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.
Bakugou stood at the front of the classroom, tense on his feet. He watched classmate after classmate take their seat, his eyes jittery, pupils fluttering, so uncannily unfitting. It was the expression of prey set on the face of a predator. His classmates noticed. And they noticed the uncharacteristic glower on Midoriya’s brow. Midoriya stood beside Bakugou. He was taller, not physically, but in presence. It was in his firm footing and his sharp glare and his simmering aggression. Both of them were clearly nervous, but Midoriya coped with aggression, and Bakugou with apprehension. All of Class 1-A had noticed the swap in behaviors by now. At that moment, one by one, they had their suspicions confirmed.
Uraraka had not been the only one to see the papers. Every media mention of Class 1-A found its way down the grapevine, one way or another. Mentions from friends, links from relatives, tags on U.A. fansites, an uninvited heckling from Monoma. Everyone had read the article. Everyone knew the two U.A. students were Bakugou and Midoriya. Everyone knew the villain had possessed a bodyswap quirk. Everyone had come to the same conclusion.
It was Midoriya who insisted on making a single class announcement to state it once and only once, clearly. To save himself the pain of being called Bakugou by one classmate after another. He told his plan to Aizawa that morning. He refused to let Bakugou turn it down.
Hands shoved deep in his pockets, back hunched and eyes venomous, Midoriya waited out the quieting chatter of students walking through the door. Hot air followed them to their seats, fragrant with budding flowers and the sticky, honey-sweet smell of dew. Summer had rolled in hot and wet. Sweat trickled down Midoriya’s neck. When Aizawa did not speak, the class suffocated under silence.
“Kacchan and I,” Midoriya started, slowly, carefully, tense and pained in his enunciation, “were the ones who fought the body-swap villain, you all know that right? Kacchan and me.” Midoriya thrust a hand out, fist tightened, index finger pointing to Bakugou. “Him, Bakugou,” then his arm curled in, thumb inward, “and me, Deku. I’m Deku. He’s Bakugou. Not the other way around. Don’t get any wrong ideas. Don’t mix us up. Don’t say anything about it, got it? You don’t need to know anything else.”
Midoriya’s eyes scanned the room, far too sharp on his gentle face. His teeth clenched, brain swamped in a shiver of frustration.
“We did get swapped,” Bakugou cut in. Midoriya shot him a glare that withered his confidence, and he continued quieter. “Meaning that, we also got swapped back. But the quirk is—his quirk isn’t…it’s not really body swap. It mixes. We got mixed. What we think and feel is still, um, well I’m not like I was before. I’m still Bakugou, though. I remember everything I’ve ever done as Bakugou—which—even all the bad things. And that—is I guess that’s most things. I remember all the bad things I did which now that I know and I’m thinking of them I think I should say something about it since I know I’ve hurt you with what I’ve done and if you’ll let me I want to a—”
“We’re getting it fixed. We’re getting it figured out, okay? We’re just like this for now. Drop it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t make a big deal out of it. And don’t call me Bakugou or I’ll ki—” Midoriya stopped dead. His eyes flashed with something like fear before he reeled down. He cleared his throat, loosened his shoulders, mouth twisting between a grin and a grimace. “Just… we’re not swapped, alright? Nothing’s different. It’ll get fixed. I’m still me. That’s all.”
Midoriya stepped forward, eyes set to his seat. He ignored the attempted eye contact from Todoroki, from Tsuyu, even Iida whose hands jittered by habit while trying to flag Midoriya down. Midoriya kept his head low and his fists clenched. He spared only a single glance for Uraraka, the only completely calm face in the crowd. She offered a small smile, a sad one.
“A-actually, that’s not all,” Bakugou spoke up again. Midoriya froze. Bakugou twisted his fingers together. “I wanted to say that um, I’ve realized, being like this, it’s like—um—I can’t even figure out why I ever. Ever since the fight with the villain it’s like I’m able to finally see what I was like from the other side and I don’t even know what was going on in my head to think the kind of person I was was ever okay and the terrible way I’ve treated you all and I’m sorry so if you could ever even consider it I know I haven’t made it up to you yet or Midoriya most of all but if you could ever think about forgiv–”
Midoriya turned so quickly that his body snapped. It seemed to carry with it an electric shock that rooted Bakugou in place. Bakugou’s mouth shut, wide eyes pinned to Midoriya. He seemed to shrink on himself, nodding in defeat, and walked toward his seat. His head hung down.
Midoriya took his seat as well. He felt Uraraka’s questioning eyes from beside him, so he turned, and he muttered simply, “Leave it, and don’t pity him. Don’t think about it. Don’t let him beg. Bakugou doesn’t deserve anyone’s forgiveness.”
