Katsuki took one look at the holographic figure washing his living room in blue and said, “You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me.”
The Mistress’s hologram bowed and flickered. “Congratulations on your engagement, Captain.” She smiled. It looked as fake as her projected image, wooden and sickly sweet. Katsuki shook his head, scrubbing the sleep from his eyes. A low, simmering anger itched under his skin, his heart pumping furiously.
Waking up to a government issued holocall at five A.M. and blindly bumping into every piece of furniture with a nasty swear on his way to the living room hadn’t helped. He swallowed hard, blinking up at the Mistress. She waited, prim and poised in her kimono, and smiled again, with too much teeth.
“A ‘thank you’ would suffice.”
Katsuki jabbed a finger at her. “No. No fuckin’ way. I ain’t- ”
She ignored him. “Rest assured, Captain, your future spouse will be handpicked from our best and brightest-”
She looked down her button nose at him, and her image suddenly burst, rearranging until it was replaced with cheery empire propaganda. LOTUS, read the advert, a high melody filling the room. It cut to men and women laughing arm in arm, all ridiculously happy and ridiculously beautiful. They were all dressed in the same white, gauzy clothes as they walked through courtyards and rose gardens, and read books (honest-to-God page-turning books), in libraries as tall and pointed as cathedrals. Katsuki eyes narrowed, scowling as he read, BEAUTY, HEALTH, LEGACY. The music stopped, and the Mistress swirled back into view with a simper.
“Your...satisfaction...is nearly a guarantee.”
Katsuki raised an eyebrow and barked out a laugh. He shoved his fists into the pockets of his pajama pants with a scowl.
“Bullshit,” he said acidly.
The Mistress clicked her tongue. “We have your records and personality assessment on file. I’m fairly confident we know what you like. Why, just last week, we made Lieutenant Colonel Yaoyorozu a very happy woman. Let us make you happy, Captain.” Her smile hooked at the corners, like a snake.
Katsuki gawked, his tongue shriveling in his mouth as he eyed the letters hovering beneath the Mistress’s feet. LOTUS. She was still staring at him expectantly, her patience wearing thin if the way her smile twitched had anything to say about it. Katsuki breathed in deeply, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Thank you,” he ground out, not looking at her, “but this is a mistake. I never- ”
The Mistress's smile sharpened. “It’s hardly a mistake.”
“You really think I can afford-” he sputtered, gesturing toward her, seething. She tutted, as if coughing up a few million for one of LOTUS’s omegas was as easy as fishing through the couch for loose change.
“All expenses will be taken care of. We’ve partnered with the Terran military as part of our facility’s Colonization Program. It’s fairly new. How lucky is that? You were recommended for the program by General Todoroki alongside a glowing review. Don't look so glum. Some people find relationships to be rewarding and fulfilling, and according to our data, Captain, ‘some people’ includes you .”
Katsuki shook his head, scoffing. “That don’t fuckin’ mean-!”
“Isn’t the entire reason you're here on Terra now to defend and protect what’s left of the human race?” She tilted her head, eyes narrowed as Katsuki bristled. “How is this any different?”
Katsuki opened and closed his mouth, heat snaking up the back of his neck. He swore.
The Mistress peered around the room, turning in a small circle. “Who knows. They might even decorate . Did you just move in? Hmph! Doesn’t matter! This has been...pleasant. There’s nothing quite like seeing the faces of our blossoms’ betrotheds when I inform them of their future happiness.” Katsuki’s lip curled in a snarl. The Mistress folded her hands and smiled again.
" Details will be sent to you shortly-”
“I don’t want your damn details, and you can keep your fucking blossom- !”
“Then I suggest you take it up with the man who recommended you in the first place.” The Mistress clapped her hands, and the Terran anthem began to play, loud and upbeat. Katsuki jerked back, his foot landing on a squeaky toy. Killer, his black lab mix, barked, racing out of the bedroom, across the living room, and through the doggie door outside. Katsuki hollered.
