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the lights are all out (it's a big big city)

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Izuku continues to try and wave as he edges through the gate, pulled into the crowd as he goes, until all that Shouto can see of him is a spot of green, then not even that. He raises his hand belatedly, feels a pang of something like misplaced fear once he can’t see him anymore.

 

“We going now?” Bakugou asks, drawing him out of his own head. His tone is disengaged; when Shouto turns towards him he finds him staring at his phone like he hasn’t even noticed they’re at an airport seeing off their best friend.

 

Shouto glances back to the milling crowd, people hugging their goodbyes, bored security agents, a couple of onlookers gazing in their direction and nudging their friends. Above, the endless screens flash a continuous stream of information, flights slotting into place, no delays in sight. 

 

“Yeah, okay,” Shouto says, half a sigh. He’s not sure where the melancholy is coming from. He’d been quite content to see Izuku off, and he’d remained very unemotional through the drawn-out goodbye party they’d thrown him. Maybe it’s just seeing him gone for good. 

 

God, six months. He’s not been apart from Izuku that long since they were fifteen. For a moment he feels it again, isolated and unsure of what he’s doing with his life. 

 

“Today or tomorrow?” Bakugou snaps, phone in his pocket now. Shouto rolls his eyes a little and feels better for having done it.

 

“So impatient.”

 

“I hate airports,” Bakugou retorts, argumentative; they fall into step. Shouto’s the one driving, because he’s the only one who has a car, which is the only reason Bakugou waited around anyways, but it’s Bakugou who’s walking them to the parking lot, because he refuses to believe Shouto has developed a sense of direction since high school. 

 

“You don’t like the emotional goodbyes?” Shouto asks, mock-sympathetic. Bakugou doesn’t rise to the bait, snorting.

 

“Too many people who walk like paraplegics, and crying brats, and tourists who can’t get out of the airport, more like.”

 

A confession: it is faster to get from Shouto’s apartment to the airport by train, and the station is actually more convenient to walk up from than the parking. He suspects Bakugou is at least partially aware of this, though he’s barely been to the apartment. It’s just that he didn’t feel like riding public transport back alone, crammed between strangers- even after years of Tokyo he can’t ever relax on the underground, always suspecting a stealth attack or that someone right next to him has recognised him and is preparing to ask him for a selfie. 

 

Bakugou snorts derisively when they reach the car, a reaction he’s had so consistently every time that neither of them bothers to vocalise the conversation that should follow. It’s a ridiculous car, Shouto is well aware. He bought it in a fit of spite because his father had been insistent upon his passing his drivers’ license and buying a car (which he would generously purchase); Shouto, overwhelmed by early adulthood and annoyed beyond belief after failing the damn exam three times, had taken him up on his offer and bought the most expensive Porsche he could find. Now he just sort of looks like an asshole whenever he drives.

 

They climb into the car silently. The parking is relatively calm; it’s only seven. Izuku’s early flight had been the subject of much upset amongst his friends, who had various clashing obligations- in the end, only Shouto, on leave and equipped with a car, and Bakugou, who was ruthlessly organised and had slotted the flight into his agenda from its booking onwards, had been able to see him off, hence the massive party the night prior. He’d told Shouto privately that he was sort of relieved, because he wasn’t sure how to face all of his friends as he went abroad without breaking down. He’d cried anyways, of course, but by Izuku standards it had been a very contained affair. 

 

Once again, he pauses, fingers tightening around the wheel. His apartment- theirs, technically- is bare still, and doubtless will remain so until Izuku returns, because Shouto is terrible at personalising a space, and he has no plans for the week outside of work except maybe doing the groceries. 

 

“The traffic is going to be a bitch,” Bakugou informs him, sounding disgruntled as he starts up the GPS. “We should have left earlier.”

 

“And not seen Izuku off?” Shouto asks, raising a brow. “Kind of a waste of the trip.”

 

“Just get on the road,” Bakugou mutters, crossing his arms. The fact he actually came without inventing an excuse for his presence is ground-breaking, but pressing the subject is likely to transform the drive back into the city into a headache and a half. Shouto settles for sending him the kind of side-glance that has made Bakugou bristle at him since their first meeting.

 

Another confession: his second and subconscious motive for driving Izuku to the airport was that he knew he could convince Bakugou to let him drive him back. Having Bakugou in the car complaining about his driving seemed like a welcome distraction from his brooding, if nothing else.

 

He’s not entirely sure where he and Bakugou stand; in the few times he’s pondered their relationship of late he’s come to realise it’s probably one of the most ill-defined relationships he has, which is saying something. It’s the sort of awkward lack of certainty that keeps them on surname basis even though there’s no need for it. 

 

They’re friendly, or maybe that’s not quite the right word; they’re friends, in the sense that they spend time together and generally lack animosity towards one another, but they never spend time alone by choice. He’s relatively sure they’d both bite a bullet for each other, but that’s natural, after the things they’ve been through- personal dynamics are more complicated. Shouto doesn’t really have anything against him nowadays, but they’ve always had an obvious connecting link through Izuku, and there’s never been a need for more than that. 

 

Now Izuku is leaving, and Shouto wonders what will become of the two of them. Maybe this is the last he’ll see of Bakugou until the summer. 

 

The thought is surprisingly off-putting. They work well together, and Bakugou’s not bad company. 

 

“You starting work again on Friday?” 

 

“Thursday,” Shouto corrects, pulling onto the highway. “But I’m only working the morning.”

 

Bakugou grunts in acknowledgment, stowing his phone away. “Have they gotten back to you about your partner yet?”

 

“No,” Shouto says, shaking his head briefly. It’s a bit of a sore point. “It looks like I’ll be working alone for a while.”

 

“They still haven’t offered you any candidates?” Bakugou says, contemplative. When Shouto inclines his head, he furrows his brow, then scoffs. “Should have known you’d find a way to scam yourself into solo work.”

 

“Hardly on purpose,” Shouto retorts, relaxing a fraction at the barb. Bakugou must be joking- he and Eijirou are a dream team, and the press eats them up, so he doubts he’s really all that desperate for independence. 

 

It is very unusual for any big-shot newcomers to be left to work alone, though, beyond the independent candidates like Hawks, a point which Bakugou is not the first to raise. It’s only their third year out of school, and his and Izuku’s little dynamic duo has been instrumental in securing their slot in the rankings. With Izuku gone, it is suddenly apparent how difficult it is for Shouto to find someone he can regularly work with. Personality and temperament is one thing- finding a quirk that matches his in power and control is another. Thus far, all of the candidates his agency has dug up are either far below Shouto in capacity or impossible to work with. 

 

He doesn’t mind working alone, of course. Even now that he’s outgrown his self-focused mentality, he’s still generally most comfortable on his own, and he manages just fine without an assist. It’s not the done thing, though, for someone his age to be allowed to operate solo within the framework of an agency.

 

Someone honks at them irately when Shouto swerves a little sharply around a corner, which makes Bakugou whirl around to gesticulate aggressively at the driver.

 

“Fuck you too, moron! Check your vanity number plate before you get cocky!”

 

The other car pulls away, skulking; Bakugou settles down, then shoots Shouto an unimpressed look. 

 

“Seriously, did you learn to drive in a video game?”

 

“Bite me,” Shouto replies, unfazed. Until Bakugou passes his license he has no right to complain about Shouto’s maybe slightly reckless driving habits. “Where am I dropping you off?”

 

“Office,” Bakugou says. “Think it’s closer to yours.”

 

They fall back into silence as Shouto turns off towards downtown Tokyo, companionable enough. He can’t help but mentally fill it with Izuku’s incessant chatter. It’s not that Izuku is particularly good at small talk- like the both of them, he’s too intense for it- but he’s certainly the most sociable of the trio, and the most interested in engaging all of his friends when they’re together. Bakugou tends to be too unconcerned with the banal needs of others, and Shouto tends to find the effort exhausting; Izuku is a bottomless well of generous empathy.

 

Usually he doesn’t mind the silence, especially with Bakugou- one of his earliest memories of realising he was sort of tolerable sometimes comes from the two of them practicing quietly together. It’s just that the thought has occurred to him that without Izuku this might be all there is to them, at least outside of work- silent coexistence. He’s not sure how he feels about it.

 

Impulsively, he turns on the radio, keeping the volume low; he lands on a news station, the presenter’s voice chipper and business-like. 

 

“…In other hero news, up-coming pro hero Dekiru is set to depart to America today to join his long-time mentee All Might on a sixth month internship abroad, following in the footsteps of the mythic hero himself. Kan-san, should we expect his absence to make a difference in the hero scene?”

 

Automatically Shouto glances at Bakugou, feeling his lips quirk up; Bakugou rolls his eyes, but he’s smirking a little as he looks away. 

 

“Only time can tell, but I expect it will, Yoko-san. Dekiru has been one of the most influential new heroes to burst upon the scene in the past decade, as we’re all aware, as a prestigious UA alumni amongst a particularly star-spangled graduating class- let us recall how many high profile villains he in particular had already faced off against by the time he left school-“

 

“Yes, indeed!”

 

“And he has proven himself to be just as impressive since graduating, breaking into the top 20 from his first professional outings and consistently working his way up the rankings at a tremendous rate, especially alongside his working partner, Shouto. His absence will definitely free some competitive spots up for Japanese heroes, and it will be interesting to see who pulls out of the fray once he’s gone.”

 

“Speaking of- we have had little news on what will happen to Shouto now that his partner is gone, beyond their agency releasing a statement to say that the two are expected to resume working together upon his return. Can we assume Shouto is to be working solo until then?”

 

“If he is, his situation would be incredibly unique for someone his age, but then of course Shouto is another one of those heroes whose achievements have amazed both nationally and abroad-“

 

Shouto makes to cut the radio off, wincing, but of course Bakugou beats him to it, hand closing around his wrist roughly as he grins. His grip is steely; Shouto fights the urge to glower at him or try to shake loose, because he knows it’ll only make him more smug. 

 

“…Far surpassed any expectations, even with his father’s enormous legacy. My own predictions for the hero board with Dekiru gone feature Shouto making a bold move upwards, even in his partner’s absence- I expect the two of them will push each other from afar.”

 

“Well, Shouto certainly is a contender for breaking into that coveted top five spot these UA newbies have been inching closer to every year- but I will say, Kan-san, I would hedge my bets on Ground Zero myself.”

 

“Oh, please,” Shouto says, aloud, finally wrenching his hand loose and returning it to the steering wheel as Bakugou barks out a laugh. “Really?”

 

“You have to start getting used to it, Shouto,” Bakugou says, voice lilting around his name in the way it only ever does when he’s making fun of his hero name. “Or you could drop out of the top ten, if it bothers you so much.”

 

“I never took you for someone who couldn’t handle the competition,” Shouto shoots back, only half-heartedly mock-disappointed; he glances out at the road pensively, fails to catch Bakugou’s reply. 

 

It’s not that he minds the media attention so much, because he’s always been very confident in his quirk at least, but it’s still odd to have it get back to him like this, broadcasted across Tokyo, so that the cars around him might be listening in too, debating who has a better shot at breaking national records between himself and the blonde menace currently grinning toothily at the traffic as the radio hosts debate. How strange, that his name be so casually known in the national conscience, that the everyday events of his life are public knowledge.

 

“…And that concludes our hero segment for this morning- if you have any thoughts, feel free to tweet them @AFNTokyo or message us on Facebook so we can discuss them during the hero hour from four to five this afternoon with today’s expert panellists, Vice President Mori of the Public Safety Commission and freelance journalist Ryu Saikawa-“

 

“Not that asshole,” Bakugou groans, and reaches to change the station to some American rap thing that Shouto is sure he wouldn’t be able to understand in Japanese either. “I fucking hate the press.”

 

“I feel like two seconds ago you were quite happy to listen to them sing your praises.”

 

“Yeah, because that shit was all true,” Bakugou retorts, but he seems newly courteous enough to drop it. Not that Shouto disagrees in the slightest- there are a lot of so-called journalists he can’t stand, especially the gossipy rags and the paparazzi, and Saikawa figures among them for his constant smarmy psychoanalysis. It’s just that he’s heard Bakugou’s opinions on the subject before, and listening to them for too long makes his head hurt. 

 

“Maybe you should call in during hero hour tonight,” Shouto says, instead of all this, to catch the conversation before it tapers into silence. “I’m sure he’d appreciate your topical insight.”

 

“I fucking wish,” Bakugou scoffs, but when Shouto glances his way accidentally, trying to switch lanes, his brow is furrowed almost pensively, not the brash antagonism he expected. Baited, he finds himself pushing.

 

“But?”

 

“Can’t just go around getting into fights with every journalist in the country,” Bakugou says, gruffly, maybe a little wistful. There was a time where he would have done just that. “Don’t have the time for it.”

 

Shouto hums, thoughtful too, wondering why he feels so very adult all of a sudden, driving into Tokyo to drop Bakugou off at work. It’s not so much that Bakugou has matured, though inevitably they all have, but there’s something self-aware in the way he says it that he rarely chooses to display. Shouto is never quite sure how oblivious Bakugou really is to how he acts, and how much of his behaviour is down to his knowing and not caring, or at least not caring enough.

 

He has an interview coming up over the weekend, if he recalls correctly. The thought does not excite him. Maybe Momo will be free during the week to help him prepare- she’s usually happy enough to play his unofficial PR manager on her off days. He suspects she likes the challenge. 

 

“Take a right here,” Bakugou chimes in, without looking up from his phone. “Faster.”

 

“It’ll take me off the freeway, though.”

 

“Because you’re so stripped for cash, asshole?”

 

“If you’re going to be rude, I’m going to drive us to Yokohama.”

 

“Oh, fuck you, I’ll pay then.”

 

Shouto very helpfully takes a right; Bakugou leans aggressively over him to shove his credit card at the booth, and definitely elbows him on purpose on his way back. 

 

“Figures you’d exploit the poor so you can keep driving a Porsche.”

 

“If you were anyone else,” Shouto says, with an ounce of false regret, and dodges the sparks flung his way. 

 

“Fucking jackass.”

 

They get to the office in good time, Shouto pulling into a parking spot slightly recklessly, and the city is already teeming with people, several of which slow when they pass the building, no doubt wondering about the heroes inside.

 

Bakugou retrieves his bag from the backseat, Shouto eyeing the cars passing them by, and he wonders if he should be saying something, trying to communicate implicitly that they should keep in touch somehow, or whatever the done thing is in these situations. 

 

He still hasn’t been able to broach the subject by the time Bakugou is climbing out of the car, so he just looks at him silently when Bakugou pauses, one arm slung over the frame of the door, and nods at him, the most thanks he’ll get for the ride. Shouto nods back, belatedly; Bakugou’s fingers tap a rapid rhythm out against his window and then he’s straightening, slinging his bag over his shoulder.

 

“See you around, icyhot.”

 

The door slams shut before Shouto can say anything back, and he watches him go for a second, striding impatiently through the passerbys. Then he looks away, puts his car into reverse, weaves back into the Tokyo traffic.

 

It’ll take him ages to get home at this rate. 

 

 

The next time he sees Bakugou is about a week and a half later, during work, on a routine patrol exercise, in a rather routine-defying way. 

 

It’s Shouto’s second field exercise since Izuku’s departure; he’d spent the first few days grounded at the office, wading through bureaucracy, which had put everyone in a mood. Shouto’d never taken to bureaucracy, and though school and life experience have given him the tools and the incentive to sometimes be polite and use tact, being cooped up indeterminably failed to encourage him to fall back on those lessons. As a result, he spent days bluntly refusing to work with some of the terrible partners thrown his way, which in turn annoyed his bosses. 

 

They finally settled on a compromise in the form of a Kyoto trainee by the name of Wonder whose quirk was only a class or two below Shouto’s and who outranked him in terms of field experience and strategy, having worked in the military prior to going public. Shouto was expected to do his best to work with her; if despite his best efforts it didn’t work, he’d be permitted to work alone until Izuku’s return. The deal was tersely agreed to; multiple people have since reminded him edgily that if he showed the slightest sign of self-sabotage his ass was on the line.

 

Wonder isn’t so bad, really- she’s competent and smart, and reminds him a little bit of Kyoka Jirou in temperament- pragmatic and hard to unnerve, friendly enough to strangers but in a distant way. From what he can tell she differs from his ex-classmate in that she isn’t hiding any sensitivities or teasing good-humour, which makes him question her hero name and branding, somewhat rudely. It’s odd for someone so serious and grounded to define themselves by appealing to child-like fantasies. 

 

The best explanation he’s managed to come up with so far is that the name is supposed to match her quirk. From their discussion Shouto has gathered that she can control a sort of cloud of iridescent dust, generating and manipulating it in a range of different ways: its primary functions are mostly defensive, serving to reduce visibility and withstand damage by covering the area in fine sparkling dust, but it is extremely effective as an offensive tool too, capable of being condensed and directed to blind or knock over attackers. It reminds Shouto vaguely of the Masegaki children, because he remembers losing a flame from dodging a dust cloud too slowly. It hurts, but it’s pretty- shimmering and colourful. Maybe the title is an equal misnomer, meant to lure opponents into distraction.

 

Shouto is not so easily distracted, and suspects that under the pragmatism Wonder has a hard-edged ambition and a calculating streak a mile wide. He’s not sure how he feels about it yet. Ambition is a virtue, and calculating minds are among the best heroes the world has to offer, but he’s not used to people disguising either. One of the first conversations they had alone, she’d spent reviewing their mutual career paths and organising her schedule to optimise media coverage. 

 

The patrol is going smoothly enough by the time something interesting happens. For the most part they haven’t been talking much, or rather Wonder has been conversing with him in small talk only, which has reduced Shouto to silence as they travel the skyline. They’re on the lookout for a villain who robbed several banks by using his quirk to tap into their electricity grids and then vanished underground, and the more time goes by the more Shouto wishes the guy would just appear already, so that they might at least segue into strategy-talk.

 

“I saw you attended your three year graduating class reunion over the holidays,” Wonder is saying, shoulder-pads glistening under the mid-day sun. “It must have been nice to see your classmates again.”

 

“Hm,” Shouto says, because it had been, and he has nothing to add to it. It’s not like she’s asking about the specifics of the event, and if she’s read it in the news coverage she probably knows as much as he does. 

 

“Your class really stood out as an elite group,” Wonder continues, stopping by the edge of a building to float herself across, dust clouds billowing under her hands. “There’s three of you in the Top 10, seven of you in the Top 20, and fifteen in the Top 50.”

 

“There’s two of us in the Top 10,” Shouto corrects, thinking about how official and important this all sounds when it’s stated in order. He supposes it is particularly impressive- even by UA standards. “Midoriya is not currently on the Billboard.”

 

“I know that,” Wonder says, and frowns like she’s annoyed at herself, which Shouto hadn’t intended. “I meant in the sense that his place in it is pretty much set in stone.”

 

“Where did you attend school?” Shouto asks, eyeing the ground below. As much as he prefers to talk about UA than other people’s school histories, which don’t interest him in the slightest, the prestige surrounding it makes for an uncomfortable tension at times. He can’t afford her taking some blunt comment of his the wrong way. 

 

“Seiai Academy, then Ketsubutsu.”

 

“You transferred?”

 

“I was expelled,” Wonder says, shortly. “But Ms. Joke had taken notice of me during my second year Sports Festival and asked if I would be interested in attending Ketsubutsu instead, which I was.”

 

“Oh,” Shouto says, and racks his brains for whatever the appropriate thing to say is here. He’s relatively sure he can’t ask why, even though the conversation naturally leans that way. “I know Yo Shindo a little. He’s top thirteen, isn’t he?”

 

“Yes, now that Midoriya is gone.”

 

The way she says it sends an unpleasant feeling down his spine, and he glances away, watching the milling civilians below. He keeps forgetting Izuku is gone, expecting him to appear at the office whenever he zones out for a couple of minutes. In a way it’s like the whole tower has changed, without All Might and Izuku both- Shouto finds himself feeling oddly singled out, even though he’s worked with a lot of the people there for two years now. The apartment is worse, blank and silent, without at least the chatter of the workplace to distract him.

 

Wonder’s hand touches his shoulder, and he instinctively follows her gaze down. Outside a newsagents stands a man in a debonair grey suit and large sunglasses. 

 

“Bingo,” Wonder says, under her breath. “He must be staking out the premises. The parking stretches all the way to the bank down the street.”

 

Her assessment matches Shouto’s, and he rolls his shoulders, unwilling to activate his quirk lest they be spotted. “There are a lot of civilians around.”

