“I Love You, Red”

Old and grey, Eijiro reflects and reconnects with the past in his final moments.

TW: MCD, <— this is for the passing of the elderly and mentions of things long done, mention of sickness, afterlife, reunions, happy ending
Not gonna lie, this was a really hard one, but it was very therapeutic to write.

And it’s manly to cry

There’s sunlight, though it seems to be fading.

Kirishima’s heartbeat is so loud coming from a machine. It’s hollow and empty, but he supposes it’s better than being uncomfortably aware of how soft the beating in his chest has truly become.
He wants to be anywhere but in another hospital bed.

He’s seen so many sterile rooms in his time, in his years spent as a pro.
Sometimes for himself and sometimes for others, just another enigmatic figure in a doorway visiting in hopes his presence would be remembered through even a single moment of lucidity.
Hospitals are a scary place in his line of work.

They hold empty promises and the echoes of begging for some higher power to grant them grace in their darkest hours.
There are successes of course, times where he’d seen his friends walk out on crutches or rise out of wheelchairs with big smiles on their faces after extensive surgeries while nurses cried and cheered.

Those are some of Kiri’s fondest memories.
There are losses too, of course, things Kirishima tries to pretend he doesn’t think about every day.

He pushes those thoughts off and goes about his routine, slowly but surely making his way from room-to-room in his house, cooking and cleaning in hopes of distracting himself.
Happy memories help.

On the bad days, he can glide his fingers over the faded dashed marks on the frame of his kitchen door and recount each time he measured his grandchildren, his own children before that.

They’d squirm and grin and he’d always mark a little higher than +
+the ruler said, just so they’d squeal in delight that they’d grown.

He can sit down in Katsuki’s old chair that hasn’t moved from underneath the big window in the sitting room in almost two decades and stare at the rug the crotchety old blond had hated.
Kirishima couldn’t get himself to get rid of it. How could he bring it to the landfill when so many of the little ones had taken their first steps right there in that room?

In the end, he always thinks about them.
/It’s gonna be a bad day./

Kirishima works his eyes open, despite their wishes, and encourages them to see when they’d much rather fall closed again.
At least he’s not alone this time.

Mina is seemingly asleep, slouched over slightly in a chair that’s been dragged to Kirishima’s bedside. She’s loyally holding his hand, even as she snores softly.

They’ve been together as long as his memory serves, back years and years.
She’s certainly changed. They both have, he supposes.

They’d debuted with some of the wildest hair on the pro scene, Kirishima graduating with a huge tangled mane going halfway down his back and her pink afro only getting poofier with time, +
ripening through their schooling like a fine wine.

How many years ago was that?

Kirishima had stopped box-dyeing his own when he turned 50, letting the grey hair intermingle with the faded red he was known for.
/Red Riot/

The name--his own, he reminds himself--sits heavy and foreign on his tongue. The words aren’t used to being there anymore.

Other people still call him that, mostly out of respect for his service or if he attends the odd gala, but never himself.
That’s not him anymore, hasn’t been for a long time.
Mina stirs in the quiet moments that he contemplates what his career meant to him. Her own hair is grey too and her eyes catch his as they flutter open, hers creasing with wrinkles as she smiles and rubs his knuckles with her thumb.

“How are you feelin’, Red?”
/It’s okay when she says it/

“Tired,” he returns softly.
It’s kinda hard to talk with the tubes in his nose and he doesn’t know how to gauge his volume; the hearing aids in his ears are so used to being tinkered with that his hands turn the dial with practiced ease, minus the creak of his weary shoulder.
Mina tracks his movements with her eyes, keeping a steady gaze on how his hand moves and his chest expands and contracts.

Their bodies might be getting old, but their brains are still sharper than Kiri’s hardening on a good day, if you excuse the aged rocky splinters.
She’s smart. She knows what’s coming next. Her smile is telling of more than any of her words possibly can.

They’d been together so long, what really more was there to say that couldn’t be exchanged with a tender touch of hands or that fleeting connection of their eyes?
It was just them in that hospital room now.
The Kirishima kids had towed in children of their own, some clinging to their legs and others zooming like airplanes around Eijiro’s bed while they told him about their day or what their teachers scolded them for at school or, for some of the older ones, about their crushes
Those were his favorite and he laughed with them and, if he had the strength, would fistbump them while putting his hardened knuckles against theirs.
His children came separately, for the most part.

