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I'm Still Here

Chapter Text

 

Silence rang in his ears, reverberating from head down to fingertips, a soft choking emptiness so vast and heavy it nearly overtook the frantic badump badump badump of his heart.

 

It sank and hadn’t stopped sinking since he had so long ago opened his eyes to the suffocating darkness — slow and quiet, jumbled and disjointed, pressure rearing within his head and growing in every long second that passed.

 

Every second it took for him to become aware of his surroundings, for his breathing to quicken the louder it rang in his ears, far louder than it should, and the air — musky — musky in the way only tightly enclosed spaces were, throat dry and coarse and body twinging with an unbearable ache to move, cushions pressing against his back, neck and head sinking deep down into a pillow—

 

as if he were meant to stay for a long time...

as if he already had—

 

No amount of rapid blinking took away the darkness, but he wasn't bound and when he could finally move, his fingers trembled, lead weights of flesh somewhere below him shifting left, right — and eventually, up, down. Moving and stopping too suddenly, …thud, …thud, above, thunk.

 

“Knock on wood!”

Cackles, followed closely by ‘thwack!’

Loud, raucous laughter.

 

There was no echo. No quiver. No hollowness.

 

Solid.

 

Don’t. Panic.

 

Just find a way out. Find the weaknesses. (Get out, get out, get out—)

 

Light. He needs light.

 

He needed his Quirk, he needed— A ragged, wheezy breath inward and the non-filtered air scraped its way down his throat and flooded his lungs–

 

He couldn't breathe– he couldn't– it's not enough–

 

And he clenched, pulling the inner muscle— nearly flinching back from the bursts of light attacking his retinas too suddenly, unprepared...

 

Against padded walls crowding into him from all sides, flickering tan in the light of his Quirk; bouncing back from looming oak staring into his face from above.

 

For a few moments, it didn't register. Until it did.

 

A sound drifted past his ears, soft and quiet and choked, as if the owner itself was drowning in sewage.

 

No... no, this isn't...

 

The dark oak continued to gaze back at him, shadows flickering menacingly.

 

His chest hurt. He wasn't breathing at all. His body was frozen solid... Everything was cataloguing, filtering slowly into his brain, and he...

 

He was terrified.

 

Inky black speared through his vision, stabbing his retinas. Something ugly clawed up the inner lining of his throat, wild and throttling what little air he had from his lungs— limbs rising without conscious decision, ears ringing with a distant harrowing shriek that reverberated inside and around him

 

THUNK—THUD—THUNK—THUNK—THUNK

 

And he was grappling, shoving, his heartbeat pounding in his ears, roaring through his veins, burnt caramel stinging his nose and whirling through the haze of panic and not enough air

 

Out, out — he needs to get out!

 

'Please—'

 

Clawing, ripping and shredding until cotton spilled out, scrabbling against wood, and hot liquid spilled down his fingertips, numb and frantic –

 

'I’M STILL ALIVE!'

 

And hell was torn asunder in a blaze of yellow and writhing blades of heat, a concussive ringing shrieking and tearing his mind to shreds as reality imploded and he was left a tiny pebble in the midst of a thunderous earthquake—

 

 

 

*

 

*

 

 

 

“Aa- oh…” Tiny fingers slapped at his shirt, where the milk had seeped through the dark blue fabric, leaving an ugly splotch right at the collarbone. He grasped the hand – they wrapped around his thumb perfectly – and redirected it back towards the hazardously tilted end of the cuppy-holder.

The bottom of the bottle was pushed until it gently pried open a tiny mouth, which instantly latched on and suckled away the stray liquid escaping through the tiny holes of the bottle’s opening.

Once he was sure the bottle wasn’t going to fall, he tucked the weight more firmly into the crook of his arm, absently stroking from tiny shoulders to massaging just below the shoulder blades.

 

Ba-dump. Badump.

Ba-dump. Ba-dump...

