It doesn't matter what was said by Aizawa, nonchalantly thrown into the air in response to Bakugou's quick answer. Maybe the teacher had congratulated the hot-headed student on coming up with a hypothetical rescue strategy so quickly, or maybe he had admitted that the strategy was very smart given the provided circumstances. Anyways, it doesn't matter because Aizawa immediately moves onto to the next hypothetical situation, scritching circumstances across the whiteboard, which—yeah—absolutely no one is paying attention to. Because Bakugou has grasped his hands into shaking fists, his body vibrating with pent-up emotion, his cheeks completely flushed in an angry blush. But the blush's intensity seems to be the only thing angry about it because Bakugou is turning his head to the side—like he's trying to hide his reaction. He looks almost...bashful? As soon as Kirishima can turn his eyes away from whatever the hell this is, he immediately zones in on Mina. She's already looking back, golden eyes shining with a combination of surprise and mischief.
Test One: Appearance
Test Dummy: Mina Ashido
Everyone in class this morning had seen the strange reaction—aside from Midoriya who had kept up with Aizawa's lesson to the T—and had more or less been made aware that Mina was up to no good. As a result, only the curious, the brave, and the stupid of 1-A occupied the common room couches as Sero and Bakugou competed in Pro Hero Battle 3.
"Kacchan, you're going to break the controller!"
(And the oblivious. Read: Midoriya Izuku.)
"Shut it, nerd! You think I can't control my quirk enough to beat Spidey's ass, huh?"
"Hey!" Sero protests, indignant, even as his on-screen character—Pro Hero Air Jet—collapses onto the ground after a particularly brutal attack from Baukugo. Three more minutes of button smashing occurs, during which Bakugou's hands steam, Midoriya worries over the state of his controllers, and Sero suffers a quick and embarrassing defeat. Sero collapses onto the ground dramatically, and Kaminari pats his back radiating sympathy and second-hand embarrassment. Bakugou throws his controller to the side—expertly landing it in Izuku's palms, and throws his arms up behind his head in order to comfortably gloat. He smirks, red eyes flashing—
"You've got beautiful eyes, Bakugou!" Mina croons, a shit-eating grin stretched across her face. "All fired up and fully of victory—totally gorgeous!"
The room goes still. All except for Midoriya who startles so bad that the controller goes flying out of his hands and onto the floor. Bakugou's eyebrows twitch up in surprise before he forcefully lowers them. Pink spreads across his cheekbones and the bridge of his nose, and he hunches his shoulders to his ears. He stiffly throws his palms against his cheeks and scrubs at the blush as if he can remove it. He looks uncomfortable and flustered and honestly downright cute. It's not a synonym that Class 1-A has often—or ever—associated with the explosive boy and most of them stare at the reaction in awe. They don't get to appreciate it for long, though, because Bakugou is already standing to his socked feet and storming out of the room, throwing out a, "Cut the crap, you creep!" behind his shoulder.
Test Two: Skillset
Test Dummy: Kirishima Eijiro
Bakugo keeps his guard up—more so than usual—after that. It takes about two weeks and a lot of nagging for food to get him to relax. He's in the kitchen, angrily chopping up carrots for the savages that he reluctantly calls his friends.
"Oooo, are you making ramen?" A high voice asks near a floating magazine and pajama set.
"Tch. Listen hear Where's Waldo, I'm making three bowls. One for me," he says, then jabs the knife toward Kaminari and Kirishima. "And two for these idiots so they'll shut the fuck up."
Hagakure seems to wilt more from the nickname than she does from the lack of ramen. At the very least, Kirishima is pretty sure the magazine drooped a bit more toward the beginning of Bakugou's sentence. She huffs but pulls out the stool beside Kamanari and plops down in the hopes that she'll be pitied.
By the time the ramen is being drained, nearly all of their classmates have dropped by the kitchen due to the smell. Each one had been denied ramen if they made the mistake of requesting it, and had been glared at if they made of mistake of not requesting it. Those that didn't remain in the kitchen ventured to the common room, sprawling across the couches and floor to talk to one another. When Midoriya enters the kitchen, yawning and rubbing a fist into his left eyeball, there are no open stools left. He suspects that it has something to do with whatever Mina has been up to, and nervously leans against the counter near a passive-looking Jiro. He watches his childhood friend add an egg to what is most definitely one of only three prepared bowls of ramen.
"Um," Deku lets out, more sheepish than hesitant. "Kacchan...?"
