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cold in the hands that you left me

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If you're cold, go inside, if you're tired
go to sleep, if you're weak, come to me
and find shameful company


+

(i)

Bakugou hates his bed. 

It gets too hot in the late spring months, the mortuary darkness of his dorm room at night only ever gives way to brief instances of moonlight, and his bedsheets ghost over him like wax strips clinging uncomfortably to skin.

He lies wide awake and dead-eyed under the emotionless whir of the ceiling fan for countless hours, and the senseless crawl towards sunrise feels like waiting for a pendulum to shift. 

By the time sleep does come (at 4 or 5 in the goddamn AM when his body feels like it belongs to someone else and everything’s a little wrong), it’s flimsy and leaves him like a goddamn exorcism. 

He keeps waking up to the sound of his own screams, Shigaraki Tomura’s voice a tremor in his ears—lazy and rasping and sticky like cough syrup. Cold dirt lodged underneath his fingernails, All Might’s hand on his shoulder and then gone.

The painful scrape of metal digging into his wrists, and when did his fucking wrists get so fragile, anyway—? 

Bakugou can’t stop seeing it: the creeping look in his eye from in between long fingers, like a fork of lightning splitting the horizon. Just one touch and everything crumbles—your arteries and skin tissue, the bones that hold you together—The bite of his own teeth pressing down on his tongue, fumbling for something, anything he could rely on.

The pressure in his lungs, faint taste of iron at the back of his mouth, breathing until he couldn’t anymore.

The fucking fear—luminescent and unfair and slipping into a plane where Bakugou no longer knew who he was, and he wasn’t sure of anything except the approaching footsteps of death. As real as the malignant twist of the villains’ laughing mouths. 

What is a hero? Chirp, chirp, fucking chirp, big words with little meanings, self-assured and teasing, his patience thinning, his gut combusting. 

What is justice? Hah. Justice—another fucking platitude. He was surrounded by a group of dogs barking just for the sake of creating a racket. He would never surrender his morals over something as misguided as that. 

What's fucking justice? Bakugou could almost smell the blood on their hands. Is this society truly just? He was thrashing around like a suffocating fish, he would fight against his restraints until they were wound tight enough to cut off his blood circulation. We’re planning on winning. Shigaraki had a thin, sickly voodoo-doll smile that turned Bakugou’s stomach with loathing.You like winning, too, right? 

Bakugou drew in a sharp breath. That’s fucking right, you hand-faced bastard. 

He thought of All-Might, smiling in the face of his own fears and suddenly he was eight years old again and staring wide-eyed into a television screen alive with his presence. There are different breeds of victory, Bakugou thought. I want to win like a hero. His feet moved on their own accord, a grenade building in his palms. 

You’re not a revolutionary.You’re cowards, and you’re scum! Die! 

Bakugou’s heart hammers in his chest so hard he can feel the weight of it threatening to shatter his ribcage. He can’t fucking stand it anymore. He can’t stand living in the shadow of fear. It makes him feel—angry, sure. The kind of anger that manifests itself as bile in his throat and tension in his fists. 

It's dirty, malicious blood spills of anger, but it’s something else, too—and it feels like he isn’t allowed to be a goddamn person anymore, only some pathetic after-image of what’s happened to him.    

We didn't kidnap you by accident. No, they kidnapped him because he has so called villain potential—fuckever that means. Bakugou won’t justify himself when it’ll only fall on deaf ears. To hell with them if they think he isn’t too traditionally heroic to qualify, just because he isn’t out there with his tail between his legs, awaiting the approval of a bunch of people that don’t matter. 

The only thing he knows is that he never wants to be that helpless ever again. His anxiety doesn’t knock though, doesn’t ask for consent, it kicks the bloody door down and shoots him point blank in the head. Once again, like fucking clockwork—it’s the same hellish routine on shitty loop, reliving an experience he’d rather blast into oblivion.

Bakugou wakes with something that builds like a bad cough in his chest, before evolving into an untrappable scream and an airless surge of panic like any moment now the ceiling’s going to come swooping down and crush his skull. 

He sits bolt upright in bed, with sweat caking his spine and the aftermath of a flash bomb in his chest. He can’t fucking think because he can’t fucking breathe and he’s so goddamn tired and he just wants to get some fucking sleep for once—he shoves the covers off and closes his eyes, still stinging with lack of sleep. 

It takes him a minute to regain his bearings, to tell the shadows apart from hands grabbing at him and the brooding shapes of furniture in the dark.   

It’s over. He escaped. They’re gone. It’s over.

He escaped—the reminders feel like running cold water over fresh blisters. Bakugou drags his palms down his face and waits for his heartbeat to return to normal. It’s been a month for crying out loud, and he’s spent the majority of it under strict house arrest. He hadn’t been able to get so far as the bathroom without the hag trotting behind him like a seething guard dog, but if he was being honest with himself, the relief that washed over him at the sight of his mother’s face had been paralyzing, especially when there’d been a part of him that’d wondered if he would ever get to see his parents again.

Bakugou can’t stop seeing the panic and horror that permeated their faces, the raw tension that followed after like flesh picked from the wound: tears welling up in his father’s eyes, the way his mother schooled her expression to remain stoic, despite the exhaustion in the droop of her shoulders as she smothered him into the most painful hug of his life. 

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that they were happy to see him again, but still—maybe there was a part of Bakugou that wanted to suffer the disappointment in their eyes. Of course, his parents were too fucking saintly for that.

It was absolutely selfish, but sometimes he wished he’d grown up with worse people, so that he could justify the tumultuous feelings he kept bottled up inside, the feelings that made him lash out and lose his cool and make the people who were raising him somehow feel responsible—They’d looked so worn out, so incredibly defeated, and it’d all been his own fucking fault. His own fault for being so weak, for letting himself get kidnapped in the first place.

He’d put them through hell and now the guilt’s chewing him up from the inside, and spitting him back out.

Yuuei even granted Bakugou an indefinite recovery period that stated he was permitted to take the time that he needed to heal, but he couldn’t stand the thought of sitting back and watching while his classmates got the jump on him. So he pushed himself, he pulled his face out of the mud and dragged himself to school every morning. He gave his peers a wide berth, and glared anyone who dared look him in the eye down until they shrunk away.

People whispered and gossiped and said things all around him—words shot across the room like invisible bullets, but he didn’t pay them a lick of heed. It didn’t matter to him what they thought of him, but at least his own classmates were being smart and keeping their traps shut for once, even fucking Deku had decided it was better to maintain his distance for the time being. 

Bakugou feels defenseless somehow, despite being free from their grasp he feels like he’s constantly walking around with his hands tied behind his back and the blood drained from his body. He keeps scanning his surroundings for imaginary enemies. He finds the faces of villains in crowds. He wants to get up and hit something until he loses all feeling in his hands but he can’t make his limbs work. 

He takes a deep breath and collides with the bed as if knocked down by an invisible force.

Bakugou can’t define the boiling cauldron of toxic feelings inside him, he can’t reach out and meet them halfway, he can’t do anything but lie awake until his eyes burn and this furious unfeeling leaves him. The mattress creaks like a kicked puppy at the slightest of movements, the clock on his nightstand tells him it’s quarter to three in the morning and his mouth tastes like something died in it. 

He’s been picked apart and cut off at the knees; wrecked by an incomprehensible fear that he has no control over. 

When did he become so fucking weak—? 

The doorknob gives a sudden whine. 

Bakugou’s startled out of his thoughts, and his stomach dissolves as a silhouette appears in the door jamb.

He holds his breath, but before he can spiral into another panic attack, he catches a glimpse of unmistakably bright hair, dahlia-red in the waning light. Bakugou exhales at the reassurance of the sight.

Lately, with all these surprise villain attacks stacking up, students on campus have been advised by the staff to avoid locking their dorm rooms unless they have a valid excuse or they’re explicitly told to do so, which of course, gives every fucker on the planet an an all-access pass to disrupting his privacy—luckily, nobody’s ever had the balls to bother. 

So far, there’s only a single student on campus who’s been inside of Bakugou’s room, and has the pleasure to be left alive to tell the tale. 

Kirishima shuts the door gently behind him. He’s a sleepy ghost in sweatpants and school socks. It’s too dark to really see, but his eyes still search for Bakugou—there’s a question in his posture, the tense line of his shoulders cutting sharply through the murky-blues of a bedroom washed out like a vintage painting.

When Bakugou can’t get himself to rip his tongue away from the roof of his mouth, Kirishima seems to take the silent lack of a reproach as permission.

Bakugou feels his heart skip a beat as Kirishima splays the mattress he’d been carrying under one arm and gives it a soft kick, until it lines up with the legs of Bakugou’s bed, a scrunched up pillow is dropped next, and then he crouches over it, his movements careful and lethargic.

He’s going to sleep on the fucking floor?

Before Bakugou can protest, or relearn the entire dictionary under the span of a minute (considering he’s not equipped with the vocabulary needed to convey every heightening level of WHAT THE FUCK he’s feeling), Kirishima’s already collapsed onto the mattress—an idle palm resting on his stomach, eyes buried in the crook of his elbow; without so much as a goddamn blanket.

Bakugou doesn’t understand, he wants to say as much, but it’s as if his windpipe has been scooped out of his throat. He settles for a low, questioning grunt instead.