 

He pulled the bottle away and patted firmly until every single hiccup that built up escaped the developing airways. He set the bottle on the table—a small patch of rug was wet and sticky, chasing the soles of his feet— and ran the tips of his fingers over and underneath thin ashy-blonde locks.

Listening to the puffs of air that slowly deepened in approaching sleep on the junction of his neck and shoulders, he made his way to the second crib in the corner of the room.

There was little fuss as he tucked the tiny body in, fingers fluttering a routine that danced a hundred times, although he wasn’t surprised when a hand crept out from the blanket and waved in his direction - making him shush and gently tuck the tiny arm back under, careful not to disturb the twin burrowing in a similar fashion across the room.

 

Ba-dump... Ba-dump...

 

His hand encompassed the entirety of their small head, carefully caressing, and he leaned down to press his lips softly against the crown.

 

Ba-dump.

 

"…Night..."

 

Ba-dump.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The faint aroma of herbs drifted up from the pot, simmering in bubbles of pale gold. Masaru stirred with one hand, the other reaching down to turn the burner off. He waited several minutes, then lifted the pot off the active burner and onto the side.

He washed his hands free of the chemicals clinging to his palms at the sink, glancing at the window briefly to see the rising sun glinting off the moist fogged-up glass.

It was the beginning of the school year, but it looked like the cold was all too eager to continue defying expectations.

As he poured coffee into a mug, footsteps approached, heavy and dragging. He put the coffee pot down, and the mug disappeared from his hands. "Ah—" He looked over his shoulder and scrambled to pull the cup away from his wife's mouth. "No, honey, you can't have that!"

Eyes slightly bloodshot and nose and cheeks dotted with vibrant red, Mitsuki sniffed wetly in indignation. For lack of energy, she didn't respond, and he was easily able to pry the stolen coffee from her weak fingers. Masaru then directed his wife to the counter-top table with a hand to the back of her blanketed shoulders.

Once he was sure she wouldn't suddenly fall off the highchair, he went to pour the broth into a bowl.

"…Work?" he eventually heard. Mitsuki's voice was barely there, hoarse and brittle.

Masaru shook his head. "They can handle the office." He placed both of their meals on the table and took a seat beside her.

Red eyes peer at him. She takes her spoon and dips it into the bowl. "I'm fine," she mumbled, eating several spoonfuls, barely flinching at the scalding temperature. "Stop hovering. I can handle it."

She continued eating, and as he was wont to do, his eyes wandered. Her ash-blonde hair was uncombed, drowsy red eyes and soft blue blanket wrapped around her body like a cloak…

Scowling up at him in angry resignation with large ruby orbs, so adorably small and young ...

Smile faltering and stilling, Masaru placed a hand over his wife's forehead. "Your temperature feels the same." He flipped his hand so the palm-side was facing outward. "Did you take your pills already?"

No answer. If anything, she was focusing all her attention on her meal, slow and quiet.

"You need to take it every six hours if you don't want the fever to get worse,” he persisted. “Have you been feeling woozy? Difficulty breathing?" He waved his hand in front of her face, even as she stubbornly refuses to look. "Honey, how many fingers am I holding up?"

"Masaru." His hand fell.

Masaru heard her inhale through her nose steadily and exhale through her mouth. In, out. In, and out. He let her, hand twitching to rub between her shoulder blades.

Her breath hitched. One look at her pale face and tightened lips spurred Masaru into action. His wife's spoon clattered to the table as he all but leapt off the chair to grab the empty cracker box on the opposite counter and place it directly below her face.

Masaru rubbed her back as his wife vomited what little was in her stomach into the makeshift garbage, fingers curled tightly around the corners. It took a minute before she stopped dispelling thin liquid, and another few before she stopped retching.

Masaru was already ready with a glass in one hand. He pressed it into her shaking palm, helping her to stand from the chair and shuffle to the sink with his other hand. She spat out the water weakly and fumbled to refill the cup, hoping to fully wash out the taste of lingering bile.