 

“Agreed,” Wonder nods, crouching a little for a better view. “I’ll take lead and you take perimeter, then?”

 

Shouto pauses to frown at her. “His quirk is electric. I’m a better match for him.”

 

“But yours causes massive damage,” Wonder counters. “It’s best if you stay away from the civs.”

 

Shouto stares at her, taken aback and feeling an unfamiliar discomfort lodge in his chest. “I’m used to accounting for civilians.“

 

“Yes, but your quirk is inherently destructive and mine isn’t. It’s less of an effort for me.” 

 

Shouto is about to counter with the fact that effort won’t much matter if she gets electrocuted by their target within five minutes when his eye catches on someone striding down the street and he starts.

 

“What?”

 

The man is walking with the sort of brisk stomp that clears the sidewalk, and it takes Shouto about three more seconds of staring at his blonde hair to be confident in his recognition. 

 

“We may have a problem,” Shouto says, slowly, watching Bakugou near their target. They’re on opposite sides of the street, but he knows from experience that Bakugou has a habit of scanning the area whenever he’s on work hours, regardless of whether he’s actually on the outlook for anyone. Watching them feels like watching a countdown.

 

“Is that Ground Zero?” Wonder asks, sharply; she leans forwards to curse under her breath. “Shit.”

 

“We’re going to have to take him into account,” Shouto says, shifting his belt as he rapidly runs through backup strategies. “If he goes offensive he can annul the electricity fairly painlessly, and I can contain the fall-out. You could disguise our entry with your dust and then keep the civilians out of harm’s way.”

 

“Why are you assuming he’ll get involved? He doesn’t even know the target is in the area- and it’s not his assigned case.” 

 

Shouto shoots her an exasperated glance. “That’s not how he works.”

 

Like clockwork, Bakugou has stopped walking below, body angling slowly towards their man as he looks his way. His examination lasts only a moment, and then he’s falling back into the walking crowd, heading into the opposite direction so that the man’s back is to him; Shouto feels his adrenaline spike, trying to guess his most likely starting move so that they can assist. It’s too late to try and stop him before he starts- they have maybe a handful of minutes while Bakugou formulates a plan, but attempting to get to him will draw notice and rob them of the element of surprise. Better use the time to find a way to make it work for them.

 

Aloud, he says: “He’s about to intervene. We need to work with him or risk ruining both of our separate attempts to get him.”

 

“Damn it,” Wonder sighs, and shakes her head. “Fine. We’ll do it your way, if you’re sure you can handle the containment. Should we call back-up?”

 

“We just got backup,” Shouto says, flatly. “I can handle the containment.”

 

“All right. I’ll go blend into the crowd until the action kicks off. Try to lead the fighting towards the park and away from the road if you can- I’ll herd in the opposite direction.”

 

Shouto nods, blank frown receding a fraction. “He might start affecting the machinery in the area, so watch the buildings.”

 

“Be careful,” Wonder says, as she readies herself to jump. “We don’t want Ground Zero turning this into a brawl.”

 

With that she’s gone, sliding down the side of the building, and Shouto feels himself exhale a little irritated breath. It’s the first time in a while he’s worked with someone completely new, and he’s grown unused to having to talk to people who don’t know any of his UA cohort properly. All of them get raked over the coals by the media every so often, Bakugou unsurprisingly a regular target considering his unapologetic distaste for the press, but that’s different- the press is something he can expect, deflect, ignore. In person it’s harder to stomach without wanting to protest. 

 

This is a minor slight, of course- an outsider hero who thinks Bakugou is more reckless, more hot-headed, more self-centred than he is. It isn’t an unreasonable perception, probably- goes with his image, and his quirk. Compared to the time Shouto had actively struck a stranger in the face for the things they’d insinuated about Izuku, certainly, it’s nothing. It rankles at him nonetheless- natural distaste for presumption and loyalty to his friends makes it impossible to feel otherwise.

 

He watches Wonder slip into the crowd, managing to make herself discrete even in her hero suit, then glances back at Bakugou, who’s now taken a vantage point further down the street, and who seems to have started warning the people around him to stay back, creating dead space on his side of the road. It’ll draw the target’s attention as soon as he emerges from the shop, if he hasn’t noticed already- Shouto is sure he only went inside so that he could continue mapping out the building’s weak points without standing immobile on the street for too long.

 

It takes half a second- the target steps through the door, and the power line makes a fizzling sound. Shouto is taking a flying leap off the building before he even has to think about it, flames swallowing oxygen as they roar into existence. The sound is entirely disguised by the commotion below- there is a massive crackling sound as their target blows the building’s grid, windows shattering and cement crunching from the outwards pressure, and then there is the ear-splitting rumble of several, rapid-fire explosions erupting as Bakugou throws himself across the street. 

 

Screams and panicked yelling cut through the chaos as Shouto flies downwards, hair whipping in the wind, and in another moment he might feel something about the fact he’s gotten so used to civilian terror as the background noise for his fights, but his focus is below, concentrated on the pattern of smoke and gunfire sounds so that he can calculate his landing best despite the lack of visibility. Behind him, faint rushing noise signals Wonder at work; he flips himself forwards, aiming just towards the edge of the black cloud where Bakugou had last set off from. For a moment he is sightless, sinking through smoke, but it’s hardly even an inhibition- years of working through his own smoke and Bakugou’s specifically have made it almost second nature to rely on his other senses to find his way around.

 

He lands, feet stable on the pavement, and twists to avoid the shocks that burst through the air as the smoke fades, ice already forming around his arms, amorphous, ready to strike but biding his time before he reveals himself. This won’t be a long fight- their target is a thief, unused to using his quirk for violence, and completely unequipped to handle any of the three heroes involved- but it could be a messy one, especially if the guy starts lashing out at random. It’s the go-to villain trick, because heroes are by nature obliged to defend both themselves and everyone around them.

 

A whip-like sound to his left; he skates rapidly away, turns, repositions himself. Based on his movements Bakugou is just toying with the guy, or rather keeping him busy long enough that the civs are all out of harm’s way when he gets to incapacitating him, which is typically practical. Shouto takes a calculated risk and dives west, throwing up ice as he goes, an impromptu quarantine. It’s hard to gauge with precision if he’s managing to keep only the three of them within the enclosure without revealing himself too soon, because he has to keep ducking into the debris and smoke to keep himself out of sight, so he takes a running leap for better vantage point, twisting his ice to correct trajectory. As he soars he catches a flash of steel as the abandoned cars below begin erratically racing around each other- controlled, if sloppily, by the robber, who has no doubt come to realise direct combat against Bakugou will get him nowhere. It’s not a terrible strategy; he hears Bakugou swear in annoyance and roll to avoid a car slamming into him. The difficulty isn’t really in the physical obstacle, but in avoiding property damage.

 

Before Shouto has even made his mind up to intervene, Bakugou has already changed tactics, using his Quirk to propel himself upwards so that the cars broaden their perimeter in confusion and he can pick his landing spot strategically; Shouto watches him blast upwards in a flash of black and blonde, and seizes the opportunity to make himself useful, launching himself off a car’s roof onto the overhanging balcony of one of the apartments above. He lands with a heavy thud, wincing a little at the jolt to his knee, then jumps again, towards the parc; mid-flight, as Bakugou lands in a burst of colour, he extends his arms towards his barrier, now half-visible in the fading smoke, and lets the ice flow, a frosty avalanche bursting forth to paralyse the cars. 

 

The action is inevitably loud and visible, but while he hears a startled yell from the target- abruptly within his line of vision, backed up against a car- Bakugou doesn’t so much as glance backwards, only jumping easily upwards to land atop a now-frozen vehicle. Shouto rolls his eyes a little and skates towards them, throwing up a rapid snow wall to soften when Bakugou flips both the car and the target into the air with one perfunctory blow. The car thuds softly back to earth, and the target wheezes, sparking with panic as he catches Shouto’s eye before twisting to try and see where Bakugou has gotten to. It’s too little too late, of course, because Bakugou is bouncing off the snow wall and seizing him by his collar before he’s turned his head, slamming them both down to the ground as Shouto carefully manoeuvres the car back down, its alarm blaring confusedly. 

 

“Arms out or I’ll make you,” Bakugou is saying, when he jumps closer, brandishing Quirk-nullifying cuffs, and the target squirms desperately. Shouto is about to comment on the fact that Bakugou apparently carries those around off-patrol when there is a horrible creaking noise and a chorus of screams, and they both turn instinctively to look at the skyline, where a massive red crane is turning so that its cargo hovers right above the crowd Shouto had so carefully shepherded away from the fight.

 

“Touch me and I’ll drop it!” the guy exclaims, voice cracking with fear, loud against the sudden hush. It’s just the three of them, standing cut off in an ice barrier, the car’s alarm still plaintive, watching the crane sway, and with seconds to spare Shouto looks at Bakugou. 

 

Bakugou’s brows furrow silently. Are you sure?

 

Shouto looks back at the crane, its unpredictable jerky rotation. Then he nods, once. 

 

Bakugou snaps the cuffs on. The crane never gets to drop its load; from Shouto’s outstretched hands to the skyscraper across the street, an ever-thickening river of ice has coursed towards it within the half-minute that follows their silent exchange, and though ice splinters fall lightly downwards as it strains under the weight, the crane is immobile. 

 

“Not bad,” Bakugou says, only a tad begrudging, which makes Shouto smile back, also a little long-suffering. 

 

“When did you know I was here?”

 

“Five minutes give or take,” Bakugou shrugs, lips quirking a little. “Noticed the drop in temperature, so I was looking for explanations.”

 

Shouto frowns pensively as he moves to melt the ice wall, thinking about getting around to regulating his heat signature in the future, and their mildly traumatised target finally seems to snap out of his stupor to groan shakily, burying his face in his hands.

 

“God, this is fucking insane. I was just listening about you two on the news.”

 

“You did rob a major national bank” Shouto points out, watching the ice dissipate. “That’s sort of prime pro-hero territory.”

 

There is a whooshing sound, and they look up to find Wonder floating down in their direction, gaze hard and assessing; Bakugou shifts immediately into his casual combat stance, but it relaxes when Shouto doesn’t follow suit. 

 

“Civilians?” 

 

“A few minor injuries from the rush to get out of the way,” Wonder says, as she lands, surveying the area. “Property damage not optimal.”

 

“You mean the building? He blew it before the fight started,” Shouto says, glancing up. “We contained the rest.”

 

It annoys him that her mouth pulls at that, he realises abruptly. This underlying tension between them stems from the fact he doesn’t like her. There’s a time and place for this thought, though, so he keeps his expression blank as their eyes meet.

 

“I should thank you for your assistance,” Wonder finally says, turning to nod her thanks at Bakugou, who scowls at her. “Though you might have spared a moment to consider there might have been an ongoing operation rather than charging in headfirst.”

 

“And who the fuck are you?”

 

“Wonder,” Shouto interjects, before things get out of hand. “She’s my trial partner.”

 

“Until Dekiru gets back from America?” the target asks, curiously. “What’s your quirk?”

 

“Shut up,” Bakugou says, cuffing the back of his head and glaring combatively at Wonder. “Where’d they dig you up, then? You’re not from a Tokyo agency.”

 

“No, I was military until last year,” Wonder agrees, pursing her lips. “It’s a rigorous job.”

 

There is a growing hubbub around them as the crowds swoop back in, danger averted, and the telling flash of cameras and phones as people being clamouring for their attention. 

 

“Excuse me,” Wonder says, and turns to face the curious masses, smile confident as she goes. Shouto mentally sighs and turns to Bakugou, gesturing at the wincing man on the ground. 

 

“Can I take him? Was supposed to be our mission.”

 

“Out of character for you to want to hog the spotlight,” Bakugou quips, raising a brow, though he thrusts the guy over anyways. “Felt like I pretty much handled this one for you lot.”

 

“We would have handled it fine,” Shouto says, not one to let Bakugou overstate his importance, though he lets some of his motives show as he glances back at Wonder. “And I think it would be good to show some team unity, is all.”

 

“Right,” Bakugou says, sarcastic now, like Shouto is so unreasonable for being realistic about press coverage. “Like that’s going to last.”

 

Shouto frowns at him, and Bakugou scoffs. “Oh, come on, half ’n half. You clearly can’t stand each other.”

 

“I work with plenty of people I don’t like,” Shouto retorts, noncommittally, instead of asking how Bakugou can tell, or expressing that it’s none of his business. “UA was good for that.”

 

“You’re a real comic.” 

 

“It is my back-up career choice.”

 

“All I’m saying is that she seems like a presumptive asshole,” Bakugou says, dropping the subject as they move towards the press. “So fuckin’ enjoy that for the next six months.”

 

Shouto feels the face he pulls at the prospect despite himself, so when Bakugou barks out a slightly cruel laugh it doesn’t feel unwarranted. “I can’t make her leave. The company wants a partner for me and she was their best bet.”

 

“Then make someone else the reason she does, dumbass,” Bakugou sneers, and pointedly hunches his shoulders. “How’d you think I got rid of that supervisor they tried to sic on us at your old man’s place?”

 

“Hm,” Shouto says, thoughts sliding into place, and though from there on out everything is routine and he doesn’t even think to say goodbye, he finds himself privately amused when he falls into step with Wonder afterwards. 

 

“Those interviews weren’t so bad. Our ratings have gone up.”

 

“I think it’s down to Ground Zero,” Shouto says, very seriously. “The press really likes the interaction. He said he’d ask if we could coordinate our schedules more often.”

 

He feels without seeing the way her composure slips into brief horror, and, shackled between the two of them, their prisoner snorts. 

 

 

Wonder stays on a while, but after a couple of run-ins with Bakugou and Kirishima and more than a few increasingly irate (mostly one-sided) arguments about Shouto’s apparent recklessness and lack of caring about his branding, she resigns, citing readjustment difficulties, which just about lets Shouto off the hook. It probably doesn’t hurt that he tells Izuku about her, and Izuku no doubt reports it all back to All Might. 

 

Almost a month past Izuku’s departure, Shouto thus finds himself partnerless again, which leaves him both relieved and smarting a little. 

 

Work is fine, obviously. Shouto doesn’t think he’ll ever tire of hero-work; it’s what drives him in life, more than anything, and he can’t imagine doing anything else, especially now that he’s finally allowed to do interesting missions. Even with Wonder around, rubbing him the wrong way with intransigeant calculation, the work itself had kept him satisfied.

 

Still, it’s a difficult shift to adjust to. Work usually counts double for him- the enjoyment of work, and the enjoyment of good company. Without Izuku it’s just work- and once work is over, he has nothing to do. 

 

Living alone is unexpectedly strange, though he realises upon reflection that he might have seen it coming. He hasn’t actually lived away from his classmates since starting UA- three years of living in dorms, one year of living with Momo, and half a year sharing with Izuku- when he looks back at it, the reason (if subconscious) that the sudden solitude unsettles him is because it takes him back to times he’d started to forget. 

 

He’d grown up in a home with six people, on paper- six, then four. If you’d have asked him at the time, though, he’d probably have answered quite honestly that he lived alone. His interactions with his siblings had been stringently limited in his early childhood, then limited by the lack of connection between them, and as for his father, well. 

 

He still struggles with trying to work through his feelings on the best day, nevermind his difficult childhood, but even he can look back at his youth and describe it as intensely lonely. Coming back to an impersonal empty apartment every night makes him broody and quiet. 

 

It’s during one of those nights, sitting on the couch and watching the street-light filter into their cramped kitchen space and wondering whether he should do something with the boxes still stacked in their living-room, that his phone buzzes from his bedroom.

 

It’s Kirishima; Shouto picks up, brow furrowing instinctively. 

 

“Hello.”

 

“Hey, man!” Kirishima exclaims, always at a slightly overwhelming volume. “Listen, no pressure, but I wanted to know if you were maybe free tonight?”

 

Shouto looks around, rubs his knuckles a little. The thought of hovering around the Bakusquad all evening is probably more tempting than doing nothing, but it’s not exactly his choice of activity. “I think so.”

 

“Oh, great,” Kirishima says, grin audible. “Well, listen, I have these discount tickets for this bar in Minato, and I feel like I haven’t seen you at all since Izuku left, so I was thinking we could hang?”

 

“Just the two of us?” Shouto says, blinking in confusion. 

 

“If you want!” Kirishima rushes, as Shouto mulls this over, still surprised. “Katsuki said he’d come if I asked. Or- well, he said I should stop picking up stupid discounts for shitty bars no one likes to go to, and if anyone was dumb enough to come with me to one he might show up just to witness the disaster, but that’s sort of the same thing, you know?”

 

“Yeah,” Shouto says, smiling a little. “That’s not necessary, though. I just didn’t realise you’d want to.”

 

“Course I would, dude! These last couple of weeks have been rough. All Katsuki ever thinks about is work, and now he doesn’t even have Izuku and you around to debate with all the time, so he’s grumpy about it.” 

 

“Kirishima, I don’t think I’m any better.” 

 

“Dude, we’ve known each other for six years. It’s Eijirou to you. Or whatever you want, really.”

 

“Old habits.” 

 

“I’ll get you one day,” Kirishima sighs. “Anyways- you wanna come tonight, then?”

 

“Sure,” Shouto agrees, and feels his evening cease to loom ahead so ominously. “Send me the address.”

 

Kirishima whoops and complies, and Shouto finds himself smiling as he hangs up the phone. 

 

 

It becomes somewhat routine. The first night, conversation is awkward for all of five seconds before Kirishima launches into an enthusiastic retelling of the best fights he and Bakugou got into in the past week, and from there on Shouto abruptly remembers that he and Kirishima have been friends for years and friendly for longer. By the end of it Kirishima makes him promise to show him around his apartment at some point in the next week, and Shouto agrees with only minor reluctance. 

 

The apartment visit occurs, and Kirishima does the typical Kirishima thing- in this case, convincing Shouto to do something about the unfurnished state of the rooms while barely coming across like that’s what he’s trying to do. His concerned inquiries don’t prompt defensiveness, but at the same time his frank questioning makes Shouto realise (somehow for the first time) that he has in fact been living in the equivalent of a hospital room for a month. 

 

He often thinks it’s a good thing Kirishima’s heart is firmly in the right place, because he would be a master of manipulation were he so inclined. Only someone tremendously inclined to put people at ease could have wrangled life-long friendship out of Katsuki Bakugou at the age of fifteen. 

 

After that, the texts start coming in at all hours of the day.

 

from: Kirishima E.

 

yo DUDE!!!

 

look @ this DOPE table me & Katsuki saw on patrol today!!!

 

[nekoneko.jpeg]

 

y/n for ur apartment?????

 

to: Kirishima E. 

 

Not sure it would fit through the door.

 

I do like the cat.

 

from: Kirishima E.

 

it folds!!!

 

to: Kirishima E.

 

And how do you know that?

 

from: Kirishima E.

 

hahaha yea ok i did buy it 

 

BUT it was on sale and also you need it in your apartment!!! 

 

you can pay me back in drinksss

 

to: Kirishima E.

 

I’ll pay you back in money. 

 

from: Kirishima E.

 

thats way more boring bro :( 

 

 

For the most part the texts are about random things Kirishima has spotted and decided the apartment needs, ranging between cute cat-café surplus and very traditional furniture, and Shouto is almost taken aback at how well he can gauge his tastes.

 

He is far less taken aback when Bakugou texts him for the first time in over a month once Kirishima’s enthusiasm starts getting on his nerves. 

 

from: Bakugou K.

 

Hey, asshole

 

We’re coming over tonight and you’re fixing your place up 

 

to: Bakugou K.

 

What a kind offer.

 

from: Bakugou K.

 

I’m sick of hearing about how you live in an isolation ward

 

And you clearly aren’t getting your shit together 

 

We’ll be there by 8

 

to: Bakugou K.

 

I only get off work at half past. 

 

from: Bakugou K.

 

Doesn’t matter, Deku gave me a spare key

 

to: Bakugou K.

 

You know I still haven’t said yes?

 

from: Bakugou K.

 

Read my previous text and get over yourself 

 

 

Renovating a room, Shouto has learned, really is a powerful bonding activity. Momo had been at her most intimidating when commandeering the veritably army of people that it had taken to redecorate their loft, and he’s seen the best and worst of each of his classmates in far less glamorous settings- when Kaminari, Sero and Ashido had gotten their first flat, half of the amenities had needed re-doing, and Shouto still begrudges whoever had convinced them to buy all of their furniture new from IKEA. 

