Bakugou didn’t think he’d understood the meaning of the term sob before this moment. He had read it in books, he had seen girls crying on tv. Pretty tear running silently down perfect cheeks. Those were the things he pictured when he thought the word before today. Before the pro hero Ground Zero had arrived too late to save Deku, the world’s greatest hero. No, before today he would not have been able to connect the word with the aching, hollow feeling in his chest or the constant shaking that wouldn’t cease as the sobs raked endlessly through him. Crying, let alone sobbing had never been how he had responded to anything. His gut reaction was anger. He had met very few problems he couldn’t solve with an explosion or two, but this was one of them. The unthinkable had happened. The number one hero, the true symbol of peace, Deku was no more.
The race for the coveted number one spot had been complicated ever since Bakugou and his classmates debuted on the pro hero scene. Ground Zero, Deku, and Triumph (named for his father Endeavor) had risen to the top 3 spots within a year. It had become something of a joke between the three of them, friendly competition for the top spot while most of the world considered them in a three-way tie. They joked about overtaking each other in the ranks. Bakugou wished he could go back to those days. The years training under Endeavor with two rivals that had become his best friends. The nights sharing patrol. The way they had teased each other about fan merch and publicity and rumors. The time and Deku gave Todoroki a hard time when he was ousted from the number three spot for a week by Lemillion. Just yesterday Deku had been photographed retrieving his morning paper in Todoroki themed footie pajamas and they had all laughed about it together. He wished he had known to cherish those times more.
It was never more than a joke. When it came down to it, Todoroki and Bakugou both knew that Midoriya was a better hero than they were. Not because he saved more people or had more power, but because he was passionate. He may not have been born with a quirk, but he was born to be a hero. He was always smiling. Allmight would have been so proud of him. He was compassionate where Bakugou was abrasive, friendly where Todoroki was awkward, he was everything Bakugou could ever hope to be as a hero. And in some tragic twist of fate, he had fallen to some no-name, low-level thug in a drug distribution ring.
Ground Zero — Bakugou — had made quick work of the villain when he’d arrived on the scene. He’d had some sort of power quirk, a weaker version of what Muscular had used back in the day. Deku had been holding him off while trying to make sure civilians in the area got to safety. The guy was raging, by the time Ground Zero had arrived the thug was nearly the size of a building. He had skidded into the square just in time to see Deku freeing a little boy and his mother from a collapsed statue before Deku had been snatched up, thrown through a building and buried in the rubble. The villain didn’t stand a chance against his wrath after that. He had killed him, something he was sure to have to fill out a lot of paperwork for later, scooped Deku’s broken form into his arms, and rushed away with him without stopping.
After he had arrived at the hospital, angrily pushing through reporters and bystanders recording on their phones, and delivered Deku straight into a surgeon’s care, a woman in a pressed, white uniform had escorted him to this room. He didn’t remember anything about her except the white uniform. . . and the bloodstains that had marred it when she had touched him. Deku’s blood. As soon as the door had shut behind them he’d all but thrown off his gauntlets, rushed to the adjacent bathroom and hurled up the entire contents of his stomach. The woman has helped him get cleaned up, wiping the blood from his face and hands. It had been all he could do to leave the bathroom and curl up on the floor. He couldn’t even bring himself to care that this stranger was seeing him in this state. She had stayed for a while and tried to comfort him. She had finally given up and left him to be alone. Bakugou wasn’t sure how long ago that had been — maybe a couple of hours? It felt like an eternity. Eventually, the tears had dried up though the terrible aching feeling they left behind was no better. He shifted so that his back was pressed against the wall, his knees drawn to his chest. Surely they would have had some kind of news for him by now.
He had noticed everything about the room the moment he had walked in even in his rush to get to the bathroom. Of course, he had. Endeavor had trained him well. It was a small room; White walls, green upholstered chairs lining the walls, a tv on the wall silently playing the news, beige linoleum that had long since started to make his knees ache. The antiseptic smell of the hospital mixed with the smell of blood and nitroglycerin and smoke that he’d brought in with him. Knowing his surroundings did nothing to make him feel at ease. That hyper-awareness had been a lesson he'd learned with Todoroki and Deku. Neither of them were with him now. Todoroki was on an investigation in Shikoku and Deku. . . Bakugou couldn't think about it. Couldn't think about Deku.
