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Tomorrow Is Never Certain, So Love Me Today

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He didn’t remember it being this hard.

The familiar rise of the hill seemed steeper than before, always taunting him with further to climb when he was so sure that he could feel the hill’s slope was beginning to ease off, only for it to continue climbing. His legs burned, his chest was too tight for a full breath and the heat of the sun teased him with a want to drink something pleasantly cool.

Dehydrated, wounded and exhausted from his journey so far, Bakugo knew that he would soon be reaching his limit.
Just not yet, he told himself, told his legs when a near mis-step almost made him trip. We’re not done yet. Just over this hill rise. Just over the next hill. Just until the next corner store. Until the next… Until the next…

And Bakugo kept going; pushing himself just that little bit further as he followed the main road past familiar streets, allowing himself the slight detour to pass beneath the shade of elms that defy the tarmac and spread their branches to block out the sun.
Bakugo is grateful, but he doesn’t need to tell the trees that.

But the trees aren’t a constant respite to the sun, and Bakugo has to face the sweltering heat again, with a heavy-weight pack that he constantly shifts and bites painfully into his shoulders.

But then, the hill has been defeated and the slope begins a gradual decline further as it leads further into town. Bakugo wasn’t happy about this, but with the scratch dragging at his leg and the pull on his pacing that has him behind schedule, small sacrifices have to be made.
Just thinking about how far his still has to go draws in another heave of tire, enough that Bakugo changes his plans from pushing himself onwards to simply finding temporary shelter for five, maybe ten minutes.
With his head pounding and throat parched, anything would do as long as he could get out of this glaring heat.

It wasn’t until he left the main road did Bakugo find something he deemed suitable; a small transit van with its windows rolled up and back doors spread wide. It had already been salvaged for food, fuel and whatever else that anyone might deem useful – before being left to continue rusting half-perched on the pavement.
Bakugo didn’t need it to drive. He just needed somewhere to sit and catch his breath.

The back of the vehicle is a mess, and for a moment it’s hard to figure out if this was the way it had been left since Before, or if it really had been salvaged. But the inside hasn’t a touch of rust, nor does there seem to be any other long-term damage from the rain or the cold.
Which means the doors have been pried open during this year’s dry season. ‘By who?’ lingers in the back of Bakugo’s mind as he hooks off his bag and throws it in first.

The tarp was still dusty from whatever worksite it had been on some years prior, but the scratchy hemp was comfier than nothing and Bakugo settled himself in, closing one door to cast cool shade across his temporary resting spot. The other was wedged open with the handle of a rusty hedge trimmer, jammed between the hinges, just in case it felt like closing and locking him in while he dug around in his supplies. It’s not like Bakugo couldn’t smash the windscreen and get out, but he doesn’t particularly enjoy running the risk of getting trapped.
He rests his gun on his leg, propped up between boot and shin so that the barrel is aimed towards the open door. It’s done in such a way that wouldn’t take much to reach for the trigger and fire.
Bakugo doesn’t particularly enjoy being snuck up on either.

But the streets are empty and the blond is alone, leaving him to fish through his pack for the last of his water. It’s all gross and sun-warmed; but it’s not like the boy has a variety to choose from.
Grumbling is no use either, so Bakugo doesn’t bother. He lets his mind fade into static, taking light sips as he eyes the world beyond his van and the path that he has been following. Clouds are light wisps in the sky. Good for nothing. Not for rain and certainly not for shade.

Bakugo isn’t paying attentions until suddenly, his water bottle is empty.

Well, fuck.

Complaining and grumbling won’t refill the damn water and it won’t do shit to the thirst that is back to scratching at his throat. There’s the lake, but that’s between the edge of the town and the mountain slopes. Bakugo won’t reach that for another day; two if his leg won’t stop fucking bugging him. So, he needs to find a feeder or a stream.
There are plenty that run towards the lake and plenty of houses between here and his planned destination for tonight’s hideout that he should be able to find something.

If not, then even maybe something in one of the houses, despite the fact that these streets are more than likely to have been stripped bare. Further East would be better, if he followed the main highway, maybe raided the cars and the buildings on a detour towards the main city.
But that is less of a simple path and it reaches further than Bakugo’s knowledge of every fucking road; where they run to, which ones connects with which and so on.

There’s also the added risk of other survivors having holed up in one of the apartment blocks or hotels or something – even in this area - and it’s a really bad choice to be sticking to a path that runs through a thousand possible hiding spots.
But with a week’s journey and only a two-day supply on his back, Bakugo was limited for choices. If it wasn’t for those fucking No-Mind assholes, then he wouldn’t have this fucking problem.

Then again, the likelihood of Bakugo actually running into anyone so close to the Observatory was practically none. He could always try and radio in with Jiro to check if the runners had seen anyone or crossed paths with any rogue scavengers, but it wasn’t like anyone back at the base would let a potential risk remain so close to their settlement.
And if they were friendlies, then they would’ve already been offered shelter and taken up to the mountains.

Thinking about Jiro, and not at all delaying the chore of clambering back out the van and into the stuffy heat of just another summer, Bakugo reached into the waterproof compartment on the front of his pack. There is where he keeps his important things: a map, matches, a folded photograph and walkie talkie and headset that he seriously needs to fix with some electrical tape, or duct tape if he finds some.
Enough wear and tear means the wires are a bit finicky from time to time and he’s not sure if it’s the signal or the headset that’s being a bitch when he tries to call out, but they work and that’s enough for Bakugo.
He flicks it on and send three seconds of a low whistle as he slips the radio piece over one ear, meaning he can still listen out around him with the other.

There’s no reply even as the minutes drag on, and although Bakugo doesn’t like it, he has the strength of mind to not allow as such to entertain dark thoughts. Instead, he focuses on more in-the-moment things, like packing up his backpack and shuffling out of the van.
It doesn’t hurt to toss the tarp out and have a quick rifle of his own. As he does, something brass and familiar catches his eye underneath an open box of spilled screws.
It’s a tin of mint candies. Score.

Tempted by one, Bakugo allowed himself the treat, savouring the taste that dragged him back to his childhood, shook him around and left him lost and dazed, blinded by the sun with wet upon his cheeks.
Shit. He was dehydrated enough. He didn’t need to help it along the way by uselessly crying.

He didn’t need to be reminded of his damned childhood with his all fucking memories or the fact that Mom used to buy a fucking tin of mints every Saturday on the way home from swim practice. He didn’t need to be reminded about that fact that Bakugo used to fucking challenge himself not to eat them before the week was up, but somehow there would be no more come Monday.

Before any more tears could fall, Bakugo shook his head, kicking himself back into the present. He buries the mint tin in his pack as deep as it would go, pulled the damn thing on, cursed at the spitefully biting straps and set off again, following the weather-worn crack that ran centreline down the middle of the road.

Fucking memories. Fucking head.

Thinking helped keep his mind focused.
So Bakugo did just that. He focused on the important things and kept his head straight.

It was just under a week journey to the Observatory. With his leg still giving him grief, he might need to use the full fortnight especially once he hits the mountain slopes. The road would make things easier, but all of that means nothing if he doesn’t take enough supplies to last him the two-day journey to the lake, the one around it and then four in the wilderlands that would take him right to the Observatory’s front door.

About a week in total. Longer than he had hoped. His supplies wouldn’t last him the full journey even if he kept his current pacing.

Bakugo’s last heist beyond No-Mind territory wasn’t as successful as he had hoped it would be.
He had only managed to smuggle out a double-dozen prescription boxes of amoxicillin, what he is sure is Adderall, a handful of batteries of varying remaining life.
Not Bakugo’s best solo haul, but the scales were tipped when he stumbled across several maps of the base’s surrounding area, noted up with trade routes, linked communications with other bases – he had found their frequency codes too – and a load of scribbles that a quick glance had surmised as battle plans.

After obtaining something of considerable importance, there was no other options than a straight shot to the Observatory. It’s been three days and he’s got over a week to go.
At least he’s made decent ground. At least he’s not seriously injured.
Or dead.

Yet.

This time was close. Closer than Bakugo liked, but it isn’t as close to death as he’d ever come before.
Still, that’s not really something he should be focused on, although there is something morbidly comforting knowing that he had learnt his last less from the bullet that imbedded itself in his shoulder.
This time, the bullets had just imbedded themselves into the reinforced padding of his self-improved jacket. The only real wound he had procured was the cut on his leg is long that griefs him with every fucking step. But it’s not fatal. It was just stupid, and begrudgingly Bakugo’s fault when he took on the No-Mind Soldier that thought he’d use himself to block the exit.
The damn bastard forgot to warn Bakugo he was carrying a knife.

But Bakugo can’t stop.
He can’t slow down.

The No-Minds were still hunting him.

They were nightmares, dressed in black, their faces hidden behind masks and war paint, like the indescribable violence was just a game to them. Because it really was: a sick and twisted game that sated their appetite for a moment, caring more for the hunt than their reward or orders from above.
They were thoughtless, malicious brutes that enjoyed doing their master’s bidding. Not for the sake of loyalty, or some twisted sense of devotion to their Master as if the treated him a god among men, but it wasn’t that they cowered at his name either; to he who took power in the after with fear and intimidation and threats.
Some followed for the sake of keeping themselves from the pits, but far too many followed for the chance to violate without restraint.
All of them deserved death.

It didn’t do well to dwell in anger.
Such emotions were dangerous, Bakugo already knew. As much as fear, as much as hesitation, these such emotion would distract him. And he couldn’t afford even the smallest mistake. He couldn’t lose his head, for even a second.
He almost had, back when—back then, and it had near enough cost him more than a wound to his leg and tight lungs when he ran.

The cut on his thigh is the worst of his injuries, but it doesn’t bother Bakugo as much as the scrapes on his knees and palms. But he had needed to scramble up loose shale on the cliff side to make it as hard as he could for the Soldiers to follow him. His hands had blistered when he forced himself to clamber up trees to reach higher ground and not leave any trail in the mudded earth.
Bakugo even took a short cut through the freezing river in hopes the No-Mind mutts would lose his tracks.

The blond couldn’t help but grumble for the want of his truck again. It’s been an age since he had lost the damn thing; choked her engine when fumes weren’t enough to keep her rolling and the flat of her tyre fought the road itself when he hoped she’d just roll that little bit further.
Of course, riding Apollo from one town to the next was faster on the empty roads, but procuring fuel to fill her up was an increasingly harder task, and engine maintenance was practically impossible without the know-how that went further than hitting her engine with a wrench and praying to the remaining Gods she started up again.

But Apollo had run her final stretch and Bakugo had been forced to leave her. Packed what he could into a bag and set out once more on foot.
It made travelling harder and easier. Slower of course, but it was stealthier on foot and Bakugo was less likely to miss decent hauls when he had to break into a new house each night for somewhere safe to sleep. He didn’t have to worry about fuel or clear roads, or the risk of an engine calling in rogues when it was just him and his feet traversing the After.

Still, if he had Apollo, Bakugo wouldn’t have had to go so far off the beaten track just to shake the No-Mind bastards off his tail. But he knew he couldn’t risk leading the soldiers in a straight shot towards the Observatory either. The detour was necessary, despite its downfalls.

Bakugo wasn’t certain if the diverted route had gained him time or whether it had lost the soldiers completely, only knowing that his ploy had exhausted him enough that his pacing had slowed even more than a busted leg would call for and he was behind schedule. He’d hoped to at least reach the edge of town by now, and end up somewhere near the lake shore come sun-fall, planning to kip it in the old canoe shed near the lakeside café he used to frequent when he was younger.
The place was stripped already – Bakugo had seen to that personally – but at least he’d had the foresight to leave stashes along his usual trail route, and the old canoe shed had plenty of floorboards to hide shit under.

But the sun is already beginning its slow descent and Bakugo knew the canoe shed wasn’t a viable option anymore. Neither was refilling his drink supply at the lake.

Most of the houses around here had already been hit up, by both himself and the other raiders. There might still be food around, but that was of little importance right now if Bakugo didn’t find himself a clean water supply. Mid-Summer meant the town’s reservoirs would be dry, and they weren’t exactly ideal for drinking from.
There was always the option of hunting out some still-green woodland with a running stream that would refill his bottle. Maybe he’d even score is lucky with a house off the beaten track, just in case his concerns for other survivors in the town turned out to be true. Wandering into an unknown’s territory exhausted and injured wasn’t a good option.

It was the fucking No-Mind’s fault.

If the stupid outer patrol hadn’t caught signs of his break-in then he wouldn’t have had to fight his way back out. With the exhaustion, the injuries and the general out-of-the-way direction he made himself take, he’s at least a good ten or so hours from the lakeside. And the sun is definitely heading for the fall, meaning the countdown has begun to find a place to shack up.

There’s his old hideout, but having been in the wind for a few years, Bakugo has no idea if anyone else hasn’t chanced upon it and cleaned the place out.

Bakugo pushed onwards, ignoring the slip road for the highway, sticking to the cracked pavement as it led him towards the abandoned suburban estates.

His irritation prickled against his skin, unrelenting like the Summer sun.
He wants for more water, but with the bottle empty and the somewhere-stream still out of reach, he’s got nothing to soothe him beyond a tin of mints that can tempt him all they want, but he refuses to scoff them all at once. Got to make them last the week, comes the thought, but it is snuffed out before it is every truly there.