 

Shouto and Izuku’s apartment, thankfully, is perfectly functional, if significantly less impressive than his old flat. He had been content to live with Momo, but once he’d relocated to Might Tower the commute had been too much, and Izuku had made sense as a roommate- he’d also needed a new roommate what with Katsuki moving out. This is the second flat they’ve shared, and a step up from the first one, because Shouto had been able to make a better argument for paying a bigger share of the rent. 

 

The point is that as house-warming efforts go, this is a thankfully painless one. Which is good, because Shouto has seen Bakugou during moving efforts before, most notably the aforementioned Kaminari & co move, and he doesn’t think he currently has the energy to deal with that particular blend of animal rage and clinical perfectionism. 

 

He gets back from the office with mounting trepidation in his steps, and opens the door to find Kirishima straddling what looks like half of an end-table, hammer in hand and hoodie tied loosely around his waist. The whole living-room has exploded into various pieces of furniture and decorations around him. 

 

“Hey, dude!” Kirishima grins, around a mouthful of screws. “Sorry ‘bout the mess.”

 

“That’s fine,” Shouto starts, and closes the door. “You really didn’t have to do this.”

 

“What are friends for?” Kirishima dismisses, beginning to hammer away enthusiastically. “We got takeout, by the way. There are some leftovers if you’d like.”

 

“Oh, thank you.”

 

It’s funny- Izuku’s boxes are gone, presumably to his room, and Shouto feels a little better for it, just like that, less like he’s living with a shadow. Somedays he wonders if he will ever manage to develop the kind of basic emotional logic that allows other people to think of these things. 

 

“Your kitchen is a fucking disgrace,” Bakugou announces, emerging from his bathroom shaking his hands dry. Like Kirishima he’s changed out of his work clothes, sporting a trademark tank top and sweatpants. He has grease on his arms and the side of his jaw. “I would have cooked but you didn’t have any damn food.”

 

“I was wondering why you lowered yourself to takeout,” Shouto says, briefly cursing the fact he missed out on eating a cooked meal. “You know, it’s all right to have a cheat day once in a while.”

 

Bakugou flips him off but follows him into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of water, wrinkling his nose at the glass selection. Shouto reaches around him to hand him a Hello Kitty cup with an innocent expression.

 

“Absolutely fucking not.”

 

“Suit yourself,” Shouto shrugs, and uses the cup for his own glass of water, settling himself by the table so he can dig into the noddles, thankfully still luke-warm. 

 

Bakugou drinks from the tap, because he’s an idiot, and Shouto rolls his shoulders a little, relaxing after a day’s office work. 

 

“Inasa texted me the other day. Camie’s going to be in Tokyo for her engagement party.”

 

“Engagement party,” Bakugou repeats, and shakes his head disbelievingly. “Fucking hell.”

 

“Yeah,” Shouto says, very much in agreement. She’s barely twenty three; it makes his head spin to think of anything so adult in his own life. “He wanted to know if we’d host.”

 

“I’m not hosting a party at mine again,” Bakugou says, immediately, setting his glass down. “Not after last time’s bullshit.” 

 

“I figured. I thought I might.”

 

This makes Bakugou shoot him a skeptical look. “Here?”

 

“It’ll look nice once this is done,” Shouto says, shrugging. In truth he feels pretty similarly about the idea, given that he’s never been known for his hosting talents, but Inasa’s place is too far out and Bakugou is still violently opposed to hosting anything after the last big birthday bash there got out of hand. It’s not like he minds having people milling about- he’s never been particularly proprietary. “And there’s enough room.”

 

“I guess it’s central at least,” Bakugou considers, glancing around. “How many people?”

 

“Didn’t ask,” Shouto says, wryly. “I assume double whatever the number he’ll say.”

 

Bakugou lifts a brow in concession, expression conveying his continued skepticism at the fact Inasa manages to collect copious amounts of friends wherever he goes. “If it’s for Utsushimi’s engagement then her fiancé will probably be bringing friends too.”

 

“No, he said it would be- intimate.”

 

“He used that word?”

 

“Yes,” Shouto says, lips quirking. “An intimate gathering.”

 

“Oh, come on,” Bakugou says. “You have got to be shitting me.”

 

“Maybe he’s maturing.”

 

“Maybe he’s been kidnapped and replaced by a half-assed clone.”

 

“Well, I’ll tell you what his clone says for the party.”

 

“Who says I’m coming?” Bakugou protests, albeit half-heartedly. Shouto gives him an unimpressed look.

 

“Uh, guys, I think there’s a problem with the dresser,” Kirishima starts, followed immediately by a tremendous crashing sound as he yelps. 

 

Dresser? Shouto mouths, to himself, bemused. By his side Bakugou rolls his eyes hard. 

 

“That’s because it’s not a dresser, Ei, you dumbass.”

 

“It’s- not?” 

 

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Bakugou groans, and pushes off the counter, muscles working as he rolls his shoulder. “I told you-“

 

“No, you said the silver piece goes with the cherry wood-“

 

“Bullshit I did! The coffee table is the only cherry wood piece because it matches the flooring-“ 

 

“I’m starting to think you didn’t just find these at flea markets,” Shouto notes, observing the two of them with the same hint of confusion that he always feels watching them interact out of uniform. It’s in the contrast- Kirishima’s bright-eyed grin, his eye-sore green sweatpants, the shock of red hair, and then Bakugou, all in black and so used to scowling that even at ease his brow is furrowed and his jaw is set. 

 

“You didn’t mention you’d taken up detective-work since Deku left,” Bakugou shoots back, squatting to pick up a screwdriver. Kirishima laughs; Shouto hovers uncomfortably in the doorframe, unsure whether he’d get shouted at for trying to help. 

 

“You really didn’t-“

 

“Say that one more time and I’m blowing up your living room,” Bakugou snaps, brandishing the screwdriver menacingly; Shouto pulls a face. 

 

“Agreed,” Kirishima echoes cheerily. “We chose to be here, dummy. Can’t let a bro live in an empty box for a year. And besides Izuku would be mad unimpressed if we let you, y’know!” 

 

This much is true; Shouto ducks his head, accepting defeat. He’ll reimburse them when they’re not paying attention. Making it up to them is a different story, but for that-

 

“All right,” he says, and his gaze drifts over to Bakugou, attacking furniture-building with the same intensity as any other task. “I owe you one.”

 

Bakugou looks up at that, frowning, then snorts, and Shouto feels himself almost smile, the twisting thing he does when he thinks he might like to smile but isn’t sure it’d be appropriate. “You owe me several.”

 

“Three,” Shouto says, because if they didn’t keep track it would be redundant, and whether out of sentimentality or a natural attachment to routine he doesn’t want their little ritual to die off. 

 

He can’t remember when it started. Definitely in school. Probably second or third year, though it only really became a thing later, in the sense that other people commented on it and it became a Thing, as Kaminari would say, stressing the syllable enough that Shouto registers the affect. It hadn’t started out as a Thing- just a habit. He thinks Bakugou probably did it first, or vocalised it, at least. He’d kept track of their mutual assists before it had been expressed aloud, anyways- for everyone, but for Izuku and Bakugou especially, because there was a relationship of equals between the three of them that didn’t exist elsewhere in his life, unspoken and oft-begrudged (by some more than others) so that it felt both very easy and somehow more notable to rely upon each other in combat. 

 

It had been very odd to adjust to, especially in first year. He remembers the League’s break-in, fighting on his own, and then being in the forest, trying to keep Bakugou in check, frustrated and wishing they weren’t teammates, that he might do things alone. Then there had been the rescue mission and all that it entailed, and things had shifted- for everyone, for Izuku and Bakugou, but also for Shouto, in a different way, understanding why teamwork mattered. It was something he’d already come to feel in their fight against Stain, but saving Bakugou had explicitly been a group effort from the outset, and it had dawned upon him then how much he trusted them, and necessarily how much they trusted him. He hadn’t been so sure about Bakugou, not until the very last second, watching him surge through the sky like a firework, the slap of his palm as he grabbed Kirishima’s outstretched hand. 

 

Bakugou had never thanked them for it, and even Shouto had the presence of mind to know not to try and get any gratitude out of him, but he was bad (worse then) at keeping his thoughts out of his gaze, and for a while every time they’d met eyes Bakugou had bristled like a caged animal, jaw set so tight Shouto thought it was a wonder he hadn’t ground the bone down. It was far worse with Izuku, of course- through curious observation Shouto had begun to understand the fundamental off-set in their dynamic was that Izuku was perpetually offering help where Bakugou was furiously opposed to receiving it, and so he was less surprised than he might have been when it all came to a head in that massive brawl of theirs. Still, in a way, Shouto felt he understood him a little better- he was equally uncomfortable with owing anyone any favours, and had not yet grown close enough to Izuku to be told that friendship at its core meant not keeping track of such things. 

 

That’s what it comes down to, really. He’s become resigned to the fact that he will be playing catch-up on social cues for the rest of his life, but even so he’d been conscious of the unique form of awkwardness the two of them dealt with after that whole mess, with increasing frequency: consistently trusting each other with their lives despite the fact they could only generously be said to tolerate one another. It had been an abnormal situation, even within their schooling context; the only reason they’d so often been at the centre of some massive battle was because there were few students with their level of power, and within these elite ranks everyone had been at least civil if not friendly. Thanks to Izuku Shouto hadn’t been the outlier for long- Bakugou, however, had proved fiercely resistant to any attempts on either of their parts to smooth over the uneven dynamics of their fledgling trio. He recalls those early days with clarity even now, remembers pulling off death-defying stunts with the certainty that the person who had told him to go fuck himself on a rusty shovel not five minutes ago would be the one to cover him.

 

He had tried, despite the fact that Bakugou hated him and also wasn’t extremely likeable, to try and befriend him somewhat, if only so that their group dynamic wouldn’t feel so unbalanced. The remedial course had been a good opportunity for it. Bakugou had responded to these attempts with furious rejection, though, and Shouto had thought with varying degrees of exasperation that maybe this was all down to that stupid fucking Sports Festival final, and that if he’d just pummelled Bakugou there and then they might have had an easier time of the rest. Still- despite tiny but notable exceptions, like the perplexing novelty of Bakugou’s helpless laughter at Camie’s illusion or the way he’d shiftily averted his gaze when Shouto had vetoed violence as a means of teaching, they had left the course no closer to friends than prior. 

 

So he had kept track. Lives saved, favours owed- and Bakugou evidently had done the same, because at some point after the remedial arc that he can no longer recollect (sometimes he thinks they engaged in more pointless villain fights in school than they do now) he’d recovered from a very close call with a villain’s gaping jaw to find Bakugou yanking him out of harm’s way by the elbow, the part of his arm pressed against Shouto so slick with explosive sweat that he’d very nearly set the both of them on fire. They’d landed hard against the pavement, both already straightening to jump back into the fight, and Shouto (mindlessly- he was getting into the dangerous habit of developing manners around his classmates) had thanked him, forgetting himself. The half-beat of silence had tuned him in, and he’d turned, bracing for an outraged insult, but Bakugou had only scowled, looking somewhere between angry and uncomfortable, and grunted: “Makes us even.”

 

The phrase had stuck around, though neither of them had in the moment, both flying into opposite corners of the fight where their help was most needed; once it was all over Shouto had absently caught sight of the blonde as he shucked off his gauntlets and traced the statement back to the block of ice he’d thrown up to avoid Bakugou’s demise under the weight of a stone pillar two weeks prior. It had struck him that this was the first time Bakugou had ever let slip that he kept a record of their mutual assists too, and for some reason this had felt gratifying. The next time he’d taken someone out of commission for him had come minutes after Bakugou himself had blown a hole through a thick blanket of sand threatening to snuff him out, and he’d felt the opportunity present itself, shiny and novel; when he’d spun past him he’d taken the moment to say it: “I owed you one.”

 

He doesn’t know what it says about them in terms of Izuku’s friendship parameters that after all these years they both still monitor these things, but he thinks the fact that he just used it with respect to Bakugou assembling a coffee table instead of throwing him ten feet into the air probably means something. 

 

 

Bakugou and Kirishima stay past midnight, but between the three of them they work fast. Shouto is actually pretty good at assembling furniture, and he’s not half bad with design, when he puts his mind to it- it seems to have escaped both of his companions that he decorated his UA dorm for three years straight, because they both react with disbelief to this revelation. It’s just that he usually lacks the motivation, he tries to explain- he doesn’t tell them that since Izuku left he has steadily felt himself losing his connections to the outside work, and thus stopped caring what the inside looked like. He thinks they probably know that, anyways. 

 

By the time they’re finished, he barely recognises the place. Izuku’s boxes are neatly unpacked in his room, courtesy of Bakugou’s insane organisational eye, which makes it feel like he actually lives there, and perhaps more importantly, Shouto feels like he does- their kitchen and living room is furnished with simple, elegant traditional furniture, and between all of the beautiful wooden pieces Kirishima has dug up little quirky additions to spruce it up- a little retro jukebox, an adorable cat-shaped rug with a matching pouf, a lava lamp. 

 

It looks like UA, or like his room at Yaoyorozu’s- like home, he reflects, as Kirishima sprawls excitedly over the couch, having finally unearthed the manual for their television. When they finally leave, Bakugou gone a characteristic level of tired-grumpy as he stomps down to get their cab, Shouto stops Kirishima briefly, smooths his expression when he realises he’s frowning. A light frown is his default expression, he’s found, mostly because he frowns when he’s thinking. 

 

“Thank you.”

 

“No biggie,” Kirishima assures him, smiling warmly like he knows Shouto’s saying thanks for more than just the room. Shouto feels oddly inclined to hug him. “It’ll be cool to have somewhere else to hang out in the city.”

 

“I’d be happy to have you over,” Shouto says, politely, and then, clearing his throat and succumbing to earnestness: “I’m glad we’re friends.”

 

Kirishima blinks, then beams so brightly Shouto steps back a little, alarmed. “Aw, dude- me too, y’know.” He looks a little wet-eyed, which is troubling but sort of customary. “I was sort of worried you wouldn’t want to hang without Izuku around, but I’m super stoked that you do.”

 

“Oh,” Shouto says, and bites his lip in thought, having not considered that people might have been expecting him to make the first move. “No, I- he was my first friend, is all. I befriended everyone else through him. So it’s been quite-“

 

“Yeah, I get it,” Kirishima says, and he does, probably, because Kirishima gets people. “It’s been weird for everyone, I think. Izuku’s kinda always been our class mascot, right? I know it’s been rough on Katsuki too, in his own way. Don’t tell him I said that.”

 

Shouto snorts, shakes his head. “I do have some sense of self-preservation.”

 

“Some,” Kirishima replies, tapping his nose with a strangely wry smile. “Text me when you’re free, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Shouto echoes, and thinks he probably will.

 

 

Izuku looks somewhere between anxious and elated when he appears on-screen for their weekly call, buzzing with energy in a way that’s not entirely helpful what with the screen pixelating every so often, but the nervy way he moves paradoxically relaxes Shouto, as it tends to do; he feels something unclench in his chest when the line connects. 

 

“Hi, can you hear me? It is so good to see you! I wish I could have called sooner, but we’ve been so busy and it’s really hard figuring out the time-difference with work in the way-“

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Shouto interjects, tilting his head and smiling a little. “It’s good to see you too.”

 

“Eijirou said you redecorated?” Izuku chimes in, now scanning around him like he can somehow peer beyond the laptop screen if he tries. “I’m so excited to see the apartment- although I feel really bad that I never got around to unpacking, it must have taken a lot of time-“

 

“Bakugou did most of that,” Shouto says, maybe a little cruelly, because Izuku’s eyes boggle and he looks back at him in alarm.

 

“Kacchan? Wait, you let Kacchan have his way with my possessions? Shouto!”

 

“He did nothing to them,” Shouto concedes, stifling a smile, as Izuku sighs in relief from where he’d been midway to an aneurysm. “He and Kirishima insisted on helping me with the apartment. In fairness I wasn’t being very productive.”

 

Izuku’s brow dips a little, and he squints like he’s trying to see if Shouto’s hiding anything from him, which can’t be easy from across an ocean. “You’re doing okay, right? I’m sorry things didn’t work out with Wonder.”

 

“We weren’t a good match,” Shouto shrugs. “I told you I was trying to get rid of her.”

 

“Yeah, but being partnerless now must be weird, right?” Izuku asks, then flinches. “Not that- I mean, I’m still your partner, except in practice-“

 

“I know,” Shouto says, and means it, which thankfully gets Izuku to quieten before he can launch on a very sincere but wholly unnecessary defence of their friendship. “It’s a little strange. I don’t mind it; I like working alone. The only thing I don’t like is not having you around so much.”

 

Predictably, Izuku’s expression crumples. “I miss you a lot too! It’s really weird doing work stuff without you. Especially here.”

 

“You’ve been enjoying it, though?”

 

“Yeah, of course!” Izuku exclaims, nodding intently. “The pro-hero working style in America operates on a completely different model, it’s fascinating- and of course getting to revisit All Might’s past with him is incredible- and there’s so much interesting work to be done-“ He pauses to catch himself with more grace than he might once have. “It is weird to be a continent away from all of you, though. And the culture shock has gotten to me more than I thought it would.”

 

“Really?” Shouto asks, considering it. “You’ve always seemed so adaptable.”

 

“I guess I am,” Izuku laughs, a little sheepish. “I feel right at home when I’m working. But when it’s my off days I don’t really know what to do with myself. And all of the Americans are so- loud, and English.” His smile softens into something nostalgic. “My English was never as good as yours or Kacchan’s. Remember how much I had to cram for finals?”

 

“I remember watching a lot of English movies because someone said it was the best way to understand the speech patterns. I think that was Kaminari’s idea.”

 

“It always is,” Izuku says, shaking his head with amusement. “Ah, man, now I really miss you guys. I wish you could have come with me.”

 

Shouto only hums his agreement. “Have you met any interesting people from the US side of things?”

 

“A lot,” Izuku nods, perking up at the opportunity to recite what is no doubt inscribed in the travel notebook he obviously has. “We’ve met a lot of All Might’s old acquaintances- pro heroes from the time, you know, like the Captain, Veuve Noire, the Quirk Quatuor- and also some up and comers from the hero rankings here. There’s this amazing hero here called Houdini, and she has these teleportation and shield abilities, but she uses them in such a unique way-“

 

Shouto lets him ramble for a while, content to listen. Izuku has mostly outgrown his endless muttering tendencies, but his mind will forever outpace his mouth, and Shouto is happy to let him do the talking. Most of the time it’s actually interesting, and even when it’s not it’s at least sort of soothing to listen to. 

 

“-it’s just a shame they won’t let me do more hands-on work, but the US is very testy with their visa requirements, to no one’s surprise,” Izuku finishes, several tangents later. “Anyway, enough about me. How have things been with you?”

 

Shouto blinks, has to reorient himself a little. “Fine. I texted you yesterday, remember?”

 

“You texted me to tell me you saw a cat,” Izuku corrects, rolling his eyes a little. “Which, while valued information, doesn’t exactly fill me in on your daily doings.”

 

“I know you talk to Kirishima and Tenya a lot,” Shouto retorts, raising a brow. “Between the two of them I’m sure they have things covered.”

 

“Not true!” Izuku protests, shaking his head. “They are very reputable sources of information, but Tenya’s not even in Tokyo and Kirishima only sees you like once a week.”

 

“Your point…”

 

Izuku laughs at that, but is not so easily dissuaded. “Come on. Seriously. I worry about you.”

 

“You shouldn’t,” Shouto sighs. “I’m very capable of looking after myself. Far more than you are, anyways. I heard about your hospital visit last week.”

 

Izuku has the decency to look guilty at that, giving a nervous chuckle. “That was- well- oh, fine, I’m in no position to judge. I know you can handle yourself! I mean more like- you know, emotionally.”

 

“Really?” Shouto sighs, unenthused. Izuku is usually far more subtle in his psych checks- once he’d spent his teenaged years aggressively getting Shouto to defrost and accept his undying love and support, he’d rarely needed to be so on the nose again. “Barely gone a month and you’re turning into Tenya.” 

 

“I’m sorry!” Izuku exclaims, throwing his palms up in surrender. “I think I may have some kind of separation anxiety. It’s making me kind of unhinged. The other day I seriously considered trying to Skype Kacchan unprompted because I sat through some guy cussing me out in a Starbucks and got homesick.” 

 

“That’s crazy person talk,” Shouto says, gravely, though privately he suspects it won’t be long until one of them comes up with some flimsy excuse to do exactly that, considering that their single ‘work related’ call in Izuku’s absence thus far had kept them both on the line for several hours. In their own weird way they’re very codependent. “You really don’t have to worry about me, though. I promise I’m not regressing into my teenaged self. I’ve avoided the poor fashion choices, for one. Though you probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t.”

