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The Night We Met

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After all these years, Katsuki still remembers it perfectly. The cold ground and stiff grass. The thick coats and damp eyes. The hand in his on November 13th, 1833.

The night the sky fell.

They were kids, playing at life and living for play, chasing each other through river reeds and shouting whenever their little hearts felt too big for their chests. Katsuki had convinced him to come out that night, to come play in the shadows; it’s not like there was anything else to do in the slip of fall to snow around the farms and river and freeze.

Dirt and dust, dead leaves and the silent dark for miles. Izuku’s dark curls danced in the chill air, his hands tucked deep into his armpits. The starry expanse overhead was bright enough to see his round ruddy cheeks, his nose pink with cold. He followed at Katsuki’s heels like he always did—worried about his mother catching him out so late, too enamored to care.

“Where are we going?” He asked, soft in the frozen stillness, afraid to shatter it. So polite, always so polite.

“You’ll see,” Katsuki replied. It was the ballsiest thing a child could say. He knew something Izuku didn’t and delighted in it. It wasn’t a curse yet.

He remembers that the hill was barely a hill, but Katsuki can close his eyes and taste the elevation. They were kings of the world, they thought—anything, everything was theirs. They were small but mighty. Invincible.

“Here,” Katsuki had said, sitting hard on early winter earth, dragging Izuku down next to him. “We’ll see it all from here.”

“See what?” Izuku asked. Hadn’t Katsuki just said? It all, it all.

He didn’t deign to answer then. He wishes he had, wishes he’d put his foot in his mouth like every time after that so Izuku would run home. But he hadn’t. And couldn’t. And can’t.

So they sat in silence, picking at dead blades beneath them, shivering closer as the minutes ground by.

“Why are we out here, Kacchan,” Izuku finally whispered. Katsuki’s asked himself the same thing every day since.

“It falls every year,” he’d whispered back, like it answered anything. “The sky comes down. You’ve never seen it, always locked up in your house, sleeping and pretending it’ll keep you from getting sick.”

“Mom’s scared,” Izuku retorted.

“You’re not a doll,” Katsuki muttered. Took Izuku’s hand. Held it ‘til they were both too warm.

The air shifted, expectant. Izuku gasped softly. That breath still rings in Katsuki’s ears.

Far, on the horizon, a single light streaked across the sky. Soon more slivers followed, two, ten, twenty, and then they were surrounded by brilliant fireflies, zipping across the universe they were too small to contemplate and too big to understand. Sitting there, looking up into endless space as glittering slices of it flashed from one edge of the world to the other, Katsuki almost believed in magic.

“Wish for something,” Izuku said quietly. “That’s what you’re supposed to do with shooting stars, right? There’s enough for a hundred wishes.”

Katsuki was never one for wishing. It was drive, ambition, hard work that made dreams come true, but Izuku’s profile flickered with the glow of the heavens and made his heart soft. He closed his eyes, breathed in, held it. Exhaled slowly. When he opened his eyes, Izuku was staring at him.

“What’d you wish for?”

“‘M not s’post to say,” Katsuki mumbled.

“I wished I’d never know a life without you,” Izuku said, as calmly as one might discuss the weather, like it wasn’t a sentiment that could drown him. He looked back up at the stars, enraptured like he wasn’t one.

Katsuki remembers what he said. Can’t forget it. “I wished to live forever.”

“That’s fine, then,” Izuku said, nail in the coffin. “If your wish comes true, then my wish comes true too.”

Three months later, Izuku started coughing.

It was in his lungs. That was all they would tell Katsuki. They wouldn’t let him come near, not even the front porch of the grey shuttered house that used to be so lively, so spry, so green with life. His mother had the idea in her head that he would catch it, and he couldn’t find the words to tell her that he and Izuku had been breathing the same air their whole lives.

Maddening. He was going crazy, pulling his hair out, pacing back and forth, feeling both ages old despair and childish panic. To see a boy so manic grinding a rut into the earth outside the home of his dearest friend hurt everyone who knew. And they did all know.

Izuku had caught his death.

In a fit of furious fear Katsuki confessed all to his mother, wailing that if only he hadn’t coaxed him out, if only he hadn’t pushed them all that way in the cold, if only he hadn’t wished so fervently, then Izuku would be fine. His mother had pet his hair and cooed that him wishing to live forever hadn’t doomed poor Izuku. Wishes were just words, and people just got sick.