Bakugou growls low in his throat and shoots the other boy an annoyed look. "Not a fucking chance, Deku."
"Don't sweat it, bro!" Kirishima grins brightly, flashing sharp teeth. "I'm down to share mine."
Midoriya's eyes well up, his wobbly smile projecting gratefulness, and Bakugou's eyes almost roll to the back of his skull. He flings two sets of chopsticks at Deku's head and the greenette catches them effortlessly. He passes a set Kirishima's way, who pushes the bowl closer to the shorter boy in response. As soon as Midoriya takes a bite, Kirishima digs in too, and the flavors bursting across the redhead's tongue almost makes him whimper.
"Kacchan is amazing," Deku moans into his noodles, and Bakugou stumbles with his own chopsticks for a moment, the tips of his ears pinking, but angrily continues eating. It makes Kirishima remember what he's supposed to be doing, and he grins at his best friend.
"Yeah, man. You're, like, the best cook ever. Everything you make is so tasty but also so full of protein? It's so manly!"
Bakugou's chopsticks snap in half. He throws himself out of the stool, the chair collapsing from the effort, and he storms out of the room cheeks very red. The students in the kitchen immediately burst into multiple conversations as soon as he leaves, which gains the attention of everyone in the common room. As soon as everyone's in the same room, Mina regales the tale for them animatedly, cackling at the reactions she receives in response. Even Iida seems intrigued, if not incredibly confused. The only one not immersed in the play-by-play is Midoriya, who is frowning into his shared bowl of ramen. Kirishima—who has a literal Friend-O-Meter—senses this, and nudges the other boy.
"What's up, Midoriya? Not hungry anymore?"
"Are you and Mina making fun of me?"
"Huh?!" Kirishima's Friend-O-Meter frantically wavers. "Why would we do that? And what makes you think we are?"
"You keep..." Midoriya flushes lightly, avoiding the redhead's eyes and poking at the ramen. "I mean, you guys keep saying all the things I kind of say about Kacchan. Or...or all the things I don't say about Kacchan. But I guess you can't be making fun of me if you don't even know what to make fun of. Which you obviously don't because I haven't said aloud the things you're saying. Unless...oh God, unless I've been hit with some sort of quirk that projects my thoughts onto other people! Could every thought I have about Kacchan be implanting into other people's minds because of a quirk?! But what would compel you guys to say it aloud?! Is that part of the quirk or did you both just happen to agree to what's been projected? Not that I would blame you—oh no! What if Kacchan is hearing it too? Is that why he's been acting so strange? I don't even remember being hit by a—"
"Midoriya," Kirishima says, kindly, placing a hard palm on his shoulder. "Breath."
Midoriya shoots him an apologetic look, taking in a breath as their classmates titter at Mina's drawn-out recollection of Bakugou.
"You think we're teasing you because we're complimenting Bakugou?"
"Um," Deku says eloquently, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly. "Yes? Maybe?"
"No way, dude. I'm sorry you felt that way. We're not mocking you or anything! We just also agree that he's amazing and, well, er-" Now, it Kirishima's turn to scratch the back of his neck—sheepishly. "He's been reacting pretty funny to them, so we're kind of teasing him, not you."
"Oh." Big, green eyes blink into awareness. "He has been reacting strangely."
"We think he likes them."
"You think Kacchan likes compliments?"
"He does get all embarrassed and red," Kirishima shrugs.
"But—but I compliment him all the time!"
"No, you call him amazing all the time."
"That's not all I—"
"You call him amazing. You tell him how much his training has improved. You tell him how much his temper has improved. And then you call him amazing again."
"Kacchan is amazing," Midoriya huffs out, cheeks pink, likely more irritated at being caught in his admiration then at the simplicity of it.
"He is," Kirishima agrees. "But he's probably used to hearing that."
Not just from me, Midoriya realizes, mind flashing back to a sparkling child being infested and pumped full of praise by children and adults alike.
The boy trails off, then huffs in a determined breath, eyes catching with the redhead's. "How do...I get Kacchan to react like that?"
"Oh ho ho. Look who finally wants to tease Bakugou back...or maybe," Kiri teases, grin flashing again. "You just want to be the one to make him blush?"
"Kirishima!" Midoriya cries, throwing his arms up to hide his steadily flushing face. "I-it's not like that—"
"Aww, it's okay, Midoriya," Mina coos down from her stage—she's standing on her stool, story long done, and Midoriya almost melts into the ground when he realizes that the entire class has been listening in on his conversation with Kirishima for who knows how long.
