Spring came gently that year, not a rush of blooming, but an uncovering, timid and slow. It took the snow a long time to melt and even now, on this mountain path, the melt turned dirt to squelching mud under Izuku's boots. Two sets of footprints trailed behind him, sometimes together, more often separate, and one set pointed ahead. He shifted his heavy backpack ("still an overpacker, shitty Deku," a voice from before) and raised his head, following the larger footprints to a figure in the distance. From behind, with the sun blinding him, he was just a shadow, a confused figure that might be anyone. Izuku squinted. Broad back, spiky hair, quiet confidence. The figure turned, a soft smile almost swallowed by the light.
"Better catch up, Midoriya," Kirishima called. The lines of the figure sharpened, clarified. Red hair, sharp teeth, angles and lines and familiar shapes. Izuku nodded, stamped through the mud. They crested the rise side by side.
Since it happened, they'd been coming up here often, time spent together in quiet. They had been the two closest people to him, after all, a brother, in the end, and a best friend, from their beginning. Through a long winter, bundled in coats and hand warmers, to a spring that didn't want to arrive, they'd come, walking this mountain path, trying to find a different vista to view their new world from. They didn't say much, not really. Sometimes they'd tried, but the words died in the air. A surprise. They both loved to talk and everyone knew it and, in different ways, they were both good at it too. He had found it annoying. When the three of them were together, he would sit or stand or walk but always glower, while they just talked about everything and nothing. Words, figures for things, but maybe there was no figure for his absence. Or maybe it was a memorial. He had never been good with words and maybe the silence reminded them of him, as if they could conjure his blazing figure not with magic words, but with a desolate silence.
Because they had grown together because of him, always in relation to him. He was a comet, cutting a bright gash in the sky, and they were dust in the wake, the figure of the trail, no matter what the hero rankings said. In the smoke and the rubble and silence and the speeches, after, they had lost their center. Where had their gravity gone?
At the top of the path, on a cliff with one tree that overlooked a river far below that sparkled like metal coins, they sat side by side, leaning against their backpacks. Kirishima rummaged through his, pulling out two sandwiches. Without looking, he offered one to Izuku. He took it without a word. A routine, one of many woven between them since it happened. Izuku took a bite. Just peanut butter, crunchy. Izuku smiled through the bite.
"You know," he said. "I never really got your thing for crunchy peanut butter."
Kirishima, with his mouth full, said, "I don't know, man! The smooth stuff just weirds me out." He grinned, and a peanut fell out of his mouth. Izuku laughed and nudged Kirishima's leg with the toe of his boot.
"You're a mess," he said. Kirishima's smile faltered. He looked away and discreetly rubbed at his eyes, shoulders hunched.
"I..." he hiccuped.
Izuku frowned, then sighed. A wind raced from the valley below, ruffling hair, lifting his light jacket away from his body. He didn't say anything, but he squeezed Kirishima's knee.
Really, it shouldn't have happened. That's what everyone said, in memorials and newspaper obituaries. It was a fluke, faulty construction and surprising quirk interactions. A hostage situation in an office building. A bomb threat. A villain with a heat quirk. And when Ground Zero had stormed in, arriving before any of the other heroes, ignoring calls to wait, the police and civilians and sighed collectively in relief. He could do it. He could do anything, it seemed, one of the leading lights of a new generation of heroes. Bright explosions in his palms, he had launched himself to a window on the fourth story, kicked it in, and disappeared. No one had seen what happened after. A flash, and then a rumble, and then the tall building folded in on itself, collapsing in a cloud of dust, sound, and rubble.
Red Riot had arrived as it began. Deku had arrived after, when there was nothing left but a pile. Sirens, fire, rubble, and smoke. Red Riot stood, stunned, wide eyes filling with tears. He took a faltering step toward the scene until he felt a strong hand on his arm. When he turned, tears had cut tracks in the dirt smudging Deku's face. He shook his head. There was no going in and there was no going back.