But it wasn’t his wish that rattled Katsuki to his core. He couldn’t stand to repeat Izuku’s to her, even though it kept ringing in his head, day in and day out, losing whole hours to fuzzy, fragile delirium. He can still hear Izuku say it with perfect clarity, still see that starry outline seared on the back of his eyelids. It’s chased him for decades.

I wished I’d never know a life without you.

And he never would. He’d die before Katsuki even got to say he was sorry. Laid out under a white sheet, so tiny they doubled it over and still it draped beyond him. Auntie Inko had him buried over the river, at the top of a child’s mountain, an ugly stone chipped at by shaking hands slammed into the earth to mark it. She wept there for days in the bitter cold. Katsuki knows—could find his way there in his sleep—because they buried her next to him, barely a year later.

He was nine.

*

Something changes after that.

When he’s nineteen, wagons pack up and leave. He doesn’t want to go, so he doesn’t—says goodbye to his parents and heads east instead. There’s nothing left for him in their little town anyway. He hears about the tragedies that befall the wagon trains on that trail months later. He swallows another shot of whiskey in a Boston bar and tries his damnedest not to care.

He looks them up, so many years later, in drunken nostalgia. Tries to find their names in the bungled historical records, from snippets of diaries and old newspapers. He does find them, eventually—charcoal drawings that sing of his mother’s hand—his father became the mayor of something. He’s glad, briefly. His curse didn’t touch them.

When he’s twenty-two, he hears all about conflict in the expansion to the west, from the same Boston bar where he works. Fighting, firearms, war— it’s the first time he comprehends them. He lands on a side people soundly disagree with, not for the first time and not for the last. But he doesn’t budge for it. Death is stamped into his skin. He has no desire to be anywhere near it again.

When he’s twenty-three, he changes his mind. There’s a new medical association out of Philadelphia, and it piques his interest. He quits his bar job, takes all his savings, and marches up to Geneva, New York. He enrolls in their medical institute and works his ass off. He studies and writes and researches, with particular focus on the lungs. Every breath he takes feels stolen, and he wants to know why.

When he’s twenty-five, he finds someone to love. Smiley, bright, with a laugh like coming home; optimism pours off him like sunshine. Doesn’t have the curls, but plenty of freckles. He’s studying hard too, learning all he can about medicine, teasing Katsuki about illegible handwriting and correcting him with up-and-coming scientific terms. Katsuki falls hard and fast. It’s a peaceful year—he almost, almost forgets the ringing wish. Almost moves on. Freckles marries some girl upstate, old money, to please his parents. Katsuki tells it all to the bottom of his glass.

When he’s twenty-nine, he goes to the World’s Fair. Meets—and slums it with—people from all over the globe, makes a little name for himself. Finds a few potential jobs working with his hands, building, creating; he stays at the local hospitals, surrounded by the coughing that never lets him forget. He thinks about the last thing he said to Izuku every day. About the last thing Izuku said to him.

“Mom thinks I’m sick,” Katsuki whispered, a secret in the stick-and-blanket fort they’d built on his porch. “She keeps sayin’ my forehead feels too hot.”

“My mom always thinks I’m sick,” Izuku had responded, amusement coloring his words as he strung up cat’s cradle. “But I made a wish and the stars will keep it.”

Katsuki eyed him in the early dusk. “You really believe in those stupid wishes?”

Izuku blinked. “Yeah. It felt real, didn’t it? Like they were listening.”

“Stars can’t listen, Deku.”

“Maybe not all the time.”

Katsuki frowned for a long moment, then stuck his finger through a loop. Izuku cinched the thread around him and laughed. “Gotcha!”

When he’s thirty-six, there’s the shrill cry of war again. It sounds different to him now. The air feels different. He casts his vote—throws his lot in with the side that makes him feel human—squares his shoulders and packs up his medical supplies. He can’t avoid this one. There’s too much at stake. He’s made too many friends from too far and too wide to stand by, the borrowed air in his lungs punching toward justice; he leaves the coughing behind for the childhood shout that no one should be denied.

On his thirty-seventh birthday, for the first time in years, he looks in a mirror.

He’s been told he’s good-looking by plenty. Many assume he’s lying when he tells them his age. He says he tried to grow a beard once, but for some reason never could get the five o’clock shadow to grow past six-thirty. He chalked it up to stress, to running around in constant contact with the dying, to a diet of alcohol and not much else. But staring at himself in that diluted silver, Katsuki has a moment of pure crisis.