He kept getting flashes of the night's events. He tried to concentrate on the room to keep himself grounded, but it was of no use. Deku's blood clinging to his gloves and clothes; beige floor tiles; red blood splatters against the beige tiles; green upholstered seats; Deku's green hero suit in tatters, barely covering wounds that even Recovery Girl wouldn't have been able to heal; white walls; the flash of light when the final explosion had ended the villains life; clips of Deku playing on the news; Deku's worn-out smile seconds before being crushed in that villain’s hand. There was nothing that didn't hold unspeakable horrors for him. He almost wished there were tears left to cry. Maybe they could have washed away those terrible images.
Bakugou’s phone began buzzing loudly against the tiled floor where it lay discarded a few feet from him. He knew who it would be before the words ‘Icy-Hot’ lit up the display. It took more strength than the could have imagined to answer the phone and lift it to his ear.
Todoroki breathed a sigh of relief before Bakugou could even answer, “Bakugou?” he said, voice as calm and level as always. It was only due to of knowing and training with him for years that Bakugou was able to detect the tinge of anxiety underlying the words. Between that and all of the noise that he could hear in the background something must be wrong. Well, besides the obvious.
“Who else?” Bakugou responded gruffly. His throat stung from all of the ragged breathing and his voice sounded thick even to his own ears.
“Oh thank God,” He mumbled and then called loudly, “Ground Zero is alive.”
That snapped Bakugou out of his daze. He sat up straighter, “Of course I’m alive.”
“What is going on, Bakugou?” asked Todoroki, actually allowing the tension to sneak into his voice. “The news is reporting that Ground Zero and Deku both died in a fight this evening. There are villains rioting in basically every city!”
“No, I’m alive.’ Bakugou told him automatically, “I’m not even hurt. Why would they think—”
“ You’re alive?” Todoroki demanded a noise like gunfire rang out on his end of the call, “What about Midoriya.”
“I—” Bakugou choked on the lump in his throat, “I don’t know.” He clenched his free fist, fingernails drawing blood from his scarred palms.
“You don’t know?” Todoroki hissed.
There was a large clatter. Todoroki swore under his breath and Bakugou heard someone cry out, “We need you back out there, Triumph!”
“In a moment!” Todoroki snapped with unquestionable authority, sounding exactly like his father.
“It was just a standard job with some quirk enhancing drugs,” Bakugou replied through gritted teeth, “but it went wrong and I was too late. Deku — I don’t know if he’s going to make it.” He had thought he had run out of tears, but being forced to confirm his thoughts out loud brought the stinging back behind his eyes.
“But you got him to the doctor? Maybe they can. . .” He trailed off as if hoping Bakugou would fill in the positivity for him.
“No, man, it’s. . .” He ran a hand over his face and looked up at the tiled ceiling, trying to block the images from his mind. “If you’d have seen. . . ” He was stammering, trying to figure out how to say the words. “I just— I don’t think it’s going to be okay.”
Todoroki swore. A loud crash sounded through the phone. Someone shouted, “Triumph?” and he swore again louder this time.
“It sounds like you need to go,” Bakugou mumbled. He turned his head from the phone so Todoroki wouldn’t hear him sniffle. Damn, how pathetic was he?
“It’s bad out here,” Todoroki confirmed, “Stay with him. We’ve got it covered. Keep me posted,” and he hung up the phone.
Bakugou sighed and let both his arms fall limply to his sides. He wasn’t sure if he felt better or worse. He needed to pull himself together. There was an uprising of villains happening and he was crying uselessly in a dark room. He needed to feel useful, but he couldn’t leave Deku. Even if Deku might already be gone. In a normal situation, he would need to call and let people know what had happened, but most of the people that cared about Deku personally were pro heroes. They would certainly be busy. Then there was his mother.
Could he look into Inko Midoriya’s green eyes and tell her that something terrible had happened to her son? The petite woman who had baked special cookies every time he spent the night at Deku’s house; who had always had a bandaid for him if he fell and scraped his knee in the street. No, he’d have to wait until he knew more to talk to Inko. He wanted to be able to answer all of her questions. She wasn’t much for watching the news. She said watching the hero work they displayed there just made her worry for her son. Hopefully, she hadn’t heard the rumors yet. If she had, surely she would have called him too once she had been unable to reach Deku.
He didn’t have to agonize over his uselessness long. The woman returned in a fresh white uniform. Bakugou scrambled to his feet. He noted that her name tag read Lee. He wondered pointlessly if that were her first or last name. “You can see him now,” she said in a smooth voice.
“How is he?” He asked, following her into the hallway. As they passed a window he noticed the moon was high in the sky. It had to have been hours since he had arrived.
Lee was silent a moment. They made it to the end of the long hallway before she pursed her lips and said, “Why don’t you see for yourself,” she recommended, pausing in front of a closed door.