Bakugo looks over his shoulder before he really takes note of why he’s doing such a thing. And yet despite some sort of irritation scratching at his caution, the street is empty; with nothing but the birds calling to one another, the wind to rustle the trees and the sun to dry the grass and crack the tarmac.

There’s nothing and no one, leaving Bakugo content to turn back around and find a comfortable pace, eyes on the distant blue mountains, mind on the stream that waits for him between. Not much has changed since he’s been gone.
But certainly, things have changed since the Eradication.

The streets used to be packed with cars, the traffic on the avenue alone enough of a bitch to contend with that would have Bakugo walking it, or biking rather than hitching a ride on the over-priced bus systems.
Now the buses and cars lay idle in the road, abandoned; rusting where the rain gets in and scavengers don’t think to close windows or doors, only caring for the chance of finding food or a bed for the night, or a rushed hiding place when the No-Mind scouts come hunting.

Same with the houses.
There was little left to be salvaged beyond scraps.

Bakugo hadn’t been the only one to ransack the town, but out of the few thousand that used to live here, he had been the only one who had survived the carnage in the early days of After. It was the Eradication that destroyed the town; the culling that swept across the world, killing millions upon millions within a matter of months.
Those that survived were either taken by the No-Minds or left to fend for themselves. To destroy themselves. Left to rot in the remaining chaos. Too weak to pick themselves back up. Many couldn’t.
Many didn’t even bother to try.

And so, the town where Bakugo grew up, was left to rot.

Bakugo would’ve too, if not for his own stubbornness to live.

There had been times when it had all been too much, and certainly without the Observatory, he probably wouldn’t have made it as far as he had.

Their first meeting hadn’t been pleasant, nor could it have predicted just how much Bakugo’s life would change. But it had changed, and for the better once he decided to travel with them. They gave him more than just shelter and a moment to catch his breath. They gave him companionship and a reason for surviving more than a stubborn will not to die.
His days found purpose; hunting and salvaging alongside Deku and Todoroki, training himself to be stronger with Uraraka and finding friends and – although he’d never admit it out loud – family, amongst strangers, of whom, without the Eradication, would’ve never come into Bakugo’s life.

But all good things must come to an end, and so too did Bakugo’s life in the mountains.

And once again, the boy was alone.
His days still had meaning; he still hunted and salvaged and trained himself to stay strong, but everything had taken on a new meaning. With each journey, Bakugo took himself further and further from known territory; almost stupid in the way that he delves behind No-Mind lines to watch them closer. To monitor them, watch them, hunt him should his anger get the better of him and he need to rid the world of one more blight.

Sometimes, Bakugo’s anger took him too far. He pushed his luck, saw the hunt without the danger and attacked without restraint. He buried himself deep beneath their feet and destroyed the foundations, not a care for the destruction that fell upon him. He infiltrated their checkpoints, their lookouts, their out-of-the-way bases that festered with their disease until Bakugo saw to the problem personally. He took their lives and he took their knowledge, burning the remnants like they burned his home, without a shed of remorse.

It was easier this way.

It hurt. But it was easier.

Bakugo preferred having to rely on only himself.
He’d rather jump into the fray alone, than with others and risk their lives where it wasn’t needed. Sure, it might be harder sometimes with no one there to watch his back, but Bakugo couldn’t allow anyone to fall for his mistakes. He couldn’t risk another. Not again.
Not like before, when he and the others used to go on runs together, in small groups, because they were misguided and thought that it would be safer in numbers. And, maybe, there was a balance there somewhere, and some situation were suicidal to go it alone, and some places needed more than one pair of eyes on watch…
But with the constant threat of the fucking No-Mind, the demand to push further from their territory as supplies dwindled, every run grew increasingly dangerous, no matter the numbers.

They said that mistakes were bound to happen.
They said that they all knew the risks. They said that they all knew that there was a possibility that they wouldn’t all be going home.

They just weren’t prepared when it actually happened.

But the past is in the past now and Bakugo can’t linger. Like his anger, reminiscing is a danger he cannot afford to entertain.

It must be coming up to a year since Bakugo had last been at the Observatory. Perhaps it had been even longer, but wandering alone in a broken world, it wasn’t a surprise that Bakugo had become separated from the simple nuances of ordinary life such as knowing what day it was. That didn’t matter to him. Whether it was a Monday, a Thursday or even Easter Sunday, it did not change the world around him.

He had lost track back when the End became After and he woke to a broken world. Too quickly had days bled into weeks, weeks into months and so on, until the leaves turned brown and fell to the Earth. Snow soon followed, as did the Thaw. Now heat has returned to the air and the sun shines for longer each day, and Bakugo finds himself low on water more often than he would like to admit.
Summer had returned once again.

A whole year, the blond thinks, eyes on the horizon, his mind filled with the sight of the repurposed Observatory. A year is a long time. They probably thought he was dead. Or worse, captured by the damn No-Minds that hunted him.

But Bakugo had his reasons for keeping his distance.
It didn’t matter if he lied to himself or not; telling himself it was for the sake of taking a stand against the soldiers. To fight on the frontlines to protect the Observatory before the No-Mind scum ever got close.
But it was more than that.

His guilt and his shame had him keep his distance:
Shame at his own mistakes that had lost people close to him. Shame for his own weaknesses because he couldn’t stop it from happening. Again.
Shame and guilt, because this time, he had no longer been a child, he could’ve stopped it, he could’ve saved him, but he hadn’t saved him.

And yet, despite Bakugo knowing he has to stay away for the sake of protecting them from his own weaknesses, sometimes he can’t help himself. Sometimes, he’s selfish, and can’t help but return.
Just to see.
Just to check on them.

Bakugo shook his head. He couldn’t think about that now.
He had to focus. He had to keep moving.

The boy slung his gun strap around his neck, freeing up clammy hands to allow them to tap idly at the radio one more. The second transmission is still just another whistle, although it’s three rising notes. Still no words. Just on the slight chance that Jiro wasn’t the only one listening in.

Again, there is no reply, immediate or otherwise, and again Bakugo doesn’t let himself think about the thousand reasons why. Knowing his mind, it would only focus on the worst possible scenarios, regardless of logic.

Instead he shifts his pack more firmly on his back, ignores the pull of his leg and the thirst in his throat and pushes on. He is still riding the slopes’ gradual decline, his pace picking up once more as he crosses the junction, heading towards the abandoned suburban estates.
The only sound he can really hear is that of his own footsteps echoing off the walls, the silence broken by the twittering of birds or the empty wind. There is no undertone of humming traffic that used to accompany him when he would spend early mornings jogging the sunrise-lit streets, music and sweat the only company he would allow when he needed five minutes to empty his mind.

Now music is a luxury if found at all.
Any device Bakugo found was dead in the water, and with no supply to the power grid or even a single charger, there would be more hassle trying to get the damn thing working again than it was worth.

Still, it’s not like Bakugo has been without for the past however many years he’s been roaming free.
Apollo held herself a decent array of CDs that he had picked up while scavenging. Maybe if Bakugo heads up her way with the decision to fix her up and get her engine running again, then he can surely celebrate with throwing some classics on the player to abandon the ever-present silence once more.

But that is for later, and Bakugo pushes the unnecessary from his mind.

Pretty soon, he hit the marks of his old territory. Having grown up here since he was a kid, he knew the place pretty well.
Even now, years after being back here, it felt like coming home. The grass may have been overgrown in places, some fence panels broken where they hadn’t before, but there was much that remained as familiar to Bakugo as it had in the Before, when he lived here.
He took every shortcut he knew, jumping fences and dodging dead ends as simple as walking a straight line.

At the familiar sight of the railroad tracks, an idea occurred to Bakugo, who quickly changed direction so that he swung up the road that lead to the post office, ignoring the familiar of beat up cars and smashed windows that was his creations, back when he first began to salvage in order to make it from one day until the next.

Bakugo’s got far better since; having learnt not to leave obvious clues of a break-in to tattle to other scavengers or No-Minds that there was someone in the area. He learnt other little tips and tricks too, to help him survive this whole, end-of-the-world ordeal.
But one that Bakugo was proud of was his own proactiveness in finding a manageable, sustainable food source. That meant farming.

So Bakugo planted himself his own little gardens.

The closest one was directly behind the post office, hidden from the view of the road and the houses that box it in by a few small apple trees and the general green of overgrown brambles. They also keep out the less-determined animals, so there was no need to deter their growth unless they encroach on the wild plots.

Bakugo isn’t expecting to harvest anything beyond an unripe apple or two, but he’s more than happy when he is able to snag himself a handful of crunchy, juicy ones that weigh nothing in his sack. Even better are two cucumbers, untouched by animals. They’re eaten there and then, to at least quench the thirst that’s been bugging the back of Bakugo’s throat since he finished his damn water bottle.

Then, he’s off again, never lingering for too long, determined to at least reach his old hideout before dark really begins to settle. Without the aid of streetlamps to help navigate his way, Bakugo would be stranded once the sun goes down, even if he knew this town like the back of his hand.

House after house, street after street, Bakugo followed the familiar path as if it he walked it yesterday, moving towards the distant mountains even if it felt like he wasn’t making any ground. Past the jeep with its tyre sunk in the pothole, past the burnout shell of the police cruiser, over the fallen lamppost that had no one to replace it.

Nothing had moved.

But that didn’t mean everything was as it had been.

The trees, without fear of being beaten back by society, claim what they lost long ago. Stretching roots spiralled from rough-bark trunks, thick roots pushed the pavement from its sitting, crumbling the stone to dust, before lying in wait to trip unsuspecting victims. As their roots grow, so does their boughs, reaching outwards for other trees, searching for a hand to hold in the quiet.

Creepers found shells of old cars and swallowed them whole, hidden under vine and root and grass; pouring out across the concrete to spread colour across the dusted grey.
The roads returned to grassy fields. Across them, little patches of wild flowers grew, bringing back colour to the otherwise desolate street. They attracted the smaller insects, and although Bakugo cared little for bugs, there was something comforting about a lone bumblebee humming back and forth between the daffodils.

It was as if Mother Nature had risen from her slumber and sent her children forth, blurring the line of the edge of the forest.

A sudden call from a nearby rook pulls Bakugo from his musings.
He curses the winged beast as it flies away, snarls and bitten insults reeling off his tongue to more than just the bird, the heat and the steadily returning thirst that niggles at him. His fingers tap at the radio, but Bakugo refuses to offer anything to the silence other than his echoing footsteps.

Irritation bleeds into unsettlement; like an itch that wouldn’t go away.
Stubbornly, Bakugo doesn’t pay it mind, but he doesn’t ignore it completely. That was just begging for death.

The trees cast shade once more, and the respite from the sun quickens his pace into almost a jog; and although his thigh still bugged him, he could ignore it easier now, hitting the street with ease as the comfort of familiarity surrounded him.
He was on his old running route, heading down the avenue with the sun on his back and the weight on his chest feeling lighter than it had in a long time. If he just kept on running, followed the street for another half mile, crossed the freeway and followed the main road towards the old school district, then he’d be home.

Home.
Was it really so close?

But Bakugo wouldn’t return. He wasn’t brave enough. He couldn’t go back to the house when he knew only emptiness waited to greet him.
He couldn’t return; not when he had run away in the first place, fleeing when the No-Mind came and stole everything from him.

The End of the World came suddenly, but it had not come without warning.

Before, wars were everywhere; the East, the West and everywhere in between. Some were small, barely news worthy protests against one minority and another, some far larger, sweeping media platforms in cyber-attacks, one after another as they all demanded for rights which others so greedily squandered without thought to that which they deserved, but had not faced the need to fight for.
Inequality was a modern disease and it infected throughout all of society. Hate and hate-crime festered with resentment as the poor stumbled through life while the rich watched in with quiet amusement. But then, even they grew bored of the modern-day massacres, and began to throw one another to the dogs.

Secrets were leaked. Dark secrets that rumours could not conjure and money could not dispel; showing the world that the powerful care little for people when money was of more worth than a human life.

One voice spoke out. Silenced.
Another rose up in its place, but before the quiet could settle, another rose too. Another and another.
At first, they were ignored. By the masses. By the enemy. By the rich and powerful who could silence such voices with the right allies.

Another and another. Another, their voices cried out in anguish, until they could not be ignored. Police brutality rocketed, but money in the mouths of the greedy continued to quieten the masses like mindless sheep.

Not enough.

Not enough.

It didn’t silence the voices.

It didn’t end the wars.

And suddenly, the rich and powerful were the victims of their own game. To stay ahead, to stay in power, they began to expose one another, to side with the world and show that ‘they were not like them. I stand with you. I stand with you.’
They turned over rocks in the favour of their enemy’s enemies. They knocked down the walls and set loose the dogs. Rats crawled out of the woodwork, uncovering the disease that had festered like a rotting wound. Exposed to the world and left at their mercy; judge, jury and executioner.

Again and again, over and over. Rising with power while caring nothing for morality.

The voices grew.

The wars turned violent.

Another enemy.
Another game.