He doesn’t look a day over twenty-five. His angles haven’t changed at all, he even fishes out a beat-up photograph from that whirlwind year to compare. When you grow and change, there’s always differences, always new shadows and curves and shaggy hair. He doesn’t just look young, he is twenty-five. He’s twenty-five.

For reasons he cannot comprehend, Katsuki irrevocably understands that he stopped aging twelve years ago.

He runs out of his city apartment, into the busy street, scrambles past the kid hawking newspapers with absolutely no idea where he’s going. He’s just running. He runs and runs ‘til he hits the harbor, dashing past docks until his shoes touch sand, pelting yards into the frigid April surf just to feel awake, alive. He knows he could catch his death in the cold, god he knows, but it doesn’t matter. He’s twenty-five at thirty-seven and the salt air stings.

“Hey!”

Katsuki whirls. A man with broad shoulders, dark curls, and freckles stands on the beach, clad in a coat that swallows him whole, waving. “Hey, out there! You’ll get yourself sick like that!”

Katsuki slogs back through the water, feet heavier with every step. The man—boy? he’s got a baby-face, rounded cheeks dusted with stars—unwinds his scarf as Katsuki emerges from the wet. “Here, my god,” he says, throwing it around Katsuki’s neck. “What on Earth possessed you to go crashing into the waves in April?”

Katsuki stares. His eyes are greener than they used to be. His hair is longer, softer, shoulders back and broader, voice deeper, sweeter. But he’d know those hands. Know that strange, shaky smile. He’d know Izuku anywhere.

“Look all you like, mister mysterious,” Izuku says, laughing lightly. “I’m Izuku. And you are?”

“Going insane,” Katsuki whispers hoarsely.

“Right. Shall I show you to the nearest loony bin?” Izuku grins, and god help him, Katsuki feels the tears rise hot and itchy. Izuku puts a hand on his arm. “Hey, whoa, are you okay? What’s wrong?”

Katsuki clutches his sleeve. Ignores the tears falling freely down his cheeks. “Lemme get you a coffee.”

“Uh,” Izuku says eloquently. “Okay? Sure, uh...”

“Kac—Katsuki.”

Izuku smiles, lopsided, and Katsuki notices a chipped tooth. “Sure, Katsuki. Coffee sounds great.”

*

Izuku is a journalist. Twenty-four, mother deceased, never knew his father. It makes sense. He spent so long cooped up in that house, clinging to whatever words he could get his hands on, scrawling school-chalk on his walls and counting hours ‘til the sun came back just to write again.

Except he didn’t.

“I’ve lived in New York my whole life,” Izuku says, running a finger around the rim of his steaming mug. “My mom met my dad here, both of them off boats and strangers to the city, come to live with cousins. They got set up pretty cozy as tailors, or so she tells me. I don’t remember my father at all. Just mom and the smell of old books she’d read to me as she sewed.” He glances up at Katsuki, through his long sweeps of eyelashes, reticent and red-faced. “Um, but, where are you from?”

Katsuki’s soul hovers far above him. “Missouri.”

“Oh, um. That’s nice,” Izuku mumbles into his coffee. Uncomfortable silences swim between them as Katsuki just stares and Izuku looks around with puppy-dog eyes, begging passerby to help him. “What—what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a doctor.” Katsuki blinks (sees a child’s face and a sky slashed apart) and when he opens his eyes, the vision doesn’t disappear. Izuku’s really in front of him, lips parted in awe, a magnetic gaze so strong it yanks Katsuki’s soul back down into his flesh.

“That’s incredible,” Izuku breathes. He produces a flip notebook and a stubby pencil from one of his many oversized coat pockets and leans forward, radiating excitement. “Are you going to join the Union as a field medic?”

Katsuki almost smiles. “I’ve been one for months. Came back up here with a few wounded I needed to take to friends—specialists.”

“Tell me everything that’s happened to you,” Izuku says, already scribbling frantically.

Katsuki balks. Everything... Just the last few hours is enough to send him shrieking into an asylum. He can’t exactly tell Izuku to his face that Katsuki felt him die, felt him ripped from between his ribs like a physical blow the second Izuku’s last hacking breath left his little lungs. He can’t even say how he knows that the man in front of him is Izuku himself— my heart has home spelled like your sighs is nonsense, and saying it’s pure instinct isn’t any better. Telling Izuku everything would get the cops called down for sure.