Oh no. No. He wasn’t dead, was he? Deku could not be dead. Bakugou had so many things left to say to him. He must have looked stricken because Lee added quickly, “He’s asking for you."
Bakugou lurched for the door as if it were his lifeline. Lee stepped aside to let him stumble into the room alone. Any thought he might have had about remaining strong for Deku's sake flew from his mind when he saw his face. He was bruised and bandaged but he was awake and he was smiling. The purple of the bruises made his skin look even paler than usual and his eyes were more sunken in than Bakugou had ever seen, but it was him. It was really Deku. The tears that had been stinging the backs of his eyes since Todoroki's call ran down his face now.
Unbidden, his feet rushed him to the bedside where he collapsed half kneeling and half against Deku’s chest. Deku’s hands immediately found Bakugou’s hair and wound themselves comfortingly there.
“Careful, Kacchan, I’m still really sore,” He laughed quietly but didn’t let go. The nickname that had once annoyed and embarrassed him might have been the best thing he’d heard in his entire life.
“I thought you were dead,” Bakugou croaked, pulling back so he could look at Deku’s face. His stupid hair, though closer cropped on the sides than it had been in their youth, was just as wild as it had always been. His stupid green eyes were the precise shade of green that Bakugou would know anywhere. His stupid face was just as covered in stupid freckles as it had been the day that they’d met. His nose was still a little crooked from the time he’d broken it when they were teenagers and decided not to have it set because Bakugou had said he’d looked tougher that way. Somehow the fact that these things remained unchanged comforted Bakugou.
“Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you cry before,” Deku remarked with a soft smile. He pushed Bakugou’s hair back from his face, “Are you alright?”
“Am I alright?” Bakugou snapped. “If you’re wondering, I’m having the worst fucking day of my life. You’re such an idiot. How can you ask me if I’m alright when I had to carry you here?” Deku grinned even wider and Bakugou lightly shoved his hands away from his hair. “Why the hell are you smiling right now?”
“There’s the Kacchan I know,” Deku laughed, “There’s always a reason to smile, right? I’m just worried because I’ve never seen you express sadness instead of anger. So yeah, I’m asking if you’re alright.”
Something inside Bakugou’s chest was melting at the look in Deku’s eyes. Suddenly he felt incredibly warm. His anger evaporated as fast as it came on. He ducked his head, “I just. . . thought I was going to lose you,” he whispered. He was suddenly aware that he was still half laying against Deku's chest. He straightened up a little too quickly. The heat he felt all over his body suddenly condensed itself into his cheeks.
“Hey, I’m still here." Deku grimaced then and gestured toward the end of the bed, "most of me anyway."
Bakugou knew before he looked that the leg wouldn't be there. It didn't stop the pang in his chest when he saw the impression in the blanket where Deku's right leg should have been ended above his knee. He had seen Deku crushed in the hand of the thug with the super-powered quirk, thrown through a building, and then buried under piles of rubble. He had seen the state of him as he had carried him here. He had all this time to get used to the idea and it still filled him with rage. He hadn't killed that villain slowly enough.
"Can you not joke?" He asked around the lump in his throat. "Are they going to fix you? There has to be something, some quirk that will—"
Deku silenced him with a hand on his shoulder. "Katsuki, come on," he murmured.
Bakugou stiffened. Deku calling him by his given name was never a good sign. "Izuku," he replied just as seriously.
"It took a lot of people's quirks to even get me to this point and I still lost one leg and can't feel the other. I’m. . . I’m not going to walk again. That's going to make hero work hard. You know that." Deku reminded him gently.
Bakugou gulped down the lump in his throat but he managed a small smile for Deku's sake, "Shouldn't I be the one comforting you?"
Deku actually laughed at that, "I don't think anyone has ever accused you of having a comforting presence."
Bakugou smiled wider but it fell quickly. He bowed his head, "I am so sorry. This is all my fault."
"Don't do that," Deku said. Bakugou could hear the rustling as he struggled to sit farther up in bed. He didn't look up.
"If I had just gotten there sooner. . ."
"Who knows what would have happened." Deku interrupted. "All I know is that if you hadn’t gotten there when you did I would be dead. You're my hero."
"I don't know how to be a hero without you," Bakugou confessed. He continued, his voice rising with every word. "The world is literally rioting because they think you're gone. You're the real symbol of peace. Not Todoroki. Not me. You're the compass for heroes everywhere. There is no way we can do this without you, damn it!" He looked up into Deku's eyes, desperate to get his point across but he stopped dead in his tracks.