He could only watch, stricken, as those usually strong and confident fingers trembled with exertion.

They've been married for a long time...but the sight never really got any easier.

When the running water finally became silent, he realized Mitsuki was staring at the mirror. His pulse skipped a beat.

"Let's get you to bed." She followed his guiding hands, once again not putting up a fight. Sweat-soaked bangs hid her expression from view.

Masaru carefully led them up the stairs and turned right, down the dark hallway and into the main bedroom. He situated his wife's legs under the sheets, gave her the pills and kissed her forehead when she finally finished, putting the pill container onto the nightstand and jotting down the next dosage time.

He helped her slide down and adjust the pillows to fully support her head and neck. The blonde's entire body was limp, her ruby eyes fastened shut. He combed through the unwashed strands, making sure to dig his nails in slightly to scratch pleasantly along her scalp.

He stayed there until Mitsuki fell asleep. Then he headed to the doorway, looked back at her sleeping form for just a moment, and flipped the light off.

 

 

*

 

*

 

 

Mitsuki had the flu.

At first, they thought it to be a bug, the result of stress piling up without relent and proper care, and constant interaction with people of varying states of immunity.

As slightly expected as it was, it was no less concerning when, not soon after coming home late the night before, she stumbled to her feet and made a beeline for the bathroom door. Masaru was eventually able to squeeze out a confession - that it had been happening occasionally throughout the entire day - and immediately left a message for the doctor.

Shortly after putting Mitsuki back to bed at dawn, the doctor called back, asking a few questions – no, she wasn’t taking any substances, no, she wasn’t pregnant, she just started vomiting today – before providing a list of instructions for basic proper care, and a scheduled home-visitation.

 

An hour before the designated time, Masaru's alarm blared, abruptly jerking him back into the waking world.

Masaru slowly sat up and rubbed at the smooth reddened skin that had laid against the desk. He yawned widely and blinked back tears, waiting for his brain to rewire and remember what he had been doing previously.

He had fallen asleep in the middle of a project. His workplace was a mess of scattered papers and dates corresponding with a few days time. He sighed, running a hand through unruly brown hair.

Then a sound broke through the awakening silence. Masaru paused.

It took a moment before he realized it was a door being closed.

"Mitsuki?" Masaru got up and left the study. His slippers slapped noisily against the hardwood floor, but it was not enough to disguise the sound of a door opening once again.

His fingers gripped the railing at the foot of the stairs. Masaru stared up at the darkened hallway above, listening.

After a long moment, he climbed.

He stopped short upon reaching the top—the door was open to his left, allowing rays of light to chase the shadows halfway down the hall, nearly touching the smaller rays from the large window overlooking the garden. He made his way over and reached for the doorknob, gently sealing it off once more.

Darkness enclosed around him. He took a brief second to look at the ceiling lights, and it niggled his brain until he remembered he had planned to get new lights bulbs today.

...It could wait until next week.

The master bedroom's door was open slightly. Upon reaching it, he could easily see the dresser and mirror through the tiny sliver.

He pushed the bedroom door open — well-oiled as it was, it didn't creak. Everything inside the bedroom was in place, Mitsuki herself back under the covers. When he went over and placed a hand over her forehead, her eyes blinked open reluctantly.

He smiled, exasperated.

Masaru adjusted the sheets again and checked the time, then he cross-referenced it with what he'd written on the paper he'd put on the nightstand. "Honey, did you get up and take your meds?"

A mumble came from below, sounding somewhat like an affirmative.

"I can't believe you still managed to walk like this," Masaru said with a laugh.

He had long since lost the ability to muster up annoyance. Besides, it may hurt seeing his wife power through the years only to crash badly once in a blue moon, but at least he got more cute memorabilia from times like these.

He routinely cleaned up the surrounding area. There wasn't much - a tissue here and there inside and above the bed, or on the floor. He held them by the very tip of an unused corner and popped open the garbage lid by the bedside.