But soon, all balance was lost. Police brutality was taken too far. One too many lies uncovered, one too many secrets spilled and suddenly the world toppled into chaos.
New wars were declared, the power mad trigger happy with their armies and their guns and their war-machines. Villages, towns, cities, wiped out in the blink of an eye. The death count rose. The kill count rose. The rich grew richer and the poor were slaughtered.
Far too many saw the end of civilisation and were corrupted with the hope to claim the lost power for their own. They need only take it from those weaker than them.

When the Eradication came to Bakugo’s home, he had lost everything. He too, should’ve been just another in the millions to die without the confusion of Before and After. But it was his mom and dad who saved him.

Before the End, it had just been the three of them; living one day to the next with little concern to the outside world. It didn’t affect them, so why should they let themselves be affected by the news or the gossip that seemed to entertain so many others around them.

Bakugo didn’t care for the wars. He was still a child then; fifteen and uncaring about most that didn’t mean anything to him beyond that of what he wanted. He gave mind to school, to the thought of future colleges, all for the sake of getting out the house and getting away from his overbearing mom who swore she did what she did because she loved him; and a dad who was too meek to stand up for his son and for himself. Bakugo didn’t need him. Bakugo didn’t need either of them.

School not only provided him with distraction, but it was the golden path for him to pursue that which would provide him his early escape. He figured it out fast and threw himself into it; studying, training, working away his Sundays to give himself that head-start.
The tireless distractions kept Bakugo in his own bubble, enough that he didn’t even realise what was happening around him.

Until it was too late.

The End of the World had come with a warning, but it came before he knew it was.

It had been just another day in May; too far from summer break, too soon since Easter.
But then the sky fell and Bakugo could think of nothing else.

He couldn’t remember all of it.
Just bits and pieces.

Here and there.

Fear.

Screams.

Running.

Everyone around him was running too. Some prayed, he remembers, like some strange disjointed dream that he watched from the outside, rather than living it. There were things that should’ve been branded in his mind for eternity; horrors that no one could forget after witnessing when the gunfire began and bodies began to fall.
And yet, over everything horrible and terrifying, Bakugo remembers that which his comparatively mundane.

He can remember in vivid detail, the sight of the old man knelt on the pavement, alone as everyone runs past him, who doesn’t see anyone with his eyes closed, face to the sky in a mix of sadness and a deep acceptance of the inevitable to come.

There had been a family, all huddled together as they sought comfort rather than running, as if giving up was far easier than striving to live just one more moment as the Before crumbled around them. Bakugo hadn’t thought to stare, but still now, as clear as the sun, he could remember the sight of the young girl in the arms of her mother; silver and gold, ripe wheat and sunshine hair under the light of the falling sky. Her pinafore was a delicate lilac, her shoes startling red in contrast, and although it means nothing to Bakugo, he can’t help but wonder why he remembered such details beyond what he really wanted to remember.

Beyond the fear and the pain and the shortness of breath, somehow, there had been all these little details that stuck with him.
How his shoes pinched his feet as he ran. How the air felt hot around him, but he felt painfully cold. How, despite his tears, everything stood out in sharp clarity, as if he was suddenly seeing the world for the first time.

How the colours blurred and began to fade.

How the noises, everything, fading.

People, fading, falling behind, until it was only him running down empty streets towards home.

Some instinct inside him told him he’d be safe there. Some childish want for his mom called him to where she would be. And like the young girl, with her golden-wheat hair and her poppy-red shoes, Bakugo just wanted his mom to make it all better. He wanted to be with her, with dad, with his family.

Safe, with his family, who he really did love even though he didn’t tell them, because he didn’t love them enough, didn’t appreciate them for what they did for him, whether he understood why or not.
And Bakugo didn’t hate them, even when he and his mom shouted, and they fought and he wished he had different parents and told them he wished for different parents.
He didn’t hate them. He loved them.
He didn’t love them enough and he’s sorry, he’s sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry—

The No-Mind didn’t relent.
They came like thunder, raining destruction upon everything Bakugo knew, tearing it from its roots and setting everything aflame.
The town began to burn between the screams of those stolen from their homes and stolen from one another. Retaliation meant death. Compliance meant capture. Those that stood their ground were shot down without a second glance.

Beyond the fear and the pain and the shortness of breath, somehow, he remembered her smile.

Bloody, barely there, but it is something Bakugo could never forget, even if he wanted to.
And sometimes, he wanted to. He wanted to remember her happy and shining, as bright as a lighthouse beacon calling him home.
Not bloody and bruised, pushing past the pain of her bullet-ridden body, ignoring the sluggish bleed that will take her like they took dad.
He still lay where he fell. Not moving. Not breathing.

She’s still breathing.

“Hide Katsuki. You need to hide,” she told him, a rattle in her breath. “Hide from them. Don’t let them find you. Don’t let them hurt you.”
“Mom, I’m scared,” he says instead of everything he wants to say. “I know, I know baby I know,” she told him, hushed him, whispered in a way that reminded him of lullabies and the gentle caress of her touch.
When Bakugo closes his eyes, he can still feel the way she brushed his fringe from his face. Frowned at the smear of her blood that marked his brow.

“You’re gonna be okay Katsuki. You’re gonna be b-brave, and you—you’re gonna be— be okay.”
“Mom, mom, I’m…”
When Bakugo closes his eyes, he can still hear the softness in her voice. The pull-like-sleep that echoed in the growing quiet.

“Mom, I’m not—”
“You’re gonna be… safe. You hear me? Safe. You—strong. So, so st-strong… So brave…”
“M-Mom?”
“So… so brave…”

When Bakugo closes his eyes, he can still see her take her last breath.

“Mom?”

And he ran.

Ran like the coward he was.

He wasn’t brave. He wasn’t strong.
He wasn’t the son his mom had been proud of. He hadn’t protected her. He had only hidden like a pathetic child, watched her fall. Did nothing to fight back. He had just hidden from the world that crumbled around him, begged the impossible, begged her to make it all stop.

She had thrown herself on their guns to save her son.

And Bakugo just ran.

But what could a child do, he would ask himself, in the weeks, days after; after the fires had been put out and he was left to wallow in thoughts of ‘what if?’’
Over and over, he had asked himself the same question, asking what could he have done, what could’ve been what, was there anything he could’ve done that would change anything.
In those days to follow, he struggled to accept that, no matter his wants to do anything more, it wouldn’t change the world around him.

He couldn’t have done anything, she asked him to hide, told him to hide, he couldn’t have done anything.

Not against the soldiers. Not against the rioters. Not against those that stood against anyone just trying to survive.
Because suddenly it was everyone around him, mad with the loss of everything familiar, surviving only for themselves, banding with other mindless fucks so they could kill and slaughter and massacre, just like the No-Minds.

Until they themselves became No-Minds.

This was the Eradication:
Days and Nights of endless bloodshed as the wicked rose from the cracks left when the sky fell and the known shattered into a million pieces. In the old world, society deemed them the outcast, the ugly and the corrupt. They didn’t have a place among the normal, they were cast to the shadows, left to slink in alleys, to stalk behind screens and masks, deluding themselves sated by their own fantasies.

When the world broke, so did their chains. They rose up, into this world as if it was made for them.
And they thrived. They had the stomach to do what another couldn’t.
Killing was just another tool to survival. Killing threats. Killing possible threats. Killing as a threat and leaving your mark to scare everyone else away.

The weak were killed. Or they fled.
And then, maybe, killed or captured by another lowlife that thrived in the chaos of everything that used to be.

Bakugo couldn’t be like them. He wasn’t strong enough. Deep down, he knew he wasn’t strong enough, or brave enough to abandon what his mom thought of him, for the sake of surviving.
But he listened to her.
Kept the final promise he gave her.

Bakugo hid.

He couldn’t stay in the house. Not with Mom. Not with Dad.

So Bakugo hid himself elsewhere.
First, in the woods, between their house and the highway, not wanting to venture too far, fearing he’d get lost if he went anywhere else. Family – if any of his other family survived – were in a different country. Family friends lived too close to the city, too close to the risk of rogues. Too far to risk the travel when all he had hopes of finding were more dead bodies.

Alone, Bakugo didn’t care for his pride. He didn’t care that he cried himself to sleep; that he cried to himself when he was awake, until suddenly he could cry no more. Hunger was no reason to pick himself up, the thirst that plagued him would burn itself eventually and he’d be left to the blissful peace of oblivion.

The daze was like static in his brain. Like bad reception but there was no one on the other end of the phone reaching back.

Sometimes he would forget. Sometimes he would deliberately try to forget and he find that he couldn’t. Not with the blood on his hands and the pain in his chest.

But sometimes…
Sometimes he wouldn’t try. And somehow, he would forget.
That sounded impossible. But he did. Between one nightmare and the next, there would be times when Bakugo’s mind detached. It turned itself off and while the sun rose and fell and rose again, there were times when he didn’t feel sad.
He didn’t fell happy either.

He just… felt cold.
Empty.
Grey.

Alone.

The cold left him for a fever. The emptiness returned stronger than ever, until the gnawing hunger brought the sharp red of pain and he could no longer pretend that his world was only this little green of trees.

Green.
Why were the trees still green?
Why was the sky still blue?

It shouldn’t be.

Everything was gone, and yet it wasn’t because the sun still rose and fell and rose each day. Everything was broken, and yet it wasn’t because the rain still fell and put out the fires. Everything had stopped, and yet it hadn’t because the world kept turning and the wind still blew and the birds still filled the silence with their song even if there was nothing to be happy about.

Things were gone.

But not everything.

Not Bakugo.

He found a swimming pool to wash off the sweat, mud, dirt.
It was in a neighbour’s garden; their blow-up kiddie paddling pool, filled with rainwater and hose water and the odd leaf that had fallen from the trees.
The water turned murky with blood, Bakugo tried not to think about whose, but that didn’t stop him from taking a drink. He didn’t realise how much his throat had hurt, but it didn’t hurt as much the more he drank, the more his chest ached, and didn’t, and wanted for something different than water warmed by the sun.

Hunger took him inside.

The house wasn’t what he had been expecting. It was remarkably plain, Bakugo remembers, standing in the kitchen of a strangers. Feeling lost.
Not because it wasn’t familiar. But because it was empty. He had expected bodies. Blood. Destruction. Looters having smashed the glass cabinets and rifled through the knife block, left signs that they had stomped all over the memory of who lived here without care.
But there is fresh food in the fridge and there is ice cream in the freezer and there is cold coffee in the pot. There are clean plates in the dishwasher and there’s a cat curled up on the sofa where the sun shines in and warms the leather.
When Bakugo smashes his way in from the backdoor, the cat scarpers and no one comes running with a baseball bat.

So, he helps himself.

Hunger triumphs taste and he doesn’t even care to think that the food he shovels into his mouth would’ve barely scraped the standards of his old diet regime.

He eats, he sleeps and he eats.

The cat claims whatever Bakugo leaves behind. Begs for meat when it smells it on his fingers. Doesn’t care to linger when there is no more to be taken, slipping out the backdoor and doesn’t come back.

Bakugo eats and he sleeps and he changes his clothes from the bedroom at the top of the stairs. There’s a book, it’s yellow, but the words don’t stick like they used to, so Bakugo doesn’t bother. Settles himself into a bed that doesn’t smell familiar. Its soft. Too soft compared to the forest floor, but tiredness drags at him until his eyes close and open to morning light.

When there’s no more food, the boy he leaves.
Takes the skateboard from where it had been left beside the front door and follows the road until the end. Heads further into the estate where there are no cars on driveways. He sees someone run into a house and slam the door.

Bakugo skates on. Finds a new house.
There’s no cat on the sofa and there’s no swimming pool in the garden, but there’s food and clothes and a bed.

Eat, sleep, move on.

Eat, sleep, move on.

Eat, sleep, move on.

The boy is numb when he finds his first dead body. If he ignored the bullet hole in their head, the blood that splatters their shirt with morbid flowers, then he could fool himself to thinking that they were just sleeping. But even the static in his brain cannot ignore the smell that lingers.

Bakugo doesn’t stay in that house.
He takes the food left behind from the raiders and searches for anything that would mean more to him than those who had come before. Then the house is left behind and he moves on. New houses, new cupboards, new bodies to find and ignore. The fridges are no longer cold. There’s no power anymore; to the houses, to the streetlamps, but that’s okay because if Bakugo doesn’t think about it then he can’t care.
And not caring is better than caring and feeling and being anything but numb.

He steps over another body, utters an apology, and closes the front door behind him.

Eat. Sleep. Move on.

One day, he crosses the bridge.
Over the freeway, he skates along the track he used to run, with a bag on his back that holds what he has found and can carry with him; a water bottle, some shirts that caught his eye. A screwdriver for helping smash windows. A flip-knife he had found in the bottom of a tackle box.
There are other things too, that clink and rattle as he walks, but nothing that really meant anything to him.

Back then, Bakugo hadn’t thought to survive. He just meandered day to day, picking up shit that was left behind, keeping his mind blank so that he didn’t have to look at the world around him. So that he didn’t have to look at himself and face disappointment.

Eat.

Sleep.

Move on.

