A plate sailed through the air and shattered against the wall, spilling rice across the carpet, and the impact wobbling a neglected plant off its stand to add dry soil along with it. An enraged scream followed suit, but that, of course, was nothing unusual in this home.
“Come on, guys! Katsuki, Ei, let’s just calm down, huh?”
Another plate went flying.
Seven-year-old Bakugou Ryū, hunched over at the kitchen table, dropped his pen to clap both hands over his ears as he watched his parents scream at one another, their faces red and arms waving. Getting any more of his math homework done seemed too good to be true now, so he packed up his stuff and slid out of the chair he’d melted into for the past two hours. He didn't like it when they fought, but it didn't bother him as much nowadays; one of his best friends, Tetsutetau Michiko, said that was him becoming complacent with his negative lot in life.
“You’re so - so - ugh! So controlling!”
“Well maybe if you weren’t fucking nagging me all the time I’d get a moment to myself, Eijirou!”
“Maybe if you watched your temper, I wouldn’t have to keep doing it, Katsuki!”
“Guys, for fuck’s sake, chill! How did this even start?”
“Stay out of it, dumbass!”
“Hey, don’t talk to him like that! Denki, babe, leave this to me.”
“I’ll talk to him however I like! And don’t boss him around!”
"Boss him around? I'm not bossing you around, right, Denki?!"
"Ei, please, just -"
"Maybe he needs it anyway, hah?! Who knows what he's been up to lately!"
"Hey! I haven't...you know I haven't!"
"Great! Well done for bringing that up, Katsuki! You always have to drag old news into our arguments, don't you?"
“That’s rich! I guess you’re lucky I don’t have anywhere better to be, and he’s an idiot -”
“Yeah! Eat shit!”
Scowl deepening even further, Ryū slammed his bedroom door shut, putting as much force behind it as he could muster. Stupid parents, he thought. Did they ever shut up?
“Again?” Akio asked. He was stretched out on his bed, sheets tangled around his legs as he flipped lazily through a well-read wrestling magazine. The arguing bothered him even less than it bothered Ryū. “That’s, what, the third time this week?”
He didn't reply because, at this point, he'd lost count of the regular household 'entertainment'. Ryū threw his homework down onto his own bed, which was the furthest from the door, with Akio under the window and Raiden in the middle to break up their bickering. Ryū's bed was unarguably the best, though, since his sheets were Crimson Riot-themed. They'd argued over who got the set when they came out in stores because Dad insisted he could only look at his own face so much in one room, and Ryū had won through sheer virtue of being seven-years-old and cuter than his brothers. Unfortunately, now he was regretting his win because seeing his dad’s face didn’t fill him with the confidence - the feeling that he could do, be, anything - it usually did. Instead, he just felt...
He fell face-first onto the bed. Why were emotions so hard?
“They’ll get over it soon,” Akio said, but Ryū wasn’t so sure. Parents weren't supposed to argue as much as his own did, right? From what he could tell from watching his friends’ families, there was an allowance of one argument per month, maybe, so why were his own exceeding that by about ten times? He’d even stopped going over to Michiko and Kagami's houses, as seeing everyone else happy when he was so miserable just pissed him off even more. He'd been feeling all pent up recently, his gut tight and twisty.
Angry, a little voice inside him said. You're angry.
Anger was probably the right word for it, Ryū thought, but he couldn't recall it ever being so strong. Usually, being only seven, when he was angry about something, it went away pretty quickly. This? This had been building inside his chest for months and months. He was sure that, any day now, his ribs would crack open and it would all spill out in one big, angry mess.
He and Akio sat and listened to the screaming through the wall, to three voices cracking with anger, hurt and a whole mash of other emotions, for about five minutes.
Ryū rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “That’s what you said last month," he said eventually. And the month before that, and the month before that, and the month -”
Akio threw the magazine down. “Look, what do you want me to say, Ryū? That everything’s fine? Well, newsflash, it isn’t.”