"I just..." Kirishima started, his sandwich forgotten on its wrapper on the ground. "It's still so..." Months later and the loss still had its sharp edges, cutting through other words and contexts, a figure that swallowed everything around it."
"He was..." Kirishima trailed off, clenched his hands.
"Amazing. He was amazing."
"Yeah, but it was...it's not just that. He was just...alive. Real. Human, or something."
"The kind of amazing that you can touch. That's right there. I know the sentiment," Izuku said, laughing lightly. A bluebird flitted and landed in the tree.
Kirishima nodded slowly, said, "yeah. like, I don't know, you're amazing too, but you're like..." He swallowed and sighed.
Izuku furrowed his eyebrows. "I'm like...?"
"I don't know, flawless? Untouchable or something."
And, then, Izuku really did laugh, loud, true, real, with snorting and everything. "Kirishima, I'm hardly flawless, and you know that." He shifted and held out his right arm, the one covered in scarring, the one that had come close to being non-functional. "Here. You can touch me."
Kirishima met Izuku's amused smile with confusion. Izuku shook his arms, eyebrows raising, as if to say come on, you gonna do it or not? He did and they laughed together. Kirishima left his hand on Izuku's arm.
When the laughter quieted again, when the air was still, Kirishima looked at the point where his hand met Izuku's arm. He squeezed, then sighed, then folded his hands in his lap.
"Untouchable isn't right, I guess. It's more like, I don't know, you had this big destiny or something. Like even at UA, when you were breaking your bones every other day, you were just like...set apart? And then we fought the League for the last time and it was you and Shigaraki, like the final boss battle of a video game or something." He laughed, once. "I don't know, maybe it sounds stupid..."
Izuku frowned, scratched at bitten down nail. It didn't sound stupid. Kirishima was right, even if he didn't know it. He was no detective. He wasn't like...wasn't like him, no. He was, or had been, intellect and spirit and instinct, blistering, harsh. glaring. Kirishima, though, he was...surprisingly intuitive, someone who knew things without knowing why or without even knowing he knew them. But somehow both of them had figured it out, even if Kirishima didn't know he'd figured anything out. Maybe he should know though. Without him, even after the League and Shigaraki, One for All was still...so much, all the expectations of a whole society and millions of people condensed into something Izuku carried inside of him. Izuku nodded slightly.
By the time he finished the story, when Kirishima finally knew like only he ever knew, they both had sprawled on the grass. It was getting warmer now. The sun hung heavy just above them.
"That's...that's crazy, man. And Bakugou...he--"
"He figured it out in our first year. The only person I ever told. Well, until now I guess," Izuku said. He flopped onto one side, put a head in his hand, and faced Kirishima. He looked at Izuku out of the corner of his eyes.
"That sounds like him."
The funeral was everything he wasn't. Colorful, when he only ever wore black (sometimes red). Loud with words and obvious emotions, where he was stoic until he exploded, even if that had happened so much less often as time passed. Packed with people and things, when he lived for solitude in quiet rooms or lonely mountains, or even just at his own chair at his family's kitchen table. A picture of All Might. In memoriam. People speaking. Memorials and just memories. Family and friends. A recent ex-girlfriend, there beside the mother and father. Deku, the hero, Izuku, the brother. It all felt distant. And then it was his turn. He was last, for some reason. Izuku squeezed his arm before he got up, offering, as always, unwavering support. He walked slowly, floating almost, past rows of faces and tears. He turned around, unfolded the small piece of paper in shaky hands that held the figure of a man, an outline or a shadow or just a bunch of words scribbled over too much whiskey.