"Technically, you don't have to do it without me," Deku breathed. In the small space between them he held out a hand, a hair pinched between his fingers.
"No," Bakugou said immediately. He jerked away from Deku as if he were about to shove the hair down his throat. He moved fully to the chair by the bedside still an arm's reach away but no longer touching.
"No?" Deku asked, eyebrows raised. He still held his hand extended for Bakugou to take the hair. To take One for All.
"No!" Bakugou repeated with conviction. "Hell no. Pick someone else."
"There is no one else," Deku responded immediately. Bakugou spared a thought to wonder whether Deku was just talking about One for All.
"Anyone else. Triumph, LeMillion, Ingenium, fuck give it to Grape Juice! Just don't give it to me. I'm not worthy."
"Of course, you're worthy," Deku scoffed. "You are the only one I will entrust One for All to."
"I'm sorry, when exactly did you get the idea that I was worthy?" Bakugou asked harshly, "When I was constantly terrorizing you when we were kids?"
Deku's extended hand never wavered, "I never minded so much when you were the one terrorizing me."
"This is ridiculous, Deku" Bakugou spat.
"Do you think I was worthy when Allmight passed it to me? I was a kid, Kacchan. A quirkless fanboy."
"You were trying to save me," Bakugou reminded him. It had taken him years to actually appreciate that fact. To appreciate Deku.
" Trying. How many times have you saved my life? You've always been someone I ador—" he paused to cough, "that I admire and you've come so far since then. You are the one it needs to be. You can handle this."
"What if I can't?"
"You can!" Deku held his hand out more insistently.
“I can’t take this from you!” Bakugou protested. “Allmight’s legacy, your legacy it’s too much. It’s yours and I can’t take it!”
“I was never meant to keep One for All forever,” Deku told him firmly. “Sure, I thought I’d get to keep it longer. That I’d pass it on to someone I could train like Allmight did with me but sometimes life doesn’t go how you planned it. If I can’t have it that way then it has to be you. You are the one I can trust to step up.”
Bakugou took the hair but made no move to put it in his mouth. Instead, he held it in his palm and stared down at it. "You seem like you had this thought out a while," he told him.
"Its a dangerous line of work," Deku shrugged, "and to me it wasn't much of a choice."
"But nothing, just eat my hair before I hurt myself trying to make you," Deku said, green electricity sparking at his fingertips. It was a low blow and he knew it, but Deku always had been a little devious.
"How can you just let this go?" Bakugou asked still staring at the hair in his palm.
"You forget that I lived without this quirk for longer than I had it. Besides, I've had to let a lot of things go in my life," he told him plainly, he stretched his hands out as if to encompass everything that had happened in the thirteen years since they’d been at UA. "The world needs One For All. And. . . And I need you."
They were silent for a moment before Deku began speaking again, “besides there are a lot of things I can do. Consulting maybe. Or private investigating. Maybe just hero research,” he was rambling now, “Maybe I could still teach. I hate to use my status to get my way but I doubt many people would turn me down no matter what I’d want to do. And I’d still support you and Todoroki anyway I can and we can—”
"Fine," Bakugou muttered, cutting Deku off. His shoulders relaxed slightly and his expression softened. He had actually been worried that Bakugou would say no. He looked relieved. His smile almost fading.
Bakugou thought he understood. As long as Deku was the holder of One for All, as long as he was the symbol of peace, he would never be able to let that smile slip and begin to heal. It wasn't just a gift he was giving Bakugou, it was a burden that he was unable to lift on his own anymore. When he thought of the responsibility he now held in the palm of his hand he gulped. He could do this. He would do this. He closed his eyes and swallowed it.
Deku exhaled as if he had been holding his breath. When Bakugou opened his eyes he saw that tears had begun to well up in Deku’s. He moved to sit on the edge of the bed and opened his arms a little stiffly. Deku was right, no one had ever accused him of being a comforting presence.
Deku stared at him in shock for half a second before leaning forward and burying his face in the crook of Bakugou’s shoulder. Bakugou wasn’t entirely sure what to do with his hands, but he wrapped his arms tightly around Deku and somehow that felt right. “Hey, everything is okay now,” he murmured against Deku’s hair, “I’m here.”
He started to believe the words himself. It was alright. He was there and he wasn’t going to leave. Deku was alive. That was all Bakugou would ask for. Maybe someday there would be more than that. Maybe someday he would truly be the hero that Deku thought he was. He would try his best for Deku and for now — for today, it would be enough.