 

“Wow, hit me where it hurts,” Izuku snorts, glancing down at his t-shirt, currently an appalling red-white-and-blue ensemble that Shouto shudders to imagine himself wearing, considering his hair. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, anyways, you’ve always dressed well. Rich people are just born fashionable.”

 

“My first hero outfit begs to differ.”

 

“Okay, you got me there,,” Izuku grins, shaking his head. “The ice terminator look was a choice. But that was all- you know, understandable angst-related motivation. And since when are you so aware of your fashion choices, anyways? I thought you prided yourself on how casual your outrageous good looks are.”

 

“You’re ridiculous,” Shouto says dismissively, though he does know that objectively Izuku probably isn’t being hyperbolic for the sake of it. The pro-hero limelight has made it very hard to ignore that what feels like half the country would like dearly to have their dirty way with him. “I was really just bringing the fashion choice thing as an easy way to prove my lack of regression. I think it came to mind because Bakugou was giving me shit for it recently.”

 

“Ah, a raw wound,” Izuku nods, mock-sympathetic, then smiles broadly, eyes glimmering with familiar challenge. “Speaking of Kacchan and yourself- care to comment on the hero ranking situation?”

 

“I’m not saying anything until my name is in that top five,” Shouto dismisses, shaking his head coolly. “Whatever I say can and will be held against me if Bakugou gets there first.”

 

“That’s a solid if,” Izuku pushes, now fully grinning. Shouto has no doubt he’s been mapping their respective probabilities out in the not-so-secret notebook he usually hides under his mattress. “You’re basically head to head on social contribution and general popularity.”

 

“A distressing thought,” Shouto agrees, lips twitching. For all his media-training Bakugou has never bothered to lose the attitude; Shouto really doesn’t understand why the Japanese public loves him so much despite this. Then again, Shouto doesn’t understand why he himself has amassed hordes of screaming fangirls that camp outside his office some days, so the mysteries of the average citizen’s mind are clearly beyond him. 

 

“I always knew it’d be the two of you I had to worry about,” Izuku says, half-mock menacing and half sincere. “I think you’ll probably get in there by ousting some of the older pros from the top. The Big Three will be harder to wrangle.”

 

“No comment,” Shouto repeats, though his tone conveys agreement. “In any event I have a lot of cases to solve if I want a shot at it. High-profile cases are harder to come by when it’s just me.”

 

“Yeah,” Izuku says, quieting; Shouto thinks he might be feeling guilty, which would be characteristically unnecessary. “Which is ridiculous, because you’ve been handling high-intensity missions since you were literally fifteen years old. The hierarchy of hero work in Japan is really-“

 

“I know.”

 

Izuku deflates. “Sorry. But- don’t worry about it too much, okay? On pure scale and scope alone, your powers make you an indispensable asset in any kind of big-scale attacks, so even if you don’t get handed cases ahead of time I have no doubt you’ll be called on as an assist for them, which evens out in terms of the scoring.”

 

“You probably shouldn’t sound so enthusiastic about the catastrophes required to happen for me to be able to intervene.”

 

“That’s not what I meant and you know it!”

 

Chapter Text

He does end up seeing Kirishima and Bakugou for dinner the following week, which goes surprisingly well, all things considered. It’s right after work, so conversation flows easily, and Kirishima has always had a taming effect on Bakugou, so there’s little friction between the three of them, just an oddly chummy atmosphere. Towards desert he and Bakugou start intently bickering about who can really have been said to win the recent high-profile brawl between the so-called Godzilla villain and Neijire-chan, with Shouto arguing that considering the monster-villain’s track record in past weeks getting him to retreat and make no further trouble for a whole week has to be counted as a victory and Bakugou predictably taking the line that so long as the villain hasn’t been beaten into the dust and thrown into cuffs, Neijire took the loss. Kirishima gives up on trying to mediate after exactly one attempt, which Shouto appreciates- unlike Izuku, Ochako and Iida, Kirishima has always seen the value of letting a fight play out where Bakugou is concerned, which is probably why he’s been so successful in befriending him. On this particular occasion Shouto is just glad to see the argument to an end, which he slowly realises is because he’s been getting sort of frustrated not having anyone to butt heads with.

 

It’s not that he’s particularly antagonistic, unlike Bakugou, who would antagonise a potted plant if he felt its leaves had bristled at him. He tends to be more passive. But he is undeniably opinionated, and not especially reverent towards anyone; besides, his ambitions and staunch moral code have always made it difficult to avoid arguments. It’s one of the reasons why he and Izuku are such good friends, beyond the support; they challenge one another. Hell, in a way, it’s why he’d eventually warmed up to Inasa. 

 

It’s also why he and Bakugou have remained friendly across the years beyond the forces of their mutual friend groups, he suspects. Well- friendly’s the wrong word, again. Peripheral to friends, is what he means. Again, it feels entirely unnecessary to have a relationship so hard to pin down with someone he’s trusted with his life for the better part of a decade. But they were rivals before they were anything else, and rivalry’s a good thing, even to those of more saccharine dispositions, which Shouto is not. 

 

The argument leaves him in a good mood when they part ways, and it’s thus with unexpectedly profound disappointment that he reads Kirishima’s text the following week informing him that he’s down with the flu and unable to attend their weekly pow-wow. 

 

It’s fine, he tells himself, sternly. It’s one day. Routine is not something he can rely on like a crutch. Still- the thought of sitting alone at home, doing nothing, the same as every other day of the week, makes him antsy, and when he leaves the office he’s itching for alternatives, trying to think of something to do.

 

It takes him several stops on the subway to realise that he could just ask Bakugou if he’s free, and another couple to decide that this idea is not so insane as it sounds. 

 

The situation is as follows, Shouto decides, by the time he’s leaving the underground. Kirishima had initiated all of their interactions over the past month, and Bakugou had gone along with his plans largely because he was his best friend, but Shouto knows them well enough to know that if Bakugou hadn’t wanted to see him even a little he wouldn’t have shown up at all. It’s not like this is novel information- they’re hardly best friends, but they’re not not friends, and given how blatant Bakugou is with his likes and dislikes Shouto knows he doesn’t mind his company. It is entirely possible, even perhaps plausible, that if Shouto asks him to do something together, Bakugou won’t be immediately opposed to the idea. He just needs to find a neutral activity that Bakugou won’t shoot down on principle. 

 

It takes another half hour of consideration, but he hasn’t spent time alone with Bakugou in long enough that he feels he could handle him at his worst, and as it turns out he doesn’t think avoiding something Bakugou hates will be that hard after all, because he’s just remembered they have one major similarity in their personalities. 

 

Cautiously, he texts him.

 

to: Bakugou K.

 

Hello (this is Shouto Todoroki). I know Kirishima is ill, but I was wondering if you were free. I just wanted to review some case files. And eat at home. 

 

With Kirishima around he might have attempted to push outside his comfort zone a little, but this is Bakugou, and if there’s one thing they have in common it is that they are ‘boring fucks married to the job’. From one antisocial workaholic to another, Shouto is relatively sure Bakugou enjoys lunch at the office more than he enjoys lunch out on the town. 

 

Bakugou texts back almost instantly, because he’s the type to check his emails obsessively out of work hours.

 

from: Bakugou K.

 

And you need me for that 

 

to: Bakugou K.

 

I figure it sounds less like a cry for help if someone else is involved.

 

from: Bakugou K.

 

Don’t tell me you’ve developed a functioning sense of humour half ’n half

 

Isn’t there someone else you can ask

 

Round-face or princess or literally anyone who isn’t me 

 

to: Bakugou K.

 

Yes, but I thought I’d ask you, because you live the closest, work similar hours, and also you can cook. 

 

Oh, and I thought you’d have interesting opinions. 

 

But mainly the food thing.

 

from: Bakugou K.

 

God you are so annoying when you think you’re being funny

 

to: Bakugou K.

 

Only then?

 

from: Bakugou K.

 

Fucking fine I’ll come over but you’re covering food expenses

 

And if Eijirou throws up on our floor while I’m gone I’ll strangle you 

 

to: Bakugou K.

 

That sounds about fair. 

 

 

Bakugou shows up about an hour later, and Shouto feels an odd sense of trepidation when he goes to open the door for him, a gesture he is aware is unnecessary since Bakugou wasn’t lying about owning a spare key. There is something strange about going out of your way to spend time with someone you’ve never consciously done so with before.

 

“Hello.”

 

“Oh, skip the niceties,” Bakugou grunts, pushing past him with an eyeroll as he takes the room in. “At least this place smells of your usual blend of nothing and pretentious cologne. Our place is like a fucking disease ward. Between the antibiotics and the heat cranked up to tropical island it feels like I’ve got a damn plague patient in-house.” 

 

“Is Kirishima that ill?” Shouto asks, closing the door belatedly as concern sets in. Bakugou is already entering the kitchen by the time he turns to catch up with him. “I thought it was only the flu.”

 

“It is,” Bakugou scoffs, shaking his head. “He’s just being dramatic. One day in bed and you’d swear he had influenza.”

 

Shouto schools his features into neutrality, but he’s never been good at failing to rile Bakugou up, because the latter pulls an aggrieved face at him anyways. “I’m not being a hardass, he really is. And the other dumbasses are no help. I had fucking Pikachu on the line all morning moaning about what he’d get in the will.”

 

“In fairness, none of us are often ill,” Shouto points out, though he’s reassured by the unimpressed timbre of Bakugou’s recital. “I don’t think I ever have been.”

 

“What, never?” Bakugou demands, skeptical; Shouto’s countertop has become host to a more colourful spread of food than he’s seen in months. “That sounds like bullshit.”

 

“No, really,” Shouto argues, scanning his memories for any evidence to the contrary. “I can regulate my body heat, so I think my immune system is almost invulnerable to any common disease.”

 

“Of fucking course it is,” Bakugou mutters, disparagingly. “You freak of nature.”

 

“It’s not like you’re prone to sickness either.”

 

“No shit,,” Bakugou says. “I sweat toxins.”

 

“Oh, right,” Shouto replies. That makes sense. “Poor Kirishima.”

 

“Save the pity for once I lose my patience.”

 

“What are you cooking?” Shouto inquires, peering over him to where Bakugou has managed to retrieve all of the cooking equipment Shouto never touches. It is all very intriguing, and also he’s quite hungry. 

 

“Just sushi,” Bakugou retorts, unloading a bag of rice into the cooker. “Didn’t feel like cooking anything for too long, and I couldn’t remember if you even had pots and pans.”

 

“What fish are you using?”

 

“Salmon, tuna, the usual. If you’re going to hover annoyingly you can start on the soup.”

 

“You’re relinquishing responsibilities that easily?” Shouto asks, and is only half-joking when he extends a hand as if to touch his forehead. “What Kirishima has isn’t contagious, is it?”

 

“Very fucking funny,” Bakugou says, slapping his hand away with undue force. “It’s the only thing you can’t screw up. You just need to mix the stock into boiled water. I’ll add the rest.”

 

“Bossy,” Shouto sighs, but complies, because on this particular battle-field Bakugou is actually the all-powerful demi-god he thinks he is at all times. 

 

He’s not that bad of a cook anymore- when he’d lived alone with Yaoyorozu, who actually is a godawful cook, he’d learnt to prepare some simple dishes without screwing up, so he thinks the way his other friends treat him like he can’t be trusted with toast is mildly offensive. Still, where Bakugou is concerned, cooking is in a whole different league. Miso soup is the least of his worries.

 

He’s done within five minutes, then dubiously entrusted with a knife to cut the spring onions and tofu, but that doesn’t take long either, so he’s left to watch Bakugou chop through the fish expertly for a while as the rice cooks, something mesmerising in the rapid strokes of his wrist. 

 

“Case files,” Bakugou demands, a few minutes into this, in a tone that suggests he doesn’t appreciate the silent audience. “What about them?”

 

“First off,” Shouto begins, necessarily, “These are confidential office documents, so-“

 

“Oh, fuck off, like I’m known for cheating my way into cases,” Bakugou glares, with what is most likely genuine offence. “Also, do you really think I’d steal from fucking Might Tower of all the agencies?”

 

“Point,” Shouto acknowledges. “There’s this weird case that caught my eye about a week ago. It’s not technically my case- unassigned as of yet- and nothing much has happened in it, but something about it…”

 

“Run the facts by me.”

 

“Prison break. A poison-quirk user vanished from his cell. No trace of a struggle, no idea how he did it, and no sign that he was going to break out ahead of time. The cameras on his cell all went conveniently dead during the time he got out.”

 

“Inside job?”

 

“Could be, but there’s no motive to be found, and no suspects. He’s not high profile or anything. Potent poisoner, but he only ever used his quirk to kill one person- his own mother- so it’s not a gang situation or something of the sort.”

 

“Weird,” Bakugou acknowledges, pausing in his chopping. “A one-off guy? You sure he doesn’t have a longer rap sheet than the cops know of?”

 

“I did consider serial killer, but the MO didn’t fit, and it’s not like they’re known for prison breaks either.”

 

“I reckon he wasn’t the one to organise that, though.”

 

“That was my instinct. But as for leads…”

 

“You can’t have found anything interesting in his social sphere,” Bakugou says, thoughtful, and frowns. “Guessing the family situation is awkward.”

 

“Matricide is generally frowned upon, yes.”

 

“Don’t be a smartass,” Bakugou chides, finishing off the fish and rinsing his hands. “So no leads about him, and no gang affiliation. Huh.” 

 

“I told you it was weird.”

 

“And for once in your life you were correct in that assessment. Yeah, I don’t know. My best guess would be that it’s not personal- someone completely unrelated wanted the guy out of there. Either because he’s useful to them or because they didn’t want him in a position to spill shit to the cops. Why did he kill his mom?”

 

“Family disagreement,” Shouto says, carefully. “I don’t think it’s related to this at all.”

 

The rice has finished cooking; Bakugou fixes the soup up as they wait for it to cool down, and sits opposite him as they sip the soup. It’s the first time Shouto has eaten with somebody at the table, and as first meals go, he has no complaints. Bakugou’s cooking is a goddamn delight. If Bakugou were anything like his food Shouto would never spend a moment without him.

 

“This is really good,” Shouto says, aloud, because the alternative would be a bit much. “What’s in it?”

 

“Dried kelp stock, spring onions, tofu, red bean paste, seaweed,” Bakugou recites, swirling his spoon. “It’s really basic to make. Just need to buy the ingredients.”

 

“My food always goes off, though,” Shouto says, reflecting. “It’s because I’m shopping for one. There’s too much of it and I forget I need to eat it by a certain time.”

 

“Buy more non-perishables, then,” Bakugou retorts, with an eyeroll. “Honestly, it’s a wonder you don’t have scurvy. You better thank that flawless immune system.”

 

“I don’t think anyone gets scurvy anymore.”

 

“You’re special like that.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“Shut up and eat your damn soup.”

 

Shouto does, though this doesn’t take him long. “If you’d always stuck to food-related orders I reckon we’d have gotten along much sooner.”

 

When he looks up from his soup he finds Bakugou giving him a quizzical look, so he runs the statement over in his head, but finds nothing amiss with it.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing,” Bakugou grunts, then reconsiders, brows furrowing. “We ‘get along’?”

 

Shouto blinks. “I would have thought so.”

 

Bakugou eyes him suspiciously for a moment longer, then relaxes a little, finishing his soup. “Sounds weird when you put it that way.”

 

“I don’t think there’s any way to talk about interpersonal relationships that doesn’t sound weird,” Shouto says, shrugging in slightly self-deprecating fashion. “Especially when it comes from me.”

 

“It’s worse when you say shit like ‘interpersonal relationships’,” Bakugou declares, but he seems vaguely amused now, standing to swap out their soup bowls with plates. 

 

“You should call Izuku,” Shouto says, which is a complete non-sequitur, but the thought has just reoccurred to him. “Or let him call you, whichever is easier.”

 

“The fuck?”

 

“You guys have been actual friends for at least four years,” Shouto pushes on, undeterred. “And you’ve spent most of your time together since you were toddlers. I think it’s probably odd that you haven’t called.”

 

“You try and play counsellor on me again and there’ll be a lot less fucking ‘getting along’ here,” Bakugou scowls, from where he’s rolling rice balls. “I hear enough about Deku’s every move from everyone else, not to mention the damn news.”

 

“Well, he’d be happy to hear more from you,” Shouto counters, sipping his tea. “He’s been sounding kind of lonely lately, and you’re the only person who he doesn’t hear from at all.”

 

“Who the hell are you all of a sudden?”

 

“I’m just saying.”

 

“Stop saying it,” Bakugou warns, pointing a spoon in his direction. It is a lot less dramatic than it could be, which is proof enough that he was already getting close to finding some reason to call Izuku anyways. “If he didn’t want to pine after getting his ass beat he shouldn’t have fucked off over the ocean.”

 

“Hm.”

 

Bakugou gives him a dirty look and reaches for the files on the side of the counter, flinging them at Shouto as he returns to the sushi, now being carefully assembled. “Case files.”

 

“Right,” Shouto says, and flicks to the next one, then sets it down. “Actually- there’s been no sound of the Godzilla villain, has there?”

 

“What a ridiculous fucking name,” Bakugou grumbles, though he shakes his head. “No, not from our side of things. But there’s no way he’s not making a comeback- Neijire barely scratched the asshole.”

 

“Yes, we’ve had this conversation before. I’ve just been thinking about the logistics.”

 

“What, like how long a giant dinosaur can hide out in the Tokyo sewer-system?”

 

“I did figure he wasn’t in dinosaur form.”

 

This gives Bakugou pause. “You think he shape-shifts?”

 

“I don’t see how else none of the police scans can have picked up on him hiding down there.”

 

“Smart,” Bakugou concedes, looking irritated at himself. “Then that complicates things. Makes him harder to track down. Way more manoeuvrable, obviously.” 

 

“And unrecognisable.”

 

“I hope the bastard makes a reappearance sooner than later,” Bakugou decides, plating the sushi. His eyes are flashing with anticipation. “And it better be somewhere near me.”

 

It’s a thought Shouto has shared; he nods sharply. “For your quirk-“

 

“Yeah, exactly,” Bakugou says, flinging himself into his chair. He pauses to consider Shouto and give him a half-nod. “Yours too, huh.”

 

It is less extreme in his case than Bakugou’s or even Izuku’s, but in principle he knows very well what attracts Bakugou to a fight with a villain like this. Shouto’s ice is slightly different, but his fire at least is purely destructive- it does nothing but destroy what is in its path, which makes him a lethal weapon just as much as it makes him a threat to public safety. It’s something he’s had to adjust to in his fledgling career- just how restrained he has to be in deploying his powers, and how little of his scope he can actually access without posing a real danger to civilians or property. Property is the worst of it, in fact, because civilians can be evacuated and are mobile, thinking agents capable of running from danger, but buildings and cars and roads are just there, fixed and primed for destroying. It is extremely frustrating to account for in a fight, and probably Shouto’s least favourite part of his job, along with dealing with the press. He imagines that for Bakugou, who is even less patient than he is and whose quirk is quite literally explosive, the whole thing is twice as obnoxious.

 

A villain like this, though? It’s a perfect opportunity. The giant monster towers over the Tokyo skyline, so most of the fight wouldn’t even risk touching any nearby buildings, and besides that their liability for damages would be severely reduced purely by virtue of the fact that not intervening would lead to far more destruction on the villain’s behalf. With a villain like this, there would be no need to hold back. 

 

“You hear any stomping, you call me,” Bakugou decides, in tones of deal-making. Shouto barely thinks it over before he nods. He doesn’t mind sharing, and besides from a more moral standpoint it’s not like he can exactly refuse the aid of another pro-hero in taking down a public menace. Not to mention that it’s far more likely to be Bakugou calling him than vice-versa, considering Bakugou and Kirishima still have a functioning partnership.

 

“I can’t remember the last fight I had where I went all in,” Shouto says, thoughtfully, though whatever he was going to say next eludes him once he takes a bite of his sushi, angel’s choir ringing in his ears. Maybe he should stop eating company lunches for every meal, or maybe he should pay Bakugou a lot of money to become his private chef. God, but it tastes good. 

 

“I do,” Bakugou says, after a moment’s reflexion. “When you and Deku had to take that telekinetic one, over the summer.”

 

“Oh, yeah,” Shouto nods, still vaguely caught up in thinking about the sushi. “Because she could fly, so.”