“Try and get some shut-eye, man,” Kirishima says, voice all smooth-milk and unravelling yawn. “I’m right here if you need me, okay?”

Need you? Fuck off. Bakugou mumbles a curse beneath his breath. Kirishima sounds tired—for someone who’s always running so high on energy like a goddamn gerbil, anyway.

What keeps Kirishima up at night? The dorm walls are annoyingly thin, and Bakugou’s not sure how loud he gets when he’s sleep-muddled and wrecked with anxiety.

If Kirishima’s hearing it, that means everyone else on this floor is probably hearing it, too—and shit, and fuck. Doesn't that octopus-looking bastard have enhanced hearing? Does he keep quiet about it?

There’s a mortified heat spreading from his cheeks and leaking up into his brain—a concentrated demolition.

It’s been hard enough looking the general public in the eye, and they’re just a bunch of fuck-alls who don’t mean shit, hard enough to stand in the same space as his classmates after their gutsy rescue effort, the teachers who’d pegged it their own fault, his parents who’d been worried sick; and now what?

Now he’s announcing his weakness to the world like an animal caught in a snarl.

Kirishima shifts in that sorry excuse for a mattress. Bakugou bunches his fists up in his blankets, his tone still shuddery, like a shabby car engine. “I woke you up, didn’t I?”

“Mm, what? Nah," the guilty incline in his voice is unmistakable.

“You're a crap liar."

Kirishima sighs—sounding as exhausted as Bakugou feels. It doesn’t sound right on him, though. He’s always so sunflower-bright, so annoyingly enthusiastic, and sure, that doesn’t mean he isn’t entitled to being upset from time to time, but it’s that hint of defeat in his voice that seals the coffin. It’s ill-fitting, broken, it feels like something Bakugou wishes he could fix immediately, before it shakes the sanctity of the world. “Don’t worry about it,” he murmurs, noncommittally.

Bakugou isn’t used to Kirishima sounding so near and so far away at the same time, his drowsy voice, soft with whispers—it’s nice enough that Bakugou thinks it’s something he could get used to, but it’s a risky thought, one he wishes he could snub out like a cigarette, because allowing the thought is wishing, it’s wanting, it’s accepting that there might be something more there. No, Bakugou will never let himself get used to it.

Never let himself ruin one of the only relationships in his life that’s ever been worth a damn.

Let the goddamn sunflower wilt if it has to, it’s not Bakugou’s job to keep it alive.

“Hah,” Bakugou won’t let himself cave in to the pounding behind his ribs, the quiet offering in Kirishima’s non-assuming tone, the warm suggestion of his presence. “Bullshit.”

“It’s late,” reassuringly factual, another yawn on the horizon. “Let’s both try and get some sleep.”

“It’s not that fucking easy, shitty-hair.” It takes Bakugou an unprecedented amount of self control to keep the taut string of his voice from snapping, and betraying the fear welling up in him. 

Kirishima’s voice is rock-steady. “I know it’s not.”

His heart pounds a stale rhythm, the truth only slips out because it’s dark, and Kirishima can’t see his face, and it’s impossible to prove what you can’t see. “I can’t feel my goddamn chest. Know what that’s like? Don’t you dare laugh.”

“I won’t laugh.”

“Fuck,” Bakugou spits, swallowing sawdust. “If I can’t come back from this, then what?”

He can’t help it, he’s glaring up at the ceiling again, and the damn thing’s splitting open like a mouth, and it’s going to fucking devour him, and then it’ll all be over—his breaths are ragged, watered down, cleaved whole.

“They could come for me again. That handsy bastard’s not going to go down that fucking easy. I still feel like he’s got me in a chokehold.” The sound of blood rushing through his ears is decimating the short-lived silence. 

"What's wrong with me," he grits, scrubbing his hands down his face. 

"Nothing’s wrong with you, dude. You have PTSD, I’d be surprised if you didn’t, but what’s important is that you’re okay."

You call this shit okay?

“Bakugou,” Kirishima says, cutting through the white noise again, reaching him somehow, despite the barricade of clenched teeth and tremors. “You don’t have to think things like that. Nobody’s gonna come for you.”

Tch,” he mutters. “That’s a bold fucking claim.”

“You’re gonna be alright, you’ll see,” Kirishima sounds resolute in his conclusion, all tied up in a nice neat little bow like it’s that fucking easy, like life isn’t unfair and hasn't ever been, and in that moment, Bakugou wants nothing more than to believe him. Well, damn you and your optimism.  He resists the stinging in his eyes and swallows hard. “If it wasn’t for me, All Might wouldn’t have—” but he bites down on his tongue to keep from saying anything else. “Goddamnit!”

“Dude, you can’t blame yourself. I know a lot’s happened, but none of it was anybody’s fault. I know you probably don’t believe me when I say stuff like this, but… You trust me, right? So… Could you please be less hard on yourself, for my sake?”

Bakugou says nothing, because he’s afraid if he speaks he might kill the shimmer of safety brought forth by Kirishima’s reassurances, sprouting in front of him like a bedroom floor awash with sunflowers.

Kirishima seems to get the unspoken message and he flops onto his side and falls quiet after that, and Bakugou doesn’t have the strength left to argue but his chest is burning because deep down, deep within some imagined vault, he thinks he does believe it—and he’s grateful. He's so fucking grateful, because he doesn’t deserve a shred of it.

Not Kirishima’s friendship, or his frustratingly genuine concern and stupidly heartfelt gestures and casual kindness, or even the warmth of him trapped in his arms at night; half-buried memories from when, his imagination takes him to places he’ll never dare admit to.

There’s nothing Bakugou can do about the person that he is, and he knows, he knows that person will never be enough.

That’s why he works himself to the bone, that’s why proving himself the number one hero is so shamelessly important—What does he have that anyone wants? What does he have that somebody like Kirishima, who could have anything that he wanted, would desire? He can’t satisfy his own seething heart. Why would Kirishima crave the likes of someone like Bakugou? Why does he even try? Why is he dooming himself to a shitty night that’ll lead to nothing but sore muscles and a hurting back just to make sure that Bakugou gets some sleep at night?

The answer is as immediate as it is un-fucking-helpful. It’s because he’s a good person, he cares about shitty people and their shitty feelings, he concerns himself with their problems even if he isn’t gaining anything out of it himself.

He’s a better person than Bakugou can ever fucking hope to be, a better person than Bakugou cares to be, and that just makes him want him that much goddamn more.

He can't have it. Kirishima is the one thing that Bakugou wants, but refuses to work towards getting. He can sweat and bleed - he can put himself through a thousand trials and come out unscathed - but he can't chase after what he knows he doesn't deserve. It's not a matter of pride, about throwing off the world and gaining Kirishima. It's better off unsaid, forgotten and ignored. 

Eventually, Kirishima will give up on him. He'll move on, he'll find someone who appreciates him, someone who reciprocates tenfold. Someone stable and uncomplicated, someone who can afford to fit other people into the grand scheme of their future. Someone who gets to know what it's like to have Kirishima's attention rapt indefinitely on them, someone who gets to make Kirishima laugh and shudder under the touch of his hands. There's a dull pang of anger somewhere deep in his gut. Why should anyone else get to have that? If Bakugou can't have him, nobody fucking should. The best of the best, remember? Bakugou wants him, but he can't be selfish, not when it comes to Kirishima's happiness. Even if he has to spend night after night bottling down daydreams and pushing him away.

Plus, he's goddamn Katsuki Bakugou, he shouldn't feel the need for anyone. He has enough to worry about when it comes to his own person. He can't invest in others, can't control how they think or feel, can't narrow down all of the hiccups and hurdles, can't plot out a fool-proof plan to guarantee success. And holy shit, he feels like Fucking Deku, murmuring to himself manically. He needs to shut his brain down, the lack of sleep is clogging up all rational thought. 

Still, stray thoughts linger. The warmth of a hand, the quirk of a scarred eyebrow. What it would feel like to-No, Kirishima doesn’t feel that way about him. There isn’t a chance in hell. For the umpteenth time that night, Bakugou feels helpless.

He can’t measure himself to anyone else’s standards, and as it turns out, he can’t measure up to his own, either.

“Hey, I promise it’s not gonna be forever,”

“Hah?”

“The way you’re feeling right now. It probably feels like there’s no end in sight, but it’s just a rough patch, and it’ll pass.” Bakugou fights the urge to break into biting laughter. Rough patch. Yeah, right—that accidental-step-on-a-lego, top-of-the-ferris-wheel, anvil-drop-on-the-skull pain’s nothing more than a rough patch, a split knuckle, a missed stair.

It’s such an oversimplification, but it’s also just plain common sense. Even the worst of times come to an end, or something like that. Right?

For the second time that night, Bakugou asks the only question that comes to mind, the only question that he can bear having answered.

“How the fuck do you know?”

“I just kinda do,” Kirishima says, in a small voice that does little to veil any doubts of his own.

"Why are you even here?"

Bakugou's heart's racing, and Kirishima sounds torn when he murmurs, "I don't know. I mean, I just know how difficult things are, and I want you to be okay. I think it's kind of natural when you like someone and you care about them, I guess. You want to be supportive, I don't know."

I think it's kind of natural when you like someone and care about them.