"It's pretty obvious that it's like that," Todoroki agrees, face impassive, but he breaks at the last moment—lips twitching in what is undeniably a small, amused smirk. It makes his fellow students go absolutely batshit and Midoriya collapses onto the cold kitchen floor, hoping that they'll crush him in their chaos.
Test Three: Soul
Test Dummy: Midoriya Izuku
Affiliation: Bakugou Katsuki
The Bakusquad collectively decides to take a break from teasing Bakugou in order to put all of their energy into teasing Midoriya. Aside from Kirishima, who is still a little guilty for bringing attention to Midoriya's feelings for Bakugou in the first place. Instead of teasing him, the redhead begins to encouragingly grant him with a thumbs up anytime Bakugou enters the room. Midoriya honestly thinks it's worse than the teasing.
He finally works up the courage to truly compliment the blond about three days later. It shoots through him like One For All, making him stand up from his seat at the lunch table, vibrating with adrenaline. His quick ascent startles Ochako and Iida, but they quickly recover in order to watch hawk-eyed as Midoriya determinedly strides across the lunchroom. A hush falls across the two lunch tables inhabited by Class 1-A, which is quickly noticed by the other classes. This means, of course, as soon as Midoriya reaches the other table—as soon as he's standing there, eyes determinedly locked on the back of Backgou's neck—the lunchroom is almost silent save for whispers. Bakugou does not turn around, but Midoriya can see the goosebumps that pop up across his neck, can hear the Bakusquad whispering his arrival.
"What do you want, nerd?" Bakugou doesn't say it harshly. It's almost—barely—hesitant, like he's nervous about the answer. But it's so well-concealed with irritation that only someone that pays close enough attention to the blond would notice it. Midoriya does not notice it. He's too revved up, too ready to say what he has rehearsed in his mind for days.
"You really encourage me, Kacchan."
The whispers fall dead. Bakugou slowly turns in his seat. This is not what Midoriya rehearsed.
"Anytime we're sparring and you ask me if I saw the move you just executed or the blast you just dealt, I practically vibrate with excitement and I get this crazy amount of encouragement—this—this inspiration to one-up you. To beat you. You encourage me to fight harder and to fight better. And I do my best to make you feel the same way. Every day. With every spar and every battle. I know it might seem like I encourage everyone to better themselves, and it's true. I really do try my best to make everyone feel the way that you make me feel. Maybe encouraging that feeling during battle isn't reserved for you, but the fact that I even do it is because of you. The reason I scream and shout to rally people—the reason I become so aggressive during battle—is because it's what you do. And you're my vision of strength and victory, Kacchan. I can't help but imitate you. You're just so good—"
It's the word good that does it. Bakugou's fork snaps in two, palms crackling. His friends move away from him on extinct, and that same extinct is what allows Midoriya to move out of the way in time for Bakugou to fly out of the lunchroom, leaving curling smoke in his wake.
Suffice to say, most of Class 1-A is surprised to see Bakugou in class an hour later. (Aside from Midoriya and the Bakusquad whom all know that Bakugou would rather hug Mineta than be late for a class.) He sits quietly in his seat for the entire lesson, ignoring questions that he surely knows the answer to. Midoriya sits just as quietly, barely making an effort to keep track of the lecture in his notebook—he looks kind of miserable. Their classmates silently and collectively agree not to poke at either of them.
When Present Mic—loudly—dismisses them, Bakugou waits until the Pro Hero exits the classroom before standing to his feet. He creates a small explosion with both palms in the form of an announcement and a warning.
"LISTEN UP, FUCKWADS!" He roars, and his peers actually put effort into listening to his anger for once. "Do you think I'm fucking stupid?! I know what the hell you all think you're pulling, and this is your first and final fucking warning to cut this shit out. You think I'm too proud to know my faults? I'm still better than all of you shitty extras even with them. Insult me to my face again and I WILL END YOU. YOU GOT THAT?!"
He storms out of the classroom after that. He's been doing that a lot lately. Midoriya winces with guilt, then glares around the classroom upon realizing that he's the only one doing so.
"What?" Mina asks, innocently, slipping her backpack on.
"What do you mean what?"
"Oh come on, Midoriya," Kaminari pouts to cover his own guilt. "You're the one who got him all riled up."
