Actions

Work Header

we're just killin' time

Work Text:

When Shouto comes to he's waiting in line. 

 

He’s standing in the middle of a queue of people that stretches in front of him as far as he can see. They all step forward every few seconds, but there isn’t a beginning as far as he can tell. Or an end. There is just this line of people--people with amorphous faces that he can’t quite focus on. Is he drunk? No, his mind is clear. It’s just this lighting--everything is orange, like a neon bulb about to sputter out, or a particularly polluted sunset over a city. Shouto shuffles forward on auto-pilot and looks for an exit. 

There isn’t one. There’s just burnt-orange, coalescing and stretching as far as he can see. There’s no end to the space. When he looks up the ceiling is orange, too, like clouds or smoke: decidedly not solid, but maybe not exactly gaseous. He can’t focus on that, either. It’s disconcerting. The line steps forward again. 

It’s disconcerting but Shouto’s emotions feel muted. He’s not particularly upset, just mildly confused. Maybe he’s taken something. His memory is fuzzy, images slipping through his mind like sand as he tries to grasp how he’s ended up here. Wherever here is. He sees his mother, his father, his siblings, his old house, blips of his life that disappear before they become too clear. They all advance again, feet noiseless. 

The people around him murmur, maybe to themselves, maybe to others. Shouto can’t make out their words even as he strains his ears. When he glances down he can’t tell what clothes he’s wearing, or what colour they are. Maybe he needs to see a doctor. An optometrist, definitely. Maybe a dentist because his mouth tastes decidedly like dirt. He licks the backs of his teeth and grimaces, stepping forward again and oh. He’s at the front of the line. He blinks. That was fast. Or maybe it wasn’t. Time feels fluid and intangible. 

There’s a desk in front of him, a sign hanging off the front with ‘Processing Clerk’ embossed on it in about every single known language. Shouto thinks, anyway; he’s not sure, he only knows about two and a half languages. There’s a clerk sitting at the desk, too, when Shouto flicks his eyes up. He hadn’t been there a moment ago, or maybe he had. Shouto needs to get his eyes checked. 

 

The clerk is a young man hunched over a keyboard, wearing a loose grey hoodie pushed up to his elbows and black slacks, wire-framed glasses perched on his delicate nose. He looks decidedly bored behind the slant of his mouth, Shouto notes. His desk is plain beige metal and too small, a stack of files neatly piled in a wire tray to one side. Mug of black coffee looking cold and oily sitting next to a cup full of biros and highlighters. His computer looks like it went out of production in 1980. Nothing about him screams professional, or particularly helpful, but he’s the only person around save for the line of faceless people stretching behind them. 

“Name?” the clerk asks, voice low, not looking up from his screen. 

“Uh. Todoroki. Shouto.” 

“‘Kay.” 

The clacking of his ancient keyboard is perhaps the loudest thing Shouto has ever heard, but it might be the vacant quiet stretching around them. The murmurs of the people in line are a faded white noise. This clerk and his desk and his old-ass desktop are the only things that seem real outside of Shouto’s own self. 

“Designation?” 

The question draws Shouto out of his thoughts. 

“What?” 

The clerk finally, finally, looks up to meet his eyes, scowling at Shouto. “The designation on your form, dumbass. Section seventeen.” 

Shouto looks down; he’s holding a single piece of printed A4 paper loosely in his hands. When had that appeared? Had he been holding it this whole time? Between his fingers it feels solid as a piece of paper can, feels as real as the clothes Shouto’s wearing that he still can’t quite place colours to.

His name is neatly printed at the top. His date of birth just under that. It looks like any other government form, like one that might be necessary when filing taxes or getting a replacement driver’s license. 

The clerk snaps his fingers. 

“Hey, pretty boy, I don't have all eternity over here. Section seventeen, let’s go.” 

Shouto scans down the form. “D14. what does that—”

The clerk hums, turning back to his computer and typing quickly enough that Shouto is vaguely impressed. 

“You just barely squeaked through, halfie.” 

“Halfie?” 

“Y’know,” the clerk waves his hand at Shouto’s general being without looking up from his screen. “Angel-devil, good-evil, white-red, so dichotomous it’s almost too heavy-handed.” 