“You... sure you grew up in New York?” Katsuki asks, gruff with anxiety.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Izuku laughs incredulously. “Why do you ask?”

Katsuki tries to pour what he can’t say, can’t understand, into his eyes, to sear comprehension into Izuku’s until this miracle of a man gives a familiar sob and says his name. “You look like somebody I know.”

“It’s a small world, Mr. Katsuki,” Izuku chimes, tapping his pencil on the table. “Perhaps we’ve run into each other before.”

“We have,” Katsuki says before he can trap it behind his teeth. Izuku straightens, surprised, so Katsuki has no choice but to barrel on in a hurried whisper. “Look, something really fuckin’ strange is happening to me right now, and you wouldn’t believe a word of it.”

Izuku’s eyebrows shoot into his hairline. “Try me.”

Katsuki drums his nails on the table once, twice. Then he huffs and leans forward, bent over his coffee, the steam curling warm across his neck. “I know you. I think. I’m pretty sure. No, I’m completely sure, I know who you are. But you don’t know who I am, ‘cause we’ve never met somehow. I’m still twenty-five and it’s been twelve years since I was twenty-five, and the day I realize this, you show up, an old ghost who’s older than I remember.”

Izuku coughs a laugh.

“I’m serious,” Katsuki growls, slumping back. “Your favorite color? Red. Red as my eyes and red like the dawn. You told me when we were six, and it never changed.”

“Sure,” Izuku nods obligingly, hands around the edge of the table and pushing his chair back. “You see something out on the killing fields that rattled you a little too much, Mr. Katsuki?”

Katsuki stands, his chair squealing. “Izuku Midoriya. You write like it’s all you know how to do. Have ever since you were little, all over your walls ‘cause paper was too expensive. Auntie Inko, she makes the best biscuits in the state. Made. You hate boiled greens and would rather die yourself than crush an ant.”

Izuku looks at him for a long, tense moment, then slowly, gracefully, gets up. He reaches into his coat, pulls out a crisp bill, and places it under his coffee cup. “Thank you for the coffee, Mr. Katsuki. Be seeing you.”

“De—Izuku, wait—”

“Why should I, Mr. Katsuki?” Izuku spins on his heel to face Katsuki down. “My mother’s name was Leanne, I actually quite like boiled greens, and I’ve never written on a wall like a vandal!”

Katsuki’s jaw works, desperation zapping in his blood. “Do you still believe in the stars?”

Izuku goes still.

“They listen sometimes,” Katsuki presses, a manic energy frothing under his skin. “You told me that. You made a stupid, stupid wish, and they listened.”

Izuku’s eyes shine. He blinks them clear, gazes at the floor. “What did I wish for?”

Katsuki winces, squeezes his fists closed. He hasn’t said it aloud in years. “That you’d never know a life without me.” His voice cracks.

Izuku, to his credit, doesn’t react. “And what did you wish for?”

It seems trivial. Awkward. Awful and self-serving next to Izuku’s. “To live forever.”

Izuku considers this, then nods tightly. “Good luck with that, Mr. Katsuki.”

He leaves the way they came in.

*

Lincoln is dead before Katsuki sees Izuku again.

He’s a doctor, for god’s sake—of course he’s in the thick of it. Every practice for miles redoes their procedures for gunshot wounds. It’s only fitting that journalists flock to the news, macabre crows with a grim duty. They find each other on the street outside the theatre, bumping shoulders as curious people mill around the brand new landmark.

“Death brings us together again,” Izuku says bitterly, pulling his collar up to his ears, gloved fingers fumbling at his notebook.

Katsuki shivers. Not from rainy chill. “Death.”

“The war, Mr. Katsuki,” Izuku mutters. Katsuki abruptly notices a new scar streaking up Izuku’s fair cheek. “Surely a doctor deals with death more intimately than I do, but it calls us both, hm?”

“You a poet?” Katsuki asks, the tremble in his words too subtle to hear.

“No,” Izuku snorts. “Just observant.” He scribbles something illegible and curses under his breath. “If you’re going to hang around me like some sodden bird, the least you can do is hold this for me.”

He shoves the notebook into Katsuki’s hand, turns his palm just so, and starts writing again, much clearer.

Katsuki watches, fascinated, as Izuku scrawls shorthand. His nose scrunches up in concentration, his brilliant eyes sparkle, even the dark nature of the thing can’t dull it. There’s upheaval all around them—the president is dead— and still Izuku steadily does what he loves.