But it was too late, and Katsuki slapped a hand to his forehead as the rooster crowed and the hens squawked, forcing the lights outside the henhouse to blink to life.
“This is always my favorite part!” The Mistress cried as Killer barked, waving a finger like conductor’s baton. Her lips stretched over her teeth when she said favorite.
“Oh, son of a fuckin'-!”
On cue, the porch light flickered on, the home security system mounted on the wall by the front door burned blue, and over Killer’s barking, the rooster crowing, and the Mistress swaying to the Terran anthem, a feminine voice recited, GOOD MORNING, BAKUGOU. THIS IS EARLIER THAN USUAL. WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO RESCHEDULE YOUR ALARMS? The coffee pot pinged as it began to drip.
“No,” he sighed.
Outside, Killer howled. The anthem struck up a crescendo. Katsuki winced, scrubbing a hand over his face.
“It’s way too early for this shit.”
The Mistress bowed. “Thank you for your contribution to your species and your planet, Captain. Once again, congratulations. We wish you hope, happiness, and prosperity as you begin this new chapter of your life!”
The Mistress’s hologram disappeared, taking the anthem with it, throwing the living room back into early morning shadow. Katsuki swore, shaking his head. Killer’s howls turned into bays, and Katsuki dragged himself toward the smell of freshly brewed coffee. He tugged the pot too hard, hissing when hot coffee sloshed over his fingers, and glanced over at Killer, who had pushed through the doggie door.
“Get in here. You proud of what you just did? Huh?” Katsuki groused. Killer circled him excitedly. “Leave the chickens alone.”
Killer barked, trotting over to his food bowl, which filled with food the second he nosed the brim (GOOD MORNING, KILLER), and Katsuki grumbled as he ripped a mug from the upper cabinets.
"I'm fairly confident we know what you like,” he mocked, imitating the Mistress’s high, sweet voice. He trudged over to the table. The chair he pulled out groaned when he dropped into it. “Yeah, fuckin’ right.”
Killer wagged his tail, cocking his head. Katsuki leaned back in his chair, shoulders sagging, and glanced around the house. The year he bought it, he’d taken it off the hands of a farmer who’d lost his family during a swarm. He’d marched up the porch steps in his fatigues with nothing but a rucksack, took one sweeping look inside, and fell asleep on the couch. He’d left the flowery wallpaper and rustic furniture. Kept the wind-beaten white panels and the stupid weathervane perched on the roof.
The barn out back was gathering dust, but it kept a roof over his hoverbike, and the cavalry mech he’d only had to use once, for the days the bugs threatened the sector and his neighbors relied on him to keep them alive until the big guns came.
Katsuki studied the shadows creeping in kitchen corners. The dark living room. He realized suddenly that the walls had always been bare. He’d only ever hung up one picture, an old-school still of his parents and himself when he’d deployed at eighteen. He’d placed it on the mantle over the fireplace the night he’d moved in, and that was the last time he’d ever changed anything about the house. The last time he’d bothered to put anything of himself into it.
The house hadn’t changed since the day it’d been stripped bare and left behind, and Katsuki kept it that way: a white farmhouse sitting in the middle of bumfuck nowhere with only cows and cornfields for neighbors. For a few miles, anyway.
Katsuki scowled, remembering how the Mistress had looked around the living room.
Who knows, maybe they’ll even decorate.
A hot burst of anger coursed through Katsuki’s chest. LOTUS. What a load of shit.
He glared into his coffee. “ ‘Ey, Killer. We don’t need another person comin' around and messin’ up our shit...right?”
Killer went back to spilling his kibble across the kitchen floor. Katsuki carded a hand through his hair, swearing, when a green light near the backdoor flashed.
“All available units to sector 7-”
Katsuki lunged toward the comm, snatching the receiver. “This is Ground Zero. En route now.”
“Copy that, Ground Zero...and make it quick.”
Katsuki grinned, coffee forgotten, and reached for his bomber jacket.
“Ready to squash some bugs, Killer?”