“Okay,” Shouto says, monotone; it’s not the weirdest reaction his hair and eyes had gotten him, but it’s close. “Just barely squeaked through what exactly? And what does ‘D-O-D’ mean? Section four. Right under ‘D-O-B.’” He taps his form, leaning a little over the clerk’s desk and into his space. “And, actually, where exactly are we?” 

The clerk blinks up at him, brow pulled into a quizzical scowl. 

“Are you slow?” 

“Excuse me?” 

“Have you really not figured it out?” 

“No?” Forget muted emotions. Shouto is about half a second away from punching this clerk in the teeth.

“You’re dead, dumbass.” 

“Very funny.” Just kidding, Shouto is now half a second away from decking the clerk in his stupid pretty mouth. “Can I speak to your manager?”

The clerk looks him up and down, eyes flicking to where Shouto has clenched his fist and crinkled his form, noting the shift in his stance as Shouto prepares to send him to meet his maker. 

Then the clerk’s face cracks and he fucking laughs at Shouto. 

“This isn’t funny.” And Shouto closes his eyes, briefly, because he hates pulling this card. “Do you know who my father is?” 

The clerk busts up even harder.

“‘D-d’you know who my father is?’” And he’s mocking Shouto now, voice pitched low and breathy, and it’s the most disrespected Shouto has ever felt in his life

“Alright, asshole. You can kiss your job goodbye.” And Shouto turns on his heel to march off to find a supervisor. A police officer. A fucking parking attendant--literally anyone who can get this clerk in enough trouble to wipe the smirk off his face. 

But his legs won’t work. He’s got his back to the clerk’s desk, and the line of people-shaped beings has disappeared, and there’s nothing but vague orange distance stretching in all directions. He tries lifting his foot, can feel his calf straining, but it’s like there’s fucking Gorilla Glue on the bottom of his sneakers. His fist clenches hard enough to rip the form. 

“Goin’ somewhere, sweetheart?” Fuck it, he doesn’t need anyone else. He’s going to kill this clerk himself. 

He spins again, because apparently that’s all his feet will let him do, and glares daggers at the clerk. The clerk has his elbows up on his desk now, chin propped on his hands and head tilted to one side, smirking infuriatingly up at Shouto. 

“Yes,” Shouto hisses. “I’m going home, and then I’m going through every government directory until I find whoever your direct supervisor is, and then I’m going to get you fired so hard you’ll have to move countries to find another job.”

“‘Kay.” This clerk is insufferable. “While you’re doin’ that, can you read me off section thirty-one.” 

“Fuck you.” 

“Unlikely, but maybe if you take me on a date first.” 

The clerk stretches his arms over his head, leaning back on his chair, still looking smug as shit. Shouto is going to burn everything to the ground. 

“I am going to kill you.” 

“Get in line, asshat. Y’think people haven’t tried that before?” The clerk meets Shouto’s eyes straight on, and Shouto pauses. He takes in just how red the clerk’s eyes are, how they shine just a little too intensely to be natural. Some kind of fire kindling in the depths. His hair halos gold and soft around his face and his eyes burn. Talk about heavy-handed dichotomies. Shouto swallows.

“I can’t die, dumbass,” the clerk continues, voice hardening. “I’m already dead.” 

It’s too much. This person, this place, this entire situation. Shouto’s anger deflates, leaking out of him like helium out of a two-week-old birthday balloon. He wants out, he wants to go home, and he especially wants away from this clerk and his weirdly intense eyes. 

“You’re lying.” 

The clerk ticks his tongue, irritation back on his features. 

“Can’t do that, either. Can’t do a lot of things, actually,” and he kicks his leg up on his desk. A metallic sound rattles, and Shouto sees he’s shackled, heavy dark steel around his ankle chaining him to the leg of his desk before the clerk drops his foot back to the floor and settles forward to face his screen again. “But I can send you to wherever you’re gonna be spendin’ the next few millennia. As soon as you read me section thirty-one.”

Shouto looks down at the crumpled form in his hands. He’s still, but it feels like he’s shaking, his body numb while his mind is screaming at him to wake the fuck up from whatever nightmare he’s currently trapped in. 