“Thank you,” Izuku says, smiling. “You’re good for more than cryptic messages after all.”

“I fail to see what was cryptic about it,” Katsuki retorts. “I said what I said and meant it.”

“Yes, the stars talking to you wasn’t cryptic at all.”

“That’s not what I said and you know it.”

Izuku eyes him, grinning slightly. “I suppose our conversation meant that much to you?”

“You have no idea what it meant to me,” Katsuki says lowly. Izuku’s face drops into surprise. He quickly schools himself.

“Why don’t you tell me, then. Over coffee.” Izuku flips his notebook shut and pockets it. “My treat?”

Katsuki’s heart sings. Izuku takes a single step away and freezes. “Is that my scarf?”

*

It takes a lot of coffee before Izuku starts to believe him. And his weight in raspberry tarts.

“You know this is ridiculous, right,” Izuku says, mouth full of jam. “Completely ridiculous. Perhaps Poe was simply a pseudonym.”

“The guy was weird, I’ll give him that,” Katsuki mutters, swirling the dregs of his coffee. “It sounds crazy, I know, but I don’t make a habit of lying.”

“You’ve stopped aging,” Izuku recounts, just as incredulously as the first time he repeated Katsuki. “You’ve never been sick, not even a cough. You live on alcohol and coffee-shop pastries and somehow are still in what appears to be peak health. And you think you know me from, what, a past life?”

Katsuki puts one hand to his temple, rubbing slowly. He’s had four years to rehearse this conversation—oh, yes, he did keep tabs on Izuku’s authorship, he knows exactly where he’s been—and it’s still gone off the rails. “I don’t know,” he grits out. “A past life for you, a current life for me.”

“That’s insane,” Izuku remarks.

“So you keep saying.” Katsuki grinds his palms against his eyes, elbows digging into the table, frustration in every tense muscle. Izuku chews quietly, then clears his throat. Katsuki presses harder into his hands. “What.”

“You had a real stalker vibe that first time you tried saying all this.” Izuku flicks crumbs off his shirt, admirably keeping his cool. “I’m glad I walked out.”

“Great,” Katsuki grunts.

“But,” Izuku mutters. Fingers the handle of his coffee mug. “But. You seemed so... genuine. Authentically lost. And the way you spoke, just—there was something about it.” Katsuki lifts his head slightly, glaring at Izuku with narrow, irritated eyes. Green ones blink back, unfazed. “You knew my last name, even though I never told you. Very stalkery. But you were also going to call me something else, weren’t you?”

Katsuki’s spine locks. Izuku continues.

“You choked on it, whatever the word was. I didn’t really process everything you said until I’d left, and frankly until I’d gotten pretty far away, but it was like you couldn’t get your tongue to go through with it.” Izuku tilts his head curiously, childishly. Katsuki’s mouth goes dry. “I have believed in the stars, Mr. Katsuki. For a very long time. I know what it is to wish like—like you said I did. But you have to understand, I don’t remember any of this, and you say I was eight? When I turned eight my cousins threw me in a lake. I have no way to prove your story true in the slightest.”

“There’s a grave,” Katsuki blurts. “In Missouri. A gravestone with your name on it and your mother’s beside it.”

Izuku pales. “That’s not funny.”

“I’m not joking.” Katsuki puts his palms flat on the table, suddenly uncomfortably small between them. “Your home. My home. The fields, the river, the hills that barely count as hills. We sat on one and watched the damn sky come down and you made your fucking wish and died and we buried you there.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Izuku whispers hoarsely.

Katsuki grips the edges of the table to stop himself from shaking. “I helped dig.”

Izuku opens his mouth. Stays there for a moment. Closes it. He shakes his head violently. “No. Not possible. That’s a different person.”

“It wasn’t,” Katsuki retorts. “I swear it wasn’t. I know it’s insane, I know, okay? But I’m telling you it’s true. You have to believe me. You have to feel something familiar about this!”

Izuku puts his head in his hands, muttering. “No way, not real, why did I do this, why did I think anything other than crazy—”

“You were eight,” Katsuki says, pleads into the space between them for understanding. “I was nine. Our houses were only a mile from each other. We spent every day together, every hour we could, it was everything, De—” His jaw snaps shut on it, even now, so convinced he’s right. If Izuku doesn’t believe it, he just can’t lay it out like that. It hurts too much.