"Bakugou Katsuki was a lot of things. He was a son. He was a student. He was," Kirishima choked back a sob. He caught Izuku's bright eyes in the audience. A subtle nod, a swell of calm. "He was my best friend. He was angry and loud but also quiet and sometimes sad. He was so so smart and he never let anyone forget it." Everyone laughed at that. Good. "He was a fighter and a rescuer and a role model but maybe not a very good one sometimes because we all know how his mouth worked. But," he took a deep breath. 'We all know that what he was most was a hero. That's how he lived and that's how he died. He never gave up and he never went down. I almost wrote he never went down without a fight until I remembered that he never needed to have those fights because he just never went down. Well," he grinned. "Unless he was fighting Deku, of course." Izuku's face turned bright red when everyone looked at him. Number 1 hero for what? five years? and he still couldn't handle that many eyes on him in a small room. It was endearing. "And I'm sure it's no surprise how absolutely, royally pissed that made him. Even if he eventually, very very begrudgingly started to look at Deku with as much awe as everyone else did. Does. Still do." And Izuku hid his face behind his arms and murmured, "so embarrassing."
"But that's what being a hero meant for him. Never going down. No matter how much you hurt. No matter how much you have to give. No matter the enemy and no matter the fight. You can't go down. But I think eventually he figured out the other half too. If you do go down, do it with grace. Do it with dignity. Make sure that you do it with as much peace as you can. Don't leave loose ends and don't do it as anyone or anything except for as yourself. And that's how it happened. He went down. But he went down a hero. And I don't think he would regret it. So we shouldn't either. Let's not remember him as a body. Let's remember him as he would want to be remembered: unbeatable, unbendable, unswayable. A hero. Our hero."
When he sat back down, Izuku just smiled, nudged his shoulder, and whispered, "You did so so great. Thank you."
"You know," Kirishima said quietly, staring into the distance, "I loved him. So much." A single falling leaf danced in the air, red like his hair, carried away by a vortex in the cool air.
"Me too," Izuku said automatically. He paused, then, glanced at Kirishima.
"What? Really? I thought--"
"Oh, no, no, not like that. It's just...maybe it was like that, once. A long time ago. But even though I forgave him, even though he got so, so, so much better, I just...there was too much there for me to love him like that, you know? He just...despite what I trusted him with, I would never be able to trust him with all of me. Not after everything. He was just..." Izuku sighed and plopped back into the grass, staring at the sky. "He was like my brother, I guess. Close enough to be a part of me. I think that's the only way I could rationalize him hurting me like he did and still...caring so much, maybe."
A comfortable silence fell between them. Sometimes, Izuku knew, Kirishima--Eijiro--needed time to process. Sometimes a lot of time. But he always said something, and it was always something sweet, something useful, something compassionate. He tried so hard except it wasn't hard for him, was it? It was like taking a long breath.
"That makes sense," he said, finally, turning toward Izuku with a small smile. "And I think he felt that too. He spent so much time trying to...trying to make everything up to you, you know?
Izuku burst into tears and wiped furiously at his eyes. Eijiro quickly laid next to him, reached over and gathered him in his arms, rubbing his shoulders gently.
"I...I know he did and that's why it's so hard for me because he never got to hear me say...I never got to tell him that I forgave him and the last time he said it--it was years ago, but still--the last time he said it I said I wasn't ready and I don't want him to have died thinking I hated him because I never hated him, not really, not ever..." Izuku stammered through tears. All the while, he felt Eijiro's arms grounding him. He didn't say anything, just waited. He was so good at waiting for Izuku and he never got mad, only got impatient when he was really excited, never found him annoying. Thinking of these things helped Izuku calm down. Thinking of these things let Izuku remember that things, even if they were still hard sometimes, even if they might always be hard, a little, that things were getting better and, sometimes, were even just good. Sighing into Eijiro's chest, he untangled himself and rolled back to his back, head resting on Eijiro's shoulder. They didn't say anything for a long time, just shared breaths and time and quiet. And then:
"Too bad he was straight, you know?" Eijiro murmured. Izuku snorted.
"Sure. Too bad."