He just barely noticed the wrappers before they were buried under yet another layer of tissues.

Masaru knelt, inspecting the color and label. Crackers. He hadn't seen those around the bedroom, but he did remember them as a pile on top of the snack display in the dining room.

Not for the second time, he marveled over the stubborn strength of his wife - to not only get out of bed and go down the hall, but to go to the first floor and back up the stairs in her condition. He tossed the tissues, then shifted through the contents of the nightstand drawer, but found nothing more.

He resolved to refill the cup of water and grab more crackers as soon as he went downstairs. The preservative part of him berated himself for not thinking of doing it sooner.

It was because of this that it almost caused him to miss it.

Masaru was halfway across the room when his eyes happened to glance over to the bathroom door. He stopped.

Beyond the disproportionate levels of the carpet ebbing into the bathroom, the sliver of pale luminous light shone brightly underneath the door.

It wasn't the first time one of them forgot to turn the lights off whenever they were sick, and he would've walked over and turned it off before the bill ran high—but he didn’t.

Because just when he started to pivot on his heel… the toilet flushed.

 

Cold slowly crept along his spine.

One second, he was standing frozen in the middle of the room in his pajamas, and the next he's tugging the bedsheets back, nearly whipping it off the mattress.

Ignoring Mitsuki's groans, he slips an arm underneath damp knees and shoulder blades. Her skin was feverish, and she practically hung limp as he lifted her up with a grunt.

Mitsuki protests grow louder at the jostling while he stumbled to the door. Half of the words, he could barely make out, the other half flew over his head entirely.

He was all too aware of the pitter-patter of disrupted water beyond the wall. Of his painstakingly heavy footsteps, his heartbeat pulsing in his ears. Of the fact that both of their phones were downstairs.

Of a presence that was not meant to be here. In their room. Less than several meters away.

The dark hallway greeted him, mocking in its silence. It sifted, as if stirred awake by Masaru's huffs and cut-off gasps, and Mitsuki's delirious complaints.

It was a home stretch. Their half of the hallway was short, and the stairs directly led to the front door. Masaru wasn't as strong as his wife or their son was, but due to having run around a lot this past year his stamina was not too shabby, and that was more than enough to rely on past the adrenaline.

If he was lucky, it would take him a minute at most to get down the steps.

If he was lucky.

Before his heart even had a chance to burn with the irony, Mitsuki, with strength he never thought she could possess in her condition, shoved against his chest hard enough for him to lose his grip. His shoulder hit the wall, but it wasn't as loud as the resounding thud from where his wife had fallen and rolled over sideways.

Mitsuki's entire body heaved as she coughed, fractured and grainy, the air echoing with painful wheezing.

Masaru bent down and reached for her. She jerked away the moment he made contact. "No," she rasped. He ignores her. Again, his attempts were thwarted, this time by a shove to the outstretched arm. "No. No!"

"Honey, please! Calm dow-!" He barely missed getting head-butted in the face accidentally, whispering as urgently and as loudly as he could without shouting. "We need to leave. There's someone in our house!"

She stops playing keep-away, shuddering, frantic red eyes finding the shadows they've just departed.

Her body twisted sideways in a lunge. He grabbed her arms behind her before she could fall completely, but she didn't seem to notice anymore, intent as she was to go back the way they came.

"No!” she shrieked, “Ka—"

Masaru covered her mouth. She screamed even louder through the muffle. His arms wound underneath her armpits and he tugged backward, heaving his delirious wife like a bag of living cement.

Her legs kicked out before them, and she seemed to become even more desperate the further they went. Her head shook from side-by-side to dislodge his firm grip.

As he gasped for air, perspiration dripping down his face, he distantly wondered how they hadn't been heard by now. It was a miracle they hadn't from the start of Mitsuki's episode, even with the thickness of the walls, and he prayed fervently it wasn't only because he had somehow managed to close the door on the way out.