No, not a nightmare, exactly, his brain amends. Not a good dream, either. He and this clerk are an island on a plane of burnt-orange nothing. The floor isn’t exactly solid, he sees, as he stares down at the form. Like the ceiling it’s murky, swirling like smoke, or oil on water, but he can see his feet. Can almost make out his sneakers. He thinks they’re sneakers. Everything is muted, and distant, and clear all at once. He decides he doesn’t feel real, after all. The only thing he’s sure is real is the clerk, because the clerk is sharp and detailed in the mess of nothing. As is his desk, and his computer, and the coffee mug he’s currently sipping and grimacing over when Shouto looks up at him again. 

“It’s cold, isn’t it,” and it’s not a question, or really anything, but Shouto blurts it out anyway. 

The clerk’s eyes flick to him again. “Yeah. Always is. No matter how fresh the pot.”

And it feels like an ascension, almost like the clerk has taken in how stricken Shouto feels and is pitying him. Normally pity makes Shouto’s blood boil, but right now, in this moment, he’s grateful. 

“Why.” Another, decidedly blurted not-question. 

The clerk sighs and puts his mug down. It says, ‘World’s Worst Grandpa’ on it in Comic Sans and it’s ridiculous enough that it almost makes Shouto giggle hysterically. 

“Y’can have coffee, but it’ll always be cold and just a little bitter. Y’can have a beer, but it’ll always be room temperature and there’re never any limes. Y’can have food, but it’s never seasoned enough.” The clerk looks particularly affronted about that one. “Y’can sleep, but you’ll never feel totally rested. It always feels like it’s going to rain, but it never quite does. It’s always twilight, or dawn, or whatever the fuck flavour of orange you’d call this. Things can never be too good, or too bad. They just are.” 

“Why.” Shouto is almost as tired of his monosyllabic demands for explanation as the clerk seems to be. 

“Because it’s what we’ve been deemed to deserve, dumbass.” The clerk spreads his arms wide, sardonically indicating at the nothing stretching around them. “Welcome to purgatory.” 

 

Time seems to slow down, or speed up, or stand still. Shouto can’t tell. He feels like he should be hyperventilating, his vision swimming, but his breathing doesn’t change. He isn’t breathing, actually. Maybe he hasn’t been breathing this whole time. Everything is a blur of orange and his head hurts, maybe. His chest might be hurting, too, or it’s just the feeling that they should be hurting that’s tricking his frazzled brain into lighting up those neurons. Does he even have neurons anymore? What the fuck. 

 

“--ey. Fuckin’. Oi, Shouto!” 

Shouto startles, coming out of his mind to see the clerk is standing with his arms outstretched, like he was about to touch Shouto, about to shake him out of whatever state he’d gotten himself into. 

“Goddamnit. You still with me?” 

“Um,” Shouto says, intelligently, and the clerk rolls his eyes and collapses into his chair again. 

“Smart as a whip, as always. Welcome back.” 

“Uh.” 

The clerk squints at him, like he’s being particularly unhelpful, which Shouto supposes he is, albeit unintentionally. 

“You gonna space out for another few years or can we get on with this? You’re not the only neutral asshole in need of processing.” 

“How,” and it comes out as a croak, so Shouto clears his throat and tries again. “How did I die?” 

“Are you always full of stupid questions?” The clerk has settled back into general irritability, and it’s calming in a way Shouto doesn’t entirely understand but isn’t going to push at because he’s about a hairsbreadth away from another full-blown panic. 

“Only when I’m dead.” 

“Oh, wonderful, the walkin’ bifurcation’s got jokes now.” And Shouto smiles, despite himself, and it’s wobbly, but the clerk looks a little surprised and the crinkle in his brow disappears for a moment and it softens his whole being enough that Shouto relaxes minutely. 

“I’m not s’posed to tell you--oh, don’t look at me like that--but if, and this is the stipulation, if I do, will you tell me section thirty-one so we can both get on with our afterlives?” 