Then one day, when he is meant to be sleeping, he suddenly isn’t.
Screams echo in the ever-present quiet of an abandoned town. But it wasn’t completely abandoned. There is hollering in the streets. Gunfire, screaming, begging, laughing. Bakugo can’t tear his eyes away. He doesn’t want to watch, but he does.

They run her down, laughing when she screams, surrounding her and darting in to grab at her, only to dart back when she swings whatever weapon she’s holding in a last-ditch attempt to protect herself. One stays too long, pushes his luck and gets clobbered in the jaw. Goes down. Stays down when her crowbar caves his head in with a scream that could split the sky.

After that, it’s not a game.
It’s cold-blooded murder.

They empty their magazines before she’s even hit the floor.
They didn’t even give her a chance to scream.

“Hide Katsuki. You need to hide from them. Don’t let them find you. Don’t let them hurt you.”

And Bakugo realises, that although not everything is gone, there are also things that remain:
Birds and trees and ghosts of lives in old shell houses. Rain puddles and cars, strays and colours.

And people.

Bad people.

Evil people.

People that will hurt him if they find him. No-Minds and rogues and people that have let the ever-present twist their minds until they are as much a monster as those that came before, with their desire for strength and power and their delusion that people beneath them were just another source of entertainment. To be thrown into the pits and made to fight. To be chased through the streets for the thrill of the hunt.

And Bakugo could no longer simply exist.
He couldn’t ignore his parent’s memory. He couldn’t insult them like that. They died for him so that Bakugo could live, and Bakugo was so close to throwing that all away. He could no longer just drift from one place to another.

A month of sunrises since the fires burnt themselves out, Bakugo stops drifting.

He stops drifting and he starts surviving. Salvaging. Lets instinct take over. Takes what he can, what he thought was useful, or could be. He raided houses, sheds, cars. Buses and taxis. Looted backyards and garages and storage lockers. Smashed up the windows to get in, beat down the doors to get out.
Hid from the ravagers when they drove past, left no trail that would allow them to follow. Started watching his back when he walked, mapped out where he’d been, where he could go, where he knew the red-scarfed raiders holed up behind barricaded walls.

Sometimes he’d be seen and he had to run. Sometimes he’d see others and they would flee.
Sometimes there would be days of quiet, with nothing but the birds and the strays and the jangle of windchimes to break his disordered thoughts.
Other times, Bakugo would hole up where he could and hunker down when the ravagers came looting and shooting and hunting for prey.

Bakugo wasn’t their prey.
He wouldn’t let them find him. He wouldn’t let them hurt him.

Things were easier when the No-Minds came back. Or maybe they weren’t soldiers, but other raiders, or a band of survivors who were a cut above the rest. Kept their sanity and kept their strength. Banded together to live, not just to survive.
A new war lit the nights on fire. Bakugo took himself to the quiet of a familiar basement, with a mattress and blankets, comic books and a stash of food. Listened when the static couldn’t drown out the gunfire. Slept in the moments of quiet between the fighting, when the two factions took to the streets for control and power.

And then one day, there were no more hunts. There were no more gun fights, no more screaming, no more roaring engines that chases Bakugo down the streets until his lungs are tight and his chest heaves and his mind just tells him that this time he shouldn’t bother.

Bakugo doesn’t know if they were all killed, or if they were chased out, or if they left by choice. All Bakugo knows is that once more, he’s alone.
And that’s okay.

The first year was the hardest.
Autumn came in a parade of colours; so different to spring and summer when the cold prickled Bakugo’s toes as he awoke one morning. He realised that, despite the broken of everything around him, that the world hadn’t just stopped.
While he hadn’t paid attention to the days slipping past, they still had. He didn’t know how many. Didn’t think to count. Didn’t care to.

Amidst the rubble and the quiet chaos, the slow growing of grass that creeps beyond the boundary of front yards, a thought appears. A sad thought. A horrible, nasty, saddening thought that sticks to him like flies to the dead—no, such a horrible thought, don’t think about it, can’t think about it.

But the static that sometimes fills his mind won’t push the thought out.

Three sunrises later, Bakugo is standing outside his home.
He lets the static embrace him; abandons his head and focuses only on the sweat of his back, the blisters on his palms that bite every time the shovel slips, hurts, won’t dig at the tough ground. Rain would soften it, he knows, but Bakugo can’t wait any longer. He’s waited too long already. Enough that he doesn’t even recognise their faces.

It takes him all of one day and a little of the next. He hates that he forces them to share a grave, that it’s not as deep as it should be and he shouldn’t have made them wait so long.
But it’s all he can do for now.

Their headstone came from the riverbank. It’s not marble, not polished and not smooth, but it reminds him of when he and his dad used to go for treks along the lakeside and that’s enough for him. He carves their kanji from behind bleeding tears and offers wild poppies instead of words. He tried to, tried to apologise and pray and all that soul-healing nonsense that filled the memorials with sombre promises. But words choke him and Bakugo can’t sacrifice his breath. Even for them.

He cries, silently, and laughs in quiet humility when he can’t even remember if either of them like poppies.

After that, Bakugo can’t enter the house. He thought he’d return to his old childhood home. For peace of mind. For familiarity.
But Bakugo can’t even enter the house without being overwhelmed with guilt and fear and fresh tears pouring down his cheeks, enough that he doesn’t bother. Leaves the shovel, grabs his bag and his knife and his skateboard. Ignores the burst blisters on his hands, jumps the fence and doesn’t look back.
Hasn’t been back since.

Bakugo shook his head. Shook it again.
Tried to clear his mind of the past and the feelings that sat like lead around his lungs; iron bars that wound tight when he gave thought to his parents who he had abandoned, even before the End. Bakugo didn’t want to wonder if they’d be proud of him, but the thought crept up on him without him knowing until there it was sat in his mind.

He yelled out in anger at the sudden unruliness of his thoughts, scaring the birds from the trees. A trio of deer loped away from where they had been grazing up ahead, and Bakugo cursed again.
Ah well. There was no point in trying to hunt them. He had food in his pack and an empty water bottle to fill before he could even think about eating.

He pushed on.

The sun is still hot on the back of Bakugo’s neck, but the heat is beginning to taper off as the afternoon draws into early evening. Yet Bakugo’s not worried about hurrying anymore.
He is close to his hideout; closer than he thought he’d be with his delayed gait and distracted head that keeps pulling him back into memories no matter how much he just wants to just let the past lie in the past. There will be time enough when he’s stronger. When he can go home and visit their grave and say the words he couldn’t before.
Maybe. One day.
As long as he’s not killed first.

Morbid thoughts like these aren’t so much considered morbid anymore. Bakugo has come to accept it as a fact of life; after seeing so much.
Once, he worried that he had lost what it meant to be him; when thoughts refused to stay quiet as he ate, sat across from a corpse in a house much like any other. Raided and abandoned.
But Bakugo found food and he had time to sit in the dimly-light kitchen and just… sort of, stare.
He had long-since stopped conjuring stories as to who these people were before the End. Bankers, cashiers, police, accountants. It didn’t matter.
In the end, they were all just corpses.

Cold.

Bakugo may have been content in his own company, in the Before, but he was never down-right cold. He held doors when he needed to, nodded in thanks when someone did something for him, smiled to the old lady who lived near the park that couldn’t quite remember his name and just called him “sonny.” Bakugo never went out his way to be a good person, but he was polite and well-mannered to people that deserved it.
The rest of them could go fuck themselves.

Cold.

Bakugo had stared. And stared and stared, an although the disquietude in his chest felt stuffy and ill-pleasant, it wasn’t because he was staring at a corpse.
It was because he was staring at a corpse, and felt nothing. No guilt, no sympathy, no thought to anything that this man used to be or might’ve been, or still could be if he wasn’t dead.

Cold.

Bakugo had wondered, whilst sat in that stranger’s house, eating food that didn’t taste of anything, that maybe when the world broke, he had broken a little too. And kept breaking, day after day, like his soul was being eroded away by the silence. It was like he was losing parts of himself.
He no longer paid his respects to the dead when he found them. Didn’t bury them, didn’t cover them, no longer acknowledged them beyond that of a scrunch of his nose and a grumble to the flies or a complaint to the mess the wild dogs had left behind.

But beneath the ghosted-fear-fleeting-regard towards such thoughts, Bakugo already knew it was for the best: For the numb, the static to soak into him.
Seeing the dead as who they used to be wouldn’t have changed anything. It wouldn’t suddenly turn back time, wouldn’t suddenly revive them. Wouldn’t suddenly fix the long-broken world and all that’s been left behind.

Acknowledging the dead any more than a flicker of the eyes was as the same as shackling himself to all the emotion and feeling and guilt that comes with it.
If Bakugo can’t even bear the weight of visiting his parent’s grave, then why should he show any consideration to a stranger.

Sometimes though, the emotion creeps up on him.
Those nights are the hardest.

Bakugo shook his head again for what felt like the thousandth time. Tried the radio. Didn’t let himself focus on the quiet.
Coming home was always hard. The longer he spent away, the harder everything hit him when he came back to the familiar. It would only get worse the closer he got to the Observatory; he knew. But Bakugo had a week to let it all out and steel himself to come face to face with what little remained of his family. A week to bury the fear of being confronted with more missing faces.

Bakugo turned from the main avenue, once again taking his own shortcuts; cutting through over-grown gardens until he hit another street; one that curved in a more western direction than he’d been travelling. With the sun at his back and sweat on his neck, Bakugo kept on, heading towards, not home, but perhaps a place that could have be considered as such once:

The house at the end of the street.

He’d chosen this house for its position and the mundane of its exterior – neither overly wealthy nor shabby, but instead remarkably plain in such a way that any chance raider passing by wouldn’t notice it any more than an of the other houses upon the estate. Even after four summers, it was still better than many; with still-intact windows and barricaded doors, with a battered picket fence and its peeling paint, overgrown lawn and an unruly flowerbed surrounding the front of the house like a moat.
When Bakugo found it, it was almost too perfect to be true; close to the main town and yet it backed onto a stretch of the reserve. Over the years the trees had begun to envelop it, the garden having long been part of the forest even before the fences were toppled by snaking roots.

It hadn’t always been Bakugo’s. He didn’t know whose it was before the No-Mind came.
Only that after the soldiers came, the house was left empty and free for the taking.

And Bakugo took it.
Made it his own.

He jammed the doors until they were impossible to open. Destroyed the stairs so that even if entry was made to the ground floor, no one would be able to reach him on the second without alerting him.
He stashed as much of his supplies as he could there, hoarding anything he thought useful. Supplies tucked away in case it was breached and someone thought to take everything; under the floorboards, in the dead space of the walls. Wherever he could.

Even when he left for the Observatory, Bakugo had not stripped it clean. He’d left the house with provisions remaining, the idea that it was a fall-back in case he needed a safe house, or needed to stock up if ever he were passing through.

It wasn’t the only stockade Bakugo had set up. He had them all over: A few in each town or city he visited in his mission to rid the world of as many No-Mind soldiers as he could, clearing out rogue scavengers that could harm him, or harm those back at the base. Some places, like the canoe shed, were out of the way. Some were even just in the wild themselves, half buried in iceboxes near natural landmarks, sometimes near a river, or stream or a rock outcropping that would serve to shelter him from the rain.
Again, on the slight chance that he would pass that way again and not have to suffer with a poor scavenge.

No longer drifting. He was surviving.

But in those early months, at the turn of Autumn, the threat of the No-Mind remained. Even though the ravagers had been flushed out and there was no sign of the murders, there had still been no way of knowing if they were to return. Or others, coming to pillage and steal and burn the town into ash.
And Bakugo stops drifting and starts surviving. He was going to fight for his right to live.

The town was a goldmine.
It didn’t matter that the No-Mind burnt everything they could when they first invaded, that those that were left behind broke what remained. The town was big enough that every expedition, ever venture from the house as the end of the street had Bakugo returning day after day with more and more supplies. Non-perishables, medicines, blankets, clothes.
The important things came first, the eye-catching if he had a spare pocket.

He stops drifting and starts surviving. He starts scavenging. Falls into a routine.
He hordes like the world is going to end all over again; salvages what he can and stashes it away. He takes knives from kitchens, every length of string, small tools, medical tools, heavy-enough-to-be-weapon tools.

He took books from shelves and books from shops. Fishing books, hunting books, medicine books and garden books. Kitchens held more knives than he could carry but leaving them for enemy raiders was as stupid as suicide. They all came, but not all of them made it back to the house.
He needed room for other stuff; for bandages and plasters, for medicine and gauze and alcohol. He found matches and fire-starters, coal from the hearth or coal from the barbeques.

Bakugo raided an off-street family-run camping shop and hit lucky with rope and mini-stoves, gas and flashlights, canteens, kits. An old radio that no one responded to.
A cop’s house gave him a handgun. Another voiceless radio. Hiking boots two sizes too big.
His Mom said he’d grow into them, so he took them too.