He kept looking back wildly, trying to keep the creeping edge of the stairs and the door within sight at the same time without losing pace, eventually abandoning it all together to just keep moving. His heart pounded loudly in his ears, threatening to take out his hearing altogether. He could feel his shirt and pants clinging desperately to his body.

Then, once more, Masaru was abruptly torn from his one-track mind by a sudden force overbalancing their combined weights, and his back slammed against the wall corner leading into the stairway. Sharp sudden pain shot through his shoulder blade, the back of his head following not a second later. Breath exploding from his lungs at the impact and burning the entire way back down. 

His vision swam. 

Mitsuki stumbled away on wobbly legs. She was yelling.

"Hang on, Mom's coming, baby—"

Masaru lurched off the wall and wrapped his arms around her waist, using nearly all his strength to heave her over his shoulder. She screamed and immediately pounded her fists against his back.

"No!" Each phrase was punctuated with another round of fists. It reverberated throughout his body and spine, making his already wheezy breathing stutter. "Let go of me— Katsuki!" she shrieked again, "Katsuki!"

The length between blows grew longer, losing strength amid the screams. Her entire frame was shaking.

A moment later, he realized it was him.

"Kats—" it caught in his throat, making him unable to breathe for one horrifically long crucial moment, "K-Katsuki's not there, honey—"

"Katsuki, baby, if you could hear me, get out now! Mommy's - goddammit, let go! He's mine!" Tears and desperation clogged her voice. "You—you can't take him from me!"

Not again, he heard, the desperately frayed strands tying his chest together from a barely healed wound shrieking and crying out in his wife’s voice, threatening to tear open once again.

Mitsuki’s legs struggled to find purchase, arms pushing and pushing against his back. Screaming until her throat shred. All to pursue the bastard of an illusion that harbored their nightmares for months.

"Mitsuki, please!"

"Katsuki! Katsuki!" Masaru nearly lost his footing the fourth step down. He felt more than saw his knuckles strain white on the railing. Their only anchor to the drop of nearly twenty steps to hardwood floor. He tried as best as he could to press his side against the railing, sliding his elbow and upper arm against the glossy surface.

Masaru could see the front door so clearly. High on adrenaline, his pace quickened, finding an uncertain rhythm. One step more. Two steps. Three. Four.

On the fifth step, he was made aware of the lack of movement on his shoulders.

 

On the sixth, the carpeted steps rose to meet him.

His heart stopped in his chest; eyes wide in shock. An odd sense of blankness rang loudly in his mind.

Then, pain.

The world sped up, a whirl of sand, brown, black, and pulsing red-tipped corners. It tumbled and whipped past in an unforgiving blur, leaving him more than a little disoriented and at a staggering loss of air the entire way through.

Eventually, in what could have been little more than five hours, Masaru hit solid ground.

He could've sworn he heard a crack, but the panicked, now paralyzed, side of his mind pleaded otherwise.

His vision eventually cleared enough – there was an odd weight to the blur, as if it were tangible and solid atop his eyes, not unlike what he would see in the doctors, when his vision would change but would always feel out of his control – for him to realize he was on the wooden floor he had been eying.

Oh.

He blinked. Blinked again.

That…wasn’t good.

They didn't swipe the floor yet. (Did they?) He's going to get germs.

He didn’t want to get sick…But he didn't want to get up, either.

He pondered over this predicament for a moment. Then his eyes slowly lifted.

He saw pale feet. Dark pants. A broad chest. Growing bigger before his eyes.

Then a muted-out face. Large red eyes. Fire.

Oh. Oh!

A part of him wondered why he couldn't just get up, to meet with the familiarity, but there was no need. The face was already close. Very close, he could just touch it.

Something came from below his vision, and his fingers touched softness. Each breath hurt, but he didn't mind as much, if it meant his sight remained the same.

An angel... an angel had finally come.

Their angel...

 

If this is a dream… the thought lingered, black shadows slowly creeping in… it's the best I've had... for a long time...

 

...Their son...