Shouto swallows, very aware of the paper in his hands and also how apparently the clerk has a lot of information but not whatever is necessary to make Shouto leave him alone and that’s a tiny bit gratifying. Maybe this is part of the clerk’s purgatory experience. If Shouto wasn’t grappling with the reality of his own death he’d probably find it funny. 

“Sure.” 

“Wonderful,” the clerk says, pushing his glasses up his nose with his middle finger. “Gimme a min.” 

He starts clacking away at his keyboard again and Shouto rolls back on his heels, looking up at the not-ceiling and taking in how it looks exactly the same as the not-floor. The same swirling orange nothing, the same discorporeal smoke and space. There are no walls anywhere as far as he can see. It feels open-plan and claustrophobic in the same moment; it kind of reminds him of the five-hundred square foot studio apartment he’d moved into after college when he’d told his father to go fuck himself and had his credit cards cut off. He wonders how his plants are doing. He’s glad he never ended up getting a cat. 

The clerk lets out a low whistle and it pulls Shouto back. 

“What?” 

“Damn. Two mortal sins for the price of one. You goin’ for a prize or somethin’?” 

“Excuse me?” 

The clerk sweeps a hand towards his screen, indicating something that Shouto can’t see. 

“You killed yourself,” the clerk says bluntly, “and you killed someone else at the same time. Right down to the millisecond. Impressive.” 

Shouto’s vision swims again, he can feel himself falling back into that panic, but before he can disappear completely he feels hands on his face. Warm, rough hands. 

“--hole, hey! Shouto! Snap the fuck out of it!” 

The clerk is standing, almost bent double over his desk in order to reach Shouto’s face. His eyes are even more intense up close, swirling brimstone, but his hair looks soft to the touch, like ashen cornsilk. Shouto blinks. 

“Uh.” 

“There he is,” the clerk says, almost too softly, leaning back but not removing his hands. “You good, snowflake?” 

“Who--who did I--” 

“Kill?” And the clerk squishes Shouto's cheeks slightly before dropping his hands down to his sides. His brow’s all crinkled again, but he looks almost sad instead of the usual irritation. “I really don’t think tellin’ you that is a good ide--” 

“Tell me.” 

“Fuckin--” the clerk drops into his seat again and turns back to his screen, typing something and scrolling down, muttering to himself the whole while. “This is why we’re not s’posed to tell people this shit. It’s page one in the fuckin’ trainin’ manual. ‘Don’t tell ‘em how they died, don’t tell ‘em how they lived, just get the info and send ‘em on their way.’ Supposed to be fuckin’ simple. If you tell ‘em how they died it makes ‘em all upset. Makes ‘em feel all guilty when there’s no point because the system decides where you go and what your punishment is and how long it’s gonna be and knowin’ and feelin’ bad isn’t going to change anythin’--oh.” 

It’s the most the clerk has said at once since Shouto has met him, and it’s grounding in its distraction, and Shouto has about seven thousand questions concerning the ‘system’ and ‘punishments’ and how long he’s going to be here--how time works exactly when they’re dead, for that matter--but the clerk’s expressive face looks a little shell-shocked and Shouto has a feeling about the discovery he’s just made, the name he’s just seen. 

“Who is it?” he asks, voice low and as even as he can make it. If he could still feel his heartbeat he thinks it’d be rabbiting a mantra against the walls of his chest. Not her, not her, not her, not her…

“Uh,” the clerk looks at him warily. “Your dad.” 

Shouto’s relief is palpable. He closes his eyes and mumbles an emphatic, “thank fuck.” 

“What?” 

Shouto cracks his eyes open again to see the clerk looking at him like he’s a ghost. 

“I said, ‘thank fuck,” Shouto repeats, voice pitched clear and confident, “Thank fuck he’s dead. Thank fuck I killed him.” 

“Holy shit.” Now the clerk is looking at him like he’s just met a particularly amusing ghost, confusion and satisfaction and quirked lips and crinkled eye corners. “You’re really fuckin’ weird, y’know that?” 

“So I’ve been told,” and it’s dry and facetious but they’re smiling at each other now, easy over the desk and computer and the chain around the clerk’s foot and the heaviness of Shouto being a murderer and the fact that they’re both dead.