 

“You’d think with all the fucking enhancing villains do they’d develop better quirks,” Bakugou sighs, sounding almost beleaguered by villain incompetence. “Two weeks ago we got called in to handle some two-bit loser with enhanced strength. Couldn’t even last a round against spiky hair in Unbreakable.”

 

“In fairness that’s not particularly easy.”

 

“Yeah, but you’d think they’d not send two of us to handle some jackass that couldn’t withstand one of our super moves.”

 

This is a fair point; Shouto is not unfamiliar with being handed cases someone far less experienced or powerful could have handled just fine. It’s always sort of embarrassing to witness. He thinks being at UA might have spoiled him for life in terms of expectations- both in terms of villains and peers. 

 

“UA Sports Festival, third year,” Shouto recalls, as the memory comes to him. “Finals. That was a big one.”

 

Bakugou squints then scoffs, though the disparaging grin stays in place a little longer, not-unfriendly glint in his eyes. “That wasn’t even a villain fight.”

 

“I would say something about average villain standards in comparison to you, but I refuse to give you that much of an ego boost,” Shouto says, monotone, though it’s not like he disagrees. Neither of them are on a particularly normal scale of power. “And the arena fights were freer in a lot of ways than villain fights are. There’s no accounting for civilians.”

 

“Yeah, that was a good one,” Bakugou admits, somewhat combatively, which is very tame of him considering the fight in question counts for one of his few losses. “Haven’t seen you use that finishing move since.”

 

“Haven’t had the opportunity,” Shouto allows, and gets a little lost in thought recalling the exhilaration of a fight like that. No punches pulled, no ulterior concerns, and above all not the slightest inkling of worry that he might hurt Bakugou, because it was Bakugou. It had been the kind of fun he didn’t experience often in his life, even undercut by adrenaline and terse determination. 

 

Bakugou sighs explosively, spread out in his chair in ways Shouto can’t fathom sitting, and makes an irritated noise in his throat. “Sometimes I reckon I’d have been better off doing military work. No restrictions there.”

 

“No accountability either,” Shouto says, seriously, although he doesn’t think Bakugou means it. “I can’t see you enjoying the military. All of the rules and the hierarchy- you couldn’t even wear a uniform properly in high school.”

 

“I do fine with authority,” Bakugou mutters, “As long as they’re fucking reasonable.”

 

Shouto only quirks a brow; Bakugou flips him the finger. 

 

“There’s a lot more variety in our line of work, in any event. And scope for individuality.”

 

“I don’t need to be sold on my current career, thanks.”

 

“Although if you do ever feel like quitting, I am in need of a private chef.”

 

“If I ever sank that low I’d poison us both.”

 

 

He’s busy with work for the next while, and somehow by the time the weekend comes around Camie’s engagement party is upon them; he spends the day frantically coordinating with Inasa as the latter predictably goes through several emotional highs and lows, excitement warring with fatalism. Shouto, as always, has absolutely no idea how to deal with him, but Inasa seems to appreciate this, so he doesn’t feel too worked up about it.

 

They manage to sort out the guest list and the menu and the venue; then it’s down to preparations- gifts and decorations, the former of which Shouto really ought to have considered sooner. He sits crouched over his coffee table browsing the Internet for inspiration for ages before he resigns himself to something home-made and sketches her a card instead, a silly glamourized version of a picture of the four of them post-graduation. It’s the sort of thing he thinks she’ll appreciate more than some random jewellery.

 

He’s finished colouring and inking the card by the time someone’s buzzing his doorbell almost bursts his eardrums- Inasa, obviously- and he lets him into the building. Inasa nearly breaks his door open in his enthusiasm to see the place, hoisting Shouto into a rib-crushing hug as they lay eyes upon one another.

 

“Your place is very nice! Thank you so much for hosting this!”

 

“Ngh,” Shouto manages, as he is put back down. Inasa has a truly unique knack for destabilising him both figuratively and literally. “Don’t mention it.”

 

“I brought tasteful decorations and wine,” Inasa announces, with the booming excitement he usually announces shots for everyone. “Hopefully it’ll be to Camie’s liking!”

 

“She’ll appreciate the effort if nothing else.”

 

They set up the decorations, which doesn’t take very long, considering their relative simplicity. Shouto wonders for a moment if he should be putting his more fragile belongings away, but this isn’t a party, apparently, so probably not. He reckons he’ll ask Bakugou once he shows up; he has a disturbing knowledge of adult etiquette for someone who never applies it.

 

By nine the place is pretty much ready, drinks prepared and snacks in the oven; Shouto takes a moment to register how surreal it is to have Inasa fussing over cocktail napkins in his kitchen, then shakes his head.

 

“I can’t believe Camie is engaged. She’s so young.”

 

“They don’t intend on marrying for some time,” Inasa says, emotive eyebrows dancing as he flickers between expressions. “And age is only a number when it comes to true love!”

 

“You’re a closet romantic… I should have known.”

 

“Ah, Shouto! Don’t pretend you’re too cool for love,” Inasa reproaches, feelingly. “We got over the ice prince facade years ago!”

 

“It’s not that,” Shouto says, shrugging. “I just don’t really get it.”

 

This gives Inasa pause, and he tilts his head owlishly to consider him. “Then you’ve never felt like that towards someone?”

 

“No,” Shouto muses. “I don’t think so, anyway.”

 

“I see,” Inasa says, looking troubled now, almost disbelieving. “I find it hard to imagine that someone like you hasn’t had his fair share of options. You’re very handsome! And popular with the ladies.”

 

“I’ve never been interested,” Shouto says, frowning a little. He hasn’t given it much thought, truth be told. “I don’t know. I don’t think that sort of thing is my style.”

 

“It is difficult to imagine you in a typical romance,” Inasa concedes, squinting at him. “But there’s someone for everyone, so you shouldn’t shut yourself off to the possibility! Love comes in many forms, you know!”

 

“I guess. Have you been in love before, then?”

 

“Yes, I have,” Inasa confesses, alarmingly starry-eyed. “And had my fair share of crushes besides. It really is something special.”

 

“Doesn’t it upset you when they don’t work out?”

 

“Of course! But that’s life- you don’t get payoff without risk!” Inasa’s enthusiasm softens a little, and he smiles at him. “It’s the same thing with friends, really.”

 

“I see,” Shouto mumbles, typically embarrassed by his openness. He doesn’t really, but in a sense he supposes he can understand it- he remembers the strange vulnerability of becoming friends with Izuku, the way he’d waited for the other shoe to drop. “I hope Camie’s risk pays off, then.”

 

“Whoever has claim to Camie’s heart is a lucky man!” 

 

This is true, Shouto thinks, after a moment’s thought. Certainly having claim to her friendship has been an unexpected blessing.

 

The guests start filtering in within the half hour; for the most part they are people from Camie’s office, or Shiketsu students, so Shouto doesn’t really know any of them beyond their names. He recognises Nagamasa Mora from his distinctive appearance, and  Seiji Shishikura from the condescending look on his face. A lot of the other guests are a horde of chattering girls that are probably Camie’s school friends, and alarmingly they all keep gravitating around Shouto like predators circling prey.

 

Camie gets there for ten, and Shouto wasn’t entirely clear on the status of the party, but once he opens the door everyone inside bursts into a chorus of ‘surprise!’ and Camie’s eyes go wide as she clasps her hands together. 

 

“Oh, my gosh! You guys!”

 

Her gaze flies to Shouto, still hovering in the doorframe, and then he has to brace because he suddenly has an armful of gushing woman to hold up, Camie’s arms tight around his neck. 

 

“You’re so sweet, Shouto! I, like, totally wasn’t expecting it!”

 

“It was Inasa’s idea,” Shouto tries, wondering why and how he’s managed to befriend so many people who like to choke him out when they see each other, then making awkward eye contact with the stern-looking guy stood behind her and remembering the purpose of the whole affair. “Ah, congratulations again.”

 

Camie releases him, beaming, and extends her hand to show off a sparkling pearl-laden ring. “Thank you! Isn’t it gorge? This is Hisoka, bee-tee-dubs- baby, this is Shouto, obvi.”

 

“Nice to meet you,” Hisoka says, stern expression fading into amusement as Camie bounds into the apartment to launch herself at Inasa, who boisterously lifts her above his head and spins her around. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

 

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Shouto echoes, shaking the preferred hand, though the reverse isn’t true- his knowledge of Hisoka comes entirely from glancing at Camie’s Instagram feed and one very long phone-call with her a few months back. 

 

“I suppose I need to go face the music,” Hisoka sighs, looking warily at the group of girls now exclaiming excitedly as Camie flaunts her ring. “Can I ask you a favour? If you see me standing alone with Shishikura for more than five minutes, please provide me with more alcohol?”

 

“Understood,” Shouto says, and half-smiles, relaxing a little. Hisoka shoots him a grateful look as he allows himself to be dragged into the room. 

 

He stays mostly removed from the celebrations for a while, just observing the others interact and busying himself with fixing drinks whenever it looks like Camie’s friends are considering approaching him. He’s only close to Inasa and Camie, who are both endlessly flitting around the room, and he’s not particularly keen on talking to anyone else. Things seem to be going well enough, anyhow. He doesn’t want to risk upsetting the mood. 

 

Camie and Inasa both look extremely happy, which is good to see; Shouto observes Camie with particular interest, and decides that being in love is actually something readily observable. There is a glow to her cheeks, a sparkle in her eyes, and the way she is always touching Hisoka without giving it a second thought- it’s sweet, he thinks. He’s seen Camie’s many crushes, but this feels different. It’s not something he’s used to seeing. 

 

He’s edging close to maudlin, he realises, but it’s never pleasant to think about his childhood. Whatever united his parents, it wasn’t love. When he thinks about his mother, even now, his first thought is always fear- the way she held herself, the quiet way she walked, the look in her eyes. And his father, always raging, always destroying. Not love, no. Not much love to be found anywhere in their household, in those days, not even between siblings- they’d all been too isolated in their own misery. 

 

Fuyumi is the exception, he supposes- which would explain why she’s married, he imagines. She had always demonstrated an unbelievable capacity to love without reciprocation- it’s good that she’s found someone who loves her so very obviously. Her wedding had been a strange affair, but happy- he had gone with the intent of forcing happiness for her sake, and found himself not really having to, watching his mother beam and the look on Fuyumi’s face when his father danced with her. In a way it had been like seeing into some alternate dimension where the Todorokis were a real family.

 

He’s being melodramatic. It’s not like he lives in a loveless void- not anymore, anyways. He has friends he loves plenty, and things with his family are better. It’s just this kind of love- romantic, he supposes. There have been some relationships in his periphery- various classmates dating on and off, Fuyumi- but in the former case it was never this serious, and in the latter he wasn’t witness to much of it until the wedding. 

 

It’s odd to watch. Sort of tender- it makes his chest constrict a bit, with the sort of simple contentedness he feels when he’s watching cats mill about the streets, but it also stings a little, like he’s looking at something he’s not supposed to. It reminds him of Izuku and Ochako’s eternal song-and-dance.

 

It’s because he’s been staring at the happy couple, lost in thought, that he notices when Hisoka looks increasingly terse, casting a look towards Camie as she laughs merrily at something Inasa is saying. Not unhappy, but tense, which Shouto understands all too well. 

 

He’s just made his mind up to go intervene when Bakugou arrives, a solid two hours late, expression sour as he takes in the amount of strangers ogling him. Camie spots him before Shouto can make a move, and she exclaims in delight.

 

“Katsuki!”

 

Bakugou catches her when she leaps at him, and even indulges her the half-spin she executes upon landing, the glower on his face going obviously performative. 

 

“Yeah, yeah, congratulations and all that.”

 

“I’m so glad you came,” Camie grins, adjusting his shirt before gasping excitedly and shoving the ring in his face. “Thoughts?”

 

“Nice,” Bakugou judges, contemplating the ring. “Diamonds are overrated.”

 

“I, like, so knew you were going to say that,” Camie laughs. “Come meet Hisoka.”

 

“Hello,” Hisoka says, polite again, and extends a hand. “It’s good to meet you.”

 

Bakugou grunts in assent, shaking his hand with undue force, and squints suspiciously at him. “So you’re the fiancé.”

 

“Literally do not,” Camie protests, swatting at him. “Trust my impeccable judgment on this and stop trying to bully him.”

 

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” Bakugou sniffs, and hands her his gift, glancing around and nodding when he sees Shouto. “Hey, Yoarashi.”

 

“It is good to see you!” Inasa booms, and pats Bakugou on the back with enough force that he almost falls over. “Even if you are very late!”

 

“I told you I was stuck at the office,” Bakugou grouses. “Not my fault you did this so last minute.”

 

“Party-planning is a very demanding task!”

 

Bakugou stays and talks to the happy couple for a while, leaving Shouto to fend off a particularly insistent admirer who claims to be very interested in his mixing techniques; he makes his appearance in the kitchen just as Shouto is considering turning himself into an ice cube to escape. It’s not that he’s embarrassed by the heavy flirting, but he doesn’t really know how to let people down gently. When he was younger he was completely oblivious to anyone’s attentions, and when he’d originally begun to understand what they were his blunt method of shutting people down had horrified his friends, so he is hesitant to be too harsh. 

 

“You’re really good with your hands,” the girl is saying, coyly, as Shouto considers the pros and cons of telling her he’s in a secret relationship with Momo. It’s his go-to move.

 

“Is he now?” Bakugou asks, entertained; the girl startles, and Shouto shoots him a look. 

 

“Ah, uh, Bakugou-san,” the girl says, flustered. “We were just discussing drink-mixing techniques.”

 

“Sounds thrilling,” Bakugou says, and points to the living room. “Utsumishi is taking group pictures, so.”

 

“Oh, right,” the girl says, shooting Shouto a forlorn look. “Well. See you later, then.”

 

“Hosting is very time-consuming,” Shouto says, as she winds her way out of the kitchen. Then he raises a brow at Bakugou. “Hello, Bakugou-san.” 

 

“Fuck off,” Bakugou says, settling against the counter. “You trying to get it on with the bridal party?”

 

“Astutely observed,” Shouto replies, rolling his eyes. “It’s a good thing you came in or I would have had my way with her against the kitchen table.”

 

Bakugou barks out a startled laugh, making Shouto bite back a self-satisfied smirk. “That’s dirty, icyhot.”

 

“What do you expect me to say?” Shouto asks, shaking his head. “I’ve been fending Camie’s friends off all night. I was starting to consider talking to Shishikura just because he repels them.”

 

“That asshole is here?” Bakugou groans, glancing into the living room. “Who the fuck invited him?”

 

“He and Camie are friends, I think,” Shouto frowns, trying to convey his own confusion about this fact through the look on his face. “They worked together at some point and I guess they resolved some of their differences.”

 

“I cannot stand that son of a bitch,” Bakugou mutters. “If he tries to talk to me whatever damage occurs is on him.”

 

“I doubt he’ll try,” Shouto reasons. “I think he actually hates you.”

 

“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from hero work, it’s that people who hate your guts sure love to monologue at you about it,” Bakugou says, matter-of-factly, which makes Shouto hide a smile.

 

“Hm.”

 

“I’m serious,” Bakugou pushes, flippantly. “Remember that whole kidnapping bullshit? Longest hours of my life. That Shigaraki jackass fucking loved the sound of his own voice.”

 

“That he did,” Shouto agrees. “But I guess if villains weren’t so prone to monologues it would be harder to escape at the last minute.”

 

Bakugou pauses to contemplate this, then sighs. “Fuck. True.”

 

“Camie seems happy,” Shouto notes, then, because it’s what he’s been thinking about in the past hour and he thinks it would be nice to have his read of the situation validated. “I think they’re a good match.”

 

“Better be, seeing as they’re engaged,” Bakugou retorts, pulling a face at the thought. “Early weddings lead to early divorces, so it probably won’t last.”

 

“Don’t let Inasa hear you say that,” Shouto reproaches. “He might kill you.”

 

“What, Yoarashi’s a romantic? Shocker.” Bakugou glances back into the room, twists his mouth a little. “She does seem happy. He doesn’t.”

 

“Oh,” Shouto says, remembering. “You think?”

 

“Body language,” Bakugou shrugs. “Seems uncomfortable.”

 

“I thought he might just not like to be around strangers.”

 

“Or he doesn’t want to marry her.”

 

“Your parents are still together, right?” Shouto asks, thinking back to his brief interactions with the Bakugous. Bakugou’s mother makes him extremely nervous for reasons he can’t quite explain. 

 

“Not that it’s any of your business, weirdo, but yeah.”

 

“They married young?”

 

“There are exceptions to every rule,” Bakugou says, rolling his eyes now. “And she’s the one who proposed to him.”

 

This is not surprising, upon reflection. 

 

Shouto’s own parents are meant to be divorcing, but the proceedings are slow, which Shouto does not like to think about. He feels profound horror at the idea of them rekindling their relationship, especially with his mother only living outside of the hospital for what feels like no time at all. 

 

“There you two are!” Camie exclaims, bursting into the kitchen. “Come on, we need a picture of the four of us!”

 

“You’re testing my limits, Utsushimi.”

 

For a while the four of them lead the conversation, chattering along; Camie grills them about their careers, then their social lives, then their romantic lives (or, in Shouto and Bakugou’s case, lack thereof). By the time she starts pulling out illusions, Shouto almost equally entertained by Bakugou’s hoarse laughter, everyone present is at least a little drunk, Inasa loud and emotional and Camie’s jokes turning dirtier by the second.

 

It’s as he goes to wash his hands that he notes Hisoka’s absence, but he gives it only a second’s thought until he’s pushing the bathroom door open to find a complete stranger sitting on the edge of the bathtub.

 

“I’m sorry,” the stranger exclaims, sighting Shouto; her expression is distressed in the moment before she regains composure, clearing her throat, and he blinks at her, bewildered. “I didn’t- I thought I’d locked the door.”

 

“That’s all right,” Shouto says, a little slowly, because he recognises her face, her clothes, though they fit her a little loosely. “I- Hisoka?”

 

Hisoka’s eyes widen guiltily, and then she sinks back down to the bathtub, burying her face in her hands. “God. Sorry. I really didn’t think anyone would-”

 

“I don’t understand,” Shouto interjects, staring at her. Him? Her. She is definitely a woman, but to the best of his knowledge she had not been fifteen minutes prior. “I thought-“

 

“It’s my Quirk,” Hisoka sighs, straightening tiredly. “I can shape-shift a little. It’s just that sometimes I feel more like the one or the other.” She starts a little, remembering herself. “Camie knows, of course.”

 

“So you…”

 

“Depends on the day,” Hisoka says. She seems calmer, but her gaze is wary, worried. “It- I know it would hurt her career, if it got out. So I try to keep myself looking right when we’re in company, or there’s press around. Shit, I can’t believe you saw. I just came to have a break.”

 

“Oh,” Shouto says. He’s not sure how he’s supposed to react. He knows of people like this, though he’s never met one himself. As far as he’s aware he has no problem with it. It’s just- surprising. And surprising to picture Camie with- her. “I won’t tell anyone.”

 

“You-“ Hisoka starts, then looks at him, and relaxes a little. “Thank you. I- this must be a shock.”

 

“Is this why you’ve looked uncomfortable all night?” Shouto asks, abruptly recontextualising his observations. “Bakugou thought you were having cold feet.”

 

“I love Camie,” Hisoka denies, shaking her head firmly, her shoulders sagging. “I didn’t realise I was that obvious. It’s- it sort of hurts, looking one way when I feel the other.” 

 

“Does Camie know that?”

 

“No,” Hisoka sighs. “I don’t want her to have to worry about it.”

 

“You should probably tell her,” Shouto says, and wonders what the done thing is in this sort of situation. He thinks Izuku would probably say something supportive and hug her. “Do you- want anything?”

 

“No, I’m fine,” Hisoka dismisses, and gets to her feet. It’s bizarre to watch- within moments her face has morphed into that of the man Shouto had met prior. “I really am sorry about this, Todoroki, I didn’t intend to drop this on anyone.” 

 

“That’s okay,” Shouto says, in part because he always reverts to bland half-sentences when he’s in shock, and half because he means it. “I’m going to wash my hands now.”

 

“Right,” Hisoka says, and blinks, and clears his throat, then half-bows. “Thank you, again.”

 

Shouto half-bows back, awkward, and then shuts the door and stares at his own reflection. 

 

He emerges maybe fifteen minutes later, having had a very quiet and very understated mental breakdown, and finds everyone considerably drunker than he’d left them, Camie and Inasa half-way through an intense bout of karaoke that is going to make his neighbours despise him for weeks. Bakugou takes one look at him and scoffs.