The circumstances were eerily similar, Eijiro thought as he raced to the falling building. Deku had gone in alone. The villain had a quirk that let her delete mass with a touch. Holes in walls and girders had grown slowly, perforating the building, until one last burst of wind pressure from Deku had started a chain collapse. Kirishima had been at home in bed when he got the alert. Eyes wide and a pulse of fear skittering down his spine, he had rushed out the door. It didn't matter that he wasn't in costume or on duty. It didn't matter that he wouldn't get there in time to do anything. It didn't matter that he had put on shoes from different pairs.
And then he got there, flashing his hero license to push through the small crowd. A pile of rubble. Police and heroes rushing toward and from it. Yellow tape being stretched slowly as a barrier. Stretchers and oxygen masks and red lights flashing. A cloud of dust, sound, and smoke. His vision blurred. He felt dizzy and something rose in his throat, a breath or bile. When he tried to breathe again, it didn't work.
"Please..." he gasped, clutching at his chest and then like a ray of sunlight through a storm cloud, a figure climbing over the rubble. There was a child in his arms, clutching at the tatters of the upper half of his costume. A young man, head lolling, unconscious, draped over his broad, bare shoulders. Blood trickled down his cheek, into his mouth, from a gash splitting his eyebrow and his exposed body and face was mottled with already darkening bruising. He climbed, unbent, without a limp or a stagger, with a hard, determined smile. A giant, despite his stature. He filled Eijiro's vision. In that moment, he was everything. Eijiro burst into tears.
Deku, the hero, didn't notice him. Izuku, the man, did, and after he left the victims with emergency services, after waved off his own care, he jogged over to Eijiro, sitting, head in hands, on the curb.
"Hey," he murmured, crouching and putting a hand on Eijiro's shoulder. "Didn't expect to see you out here. You should be at home, asleep."
"I just...I saw the alert and I..." Eijiro looked up at Izuku, tears falling freely. "I can't lose you too," he whispered. Izuku's eyebrows furrowed as tears pricked at the corners of his eyes. He leaned forward and folded himself around Eijiro, one hand around his shoulders, the other running through Eijiro's unspiked hair. He pressed his mouth against Eijiro's forehead.
"It's ok now. I'm still here." A whisper in smoky air.
"It's so fucking unfair!" Kirishima screamed as he hardened a fist and punched the tree. The wooden thwack echoes through the valley below, resonating in the thick summer heat. Bark exploded from the tree landing in the grass and scattering ants and other insects.
"It is," Izuku said calmly.
"Why'd he have to do that?! Why couldn't he have listened for fucking once in his stupid life, huh?"
"That wasn't who...who he was," Izuku whispered. He stepped forward, put a hand on Kirishima's shaking shoulder. Kirishima sank to his knees and sobbed, head in his hands.
When they recovered the body, he'd almost looked peaceful. But the chest was wrong. Something strong turned concave. Something hard revealed as brittle. Something pulsing and visceral made static. Something closed made open. Absently, Kirishima thought that it wasn't fair that everyone got to see his heart, not after it had taken him so long to see it. It was almost jealousy, until a gasp forced him back into his body. Then he felt a presence at his side, a figure. He looked. Green, small, a hero with a smile that supported all the hopes in the world, a hero with tears in his eyes and a hand reaching out. Kirishima couldn't do anything except take it. What else would be his anchor?
Spring rushed in that year, not a slow splashing of warmth and color, but all at once, like a gasp or a released breath. They were there again, side by side now, still quiet. This was a place for that, for them. At the top of the mountain, a familiar figure outlined by the setting sun: two men, sitting together, leaning against overfull backpacks. White flowers spun through the air. A sandwich passed between them. A head on a shoulder. A large hand through green hair. Two matching smiles.
"You know," Izuku said, grinning from Eijiro's shoulder and looking at him. "I still don't get your thing for crunchy peanut butter."
Eijiro glanced down, threw his head back, and laughed.