Bakugou doesn't have anything positive to say to that, so he says nothing at all. The silence between them grows comfortable and lived-in.

Gradually, the sharp panging in his lungs settles, to be replaced with a dull swathe of uncertainty. If this bastard catches a cold, he better not go pointing fingers. Bakugou sighs, rolls over and kicks his blanket down at Kirishima, who catches the bulk of it at his chest.

Bakugou bites down on his tongue as a pair of starry wide eyes blink up at him.

“I get too fucking hot anyway,” he mutters, in way of explanation. “Can’t risk blowing the entire shitty building up.”

“Aw! Thanks, man,” and Bakugou can hear him smile around the words. “I appreciate it.”

Then, as if prompted by some unspoken light: voiceless and murky and buzzing with something he can’t touch or understand—his eyelids grow heavier. There’s still a hellbeast trapped behind his ribs and his skull drums a sadistic rhythm, but it’s… comforting, maybe. Kinda.

He knows that he’s not alone, knows that he’s safe next to this person he’s come (not that he’ll ever say it out loud) to trust, and feel admittedly okay around. The same person who offered him his hand without hesitation, without the burning intention of dragging him down; listening to his breaths even out, holding on to the sound, even as he falls headfirst into the dark.


(ii)

There were hands. Too many of them. None of them were suitable to hold. None of them reaching out. None of them warm, or of a familiar shape.

Instead, the hands were gangly and long, and they were wrapping themselves around his neck, squeezing down on his throat, cutting off his air supply. They wanted nothing but to crush him. He was going to disintegrate at their touch. He was going to lose everything.

Somewhere above him, he thought he heard a comforting voice, but it was gone before he could catch it. The sky was empty. Where there should've been faces he recognised and a different hand (one he could afford to accept—), there was nothing. No-one was coming for him. The world was ending, and no-one was coming—

Bakugou wakes with his hands equipped to detonate, and he would've blown his room up if it hadn't been for his own hyperawareness. His shoulders tremble, and his throat is hoarse, even though he doesn't remember making a sound.

The world's unsettling and askew, and even though he knows in his head that nothing is out to get him, he can't make his body believe it.

Bakugou's hair is plastered to his forehead with sweat and a deep-seated nausea slowly begins to whorl its way up his throat, but he can't throw up, so he just sits there; stewing in it. 

As if on cue, there's a hard-knuckled rap on his door, and Kirishima floats in on clumsy legs and a decidedly apparent desire to be murdered, because really, Bakugou is going to kill him.

He's going to kill him so damn hard, he's gonna have to be killed again, for good measure.

It isn't fair how the room scrambles to fit his presence, how the air feels less thick with shit that smothers and the light seems to clear.

This time, Kirishima doesn't even talk, just lays out his fucking futon like he fucking owns the rights to property on Bakugou's fucking land, and collapses onto it like a fucking meteor of unkempt hair and unfair muscle.

Bakugou almost wants to laugh. He wants to say something, but he's afraid if he tries to get the words through his teeth, he'll puke onto his bed; and his stomach churns in assent.

Bakugou takes a few steadying breaths before he can muster the energy to peak over at Kirishima, flopped over on his side, huddled into his blanket—and at least the fucknerd brought his own blanket this time—his hair sticking out over the top, like a bouquet of goddamn carnations.

It works, somehow.

It's in the way the panic doesn't cling to his ribcage anymore, left to sit around and hatch fucking eggs. It's in how the light forms a bridge between their bodies, a pale slab extending past the edge of Bakugou's bed and slipping down and over Kirishima's sleeping form, and the idling of Kirishima's breaths as he soundly drifts into subconsciousness.

Breathes in through his nose, and out through his mouth. It gives Bakugou something to focus on.

He doesn't know how long he just sits there, upright in bed, watching Kirishima, like he's a big bold STOP sign on a road Bakugou wants to cross.

Well, and maybe it's because five minutes ago he'd been dreaming of being abandoned, but it's hard to believe that Kirishima's here and that he's real, that the walls aren't going to close in on Bakugou in any moment, that the ground isn't gonna open up and Kirishima isn't going to phase straight through it, that he's got hands Bakugou can't stop fucking thinking about wanting to hold onto and never let go, like some lovesick sap in a shitty rom-com.

He's Bakugou Katsuki, he doesn't develop feelings. He doesn't do hand-holding. He doesn't need people, especially not infuriating redheads with teeth like limestone rocks and an eerie penchant of blasting straight through his defences.   


(iii)

It’s raining outside.

It’s raining outside, and the wind’s howling like a bitch, and Bakugou wakes with his body on fire.

The shutters project unruly shadows along the walls, and he keeps seeing hands in them—thin, bony fingers stretching into infinity. Why does he have to keep losing control? His lungs fight against the requirement for air, his stomach’s a minefield, his skin a victim to the bared teeth of ghosts.

His dreams are twisted and ugly, the distilled silence of the slow-throbbing rain seems to fester like some sort of terrible fungus hellbent on crawling up his body in shivers and everything’s blurry—He wants to go back to sleep, back to that purgatorial, stateless sleep that’s been the only form of relief he’s been able to get lately.

But, no. Bakugou’s bat-eyed and shaking hard and his chest is compressing so much that a part of him is convinced that he’s dying, while all he can do is lie back and let it happen—but then there’s a familiar patter of footsteps and the dull clank of a door closing and Kirishima doesn’t waste a second—strong arms forming a protective barrier around him like they’d been there all along.

Bakugou freezes as coarse palms run up and over the length of his arms. He breathes in heavily through his nose, and his shoulders shudder against the sudden weight of Kirishima’s chest. 

For a heartbeat, Bakugou’s stewing panic tests the famous theory—of an unstoppable force working against an immovable object. The force wins out, and he’s breathless again, and he’s shivering and shit—Kirishima has to get the fuck out, now. He can’t see him in this sorry state. Nobody can see him, like this. As long as they aren’t here to look at him, he’s free to hurtle into the abyss, free to break down and cry out and pull his hair from his scalp, free to break—but if Kirishima knows, then he’s an eye witness: and that’s not fucking acceptable.

He’s not fucking Deku, crying a fountain of tears everyday and still being showered with support, for allowing himself to bear his weaknesses out in the open. Bakugou knows because the only reason he was ever able to exploit Deku’s flaws, is cause the moron doesn’t bother to hide them, never has. No, Bakugou doesn’t want to be caught dead like this, and at this rate, he’ll be dead before the sun rises for sure.

“Shh,” Bakugou’s gut goes cold, or warm, he can’t tell for sure—but it burns either way. There's someone's arms curling around his middle, a chest flush against his spine, breath against the nape of his neck and what the hell. He didn’t think it was possible for Kirishima to make his voice so soft, so lilting—he lifts one of his hands only to bury gentle fingers in Bakugou’s hair.

Kirishima’s still holding Bakugou against him like that’s just something that’s fucking okay, and Bakugou thinks he’s ought to rally against this, knee him in the stomach or spit in his face—anything to push him away, to keep him from experiencing first-hand this total system shutdown that Bakugou’s been going through every night since he returned from that viper’s nest. Can’t he tell? Bakugou’s huffing like a cornered bull, his mouth stretching in a snarl. He wants to get to his feet and run; escape before he’s left defenseless.

Oblivious fucking bastard—

“Shhh, it’s just me,” Kirishima’s voice is sweet, weightless enough to be confused for light, and diffuses the warmth between their bodies like smoke—“It’s okay. It’s gonna be alright,” Kirishima murmurs against his face, as he cards through the pale tufts of Bakugou’s hair, pushing them out of his forehead, where they’d been slick with sweat.

They’re not facing each other, but Bakugou can see him all the same. If he closes his eyes, he can almost picture the thinly-veiled concern on Kirishima’s face, tinged slightly blue in the rain smeared-glow; wild and running rampant like the heated expressions they’d worn, when they’d locked eyes in mid-air and a bolt of mirroring relief had passed through the both of them, like a pair of twins sharing the same nightmare.

Damnit. How dare he look concerned for Bakugou, anyway? Only the goddamn people who’d given birth to him should have that right. More importantly, why is Bakugou just… letting him?

Kirishima smells like toothpaste and the faintest hint of some musky cologne. Now Bakugou idly wonders if Kirishima ever gets sad, wonders why he’s even thinking about something as inconsequential as Kirishima’s sadness in the first place, wonders why the fuck he’s allowing another living, breathing goddamn person to see him like this: all brittle and bent out of shape like a rotting tire left out in the sun for too long.

“It’s okay, listen. You’re safe now. You’re safe,” Kirishima’s offering reassurances like a goddamn prayer, but Bakugou can barely hear him, can barely wade through all the painful static invading his brain; the jut of knives in his chest.

Bakugou had been having a panic attack, that much he knows. His breaths sound too hollow, and he doesn’t think his throat should feel so bone-dry otherwise, and he’s got Kirishima buried against his side, but he can’t even focus on that because all he can really think about is the lack of air—and all of a sudden it’s like he’s on the surface of Mars, and everything's unknown and lacks an atmosphere.

“I—I can’t breathe,” he chokes out, his mouth stretches unpleasantly. “Ki-ri-shima… I can’t, fuck—”

He wants to say: I’m scared, but he bites down on his tongue instead, hard enough that he tastes a smidge of blood.