 

“The fuck took you so long? You had to go jack off or something?”

 

“You were keeping tabs?” Shouto volleys back. Bakugou glowers.

 

“You’re the host, moron.”

 

“I can tell I’ve been missed tremendously,” Shouto deadpans, looking pointedly around the room of boisterous drunks. His prior reflections on the unexpected maturity of his peers seem slightly stupid in retrospect.

 

“Oh, fuck you. I’ve had to fend off several of Camie’s friends alone since their preferred eye candy went MIA.”

 

“You’re so strong, Bakugou.”

 

Bakugou shoves him maybe a little harder than necessary; Shouto only just resists the urge to shove him back. If he could manage it at fifteen, when Bakugou was at his most shoveable, he can resist it now.

 

“You’re wrong about Hisoka, by the way. He’s not having cold feet.”

 

“So you did talk. I assumed you had some kind of shitty heart to heart in there.”

 

“That’s one way of putting it.”

 

“Don’t look so constipated, I’m not going to grill you for details.” Bakugou glances out at Camie, pulls a face. “It’s her business, anyways.”

 

“Did I enter a parallel universe when I left the bathroom, or…”

 

They spend the rest of the evening shit-talking lazily as the partygoers get progressively more rowdy. It’s long past midnight when they get the last stragglers out; some hopeful lurkers have to be dragged out bodily, and Camie takes a full hour longer than everyone else to convince to leave. He only just about manages to kick Bakugou out before the latter can start furiously tidying up the apartment.

 

All in all, Shouto decides, it’s a successful first attempt at hosting a party. 

 

 

The next two weeks are largely uneventful. Shouto re-adjusts to a new routine, comfortable if not particularly happy within the orderly monotony of his life: calling Izuku on weekends, seeing Kirishima and/or Bakugou in the week, working long hours at the office. Momo returns from her break, to his great relief; he meets her for lunch the day she comes back, trying not to come across as too desperately pleased by her return to Tokyo. 

 

“You’ve been keeping yourself busy,” Momo notes, as they embrace, years of friendship keeping them both relaxed despite their natural tendency towards stiffness. “Good work on those mob leads.”

 

“I thought you were on a detox,” Shouto notes, raising a brow; she flushes and shakes her head as they take a seat. 

 

“I’ve been keeping tabs.” She’s too polite to say she was worried about him, or maybe just too tactful. “Speaking of- your ranking is very promising, Shouto.”

 

“Ah, yes,” Shouto nods, a little wry. “Izuku keeps bringing it up too. Like I told him- I don’t see myself climbing any higher at the moment unless someone drops some kind of major incident into my lap. My social contribution scores are pretty consistent with when Izuku was here, and my popularity is OK, but resolving cases doesn’t count for much if the GP doesn’t know about them.”

 

“I shouldn’t think it will be long before that does happen, though,” Momo says, thoughtfully. “It’s been a while since we’ve had some kind of large-scale villain attack, so we’re about due one. And without Izuku around we’re short one powerhouse-type hero, so there’s no doubt you’d be called in.”

 

“Hm,” Shouto says, non-committal, and glances at her. “No sign of that Godzilla villain lately.”

 

“You read my mind,” Momo smiles, shaking her head. “Neijire did some good work with it, but she’s sure she didn’t incapacitate it in any permanent way. It’s been biding its time for long enough that, between the two of us, I’d keep my eyes open this week.”

 

Shouto nods, serious, and wonders if he should bother telling Bakugou about this. Probably not- it’s not as though she’s telling him anything new, per se. “It’s a shame you weren’t there during that attack.”

 

Momo frowns a little, pressing a lock of dark hair behind her ear, and he thinks with nebulous guilt that might have come out wrong. “I know. Hado insists it was more the civilian presence and the element of surprise that made the fight so uneven, but even so I think if I had been able to back her up…”

 

“I didn’t mean you should feel bad for it,” Shouto attempts, stilted. “I just meant that your quirk’s versatility would have been helpful.”

 

“Thank you,” Momo says, softly, and sighs a little, meeting his eyes. “I do try. I’m never sure I quite succeed in complementing her quirk as well as I should.”

 

It’s Shouto’s turn to frown. “Of course you do. On its own her quirk has very little flexibility or containment. Having an inexhaustible arsenal of tools to deal with it is essentially the ideal supplement to her attacks.”

 

Momo’s cheeks colour lightly; she hides her smile behind a sip of her tea. It’s been years since any kind of romantic tension has existed between them, thankfully, but sometimes Shouto still feels a little like whatever he says to her is distorted by some kind of perception of him he doesn’t quite understand. “Yes, well. I wonder where I might’ve learnt how to assist people with impossibly large-scale destructive quirks.”

 

“Izuku and Bakugou are very difficult to work with,” Shouto dead-pans, smiling a little when she laughs. It is still rare enough that his jokes land for him to take pleasure in their success. 

 

“Speaking of Bakugou- I saw you two hosted Camie Utsushimi’s engagement party at yours. Her pictures looked lovely.” 

 

“It was mostly Inasa doing the hosting,” Shouto dismisses. “And her pictures made it look a lot more impressive than it was. It was really a lot of drunken girls singing karaoke with Inasa while Bakugou and I stood in a corner.”

 

“How disappointing,” Momo chides, teasingly. “Here I was hoping the two of you might have duetted.”

 

“I can’t sing,” Shouto says, flatly. “And the only time I’ve ever heard Bakugou sing was at Battle of the Bands in high school. Which was mostly yelling.”

 

“I was only joking,” Momo reassures, amused. “I do remember Bakugou’s very vocal performances. I think he broke a different set of drumsticks at the end of every night.”

 

“So predictable,” Shouto sighs, rueful. “You know, he and Kirishima came to help me redecorate the flat, and I think he used about 50% of his energy to insult my tastes the entire time.”

 

“Oh, I wondered when you’d done that,” Momo perks up. “It looked nice in the photos. I’m glad they came by- I would have offered before I left but I wasn’t sure if you were counting on settling in by yourself.”

 

“I was,” Shouto says, inclining his head, “I just got busy.” Privately he is more than happy never to bear witness to Momo in home-decorator mode ever again. They sit in silence for a beat as she takes a delicate bite of her desert, something hanging over his head, then he miraculously remembers a social cue and blinks at her.

 

“If you’d like to come by sometime I’d be happy to see you.”

 

Momo brightens instantly, and he internally gives himself a relieved pat on the back. “I’d love to! Evenings work best for me, especially at the start of the week, but I can make the time if you have other things planned.”

 

“You’re one of three people I’ve seen outside of work in the past two weeks,” Shouto says, frowning a little in confusion. “I have nothing else planned.”

 

Momo disguises a little wincing smile, looks at him fondly. “All right, then. Tuesday, maybe?”

 

“I’ll clear my schedule,” Shouto replies, just a touch self-aware; her smile returns full-force.

 

As it turns out, Tuesday evening is not so much in the cards after all.

 

 

Tuesday goes by about as normally as any day in his line of work; he spends most of it doing investigative work with some police liaison near the pier, fends off a couple of rabid fans, and is about half-way through a coffee break late afternoon when the police scanners start acting up violently. He’s on his feet in a second, outpacing the officers as he plants himself by the scanner. 

 

“Calling all officers in the Chuo City area-“

 

“Godzilla villain,” Shouto mutters, to himself; one of the officers sends him a startled look. He can feel the slightest of tell-tale tremors under his feet. Sure enough, the voice rises in panic.

 

“…made a reappearance near Hamachō and is heading in the direction of Shinkawa, or the Suitengu Shrine at least-“

 

“I’m on it,” Shouto informs the officers, who nod stiffly as he discards his surveillance equipment, faces set with determined worry. It’s systematic, by now; he barely needs to think about shooting himself up in the air, eyes narrowing as he spots the Hamarikyu gardens up ahead. His best bet for cutting corners- the massive pond in the centre is ideal for an ice ramp. 

 

He’s flying through the streets in seconds, keeping an eye out for civilians as he soars ahead, when he remembers himself and reaches one-handed to activate his ear-piece, which dings pleasantly upon activation, automatically on police channels.

 

“Get me pro-hero Ground Zero.”

 

“Phone mode activated! Calling ‘Ground Zero’.”

 

He volleys across a bridge, sliding past honking cars, and squints at the horizon. If he focuses he can see smoke outlining the skyscrapers around the bend of the bay. He’ll probably be first at the scene- that means procedural restraints, security measures. No matter- in a high-risk high-damage situation like this, security measures roughly overlap with offensive tactics, since the biggest threat is the villain itself. 

 

“What do you want?” Bakugou’s voice demands, diverting his attention somewhat as he vaults over a line of trees, palms brushing their highest leaves. 

 

“Bakugou. The Godzilla villain has resurfaced.”

 

Bakugou inhales sharply, swears under his breath in anticipation. “Where?”

 

“Chuo City. Probably near Shinkawa by the time I get there. What’s your ETA?”

 

“I’m in Shinjuku,” Bakugou curses. A twenty minute drive, Shouto estimates, and frowns vaguely. “I’ll be fifteen minutes, ten if no one gets in the way. You better not let the asshole go before I get there.”

 

“If you don’t hurry I’ll take him out alone.”

 

“Fuck you,” Bakugou salutes, the line cutting off. Shouto rolls his eyes, redirects as the smokes shifts slightly with the winds.

 

“Police scanners.”

 

“Relaying police scanners!”

 

  ….Cohort, eyes on the villain? Over. 

 

Negative, West, coming fast through 102.30 right now- do we have any hero presence in the area, over? 

 

Negative to our knowledge, over. 

 

West, Metropolitan from Minato reports pro-hero Shouto is headed your way fast, ETA the next five minutes, over.

 

Okay, that’s good news- divert East patrol through to the water in that case, over. 

 

Shinjuku jurisdiction- Ground Zero headed your way, ETA ten-fifteen minutes, over.

 

The four minutes it takes him to reach the area are bizarre. He’s still flying through the air at break-neck speed, feet crunching on ice as he runs, the buildings ahead toy-sized, and yet soon enough he can make out the villain himself, a lumbering beast of a thing, its gigantic fists taking out entire floors like they’re made of paper. It’s faintly ridiculous in its size- the TV replays had failed to convey the real-life presence of what is essentially a gargantuan T-Rex smack in the middle of Tokyo. Sometimes his line of work takes on an especially self-parodying aspect. 

 

If nothing else, it makes for an easy target. As soon as he’s confident he can focus his aim enough on the go, Shouto volleys ice at its claws, watching it roar in confusion, seeking him out closer than he is. The catch doesn’t last, obviously, ice shattering as it breaks loose, but it holds, at least. The sound of the villain’s complaints is so loud it’s physically painful, vibrations upsetting the air around him as he advances; he diverts course a little to land atop a skyscraper not in its immediate vicinity, about a street away, despite his instinct to throw himself into the fray immediately for the civilians’ sake. 

 

His knees smart a little at the landing, frost clinging to his legs; he exhales, brushes hair out of his face, quickly watches the villain’s head move, visible over the top of the bank facing him. 

 

Shit, it’s colossal. It’s about the size of an Airbus upright, arms like buses, and its teeth alone look Shouto’s length, at least from afar. Every roar makes the air tremble.

 

“Activate noise-cancellation.”

 

It’s advancing seemingly at random, leaving hollowed out streets in its wake- does it have a goal, or is it rampaging stupidly? Can it be diverted elsewhere? Getting it to the water would be ideal, but getting it to move at all is going to be a fucking issue. Once Bakugou gets here- but he has to hold the fort first. Limit civilian casualties, distract the thing. If it’s like most villains, it’ll go for him rather than the screaming civs. No punches pulled- he can do that. 

 

He takes a settling breath, then launches himself downwards, skating along the street as it trembles and cracks, ice laid over the collapsing ground as he goes. Up close it’s like an earth-quake, unshakable buildings racked with tremors, screams and smoke filling the air, but the lack of direct sound is as unnatural as it is helpful, keeping his focus sharp as he watches the limbs come into view, then the frothing mouth. 

 

He doesn’t waste his first shot- just as the thing goes for punching at an office full of fleeing workers, he blasts it in the arms with enough ice to save a melting icecap, then throws himself into said arms with all of his built-up momentum, sending the colossal claw flying all the way into Godzilla’s own face as his boots hit hard scales. It unleashes an unearthly howl, but he can’t savour the victory, already launching himself onto the frozen arm before jumping smoothly upwards to jab a knife-sharp shard of ice into its eye, hard. Blood and moisture gushes out geyser-like, spraying his suit sodden, the previous howl turning into a veritable cacophony as the villain’s whole body quakes with rage and pain, ice bursting to smithereens as the claws swat murderously after him, the force of the blow making the air tremble. It’s a predictable move, though; he’s already made it to the thing’s head by then, burning through the winds, and when the arm comes up he throws himself down it like it’s a convenient ramp, breaths coming fast as he wraps himself entirely in flames, his descent scalding.

 

It’s not enough to burn, though- he has to incapacitate. The flames need to reach muscle and bone. 

 

The scales are an issue, though, as he expected. He’s scoping weak spots as he goes, has to throw himself onto the side of a building last minute, ice catching hard, because the thing is so big that even its small movements are seismically strong, sending him flying down the street. He thinks it through as he winces slightly and rights his shoulders. The eyes, obviously, the inside of the mouth- maybe nail-beds, maybe some kind of ear cavity. What’s the last reptilian he fought? 

 

He hops off the building just as claws swing his way, using the breeze to glide downwards hard before burning his way up to a window on the opposite side of the street. He counts on it taking the thing some time to turn after him- gives him the chance to focus on the civilians below, having thoroughly dragged the villain’s attention away from them. Even without audio evidence it’s a mass of destruction and panic, car lights flashing and people running wildly out of harm’s way- he freezes several collapsing buildings with one huge hit, readies to replicate the motion to erect some kind of temporary wall, but the feeling of something whistling through the air behind him makes him spin around, start moving-

 

He’s seconds too slow. The end of the thing’s tail catches him in the chest like a giant spike-laden club, and he slams through the side of a building, ice just about softening his landing, avoiding his demise via glass-induced blood loss by centimetres as he collapses onto a desk, breaking it in half. He’s so winded he only barely manages to drop and roll before the second hit comes, lungs probably at least bruised as he clambers to his knees and forces himself into a sprint back out of the window.

 

Fuck. How sloppy. There are five limbs to keep track of here, counting the head; he can’t afford to forget basics like that. He ignores his blurred vision as he jumps, arcs up high, flaring into a scalding heat just as the tail approaches again, catching it mid-swing as the villain cries out again, flames holding hard as Shouto keeps them burning, jaw set obstinately. If he can crack through a scale they can burn the flesh underneath, but fire won’t do that fast enough, not with how hard the tail is lashing, breeze killing the flames. He’ll have to pry the scales open with ice.

 

He twists, flies up, reflection in the building a blip of soaring white as the beast fills up the rest of the image in towering green. When they’re face to face it blocks out the sun. 

 

He attempts the arm move again, but this time it sees it coming, throws him off violently; he digs an ice-pick in and holds tight, teeth rattling through it as it shakes harder, ice cracking from the strain. Just when he’s about to fall it finally moves him up to snap at him itself, and he leaps hard onto the thing’s shoulders, then climbs onto its head, focusing his ice on the point between two scales, pushing hard.

 

Immediately, Godzilla does not enjoy this, two lethal clawed hands coming to grab at him; he diverts one of his hands into burning them away when they come close, but it slows his stream of ice, and he’s never liked using the two quirks at once, his head pounding with the contradiction as his one side swelters and the other goes sub-artic. The full experience feels like a nightmarish rollercoaster, his feet constantly on the verge of losing their grip and sending him plummeting three hundred feet out of the air as he redoubles his efforts, lungs rushing hot-cold with every breath he takes, sweat freezing on his neck. The faint electric hum filling his ears keeps him eerily calm; his gaze flicks incessantly downwards, eyeing vulnerable spots. 

 

The scale stirs an inch, the villain flailing more than ever, but he has no time to savour his dubious victory, because the spastic movement makes his fire miss its target, and then he’s twisting and flying as fast as he can, just about avoiding the full brunt of a claw skewering him where he stands. It leaves him free-falling downwards towards an ominously shifting leg, so he dives left, but there’s an overturned bus of screaming civilians stuck there that he hadn’t been able to see from atop the thing, and shit- he diverts hard, but he no longer has the momentum to keep himself adrift. Calculating, he twists his entire body, ducks through the thing’s legs instead, ice flowing like water as he maps his course, and watches the tail swing like a pendulum, timing his jump to-

 

The edge of the tail shatters his ice, and he drops, fire coursing belatedly downwards, and for an interminable heartbeat he feels nothing but open airspace beneath him, pulse haywire, hair whipping into his eyes as the sky seems to open, his mouth caught open in a frozen shout-

 

His fire pushes him up in the air. He flips sideways, grabs onto the nearest leg. Ignores his racing pulse.

 

He’s up and moving again, sirens flashing red and blue in the corner of his eye, and that’s good, means he’s doing his job- limiting destruction as the villain focuses on him, making it safer for the cops to clear the area, for the civilians to evacuate. That bus, though, he needs to handle that bus-

 

Tail; he jumps, ices hard. Ices a little too hard, maybe, exertion taking over for a second, but it stiffens for a moment, and he seizes the opportunity, glides down it to eye the bus, knowing he has maybe thirty seconds to get this done before the tail moves or he can’t hold on any longer. He sets his jaw, blows out a breath, ignores the aching in his ribs, throws a sheet of ice out ahead of the bus, then concentrates hard on ramping it up from behind, force of his ice starting the slow and painful crawl of the vehicle as it is pushed onto the ice, people inside rattling-

 

The tail cracks; he goes flying, latching onto the side of a building as his shoulder bears the brunt of the hit, but the bus is still too close, so he dives back in, heedless of the frantic whipping near him, fires towards his assailant while he tries to move the bus, just a fraction, just onto the ice so he can push it away, the fucking tail catching the edge of his arm, which goes briefly numb from the blow-

 

There is a colossal, jubilant booming sound from above. 

 

He sees fireworks.

 

Literal ones, in the reflection, yellow and orange mixing with the green blur of the thing’s head, but he has no time to look, ignores everything except the bright burst of recognition in his chest as he stops paying attention to the monster and drops down to heave the bus onto the ice, finally, boots firmly planted as he sends it skating towards safety, metal creaking against the ice as it goes. Across the street the police and medics await with open arms, people pressed against the back of the bus waving and staring as he pushes them away, leaving him standing alone amidst the ice and detritus. 

 

His arm is bleeding profusely; he ices it, reconsiders, rips a bandage out of his belt and ties it quickly, figuring he has the time to spare. Then he launches himself upwards, using a lamp-post as a springing board, ice twirling easily around him as he barrels ahead, like a protective cocoon. 

 

He slams right into the side of Godzilla’s head, ice like a drill as it grinds into it, jumps away when it grips its head in pain. Overhead, helicopters- around them, smoke, haze. Too much smoke- he leans back, hard, and then there is heat and sparks and crackling, the villain bursting into the angriest roar yet, and then Bakugou goes flying into his line of vision, black and fizzling and followed by what looks to be at least one of the thing’s teeth, blood and spit in the air. 

 

Shouto doesn’t realise he’s smiling until their eyes meet, and then has trouble stopping. 

 

“You took your time.”

 

“Yeah, you’re fucking welcome,” Bakugou hollers, which is unnecessary- the tell-tale click in his ears means their comms have switched on. Not that Bakugou has ever been one for volume control. “What have you even been doing with this asshole? Having a tea party?”

 

“Behind you,” Shouto says, Bakugou jumping to avoid a claw as he climbs onto the thing’s head, ices himself there. “Can you get through the scales?”

 

There are series of loud explosions, then some muttering. 

 

“Not easily.”

 

“Then we need to go for the vulnerable spots if we want direct physical injuries to work.”

 

“No shit!”

 

He continues pulling at the scale, mindful of Bakugou occupying the thing’s attention below. “I think we should redirect it to the harbour. With the water there I can restrain it for as long as we need.”

 

“Do we even know how to incapacitate it?” Bakugou asks, from wherever the hell he is- he yells for a moment, Shouto stiffening in response, then stops, sounding winded when he speaks up. “Ugh, fuck- last time it just transformed and fucked off, right?”

 

“I suspect it’ll only transform back once it’s exhausted,” Shouto replies, grimly. The scale has lifted; he lowers to aim. “Unlike last time it has no realistic opportunity to escape unseen.”