The first winter was fought off with thick clothes, socks, blankets and ¬just-add-water hot chocolate boiled on his make-shift stove from the hollowed-out chimney in the house at the end of the street. Boredom was fought off with paper-back books and hardback books, sketchpads and coloured pencils, photo albums and an old watercolour set that reminded him of the mundane hours of art class before the End.
There was a room for the alcohol, the bandage dressings, the clean clothes, gloves, shoes, coats, bags. Room for candles, for rope and string and spare sheets, for batteries and lighters and a carton of cigarettes that he had grabbed but never opened.

A week.

It took Bakugo a whole week to board up the house at the end of the street.

The stairs went first.
Non-important shit stayed downstairs, and it was a hassle to climb the dresser he deemed his climbing aide, and wrangle the opening for a handhold to pull himself up, but it was important. Everything else that he needed, everything else that he needed to protect was kept closer to him, in the bedrooms. The medicine and the guns were kept in the attic, next to his own makeshift bed where he holed up each night; his eye on the window and a thought to how long he was going to make it in this small town.
A day at a time, he told himself.
And a day at a time he took it.

It wasn’t just enough to horde and protect. He needed to deter others. Raiders, rogues, No-Mind scouts.
Bakugo attacked street walls, signs, smashed up cars and graphitised others. Crossed the doors of scavenged houses with black paint, sprayed the road with red where he could.


‘Disease’

‘Keep Away’

For a time uncounted, Bakugo didn’t just survive.

He lived.

The town was his kingdom and the house was his castle. He learnt not to care for the lingering hollowness that crept up when the silence did. He took up running again. With a pack and a gun and a goal in mind, he’d run from waking, down to the stream that trickled towards lake. He’d swim if it was hot. Wash if he was dirty.
When the sun was warm and he had no need to run or hunt or re-visit already scavenged houses, Bakugo would find a flat roof with a book and a taste for a more focused static. Adventures were found here, as well as between the folds of the blankets on a day when the rain convinced him there was no need to head outside.

Roofs were good vantage points to hunt. To observe. To watch and wait until the sun fell if he felt so inclined to do so.
This was his kingdom. Here he was king.
Here, he could do as he damn well pleased.

When the deer wandered back down from the west slopes, Bakugo penned them in. It took a while; the chore was almost something he could consider as fun, figuring out how he could do it, breaking old fences to stack up as new ones, learning to weave his own wire-meshing to provide a semi-shelter to keep out the rabbits and protect the vegetation.
But the fucking rabbits got in anyway.
It didn’t matter. They bred faster than the deer, and although the mesh didn’t stop them from crossing the fence border, it kept out most could-be predators and convinced the wild shits to stay in the general area. It made hunting easier.
Until Bakugo lost his taste for rabbit and venison, and took up fishing in the rain-flooded river.

He hid from the No-Mind, sheltered from storms and cultivated his own gardens of fruit and vegetables. The local park did well, but so did close-by gardens, made bigger by tearing down trees. Orchards sprung up here and there, the smell of apple blossom a welcome greeting come the morning run.
Bakugo raided the allotments for seeds to spread around, hoping that if there were more plants, then come harvest he’d be more likely to have a decent haul for a fair few weeks.

Tinned food was rationed for harsher months should the planted gardens fail him, but an autumn, a winter and a spring past and still came the growing bud on the apple trees, promising fruit in the summer.

The trees did well by themselves, but the vegetables and fruits were ripe for the picking for rodents. Bakugo didn’t care too much about the wildlife pilfering his shit, but he didn’t open his gates for them to help themselves either. He knew he couldn’t eat it all and he could always eat the pheasants and the ducks if he caught them. Still. It was Bakugo’s food.
So, he constructed simple snares; some made for catching, some made to set off jangling chimes to scare away the pests, all learnt from a handbook guide that Bakugo had taken from some house, back when scavenging was his routine and living day to day was his security.

He was living.
In a kingdom of his own, with a castle and walls and freedom he could only have ever imagined from Before.

He had everything he wanted.

Except, company.

Because Bakugo was alone.
And that’s okay, he told himself, because alone was safer. Lonely, but safer. Easier. He didn’t have to share his food, didn’t have to worry about his small corner of the world being broken any more than it had been, didn’t have to worry about the possibility of betrayal that would plague him, day to day, day to day…

But still, Bakugo was lonely.
Running more didn’t stop the want, the added chores of perimeter checks and re-reading field guides, re-working the gardens to try and make their growths more optimal even as he grows more than he can ever possibly hope to eat.

He’s lonely.

When Bakugo fishes by the river or hurls stones at the trees, screams into the echoing silence, he’s still lonely. When Bakugo lies awake at night, with a single candle in the corner of the room and the rain pattering on the tiled roof and he swears he can hear someone calling his name, he’s still lonely.

Bakugo could never escape the reality, no matter how much he tried. He was alone and he had been for a long time.
And this? This wasn’t living. It was surviving, but it wasn’t living.

Too afraid, despite the want of another to spar with, to parry his words and his wit and banter, Bakugo never considered to venture past his kingdom walls. Too afraid of being caught off guard by the No-Mind, too scared of getting lost in the great wide out-there with no way to return to the safety he’s built from the remains of what once was.

He was too scared to leave, because he was feared he wasn’t strong enough to return.

Pathetic.

Summer soon gave way to Autumn, snow fell and thawed, flowers bloomed and the chill left the morning air. But with the returning of the birds, suddenly there came a familiar, yet terrifying grumble of a metal beast, waking from a long slumber.

Once, it had been just another everyday noise that would barely call for a glance of the eye or a turn of the head.
But, living in this world of silence, to Bakugo it had been nothing less than an earthshattering roar that always came before the hollering of the ravagers and the fear that this time, this time, he wasn’t going to outlast the soldiers. This time, he was going to fall.

The noise had woken Bakugo from a late-morning doze, late enough that the sun had lifted from the treeline, long enough that the lingering fog of a cold night had been washed away leaving a promising warm day in its wake. Usually, good weather would’ve seen Bakugo venture further from his usual trail, maybe push for the lake, or perhaps have him heading further south towards the football stadium where he’d kick balls into the goal and yell at the tops of his lungs for the sake of listening to the echo that replied.

But the noise in the street stole every thought of the mundane from him, leaving Bakugo with nothing but the pressing fear and panic that came with the ravagers or the No-Mind or any other ungodly twisted human that sought to take everything away from him.
But Bakugo wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Bakugo was going to defend his home.

Scared, – there was no doubt he was fucking scared, but the boy had already learnt that hard way that hesitating would get him killed faster than not – Bakugo grabbed the hunting rifle from where he had left it the night before, scrambling from a nest of blankets to the attic’s south facing window where it looked upon the empty street.

The street wasn’t empty.

Outside, just a few hundred feet from Bakugo’s castle, were two strangers. Two boys, hunched near the driver’s side of a car, one reaching in to fumble with its system while the other keeps his eye on the street, gun sights swinging around at every creaking branch, every hooted call from the encroaching forest trees.
They’re both laden with packs, each holding a gun although the one with the two-toned hair is more focused on trying to get the car to start, leaving his six to the short, panicked green-head who holds his weapon uncertainly, intent on just abandoning the car, because “it won’t work, the frost would’ve killed it’s battery like all the others. Todoroki let’s go.”

They’re Bakugo’s age, he thinks, staring between panic, confusion and a faint sort of relief that he’s not the only one left in a world ravaged by rogues and No-Mind scum.

“The tank hasn’t been touched so all it would need is a way to jumpstart the battery.”
“And how would we do that?” the little gremlin hissed. “The car is dead, Todoroki. The town is dead. We’re not going to find anything even if we did look. We’re better off just sticking with the plan and hiding from the ravagers on foot. They’d hear a car engine from miles off. We don’t want to broadcast our location.”
The kid’s spike of anger or fear or whatever freezes Bakugo where he watched them, muscles tight, chest tighter. His finger twitched as he steadied it on the trigger.

As if they had heard something, the two of them suddenly snap their guns in the same direction, as if they’re expecting the No-Mind to burst out from one of the abandoned houses or from behind an abandoned car. Bakugo feels himself holding his breath as their guns point down one of his make-shift paths where he took out the fences to rebuild again deeper in the trees when he corralled the deer—shit, shit! The deer, the garden plots, all his hard work—fuck.
Fuck! They can’t, they can’t—

“—probably just a wild dog,” two-tone breathes into the silence, although the pair waited another moment before they shook out their stance and turned back to one another. “The car’s engine was bound to stir something.” The shorter still eyes the alley. “Well I don’t want to stick around to find out what. C’mon. We should move before anything comes looking.”

They continue to talk, turning away, their voices lowered enough that Bakugo can no longer hear them. He’s pressed close to the wall, mind racing with questions as he watches them from his hiding place. Should he call out? Or should he remain quiet?
Would the two move on and leave him be?

Suddenly, Bakugo doesn’t know what to do. With ravagers and raiders, he knows the drill: hide, hunt, protect.
But these aren’t raiders. Scavengers perhaps. Armed, but they resonate more with Bakugo than any black-clothed monster ever could.

If he called out to them, would they help him? Or would they attack him?

Before Bakugo could make up his mind, the intruders began to make their way down the street, slow in their movements, but on edge, on the lookout for anyone that was watching them. Little did they know that Bakugo was doing just that, watching the way they moved, together but separate, taking up a different side of the street, glancing into houses and cars as they passed.

And Bakugo kept watching.

But instead of feeling relief at the sight of the fleeing figures, Bakugo could only feel trepidation; a faint fear prickling underneath his skin, until his fingers were cold and the gun shifted in clammy hands.
What if they killed off the deer? What if they broke his fences and destroyed the gardens, the plots, the water supply? What if they decided to stay and took it all for themselves?

What if they ruined what took him months to build, to preserve…?

He couldn’t. He couldn’t. He couldn’t, he couldn’t, he couldn’t—

Bakugo moves without thinking, shifting onto one knee, eye on the sights sweeping left, over the shorter, smaller— “What was that?” and suddenly the half n’ half is at the end of the barrel, wary and cautious as his eyes sweep the seemingly empty street.

“What’s what?” the shorter asks, already on edge, whipping back to face the way they had come, turning this way and that as if the two-tone’s words hadn’t just alluded to the fear of being watched, but confirmed it.
“Todoroki?”
“I think…. I thought I heard something.”
“From the alley?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure Midoriya, but I don’t think there are any soldiers,” Todoroki says, reposition his gun, straightening up to roll his shoulders but he can’t quite shake off the tension. “If there were any here, we would’ve seen more signs as we headed in. Heard something, like gunfire. And it’s not like they play tricks. They would’ve just attacked us head on as soon as they knew we were here.”
As if that solves their problem, the boy turns to continue on the street.

Midoriya, unnerved by the distance, crosses to join the taller. He still can’t help to hesitate, his eyes scanning the houses, the runways between them, behind, the alley, scanning everywhere for a chance of a threat. Anything… anything…

“I don’t think we should be here—”

The shot echoed out across the abandoned town, shattering the silence with its thunderous roar.

But it was nothing to the horror of the scream that followed; a blood curdling wail that pitched in pain as the world shifted in that one instant. But it was not the boy who had been shot that scream, but his companion: Gaunt, pale, panicking as the boy of red and white fell to the floor, blood across his face, gun dropped in the confusion, adrenaline, shock, everything—

“Todoroki, Todoroki!” His panic pulled him in, down, one knee settled on the sharp of the tarmac, the danger so very there in the front of his mind but all he could think, see, feel—

Blood.

Blood, blood, blood.

Blood on his hands, blood on his chest, blood on the gun that he abandons in favour of pressing his hands over the quickly-growing stain, over Todoroki’s shoulder where the bullet had devoured flesh and chipped bone.
“Gun,” is all the boy chokes out, pushing Midoriya away in favour of reaching for his gun, eyes already searching for the enemy, barrel up and swinging, pushing at Midoriya to move, move Midoriya, we’re still in danger.

And Midoriya listens, tries to move him, hands still grabbing as adrenaline and fear and everything comes crashing down; mind too loud, thoughts erratic within the torrent of emotion.

Bakugo just watched from his window. Silent.
Static had filled his mind once more, his own brain numb with flurried thoughts, staring at the blood, the pain, the tears, trying to understand why…

They weren’t raiders. They weren’t No-Mind.

So why…

Why had he attacked them?
Was it just because he was protecting himself? From them? Had they given him cause to attack beyond that of ‘a maybe.’ ‘A might.’
They might find his gardens and destroy them after taking what they want.
They might destroy his fences and free the deer, kill them all for the sake of killing…

Or, was it something else?

An undying madness that had festered in the long silence, feeding on the disquietude and his unruly anger towards those that had stolen from him. Twisted itself into something he had seen that would help him, help to strengthen him, to protect himself. Festering, drawing power in the damning silence until it was strong, so strong, strong enough that the first hint of provocation caused him to lash out. Violent. Without hesitation.
Even if the cause was simply the sight of two strangers who didn’t even know he was there.

But it didn’t matter to the madness.
If there was a chance that they would bring him harm, then he had to put them down first. Abandon his humanity and embrace the need to kill anything that poses a threat to him and his kingdom. That was how he would survive.

Kill the Ravagers. The Raiders. The No-Mind rogues.

Even two lone scavengers, just like him.