“Look at me, hey,” Bakugou’s heart bottoms out of his chest as careful, insistent arms pull him onto his side so that they’re face-to-face now, and Kirishima’s eyes are really fucking glassy beneath a dark, surprisingly long glaze of lashes, and Bakugou’s going to die—“Do you want to count backwards from ten with me?”  

No, no, no, because he can’t breathe at all. And fuck—he’s seeing shit amongst the shadows now.

There’s no way Shigaraki would—If Kurogiri managed to warp into his bedroom right now, if they ripped him out of his life again. No, that’s impossible. That’s—What is this moron mumbling on about?

Kirishima’s muttering something beneath his breath and cupping the side of his face now, but he can barely feel the contact or hear the words, barely feel anything beyond his heart beating itself to death in his chest.

Bakugou’s chest is limp against Kirishima’s, and he’d shove him off if he had the strength to do anything but focus on catching his breath.

“Okay, okay. Let’s try something else,” Kirishima says, shakily, one of his thumbs mindlessly caressing the bruised circles of Bakugou’s left wrist, but Bakugou’s wheezing, choking on fistfuls of air. He can hear the way his breath bleeds out of him, like a sound that belongs in a hospital.

“Holy shit. This is bad. I’m gonna—” a hard swallow, “I’m gonna go call Aizawa sensei. He’ll know what to do.”

“Don’t—” Bakugou shakes his head, digging his fingernails into the back of Kirishima’s hand, hard enough to leave pink imprints. He wants to tell him to fuck off, he wants to beg him to stay, he wants this rampant pain to just stop already. “Please.”

It’s probably the desperation plastered like a dead-end all across his face, but with a reluctant sigh and upset eyes, Kirishima relents, one of his hands now tracing soothing patterns up and down Bakugou’s shivering back.

They just lie there for what might be minutes but feels like days, Kirishima tirelessly finding new strings of soothing things to say, their faces inches apart so that Bakugou feels the heat of Kirishima’s breath against his chin, their fingers laced tightly together against the sharp jut of Kirishima’s collarbones, Bakugou’s free hand in the hem of Kirishima’s shirt, bunching up the cloth so bad it’ll probably wrinkle for days, their foreheads almost touching, but not quite—and Bakugou would’ve backed away, he would’ve pushed him off, but he’s exhausted and maybe it’s the lack of oxygen getting to his brain but damnit holding onto something is nice, even if it’s just in the delirious heat of the moment.

Bakugou searches for something to exploit, something to lash out at, something that fits his world view.

He fails, he fails because there isn’t a shred of pity on Kirishima’s face—just an unflinching air of support. 

Bakugou’s mind traces back to rainy day study sessions and arms casually slung around shoulders and a smile worth digging into, like a pastry.

The firm clasp of hands and guileless compliments and the way his heart somersaults with the familiarity of it all.

“You know, I’m like, insanely behind on my math portion. Do you think you could tutor me again sometime?” What the fuck is he doing now, does he really think distracting him from the fact that he can’t fucking breathe is going to work—?

“I’ve got six whole chapters to conquer,” he continues, and then on, and on—He goes into excruciating detail about shit Bakugou can’t care less about.

He complains about the subjects he hates, (“We have, like, quantum computers now—who cares about math? And like, is it really necessary for there to be so many rules and regulations for pro-heroes? Shouldn’t the law be bowing down to whatever’s necessary in the pursuit of justice? I mean, what if I have to break a signal or two to catch a bad guy?”).

He narrates lame stories about his classmates, about Kaminari’s latest failed quest to woo Jirou into dating him, (“I feel sorry for the guy, it’s painful having to watch him boldly venture off into another total rejection spree.”), Ashido’s newfound love for nail art (“She painted mine a bright red for me the other day, I was kinda embarrassed at first, but now I think it actually looked pretty cool.”).

He starts off about the new ramen place that just opened up down the street from where he lives, how he hates the way the mid-June humidity’s been frizzing out his hair, the action-thriller he’s been wanting to see.

(“Maybe when you’re feeling a little bit better, we can go see it together? There were like, five explosions in the trailer. Imagine how many there’ll be in the movie!”), the music he’s been currently listening to, (“Man, there’s this one song, I’m pretty sure I’ve replayed it about a billion times by now. Oh! Maybe I should make you a playlist of all of my favourites! Would you like that?”).

His excitement for Tanabata this year and his noisy neighbours, and other inconsequential things. His eyes, bright as hell the whole time, his tone casual without being loud, empathetic without being patronizing.

Bakugou listens, despite himself. He hangs onto each word like it’s more intriguing than the last and falls into a vaguely pleasing sensory lull. He can’t get himself to look up, so keeps his eyes trained on Kirishima’s chest, instead. The navy blue of his t-shirt, the stretched-out collar that definitely looks like it’s been between his teeth at some point.

Bakugou attempts to mimic the movement of Kirishima’s breathing, and how it feels so natural against his own chest, a wave of exhaustion taking over him so prominently that Bakugou’s sure that Kirishima’s the only thing that’s keeping him from rolling off the edge of the bed, and hitting the floor face-first.

Kirishima doesn’t seem to notice, but he cradles Bakugou’s head and continues to comb feather-light fingers through his hair.

“You don’t have to be here,” Bakugou finally croaks, through breaths that feel like hurricanes tearing through his system and cutting off a story about how Kirishima got scammed out of thirty-thousand yen over some dumb pair of shoes.

“Yeah, well,” Kirishima sighs hotly against his cheek before idly scratching the scar that splits his eyebrow. “I’m not here because I have to be, I’m here because I want to make sure you’re okay.” The expression on his face is almost, well, not insulted, exactly, but nonplussed, sure. As if Bakugou’s missing something painfully obvious.

Bakugou stares at him. The looming scar along his eyebrow, the old round-neck he’s wearing—oversized and sporting a badly faded print-out of the hero Crimson Riot’s face, the material clearly having seen the inside of one too many washing machines. The way bright bedraggled strands crowd his face—no fucking wonder he’s always spiking them up to defy gravity, he has so much goddamn hair. It’s a wonder he can hear or think through all of it—but, this is an unguarded, careless side of him, all shaky-breaths and disheveled clothes and pretty red hair framing his face just right and late night mood swings, and Bakugou’d be lying to himself if he doesn’t admit that he’s weak at the knees for all of it.

Kirishima is always so idiotically concerned about his goddamn image, about how people will react to him, and he tries so hard it's almost admirable, in some weird sense. Bakugou wishes he could tell him that he doesn't fucking have to, because people like him for who he is, not for the stupid colour of his hair, or the flashiness of his quirk, or for all of the subjects he's passing (or failing, for that matter).

Kirishima is perfectly fine—better than fine. He doesn't need to put himself through the ringer every day just to feel at ease with himself.

However, the chances of Bakugou actually conveying all of that to him, and surviving the experience, are slim to fucking none. 

“What?” Kirishima’s eyelashes catch a brief spindle of light and really, Bakugou’s gonna lose his breath all over again. “You’re looking at me all weird.”

“You’re fucking annoying, that’s what.”

The idiot actually has the audacity to crack an earnest smile. “Is that one of your tactics to get rid of me, because I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s kinda weak?”

“Fuck you,” but Bakugou’s words sound like a doused fire and he knows it.

Kirishima’s grin doesn’t waver, gets more blinding instead, as if that’s even humanly possible. “Aw, that’s too bad, because I’m not going anywhere.”

Bakugou doesn’t think he’s capable of forming a coherent response to that, so he settles for tutting instead. This is his last night of weakness, he can’t let it happen again. As far as Bakugou knows, he’s good at two things: winning, and destroying the shit out of things. Unbreakable or not, I’ll break him, a voice floats up from a parasitic sea. He can’t keep letting himself get treated like this. He can’t let himself get fucking babied like this, even if it makes his heart glitter with want and gets his head all messed up.

“Seriously, Kirishima. I’ll be fucking fine. Just go, I don’t—”

“No,” there’s a gritty stubbornness to his tone, the kind Bakugou recognizes. Kirishima nudges Bakugou’s cheek with the tip of his nose, his grip around Bakugou’s waist is like steel and still stunningly gentle, somehow. “And you’re not fine but I know it’s hard for you to admit it.”

It sounds like the rain's stopped, and does, fuck—does Kirishima even know realise he's doing to him? 

The way he does that, so effortlessly, tears through every single one of Bakugou's defences, just like that? How unfair it all is? It's that clumsy, almost air-headed obliviousness about him, like a summer storm hitting out of nowhere.

It catches Bakugou redhanded, strips his heart bare, corners him with a taunting prospect of everything that he can't have, and it almost hurts.

Bakugou has always, always taken everything that he has wanted, not unfairly, but by striving restlessly towards it. That makes this road unfamiliar, to walk away from something he so desperately craves, to give up his own wants for the sake of what somebody else might want. To turn his back on... happiness. 

And shit—it isn’t until Bakugou actually meets his eyes that he notices the shadows burned into the skin around Kirishima’s eyes, the deflated curves of his shoulders, how exhausted he must be, too—after having spent night after night worrying about the last person on the goddamn planet who deserves the hilt of his concern.

“So don’t bother, bro. Just let me be here, for you.” He says, at last, tucking a stray strand of hair behind Bakugou’s ear and dropping his chin in the crook of Bakugou’s neck.