“My old man was a piece of shit.” 

“Oh, fuck yeah,” the clerk says, leaning back in his chair. “He’s very much in hell right now. It says so right here.” 

“Good.” 

“I mean, it one-hundred-fuckin’-percent is good, but normal people aren’t usually all pleased about killing their dads.” 

Shouto shrugs. “What is normal, anyway?” 

The clerk snorts. “Fuck if I know, babe.” 

There’s a weight off his shoulders; he feels light, easy, much better about this whole ‘being dead’ situation now that he knows his father is six-feet-under with him and can’t hurt his family anymore. Something still doesn’t sit right in his mind, though. 

“If he’s in hell, and I committed two mortal sins, why am I not in hell, too?” 

“Second chance clause.” 

“What?” 

The clerk leans back in his roller chair, arms folding behind his neck and staring up at the not-ceiling. 

“‘S’been around for a few millennia. Humans started getting more complicated. Moral ambiguity became more common. Religion got all up in people’s faces. Blah fuckin’ blah. The afterlife has to make amendments to keep up, y’know?”

“So I’m morally ambiguous?” 

“I don’t fuckin’ know how the system adds things up, but maybe your dad was such a monumental piece of shit that killin' him neutralized the killin' yourself. I don’t think killin’ yourself should be a fuckin’ demerit, anyway. You’d think livin' a life of so much pain that you’d rather off yourself would be punishment enough.” The clerk is frowning at the not-ceiling, now, eyes hard and searching. “The universe should give you a break, I think. Be kinder to you for a while.” He comes back down, shaking his shoulders self-consciously. Shouto files that away. “But that’s not my call to make so what-the-fuck-ever.” 

“Huh. If I’d known it would be good for my immortal soul maybe I would have killed my father sooner.” 

This startles a laugh out of the clerk, and Shouto tucks a grin into the collar of his shirt. 

The orange nothing is kind of pretty, if he squints. The clerk is kind of pretty, too, when he’s smiling at Shouto like this. 

“What’s your name?” And ah, there, the scowl is back. He’s pretty like this, too, actually. 

“Why?” 

“Because you know so much about me, but I only know a few things about you.” 

The clerk’s eyes narrow. “What exactly have you decided that you know about me?” 

“That you come off as all abrasive but you’re actually quite kind, that you have a rude vernacular but you’re actually really smart, you don’t seem to respect authority all that much, which I can get behind completely by the way,” Shouto counts them off on his fingers, monotone and very much enjoying the clerk’s reddening face, “and you’re kind of short, but you’re cute even when I want to punch you.” 

The clerk leaps to his feet, fists clenched at his sides, spluttering. 

“I’m not short, asshat, you’re only a couple inches taller than me.” 

“A couple inches can make a big difference,” Shouto says, smug, and he winks just for good measure. The clerk looks like he’s going to combust. 

“Shut the fuck up and die.” 

“As you have oh so kindly reminded me, multiple times, I am already dead and so are you so that’s a moo point.” 

The clerk blinks, all the anger draining out of him in an instant. “It’s a what?” 

“Moo point.” Shouto cocks his head to one side. Maybe the clerk isn’t as intelligent as he’d thought. “It’s pointless. Like the opinion of a cow. When have you ever heard a cow come up with a good idea? Thus, moo point.” 

“Holy shit,” the clerk says softly, “you’re actually so stupid.” 

“That’s kind of rude.” 

“We’ve already established that I’m rude, but I’m cute so that makes up for it. You were kind of cute, too, until you violently misused a cliche then confidently mansplained your mistake.” 

Shouto’s stomach does a happy kind of flip. 

“You think I’m cute?” 

“Oh my god. I want to die.” 

“Already dead,” Shouto smiles, and the clerk is back to looking like he wants to strangle him. “If I tell you section thirty-one will you tell me your name?” 

Man, if looks could kill. It still wouldn’t matter, Shouto’s already dead. Another moo point. 

“You said if I told you about you offing your dad you’d tell me section thirty-one.” 

“The terms and conditions have changed.” 

“You’re insufferable.” 

“And also cute. Don’t forget that part.” 