But Bakugo is far from anything like them, when he resorts to violence so quickly. Instead of like them, he was just like the soldiers, turning upon people like they had, relinquishing his mind to the madness of the monster that hungered for bloodlust. For power.
And Bakugo, dim within his own mind had known that he wanted power. Not over others like the soldiers, but he wanted power and security in strength. Within his own kingdom. So that he could be safe.

Their being here challenged that. Challenged the monster that Bakugo was becoming and he slowly drifted into madness. Madness from loneliness. Feral, animal-like.
Until he was the monster.

Perhaps he already was.

The green-haired boy is still caught in panic, half his mind towards the focus of protecting his companion, his gun once more in his hand as the other claims that the wound is only a graze, it’s fine, “don’t worry Midoriya. The bleeding is already beginning to clot.”
And it was; the wound having only been a graze and a burn from where bullet chipped bone and left no lasting damage beyond that of pain and loss of blood.

Now panic can be given to the fear of being hunted, as their minds return to the fact that they remain out in the open.
Midoriya takes note, quick for his mind to settle amidst the bubbling panic, the need to protect pulling him up, Todoroki beside him, standing and leaning all at once as they rushed behind the car that they had been trying to start, for at least the illusion of protection from Bakugo’s rifle.

But Bakugo hadn’t shot at them again.
Something in their reactions had stumped him, jarred the static and allowed clarity to fill his head as if he wasn’t the Bakugo who survived the End, but the Bakugo from Before; who was polite when he needed to be, amiable outwardly and considerate to those that deserved it.

He didn’t really understand why the pair had earned his consideration. Perhaps it was the faint feeling of guilt when he regarded Todoroki’s injury, or maybe it was the emotion Midoriya showed when his companion was hurt beyond anger, amusement or the idea to just put a bullet in his head and keep walking.

Not like the No-Mind.

So Bakugo faced them. Met them in the street and faced them.
He still aired on the side of caution, his gun raised and his tongue curled with a biting tone when he demanded to know who they were and where they had come from.

The Observatory.

As if Bakugo would’ve believed as such.

He hadn’t at first, even after forcing them behind his castle walls, at gun point, and held Todoroki still while they explained.
Or more so, Midoriya had been the one to explain, as much as he could; the boy halfway through one heart attack and well on his way to another as Bakugo’s rifle remained trained between half n’ half’s eyes, finger firmly on the trigger and having already proven that he’ll take the shot, the small green-haired boy didn’t want to take any chances with the boy’s life.
The rifle wasn’t a high-powered weapon, but any bullet to the brain would be enough to kill.

Todoroki, the bastard, had acted disinterested from the very beginning. He only showed emotion to that little Deku shit, reassuring him that the bullet didn’t hurt him as the runt cleaned and dressed it; allowed of course, by Bakugo, who wouldn’t admit the sliver of guilt every time he saw half n’ half supress a wince behind bitten lips.
It was their fault for trespassing, he told himself. It was survivor’s instinct that had him take the shot.

But that damn Todoroki bastard hadn’t changed at all. Not while Midoriya told Bakugo of the Observatory or of those that were already living there, trying to build it into something that would last. And gods, Deku just kept on talking, all at once and all too much for Bakugo who had been alone for months, and now faced with a runt that didn’t shut up.

But there, in the palm of his hands, was the possibility that he wouldn’t have to remain alone. The chance that he could banish the silence, shed away the static and be more than just a survivor, by himself, with the remaining risk of rogues and invaders and No-Mind soldiers to come back and finish the job they started all those months ago.

The Observatory.

And Bakugo believed as such.

Not at first, but over time, as he listened to Deku’s chatter (Bakugo didn’t remember when he gave the blockhead that nickname, but he had and it just stuck) as he went on about those who were already there, the plans they had to turn it into a sanctuary for other survivors and a footstone to begin rebuilding. He listened to the pair’s stories, about how they had escaped from the chaos that the No-Mind brought to their city when they had first attacked, and how others they had all found their way to the mountains under the guidance of a man called All Might.

Bakugo had a while to listen, after allowing the pair to settle in the lower level of his castle. Caution told him to keep the two of them close, where he could keep an eye on them better.
Besides, Todoroki needed the rest. Even if he denied to show that he was in any sort of pain.
But it was obvious that he was, even to Bakugo who had barely known the boy for longer than a few hours.

Then the fever came and he became severely ill; ill enough that after three days of chatter, Deku fell unnaturally quiet. For hours, he knelt by the half n’ half’s side, dabbing his brow with a damp cloth, trying to coax him into drinking, doing everything he could to make him comfortable.
There was more there than comradery, more there than simple brotherhood in fighting an endless war together, as Deku dabbed Todoroki’s brow and whispered softly to him, told him that they would be heading home soon, that the pain would go and maybe, just maybe, they might be able to find some freeze-dried noodles and some spices in one of the old houses.

Bakugo found it uncomfortable to watch. He wasn’t a pissant fucking homophobe or any of that old-generation shit that decided what always was would always be and that everything had to be white, not black, everything had to be right, not wrong, not go against their pure shit, their church shit, their old judging ways—

No, Bakugo found it uncomfortable because the softness Deku gave his boyfriend was something that Bakugo wanted and wanted never to have. He had never considered it in the Before, but in the After, just seeing the pair of them was enough to warn Bakugo from ever accepting another to be his weakness, like the two had each other.

Jealousy and hope warred inside the boy, but none was shown as the thoughts were stamped out and buried deep beneath fear as the days dragged and Todoroki showed no sign of fighting his fever, and Deku, growing increasingly quiet until one day Bakugo woke to puffy red eyes and a dead-man’s ghost slumped where Deku had been.

When the quiet came rushing back in, there was no static to soften the blow. It was as if Deku had torn down all the walls in the boy’s mind with his rambling, and, for Bakugo, the idea of returning to those silent days or boring routine and endless silence…

It scared him.

He didn’t want to be alone.
Not anymore.

Then, once Todoroki was fully healed, Bakugo accepted the invitation to return to the mountains with them. It was just under a week’s journey of walking, around the lake, along the road, up the mountain slopes until they found a large scientific facility nestled out of sight beneath the tall evergreens with some of the facility built beneath ground, making it much larger than it looked like from the outside.

Bakugo was welcomed, with open arms and open hearts, with many of those already in-charge impressed with what he had built and protected, all by himself. To him it was simple, to them they marvelled at his ideas and the prowess of his ability when he hunted in the evergreens for fresh game when it was his turn for such a chore.
Most of the time, he and others would venture down back to his old kingdom and take what they could. Clothes, food supplies, weapons and how-to-books that would teach others skills that Bakugo had drilled into his head for the sake of surviving.

Things got a lot easier when they figured out how to jumpstart a car. It wasn’t anything big, just a German-made diesel engine that changed the five-day journey into a five-hour drive, meaning that they didn’t have to skimp on what they were carrying. They could just load it all into the car and hike it back up the mountains.

The car turned into three.

Suddenly, they were exploring much further than they could before, covering ground much quicker.

They found Tsuyu and her family along the roadside. They found Iida raiding an in-store pharmacy for his older brother. They, and many more just like them, were brought back to the Observatory, to be treated for their injuries and welcomed into camp, just like Bakugo had.

As the community began to grow, so too did their plans for the future.
The older ones trained to fight, to hunt and protect. Bakugo thrived in this new world and his strength grew every day. He would lead other volunteers to go out past the walls; to find more survivors and supplies and anything that would help his new people prosper.

Soon there were familiar faces that joined him with every trip:
Midoriya and Todoroki, of course, never leaving one another’s sides. Uraraka, who was stronger than she appeared and packed a decent punch if a joke ever crossed a line. Iida was never Bakugo’s favourite person, but he always considered risks others would most likely overlook and had gotten them out of a few tricky situations with his level-headed smarts.
Sometimes Tsuyu tagged along, sometimes it was one of the older kids or, on a rare occasion, Jiro when they needed to work out how to expand their communication network or she just wanted to hack into a lock box rather than trying to hack into radio transmission.

They all grew closer to one another as the days stretched into weeks. Into months.
Sure, they fought and they argued and they screamed bloody murder when things got too much. But they were Bakugo’s family and he would’ve given the world for them.
He’d never say it out loud. But it was fine.
They all knew anyway.

The rest each found their place in the survivor’s camp, using their skills to work together.
The system worked. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. Everyone found a place in the Observatory where they could use their skills, or learn new ones to help the community thrive as they built up their lives in the mountains.

Not drifting.

Not surviving.

Living.

There was Yagi (or All Might, as Deku and the kids referred to him as, because he shared remarkable resemblance to one of the superheroes out of some salvaged comic book collection), who worked hard for the sake of the others and took up a paternal role for many that had lost who they used to look up to in the Before.
He stood as an honorary leader, much like many of the older survivors in the camp.
There was Enji too. He was a cold bastard like Todoroki and more often than not could be heard arguing some dispute with Yagi. But Bakugo didn’t have much to do with him and the asshole pulled his own weight so there was no reason to give more thought to the man than necessary.

There were more who offered their thoughts and words, but Yagi and Enji were as close to as leaders as anyone could consider, but as much as they helped made rulings and decisions for the community, they weren’t the only one with voices nor were they the deciding factor at the end of every council meeting.

Bakugo was one such individual, who not only had a place when the counsel was held, but had a voice to speak, to argue for or against, even if he was still but a kid in comparison to others. His place was given to him, not just for his wits and smarts and ability to survive, but also because he went on raids more periodically than any of the adults.
Bakugo and his friends would often be called upon in council to discuss group movements, as they had more of an idea of what was going on beyond the Observatory’s borders.

It was part of the system.
It worked.

The people were peaceful, productive. They didn’t just survive. They lived, building families, making their lives mean something more than just the role they found in the Observatory, the role they found in the community as it grew and grew, and crops grew with the seasons, animals were farmed, people lived.

But nothing was perfect.
But there were still casualties.

Families were torn apart when raids went wrong. Mistakes were made, costing them a brother, a sister, a friend who was captured, tortured, taken prisoner and carted away to rot behind the towering walls of the No-Mind’s empire.

It was Bakugo’s fault.

Bakugo’s mistake.

Bakugo’s responsibility.

It was meant to be simple. They’d already hit the No-Mind’s hideout some six-months prior; sneaking past their outer perimeter in the dead hours of early morning, skimming the convoy before it was set to head out, taking what they could carry and then some.
None of them were spotted and none of them left behind a clue to say that they had been.
It had worked perfectly.

So, the fuckers grew cocky.

Bakugo took his friends back again.
Jiro had tapped into the radio frequently and infrequently, passing time and monitoring the No-Mind close to their base. Pure luck, Bakugo had thought when she overheard a transmission from the base to another with information that there was another haul heading out. They were clearing the base – a mishap of elderly care homes built on top of a local surgery that gave the No-Mind who camped there a sturdy, easily accessible base with its own back-up generator. It’s why they stayed in the area for so long, even after having exhausted themselves on trashing up the nearby tourist district – and would be a decent chance to swipe some more supplies before the No-Mind packed up everything and dragged themselves away from the mountains, back towards their festering pit of the new capital.

Bakugo held himself responsible. He was the one that had agreed to run point on the mission. He was the one that had decided to take it to his team, to overrule Yagi’s caution that twice in one location was risky and there would be risks, “watch out for the risks my boy. And watch out for your friends too.”

Bakugo was the one that led the raid.
He was the one responsible, his judgement the one they all relied on, choosing to continue when Iida spied more than the broadcast number of No-Mind loading themselves and their gear onto heavy-duty off-road trucks. Bakugo and the others had left theirs in town, far enough from their border patrols, rolling in as the clouds followed, bringing fresh rain and a scent of turned earth that would always remain in Bakugo’s mind.

The team had reached sooner than they thought they would. It was lighter in the evening. Less cover of shadows from the dark. The rain still drizzled, steeping into the mud at the base of the trees, their roots reaching in a whorl of treacherous paths amongst the overgrown bushes and trees of what could’ve been a park once.
Then, it was a place to hide, to bury themselves in the dancing shadows while the No-Mind cursed at the rain and pissed about in an uncoordinated manner, lugging trunks and crates and other shit that would be ripe for the picking if they just fucking chose to get out of the rain.

They do.

And there’s their moment.

It was a simple mission.
Get in, get out. Get back to camp.

But suddenly, alarms are blaring, the lights are flashing, Bakugo can hear screaming, hear himself screaming as he yells at them to get past the outer gates, having shot out the tyre of a truck that had slammed into the wall, trying to block their escape, the driver already dead from another bullet. Bakugo’s, another No-Mind’s, it doesn’t matter.

It was muddy.
Hard to run.

Bakugo is on point, having been bringing up the rear and now he’s leading from the front, taking out the other No-Mind that was pulling at the metal make-shift gate. But he’s not anymore, he’s dead, or dying, but he hasn’t driven the truck into the gate and that’s good enough as Bakugo barrels through, secures it, turns on his heel as he sets his sights on the black-clad soldiers that chase his friends as they follow him past the warped walls and tangled barbwire.

Iida.

A shot to a No-Mind sniper up on the wall. Another on the second floor, firing from a smashed window. He took a bullet to the chest. Dead, immediately.
There was no remorse.

Tsuyu.