The youngest, Kirishima Ichika, had brought and draped Katsuki’s favorite blanket over Eijiro’s legs while the second-oldest son, Kaki, had held his hand and told him all of their favorite stories from when they were growing up.
His voice cracked when he remembered the time big tough pro hero Red Riot dressed up as a T-rex and chased them all when they hopped off the bus from school one day, but Eijiro closed his eyes and let his son have that moment to himself.
His family had grown strong, was still growing outwards with branches all cultivated from a seed planted on the day that Eijiro and Katsuki had exchanged vows and promised their lives to each other.

In life and in death, in sickness and in health.
Many, many stories were told on those days. Lots of teasing too, between the siblings. And lots of repeated goodbyes, each one more prolonged than the last.

When they’d left, old colleagues had visited, some professional, some personal, all family to him.
And finally, it was just Mina, stubborn as a bull, even with greying hair and a disc in her hip.

“I hope you’re not too tired to talk to me, ya ole codger,” she jokes, still rubbing his hands in hers. “I ain’t getting any younger.”
“That’s for damn sure,” Ei wheezes in jest and laughs when he gets a whack to the shoulder.

“You better watch that mouth. My acid is as potent as ever and I’ll turn ya into the consistency of that stupid tapioca the nurses have been feeding you.”
“Hey! I /like/ their tapioca!” He shoots back. “And so do you!”

“Not the point!”
They both laugh, but her chuckles turn to concern and she reaches up out of her chair as his turn to retching coughs, but he waves her down.

The attack passes and he grumbles into the side of his fist before his hand moves down to over his heart.
He doesn’t make eye contact with her. “You’ll take care of ‘em, won’t you, Mina?”

“Of course I will, Ei.” She plasters a smile back on her face, but this one is even more knowing than the last. It’s not genuine and Kiri can see it.
“And so will you. We’ll yell at whippersnappers to get off our lawns until we’re both so old that we don’t remember who we are anymore, but we’ll still be there for each other. Always.”
“Always…” Eijiro nods his head slowly as he leans back into the crinkly hospital pillow, his eyes easing shut. “I’d like that. Just two old coots and our pudding.”
She hums in agreement. Their hands touch again, but she doesn’t grab his and hold it like last time, just graces the top with an ethereal touch, almost as soft as the question that follows. “Anything I can get for you?”

“No, thank you. I have everything I need.”
He’s conscious of the way his chest rises and falls again. It’s slower.

“Hey, Ei--” Her voice cracks just like his son’s did.

And just like for his son, Eijiro says nothing, but he opens his eyes to see her face again.
/This face shouldn’t cry. She’s too pretty/

His hand shakes as it rises, but Mina meets him halfway and he musters up the energy to wipe a few tears away from her cheek.
“I’ll see you soon, okay?” He promises.

She doesn’t respond, just sucks her lips in between her teeth and closes her eyes as she nods, clutching his hand as a few more drops fall.
A deep breath later, she’s easing back and grabbing her purse to make her way out, but her hand rests for a moment too long on the door and she looks back over her shoulder.
“I love you, Red.”

“Love you too, Pinky.”

And then she’s gone.
But he’s not alone.

The sigh he takes is labored and hard on his body, forcing him to close his eyes.

When he opens them again, they’re there.
Three men, one on either side of the bed and one at his feet, all staring and their bodies shimmering as the light of the setting sun shines through them.

They’re foggy and blurred, but even with his weak eyes, he knows who they are.
“Damn, Ei, you look older than death!” The figure on the left laughs and the figure on the right shoots him a look, but Kiri doesn’t notice, he’s too busy suppressing a sob.
God, he looks the same as he did all those years ago. Lean and fit, so skinny that he would’ve had to run around in the rain just to catch a drop. Smile almost as bright as his electric yellow hair, the lightning bolt, ebony black.
He couldn’t have been older than 25, the same as when he died.

“Well, he /is/ pretty fuckin' grey!” Kaminari groaned at the ghost of the much older man across from him.
No more mullet, but still sprinkled with a decent amount of pepper amongst the salt was Sero. It felt like just yesterday that Kiri had lost him too, but that couldn’t be right.

He tried to tally the years in his head, but couldn’t focus past 15 with the squabbling over him.
“Goddammit, Denki, have a little tact, will you?”

“Yeah, /okay/. ‘Yo, Red, you /totally/ don’t look like you’re about to kick the bucket. Right as rain, I reckon’,” the blond laughed and threw his hands up in a fake sparring stance as ghost Sero kept slugging fake punches.
His laugh.

It’d been almost 60 years. Kaminari had missed out on more than two whole lifetime's worth of laughter with him.
That was one of the bad memories, the day that he fought that storm-quirked villain and got struck by too many bolts of lightning to stay standing.
Through rain and gale-force winds, the people cheered him on and called his name, but when the cumulonimbus clouds cleared and the search had started, it was Kiri who had found him scorched to the earth.
And Sero, he’d been taken by respiratory failure 20 years back. That seemed about right, Kiri decided, if he mathed it all out.