The sun bubbled up between the mountains like a drop of blood, cobwebby mist rising off the corn fields as Katsuki’s hoverbike kicked up gravel, cutting down the road at breakneck speed. Killer poked his nose further outside the passenger car, tongue lolling.
Mornings like these, chilled and smelling of dirt, his heart pumping with the roar of his hoverbike and the sky blushed pink, Katsuki forgot there was a difference between Earth and Terra.
He could forget about the bugs for as long as the road kept going.
He could forget about LOTUS, and if he was going to have to fish spare sheets out of the attic for the naked bed gathering dust in the room upstairs.
The air base loomed overhead, the shriek of fighter jets gutting the growl of his engine, and Katsuki’s jaw clenched as they cut through the sky like quicksilver. He hunched, picking up speed, the weary guard at the gate not bothering to ask for ID before waving Katsuki through. He burst past armored trucks and heavy-footed cavalry mechs.
A siren blared across the yard, and Killer hopped out of the passenger car as Katsuki parked, keeping stride with him when he jogged toward the hangar, a hand raised in greeting as a familiar figure trudged out onto the concrete.
Denki blinked up at him. “Hey, Bakugou! Awwww, there’s my best boy!” He stooped to scratch Killer behind the ears. His suit hung on him, half-zipped and gaping wide, his eyes ringed with shadows, but Denki smiled bright and wide.
Katsuki shoved his hands in his pockets, frowning as pilots and soldiers scurried across the yard, shouting, barking orders, laughing, or dragging themselves across the concrete, silent and dark-eyed. Katsuki shifted from foot to foot, a spike of anticipation leaving him restless.
“Bad out there?”
Denki sighed, his mouth twisting in a grimace. “You didn’t hear the code change? We got a queen now.”
Katsuki groaned, stretching, and leaned back on the balls of his feet. “Fuck .” He jabbed a finger at Denki, already jogging away.
“No giving him your table scraps while I’m gone.”
“You wanna detail my sidecar? ‘Cause he fuckin’ puked last time. All over it.”
Denki held up his hands in surrender, his smile twitching. “Only the best dog treats for my boy. Take care of yourself out there, man. I love Killer like he was my own, but I’m not ready to be a dad.”
Katsuki laughed, jogging away. Prep was a blur, and by the time a flash of red caught his eye, he was suited up, helmet tucked beneath his arm as he glanced up at his jet.
He turned to see Eijirou fitting his helmet over his head. He flashed Katsuki a smile, white and sharp behind the darkened visor, and tapped the side of his helmet. Katsuki fitted his own over his head with a roll of his eyes, and Eijirou’s voice flooded through the commlink.
“Nothin’ like a little scrimmage to start the day and get your blood pumping, huh, bro?”
Katsuki scoffed, climbing into the cockpit. The dash lit up blue under his touch, the canopy hissing shut as he strapped himself in.
“You know we got a fuckin’ queen in 7, right?”
“Yeah,” Eijirou said over the whine of the engines. “Code changed a minute ago. That why you look so pissy?”
Katsuki gripped the center stick with a smirk, watching as a ramp rat jogged into view, her orange uniform bright against the gloom of the hangar. LOTUS couldn’t touch him here.
“Right here, Captain.” Another voice joined Eijirou’s, bright and bubbly. “And leave him alone, baby, that’s just his face.” Out of the corner of his eye, Katsuki saw her boarding her fighter, waving. He grinned.
Eijirou and Mina laughed as the general’s voice boomed through the hangar. PILOTS, TAKE POSITION.
The ramp rat waved flashing batons. Katsuki eased his jet into position, heart drumming loud in his ears as a shot of adrenaline lanced through his veins.
Up in the sky there was only Katsuki, his squadron, and the bugs. You want to do something worthwhile in your life, Bakugou? General Todoroki had asked the the day he’d been recruited. Because you can go to Earth, or you can look to the future. Up there, on Terra, you can be a goddamn hero.
