed around Izuku’s wrists, though he did not claw or struggle. His eyes remained riveted on Izuku’s face above him as his friend straddled him, putting his entire body weight behind his hands.

Katsuki choked, gasping for air that no longer came into his lungs. Izuku cried silently above him, his tears falling down on Katsuki’s own face.

Katsuki hadn’t really cried yet, but this was the closest he’d ever gotten.

Izuku no longer spoke, for when he opened his mouth, only sobs came out. His entire body seemed to be stuck between stopping and continuing, like he didn’t know what he wanted to do anymore.

Katsuki didn’t know if any of this was real. His eyesight was going dark.

Izuku’s thumbs pressed down hard, and something in Katsuki’s throat shut entirely. His desperate gasps for air no longer made noise. His back arched as his lungs contracted in a final effort, and then fell back against the cement. His hands no longer felt like they were a part of him, and his arms fell away, thudding onto the ground.

Katsuki’s mind retreated into itself, and Katsuki lived his very last moments with his eyes open.

Although he no longer breathed, his heart still beat and his brain still worked, and so, when Izuku let out a loud, desperate cry and dragged him into his arms, Katsuki watched him do it.

Izuku clutched at the clothes on his back and shoved his face in the crook of his neck, sobbing. Katsuki’s own head lolled onto Izuku’s shoulder, still.

Locked in their embrace, neither of them moved.

And suddenly, Katsuki could breathe again.

And his first reaction was to cling onto Izuku just as tightly.

“What’s going on?” he asked, his voice shaking more than a little.

“Kacchan? Kacchan, are you okay!?”

Izuku pulled him back, but as soon as he moved, Katsuki’s breath left his body again, his windpipe crushed. Izuku’s wide eyes remained on him, and he let out a small sob, pulling him in again.

They stilled against one another, and Katsuki breathed again.

“Deku,” he called, eyes wide. Through it all, he’d realized what was going on. “Izuku, wait.”

Izuku made a move to pull away, but Katsuki held him tightly enough to immobilize him.

“Stop moving,” he warned in a whisper, afraid that even the slightest movement would reactivate the Quirk. “Xallarap has one condition to its use; its targets have to be in movement.”

“Wha… What…?”

“If we’re not moving, Xallarap can’t activate his Quirk, and can’t make us see or hear or feel or whatever,” Katsuki explained urgently. “I confirmed it earlier when I was tied up. Stop moving, and they can’t do anything to us.”

“Oh god,” Izuku’s body shook lightly, and Katsuki flinched in anticipation for his breath to fly away, although it didn’t. Although he knew that Xallarap depended on movement, he didn’t know at which amplitude of movement the Quirk would activate, and thus, didn’t want to take any chances.

“So you figured it out,” Parallax sighed, and her voice came from Katsuki’s right. Katsuki moved his eyes and caught her in his peripheral vision, though she did purposefully move into his line of sight so that he could watch her step closer and closer to him. “It’s true- Xallarap requires that his targets be in motion, which is why our Quirks are excellent for battle. Not so excellent for two brats who just don’t know when to give in.”

“Fuck you,” Katsuki spat out, though he couldn’t deny that he was shaking as hard as Izuku.

“Kacchan, don’t move,” Izuku squeaked, holding onto him for dear life.

“I know, I know.” Katsuki’s heart stuttered with every step that Parallax took towards them, and he gripped Izuku tightly as well. He didn’t even care anymore. Izuku was real. This was real. Even if nothing else was, he knew for sure that Izuku’s arms around him were real. Tears filled his eyes and rolled down his face. This was real. This was real, and Katsuki was so, so scared.

“I saw what the other me did to you, Kacchan,” Izuku continued, filling the silence with his trembling voice as Parallax stepped closer and closer to them. “I would never do that to you. Never.”

“I know.”

“You mean so much to me,” Izuku admitted, and shut his eyes when he heard Parallax stop right behind them. “I’m not going to give up on you, Katsuki.”

“I know,” Katsuki swallowed heavily, and glanced up at Parallax as she towered over them. Fear gripped his heart and clutched tight.

Parallax raised her leg and kicked Izuku’s side, and it was enough momentum for both of them to fall over.

Katsuki’s windpipe collapsed all over again, the now-familiar terror of breathlessness settling back into his bones. No matter how many times he experienced it, he’d never get used to the feeling of his lungs collapsing in the absence of oxygen. The panic never subsided, and Katsuki was choking and gasping for breath as if he had not been expecting this to happen.

But he had.

Izuku quickly gathered him in his arms, and Katsuki used his last moments of consciousness to hang onto him. As soon as they both settled against one another, the illusion disappeared, and Katsuki breathed again.

