Somehow, Midoriya had gotten through to Bakugou.
How exactly came as a mystery. Why, and why now, weren’t any clearer. It was just the simple fact that Midoriya and Bakugou had left for a day on a joint mission, and when they came back, Bakugou was different.
The difference was subtle at first. A held door. A passing compliment, passive enough to be taken for sarcasm. An offer to stay behind and clean the chalk board after class. They didn’t amount to very much though; the change manifested mostly in all the things Bakugou didn’t do.
The first time had been in a sort of capture-the-flag competition where All Might had pitted him against Yaoyorozu, and Bakugou’s raw power wasn’t much of a match for a quirk of cleverness. Everyone expected the storm when All Might blew the whistle, when Bakugou felt for the missing flag at his belt, when his eyes widened, trained to the thin stretch of blue fabric gripped in Yaoyorozu’s hand.
Bakugou did not explode.
His face simply fell. He bowed forward a little, a troubled sort of confliction tugging at his expression, as though unsure of what emotion to best express. He said nothing, and he exited the field as Asui and Iida stepped on. He stayed in the back of the group and glanced just once at Midoriya. Midoriya did not look back.
When Todoroki beat the rest of the class in an exercise of quirk endurance, Bakugou did not react. Nor did he declare war against any opponent in the bracket tournament—a sort of scaled down sports festival for everyone in Class 1-A—though he did emerge victorious once again.
Bakugou became a smaller presence in class, and it was a difference that was hard to describe. He used to sprawl across his desk, or else curl in tight and seethe when something had gone wrong. His had been an energy always detectable, and now, suddenly, it wasn’t. He kept his head down and took notes. He answered questions on occasion. He spoke to Kirishima between periods. One time, he picked up Jirou’s pencil when it fell. Another time, he almost smiled when Kirishima complimented his new stun grenade technique, the first and only new technique he’d created since his mission with Midoriya, and seemingly without any passion.
As best the Class 1-A kids could describe it, it was as thought Bakugou had become decent. And it seemed to pain him only a little.
Midoriya was different too.
It was hard to spot, and hard to understand, but it was as though his presence in the class had vanished as well. He spoke little at all, and answered no questions, and declined a few too many offers to hang out in favor of sleep. He sat in a way much too tense, and his jaw seemed taut to breaking. Uraraka, Iida, and Todoroki made attempts to talk it through with Midoriya, but to no real avail. In private, they wondered what exactly had gone down between the two, and if this was Midoriya’s conflicted reaction to seeing the boy who’d tortured him all his life suddenly change. They couldn’t find a sound explanation.
Especially since, equally without cause, Midoriya seemed to suddenly despise Bakugou.
Or rather, there was plenty cause, but no reason why now, after ten years, Midroya’s hatred would boil to the surface. Like everything else, this was a subtle difference too. Flashing glares in class, sustained for only half a second before melting in conflict. Avoidance to the point of exclusion, as though Midoriya were simply unwilling to acknowledge Bakugou existed when they worked together. Midoriya’s smiles seemed to take effort, and they faltered in Bakugou’s presence.
One night, Kirishima heard shouting from Bakugou’s room. He threw the door open and found Midoriya grasping the front of Bakugou’s shirt, hand curled, his other fist coiled back and crackling with luminous green energy. Kirishima yelled, and Midoriya released Bakugou in surprise. It was too dark to see clearly, but Kirishima swore after the fact that he’d seen tears slipping in streams down Bakugou’s face.
Neither Midoriya nor Bakugou came to class the next day.
Another week passed with a smattering of absences from both Bakugou and Midoriya—but Midoriya more so. Bakugou spoke even less, taking notes with a constant look on his face, troubled and passive. Midoriya hardly even wrote. His hand merely hovered above the page, pencil gripped between his fingers. The pencil itself kept changing. He’d snapped three of them, seemingly by accident.
It was 10 pm Wednesday night when Uraraka knocked on Midoriya’s door. She let herself in when no answer met her.
Midoriya’s head snapped toward her. He was seated at his desk, feet pulled up, deeply engrossed in a webpage of dense text. He tilted the laptop away and stared at her.
“You’re not Deku, are you?” Uraraka asked, and she asked it simply. She held, curled in her grip, a newspaper page, a one-column article about a villain who’d been taken into custody just a few weeks ago, a story just released to the press.
She handed the paper to Midoriya, whose eyes skimmed the words before he slumped and handed it back.
“You and Deku were the ones who caught him, weren’t you?” Uraraka proceeded. She sat down on the floor, and spread the article out in front of her. The villain had possessed an extremely rare quirk, and an extremely powerful one. It was the power of bodyswapping. He had swapped his friend with a high-ranking judge, and they’d managed to sentence three members of a rival crime-ring to death before the villain was caught by two unnamed U.A. students. “I’m right, aren’t I, Bakugou…?”