Katsuki’s grin sharpened.
“Let’s kick some ass.”
In his ear, Eijirou said, “See ya on the other side.”
Queens meant one of two things:
A fuckton of bugs swarming on the ground, or a fuckton of fliers swarming in the sky.
For the second time that day, Katsuki said, “You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me.” In his ear, Eijirou and Mina laughed.
Katsuki banked, glancing down at the hills, writhing with bugs as they scaled down into the valley like tar, while more dropped from the sky. The clouds brewed dark and quick over the mountains.
Mina whistled. “Infantry’s having a fuckin’ field day down there.” Below, the lumbering mechs moved into place, canons raised.
“Did'ja know the locals started callin’ the bugs nomus ?” Eijirou asked. “How am I just now hearing that?”
“Nomu, bug, I don’t care, they’re ugly and I need music for this.”
Katsuki fired, a feral grin hooking at the corner of his mouth as Barracuda by Heart sputtered through the comm.
“You play that vintage rock again and you’re buyin’ tonight, Mina.”
“Oooooo,” Mina howled, rising higher on Katsuki’s right. She picked off a few fliers closing in on Katsuki’s peripheral. “BARRACUDA!”
“That’s twenty-eight, boys! And no! Drinks on me if you can catch up with me!”
Eijirou banked on Katsuki’s left. “Can’t have a contest without a little music, right, baby?” A shadow caught Katsuki’s attention.
He shook his head, grin twisting into a grimace as he took out a line of bugs before they could rush the defensive line of mechs guarding evac shuttles.
“Yeah,” Katsuki snarled, opening fire on the hillside, “tell that to the fucker on your six.” A flier had caught up to Mina’s jet, cutting through the clouds.
“Shit!” She fell back, dropping out of Katsuki’s peripheral. He growled. Eijirou dropped.
“I got ya, baby! You good, Baku?”
A dark shape matched the speed of his jet. And another. Katsuki ground his teeth.
“Peachy.” He angled down, losing altitude, stomach fluttering as he twisted the fighter toward the rocky outcrop bordering the small mining town nestled in Sector 7.
“Go get ‘er.”
The flier smashed into the bedrock in an acid green sunburst. Katsuki pulled up, opening fire on the two hulking figures dropping from the clouds. They burst in mid-air as another wave crested over the hills and into the canyon, a spitting giant at its center. Behind them, the storm clouds moved in faster. Katsuki’s eyes narrowed.
It wasn’t a storm; it was a swarm, riding the wind after the queen. His comm crackled with static.
“Ground Zero, we got the cloud. Move your team in for support.”
"Copy that, doubling back for support. You heard her. We’re on the canyon. Protect the mines-they’re still doin’ evac,” Katsuki bit out. He veered away, angling down, down, toward the canyon, a dark rip in the earth under the overcast sky. He dropped into a nosedive with a shout.
“Get your wallet ready, Mina. I’M GETTING BLACK OUT DRUNK TONIGHT.”
“The fuck you are!” she shouted, dropping with him. Eijirou laughed.
Katsuki hunched over the stick, eyes narrowed on the canyon ahead. “BEKA, play Welcome to the Jungle.”
Mina gasped. “I’M ON MUSIC-”
Katsuki cackled, his blood thrumming with the music as he gripped the stick, dropping a hailstorm on the canyon. The river ran green.
“Don’t let ‘em get too close!”
A shriek echoed through the canyon as the queen tore down the river, jaws gnashing.
“Here she comes!” Eijirou cried, and Katsuki smiled, his hands running cold as he kept a white-knuckled grip on the stick.
“Fuckin’ take her out.”
“I won!” Mina cried.
Katsuki tipped back his shot of vodka, wincing as he bit out, “No, you didn’t.” He slapped his glass down.
“Bro,” said Eijirou with a sigh, the second Mina screeched, “I think the fuck not!”
Katsuki jabbed a finger at her. “You said, and I quote , drinks on me if you boys can catch up to me. And I said, and I quote, get your wallet ready, ‘cause I’m getting blackout drunk tonight,” He held up a hand when Mina opened her mouth.