“...I hate you,” Ryū sniffled angrily.
“Fine." Akio snapped, grabbing his phone from where it lay charging on the bedside table. He stood up. “If you’re going to be such a baby, then I’m going out.”
“What?" Ryū sat up in shock. "You're not old enough to go out this late, though, Aki!" Akio had turned ten a few weeks ago, but it was past eight and no way would he be allowed to go out on his own in the dark. His Quirk, Nokia, made him resistant to being hurt, but not immune, and being Pro Heroes made their parents made them notoriously overprotective.
"They let me walk to Kenji's house this late and besides, they won't even notice me go."
Ryū was panicking now. No, no, no! How could Akio just leave him here like this? "But...that’s not fair! You can’t leave me here with them! I'll - I’ll come too!”
“Grow up, Ryū - the world isn’t fair.” Akio snapped, and he slipped out the door and shut it firmly behind himself. Ryū scrubbed angrily at his nose, furiously ignoring the tears welling in his eyes - why was his family so stupid?
An eternity later, the shouting abruptly and the front door slammed hard enough the whole apartment shook. Silence fell for a while and then Ryū heard a knock.
“...It’s me...can I come in?” Papa’s voice cracked on the last syllable.
“Hmph.” Ryū picked at a loose thread on his pants, his eyes still burning. “Whatever, I guess so.”
A tall, hunched figure shuffled inside, head bowed pathetically. Papa was still in his black and yellow hero costume, though it was now singed at the shoulders. Ryū let him collapse on the bed with a groan, merely pulling his legs out of the way. His Ground Zero pyjamas made him feel sick now, and he wished he was wearing his plain purple ones instead, but those were at his grandparents' house with the rest of his things from his sleepover yesterday. Including his dragon, Dragy, who was probably lonely and cold in that big empty bedroom.
“Aw, your old man’s a mess...”
“Stop fighting then,” Ryū said. His voice broke a little, and he glared at his knees. “It’s so stupid.”
Papa laughed wetly, dropping his face in Ryū’s lap. “You sound just like Katsuki.” That didn’t sound like a good thing. “Just like...Aw, crap.” His shoulders trembled. “Oh, Ryū, I didn’t come in here to cry like this, I promise.”
He scoffed but dropped a hand into his father’s hair anyway. Papa always came in to cry.
“What kind of parents are we? This is all such a mess. And Katsuki and Eiji...they don’t seem happy here anymore. Not like they used to.”
“Who cares about what those idiots think?"
Papa sat up and took him by the shoulders, expression deadly serious despite the tears staining his cheeks. “Ryū, I love you,” he said. “I love you and your brothers so much. You know that, yeah?”
Ryū turned his head away. “I guess.” He hesitated for a moment. “Why can’t you just dump those losers and find someone else? They're so mean to you."
“It’s not that simple, kiddo. Your dads...they love us, you know? Things are just...hard right now. You’ll understand when you’re older.”
Ryū slapped his hands away, scowling. “Understand what? Why you’re all so dumb? And I'm not some stupid kid anyway; I'm seven years old!"
“Don’t be like that; we’re still a family.”
“Aw, come on, buddy. You still have your brothers - you still have me.”
“They treat you like trash."
Papa recoiled as if Ryū had burnt him. “I didn’t realise you were so upset by all this...”
“It just...it makes me angry to see you upset all the time! It's not fair."
“Grow up, Ryū - the world isn’t fair.” Stupid Akio, stupid parents.
“Heh,” Papa managed a soft, wobbly smile. “Where's my sweet boy, hm? See, when I say you’re just like your dad, I don’t always mean that in a bad way; he can be soft too.”
“Yeah, but - but not all the time! I hate it that you think I’m like him!” He thumped a fist on the bed. “I hate that!” Ryū didn't want to be like anyone but himself.