"Wha—bu—but you guys started it!"
"We complimented him," Kirishima agrees, sympathetically. "You confessed to him."
"You took it up like twelve notches," Jiro agrees, twirling her left ear jack. "You've got to fix this before class becomes unbearable."
It's still not my fault, Midoriya pouts to himself, begrudgingly, as he follows his classmates toward the dorm. But still...he seemed really upset. And I'm at least partially to blame.
It's this thought process that keeps Midoriya from stepping out of the elevator when it reaches the second floor. He lets the doors close, takes in a deep breath, releases it, then stares forward in determination as the elevator ascends.
It takes a bit of a compromise. Read: a lot of a knocking and a shouting match through the door. Eventually, Bakugou swings open his bedroom door, quite ready to let Deku have it. Midoriya pushes past him and into the bedroom, swiveling around victoriously, before cowering a bit at the fury wrapped across the other boy's face. His cowering halts, however, when he realizes that Kacchan does not look furious. He looks pissed, sure, but not furious. He looks defensive. It hits Deku, then, that maybe Kacchan's been storming out not angrily but defensively. Even his warning at the end of class was—
"You know I think you're amazing, right?"
"Tch. Well, it's not my fault you changed your fucking mind," Kacchan spits out, hackles raised. "But when I become the Number One Hero, I'll prove you and your shitty friends wrong!"
Deku blinks. So Kacchan doesn't know that I think he's amazing.
"Kacchan is amazing—"
"You used to believe me," Deku says, concern drawing his eyebrows downward. "What changed?"
"Ha! Pretty pissed I caught you in your stupid lie, aren't you Deku?" Kacchan cackles, but it lacks all humor. "And you got the whole class in on it—I mean—don't get any stupid ideas! I fucking know you've always looked down on me. I just didn't say anything about you fake-ass Kacchan is amazing bullshit because it wasn't worth my time. But if the whole class thinks that they can shove these half-baked insults at me then they're way fucking dumber than I thought!"
Kacchan is seething, and the anger is slowly giving way—cracking and crumbling to make way for the defensiveness—and a lightbulb ignites above Deku's green head.
"You think we're making fun of you."
"Shut up! I'm not an idiot!"
"Kacchan, that day in class? Aizawa really did enjoy your explanation."
"I said SHUT UP DEKU!" He's moving closer, but Deku is not afraid, has never been afraid when it comes to something that's important to him, and this, above all else this is important to him—
"And Kirishima does think you're a great cook, and Mina does think you've got great eyes, and I do think your fighting style has improved—"
"Deku..." A warning. Palms steaming.
"I just don't understand. Even if you believe that they're just teasing you, why would you get this worked up about it? I mean, no, I can believe you getting this worked up about it. But why would you think that they're teasing you? I mean, you've got a big enough ego that you already know how great your food is and how pretty your eyes are. And you keep great track of your progress, so you've got to know that your fighting style has improved so—"
"Shut it with the mumbling Deku!" The steaming has transitioned into sparks.
"If we were teasing you on true things—I mean, we're not truly teasing, but if you thought we were—which you do—and all of it was true, then why would you be this angry? And why do you think we're only teasing and not—"
"I SAID SHUT UP!" Kacchan roars, hands sparking off dangerously. Deku only responds by creasing his eyebrows in concern and stepping forward into Bakugou's space. Green burns into red.
"Kacchan. We didn't go through all that at Ground Beta for you to just shut me out again. I thought we were passed this. I'm not looking down on you. I really—"
"You're so fucking stupid!"
And Deku is almost hurt for a moment. Almost. Until, again, like clockwork, he recognizes that the emotion flickering about Kacchan's face is—confusion—confusion masked as anger. And realization hits Izuku right before the pain.
"Oh." He says quietly, achingly, sorrowfully. "Oh, Kacchan—"
"Get that fucking look off your face."
"I think you're amazing."
"And you deserve to hear that, okay? You learned from a young age that your quirk was impressive and so was your intelligence. It still is. But I know that all of that encouragement can lead to some harmful mindsets and harmful coping mechanisms. I know that part of that is what led you to putting people down. Hurting the people around you. That doesn't make it okay. And I'm not going to giftwrap an apology for you. But what I can do is reassure you that you grew out of it. Your temper can be devastating but only if you let it, and that's just it Kacchan. You never let it. Your temper, and your quirk, and your past—you've grown into the kind of person and the kind of hero that can push it down, put it aside, or even use it to your benefit. You're so much more than your flaws."