The clerk makes a kind of aborted strangled noise and sits back down to fume in his chair for a few moments. Or hours. Or years. Shouto still doesn’t know how time works. Finally,

“Tell me section thirty-one first, and then maybe I’ll tell you my name.” 

“That doesn’t seem like a particularly good deal for me.” 

“What are you, a lawyer? You definitely should be in hell then. Take the deal, dumbass, or we’re gonna be stuck here for eternity.” 

“Why can’t you just grab the paper out of my hand?” 

Ah, the clerk is now looking at him like he's a particularly ugly cockroach. Comforting. 

“There’re rules, you burnt chicken tender.” Now he’s the one listing things off on his fingers, looking particularly chagrined about the whole experience. “I can’t lie, I can’t leave this desk until my shift is over, and I can’t force you to tell me what’s on your form. But, if you don’t tell me what’s on your form then I can’t open the door that will take you to your particular circle of purgatory and we’ll just be stuck in this bureaucratic liminal space.”

“I mean,” Shouto shrugs again, “there could be worse things. At least I’d be stuck with you.” 

“Oh for fuc--it’s Katsuki, okay? Katsuki. Now will you quit flirtin’ and tell me your fuckin’ thirty-one before I drag you to hell myself.” 

“Katsuki,” Shouto repeats, rolling the syllables across his tongue. “That's pretty. It suits you.”

Die, motherfu--” 

“Centauri C374.” 

“--cker--what?” 

“Centauri C374. That’s my section thirty-one.” 

The clerk--Katsuki looks like he’s about to explode again. 

“Are you serious?” 

“Yes? How would I even come up with something like that?” Shouto blinks, incredulous, as Katsuki slams the keys and mutters, 

“Of fuckin’ course.” 

Shouto is about to ask him what he’s done wrong this time when Katsuki hits the enter key especially hard and a door pops into existence to the left of his desk. It’s brown wood and unassuming, with a gold handle and a lion-head shaped knocker. It looks like the front door of a middle-class bungalow built in 1970s suburbia. 

Katsuki sweeps a dismissive arm toward it. 

“There you go: Centauri C374. Home sweet home.” 

Shouto doesn’t particularly want to open the door. 

“How many section thirty-ones are there?” 

“Do you ever stop asking questions?” 

“Humour me.” 

Katsuki rolls his eyes again--he’s good at that. 

“Thousands, probably. Hundreds of thousands. Maybe millions, who knows. They’re neighbourhoods for people to wait out their time in purgatory.”

“And you can’t leave your neighbourhood?”

“Nope,” Katsuki says, popping the ‘p’.

Shouto’s stomach falls. “And you live in one, too?” 

Katsuki squints at him. “Yes? Obviously? D’you think I’m just going to sit here helping dead assholes forever?” 

“So, I’ll probably never see you again.” It’s said smaller than Shouto would like. 

Katsuki huffs at him, and it’s probably a laugh if a laugh can be an annoyed exhalation. 

“You might run into me.” 

“Really?” And Shouto perks up so fast it’s almost embarrassing. Whatever. He’s about to enter the real afterlife and he’s grown a little fond of Katsuki and his bad attitude. Sue him. 

“Yes, idiot,” and if Shouto unfocuses his eyes a little Katsuki looks fond, too. “That door leads to my home sweet home, too.” 

“Cool.” 

“‘Cool,’ he says. The fuck does that mean?” 

“‘Cool’ as in I might want to run into you.”

Katsuki huffs again, pink and dimply. Cute. 

“You gonna miss me or somethin’, sweetheart?”

And maybe Shouto is a little warm under the collar as well. 

“When do you get off shift?”

“Why?” 

“Because I’d like to buy you a room-temperature beer. Sans lime.” 

“Money only exists in hell, idiot,” and Shouto feels his eyes crinkle as his grin broadens and Katsuki throws his hands up in defeat. “Ugh, fine. You’ve worn me down. Meet me at the Bad Saint in, like, twenty-six years. Corner of 84th and Fugue State Boulevard.” 

“I’ll be there,” Shouto says, and Katsuki smiles, just a little. 

 

Shouto steps through the door.