Two doors swung wide at the side of the building; half-armoured soldiers bursting through with loaded guns and leering smiles that still haunted Bakugo in the dark hours. They’re dead though. He and Iida killed them in a spray of bullets.

Jiro.

Iida took up point on the other side of the gate, torn between yelling at Uraraka to take cover and to watch out behind them in case the No-Mind were beyond the walls and were moving into flank them. Bakugo didn’t have time to worry about that. All he could think was point, shoot, reload.
Point, shoot reload.

Tokoyami stumbles through the gate next, dragging his younger brother, Hakaku, by the hand, their weapons lost but the stash of their stolen goods the armour that absorbs bullets and rain as they barrel through the gate and don’t stop to turn back, Uraraka on their tail.
Tsuyu and Jiro have gone on ahead too; Iida, Uraraka and Bakugo holding down the line as more and more nightmare soldiers bubble from the depths of the base.

“In the watchtower,” someone yells, but by the time Bakugo turns to train his sights, the soldier is slumped over the barrier, gun slack, body slack, c’mon, got to stay focused. Got to stay fighting.
Two more fall near the north doors. One behind the remaining team. Two that come charging from the rear of the building.

Shinso doesn’t just barrel towards the hole in the gate, soldiers on his heel that he kicks at, blasts his pistol point blank and leaps over the hood of the trunk, taking off for the treeline.
Bakugo doesn’t watch them go. He just listens to Iida, to Uraraka pulling back, his finger still jammed against the trigger, feeling the cool metal under his sweaty palms.

And Deku.

“Deku, run you bastard!”

Deku, who came last.

“Don’t look back! Just run!”

Deku, who ran with all his might, pack discarded, gun slipping from sweaty hands in desperation to shed just that little more weight to speed himself up and breakthrough the enclosing bodies that chased after him.

“Run!”

Deku, who fell as he raced towards the gate, a scream echoing up into the cold, rain-filled sky as blood filled the hole the bullet left behind; shot through the leg by a No-Mind grunt with a lucky shot.

“Run!”

Deku, who lost words to his fear, his screams nothing but noise and echoes ringing out as they grab him, pin him under their weight, a boot on his back, hands forcing his face down into the mud.

“DEKU!”

Bakugo’s own screams lifted from the silence, calling out for the boy as the Soldiers began to drag him back, their grips too tight, their anger far too violent, their hate far too volatile.
They were going to kill him.

They were going to kill him.

“DEKU!”
“Bakugo, you can’t,” someone yelled, an arm around Bakugo, a grip just as strong as the soldiers that drag the boy further and further, Shinso and Iida grabbing Bakugo and pulling him back towards the gates.

“He’s right there!”
Right there.

The gates were closing, the soldiers swarming forwards.
Deku, still screaming.

The gates closing, and Bakugo unable to reach Deku from where he is. Gun forgotten, fighting the hands that hold onto him, pull on him, drag him back just as hands drag at Deku. He fights them, but they are overpowering in strength and number.

The gates closing, as Bakugo hit and kicked, fighting tooth and nail, with all the strength he possessed. Arms wrap around his waist; tears pressed into his back, begging ripping into him to run, “please, please Bakugo we have to run!”
The rain continues to pour. Hands circle around his wrists, his stomach, latching onto loose clothing to pull him back and back and back.

The gates, closing.

Deku has stopped screaming now. He’s crying, shaking out the pain from a boot to the face, spitting out blood as it dribbled down his chin, eyes searching for his family, but he cannot find them as the No-Mind drag him further and further away.

“MIDORIYA!”

The gates closed.

And Deku, still trapped inside.
Still in the clutches of the monsters who would torture him, destroy him, break him and every bone in his body, before finally, finally killing him as he begged for it all to be over.

And Bakugo was forced to abandon him.

The No-Mind were regrouping, swarming past the blocked gate, circling around the sides to try and cut the group off before they could flee. Bakugo didn’t want to flee. He wanted to fight.
But there were too many for his gun to take down, too many for his low ammo, his own spoils of the raid latched to his back, mind static, buzzing, confused and turned that he can’t help but follow the tugging on his wrist, following the weight on his coat as Uraraka pulled and Shinso guided.
They spilled into the treeline, running, following the sounds of one another crashing through the undergrowth, none of them daring to stop even as the rain fell harder and the night grew colder.

When Shinso finally let go, they couldn’t see anyone chasing them.

And in the moment Shinso finally let go, Bakugo turned around, as if planning to charge right back to the No-Mind camp and raze it to the ground. But that purple-loving bastard and glasses barred his path.

“We can’t leave him!” he yelled, his exhaustion giving way to anger-fear-guilt-rage-frustration as he faces that truth that he can’t do jack shit. It is the frustration that claws up out of his throat in a guttural scream, cursing the rain, cursing Shinso and Iida and Deku himself, hands fisting into his hair, looking for pain or a fight or a No-Mind to beat into oblivion because Deku—

Because Deku…

“We have to go back.”
“Bakugo, we can’t go back,” Shinso says, moving closer so that he is in reach of the boy to grab him, should he decide that he is going to charge back there and take on the whole encampment by himself. With all of their emotions running so high right now, it wouldn’t surprise Shinso if the kid was going to do exactly that.

Everyone else just fell, slumped where they stood, some trying to hide the rain that trickles down their face, others baring their hurt to the sky or leaning on another just for the slight sense of comfort. “He’s gone,” Uraraka whispered, leaning bodily into Iida, keeping him up as much as he was holding her. “He’s dead, he’s dead,” she repeated wetly, mouth barely brushing past his name as she stares at nothing, eyes too distant to see the way Bakugo turned on her, fists curled, snarl biting at the lie that spewed from her mouth.

“He’s not dead,” he yelled, voice calling louder than the rising wind, narrow eyes daring her to step into the ring and face him. But Tsuyu took that role, her small, limber body stepping in front of the pair to face Bakugo directly. “We can’t go back—”
“He’s not dead!”

But even if Deku was not dead, they could not go back for him.

They were all exhausted, their supplies greatly reduced from the unforeseen fight.
Besides, now the No-Mind knew that there were scavengers in the area they wouldn’t be so lax with their guard. They wouldn’t be able to break in again, even with the eight of them working together. It would be suicide.

Bakugo had already lost Deku. His conscious couldn’t carry any more.

Neither could it carry the weight of all those at camp. Because maybe, maybe Bakugo’s mistake had endangered the entire camp, with the No-Mind deciding that they won’t leave the area until they had wiped out the remaining survivors.
They’d torture Deku of course. To find out what he knew.
They’d torture him just for the hell of it anyway, but the No-Mind would jump on any reason to bleed a kid until he begged for death.

They’d torture him, and then they’d kill him.

The journey back to the Observatory started out slow. When Bakugo readjusted his bag, cocked his gun and set off for the mountains, everyone followed. Silent and sombre they followed behind, steps heavy, slowed down with the weight of the supplies they had stolen.
Weighed down with the heaviness of having lost their friend. Their brother.

Midoriya.

What would Todoroki say? When Bakugo returned to the camp, without Deku and his incessant chatter trailing behind, how could Bakugo tell him that he was gone. How could he tell Todoroki that he had been the one to kill him?
Because that was how Bakugo saw it. He was the one that had killed Deku. He had allowed the boy to come.
He was the one that pushed for the raid, the one that gathered his friends and rallied them to follow him…

Jiro’s radio had been destroyed in the raid; the covering damaged and the rain had got in. There was no way to call ahead, no way to prepare them for the worst, no way to say that they had survived and to be expected, and that’s why the watch on the wall caught them in his sights, calling out that “they’ve returned. Someone go fetch Yagi, they’ve returned.”

Eight of them returned to camp.

Eight.
Not nine.

Everyone had gathered at the gates, relief upon their faces and within the smiles they offer as their friends return.
Iida’s brother and step-sister embraced him as soon as he caught sight of them, the brother’s usual stoic characters stowed behind the overwhelming solace after too-long radio silence.
Tsuyu’s family embraced her, as did Uraraka’s, their tears and laughter echoed amongst the other survivors as they all crowded to celebrate the return of their nine victorious soldiers.

Nine.
Not eight.

Nine joyous, spirited survivors with humorous stories to share and more surprises to offer the Observatory as they always had whenever they returned from their missions.
Nine, not eight tired kids with broken spirits and blisters and open wounds. Too many to count. None serious enough to care. Because the biggest wound… the biggest pain…

“Midoriya? Where’s Midoriya?”

It was Todoroki who called out for him first.

“Midoriya?”

It was Todoroki who called out, but it was no one who answered him. No one wanted to be the one to tell him the truth. No one wanted to be the one that said out loud, that told the silence, that breathed life into the truth that Midoriya was gone and they had lost him and they could not bring him back.

Bakugo watched in morose silence, the last to pass through the gates, that last to want to return without the idiot that he would never admit was his friend. But somehow, over time, the two of them had been friends. And Bakugo lost him.

Faced with Todoroki’s growing panic, the boy also felt fear. Hollowness. Emptiness, left behind when he had left Deku behind in the hands of the nightmare soldiers.

His friend.

“Todoroki,” Yagi had said softly, a hand reaching out, but not quick enough when the boy caught sight of Bakugo, rushing to him, grabbing him, begging him.

“Bakugo, where’s Midoriya?”

But Bakugo could not answer.

The Observatory gates closed behind him.
Midoriya had not followed.
Todoroki, falling into his panic as the grip on Bakugo’s shoulder turned bitingly painful, his strength shaking him, tears already in his eyes as his mind offered the truth but he will not accept it. He cannot. Because Midoriya is not… he’s not…

“He’s… he…I…”

Bakugo stared up into those two eyes. Devastation and despair reflected from his own.

Three days it had taken the group to move from the No-Mind hideout back to the mountains.
Three days of unimaginable silence, three days that Bakugo had spent every waking hour hating himself, dreading the return to camp, dreading what Todoroki would say to him when he was forced to tell him that he had gotten his boyfriend killed. Dreaded to tell Todoroki that it was all his fault.

Over and over he played it out in his head, struggling to find the right words to say, if there any words at all.

Three days dreading the fallout of tearing Todoroki’s world from its roots, and now that he stands face to face with the boy… Bakugo had nothing to say.

But Bakugo didn’t have to say anything. Todoroki understood.
He listened to the silence that surrounded them. He listened to every tear that fell, listened to the apologies that Bakugo gave when he gave nothing at all but his pain and sorrow and the hopes that Todoroki would grant him a physical anchor too.
A knife to the gut. A punch to the face. Something, anything, to grant Bakugo permission to release this pain that buries deep inside his chest. Beyond the screams in the clearing, the dragon-fire hate that burnt him in those simple moments following, Bakugo had not allowed himself to feel the pain any less.

Three days of a brave face and the indescribable need to get home, to apologise for his mistakes, to tell Todoroki the truth. Because Todoroki deserved the truth. He deserved to hear Deku’s last words; those that he screamed as he was dragged away into the darkness.

“Tell them I love them.”

He loved them.
Todoroki, and Yagi, his mother and everyone who had become his family in the After.
Even Bakugo, who didn’t deserve to be called brother.

And Bakugo had not protected him.

No one blamed him though. Not Todoroki, not Yagi, not any of them.
They blamed the No-Mind. They blamed the End.

They blamed the psychotic bastard that hid behind his stronghold walls, hungering for the domination of the human race and his twisted idea that he would purify it, help humanity evolve and become more, free from flaws and faults and everything that made humans humans.

But it didn’t matter who Todoroki blamed.
Bakugo still blamed himself.

One day.

He gave himself only one day to mourn Deku.
And one day to bid everyone farewell.

After witnessing Deku’s death, Bakugo could not escape the revival of old pains, of the lonely hours in the dark when he didn’t have training or running or hunting in the surrounding Wild to temper his mind; and the boy was forced back into reliving the nightmares of watching his mom murdered, his dad murdered, back when the Before was burnt and the After was born from the ashes. Nightmares forced him to relive all the pain, watching Deku die, watching his dad die, listening to his mom’s final words as the life drained from her eyes just as blood stained her blouse and stained the world around them.

“You’re gonna be okay Katsuki. You’re gonna be brave and you’re gonna be okay.”
“Mom, I’m not—”
“You’re gonna be safe. You hear me? Safe. You—strong. So, so st-strong…. So brave…”

Bakugo wasn’t brave. He wasn’t strong.
He hadn’t protected his friends when they needed protecting. He hadn’t stayed and fought, and fought for Deku when the damn kid needed him. He had just ran; ran like that pathetic child who ran when the world turned upside down and crumbled around him.
He couldn’t keep his friends safe, couldn’t keep anyone safe as long as he was around to make mistakes and screw things up for them all.

He hadn’t changed, Bakugo realised one night, waking to the sound of his own strangled screams, Uraraka banging on his door because she can hear him, they could all hear him, falling apart, tearing himself apart. He hadn’t changed at all. He had abandoned his mom when the soldiers came, hadn’t learn from the mistake the first time and now Deku had been the one to pay the price for his stupid, idiotic bravura.