Too many years of swinging through crumbling debris and sifting through ash and detritus, the doctors had said.
Years taken from him to be given to others, so they could live.

He never regretted it, none of it. It was all part of the job description.
“/You/,” Kaminari emphasizes with a point of his finger. “You’re just saying that because you’re old too.”

“Nuh uh, /wise/, my friend. Wise beyond /your/ years,” Sero quips back, lips curling back into his signature smirk. “But, I guess you wouldn’t know what that’s like.”
“Damn, it’s like that, huh?”

He shakes a disgraced head and only turns back when Kiri barks a loud raucous laugh, louder than he’s laughed in a long time, and the former red-head wipes a stray tear from his eye.
Sero’s eyes light up and his grin widens while Kami dons a gloating beam of his own.

He laughs until his chest hurts and he’s doubled over in coughs again and he waits for the concerned hands to fall on him, but Mina isn’t there to catch him.

And his friends are gone.
It’s not a cry that comes out next, but something close, mixed with a wheeze and a release of pent-up feelings he’d held for too long.. “Fuck, I’ve missed you guys.”
Sero opens his mouth but Kaminari beats him to the punch. “We’ve missed you too, buddy!”

The lanky hero across from him nods and it’s welcoming, so much different than the interactions Kiri’d had in the last few days.
Those had all been dismissal, farewells, au revoirs, and it’s a welcome change.

It didn’t feel so much like he was being kicked to the curb.
“So,” Kiri starts. He’s not entirely sure what to say, or what to do. Just knows that there’s only one way to go. “Is this the end?”
“Not quite.” His classmates separate and the third figure, silent and vigilant the entire time, bows his head to Kirishima.
“Yeah, Kiri, there’s still one more person for you to talk to.”

It’s obvious and redundant, but Kami putting it into words like that does something to Eijiro. They’re phantoms or ghosts or something, but seeing that face makes his friends seem so much more real.
The blond and the salt-and-and pepper-headed Sero move forward to place a hand on each of Kiri’s shoulders and he chokes another sob when he can’t feel the pressure of their skin on his.
Even now, they’re shimmering more in the light, their visages blurring and their faces becoming more obscured even as Kiri tries to scramble to hold on.
Slipping through his fingers like they always had, Eijiro whines when his ears catch wind of the same words that Mina had told him moments ago.

“We love you, Red.”

And then they’re gone too.
It’s getting harder and harder to say goodbye. Why had it been so much easier when it was his living family? Had he made peace with that?

He knew, being a hero, that there might be a day when he wouldn’t come home.
They all knew it was a fact of life, even if it was a terrible one. It was a delicate balance to raise a family while all knowing that death could be at your door at any moment, on any day and without warning.
It could swoop in with cold hands and tear them apart, uncaring and unforgiving.

But he always thought it would be him. He was prepared for that.
The figure at his feet shimmers as he walks around to stand at Ei’s side and squat to his level.

It’s so hard for him to look. He looks so much like Katsuki, it’s uncanny, but the rounder eyes and dark hair give him away.
He’s got the devilish smirk and cut jaw synonymous with the Bakugous, but with the mouth full of shark teeth that made the Kirishima family get front pages on the magazines and in the spreads.
He’s young, and the sobs that Ei was suppressing flood out, carving heavy lines in his grimacing cheeks as the man smiles at him with all the fondness he can muster.

“Hey, Pa. Been a while.”
Ei starts to reach out, but when he realizes he won’t be able to pull his son close, won’t be able to run his fingers through his hair and won’t be able to feel a heart under clothes and flesh, beating stronger than his own, he fists his hands in Katsuki’s blankets instead.
The tears are squeezed out in between his hacking cough and his torso throws itself forward to try and expel his weakened lungs.

The wound is old, but you can’t fix a bleeding heart with bandaids and duct tape, so his son gives him the moment to grieve.
Eijiro whines as he finally leans upright, face ruddied and contorted with sadness.

“Oh, my boy.”
Curse his son’s strength. He took after Katsuki in that way, always unfairly strong in times when he needed to be and tender when he didn’t have to be the rock for someone else.

He could be Eijiro’s rock.
Red Riot, the sturdy hero, a pillar of strength for so many, crying at the ghost of his son.

For shame, but he couldn’t help himself, and it’s manly to cry.
It’d hurt twice over, the loss of his son. Those were the roughest years of his life, when he had lost three of the most important people to him one after the other.
Kirishima Itsuki, their first child, had taken after his fathers and gone to their alma mater UA.

