A plate sailed through the air and shattered against the wall, the impact wobbling a plant pot off its stand to scatter soil across the carpet. An enraged scream followed suit.
“Come on, guys! Katsuki, Eijirou...let’s just calm down!”
Another plate went flying.
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 madly. 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 been melted into for the past two hours.
“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!”
“Ha! You’d both be lost without me!”
“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. Did they ever shut up?
“Again?” Aki asked. He was stretched out on his bed, sheets tangled around his legs as he flipped lazily through a well-read wrestling magazine. “That’s, what, the third time this week?”
Ryū threw his stuff down onto his own bed on the other side of the room. His own sheets were Crimson Riot themed, but seeing his dad’s face...it didn’t fill him with confidence - the feeling that he could do, be, anything - like it usually did. Instead, he just felt..
He fell face-first onto the bed.
“They’ll get over it soon,” Akio said, but Ryū wasn’t so sure. Parents were supposed to argue as much as his own did - at least, from what he could tell from watching his friends’ families. He’d stopped going over to Michiko and Kagami's houses recently, though - seeing everyone else happy when he was so miserable just pissed him off even more.
They sat and listened to the screaming through the wall, three voices cracking with anger, hurt and a whole mash of other emotions. He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.
“That’s what you said last month. 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? That everything’s fine? Well, it isn’t!”
“...I hate you,” Ryū sniffled angrily.
“Fine,” Akio launched up, grabbing his phone from where it lay charging on the bedside table. “Fine, if you’re going to be such a baby then I’m going out.”
“What? That’s not fair! You can’t leave me here with them! I’ll come too!”
“Grow up, Ryū - the world isn’t fair.” He slipped out the door and shut it firmly. Ryū scrubbed angrily at his nose - why was his family so stupid?
The shouting dipped and a moment later, the front door slammed hard enough the whole apartment shook. Silence fell, but a moment later there was a knock at his door.
“...It’s me...can I come in?” Papa’s voice warbled on the last syllable.
“Hmph.” Ryū picked at a loose thread on his pants. “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.
“Aw, your old man’s a mess...”
“Stop fighting then,” Ryū said. His voice cracked a little. “It’s so stupid.”
Papa laughed wetly, dropping his face in Ryū’s lap. “You sound just like Katsuki.” That didn’t seem 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 tutted but dropped a hand into his father’s hair anyway.
“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?”
“Tt,” 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 nine 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."
“Heh,” Papa managed soft, wobbly smile. “There’s my sweet boy. See, when I say you’re just like your dad, I don’t always mean that in a bad way; he can be sweet 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!”
Papa ruffled his hair despite the loud huff he gave 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 TV playing in the background when the front door handle jiggled. Ryū, slice halfway to his mouth, frowned in irritation.
“I wonder who that is? It’s nearly nine, after all...”
Ryū chucked his box on the coffee table. “I’ll get it,” he grumbled. “So fucking lazy.”
“Hang on a sec,” Papa said as Ryū fiddled with the chain on the door. “Ryū -”
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.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Ryū, get back!”
Her mouth lurched further 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 trying too hard to be cool, 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 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, cruel 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 stand - the ground came back and the light was so bright. Where was everyone?
“Akio?” he called, mouth so painfully sore. It felt as if he’d gargled a cup of gravel and washed it back with some bleach. “Aki, Aki, please -” He looked.
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, but the fire had already ravaged down to the second, orange-yellow through shattered windows. People were everywhere, clambering on 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, fearful.
Ryū was only nine years old, but he wasn’t stupid.
He knew Akio was fine - he’d seen him.
But the voice, the 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 -
Ryū was running, he was stumbling, his feet skidded and slipped on the wet sidewalk. 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.
He shoved aside people, neighbours and friends he might’ve been able to name and talk to any other day - but this wasn’t any other day 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 smoke. His fingers stretched, arm reaching for that fireman 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!”
He shoved through the crowd, knees scraping the ground as he scrambled between legs and bare, soot-stained feet. A car was half on the sidewalk, half on the road, doors open and engine still running, and by it, white-faced and choking, doubled over in shock, was Papa.
A 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 Christ - Ryū, Ryū, baby, you’re okay, it’s fine, shhh -” Papa sobbed and they sunk to the ground. Ryū clutched his sooty, ash-stained shirt, 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. He didn’t look hurt - there was no blood, why was he screaming, why did he look so scared -
Ryū breathed in the ash, the smoke and dust.
It 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 -”
“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 screamed across the road: “Bakugou, where’s Akio - where is he!?”
Dad roared. “Let me go, fucker, that’s my son -” he sobbed a red-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. “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. “You’ll be incinerated! They’re too hot, too strong - he’s already gone, I’m sorry, so fucking sorry; Akio is -”
Ryū was standing. Papa was crawling after him, heaving and crying, but his feet carried him forward - so fast the world blurred, the heat beat his skin, voices called wildly - 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 sneakers 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, kind warmth.
Fear. “We’ve gotta go, Ryū, we’ve gotta -” Coughing. “Where are you?”
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 in mouth; why mouth 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 in mouth; why mouth 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 - Aki - Akio -
Ryū peeled his eyes open. Everything hurt and it was cold enough his breath froze in his mouth. He trembled, teeth chattering. Fire still flickered overhead, rushing and smoking. A soft weight lay beneath him, grip tight and unrelenting. He pushed himself up, staring at Akio’s lax face, his soft 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.
A blanket came out of nowhere and draped around them, scratchy and well-worn. He 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. “Oh my god, I can’t believe that just happened - I can’t believe -”
Akio groaned and his eyes fluttered open. He squinted. “Ugh. What...happened?”
“Don’t ever fucking do that again,” Dad snarled from where he sat slumped against the kerb, bits of Cellophane’s tape still wrapped around his arms and legs. He made no move to come any closer. “Knocked twenty years off me, Christ -”
“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?”
“You got your Quirk!” Baba said, looking blown away. “Oh my god, Aki, you saved your brother with your Quirk!”
“Just like you, Eiji,” said Papa.
“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.