“There it is again,” Izuku breathes, unfurling from a muttering mess to point at Katsuki with wide eyes. “What won’t you say to me? What can’t you say to me?”

“You don’t believe me, so what’s the use?” Katsuki slumps back in his seat, desperate anger clutching at his throat until his voice is small and pathetic. “Our names are dead too.”

Izuku stares, deer in headlights. “Our?”

Katsuki just grits his teeth, sinks lower on the chair. It hurts.

After a long moment of coffee-shop white noise, Izuku picks up his cup and drains the dregs. He sets it down with more force than strictly necessary. Katsuki’s eyes flick up to his.

“I,” he clears his throat again, “I’m not saying it’s not... familiar. In an eerie, dreamy sort of way.”

Katsuki doesn’t move.

“It’s like... I’ve written it before. Like you’re telling me my own story.”

“I am.”

“Not literally,” Izuku says, exasperated. “It’s as if you’re summarizing a manuscript of mine. Something I dreamt up and wrote down that you read and recounted.” Izuku holds Katsuki’s gaze, level and heavy. His voice barely rises past the clink of cups around them. “I thought I dreamt meeting you, for the briefest of moments. You reminded me of one.”

Quiet. Then, without breaking eye contact, Katsuki presses a hand to his chest. “Kacchan.” He swings his open palm to Izuku. “Deku.”

There. It’s done. He’s said it. If it’s not true—no, he knows this is his Izuku across from him. He knows because when he breathes, his lungs don’t rasp. His throat doesn’t burn. This air isn’t stolen anymore because Izuku’s here, breathing in tandem as God intended. Alive.

And stunningly silent.

“That’s it.” Katsuki flicks a nail against his cup for the porcelain ring. “Short. Sweet. Stupid. Dead.” He abruptly pulls his things together, slings his coat on. “I’ll go.”

A chair squeals. The table rattles. Passerby blink at them. Izuku hangs onto his coat sleeve, leaning entirely over the tabletop, tears gently overflowing from emerald eyes, sliding past lips parted in shock. “I, uh,” he laughs shakily, releasing Katsuki’s arm and righting himself, swiping tears away. “I don’t know why I’m crying. Sorry.”

Katsuki sits back down. “Don’t be.”

*

They meet once a week. It’s not enough for Katsuki—never will be—he never knows if it’s the last time. The four years between encounters was hard enough. As he tells Izuku more of their lives, more of his strange frozen timeline, the seconds apart only grow more agonizing. Sleeping becomes difficult. He just lies awake, shades of green swimming over exhausted eyes, until the sun breaks through his window again.

There’s a night in early October that, years later, Katsuki still can’t believe happened. Six months from their names, shrouded in scarves and autumn chill, Izuku puts his hand in his and laughs. Really laughs. Red-cheeked, head tossed back, eyes squeezed shut. Granted, it’s because some kids nailed Katsuki’s shin with a ball and he swore ‘til he was blue, hopping on one foot, but his soul settles as he watches Izuku laugh in perfect, astounded awe.

Izuku’s shoulders shake with aftermath giggles, his other hand clamped over his mouth. He looks Katsuki in the eye, smiling.

Katsuki feels his heart stop, then he’s smiling too.

*

Their hands are never far from each other after that. They hold tight when they’re boarding the first of many trains, when they nearly lose their luggage switching rails, when they step out into busy terminals for fear of losing themselves in the crowd. They rub thumbs soothingly as one tenses, the other wary, as the brittle grass gives way to riverbank and hills that barely count as hills.

It’s the final proof. It takes them weeks of travel—weeks of each others’ company, wound tighter the closer the train chugs—and seconds to crumble over.

For nearly twenty minutes, Katsuki can’t even set foot on the rise.

Izuku crouches by him, rubbing his back, murmuring distractions; reminding Katsuki it’s not going to make him disappear. I’m not a dream, Izuku insists. What dream would hit you?

The smack—not a teasingly gentle one—shocks Katsuki out of it. He climbs the hill in five strides. Such small steps, but now he’s tall.

They hold hands as they confront the grey slabs, weathered and old, overgrown with moss and clover. Izuku traces his name with a finger, rough incisions Katsuki can hear, the screech of chipping stone loud in his ears. Izuku keeps looking at the gravestone, even when Katsuki’s grip tightens to the point of pain. He lets him cry without interruption.