Midoriya got up from his chair, hunched and so-suddenly exhausted. He lowered himself to the ground in front of her, pulling his legs in and staring down at the article between them. “Is that what you think happened?”
“I do. He was caught the same day as your mission. He bodyswapped you into Deku, didn’t he? And Deku’s in your body. And you’ve been trying to be each other but, neither of you is doing it right.”
Midoriya wrapped his hands around his legs. He lowered his head to his knees, breathing quickly. “I see…” His right hand tightened into a fist. He raised it up, hardly a split second, before smashing it down against the carpet. Uraraka jumped. The floor shook. The single lamp on Midoriya’s desk toppled to the floor. Reddened capillaries burst along the heel of Midoriya’s palm, the green energy fading. “Fuck.”
“Don’t!” Uraraka’s hand lunged out, grabbing Midoriya’s wrist. “You’re not allowed to hurt Deku’s body! I’ll get the teacher. I’ll get All Might!”
“You’re wrong.” Midoriya snatched his hand away. His body trembled, eyes shifting up suddenly to pin Uraraka. She froze, unblinking. “Your theory is wrong… Uraraka.”
“What do you mean…?
“Bakugou and I were the ones who defeated that villain. Bakugou and me. I’m Deku.”
Uraraka said nothing at first. She only held Midoriya’s eyes, so undeniably familiar. “You’re…Deku?”
And then Midoriya swallowed. He gripped his own wrist, lowering it with trembling motions. “Yeah… You’re horrified, aren’t you, Uraraka? I am too. I’m horrified too.”
Midoriya stood. He moved in stiff motions to the downed lamp, its low light throwing large dark looming shadows against the wall. He grabbed it, and righted it, and the light carved out a shape gaunt and sallow and exhausted along his face. “That villain is in custody. And so is his friend. …And so is the judge. Because all three of them are dangerous. Because the judge isn’t really the judge anymore. And the villain’s friend isn’t really the friend anymore.”
Uraraka held her breath. “The article said they made him reverse his quirk. It said the judge got returned to his body.”
Midoriya moved across the floor, lowering himself slowly back into position. He shook his head. “This quirk doesn’t reverse. Not really all the way. It’s like pouring two different drinks into the same glass and then trying to pour one back out.”
“…You and Bakugou.”
Midoriya nodded, and he curled in tight on himself. “Maybe I lied. Maybe I’m not really Deku. Maybe he’s not really Kacchan. I have all the memories of being Deku, but they don’t feel like me. I don’t feel like him. Deku was calm, and he was nice, and he was good at heart…” Midoriya’s voice trailed, choked off, tears brimming in his eyes under the lamplight. “I’m not that anymore. I’m just angry. Overwhelmingly. It takes so much effort to just keep that inside. How did Kacchan do that? How did he live like this? How did he live like this every day? It’s hell. It’s hell. I hate everyone, and I don’t know why.” He locked eyes with Uraraka, and he blinked the tears down his cheeks. “You’re my best friend in the world, and I hate you right now. Being here. Asking me questions. I hate you, and I can’t deal with this anymore.”
“Kacchan’s close to breaking too. We’ve been talking, us and All Might and Recovery Girl. His guilt hardly lets him sleep. He can’t bear all the evil things he’s done. His confidence is shattered. He doesn’t understand why anyone even talks to him. He thinks everyone must hate him for what he’s done. And he’s right—because I hate him. I hate him with everything in my body. He did this to me. And I hate him.”
Uraraka threw herself forward. She wrapped her arms around Midoriya and squeezed, and shook her head, and shut her eyes tight enough for tears to leak down. “You’re still Deku. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry. I know you’re still him…”
Hesitantly, Midoriya let his arms wrap around Uraraka in turn. He squeezed, and breathed in deep, and buried his face into her shoulder so that some of the tension in his body might ease.
“They’re working to fix it, aren’t they…?”
Midoriya nodded. “We’ve been to the prison four times. Trying to unmix us. They don’t know how though. Every time they try, I’m a little more me, and a little less me… and I’m tired of it. Not knowing which part of me I’ll lose next.”
“I trust them. I trust Recovery Girl and All Might. And I’m still your friend Deku, I promise, no matter what.”
Midoriya said nothing this time. He only held her, and rocked with her, and leaned his head against her.
He didn’t have much else to say to her, not the things that Deku would. That part of him was elsewhere.
He rubbed her back. She was trembling, and somehow he hated that. He hated this, her, himself.
He hated the knowledge he held with absolute certainty that it was Bakugou, and not him, who would want to hug her more.