Deku has reached out, is touching Kacchan's shoulder and Kacchan is trembling, seemingly fragile despite his supposed strength. He can tell that Kacchan needs something but he's not sure what it is. So all he can offer is patience and time. It's weird for Deku not to know exactly what the other boy needs—it's jarring and new. And maybe it's a good thing.
Kacchan opens his mouth, lips trembling. "I'm sorry."
It comes out strong and gruff, but Deku can see from his red eyes that it's haggard. It's not enough, it's not nearly enough for Kacchan and Deku can tell—but it's enough for him, it always has been because it's a gateway to Kacchan accepting himself and accepting others. Deku wants to respond. He wants to say I know and It's okay and What took you so long? and It's not okay. Not yet, but it will be—but what comes out is:
"You're so good."
The trembling grows stronger. Deku never moves his hand.
"You're a good person, Kacchan. And you'll be a great hero. No matter what people say. No matter what the League, or the media, or random students that don't know the first thing about you say—just. No matter what anyone says about you, to you, at you. Just know that you're so. Good. Everyone that's ever actually gotten to know you sees that. Aizawa. Your friends—because despite what you think that's what they are. All Might. Me."
Izuku immediately blanches. "Oh my god, did I seriously just compare myself to All Might?"
Kacchan huffs and it almost sounds amused, if not for the tears running down his cheeks. "Idiot," he says quietly. "Your opinion matters just as much as his does."
"Kacchan," Deku cries out, bursting into startled tears. He grasps onto the other boy, ambushing him into a hug.
"Hey! We can't both be crying—ugh. You're turning me soft."
A sniffle. "But Kacchan is already soft."
And in an instant, Deku is peeling out of the wet hug and running across the bedroom for his life, screeching all the way. Katsuki—predictably—catches him, and they’re careening onto the floor. Katsuki victoriously sneers down at him, straddling him with his thighs, clutching the shorter boy’s wrists above his head, breathing a bit heavily from the chase. Deku stares up at him—at his bright eyes and his wet cheeks.
“Kacchan is amazing.”
The fingers clutching his wrists spasm a bit—still not quite used to the praise being genuine. But Kacchan’s cheeks redden in approval and he lowers his head in acceptance. Progress.
The next day, Kirishima completely forgets that the class made a truce to lay off complimenting Bakugou because come on, he totally just verbally tore Mineta a new one for perving over Mina which was essentially like defending her honor. Not that she needs it but still—
“Dude,” Kirishima cries across the classroom, proud tears shimmering in his eyes. “That was so manly of you! You’re, like, such a good role model.”
Bakugou’s fingers lose their grip on his pencil, but he catches it before it can even hit the desk. He snorts at Kirishima, but tilts his head in acknowledgment. The class does their absolute best not to freak out about it. Which is to say, the class goes absolutely batshit about it. A vein throbs against Bakugo’s temple but before he can stand up and threaten murder, Midoriya is leaning across his own desk to whisper in Bakugou’s ear, “You accepted his compliment! I’m so proud of you.”
And when Deku sees the pink burn at the tips of the other boy’s ears, he bites his bottom lip, and adds, “Good boy.”
The class isn’t quite sure why Midoriya is using his quirk to escape the classroom nor do they know why Bakugou is chasing him, shouting threats, and both palms fully ignited.
When Bakugo finally catches him—right before Midoriya can slam the door to his bedroom—he pushes his way into the room, then pushes Midoriya against the bedroom door, effectively slamming it closed. And Bakugou dares him to say it again.
Midoriya—never one to back down from a challenge—damn well says it again. He looks straight into red eyes, brings his hands up to clutch at the one’s holding him against the door, and firmly says, “Good boy.”
Bakugou’s entire face flushes a heated pink, and Midoriya takes his flustered state as an opportunity to flip their positions. Bakugou blinks at green eyes surprised. Midoriya pushes Bakugou further into the bedroom door, and brings himself closer until they're nose to nose. “You don’t have to be embarrassed. I’ll keep saying it until you actually start to believe it. As many times as it takes. Because it’s true. You’re such a good boy.”
Bakugou actually whimpers and then looks torn between embarrassed and infuriated that the sound left his mouth. Midoriya, on the other hand, looks incredibly overjoyed with the new development.
They don’t leave the bedroom until Midoriya is convinced that Bakugou knows just how good he is.