It isn’t until then that it hits Bakugou—

He’s breathing normally, again.


(iv)

“Funny,” Kirishima says, biting down on his lower lip. “You haven’t threatened to kick me out yet.”

And Bakugou hates him so fucking much. He hates how stupidly full his lips are, for a guy anyway, and the way his eyelashes feel when they dip against his face, and how he keeps looking at Bakugou in expressions that he can’t explain: heated and genuine and so ever-present in the moment. In ways that fucking hurt, because does he have any idea what he’s doing?

And Maybe Kirishima’s like that, with everyone, out of some deep-rooted goodness in him or whatever. Bakugou’s seen it himself, Kirishima’s arms slung over that Portable-Charger's shoulder, whispering with Raccoon-Eyes in the middle of class; their heads angled close together, how he sweeps Uraraka up into a hug if she so much as frowns in his presence, goes out of his way to comfort Deku when he's having one of his nervous breakdowns.

Intimacy is nothing to him, as habitual as the act of breathing, but this isn’t something Bakugou’s ever had to deal with, and he doesn’t want to start thinking about it now.

He’s never felt the need to reach out and touch anyone; unless it’s to punch them, anyway.

Bakugou’s heart feels like it’s going to chew a hole through his chest and slip out, again. There’s a lump at the back of his throat and it could be fear or something else, something dangerous brought forth between the heat of hands and forehead touches and the brush of jaws and soft lips assaulting his vision, piercing the fragile plaster of whatever ground he has left to stand on.

He’s probably breathing too loudly, and it’s weird having to be aware of that, since he’s sharing space with someone else—a space that Bakugou can’t decide if he wants to see broadened or obliterated.

He's acutely aware of Kirishima, too—even more aware of him than he is of himself. He can feel Kirishima's every little movement, the rise and fall of his chest and stomach, the rumble in his throat when he clears it—they're running hot against each other.

They're generating a fever.

“Shut up,” he mutters, in a low growl, but Kirishima, being the unshakable idiot that he is, doesn’t blink or pull away.

Their legs are tangled together, and Kirishima’s got an arm slung over Bakugou’s chest, fingers idling over the dip in Bakugou’s collarbone. Kirishima’s touch is strictly gravitational—intention to soothe equipped with the reminder of its existence and nothing more, because anything else would defeat the purpose, anything else, like affection for example, would be weaponising the hold he doesn’t even know he has on Bakugou.

Luckily, he keeps it light and doesn’t linger on one spot for too long. Bakugou doesn’t push him away, Kirishima’s a counterweight against the sharp tremble in his ribs, but he can’t get himself to hold Kirishima back.

It feels too much like admitting defeat.

As long as he doesn’t reciprocate, it’s impossible to say that he’s giving in. As long as he doesn’t give in, he doesn’t have to know what he’s missing out on—the imagined tumble of hair soft as rose petals in between his fingers, the way they curl over the tips of Kirishima's ears, along his temples, behind his neck, the sounds Kirishima might make if he tested the waters; how easy it would be to just throw caution to the fucking wind and slip his arms around his neck and kiss him until both of their mouths are sore, how it would feel: like knowing someone. The way they fit against you, every point of contact like another vital piece settling into place.

Bakugou closes his eyes. He doesn’t want to think about it anymore, but if nothing else, it provides a distraction from the thoughts that feed on him like maggots, rot all heart-sore and dig into his skin.

But then he's thinking about the wrong thing, again.

It’s a jolt up his spine everytime he sees it: the emancipated figure of the man he’d looked up to ever since he could goddamn remember, the way he’d been crouched down on himself like a crumbling wall, the taunting sheen of blood along the corner of his mouth, how he’d been robbed of every dreg of vitality he had left in him, how he’d fought tooth and nail despite the fact that he’d been exposed to a world who’d only ever seen him as an impossible pillar of strength.

All Might had used up the last of his powers in an unfairly brutal battle that never would’ve taken place if it hadn’t been for Bakugou; going and getting himself kidnapped like some fucking idiotic amateur.

Bakugou lets out a strangled grunt, without really meaning to, raw stabs of guilt invading his stomach.

It’s never going to leave him alone.

“What’re you thinking about?” Kirishima whispers, and his breath smells like peppermint.

In between teeth clenched hard enough to hurt, the truth feels like an exit wound. “It’s my fault.”

“Huh?” Kirishima hoists his head up against his elbow and peers down at him beneath his lashes—black and unlike his hair.

“All Might’s a goddamn muscle pull away from becoming a vegetable, and it’s my fault.” Bakugou snaps, tone flippant and scorching.

For a moment, Kirishima says nothing, merely fixes him with a puzzled sort of expression that Bakugou doesn’t care to translate. He feels Kirishima exhale against his chin before one of his hands snakes down Bakugou’s forearm, and tugs at his wrist; lying limp as a seashell. Bakugou’s chest bursts into flames as Kirishima’s fingers slip into the spaces between his own, and squeeze tight. Bakugou can't help but turn to stare in open horror.

“It’s really not,” Kirishima mutters, eyes rapt on him, like he’s something worth looking at, a mindfield worth treading. “It sucks, but by the looks of it, I think All Might was gonna end up like this one way or another.” Kirishima’s thumb rubs soft circles along the coarse lines of Bakugou’s knuckles.

“Besides, it’s not something any of us saw coming. You couldn’t have known.”

But he should have known. Deku fucking knew. He knew everything—and now, Bakugou’s played catalyst to All Might’s downfall.

He could go down like a paper house any day now and what if he could’ve prevented it, if he’d just been more cautious, or proactive, if he hadn’t let those assholes rile him, if he’d just pulled himself out of that raging mess without having to be helped by anyone—Maybe, maybe, this never would’ve happened, and All Might’s secret would still be something only fucking Deku knew, and the world would never have had to see what he’d been reduced to, and Bakugou would never have to know what it’s like to watch the smile slowly taper off the face of his childhood hero.

He’d pushed himself to his limit, and there was no coming back from that. No undoing it. No—

“Breathe,” Kirishima urges, quietly. “Just blot out everything else, alright?”

He does as he's told, reluctantly. It doesn't help much. "That's good," Kirishima says. "You're doing good."

Bakugou’s chest feels like a sewer, leaking all dirty. “How could I have fucked things up so bad?”

“Bakugou, you have to stop blaming yourself for what happened. It’s just not right.”

“What’s not right, is what happened to him,” Bakugou musters, throat gruff; tone small and disposable.

“I know,” Kirishima says, agreeably, taking their joined hands and pressing the back of Bakugou’s hand to the bend of his mouth. God, his skin's unfairly warm. “I wish things were different.” 

Bakugou forces his gaze level with Kirishima’s eyes—and he’s never been looked at so softly.

Bakugou is not soft. If anything, he’s blood spat on concrete.

He’s liquidated, devoid of structure, a spill of frantic energy.

Beyond his bedroom, a vehicle passes by, and the ceiling lights up a barcode glow, and its ghost reflects on Kirishima’s face. Bakugou has to let out a cough, but the weight doesn’t leave him, ribs all choked up aggression and angry wanting. “The world’s a heap of shit,” he snaps.

Kirishima smiles weakly. “C’mon, that’s not the attitude you wanna have towards life.”

Bakugou just grunts and pulls his fingers free from Kirishima’s grasp. If his heart gets any louder, Kirishima's going to be able to hear it, and then where will they be?

“Thank you,” Kirishima says, quietly, and his tone is all wrong, and his voice is too slippery.

“Hah?”

His eyes are too fucking intense, Bakugou can’t see past them. “For letting me stick with you.”

“Whatever,” Bakugou tears his gaze away, and it seems Kirishima takes it as invitation to do whatever he damn well pleases, as one of his fingers traces the swollen vein along the side of Bakugou’s neck. “What the fuck are you doing?” he asks, reflexing as if he's been burned and smacking his hand away. Kirishima startles. “Sorry, sorry,” he fumbles. “I didn’t mean to—I just. I’ve heard it helps, you know, having a point of contact?”

That's rubbish. His whole life, Bakugou has had people maintain a calculated distance from him, and really, it’s probably the smart thing to fucking do. He isn’t dumb. He knows he radiates animosity, and maybe it’s even a little bit on purpose. So why the fuck is Kirishima trying to get close, when he knows he’ll just keep getting cut off at the knees? Does he simply not care that he might get his head bitten off?

Bakugou isn’t the kind of person anyone could ever want, and in the past, that’s not been a big deal, because Bakugou’s never wanted anyone, anyway.

“You fucking think I need you,” Bakugou spits, with more acid than he intends.

“No,” Kirishima replies, tolerably. “I’m doing this for me. Cause I need you, to be okay—I mean.” 

“You’re so fucking stupid, Kirishima,” Bakugou doesn’t mean it. He doesn’t mean it, but he can’t help it, can’t keep his own fear out of his mouth.

His knee-jerk reaction to concern is always hostility.

Kirishima laughs, but it sounds humiliated and stale. “I know.”

It’s the worst sound in the goddamn world. The audible knife-twist of it.  

The only thought that comes to Bakugou’s mind is that he’s a vicious, selfish person—and fuck.