The sun is low in the sky when they lean against the back of the stones, unwrapping sandwiches and a bottle of wine. The alcohol is something cheap they picked up near the last train station—it perfumes the air and stings their tongues, but it does the trick. They start talking.

To repeat what they said would be a crime. They spoke of everything: wishes and desires, fear and failure, love and loss. Mothers, gone. Fathers they barely knew. Family they distanced from. Each other, sunset and sunrise, strange inevitabilities. Second chances.

Izuku rests his head on Katsuki’s shoulder, half the bottle gone to him. Rosy cheeks, long eyelashes catching the last light, hair tousled back from running hands through it. Katsuki, with the other half downed in a cathartic fervor, knows peace on this hill, where ghosts lie dormant for the first time in years.

*

They decide to travel.

They go all over the States. Izuku chases stories down, pulling Katsuki along by the wrist, showing him how to write shorthand. They fill notebook after notebook with where they’ve been, dreams of where they’ll go; they explore forests and cities arm in arm, they see and have things historians would beg them for. Years pass. Still, Katsuki does not age.

Eventually, Izuku’s work takes them north, into the coldlands—it’s all shiver and smoke off the lakes—writing for a Chicago paper. He’s happy. Katsuki’s happy too.

There’s a little apartment, two floors up, with thin windows and walls and dusty hardwood floors. A tiny kitchen, newspaper clippings decorating every countertop; a threadbare sofa and worn-out chairs scattered around a streaky glass coffee table that boasts cracked coasters and a staticky radio; one bed, two pillows, three blankets. It’s home.

Souvenirs and scraps of paper. Potted plants and photographs. Lace-hemmed curtains and hanging lanterns. Two men with strange lives and six years to have lived them.

Katsuki lounges long on the bed, flipping through that morning’s Tribune. “Lindale can’t do steady print to save his life.”

“Mm,” Izuku hums from under his arm, curled into his chest. His breath is warm on Katsuki’s collarbone, his fingers tracing idly on pale skin. “He flips b and d, but I do too sometimes.”

“Only when you go so fast your head can’t keep up,” Katsuki murmurs, tossing the paper off the side of the mattress and pressing his lips to Izuku’s forehead. Izuku giggles, pushes him back playfully. “You’re zippy.”

“Ugh, terrible,” Izuku chimes, returning the kiss with a smile. “I seem to recall you’re pretty fast when you want to be.”

“Not my fault you can’t aim snowballs.” Katsuki draws Izuku in closer, warmth flooding through his chilly limbs. “You lost that fight fair and square.”

“You had a small army of ten-year olds. What could I have done?” Izuku looks up at him. Not for the first time, Katsuki finds himself breathless.

In their train car back from over the river, Izuku had dropped the blind and started talking. He talked and talked in circles until Katsuki just laughed, grabbed his blushy cheeks, and kissed him stupid. The smile he earned from that made the world snap straight, tilted ‘til just then. Katsuki had taken every opportunity after to kiss Izuku again.

Like now. It’s slow, soft, sweet; things Katsuki never thought he would be. Dark curls loop around his fingers, freckles backlit with pink, green eyes look at him like nothing else matters, the same spark when he’s writing magnified to a love Katsuki can’t believe is his.

“‘M thirsty,” Izuku murmurs into his jaw.

“Uh-huh. Okay.” Katsuki untangles himself from the covers, careful to keep them snugly around Izuku’s shoulders. His pajamas are too thin, the stove burning hot in the corner still not enough to chase the cold out entirely. He’s just turned the faucet on when a shrill scream pierces their comfortable silence.

Izuku sits up. “What was that?”

“Some kids being dumb in the alley,” Katsuki scoffs, letting the water run until his fingers are icy around the glass. Izuku frowns and gets up, swinging the curtains aside and peering out the window blurred with fog. He scrubs at it with a hand, but still can’t see—he yanks the thing open, sound spilling in.

Yelling. Shrieks. And—Katsuki looks up at this—a siren.

“Deku?” He asks. His lungs feel shrivelled, sour. “What’s goin’ on?”

Izuku has his head out the window, limned by low orange light that flickers like the street lamps. His bare shoulders tense, his breath comes shallow. Wide, wide eyes fixed on something big.

“Izuku,” Katsuki asks again, hoarse. Gravel fills his chest. “What’s going on.”

Izuku whips around, blankets flying. He collapses flat to the floor, his arm shoots under the bed and yanks out their box of filled notebooks from the last six years. He doesn’t even get shoes or a shirt or a scarf. He turns wild eyes on Katsuki and whispers, “Fire.”