 

A colossal quake flings him cleanly off the thing’s head, which is less alarming in terms of his falling than it is in terms of what it implies; he halts his fall jerkily by digging into an arm, spins around, throws an overzealous spurt of ice to catch Bakugou mid-fall and slam him into the side of a building before a claw pierces through him. 

 

“Fucking great,” Bakugou reprimands, struggle visible from afar as his irate voice pierces Shouto’s eardrums. “Encase me in ice, that’s real helpful-“

 

“Stop whining,” Shouto says, cutting his irritable diatribe off immediately; he’s racing along the length of the arm, fire coursing as he goes, making the villain flail and forget about its previous target as it tries to swipe at Shouto, screeching. “So, harbour?”

 

Beat, booming, then ice flying everywhere; within moments Bakugou is zooming around the head like a particularly lethal mosquito, irate punch destabilising the whole creature so that it staggers.

 

“Yeah, fine! Police have cleared the two blocks east of you so we’ll take it that way- block off behind it when it’s moved on, got it?”

 

“Copy that. Stay in its line of vision, I’m about to make it very angry.”

 

Bakugou only grunts his assent, probably annoyed at Shouto taking the initiative, but really- it’s been years, it’s not like he genuinely expects him to sit pretty and play backup. Evidencing this, his muttered complaints don’t stop him from blasting off ahead of the villain, landing flashily on a building just out of its reach. 

 

Godzilla roars irritably at him, but doesn’t focus on him, head turning back, which makes Shouto wonder again at just how bestial the monster really is- if the villain is still humane enough in this form to target civilians out of calculated spite. Still, no time for reflection- he’s reached the balcony of a nearby skyscraper, and there- from his vantage point he has a clear shot the exposed flesh under the scale, still pried open from his attempts. 

 

It takes him half a breath to steady his arm, then his senses are engulfed with the familiar controlled heat of his flames, arcing viciously sideways until their trajectory is interrupted by the villain’s hulking form. They spread across the scales in their search for something to devour, but this time the hunt doesn’t take long- the villain lets out a glass-shattering bellow, the metal of the balcony clattering so violently that Shouto leaps off it, watching the beast contort itself in anguish as it tries to break free of the pain. 

 

In its flailing it is dangerous, making it hard to land; Shouto heads up, ice holding firm alongside a trembling wall, watches the slow merciless burning of that one open spot as his flames turn to smoke, distantly empathetic of the seeming endlessness of searing heat against bare flesh. The monster, enraged, turns its pain-deranged gaze towards the other source of heat it knows: Bakugou, blaring challengingly ahead. Maybe the thing is more animal than man or the man in control is easily lead by instinct, because the plan works wonders- it charges down the street with more speed than Shouto would have thought it capable of, fangs gnashing in bestial rage as it moves.

 

Bakugou is off already, volleying taunting explosions at his pursuer as he goes, and following is almost the harder job for it- he patches as best he can with one hand, trying not to be overzealous with the ice (it holds, but it holds too well, and then there’s the water damage issue) even as he races after them, bracing for the wild lashing of the villain’s tail as it marches on.

 

Even now parkour isn’t quite his area of expertise; he prefers being grounded, or better yet in nature of some kind, not vaulting along buildings, but the magnitude of his quirk has always granted him leniency, almost flight- it’s not quite like Bakugou’s, in that when he boosts with ice he leaves something physical behind, and with fire it is harder to control his trajectory, but it’s close enough to flying that he takes it as such, feels as close to Ghibli as it gets. Freedom tastes like wind-chill and his aching lungs; whistling air and red-white-blue as his hair tangles and obscures the horizon a fraction. 

 

They’re one street down, two, one block, one and a half, when Bakugou very abruptly stops and flings himself backwards, cursing, and Shouto moves from tail to side, alert as the beast lunges.

 

“Still evacuating down this side, stall a minute!” Bakugou yells, explanatory, cuts off sharply when one of his hits, tightly contained to avoid encumbering the evacuees, lands a little too lightly, claws catching at his leg. He screams, plummets momentarily- Shouto loses sight of him as he leaps off the building and darts closer, spearing ice violently at the villain’s glazed eye; it hits, blood gushing from the open wound, and the follow up roar allows him to get both arms extended and lodge a block of ice the size of a bus in the thing’s open mouth.

 

It gapes almost comically. He allows himself a second to pause and smile wryly. Not bad for stalling.

 

“Looks fucking ridiculous,” Bakugou snorts into his ear, reappearing perched on a lamppost near the street corner; he seems fine from a distance, which means nothing. “How long until it cracks?”

 

“Maybe another thirty seconds,” Shouto estimates, shrugging as he readjusts his bandage. His muscles are protesting, sore and taut from over-exertion; there’s a nasty burn in his thigh that he doesn’t have the time to look at, and his wound has bled through the bandage faster than it should have. Things are looking good. 

 

“That’s enough time,” Bakugou estimates, blonde head turning to glance down a side-street that Shouto can’t make out from afar. “Let’s get moving already.”

 

Shouto acquiesces, though of course Bakugou can’t see it. His silence is confirmation enough; “AP SHOT!” bursts through the earpieces at full volume, burst of orange smacking the monster in the jaw as Bakugou hops onto the nearest building and starts running.

 

They’re nearing the harbour; he can tell by the wind picking up before he even sees the water up ahead. Godzilla is fully focused on Bakugou, the beating it’s taken making it clumsy but twice as vicious as it stomps after him, recoiling a little every time Bakugou feels it nearing and explodes in its face, so Shouto shoots ahead, fast, ducking through its legs and past the both of them on ground-level to reach the bay before them. There’s no easy access- either way the villain’s advance will crush a small store or two, unless they can get it to step over them somehow.

 

“Bakugou- knock between the knees when-“

 

“THREE O’CLOCK!”

 

He doesn’t even think; he’s surging upwards in a burst of ice, and so the car flying his way only checks him in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground as the vehicle bounces back to the ground, his back singing in pain. Shit. He straightens; the ground is quaking under his feet, and the villain is close, now, one large leg stomping half a sidewalk away.

 

“Knees,” Shouto repeats, coughing some. 

 

“Tell me when!” Bakugou shoots back, sounding hoarse himself; whatever the car thing was about, it caught him unawares. Shouto glances at the water, moves. Steadies his hands.

 

“Now.”

 

He can’t see Bakugou from behind the hulking green form blocking his view, just hears his explosive shout and watches red-tinted smoke go off like fireworks behind the villain’s legs, seismic in magnitude. 

 

He watches it almost detachedly, in slow-motion: the villain’s head snapping back as he roars, the force of the blow buckling its knees, and then, finally, its teetering descent, head-first over the edge, like a tree being felled.

 

It never even properly breaks the surface; the river surges like a liquid mountain, Shouto’s breathing even, lungs icy with the rush of cool control, as ice wraps itself like a vice around it. Layer upon layer, glacier-like in size; it’s like his Ice Wall decided to get clingy. 

 

It almost doesn’t feel like effort. It almost feels like letting go.

 

The villain roars, gnashes, heaves; near him he hears the crunch of Bakugou’s boots on ice. One of his earpieces has slipped out; above there are helicopters, and nearby police sirens. The half-silence is disorientating, but for a moment they all seem to hold their breath, watching the ice crack, crack, crack, then- hold. Then hold. Then hold.

 

He exhales; his breath puffs out in a cloud. Abruptly he is very aware of all the aches in his body, how it hurts to breathe, the blood dripping onto the ice. He turns to look at Bakugou, feels something biting in his chest when their gazes lock. 

 

For a moment Bakugou’s expression is strange, almost reflective; then he snorts, cocky grin spreading comfortably across his face as Shouto instinctively mirrors it with a half-smile of his own.

 

“That was fun,” Shouto says, sort of accidentally, glancing at the giant dinosaur trapped in ice by their feet. Bakugou’s startled bark of laughter rings loudly through the frozen bay; when he punches him in the shoulder (hard) it inexplicably feels almost affectionate. Maybe because he doesn’t hit him right in his injury.

 

“You’re such a fucking weirdo, half ’n half.” He doesn’t disagree, of course, because some part of Bakugou is fundamentally a five-year old boy whose highest aspiration is going boom and beating the shit out of monsters.

 

“Ow,” Shouto says mildly. By their feet the struggling villain seems to be shrinking, ice shifting to hold him as he does; the amorphous green blob visible through it makes him think of green tea mochi, which reminds him…

 

“I never got to take my coffee break.”

 

“Oh, please, like you ever go anywhere more interesting than a Starbucks.”

 

“I know a place near the office that does good mochi.”

 

“I don’t even want to know what you think is good mochi,” Bakugou declares, combative glint in his eye even though his posture is still relaxed. He’s definitely at least sprained his ankle, by the way he’s standing; dark red is leaking out of his tank-top onto his arm, and the cut on his cheek is deep. “You ever been to that place near the commission HQ?”

 

“It does food?”

 

“Fucking- you know what, fuck it, we’ll go after police reports.”

 

“Oh, you’re coming too?”

 

“Don’t give me that shit, it’s just because I don’t trust you not to fuck up somehow.”

 

“I got us lost one time, Bakugou. I was sixteen.”

 

“You know how many times I’ve gotten anyone lost, Todoroki? Zero.”

 

“You purposefully left Izuku to fend for himself in a flesh-eating maze once.”

 

“Yeah, on purpose!

 

It’s a good thing the police don’t get to tune into hero channels, Shouto thinks. It wouldn’t do their PR any good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The aftermath of the fight is a prolonged affair. Keeping track of time in a fight has never been his specialty, considering how disorientating they are, but he’d gauge the whole thing lasted maybe half an hour- in contrast, the containment, on-site press feedback, patching up, and debriefing takes them upwards of an hour at the very least. 

 

Containment itself isn’t too hard- stuck under ice, the villain re-transforms into a human before the cops even reach the water, and he’s in a terrible state by then, one eye gone fully red from the bleeding, several ribs cracked courtesy of Bakugou, a hole in his scalp from Shouto. Police cuff him rapidly, generous in their hand-shaking as they drag him off. He’s not even off-ice by the time the first handful of intrepid reporters appear out of thin air as per usual, clambering determinedly over debris to extend mics and request statements. Shouto dutifully recites his recounting of events, stands by impassively melting the iced-waters as Bakugou gives his own expletive-laden account. Then the ambulance-workers swoop in full of remonstrations, refusing to let the police drag them off for debriefing until they’re in a fit state to do so; they sit on their respective ambulance steps answering questions as harried medical workers set bones and stop bleeding. They get lucky with their medics; one of them has a very convenient time-accelerating quirk, moving their injuries three weeks ahead. By the time they’re cleared to go, he barely feels his shoulder or his ribs. 

 

He’s almost forgotten about their plans by the time he exits the police quarters, tired and ready for a shower, but Bakugou is leaning against a pillar outside as he taps violently at his keyboard; Shouto perks up at the prospect of food, stops next to him. 

 

Bakugou slides his phone away at Shouto’s expectant look, pulling a face at his raised brow as they start walking. He’s in a good mood, though, like he almost always is after a successful fight, triumphant glint in his eyes and crooked smirk firmly fixed on his lips. He wonders how many fights they’ve been in that ended just like this one, how many fights they have yet to live through that will go the same way. Sometimes he loses count. Other times he can only think of all the fights they’ve been in that went wrong. He doesn’t think anyone present that night will ever forget the sight of Bakugou’s expression as he was snatched away.

 

“What’s with the brooding, jackass?” Bakugou asks, brow raised. It’s a token of his good mood that he doesn’t start scowling automatically, though when Shouto blinks he shakes his head. “Don’t actually answer, I don’t care.”

 

“Wasn’t going to,” Shouto says, half a sigh, amusement slipping into his voice. “And I don’t brood. It’s just how my face looks.”

 

“The sad thing is that you’re not even lying,” Bakugou responds, snorting. “Speaking of your face, you should cut your hair. If you have to keep flicking it out of your eyes like a shitty J-Pop star you’re going to sprain your neck mid-fight.”

 

“It has been getting sort of long… But I don’t like going to the hairdressers’.” He ignores the look he gets for that, flexes his hand contemplatively. “I wonder what that villain’s motivations were.”

 

“What, Godzilla?” Bakugou asks, punctuating the name with a sneer (it really is a stupid name; villain names generally are). “I’m not sure the guy had any. I was getting real animal vibes.”

 

“Me too,” Shouto agrees, thoughtful. “I kept thinking of him as an ‘it’ while we were fighting. And it wasn’t particularly strategic about the destruction- although I guess both times he did transform in business districts. I assume he loses control once he transforms.”

 

“That’s what the lawyers will be going with, anyways,” Bakugou scoffs. “He fucking knew what he was doing.”

 

“You think? I was wondering if the transformations themselves were something like- oh, what’s that book we did in English? Jekyll?”

 

“Oh, that. I doubt it. Maybe if it was a one off- but last time he would have ‘woken up’ in a sewer, gone home, and found himself all over the news vanishing into the same sewer with marks all over him. What kind of jackass doesn’t come clean after that? At the very least get yourself to a medical centre or some shit so you won’t do it again.”

 

“I see what you mean,” Shouto considers, shakes his head. “What an unpleasant Quirk to have.”

 

“Yeah, it is pretty shitty,” Bakugou nods, dismissively. “Slow, no versatility, terrible control, not to mention you’re a massive fucking target. All it really does is make you big and ugly.”

 

“I meant psychologically,” Shouto says, surpressing an eyeroll. “It’s a pretty resistant quirk, though. We kept it distracted, but without containment as an option I don’t know that we would have worn it down fast enough.”

 

“If containment hadn’t been an option I would have gone for lethal force,” Bakugou counters, grimly. “You already busted its eye. Would have gone right through and burst its brains out.”

 

Shouto winces at the thought, huffs. “Glad I was there to spare the nation that image.”

 

“Yeah, sure, thanks for keeping broadcasting PG.” 

 

It’s more than a matter of sanitised television, of course. Killing a villain is always a last resort, and not just because a dead villain is one who can never get his just deserts in the court of law- God knows the legal system is a headache sometimes. Taking a life, though… Shouto’s own code of ethics is specific and complex, but he is incredibly resistant to any rhetoric implying that his personal opinions are an excuse to use all methods at his disposition no matter the cost. Regardless of his disgust with the evils of any given villain, he tries his hardest to take them in with the least amount of emotive damage possible. There is quite enough Todoroki-caused harm in the world without him letting his impulses guide him.

 

He doesn’t project his own vision of heroism and what it entails on his coworkers, unlike a lot of pros, but he knows that for the most part there are few pro-heroes who disagree on this point. Maybe it’s because it seems like a villainous thing to do. He’s not entirely sure what, say, Bakugou’s reservations would be on the subject- it’s not innate niceness, and Bakugou is hardly known for his championing of redemption. Maybe just a staunch moral code. 

 

They order their food; despite the rundown exterior, the inside of the café is spotless and cosy, only four booths total. The sun is setting outside, so they’re lit mostly by atmospheric yellow lamps, casting a hard sunny glow onto their table and Bakugou’s arms where they lie splayed out. For a moment Shouto is content to just sit there, sipping longly at his tea as he lets some of the residue tension seep out of his spine. The aftermath of fights always leaves him with surplus energy.

 

“Didn’t know you could do that with your ice,” Bakugou comments, after a while, chewing on his mochi. His hair is still sticky with sweat, strands clinging onto his forehead; with the fading sunlight his gaze looks unnaturally warm despite the harshness of it. “At the end.”

 

“Never tried it before,” Shouto replies, setting his tea down. “But I’ve done similar enough manoeuvres that I assumed it would work. The trick is in the temperature.”

 

“Oh, that’s how,” Bakugou responds, nodding in thought as he taps a finger against the table with the air of one satisfied. “You keep it just under solid while you manipulate it into place.”

 

“Yes. Melted enough that it’s malleable. Then I freeze it solid.”

 

“Hm,” Bakugou grunts, and looks away. For once Shouto feels like he can guess at his reaction- the considering look preceding his response is as close as Bakugou gets to a spontaneous compliment. It makes his eyes crinkle as he dutifully bites into his mochi. It’s unsurprisingly good, but Bakugou can take a taste of his own medicine- he remains dutifully quiet about it, watching Bakugou silently replay the events of the fight.

 

His silence isn’t as successful a diversion as he would have liked; Bakugou looks back towards him and snorts, eyeing his clean plate. 

 

“Could just have said you didn’t like it.”

 

“I was hungry,” Shouto defends, pursing his lips. “It’s almost dinner time.”

 

“I’ve seen your fridge, icyhot, don’t try and act like you have healthy eating habits.”

 

Caught, Shouto gives him a flat look; Bakugou’s smirk only widens. It’s very annoying that Bakugou has all of this extra leverage on him now- he really should take up Kirishima’s offer to visit their apartment sometime, if only to catch Bakugou unawares outside of the working environment. Actually…

 

“You know, we don’t really talk about ourselves enough,” Shouto decides, seriously; Bakugou’s gaze snaps back towards him, hard. “How are you doing beyond work?”

 

“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” Bakugou says, brows scrunched together in a sort of confused fight-or-flight offence. He doesn’t sound sure, though, looking at Shouto like a live bomb. “You get concussed in that fight?”

 

“No, I’m really asking,” Shouto says, frowning lightly. “We see each other plenty but I don’t really know how you’re doing.”

 

How is that any of your business-“

 

“Sometimes I wonder if we’re even friends.”

 

Bakugou cuts himself off mid-yell, fingers still clenched hard against the table from where he’d finally snapped and jumped to his feet, so that for a comical instant he looks very much like himself in high school, furious at every perceived slight and yet in disbelief at Shouto’s lack of reaction. It doesn’t last; his brows lower and he squints, volatility tempered by age and experience. 

 

“You’re fucking with me.”

 

“Perceptive,” Shouto says, and spears Bakugou’s last mochi with his chopsticks.

 

Asshole,” Bakugou declares, feelingly, then sits down heavily, still shaking his head in disbelief. Shouto’s lips twitch; Bakugou’s expression does something odd, flash of undefined feeling in his eyes before he scoffs and glowers at his plate. 

 

Some kind of karma makes the mochi go down strangely; his stomach feels weird as they part ways.

 

 

Wednesday morning, he runs into Camie at the office. The run-in is almost literal, Camie crashing into him from the side as he enters the building, and they both right themselves instinctively before they recognise each other. 

 

“Shouto!” Camie exclaims, brightening on sight. She’s in her work clothes, an older woman with a clipboard behind her; Shouto bows at her before focusing on his friend. “I hoped I’d run into you!”

 

“What are you doing in Tokyo?” Shouto asks, curious. She claps her hands together, glances back at the woman, who nods.

 

“Ah, you didn’t hear! I’m on a placement! Yeah, yeah- because some of the spaces at the Tokyo office have, like, cleared up, I applied for the position. I figured I might as well, cause in the long run we’re probably not gonna go for Tokyo and while I’m young I wanna experience some of that city life, right?”

 

“I see,” Shouto says, blinking. So Camie is going to be working in his office for the next while. “Is your fiancé coming too?”

 

“Duh,” Camie laughs, shaking her head. “We have a totally bougie place the office got us- ooh, you can come visit whenever you want now!”

 

“I can’t talk for long,” Shouto says, glancing at the clock. “I’m supposed to go debrief the office about a fight.”

 

“Right, ‘a fight,’ sure,” Camie winks. “Not like it’s all over the news. But hey- let me know when you’re out of the meeting, and we can do lunch? You can totes show me around the office.”

 

“All right, I’ll text you,” Shouto agrees. She flashes him a thumbs up before turning to rejoin the woman- someone from HR, Shouto thinks. 

 

The debrief goes pretty smoothly- everyone in the office is in high spirits, both because of the villain handled and because of the good rep Might Tower is getting for it. For the most part management is entirely complimentary, worries about Shouto as a solo agent apparently assuaged; he and Bakugou really made a clean job of it, so there’s not even much collateral to charge for. The containment trick made a lot of insurers happy, as his manager informs him. The rest is procedure- the only question that Shouto has to consider is why exactly he called Bakugou in to join the fray. 

 

“Oh,” Shouto says, and decides that bringing up their years-old habit of paying off debts is probably not conducive to his image as a mature independent hero who deserves full reign over his choice of case. “I just thought of whose Quirk would be most complementary to mine with the strategy I was considering. Obviously if Midoriya had been here he would have been the first port of call, but…”

 

“That’s a good answer,” Akaba nods, looking pleased. “You can repeat it for the press junket.”