Papa ruffled his hair even though Ryū gave a loud huff in protest. “It’ll all work out,” he said. “You’ll see, my fierce little dragon.” His faint smile drifted a little. “Looks like it’s just us for dinner again tonight. What do you say we order pizza?”
Ryū managed a scowl, though it was half-hearted at best. “Whatever.”
They were on their third slice each, settled on the couch with the television playing in the background when the front door handle jiggled. Ryū, slice halfway to his mouth, frowned.
“I wonder who that is? It’s nearly nine, after all...” said Papa, curled up under a blanket.
Ryū chucked his pizza box on the coffee table. “I’ll get it,” he grumbled, leaving the warmth of his place on the couch. “So lazy.”
“Hang on a sec,” Papa said as Ryū fiddled with the chain on the door. “Ryū, buddy, wait. We need to check the peephole first!"
Ryū ignored him. It wasn't like he could reach that high on the door anyway, and besides; it's not like a villain would knock, would they? He twisted the lock and cracked the door open.
A woman stood in the hallway, so pale and gaunt she looked like a skeleton come to life. Her eyes bulged in their sockets, red veins beside pinprick irises so tight the colour was indiscernible. He looked her up and down, eyeing the normal-looking skirt, blouse and high-heels combo, the bright pink nail polish and matching lipstick smeared across her slack mouth.
Ryū glared at her, ignoring the fear, insisting he step back. “Who the hell are you?”
“Ryū, get back!”
Her mouth lurched further open, and a black, oily fog seeped out, tunnelling into the apartment and completely surrounding him. Ryū, frozen solid, could only cry out as his breath was sucked from his lungs, as the world went quiet, as everything he knew, everything he found comfort in, came to an end.
Blood pounded in his ears. Familiar faces swam in and out of focus, but nothing made sense. Lights flashed, the world swung, and something buzzed beside his ear. Akio was there, his face so, so close, eyes wet and face bright red. He was speaking, but Ryū couldn’t hear anything. Why couldn’t he hear anything? How did he get outside, and where was his papa? They'd been eating pizza, he was sure of it. Until...where was that woman, the scary one who'd been at the door? He couldn't - he couldn't remember anything after that.
“Akio,” he said. Or, at least, he thought he did.
His brother, who was usually sensitive and tried to cover that up by acting tough, was stroking his hair back from his face. They had similar hair - the same colour, the same style and length. Lots of people commented on how they looked so alike, so much like siblings. Akio had always hated that, but Ryū liked it, liked being like the older brother he looked up to so much...
Akio was gone.
Ryū tried to sit up, to find him. Where was he? Why was everything so dark?
He was outside - by the steps of their apartment building, wrapped in his brother’s leather coat - his favourite leather coat - like a straight-jacket. Ryū kicked, panic growing as he failed to escape, the dark closing in on him. He thought he was yelling something, but it was all so quiet. It was scary. He didn't like admitting it, loved being seen as tough, but Ryū was only seven, and he wanted Akio - he wanted his big brother - he wanted - he wanted -
There was light. Light was everywhere. It danced and waved in his field of vision, just out of reach. Ryū struggled, grunting and panting. Finally, he threw his body and overbalanced.
The ground rushed up to meet him, rough gravel against his face, knocking the wind away, stealing what little breath he had left. He was free - the coat fell to the ground.
Ryū kicked it away and stood - he tried to rise - the ground came back, and that stupid light was so obnoxiously intense. Where was everyone?
“Akio?” he called, mouth painfully sore. It felt as if he’d gargled a cup of gravel and washed it down with some cleaning bleach. “Aki, Aki, please -”
Then, out of the corner of his eye, a hellfire. Ryū looked, and the flames danced in his eyes.
Fire engulfed their apartment building, swelling up and out to the night, plumes of black smoke rippling the air. He could feel the heat, could taste the burning.
They lived on the sixth floor, and the fire had already ravaged down to the second, orange through the shattered windows. It was eating away at the cladding. People were everywhere, scurrying in the street in their pyjamas, holding babies and cats and dogs and anything they could carry - crying, yelling, pointing up at the blaze with fire in their eyes, mouths agape in fear.