Kirishima deserves better. Kirishima deserves someone who will love him so hard that he’ll never have to know what it’s like to be upset about anything ever again, he deserves someone who will hold his hand in public and kiss him senseless, he deserves someone who will be everything that Bakugou can’t.

Kirishima’s still pressed against Bakugou like he’s got nowhere else to be, but something critical has left his eyes. He looks at Bakugou, pointedly. “You know,” he mutters. “I’m not here because I think you need me, I’m here because I consider you a friend, and well, dude. You actually mean a lot to me, so...  I’m not just gonna sit back and watch you suffer! N-not again.” There’s a raw frustration painting his face, his fists clenched and his tongue impaled, between his teeth.

The tension drains out of Bakugou like dirty water, but it leaves a cavity he isn’t sure how to fill in.

His voice is vapour, raw honesty pushed through teeth. “You shouldn’t bother with me.”

Kirishima seems to deflate at that, Bakugou can almost feel his chest sinking. It’s for the best. Bakugou has to endure it. He’s saving Kirishima trouble in the future. He's saving his smile.

Bakugou isn't capable of pulling smiles, and he knows he isn’t easy to deal with, he drives his parents berserk on the daily, he refuses to see past his rigid goals, and he’s frankly shit at coming to terms with the massive swamp that are his own emotions, so why does Kirishima admire that?

Maybe because he wears the same maniacal smile everytime they fight together, maybe because he doesn’t know any goddamn better, maybe he’s just a masochist, or too naive of a freaking person to see the error of his ways. Too fucking stupid to not get caught under the utter death-trap that is giving a damn about somebody like Bakugou.

He doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t want it. He wants it so much it’s killing him. It’s making him—fuck. It’s making him angry. He knows anger. He's able to come to terms with it, follow all its twists and turns. Anger is the only thing he has left to give, but. He doesn’t want to hurt Kirishima.

Kirishima shifts against Bakugou, biting down on his bottom lip again. His lips look like they might be rough to the touch, all angry pink shreds, honestly—does the idiot realize he has the maw of a fucking vampire?

Would it hurt to kiss him? Bakugou’s stomach clenches. He needs to find that miserable thought, and shoot it fucking down, then send it hurtling off the edge of a volcano.

Kirishima lets out a long breath through his mouth. He's quiet for too long, but when he finally speaks, Bakugou wishes he hadn't. “No offense dude, but you don’t get to tell me who I get to care about. That’s upto me to decide, okay? My choice.”

Bakugou can’t resist a dry laugh. “S’ a bad one.”

“Yeah,” Kirishima agrees, but he’s smiling again—and it devours Bakugou’s defenses. “You’re probably right.”

Bakugou’s head spins. There’s cement blocking his windpipe. When he looks at Kirishima again, he sees him for what feels like the first time, and finds something there, that he thinks, he might get used to. If Kirishima lets him, if he lets himself—something to hold onto, on nights like this, half-baked and broken down to the bare molecule, heard and listened to, touched and felt, invisible to everything but the moon.

Quiet, humming with hope. And it has restored some hope—these last couple of torrential nights, despite the terrible state of everything. Kirishima's simply being there, by his side. 

The words materialize like stars on a clear night, and maybe they’d been there for sometime now, collecting dust at the bottom of his tongue.

Bakugou wants to say, I love you, but he isn’t stupid enough to ruin his life like that, yet.

“You don’t think I’m tough as shit to deal with?” Bakugou mumbles, despite everything in him screaming not to.

“You’re problematic, sure. I’m not gonna lie to you on that one, but, I don’t really care. There’s more to everybody than what meets the eye, and that’s true about you, too. You’re not a bad person, Bakugou. I’ll say it as many times as you need to hear it. I mean, you’re in the hero course, right? You have the same goals as the rest of us. Plus,” and shit—he's smirking now. “Anyone with this many posters of All Might can’t possibly be all that awful.”

“Shut up! I’ll kill you, fucking shit-for-brains!”

Kirishima breaks into a series of giggles, and gets Bakugou’s elbow jabbed into his side, in return.

“You open your shitty trap about it in front of anyone and I’m gonna annihilate your pretty ass. Got it?”   

Kirishima blinks, laughter dissolving all of sudden, eyes widening in awe. “You think I’m pretty?”

“You’re not the worst thing to look at.” He means to say it flippantly, but it comes out too much like praise. Fuck. Shit. Wrong move.

“Oh my god, Bakugou,” Kirishima gasps. “You think I’m pretty!”

“Asshole, I didn’t say that—”

“Yes! Yes, you did! In your own, not-nice-nice-way! You totally think I’m pretty! Awww!! I think you’re pretty, too. For what it’s worth.”

Bakugou wasn’t going to be able to take any more of this creative torture. He furiously presses his thumbs into his eyes.

An abrupt sob builds in his chest, but he stifles it before he can embarrass himself any further.

Kirishima falls quiet, then, before tentatively lifting his hand, to rest in Bakugou’s hair again. When Bakugou doesn’t protest, he shifts a little awkwardly, as if asking for permission. Once again, Bakugou says nothing. The crook of his chin finds the base of Bakugou's throat, Kirishima’s arm sneaks around his waist and pins him there, against him. Their bodies fit like clockwork. Their faces are too close for comfort, now.

Bakugou’s heart speeds up, and then there’s a wet warmth against his cheek like—is he fucking crying? Without preamble or a trigger—?

“Oi, why are you crying? The fuck is wrong with you?” Bakugou demands, alarmed.  

“I can’t help it,” Kirishima admits. “I’m sorry.”

“Stop it,” Bakugou snaps, with urgency. 

“I’m a sympathetic crier,” he sniffles. Disgusting, his nose is all goddamn reindeer-red.

“I wasn’t going to fucking cry, shitty-hair.”

“I know that you wouldn’t. Not in front of me, at least." He does this infuriating half-laugh, half-sob thing. "I'll just do the fair share of crying for the both of us.” 

He's going to get his pillow all wet. The idiot. 

“Hey, uh, Bakugou?” Kirishima hiccups.

Bakugou grunts, because speaking feels like it might disrupt the atmosphere, somehow. Taint the air, this promising simmer in between them. He also wants to eradicate those ugly fucking tears from Kirishima's face, but maybe he isn't as fucking brave as he thought he was.

“I’ve been meaning to say this ever since we got you back. Ha,” Bakugou watches Kirishima press a hand into his chest, right above his heart. Face still tear-wrecked. The press of his fingers creases up his shirt. “You’re the strongest person I know, and that’s why I know you’re going to be okay. Better than okay. The next time you look those villains in the eye, it’ll be as the embodiment of what they hate most, a hero.”

Bakugou’s stomach tightens. “Damn straight.”

What he doesn't say, is how much he’s needed to hear that. He’d never needed anyone to believe in him, after all, as long as he believed in himself, what does it matter, but Kirishima’s concern reignites the fire in him, eases the disquiet in his chest. His fingers are trembling as he brings them up to Kirishima's face and wipes the tears away with the back of his hand, rough, and then insistently gentle, his thumb soft along Kirishima's left cheekbone; saltwater at the tip of his nail.

Kirishima takes his hand and holds it there, against his chest. Bakugou can feel his heart beating, underneath. Hard and fast. Their knuckles whiten with the grip they have on each other. 

And in that moment, Bakugou wants to kiss him.

He's never wanted to kiss anyone as much as he wants to be a goddamn hero, but somehow, here we fucking are.

Kirishima's breath hitches in his throat, and his eyes are all puffy and jaded from crying. He's staring at Bakugou, wide-eyed, like there's nothing else in the fucking room, and the two of them exist in their own vacuum.

Somewhere the world is quiet, and the darkness only extends so far as this room, and they can afford to admit things they've never said out loud or even come to terms with, themselves. But, he can't do it. Not now. Not like this. 

When Bakugou kisses Kirishima, it'll be when he's certain Kirishima's going to kiss him back.

He doesn't do anything he isn't a thousand percent sure of, and if he can't be sure that Kirishima wants this, wants him—he sure as hell isn't gonna put him in that kind of a position. Kissing Kirishima right now feels too much like driving him into a corner, like taking advantage of a vulnerable moment, like the taste of tears cried for his sake, and Bakugou doesn't want that. 

So he takes a deep breath, lets it out, and leans in again, letting his lips meet Kirishima's temple instead of the warmth of his lips.

Kirishima closes his eyes on instinct, his breath stuttering out shakily. He blinks up at him. "Uh," and he sounds so nervous it's almost enforcing a physical barrier, in between them. "What're you doing?"

"Try and learn to accept some fucking gratitude, hair-for-brains."

Then, Kirishima smiles. Gradual and dopey and big, and Bakugou's just glad he's not crying anymore.

Hmph. He doesn't mind pulling smiles, if they're from Kirishima, anyway.

The phenomenal idiot leans in, then, pulls himself up on his elbows. "Can I return the gesture?"

Bakugou's heart skips a beat, and he shoves a blocking hand into Kirishima's eager face.

"Fuck no!"


(v)

He's feeling better.

He still has an irritating share of sleepless nights a week, and he's still behind on his school work despite working like a dog to catch up, and he suspects the anxiety is something he's just going to have to live with, at least for the time being, because anxiety isn't the kind of thing that just goes away.

