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When Katsuki first came home from Kamino, his mother had looked at him for all of two seconds before smacking him upside the head and starting to yap about him not taking his shoes off at the genkan. 

‘I just got fucking kidnapped, hag, get off my back for a minute!’ he’d snapped at her, and she’d instantly fired back with something equally vulgar that had her husband cringing wearily. The order had been restored just like that. Like it was just another night—like Katsuki hadn’t spent the last two hours getting checked over by paramedics, and the fifty before that in an abandoned bar surrounded by murderers.

But for the most fleeting of moments, in that window of time before things had reverted to the naturalness of their dynamic, there had been something. Some uncharted depth to the look she had given him, which he hadn’t the energy nor the bravery to address. 

 

It’s that look now, that adorns Mitsuki’s face as she stares at the hospital corridor wall blankly. She’s been staring at it for twenty minutes; at least, that’s how long Katsuki’s been watching her do it. Who knows how long she’d been here before he’d arrived. She’s yet to notice his presence from the other side of the corridor, too absorbed in her distant staring. She has the look in her eyes that she’d given him the night he’d returned from Kamino—staring off at some distant horizon that only she is privy to. Her body has adopted an unnatural, eerie sort of stillness, like she’s vacated it and let her consciousness drift off elsewhere. It has Katsuki’s hackles raising, discontentment stirring low in his gut. 

He’s familiar with a lot of his mother’s attitudes, from anger to disappointment to begrudging pride, to even the occasional gruff affection. The common denominator? Everything she does is done loud. A statement, an assertion. Nothing in halves, everything in certainty. It’s one of the few things he’s proud to have taken down from her. But this—this is unprecedented. This is quiet, and unassuming, and everything that Bakugou Mitsuki does not possess. 

She’s wearing her pyjamas: a pair of worn sweatpants, a shirt with a too-wide neckline that slips ever-so-slightly to one side, a cardigan hanging off her shoulders. She looks like a stranger—enough so that it manages to jolt Katsuki out of the odd reverie he’s been in since he woke up to Deku’s absence.

 

He steps forward and then coughs once, the motion sending a shock of pain through his abdomen. At the sound, his mother’s head turns towards him, her reaction delayed by a split second. Recognition sparks. Slowly, she stands from where she’s been curled in her seat. They watch each other for a long moment: one unreadable, the other unsure. Then, as if in slow motion, Katsuki watches as his mother’s face crumples, into something he can only describe as pure anguish.

Katsuki,” she whispers, like a prayer.

And then she’s running—barrelling towards him and knocking the breath from his chest. It takes him another moment to realise that the vice-like tightness around his abdomen is stemming from her arms wrapped around him, and not his wound.

“Katsuki.” Her voice shakes on the repetition. He swallows thickly, rolling the word around on his tongue. She hasn’t called him by his name in so long. He supposes this is a circumstance that requires him to return the courtesy.

“Mom,” he says slowly. 

She smells like detergent and the lingering remnants of her usual perfume. When she draws back to look at him, her lips are trembling in a way that sends Katsuki’s heart dropping into his stomach.

This is new—this is entirely uncharted territory. He’d been told that his parents had been waiting to see him, but he’d also expected for them to brush past it, the way they had with Kamino, and the sports festival, and all the times before that. 

He stands stiffly, lets her raise a hand to trace over his cheek with a gentleness that she hasn’t directed at him in years.

“They told me you were—you almost—” Her voice tapers off, eyes slipping tightly shut, and Katsuki thinks, oh.

Kirishima had told him upon waking up that there had been a point where they’d considered he might not make it. Katsuki hadn’t given it much thought at the time, as selfish as he was. He didn’t care to deal in missed possibilities. To him, the fact that he was alive was the only thing relevant. 

But now, seeing his mother stand here looking small and soft in her rumpled pyjamas, he thinks that maybe there was more after all. 

“God,” Mitsuki whispers hoarsely. “God, Katsuki, what the hell am I supposed to do with you?”

Her thumb dances across the apple of his cheek, back and forth.

“I’m fine,” he mutters. 

His mother sniffs. It’s a wet sound, and he realises with a distant, detached sort of alarm that she’s crying.

There are real tears tracking their way down her reddening face right now, leaving streaky paths behind.

“Mom,” he says, louder. “I’m fine.” There’s a sense of urgency in his voice this time, as if trying to stop her tears, return her to her usual aloof composure with the words alone.

“Scared me to damn death,” she chokes into his shoulder. “Christ. I—You can’t—”

She’s crying harder, and his hands tremble at his sides. Katsuki doesn’t know what to do with this—he’s never seen her cry in his life.

“You can’t do that to me ever again, you hear me?” she demands wetly. “Never again, Katsuki.”

“I won’t,” he says numbly. “Mom, I swear I’m fine. Stop—don’t cry.”