He knew Akio was fine - he’d seen him, right?
But the voice, the naughty little voice that told him to sneak a snack before dinner and hide mouldy cups at the back of the wardrobe and blame the mess on his brothers -
It whispered, it dared, it said: What if, Ryū?
Ryū was running, he was stumbling, his feet skidding and slipping on the wet sidewalk. He couldn't breathe for the smoke. A Pro with a water Quirk was attempted to man the blaze single-handedly, but it was big, too big, and nothing could tame the raging beast now. It would simply have to burn itself out, taking with it their home and everything inside. Everyone inside.
He shoved aside people, neighbours and kids his own age he might’ve been able to name and talk to on any other given day - but this wasn’t that, and they weren’t Akio.
The water Hero was trying to urge people back from the building, corralling them into the road, away from danger. Ryū forged towards him, mouth sticky with ash. His fingers stretched, arm reaching for that fireman-themed coat, those luminescent yellow stripes, lips cracking -
Ryū stumbled as noise slammed into him in a wave of pure power.
It was the wail of sirens. The swell of people, screaming and yelling and crying, just holding each other as the world burned. It was the crackle, the roar, of the flames, of burning death.
Of a familiar voice.
“Get the fuck out of my way!”
Ryū shoved through the crowd, knees grazing painfully on the sidewalk as he scrambled between legs and bare, soot-stained feet. A car was half on the sidewalk, half on the road, doors open and the engine still running, and by it, white-faced and choking, doubled over in shock, was Papa.
A strange hand caught his arm and lifted him off the ground through the sheer virtue of determination. Ryū was swung around, and they ran - ran right over to the car, where he was bundled in shaking arms and clutched so tight he felt sick.
“Oh, fuck, oh fucking Kami-sama - Ryū, Ryū, baby, you’re okay, it’s fine, shhh -” Papa sobbed and they sunk to the ground, Ryū bundled up in his sooty, ash-stained pyjamas, coughing and coughing until Papa tilted him to the side so he could be sick. They watched the fire together, the crowd spilling back until they could see every flame and every move unfiltered, the smoke pouring from the entrance to crest a brutal fight; Dad was screaming, head thrown back in agony as Number 6 Hero Cellophane kept his flailing arms taped to the ground and Number 2 Hero Frostburn corralled the flames back with ice. But...Dad didn’t look hurt; there was no blood, so why was he screaming, why did he look so scared -?
Ryū breathed in the ash, the smoke and the realisation that hung in his lungs like a curse, like a promise - one that said: grow up, Ryū - the world isn’t fair.
“Akio,” he rasped. “Where’s Aki - where’s -”
“Shhh, it’s okay, baby; Daddy’s going to fix everything, it’ll all be fine - close your eyes, just close your eyes -” Papa said and shook and pleaded.
“No, let me go, let me go -!”
Feet pounded on concrete, and someone skidded down beside them. “What happened?! What the fuck is going on!? Denki! Denki, sweetheart, talk to me!”
“Eiji, do something, do something, God, Aki...Aki, my baby...”
“No,” Baba whispered, and he turned to look at the roaring inferno. "No." He screamed across the road: “Katsuki, where’s Akio - where is he!?”
Dad roared. “Let me go, fucker, that’s my kid -” he sobbed a hot breath. “I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you!”
“Where the fuck is our son!?” Baba was off across the road, lips peeling back from his teeth and skin hardened into Unbreakable. He was terrifying. “ANSWER ME!”