He breathed three times before Parallax kicked Izuku once more, and the process began anew amidst his desperate choking and Izuku’s pleading cries.

Katsuki knew that his deaths were not real.

The decline of his sanity sure felt real, though.

…-…-…-…-…-…-…

As they’d predicted, a search-and-rescue team led by All Might had been deployed as soon as they’d been noted as missing in class the next morning. Later on, once the police came in to talk to them, they would find out that they’d been captive for eighteen hours before All Might busted down the door and smacked Xallarap unconscious with said door.

It was all a blur, though, and didn’t feel quite real to Katsuki. One moment, he was gasping for breath and on the brink of yet another death, and the other, hands -real hands- were trying to pull him away from Izuku and onto a stretcher.

Katsuki couldn’t bring himself to trust them and clung on tightly to Izuku, and Izuku did just the same.

“I won’t let him go!” Izuku had yelled several times, over and over again, until the paramedics had given up and had loaded them together onto the same stretcher. Katsuki was just glad that Izuku had voiced his thoughts so that he wouldn’t have to.

The ride to the hospital felt so short in comparison to the hell they’d experienced in captivity, and Katsuki spent it clutching onto Izuku tightly. Though at this point, it was all but assured that they were safe, he couldn’t bring himself to let him go.

He really felt like he would die again if he let him go.

The hospital did not have much to do for them, as their injuries were minor at best. Izuku’s fingers had to be set and a couple of cuts had to be stitched and Katsuki’s wrists were chafed raw from the rope, but it was clear to all the nurses and doctors that the real problem was not physical.

It wasn’t hard to tell, considering that it took sedatives and restraints for both of them to let go of each other in the end.

Not being dead after releasing Izuku was only a small relief. Katsuki still felt like everything was an illusion around him, even when he knew that it wasn’t.

The bed below him was real and the blankets were real and the bandages were real, and yet, it felt like everything in the room was fake.

Except Izuku.

Except Izuku, sitting in the bed next to his, his curtain purposefully open so that the two of them could keep an eye on each other at all times.

There was silence between them, and bustling outside the door. Katsuki’s and Izuku’s parents had rushed to the hospital to see them as soon as it was announced that they’d been found, but after much coddling and crying and swearing, their parents had been led out to speak to the doctors and All Might about what had happened to their sons.

This left Izuku and Katsuki alone to contemplate their newfound freedom and try to replace their thoughts in order.

“Kacchan?” Izuku finally spoke up, and Katsuki turned to him.

“Hmm?”

“I’m so glad you’re still here,” Izuku sighed, twiddling with his thumbs. “I was so scared. It must have been horrible for you, too…”

“I’m fine,” Katsuki insisted, glancing away guiltily. “I know you’re blaming yourself and you’re wondering if there was anything else you could’ve done… so I know you’re just rubbing salt into your own damn wounds right now. So if it helps any… I’m fine.”

“Kacchan,” Izuku glanced up at him, his expression torn and sorrowful. “You died twenty-four times in there. Twenty-four times, you suffered to death, all because I got you caught up in this mess.”

“You didn’t do shit, and you made the right choice,” Katsuki grunted.

Izuku didn’t seem convinced, glancing down at his fingers yet again. His shoulders were hunched with an invisible weight.

Katsuki was so damn tired of not being able to see things that Izuku could see.

“For fuck’s sake…” he grunted, pushing the covers off of himself. He got out of his bed and grabbed his IV pole, dragging himself to Izuku’s bedside.

Not even questioning it, Izuku scooted over, and Katsuki climbed in the bed next to him.

Silently, fluidly, they slotted themselves in one another’s arms, holding tight even though they knew they were safe now. It didn’t feel the same if they weren’t holding each other, immobile and breathing in tandem.

“I got you killed twenty-four times…” Izuku murmured against Katsuki’s collarbone. “Twenty-four times that I should have saved you, but I couldn’t.”

“Just shut up and hold on,” Katsuki grunted, putting one of his hands behind Izuku’s head to pull him closer and feel his breath on his skin. “Twenty-four is just a damn number. Don’t think you had to save me each and every time. Just being here once, just this once… that’ll be enough.”

And it did feel like it was enough. Izuku was warm and real against him and Katsuki felt safe in his arms. The visceral memory of the torture he’d endured still lit his bones like a fire, and he knew for sure that he would be afraid for a long time to come. He prepared already for the sleepless nights and the terrors in his dreams. He prepared for the insecurity and the doubt and the mistrust he’d feel in regards to anything and everything. He prepared to face his trauma head-on, and grow from it, no matter how hard it would surely be.

Somehow… somehow, having Izuku next to him made things seem alright. Just for this one time that would last forever.