Bakugou Mitsuki, nationally recognised model, hardest person he’s ever known—reduced to tears in a hospital corridor... for him?

“You think you’re grown,” she tells him shakily. “You think you’re all grown up and you don’t need us anymore, but you’re my baby, you understand? You’re my baby, Katsuki. You’re just a kid.”

Katsuki’s mouth opens, before closing once again.

“Please stop crying,” he says finally. He’s pleading, desperate in a way he’d never have dreamed of being in his life. “Come on, ma. Don’t.”

His chest feels red-hot, the sight of her tears so unfamiliar that it makes bile rise hot in his chest. She shouldn’t—not for him. Not for him

“You’re my baby,” she repeats again, words warm against the damp fabric of his shirt. “What the hell am I supposed to do if you go and leave me, huh? You’re too small—you haven’t even grown up yet—!”

A fresh surge of tears wets his shoulder further, and he notes that the trembling of his fists has now migrated all the way up to his torso.

“I’m fine,” he insists sharply. “Mom, I’m fine, so stop—don’t do this. Stop it.”

How can I stop? ” she cries, hitting a weak fist against his chest. “Tell me how to stop worrying, damn it, Katsuki! I’m your damn mother! All I do is worry! How can I not worry when I get a call telling me my damn baby might not make it through the night?!”

Katsuki’s ears are burning hot. He glares at the wall over her shoulder, blinking rapidly to repel the tears that sting at his eyes traitorously. 

“You can’t leave me,” she whispers, voice dying down to a trembling wisp. She reaches up, takes his face in her shaking hand and turns him to meet her glassy eyes. “I won’t let you. You’re my world, Katsuki. I don’t know what the hell I’d do if you were gone.”

Katsuki tilts his head away, staring at the ceiling intently and trying weakly to blink away the tears that already bead at his waterline. He can feel his heart in his throat. She loves him—he knows this on some level, as he always has. Despite her gruff attitude, she’s never left any room for him to doubt her love. But this—seeing the words laid out so bare, threaded with such grounding sincerity—

“I’m not going anywhere,” he says finally, voice shaking. “I’m right here, ma. I’m okay.”

Her hand leaves his face finally, dropping down to clasp his own. She’s tiny against him—fingers small and soft and warm. He grips her tightly, squeezes until he feels the warmth seep through their skin.

He’s never seen his mother like this, in all his life. After the sludge villain, after the USJ, after it all—she’d always had it together; always had him wondering if she had even been worried at all.

Here, he’s completely blindsided.

“Just—sit down, okay?” he bites out after a prolonged silence, guiding her slumped form towards one of the chairs that lines the wall. “Sit.”

She sinks into it, hand still clasped tightly in his. Her head is downturned, but her shoulders shake with the force of her continued silent sobs. 

They don’t talk for a long moment, before Mitsuki’s head dips down to rest against his stomach. He stands stiffly, one hand in hers and the other on her back, watching as she cries to herself.

In this moment, he’s filled with a sudden, intense wave of self-hatred—stronger than he’s felt in weeks. It wars with red-hot guilt, searing in his chest. All the things he’s put her through, the way he’s reduced her to this sobbing, shaking mess in a hospital at two in the morning—and for what? Does he really have the right to this? To, without knowledge, hold such power over someone who had previously been impenetrable?

 

He stands for a long time—long enough for his mother to fall still against him. He doesn’t realise she’s fallen unconscious, hand lax in his clenched fist, until there’s a tap at his shoulder. 

 

“She’s passed out, huh?” Katsuki’s father murmurs from where he’s drawn up at their side. They both watch Mitsuki silently for a moment, Katsuki distraught and Masaru with warm fondness.

His father turns to look at him.

“We were worried about you.” 

Katsuki doesn’t turn his gaze away from his mother’s curled form, the way her feet, still adorned in her house slippers, tuck under her body neatly. She looks so small.

“I know,” he says, words laden with a weight that they would not have previously held. “Has she ever—before—?” He cuts himself off, voice catching in his throat.

His father sighs quietly, still looking at the side of Katsuki’s head where his son refuses to face him. The unspoken question is clear between them.

“Every single time,” he replies, after a moment’s pause. “Every single time. That sludge villain in middle school, the attack at the USJ—every time.”

They lapse into silence. His father’s hand feels like lead on his shoulder.

“I never thought—” he chokes out weakly. “She was always so—she acted like she didn’t—”

Masaru doesn’t say anything for a beat, and against his better judgement, Katsuki turns to glance at him briefly.

His father is smiling, something distinctly somber to the gentle curl of his lip. He’s looking at Katsuki with an intensity that makes him feel like he’s transparent—like the man is looking right through him, laying him bare with his eyes alone.