“It’s too late,” Cellophane was panting desperately as he tried to keep Dad on the floor. “Kirishima, the flames are too big -” Baba lurched towards the blazing building, but Frostburn gave up on the ice and froze him in place, roaring and screaming. “You’ll be incinerated! They’re too hot, too strong - he’s already gone, I’m sorry, so fucking sorry -”
Ryū was standing. Papa was crawling after him, heaving and crying, but his bare feet carried him forward so fast that the world blurred, the heat beat his skin, voices called wildly, and it was all just a murmur in time. He couldn’t stop - it was as a force outside his control was puppetting him, keeping him on course. Sweat poured off his face as his bare feet slapped the sidewalk -
Frostburn lunged for him, but Ryū ducked and slid, stumbling up the steps to the door, hand meeting blackened wood, the lick of flames at his fingertips, unholy screams of agony and terror and his name the final sound before all that was left was the roar of hell.
Light, light, light sting.
No pain - warmth. Hot warmth, good warmth.
Fear. “We’ve gotta go, Ryū, we’ve gotta -” Coughing. “Where are you? Why are you here?”
Scream at fire, angry at fire, hurting brother, hurting mine, not fair not fair not fair -
Brother gone, brother asleep. Touch. Touch on arm(?), touch on something. Comfort, soft soft, hot, protect.
Pick up brother; why hands so big?
Run. Running. Running.
Wall. Scream at wall; bad wall! Soft, soft, no Ryū, it’s okay, calm down - good brother, nice brother. Stroke stroke, gently. Hit wall, careful brother. Wall fall. Wall gone.
Pick up brother; why hands so big? Jump; why jump so high? So fast?
Screaming. Running - people. So loud, so loud.
Falling, falling. Small, soft, break.
Brother, brother touch, brother protect, good brother - Akio - AKIO -
Ryū peeled his eyes open. Everything hurt, and it was cold enough, his breath froze in his mouth. He trembled, teeth chattering. The fire still flickered overhead, rushing and swirling in the night sky. A soft weight lay beneath him, grip unrelenting. He pushed himself up, staring at Akio’s lax face, his thin eyelids and parted mouth. It was a familiar sight, a safe sight.
Papa was there, still crying hysterically. He bodily picked them up and into his lap, rocking backwards and forwards with tears dripping down his crumpled face. His yellow hair was grey with soot, and his eyes shone yellow in the firey light.
A blanket came out of nowhere and draped around them, scratchy and well-worn. Ryū looked up - Cellophane was crying, and then Dad was there, Baba too, everyone crying except for Ryū, who was too cold and too lost to do much of anything.
“Holy fuck,” Baba said. He was usually the one who told Dad off for swearing. “Holy fuck, I can’t believe that just - it happened - I can’t believe -”
Akio groaned, and his yellow eyes fluttered open, stark against his tanned skin. He squinted. “Ugh. What...what's going on?”
“Don’t ever fucking do that again,” Dad snarled from where he sat slumped against the sidewalk, bits of Cellophane’s tape still wrapped around his arms and legs. He made no move to come any closer, veins standing out on his forearms and red eyes feral. “Knocked twenty years off me, shit -”
“Aki,” Papa sniffled. “Are you alright, baby?”
“Papa,” Akio grumbled. “I’m okay.” It took a moment. He looked down at his hands, then moved the blanket aside. His face flamed red as he squeaked: “My clothes!”
“We’ll buy you a whole damn shopping mall,” Baba said. Ryū realised he was sat in the tatters of his pyjamas too, but he kept very still and very quiet.
“Nevermind clothes!” Dad demanded. “Look at this!”
They looked. The ground, where Akio had landed, cushioning Ryū’s fall, was misshapen and dented inwards in the vague impression of a small body. An Akio-shaped crater.
“Whoa...did I do that?”
“Your Quirk!” Baba said, looking blown away. “Oh my god, Aki, you saved your brother with your Quirk! It must've - must've mutated or something!"
“Just like you, Eiji,” said Papa, shaking.
“I’m so proud! Does your skin feel different?”
Papa picked up a piece of rubble and whacked it against Akio’s arm where it proceeded to break cleanly in half. The pieces tumble back to the sidewalk to awed silence.
“Cool,” Akio breathed.
Ryū turned to the side and vomited up tar.