Bakugo couldn’t stay.
Not there, in the place that had so quickly become his home, surrounded by those that he accepted as family even if he had never told them. Why had he never told them? Had he not learnt from his mom, his dad, from watching them die and living with the regrets of not being truthful to what he held in his heart; too busy filling the persona of a rowdy, ungrateful brat that thought he was better, that thought he knew better, that fought he would be better off if he didn’t have them around.

Everyone would be better off if Bakugo wasn’t around.
They’d be better off without the idiot screwing up and killing the rest of them.

So, Bakugo left.

He gave himself a day to prepare, taking the clothes off his back and what few possessions he kept in his small apartment room. The only food he took were three cans and a bottle of water, the only weapons he took were his own. Knives, blades and an old, re-worked baseball bat that would caution even the toughest of No-Mind fuckers.
Bakugo didn’t allow himself the luxury of taking a gun with him. No gun, no ammo. He didn’t deserve that much.

He would allow himself the minimum and that was all.
Aizawa caught him leaving.

He had barely tumbled out his own fucking door when the man made himself known; his usual black clothes having morphed him into the shadows of the dimly lit corridor.
“You’re leaving,” the man said, not so much a question as it was that he was stating a fact, respecting Bakugo in the way that he doesn’t mince his words.
And as much as Aizawa was not a very convivial man, Bakugo respected him. He wasn’t the only adult that gave respect where it was earnt, but Aizawa always had sound reasonings as to why he did or didn’t, and was one to sticking to his decision unless logic or reason convinced him otherwise.
Bakugo granted the man the same respect, especially after the man had stood behind him on more than one occasion when disputing Enji and Tsunagu and some of the other elders’ opinions of their makeshift council.

There was no need to lie to Aizawa, nor was there any real reason that Bakugo shouldn’t tell him the truth. So he does.

“Is it a wise choice?”

Wise?

For Bakugo’s sake, no, it wasn’t.
He would be alone once more, with only himself to watch his back and only himself to look out for. He would return to the life he lived before the Observatory, to the Before when he was alone in his kingdom, pretending like he was living rather than just surviving.
It would be harder, for sure, and there was no chance that he could ever return to his castle and accept an easy life living day to day like he had done. Not with knowing all that he did now, and knowing all who had been lost because he wasn’t fucking strong enough to protect them.

But Bakugo wasn’t doing this for his sake. He was doing this so that everyone else would have a fighting chance. He was doing it for the sake of those that made the Observatory their home and didn’t need any more risks that would invite the No-Mind fuckers onto their doorstep, only for them to smash down the door and slaughter everyone inside.

“It is what it is,” Bakugo says, for the sake of answering. He hates the way his words come out wet, hiding his face by turning away, another glance back to his room. It wasn’t empty of his things, but in the short time that he had allowed himself to order his head and home, it was certainly cleaner.
Still his with the potted plants and the baggy trousers hanging from the pipes above his bed. Still his with the touches of a boy who pretended to be so much stronger than he really was.
Still his, but not for much longer.

“Do you think he would want this?” Aizawa asks. And maybe it’s the way Bakugo is forcibly reminded of his mistake, or maybe it’s the way Aizawa decides to be cryptic, but for some reason it fans the flames within him, Bakugo turning instead of taking half a second to attempt to rein in his ire.
“He can’t ‘want’ anything,” the boy spat.

“He’s dead. I killed him.”

To the confession, Aizawa says nothing. He knows just as well as Bakugo that saying “no you didn’t” was as much a waste of air for him as it was for the boy. Bakugo was as stubborn as the oak was old. He wouldn’t see otherwise unless he went out and found the answers himself.
Aizawa knew that, and that is why he didn’t say anything.

Instead, he simply fell in time to Bakugo’s footsteps, pausing a moment when the boy turned back to close the door to the home that had been his for no longer than a year, but there certainly were times when he forgot the pain and loneliness that came before and it felt as if here was all he had ever known.

The walk was done in companionable silence; Bakugo taking undeserved comfort from the man that had always seen the real him and never treated him any less for it. They saw no one in the living quarter, saw few faces in the courtyard where Tsuyu and her family were tending to the crops that they were cultivating. There was nothing noticeable about Bakugo and Aizawa as they walked past, doing so unnoticed as they passed the mess hall, the infirmary and the armoury.

Until Bakugo reached that gates, no one cared much for his passing, but the swift and silent exit was not his to have, disappointed to see familiar faces on duty. Perhaps that was why Aizawa had come; to help lessen the blow for Bakugo as much as for Uraraka, who saw the boy’s bag, saw the man that stood beside him and needed nothing more to tell her the truth.

“No. No, no, not you too,” she said, refusing to open the gate or move from his path. “No, you can’t leave Bakugo, this is suicide!”
“Don’t pretend it’s not what you want,” the boy snarled in retaliation, his anger still warm on his tongue, his own nightmarish thoughts crawling from their festering pit to sit pretty in his mouth like poison.

“Don’t pretend that you wouldn’t prefer it if it wasn’t him who was taken, but me instead.”
“No, no Bakugo, I wouldn’t ever think anything like that,” Uraraka said, crying, pulling on his arm or pulling on his pack to drag him away from the gate, caught between telling him “no, no Bakugo,” and pleading with Aizawa to help her talk some sense into Bakugo because “you can’t leave, we can’t lose you too!”

Bakugo knows that what he says is ludicrous, but he’s spent that last few days hating himself that he almost can’t understand why no one else cannot see the same as he does. It would’ve been better if he was taken. Bakugo was stronger. He could’ve fought back, maybe he would’ve even got away from the No-Mind or never been caught in the first place.
But because he wasn’t strong enough to protect his friends, they had lost Deku and that’s why Bakugo had to do this. He never had a choice.

“I’m going too.”

They turn, all three of them facing Todoroki who approaches the gate. He doesn’t carry a bag like Bakugo does so the boy doesn’t understand why he’s here, having not noticed him following or thought that he and Aizawa were not overheard, having spoken outside the blond’s quarters which stand far from Todoroki and D—and his apartment room.

Maybe Bakugo’s actions were predictable, and that’s why half n’ half is here or why Uraraka took wall duty for the sake of ambushing him before he can leave or why All Might stands as Todoroki’s shadow—Fuck.

“You can’t!” Uraraka says, yet to relinquish her grip on Bakugo’s arm, but turning her desperation on Todoroki anyway. “You can’t leave Todoroki, neither of you can. You didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t—”
“I’m leaving,” Bakugo says, turning away from her and from Yagi and the soft sad look he is given that is drowned in pity; the mask crafted to hide the pain of mourning Deku too painful for the blond to witness. He doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want to, and he doesn’t want to so he’s not going to.

He shakes Uraraka from her holding, two strides denying her the chance to grab him again. “Bakugo—”
“I’m not going to wait long. If you’re coming, get your shit and get it now,” Bakugo says, heading to the gate where Tensei stands, watching, but knowing it is not his place to intervene. It is better that he is here than his brother. Bakugo wasn’t in the mood for a sermon from Glasses. Uraraka was enough.

But Yagi had not said his peace.

“Bakugo, my boy. You don’t need to run aft—”
“I’m not running,” Bakugo snarls quickly, never before speaking to Yagi with his anger so vehement, as he was another, like Aizawa, who asked for the boy’s opinion in council and truly listened when the boy spoke. And he himself had achieved so much for the community, being the one that new of the scientific observatory and heading here when the fires were first lit and confusion was the only constant everyone knew. He was a peacekeeper and an idol for the youngers, and even for Bakugo who would never admit that he would see the man as a father figure, but would let himself be content that Yagi was as good a man as his father to look up to.
But not now. Not when he thinks Bakugo is running away, cowardly as not to face judgement, even if that is what Bakugo considers of his actions while still in truth they hold another purpose entirely.

“I’m not running away.”

“No. You’re not. You’re chasing after him.”

Because Bakugo is. Maybe he really is as predictable as he seems, chasing after Deku, to bring him back before the No-Mind can carry out their death sentence. He is already three days behind schedule. He’s already left Deku in the hands of the nightmare soldiers for three days already. He cannot waste any more time.

“If you understand, then you shouldn’t be trying to stop me,” Bakugo says, turning back to face them. Todoroki is no longer one of their group, but from near the gate he can see others near the main building and storage silos, watching on. Neither Shoji or Melissa make to approach.

“I didn’t have to leave Deku behind, but I did. Now I’m doing what I should’ve done when I was still at that fucking place and going in and getting that damn runt out.”
Yagi watched with sorrowful eyes, trying not to let the silence draw in, but somehow not being able to find the right words to speak without having to speak aloud the fear that, whether Bakugo went after Deku or not, there would be no one to find in that base.
At least, no one alive.

Like Bakugo had struggled with the words, so does Yagi. There is nothing he can say.
And no more of a reason to delay the inevitable.

Bakugo left without another word.

Todoroki caught up, an hour later. He’d taken one of the jeeps, Bakugo not thinking he could take such a luxury as that, coupled with the fear that, if Deku really was dead, then he wouldn’t be returning to the Observatory. Maybe they knew this, and that was why they hadn’t wanted him to leave. Maybe that was why they were less concerned for Todoroki to join him, who also wanted Deku to return home, but would drag Bakugo back, kicking and screaming, regardless of what they found.

They don’t talk as they travel.
Todoroki remains in the driver’s seat for the first day’s stretch, wordlessly swapping with Bakugo when they need to fill up the tank with supplies from the back. They don’t waste time taking breaks to stretch their legs, don’t indulge in idle chatter when the only voice either would like to hear was the green-haired runt’s. Comical, Bakugo might’ve thought, if he had the mind to consider as such. But instead all he could remember was the circumstances for why silence surrounds him, and it had a way of drowning his bitter-amusement at the thought that he missed the green little shit.

The constant drive and constant push of the car cuts their travel time down. Not by much, but enough that Bakugo is waking Todoroki from his sleep half a day earlier than planned as they creep closer to the town where he had just run from. The jeep is left parked up behind an old motor shop where there are plenty of cars to mix in with, additional to the building’s open roof access and still-useable ladder that the boy’s take advantage of.

In silence, again, they take point on the roof and scour the main road leading up to the repurposed estate.
Bakugo can’t help the way his stomach drops at the sight of no guards on the wall, and the main gate cast wide. The trucks that had been lined up out front three days prior are nowhere to be seen.

The place looks empty.

Todoroki is already running.

Inside, it is as dead as the world they have driven past.
Walls have been knocked down to make rooms bigger, but whatever held them has been taken beyond that which isn’t important. Leather-worn sofas line walls, kicked aside to create their own layout, paper strewn on the floor, empty bullet shells, cigarette butts, damage to the building like the place had been overrun by drugged up teenagers with a vendetta against authority.

Scorch marks and bullet holes trail the path that Bakugo and his team had ran when they needed to escape, but his mind is set and he does not allow himself to linger on memories. Instead he takes in everything around him.
All the rooms are either wrecked, or fixed up to be personal bunks rooms. There are the odd few that still have junk in them – boots, clothes, the odd bag and a flip knife that Bakugo doesn’t feel the need to pocket as he pushes deeper into the snake pit.

Wire trails run from one room to another, but the machines they were hooked up to are long gone.
As were the men that were monitoring them.

Bakugo can’t settle the disquietude growing in his stomach. His hands are shaking with every next step, palms sweaty, fingers hurting with the tightness of which he holds his gun, trained on the next doorway, down the corridor, the next doorway, not sure what he’s going to find next, not sure if he wants to keep on looking—

The last room on the ground floor is as empty of the rest of them.
Except, a tipped chair, a strip of grungy cloth… and blood.

A lot of blood.

Not soaking the ground, splattered on the walls…

But enough.

And it is too much for Bakugo.

He turns from the room before he has even taken a full step in, not wanting to see any more, needing fresh air, cool air, some way out of this hell hole. Todoroki is coming down the corridor, he can’t see this, he can’t see this.

Bakugo grapples him, knowing words won’t be enough, knows that he’s not even strong enough to try when he can’t even hide his fear as grabs Todoroki and pulls him away. “No, no—”
“There’s nothing in there,” Bakugo says, standing resolute in the truth like it is the only thing holding him up. His grip around Todoroki locks tight like a serpent, mind begging for the strength to protect Todoroki from this. He’s hurt too many with his mistakes, but he can still protect Todoroki from this.

“Bakugo, let me go—”
“There’s nothing in there!”
“Bakugo, let me—”
“He’s not in there, he’s gone!”

Drags him back. Drags him outside.

Their scuffle is short lived.
It means nothing in the end when Bakugo loses his grip. He’s thrown to the ground, tensing for a punch that never comes, because Todoroki isn’t trying to hurt Bakugo, but instead get away from him. With his grip broken the boy is free to return to the hell pit, bursting through the front doors, desperate to see what Bakugo didn’t want him to.

Bakugo can’t bring himself follow. Can’t even stop his tears when the boy screams into the silence at a sight that is a thousand times worse than the simple truth; leaving nightmares to fill the silence. Heavy, thick, obnoxious silence that Deku would never allow because his always-talking mouth always runs off alone, his mindless chatter a drone in the background, and always saving Bakugo from the weight that the silence brings.

Deku can’t save him anymore.

Because he’s gone.

And it was all Bakugo’s fault.