No, anxiety is a clingy ex, it's a long, gruelling drive without a destination, it's an unwelcome guest that makes itself comfortable on your favourite couch. Bakugou gets that now, but he also knows that it'll start becoming easier to deal with, or he'll become more immune to its bullshit, and that while it may never go away, it can be tamed.

There's going to be days where he'll let his anxiety ghost over him, others where he won't make it out of bed, but they'll pass, and when they do, when they stop lagging and suffocating and knocking him down, he wants to land on his feet.

I'm the boss of you from now on, asshole. 

And yeah. He's feeling just a little bit better.

He's going back home this weekend to meet his parents, and he spent the last evening looking for half-decent therapists in his neighbourhood (he's found a couple of prospects and despite hating it with every fibre of his being, he knows he needs to get help because damn it all to hell and any man worth his salt won't let his anxiety get in the way of the future he wants for himself and shitfuckdamn maybe he's been spending too much time with that hair-brained idiot lately because he swears he's starting to sound like him now). Whatever.

Point is, Bakugou is going to get the help he needs. He's going to do it, no matter how much the mere thought makes him want to gauge his own chest cavity out. He's going to do it for the sake of his parents, and for the hero he envisions to someday be. He's going to do it for All Might, because All Might used up what was left of his strength in a last ditch effort to save him, and Bakugou would be doing him a major disservice if he didn't prove to himself the world that he was worth saving.

He's going to do his best to make use of the chance he's been given. To try again, and to succeed, this time.

Bakugou breathes a sigh as he drags himself out of the shower and gets dressed. He pulls on a fresh pair of sweatpants and his favourite black tank-top (it's the one with the skull on it), before setting to work on his hair. It's 8.30 PM in the evening, and he's gotta be up early in the morning for training exercises. It's been barely a minute since he's settled down with a glass of juice and his homework, when there's a knock at the door.

Bakugou doesn't have to waste a second guessing who it might be, and his heart picks up the pace in his chest as he pulls himself up and saunters over to open it.

Immediately, he's greeted by a fanged smile and doting eyes, but that's not what draws his attention—it's his fucking hair. They'd been as close to porcupine-like as humanly possible earlier that day, but now, he's got half of it tied up in a messy bun at the back of his head, and it looks... It looks damn good

"Hey," Kirishima greets, softly. He has a big, plastic bag slung over his shoulder, the way hunters carry animal hides. "I brought a movie!" 

Bakugou rolls his eyes and wedges an arm in between the doorjamb. "The rest of you headasses may not give a damn about making it anywhere in life, but I've got school shit to catch up to," he explains, witheringly. "Now, fuck off."

"And popcorn!" Kirishima tacks on, abjectly unfazed.

Bakugou frowns. "We have training in the morning, shitty-hair."

"We have training every morning," Kirishima points out, side-stepping Bakugou's poorly constructed full-body barricade and waltzing in.

It's been five days since Bakugou's last... outburst, so why is he here now? Just to hangout, on a school night? Why? Something doesn't add up. It feels like there's a weight in his chest, awaiting a second shoe-drop. Bakugou sighs and shuts the door behind him, watching warily as Kirishima climbs onto his bed, drops the giant sack of god-knows-what by his side and begins fidgeting with the remote control. 

"You bring a wrecking ball, too?" Bakugou asks, dryly. 

"Dude," Kirishima grins, all mischievous and bright and no, it's not attractive, it's fucking not. Shut up. "I make it a point to avoid kink-shaming a bro on principle, but damn, I didn't know you were into that kinda stuff, I mean, a warning would've been nice," and breaks into laughter, as a balled-up sock projectile narrowly misses his head. Damnit, his laugh is so loud and obnoxious, it shouldn't make Bakugou's heart float.

Kirishima clears his throat then, flopping over onto his back and balancing on his elbows to look up at him. "I uh... I got you something, actually," and Bakugou stares at him like he's threatened his life or something. "Hah?" 

"Um," Kirishima's blushing now, cheeks flaring a rosy-red, as he brings a hand up to rub the back of his neck. "It's not a big deal, or anything. I was out shopping for my little sister and I got a good deal on it, and I thought of you, I guess? Please don't be mad,"

Bakugou's brain tips over like an ice-berg before flat-lining and then proceeding to combust. Sure, a few choice words swim upto his tongue like a gag reflex, but he pushes them back down. When Bakugou continues to just stand there like he's seen a ghost, with his mouth half-open and losing vital signs of life by the second—Kirishima chuckles, positively endeared, and gets to his feet. 

"C'mon, sit down," he mutters. "I'll show you."

"You've gotta be fucking kidding me."

"I really think you'll like it," Kirishima says, as he begins hauling something out of the bag. "Indulge me this once?"

Turns out, Kirishima's present is a hefty, camo-printed plush blanket. He scoops it up in his arms before laying it out on Bakugou's bed. "Like I said, it's nothing fancy, but here. You gotta touch it, man. It feels like holding onto a cloud, or like, one of those really soft dogs?" 

"Don't buy me shit, Kirishima," Bakugou snaps, immediately, despite the way his stomach feels hot as a jacuzzi. "I thought you learned your lesson with those bullshit night-vision goggles."

"That was different," Kirishima insists, but Bakugou detects the slightest waver in his smile. "That was like, a stress purchase. This is just a gift. Plus, it wasn't half as expensive. Don't worry,"

"And what's the fucking occasion?" 

"I dunno, dude. From the looks of it, your blanket's in pretty bad shape. It looks ancient, and the material's all worn out. I doubt it's doing a very good job of keeping you warm, and plus. You've had all these sleepless nights with it? I figured, a fresh new blanket might help a little. It's not attached to all those bad memories, you know," Kirishima explains, but when Bakugou still doesn't say anything, he sighs and sits down at the edge of his bed. "You don't like it?"

Bakugou can tell he's trying hard to keep the disappointment off his face, and was that a flash of hurt? God, fuck him. Fuck him and his seemingly inexhaustible supply of genuine consideration and good will, Bakugou's heart swells up with a thousand names for something he refuses to acknowledge. It's just so thoughtful that it almost physically pains him. He's just not used to it.

Bakugou's good with his fists, and he's great with his quirk, and when someone does something to piss him off, he's still in control. He knows how to handle that. But, this, blatant display of friendship. He doesn't know how he's supposed to react to this. Should he accept it?

He has to accept it, because he won't be able to stand another second of that brokenhearted flush on Kirishima's face. 

"You don't have to say anything," Kirishima mutters. "Just keep it, okay?"

There's another pregnant minute of silence—thin and stretching eons. Bakugou inhales, then, before striding over and joining Kirishima on the side of his bed. Everything about his posture is rigid and he knows it, but he lets his fingers brush against the material of the blanket, and fuck, he's right, it's like it's made of goddamn marshmallows. He didn't think a blanket could be this soft.

Their eyes meet. Kirishima's not smiling anymore. "Thanks," Bakugou chokes out, and for some reason, the word burns on its way out. Instantly, and thank fuck—Kirishima's smile returns tenfold and he swings his arms around Bakugou's neck, trapping him in a hug. Kirishima's arms are heavy against Bakugou's shoulders, but the weight is affirming rather than uncomfortable.

"Really? So you like it?" He breathes, against the nape of Bakugou's neck.

Bakugou awkwardly pats Kirishima's back before drawing away. God, he smells like coconut shampoo. "'Course I fucking like it, this thing is like the fleece of a newborn lamb, I'mma sleep like a goddamn king."

Kirishima's positively beaming now, and Bakugou's busy trying to map out every curve of that smile, when Kirishima's hands suddenly find his.

Their fingers don't entwine but he's gripping onto the back of Bakugou's hand like he might disappear if he doesn't hold on. Their eyes meet again. Kirishima's voice comes off a lot quieter, now. "It's just..." Kirishima chuckles, nervously. "You have that follow-up meeting tomorrow, right? With your parents and the staff? I thought maybe you'd appreciate the company, tonight." 

Oh.

Oh.

Bakugou's throat closes up and he sucks in a small breath. That's right. The principal has requested a consecutive sit-down with all of the students that were directly affected by the villain alliance's attack, along with their parents, for feedback and check-up purposes. Now that it'd been a month, it's important for the school to swoop in again, and do whatever damage control they can, to save face.

They want to make sure that the students are recovering smoothly, discuss the new countermeasures they've put in place, and and assuage any lingering concerns from the families.

Bakugou knows he's going to get the brunt of it, considering he's arguably the one most affected, at least by their shitty standards. It means answering questions he doesn't want to answer, and talking about it like it doesn't still make his skin crawl and his chest shrink.

It means facing reality.

Bakugou'd glossed over the announcement in his mind, even though his mother keeps sending him annoying reminder messages, he's spent the last week trying his damnedest not to think about it, and he'd succeeded so well, that he would've forgotten about it completely, if not for Kirishima. Bakugou feels his heartbeat escalate.

Kirishima cared to remember, he remembers, and now, without a prompt, he's here, offering his hand when he knows it's going to be a difficult night for Bakugou.

It's almost too much to bear.

"Fuck," Bakugou musters. "I'd pushed it out of my mind."

"Yeah," Kirishima's smile is small, but fiercely reassuring. "I figured." 