“She didn’t sleep for the entire time that you were missing, last summer,” he tells Katsuki softly. “Called in sick from work, and cried nonstop.”

After a split-second of hesitation, Masaru’s grip tightens imperceptibly, and he turns Katsuki to face him fully. The younger boy doesn’t meet his gaze, eyes cast toward the floor.

“She still gets anxious when you go too long without calling home,” he adds carefully.

Katsuki feels something in his chest splinter. It’s like someone’s reached through his chest, has grasped his heart in a cold hand and crushed it. 

Finally, for the first time of the night, he looks at his father properly.

There are bags under his eyes, and his normally bright face looks sunken, somehow. Like he’s aged ten years since the two weeks that it’s been since Katsuki last saw him.

Katsuki has never doubted himself the way he does in this moment—has never taken a step back and questioned his future. Being a hero—it’s simple, isn’t it? Train, study, work hard, become number one. He’s viewed his path in a series of inevitabilities. Everything that needs to happen will happen; nothing is left unaccounted for. But in his profound determination, there had been little consideration for this—for the collateral. Training, studying, working—none of it could shield his parents from this worry. He is physically strong, he knows he is—but another's fear is something he cannot fight. 

Despite his many flaws, Katsuki is nothing if not self-aware. He has been in full acknowledgement of the fact that he cannot emerge from every fight unscathed, regardless of his many attempts to ignore it. If he has taken anything from UA, it is the reminder of his own mortality. The variable left neglected is that while Katsuki could be patched up physically, could be bandaged and treated and brought back to wellness, there is little he can do to protect his parents from this terror even if he takes the mantle of number one. It possesses an inexorability that will not—can not—be remedied by any great milestone or feat, no matter how hard Katsuki may try. 

The question posed to him now—the question that has manifested itself so suddenly and taken so much of his assurance—is whether he’s willing to accept such a burden. Whether he is selfish enough to continue onward obstinately, to put his parents through this in pursuit of his own path.

 

“Dad,” Katsuki says vacantly. “Should I just—should I forget about all this?”

His father tilts his head, eyes warm and earnest and kind.

“Forget about what, bud?”

Katsuki swallows thickly, raising a hand to gesture listlessly at the empty corridor, at the three of them.

He turns his gaze downward again, examining the greyish-green linoleum.

“Katsuki,” his father says.

Katsuki doesn’t look at him, bandaged fingers curling in the thin papery fabric of his hospital pants. 

“Katsuki,” Masaru says again, louder this time. He places a hand on Katsuki’s face, tilting his head back upward, cradling his cheek in a facsimile of the way Mitsuki had, not long ago. There’s something careful in the brush of his fingers, like he’s holding something delicate—something precious.

But there’s a hardness to his eyes that hadn’t been present moments ago. Something resolved and firm in a way that he rarely gets around Katsuki.

“Heroics is your dream, isn’t it?” 

Too soft—everything about it is too soft. The way he’s looking at him, speaking to him, holding him. It makes Katsuki’s skin crawl, makes him want to jump out of his body and disappear. At his side, his mother’s hand is still clasped loosely in his, soft and dwarfed against his calloused palm.

“Fuck, dad,” he whispers hoarsely. “I don’t want it if it means she’s going to be feeling like this every time I—”

He’s cut off with a sigh. Low, heavy, the way Masaru gets when his son has done something ridiculously stupid that he still manages to find endearing.

“You grew up so fast,” the man whispers. He’s smiling again, fondly. There’s something warm and intensely proud in his gaze that has Katsuki’s stomach churning.

“Already become a man, haven’t you? All without me noticing.”

Katsuki tears his eyes away, breaking the eye contact that has suddenly become too intense—too much.

“Don’t be gross,” he mutters weakly, cheeks hot. 

His father chuckles.

“You never asked us for much growing up. This—being a hero—it’s the only thing I’ve ever seen you want.”

His hand still cradles Katsuki’s cheek, even as his son refuses to look at him. 

“Don’t give this up over us,” he murmurs warmly. “You don’t need to protect us from this. This—worrying, caring—it’s what we do.”

Dropping a hand from Katsuki’s shoulder, he takes the boy’s unoccupied hand in his.

“We’ll be okay, Katsuki,” he tells him. Katsuki doesn’t speak, eyes stinging as he gazes at where his mother grasps one of his hands and his father the other. “You just take care of that dream of yours. Your mother and I will take care of each other. Okay?”

After a pregnant stretch of silence, Katsuki leans forward, hiding his shining eyes against his father’s shoulder.

Being number one—it’s a goal that underpins everything he does, is threaded through every breath he takes. But Katsuki thinks that maybe another desire has entered his scope, for the first time in his sixteen years of living; something bigger, more deep-rooted. He’s going to become so damn strong that his parents will never have to feel like this again.

“Okay,” he whispers wetly.