The water glass shatters at Katsuki’s feet.

Big, old, wood-frame buildings, scaffolded close together, south of the river and—Christ, the lumber yards—hundreds of people live in their building alone. They have to get out. Out, out, out out out—

Izuku shoves the box of notebooks into Katsuki’s arms, then pulls their front door open with enough strength to snap hinges, shouting fire, fire all down the hall. He bangs on their neighbors’ doors until each one has blearily opened them, whirled to their families, and pushed kids out of beds.

Katsuki grabs his wrist and starts toward the stairs. Izuku twists out of his grip.

“What!” Katsuki yells over the crowd of tenants now pouring toward the exits. “What are you doing, we have to go!”

Izuku’s already three steps up to the next floor. “I have to warn the rest of them!”

“No, we have to leave! Deku!” Katsuki shoves around panicked people, reaching for the freckled hand disappearing up the narrow flights. His neighbors swirl past him, dragging him along. “No, V, let go, God, fuck—here, Kady, you take this box, go outside, get as far away as possible. I’ll find you later, go!”

He slogs through the flood of people now streaming down the steps, but they’re too thick, too scared. His nose itches, stings, and screams renew. He’s buried under them, washed out into the smoke-choked street with a scream of his own.

Outside is chaos. It’s brighter than midday in the cobblestone streets, surrounded by blazes ten men tall and growing, spitting embers into the blacked-out sky. He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe— Izuku, dumbass Deku, climbed the stairs for people he doesn’t even know—

Katsuki sees the building next to theirs groan and wobble, belching ash as metal warps and screeches. Wood roars, burning hot and autumn orange in the October night; people crush through the alleys and into the open lanes, bolting into the nearest dark they see, fleeing from the angry light. He stays.

Flames leap from the fire escapes into the wood-and-brick of their home. The third floor catches. The fourth is dark, Katsuki hopes it’s empty. Fire waits for no one. He can’t stop it, can’t change it, and Izuku’s in there, selfless and brave and stupid stupid stupid.

Lace-hemmed curtains and hanging lanterns. Potted plants and photographs. Souvenirs and scraps of paper. They’ve lived such flammable lives.

There’s families from the fourth floor scrambling through the front doors now, he recognizes them as they tear into the distance. Doesn’t know their names. Won’t remember their faces. He’ll drink to forget their howling—he’ll drink to forget a lot of things.

The front doors dangle from their moorings, destroyed in the stampede. Half the building is ablaze now, letting out groans as glass shatters and stoves burst. Katsuki can’t move an inch. He’s watching the hall, as far as he can see, waiting for Izuku to smash through the tilting beams unhooked from the ceiling into the clear street, into Katsuki’s shaking arms.

He appears. Katsuki breathes.

Izuku’s bundling two children and a mother through wreckage, one wrapped tightly in his arms, the other dazed in his mothers’ grasp. The woman clambers out, narrowly dodging a pop and sizzle through one of the first-floor doors with a swallowed shout, clutching her son’s head to her shoulder. Little hands yank her braided hair.

Katsuki blinks, and he’s at the door, pushing, lifting, heaving the broken wood out of their way, waving his arms like it helps clear the smoke billowing out around them. He can’t even feel the heat, doesn’t register the searing on his palms as he hoists busted chunks of wall away. The woman cries something foreign, praises and thanks, staggering into the street.

Izuku smiles to see him. Smiles, wreathed in fire crawling down the steps, striding over broken beams and past hissing rooms, his bare chest streaked cherry with puckered burns. He’s not even sweating. Katsuki might be screaming—he can’t tell, can’t hear past the cackling flames of hell consuming the world around him—but his mouth is open and his arms are out.

Izuku whispers something.

He lunges—the daughter landing in Katsuki’s hands, the hem of her dress catching yellow—his palms brush Katsuki’s knuckles and fall away.

The building collapses on itself.

He cants backward, scrambles onto the pavement, skids to a stop. The girl bats her hem and wriggles out of Katsuki’s arms, sprinting to her mother. He doesn’t notice. It’s so hot, but he’s so cold; no shoes, just white socks now grey with soot and too-thin pajamas soaked through with sweat. October color reduces the skyline to a smudge of fury and hell sends fiery pennants flapping through every window.

Katsuki sinks to his knees, lungs seared with smoke and stolen air.