Before Bakugou can say anything else, though, Kirishima's leaning over the edge of the bed and grabbing for the plastic bag, before fishing around in it like it holds all the answers.

"So, movie?" he says, with a DVD now in hand. Bakugou simply grunts approval.

His blood is still gushing too loudly in his ears, and his chest hurts like it's being squeezed, but then Kirishima's turning on the movie, and Bakugou turns off the light, and the whole room suddenly smells of popcorn as Kirishima produces a warm, pre-popped bag and they push back against the headboard of Bakugou's bed, snuggling up under his brand new blanket.

The air feels breathable, again. 

It's a shitty action movie, made for shitty people with shittingly low attention spans. It proves a worthy distraction, though.

So, Bakugou wants to concentrate on the movie. He really fucking does, but Kirishima's being a raving idiot, so it's proving a little impossible. For one, he's chewing too loudly, and he keeps making grabs for the popcorn, and then he takes big, greedy handfuls of them—"Stop! You're not gonna leave me any," Bakugou growls, and Kirishima just sniggers like a painfully obvious gambler, who's just realised he holds all the cards.

He gently cups Bakugou's chin, eyes brimming with derisiveness. "Open up, I'll feed you," Bakugou barely gets out a muffled 'hell fucking no' in a half-hearted attempt to swat Kirishima's hand away, as fingers brush against his lips by accident, and Great. Now goosebumps are flooding his skin.

At another point, Kirishima yawns and stretches his arms up over his head, and Bakugou really wants to pay attention to the dumb couple on the screen having the dumb argument about the dumb thing, but the hem of Kirishima's shirt rides up, to reveal a toned stretch of stomach, and suddenly Bakugou's gulping down his own spit to keep his throat from drying up.

The worst happens when it's the mid-point of the film, and suddenly there are intending arms snaking around Bakugou's waist, under the covers.

"The fuck?" he demands, without pulling away or taking his eyes off the television. 

Kirishima's voice is hot against his ear. "You should accept support when it’s extended to you, I mean, don’t you think it’s kinda counterproductive to make things harder for yourself like that? You do have your own best interests at heart, don’t you?" He coos, and really, Bakugou can't help but think that Kirishima is more of an asshole than people give him credit for.

"Stop trying to be clever, hair-for-brains," Bakugou mumbles. "It doesn't suit you." 

By the time the movie is over, all Bakugou can focus on is the feeling of Kirishima tucked firmly into his side, one arm draped around Bakugou's middle, Kirishima's head pressed against his chest; how they're breathing in tandem. Bakugou's all too aware of every twitch, every cough, every rumble of his stomach, too busy wondering if being this close means Kirishima can hear all of it, too, if being this close means something more. Means it's okay to have the one thing he doesn't think he's worked hard enough to deserve. All he can smell is Kirishima's fucking shampoo, and all he can feel is the warmth of skin on skin, and the airiness of his chest.

The movie ends without ceremony. The Japanese subtitles were shit, and it had no plot, but there were plenty of car chases, and at least one instance of the conventionally attractive main cast dramatically walking away from an ongoing explosion. 

So, yeah. All in all—t'was pretty good.

Not that Bakugou's been paying enough attention for him to draw a fair conclusion. 

The credits roll on to the very end, but neither of them makes any effort to move. They're too caught up in one another. Bakugou can't stop looking at Kirishima's face, the way the glare off the television screen is lighting up Kirishima's hair like fire, how his ponytail's come undone with toppled tufts sprawling past his collarbones, the scar above his eye and fuck—now Bakugou's thumb is brushing over it, and Kirishima's closing his eyes, melting into the touch, and Bakugou's pleased at that response, and wants more.

He's all too aware of the beat of his heart, or maybe it's Kirishima's, he can't tell. He doesn't care.

Kirishima opens his eyes, then, and something passes in between them: a quiet understanding, a transference of light.

A careful breath stumbles out of Bakugou's mouth, and then Kirishima leans in, a V forming at the base of his throat as he strains his neck, and presses a tentative kiss to the side of Bakugou's chin. Everything inside of Bakugou goes on red alert, his heart pounding so hard he's sure it's going to destroy his chest, but the look on Kirishima's face deserves to be dealt with, and Bakugou finds himself lowering his head, cupping his cheek and pressing their lips together.

Kirishima's lips part invitingly against his own, and Bakugou finds himself eager to meet him halfway. 

The kiss is slow, indulgent, almost afraid of what it might entail. It's new and it's familiar, and it's too much and it's not enough. It's Kirishima's arms slipping around Bakugou's neck, and Bakugou fingers tightening in Kirishima's hair, and the gentle heat of mouths. Bakugou lets his tongue roam over Kirishima's gums, and Kirishima lets out a short, surprised hum, and Bakugou wants to plant the sound and watch it bloom into something beautiful.

There's an unspoken urgency to it all: Bakugou's knuckles going white and Kirishima's breaths becoming ragged. It feels a little bit like stepping out into the sun after a long time spent buried in the dark, and a little bit like putting both of their lives in danger.

Kirishima's teeth scrape against Bakugou's bottom lip and it hurts a little, because his teeth are sharp, and Kirishima draws away too quickly, almost as if he's been slapped, his eyes are wide as headlights and he hisses out a gasp. "Shit, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. Are you okay? Did I hurt you?" his voice comes out hoarse, and heavy with shame.

Bakugou feels his stomach drop. "Takes a lot more than that to hurt me, shitty-hair," and Kirishima breathes a sigh of relief before sinking against Bakugou's chest, and Bakugou sighs too, pulling Kirishima up into him, as close to him as he's allowed to be. "I ruined it," he sounds so dejected, so ashamed of himself, and Bakugou can almost hear the gaggle of self-deprecating thoughts he won't utter out loud, but are sure to follow. 

"You didn't ruin shit," Bakugou confirms. "Come here," he lifts Kirishima's chin up, softly, tenderly, even though he has no fucking clue if tenderness is something he's capable of, and kisses him, again. He sighs into Kirishima's mouth, drawing their bodies impossibly closer, and with deepening adamancy. 

The air in between them changes, before suddenly they're indulged in a series of searing, frenetic kisses, and neither of them know how they've gotten to this point, but Bakugou doesn't want it to stop, doesn't want to let go, never wants to let go, and maybe Kirishima's okay with that, too. He sucks in a shuddering gasp, as Kirishima traps Bakugou's lips between his own without using his teeth, before releasing them slowly and letting his tongue venture Bakugou's mouth.

Bakugou rips away after that, only to kiss a hot line from the base of Kirishima's ear, down to where his collarbones end, and his fingers tug at Kirishima's hair, and Bakugou's hand slips under the hem of Kirishima's t-shirt, to feel how the muscles spasm beneath heated skin. Kirishima cups his face and draws their foreheads against each other, breathing hard against Bakugou's open mouth.

It's so damn impossible, his entire face is flushed pink and his lips are kissed-sore. The kisses transition again, then, into something gentler, lazier, turn to dissolved quiet collisions. The softest tugs of tired lips, fingers entwining instinctively, clumsy, runny kisses against noses and cheeks and exposed throats. They finally withdraw from each other, reluctantly, when it starts to feel like the consequence of their own wants might overwhelm them. 

Neither of them can speak for a good ten minutes afterwards. They just breathe in unison. The most Bakugou can muster is tugging his t-shirt off, and Kirishima follows suit, thin films of sweat clinging to both of their bodies. Bakugou sinks down against Kirishima's bare chest, idle fingers tracing non-existent patterns over his stomach, and he feels entirely worn out—but in the best way. Kirishima's arms are wound tightly around his waist, and he's looking down at him with something, like awe.

"That felt nice," Kirishima whispers, after a comfortable bout of silence. "I wouldn't mind doing it again."

Bakugou curses under his breath. He wants to do it again, too, again and again, and again after that. For as long as he fucking can. Maybe forever, If he can have forever. Fuck, because, because Kirishima makes him feel safe, and somehow, even though Bakugou has spent his entire life dreading the thought of relying on someone else, this feels like something he wants. Something he needs, and it doesn't feel like a reliance, not exactly.

Bakugou and Kirishima are both their own people, but they can be that and still be there for each other, when one of them needs it.

Maybe... Letting himself hold onto something—someone, isn't the eradication of his independence, but a balance that goes hand-in-hand, with it.

A small indulgence that he can afford to allow himself. 

Tonight, it's been all too overwhelming, though. He's tired and requires sleep, Kirishima doesn't look much better off. "Gotta be up in the morning," Bakugou mutters, and his own voice sounds strange, kind of weathered, somehow, like shoes you grow into.

"Yeah," Kirishima agrees, a crystal clear understanding in his voice, even as he sighs against Bakugou's touch.

They shift in bed again, and Bakugou ends up letting Kirishima press up against him. The back of his spine flush against Kirishima's front, Kirishima's arm anchored over Bakugou's middle, Kirishima's nose buried in Bakugou's neck.

For once, Bakugou lets himself be held.

For once, he looks outside of himself for reassurance.

For once, it feels like the most natural goddamn thing in the world.

He turns around so that they're facing each other. “I’m gonna be okay,” Bakugou whispers, hotly against Kirishima’s jaw. 

It’s not a question, but Kirishima answers anyway, and his smile in that moment, is contagious, and it's everything Bakugou needs. “I always knew you would be, man.”