“We’re talkin’ direct hits, takin’ out a wave with landslide don’t count.” He signalled the bot tending to the bar. Mina buried her head in her arms with a fake sob.
Katsuki grunted, downing another shot. Eijirou frowned.
“You sure everything’s cool, man?”
Katsuki scowled, shoulders tense. “Forget it.”
Mina’s black eyes glittered as she studied him, her gold irises bright under the bar’s dim lights. “That bad, huh? Why? What’s eatin’ ya, anyway?”
“Talking will make you feel better,” Eijirou teased in a lilting voice. Katsuki growled, knocking him away as he laughed. He swirled the liquor in his glass.
“Got a call from LOTUS.”
Eijirou opened and closed his mouth. Mina squeaked, eyes widening. Denki, who’d been listening with half an ear, nearly fell over before he caught himself, blinking owlishly.
“LOTUS?” he shrieked, shooting out of his seat, and Katsuki cringed, ears burning as he tugged his hood over his head. He hunched lower in his seat.
“Wow, I mean, I didn’t take you for a family man, Bakugou! Shit, congrats! Hey, we need a round over here! My friend just got engaged-OW!”
The bar erupted in cheers, wolf whistles, and scattered applause. Denki sank back into his seat, rubbing the back of his head with a pout.
“What’d you do that for?”
“Could you be any fucking louder?” Katsuki growled.
“Well excuse me for being excited for you! I mean, I’d heard rumors, but I didn’t think any of us had a chance of actually getting picked. I heard the compatibility tests are scary accurate, and you’re single, all set up…” Denki grimaced, tracing the rim of his glass. “Maybe you don’t feel that way, but it can get lonely, goin’ home after, you know?” He shook his head, forcing a smile when Katsuki stared at him, Eijirou and Mina growing quiet.
“C’mon, man, it’s LOTUS. They’re babes. Do you even know how lucky you are right now?” He sighed when Katsuki glowered. “Of course you don’t. You know, I met this chick from LOTUS once-”
“Did you get her number,” Mina asked with a giggle. Denki huffed.
“She was married, obviously.”
Katsuki grit his teeth, working the muscles in his jaw. “Well they can keep her. Or him. Fuck if I know. I’m taking it up with the General tomorrow.”
Eijirou and Mina winced. Denki gaped.
The bartending bot rolled over to clumsily drop a tray of shots on the counter. The glasses clinked and shuddered, liquor spilling onto the counter. The group flinched. The bot raised spindly metal arms, spinning its torso in place as a tinny rendition of Celebration crackled from the speakers installed on its shoulders. Katsuki’s eye twitched as a burst of confetti exploded over the counter.
In a slow, mechanical voice, the bot recited, CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR ENGAGEMENT.
Awkward applause peppered the bar.
Denki leaned back in his stool with a cheer, arms spread wide, and cried, “Wooooo! Free shots!”
Katsuki spat out confetti and angrily threw back his shot. Mina peered into her glass, frowning.
“You probably should’a fished out the confetti first.”
Eijirou choked on a laugh, and Katsuki growled when Denki nudged him with an elbow.
“I thought we were supposed to be having fun. You guys took out a whole fucking swarm and no one died . Smile! Mina,” Denki laughed as he wandered over to an ancient jukebox, glowing neon in the hazy gloom of the bar, “this is all your fault!” He swiped his credit card.
YOU’VE SELECTED: EARTH, CLASSIC ROCK, the jukebox rumbled. LED ZEPPELIN. WHOLE LOTTA LOVE.
Katsuki’s jaw clenched as Denki spun around with a smile, fingers strumming an air guitar as the song punched through the bar. Someone booed. Eijirou clapped Katsuki’s shoulder as Mina tugged him toward the jukebox.
“C’mon man! What’s the worst that could happen?”
Katsuki swiped at the confetti on the counter.
He could think of a few things.