Midoriya was trying, and the class had become uncomfortably aware of how much it pained him. He spoke slowly, and he replied slowly, though the expressions that flashed across his face always betrayed him. His classmates knew Bakugou too well by this part of the year. They could guess at the type of comments that Midoriya bit back, no matter how hard Midoriya tried to recreate his old demeanor. His optimism was spoken with dead eyes. His graceful losing was an implosion every time. Aizawa had to erase him three separate times when the restraints on his quirk had vanished.
Bakugou was trying too hard. He made no attempts at imitating his old self, not like Midoriya. He lost every competition. His every conversation twisted into a vague and uncomfortable apology, until Midoriya silenced him. He no longer used his quirk.
The class endured, no matter how much it felt like they’d lost two of their own.
They’d been told not to comment on it, but it couldn’t always be helped.
Bakugou had been pulled out of class. He’d been pulled out quietly, after a disastrous training session. He’d been stressed that morning, still unskilled at handling Midoriya’s anxiety, and had shut down during the exercise. Midoriya pretended not to notice him leave. He kept his pencil in his grasp, and played with the fringe of the bandage around his finger, an injury from a rash use of one-for-all, because he was still unskilled at handling Bakugou’s aggression.
The class remained quiet. And when the door shut behind Bakugou, Tsuyu leaned forward in her seat. She tapped Kirishima, who turned to face her, and she simply stated, “Poor Bakugou.”
The pencil in Midoriya’s hand snapped.
The class froze.
Midoriya did not explode though. He turned slowly, and lifted his eyes, and they were unfathomably pained. His teeth were gritted, his jaw tight, and through his forced composure he responded. “Why?”
And it was an honest question, tainted with disbelief, honest betrayal. He shook his head. “Why is it him you pity…? Why are you so willing to be sad for him?” He stared down at his hand, wrapped in medical tape. “Why am I the bad guy…?”
“No one said that,” Uraraka replied, tense but gentle.
“Didn’t need to say it. I can feel it. Every time I shut Kacchan up, every time he starts sniveling for forgiveness… You still want to forgive him. You’re guilted into it. And I’m the bad guy.” Midoriya looked up again. His eyes were wet. “Why don’t you realize this is his fault? This feeling that’s driving me insane, it’s Kacchan’s anger that’s doing this to me. It’s his cruelty making me like this. And yeah, he’s hurting, but he’s only hurt because of the things he did wrong. It’s his own mistakes. Not me. Not mine. He just stole the part of me that lets him see how rotten he’s always been.”
“’Poor Bakugou’, because what? Because he finally regrets tormenting me all these years? He’s finally realized that—when he told me to kill myself so I could be born with a real quirk—that that’s bad? Poor Bakugou, he finally regrets being a horrible person?”
No one answered him. Midoriya continued.
“I never helped that, did I? I’m angry at myself too. I admired him for so long and just sat back and took it. I never fought back because I always sort of agreed with him. And that was because he said those sort of things to me for as long as I can even remember. Called me worthless and weak, told me over and over I could never amount to anything. Since I was a kid. Since I was four. He ruined my confidence. He shoved that anxiety into me. Not good enough. Always in the wrong. Always should apologize for doing anything. And now that he’s got it, it’s ‘Poor Bakugou’…?”
Iida opened his mouth. No words came out. Not immediately.
“…You’re angry, Midoriya. And anger clouds the way we think. This isn’t what you would say.”
Midoriya seemed to flinch, just a bit, just for a second. He let out a small bitter laugh, and he let his head hang. “…Yeah, it’s not what I’d say… And yeah, of course I’m angry. I’m angry all the time because of this. But this is different. This isn’t just my personality being messed up. This is me finally realizing that for all these years I’ve had a reason to be angry.”
“This isn’t helping you, or him, or anyone…”
“I don’t want to help him. I don’t want to—” Midoriya clenched his fists. He pulled them up to his face, taut fingers uncurling. “He doesn’t deserve help. He’s getting what he deserves, exactly what he deserves. He finally feels bad for everything he’s done, and he stole my guilt—that he beat into me—so that he can finally understand that. And I’m finally angry. I let him torment me for ten years and I never retaliated, not once, because I was kind, maybe, but also because I was soft. And I’m not either of those things anymore. I’m angry. I’m livid instead. That was ten years of anger I never got to feel. Ten years of frustration I only funneled back on myself. And now he’s ruined who I even am…. He finally did it, he finally snuffed me out. He finally beat me into not being me anymore. Nothing’s working, they can’t put us back. This is forever. This is us now. And it’s him—” Midoriya’s voice cracked. His words choked off. “And it’s him you want to pity…?”
No one answered him.
Midoriya curled in, fists clenched and jaw tight, so that the anger could burn out inside him, like it always did these days.
Three minutes later, the classroom door slid open, and Bakugou appeared, and he glanced around the room.
His heartrate picked up. Adrenaline beat sharp and sudden through his veins, dread swamping his brain, anxiety twisting in his gut.
He looked to everyone in the room. Not a single pair of eyes would look at him back.