Always the best at everything, just like his dad, up-and-coming number one hero, ready to kick his old man out of the spot himself, but he never got the chance.
They’d sent him on a mission with no success rate, and he never came home.

Only a year after Sero passed.

When Eijiro has the energy to rise again, he pulls Katsuki’s blanket close and presses his face to it.
He loved the way it smelled, catching whiffs of the caramel and spice the blonde was so used to, and lucky he ran naturally hot, because his sweat stayed strong in the stitching of that blanket for a long time.
Eijiro broke down on the day he couldn’t smell the nitroglycerin anymore.

He could feel the burnt edges from where Katsuki would wake from a nightmare and ignite the edges gripped tight in his fists, but the smell was gone, /he/ was gone.
He’d chased after their son and gotten himself killed too.

Itsuki gives him a look, borderlining on pity, but filial piety keeps the disdain out. The look is sad beyond sad, but he still smiles and it’s enough for Eiji to try and quirk the edges of his own lips to match.
“He’s waiting for you, ya know,” he says at last.

“And I for him, Itsuki,” Eiji wheezes. It’s getting harder to breathe. “And I—I’ve missed all of y—“
But he’s interrupted as he turns away and heaves, each time he goes to say something, another round of choked coughs somehow manages to squeeze out in place of words.

The sharp pain warns him, but he doesn’t heed it. “I lov—“
He can barely rise up from his last fit, but God must pity him because Eijiro’s shoulders and head find his pillow again. It’s not enough and he curses with a hand supporting his aching chest.
“Looks like I can’t even say.” A tear rolls down his cheek, but Itsuki gives him that moment, too.

The man stands as Ei’s eyes begin to grow heavy and close again and he presses their foreheads together.

“I love you, Pa.”
They stay like that for a while as the heart monitor keeps its toll and the old man’s breathing winds down.

The machine counts the seconds, matching the sun hanging low in a purple cloud as it dips the horizon.
Itzuki’s image shifts in the changing light, but he stays there for as long as he can, not saying much but keeping his head connected with his father’s to lift some weight off of his chest.

When the sun sets, Itsuki is gone.

And so is Eijiro.
It’s much brighter now, Eijiro thinks. Strange how the night is tenfold the light of day. In all his years, he’d seen nothing like it. Bright light everywhere, barely a shadow to be seen.

He takes a step forward, and his brain screams in delight.
/You can walk/

He takes another bumbling step forward, uncertain if his legs can hold, but they do and he wants to cry all over again. One more. Then another, less tentative than the first two.
He takes a deep breath and it carries no scent, but when his body doesn’t double over in pain, doesn’t even consider it, it’s a good sign.
/It’s a good day today/

His feet carry him forward through the light and it shifts around his form, morphing into clouds that resemble breaking chains.
At last, the light disperses and four figures stand in its midst, four men.

Kami, Sero and Itsuki flag him down and suddenly Eijiro is running as fast as he can.
They’re solid and /real/, but some odd phenomenon is at work.

He sees them, but /all/ of them.
He sees Sero with his salt-and-pepper hair, but it’s layered over top of him with the mullet, over top of him as a first year at UA, and thousands more for every day they’d known each other.
Kami is the same, there are fewer iterations, but each one is better than the last and Kirishima is crying as he barrels forward.
His /son/.

That’s his boy.

He’s a young man and he’s perfect in every way, but he’s also a baby swaddled in cloth that Kiri held when Itsuki’s eyes first opened. He’s the old man that he never got to be. He’s so many all at once.
Eijiro cries more and his feet can’t carry him fast enough, but the distance is slipping away as he approaches.

A clump of red hair gets caught in his face and he brushes it off with a muscled hand as his friends and son move aside and the 4th man steps forward.
Brighter than all the light in wherever they are.

His crimson eyes shoot wide and his grin spreads but Eijiro doesn’t have much time to think about who all the man is or was or could’ve been before he crashes into him and the two finally connect.
When Kirishima twirls the man in his arms, they both look the same as they did on their wedding day, Katsuki laughing heartily as Eijiro peppers his face and lips with tear-stained kisses and /God/ he’s /real/.
How he still has tears left after all that’s transpired, the red-head-again doesn’t know, but Katsuki takes the chance to hold his face in his hands and wipe some sadness away. Maybe this is a dream or something, because normally Katsuki would yell or curse or throw obscenities.
But not this time. He holds Eijiro’s face in his calloused hands until the red-head can throw on a convincing smile.

Then he kisses him again.
And they’ll have eternity to share kisses and bodies and memories, but Katsuki forces those hungry lips from his own and beams into Kirishima’s eyes with the same cocky grin he’d held since the day they’d met.

“I love you, Red.”

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