 

“Press junket?” Shouto repeats, raising a brow. They almost always do press after fights- or people like him, Izuku and Bakugou do, anyways, considering any fight involving them is necessarily high stakes- but it’s not often a specific junket is called for anything other than long-term cases or emergencies. 

 

“Why so surprised? You realise you two took out what looked to be shaping into our biggest problem for the next month at least, right?” His manager pauses to smile wryly. “After Godzilla evaded capture last time the stakes were raised incredibly high. And the whole thing has been highly sensationalised. The villain’s look has drawn international attention.”

 

This is all true enough; Shouto nods. “I guess it’s because the fight itself went pretty smoothly that I forgot how worked up people had been.”

 

“Yeah, well, the GP is very damn impressed by just how smoothly it all went.” She leans forward, eyes sparkling ambitiously. “Honestly, one of the reasons I agreed to a joint junket was for you. Have you looked at your scores since yesterday?”

 

“No, I crashed once I got home.” He feels his pulse quicken a little with anticipation, straightens his shoulders. “How is it?”

 

“Your points should move you at least two slots up,” Akaba informs him, with a conspiratorial smile. “Now, you know the censor takes popularity scores at the end of the week, so…”

 

“Ah, right,” Shouto mumbles, numbers flying through his mind. The junket exists to keep the public eye on him and make the most of the positive sentiment. Two spots means sixth- and solidifying that ranking means if he handles a big case in the next month or so he could crack fifth. “When you say joint, you mean with Ground Zero’s agency too?”

 

“Well, I wanted to consult with you first. A lot of pros don’t like sharing the spotlight like this- especially with someone like Ground Zero, who is certainly a quite attention-grabbing character,” Akaba snorts. It’s said with a certain admiration, though undoubtedly she’s only thinking of it from a business angle, which reassures him somewhat. “And you’re not one who enjoys the spotlight. So we won’t join up if you think it’ll jeopardise your spot.”

 

“He’s jeopardising my spot anyways, isn’t he,” Shouto sighs, smiling a little. “I don’t mind doing it together. We fought the villain together, after all. And I’m used to his attitude, so I won’t let him talk over me.”

 

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Akaba smiles, typing something on her tablet. “Actually I think it might get you a little more engaged to have him on the panel. You usually give the presses more to work with when you’re playing off someone.”

 

“Depends on who,” Shouto says, dryly. She rolls her eyes.

 

“Yes, well. I told your PR team not to go for the family angle. Anyways it’s not like that guy still works here.”

 

“Hm,” Shouto says, non-committal. It’s not like he explicitly intimidated the guy into leaving; he wouldn’t needlessly threaten a civilian. He might have had a bit of an attitude with him, though, but someone on his PR team really needs to be able to handle some attitude. 

 

“Well, if you’re happy with it, I’ll make some calls. Tomorrow, or Friday, depending on their availability.”

 

“Thank you. Let me know what they say.”

 

“Yeah, I’ll keep you updated. Good job, again. You handled that spectacularly.”

 

“Thank you,” Shouto says, ducking his head and smiling. “I’m glad it went well.”

 

“Ah, I always get a kick out of watching a good old fashioned UA team-up,” Akaba says, informally, with a smile that takes years off her shrewd countenance. “And I miss watching that little fucker fight.”

 

Only two years prior she would have been sat opposite Izuku and Bakugou instead, Shouto remembers. He sometimes forget Bakugou worked at Might Tower before he did. 

 

“He’s very flashy.”

 

“That he is,” Akaba snorts. “Hm, well. I’ll see if I can spare five minutes to make an appearance tonight. Refresh my memory on what a real PR nightmare looks like.”

 

“I thought I was enough on that front,” Shouto says, smiling when she laughs a little. 

 

“You’re hardly a PR nightmare, kiddo. Japan loves you.”

 

“I’m not sure my PR team does.”

 

“The exorbitant salaries I pay them should make it feel like they do. Though it wouldn’t kill you to take their branding advice once in a while, considering.”

 

He shrugs. It’s not that he’s fussy; he wears whatever they want him to when he’s on payroll. He doesn’t understand what’s wrong with his tastes, anyhow; it’s practical, and it fits. Just because Katsuki “my father is a fashion designer and I have opinions about everything because fuck you” Bakugou calls him an uninspired waste of money and genetics doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with wearing the same combination of monochrome shirts and corduroys every day of the week.

 

“What’s happening tonight?”

 

“Oh, right, you still haven’t checked your phone. Inter-office celebratory drinks. Unofficial.”

 

“Unofficial.”

 

“It’s not the office’s fault I know everything that goes on here at all times.”

 

“They might have considered it when they hired you,” Shouto says. She shakes her head, taps pointedly at her tablet.

 

This kind of banter with a manager thirty years his senior is unorthodox at best, he’s aware, but despite UA having taught him to respect adults it never overcame his resistance to the expected deterrence of well-behaved Japanese youth, and besides Akaba treats all of the office staff with a healthy mixture of hardass formality and friendly snark depending on circumstance, so he doesn’t think she minds. He keeps it on the side of plausible deniability, just in case, but Akaba is always to the point enough that he feels comfortable with her, believes she’d let it be known if there was an issue. It’s one of the many things he appreciates about her, in spite of her ruthlessness.

 

He’s not good with people, as a rule, not unless they make the first step. School had always been filled with people either afraid or resentful of him until UA, and he considers himself extremely fortunate for the way things played out there. Coming into Might Tower he’d had Izuku as a way in, and All Might to add to the familiarity; he hadn’t really branched out on his own. Without them both around the office had felt like an entirely foreign environment; Akaba is one of the few people he hasn’t withdrawn from in their absence. 

 

“Tonight’ll be informal, in any event- no press, no schmoozing. So dress like a depressed realtor all you want.”

 

“Glad to have permission,” Shouto says, grave. She shoos him out of her office.

 

 

He shows Camie around the office as she grills him about the fight, then takes her for lunch at the little restaurant two streets away that he only ever eats at when he has company and thus isn’t just grabbing lunch from the canteen to return to work as soon as possible. He’d discovered it when his mother had paid a visit, and it’s nice- overpriced like everything in Tokyo, but aesthetically pleasing, and the rice is always especially sticky in a way he enjoys. 

 

“Your office is so much bigger than ours,” Camie comments, sucking on her boba. “Which, duh, but also it feels way more serious working at the actual Might Tower, right? The pressure is making my skin break out- that wall of achievements downstairs? Big yikes. On the other hand it’s pretty amazing working in All Might’s HQ, though- like, I highkey feel like a real hero, y’know?”

 

“I guess,” Shouto hazards. It’s his default response when Camie says something he’s only half sure is comprehensible Japanese. 

 

“I wish I could have seen it when ‘tsuki still worked here, I bet he was totally fanboying. It’s so cute how he’s still like that after literal years of being All Might’s little protégé.” 

 

“All Might has that effect,” Shouto says, shaking his head. “Izuku is just as bad and he’s his actual protégé.”

 

“Aw, I kinda wish those two were in Japan right now so I could have seen them more,” Camie pouts. “Not gonna lie, I might have passed out if All Might spoke to me, but I really want to see Midoriya more! You guys are all such a little squad and I barely know the kid!”

 

“I’m sure he’d be happy to hang out once he’s back,” Shouto wagers. Izuku makes friends with remarkable ease, but for once he thinks he might have found his match in Camie. The two of them interacting will be interesting. 

 

“Are you coming to the office drinks tonight?”

 

That she knows and he had to be informed by his middle-aged superior is typical. He nods. “Unless something else comes up.”

 

“I haven’t been out with you in ages,” Camie grins, cupping her face in her hands. “This is totes exciting. Are you wild at office parties, Shouto?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Boo, no sarcasm,” Camie rebuffs, absently twirling her finger so that their table appears to be an aquarium for a minute. “You and Katsuki are so boring. You barely got tipsy at my party.”

 

“I have a very alcohol-resistant predisposition,” Shouto says. “It’s not like I don’t drink.”

 

“Tonight we’re totes getting you to do shots,” Camie decides, table restored as she folds her hands together. “If you can’t let loose a little after taking out a literal giant dinosaur monster, you are seriously disturbed.”

 

“You realise if you try to match me you will get alcohol poisoning,” Shouto asks, vaguely concerned. He’s suffered through too many drunken challenges and their aftermaths not to be. Kaminari’s projectile vomiting haunts him to date.

 

“Oh-em-literal-gee, Sho, do you think I’m suicidal? You can match Katsuki. He’s just as bad.”

 

This is true enough that Shouto pauses, curiosity somewhat piqued. Though he and Bakugou have necessarily attended many parties together, he can’t remember ever seeing him close to drunk. For a while he just assumed he also didn’t drink much, but he’s seen him drink too often to think it’s one of those health-motivated abstinences, and Camie probably knows better than he does. 

 

“Hm. Really?”

 

“Yup,” Camie nods, eyes twinkling with interest now. “I actually don’t know which one of you would crack first. I don’t even know what you’re like drunk. This is, like, virgin territory.”

 

Shouto has been actually drunk exactly once in his life, though only two people have been in a state to bear witness to it. It is probably not a good idea to agree to recreate the events of said occurrences at an office party where Bakugou will figure as a wild card, considering. 

 

At the same time, a part of his brain is very loudly insisting that he can outdrink Bakugou, and anyways he’s sure he can keep a poker face better than him, so he definitely has the upper hand here. 

 

“Fine, then. If he says yes.”

 

“Have you met Katsuki?” Camie beams, looking beyond thrilled at the prospect of her two long-time friends humiliating themselves in front of their senior staff. “When does he ever back down from a challenge?”

Shouto inclines his head- point taken. She dims the manic light in her eyes a little, tilts her head consideringly.

 

“I feel like you guys are way more friendly nowadays.”

 

“You think?” Shouto asks. He hasn’t really noticed the change, but if he thinks about it he supposes it’s been a while since he’s felt like he needed a buffer when the two of them are around each other, and they have been seeing a whole lot of each other lately.

 

“Yeah! Which is cool, because you guys were totally in denial about being friends for years and it was very cute but also really dumb.”

 

“Counterpoint: it’s Bakugou.”

 

“Fine, so mostly he was being really dumb. But counter-counterpoint,” Camie retorts, wagging a finger at him accusingly: “You still call him Bakugou!”

 

Shouto blinks. “It is his name.”

 

“Shouto,” Camie groans, stifling a laugh. “His surname. You guys call people you’ve been friends with for way less time by their first names!”

 

“Hm,” Shouto huffs, pushing at his drink. It’s not like he hasn’t thought about it- he ponders the same thing every time they’re in a group where they’re the only ones stuck on surname basis. “It’s just habit. You know how he is. If I do it first he’ll probably throw me out of a window.”

 

“Oh, c’mon, he’s not done that in at least a year,” Camie dismisses. “Also, your logic is like, wack! Katsuki is never gonna be the first one to make the change! He’s super duper crazy stubborn and he’s a massive tsundere!”

 

“Please don’t call him that to his face.”

 

“You know what I mean,” Camie groans. “You’re the one who can be reasoned with on the subject. It’s gonna have to be you.”

 

He sighs, feels the age-old knot of discomfort in his chest as his hackles rise. “It’s too soon for that sort of thing.”

 

Shouto,” Camie says, almost a whine. “How old are you?”

 

“Twenty-one.”

 

“How old were you when we met?”

 

“Fifteen.”

 

“Twenty-one minus fifteen is what?”

 

“It’s not that simple,” Shouto mutters, a touch sullenly. Camie pouts.

 

“It is exactly that simple, and you’re both dummies.” At his silence she relents, a quality that he appreciates about her, pats his hand apologetically. “Look, just spring it on him tonight and see how he reacts. You can blame it on the alcohol, plus I can tackle him if he tries to maim you- which he won’t, bee-tee-dubs.”

 

“This feels very dramatic for what it is,” Shouto mumbles, capitulating; she squeezes his hand pointedly.

 

“Exactly, so don’t overthink it!”

 

It’s only once they’re almost back at the office that she stops, clears her throat, looks at him with an abnormal unsmiling expression, big doe-eyes serious. 

 

“Hisoka told me you guys talked at the party.”

 

He doesn’t know what shows on his face; she bites on her lip, waves her hands. “No, no, I just wanted to say, um. Thank you. For not- for being so decent about it.”

 

“He- sh- you two spoke about it?”

 

“Yeah,” Camie says, softly. For a moment she looks tired. “I, actually, um. We told my team, in the end. That’s kind of why I’m here.”

 

Shouto freezes, hands clenching. “They made you transfer?”

 

“No, not exactly, just-“ Camie stops. “It got back to the head office, somehow, I guess. They probably wanted guidance on company policy. I think All Might heard somehow, because he okayed me working here for a bit.”

 

“Oh,” Shouto says, trying to arrange his thoughts. So- and All Might… In the end he settles for what seems most urgent. “Are you all right?”

 

“Yeah,” Camie says, and when she smiles it seems genuine, eyes lighting up slowly. “I think it’s better not hiding it. And, like, it’s a good opportunity to change minds and stuff, you know?”

 

“Right,” Shouto says, still frowning, thinking about what a target this makes her for the presses, which makes her laugh, punch his arm. 

 

“You’re so sweet, Shouto, stop worrying! It worked out, right? I still have my job and everything and I get to hang out with you now, so you should be happy!”

 

“I am if you are,” Shouto decides, unsure; she coos and pats his cheek.

 

“So charming, as always. Now come on- I don’t want to be the new girl who makes pro-hero Shouto late for work.”

 

She makes him late anyways, discussing what to wear to the party, but he doesn’t hold it against her.

 

 

He arrives to the party in the nebulous time between early and late that is somehow not quite on time- late compared to the time on the invite, early compared to most of the attendees. It’s in the usual kind of place, a nice downtown bar near the Ginza district, filled mostly with corporate types on nights off and well-to-do people in their late twenties to mid forties; the seats are all leather and the baristas extremely well-trained. 

 

He’s not exactly a partier, and he’s usually too busy for it, but he likes bars. They’re just formal enough that he doesn’t feel overwhelmed with noise and people like he does in clubs, and he enjoys being able to just sit in the corner of a booth nursing his drink and listen to other people converse. 

 

Nonetheless this is only the second time since Izuku left he’s attended an office event, though he’s been invited out by some of the other pros quite often- it’s immature, probably, but he’s still wary of going to any event where he doesn’t have a designated friend to gravitate around if need be. 

 

Thankfully, some of the older pros at the office are already there, and they draw them into discussion about the fight, discussing moves and recounting similar villain takedowns they’ve been involved in, so he barely notices time passing as the bar fills up. He’s just starting to withdraw a little when people start getting agitated by the door, and he turns to find the people from Bakugou and Kirishima’s office coming in, obviously for the most part having come straight from work. 

 

There’s a lot of bowing on both sides, both offices a little stilted and a little excited. Inter-office events aren’t unusual in their line of work, but it’s quite rare that it’s in so intimate a setting, and that the heroes and the rest of the office are all intermingled. Two people from accounting nearly fall over when Bakugou walks in.

 

It’s noteworthy in that Shouto ends up being probably one of the most comfortable people in the room as he excuses himself and weaves towards Bakugou and Kirishima. Bakugou spots him from a distance, sidesteps one of the pompous HR guys and moves to meet him midway. 

 

“Hey,” Shouto says, waves at Kirishima over his shoulder where he’s still holding court with some enamoured-looking PR folk. “Drink?”

 

“Sorry, have we met?” Bakugou says, raising a brow. “I’m looking for this asshole who doesn’t own anything not bought in bulk from Shimamura.”

 

“I don’t know what that is,” Shouto replies, sighing. “Also, Camie dressed me.”

 

“Utsushimi is in Tokyo?” Bakugou asks, as they move towards the bar. Shouto nods, takes a seat next to him as he reaches for a drinks menu.

 

“She’s taken a transfer to our office for a couple of months.”

 

“New partner?”

 

“No,” Shouto says, a little regretfully. “Our Quirks don’t really lend for the same kind of missions. She’s working with one of our existing teams.”

 

Bakugou grunts in acceptance, sets the menu down when the barista hovers near them, looking a little starstruck. “Umeshu with ice, thanks.”

 

“Ah, oolong chahai for me,” Shouto adds. He’s quite fond of Western alcohols like gin, but the drink caters to his tea-loving side.

 

“Heard we’re doing a joint junket tomorrow,” Bakugou comments, as they watch the barista mix their drinks. His gaze is keenly assessing, competitive glint in his eyes. “Wanna jump offices while you’re at it?”

 

“It’s not exactly hurting your odds either,” Shouto shoots back, not batting an eyelash. “We’ll be drinking to your top five slot by the end of the week if the junket goes well.”

 

“Could be,“ Bakugou shrugs, sharp canines flashing when he smiles. It’s that same kind of arrogant confidence he’s carried like a crown since the day Shouto first laid eyes on him, tempered somewhat by maturity but profoundly familiar nonetheless. It brings about a blend of emotions that has only ever gotten more complicated across the years; Shouto meets his gaze steadily. 

 

“I assume you’ll mention your gratitude towards my asking you for an assist at the junket.”

 

“Go fuck yourself,” Bakugou says, as close to cheery as he gets. “You owed me one.”

 

“Really the least you could do is pay for the round.”

 

“In your dreams.”

 

“No worries, I’ll pay,” Kirishima chirps, appearing by Bakugou’s elbow with a grin. “On account of how fucking awesome you guys were yesterday. You were amazing, man!”

 

“Thanks,” Shouto smiles, taking his glass from the barista. “You really don’t have to buy us anything, though.”

 

“Bro, everyone’s going to be buying you drinks all night, get used to it,” Kirishima snorts, before his eyes go big and excited again. “Seriously, though, the ice trick you did at the end was so cool! And when you got there and you just slammed the ice-pick into his eye? Sick, dude!”

 

“God, get a room if you’re gonna suck him off all night,” Bakugou says, rolling his eyes; Shouto chokes on his drink and Kirishima flushes. “This is like having Deku around.” 

 

“I don’t know what you and Izuku get up to in private, but that is definitely not what it’s like having him around,” Shouto ripostes, slightly out of breath, sending a silent apology to Izuku for besmirching his good name. Bakugou bristles at the implication, mouth twisting in disgust as Kirishima snickers, but he rises to the bait, pitches his voice mockingly high. 

 

“You know damn well what I mean. Oh, Shouto, that move was so good! You’re so talented! Let’s braid each other’s hair and have a sleepover!” 

 

“I don’t know,” Shouto says. “I’m not sure I trust you with my hair.”

 

Kirishima bursts out laughing, and Shouto hides a smile behind his glass as Bakugou groans. 

 

“Your press conference is gonna be great,” Kirishima decides, gleefully. “Cheers.”

 

 

They spend the next while talking at the bar, then migrate to a booth when it gets busy. Kirishima drags Bakugou off to socialise at various points, and Akaba makes an appearance mainly to tease Bakugou before vanishing to the smoking area, but for the most part the three of them hold the fort until Camie arrives in a whirlwind of dark blue and glitter, enthusiastically kissing Shouto on both cheeks when she gets close enough.

 

“You wore them! We match!”

 

“Hi, Camie.”

 

“We are so adorable right now,” Camie declares, patting his chest with a slight grope as she leans over him to reach Bakugou, who groans but slides obligingly closer so she can hug him into her chest. “Hiya, Katsuki! Your shirt is so nice. Armani?”

 

“Get your breasts out of my face,” Bakugou responds, batting her off. “And yes. Welcome to Tokyo and whatnot.”

 

“Thanks,” Camie beams, turning to greet Kirishima with no less enthusiasm if less familiarity. “Kirishima-kun! It’s good to see you again. Wow, you’re ripped.”

 

“Aha, thanks,” Kirishima smiles, rubbing the back of his head. “It’s good to see you too, Utsushimi-kun.”

 

“You guys all seem way too sober,” Camie decides, pushing at Shouto so he’ll scoot over to make room for her, making Bakugou scowl at Shouto like he’s the one shoving him into the corner. “You realise some of your bosses are starting the karaoke machines already? You don’t want to witness that sober.”

 

Bakugou and Kirishima nod grimly; Camie beckons a waiter to their booth. “Kuusu for the table, please! And then Chuhai for me too.”

 

“Woah, you’re really gonna get us drunk,” Kirishima notes, wide-eyed. “I guess I’ll just take a beer with that.”

 

“I’ll have a refill,” Bakugou shrugs, eyeing Camie consideringly. 

 

“I’ll have what he’s having,” Shouto concludes, handing over his used glass. They’re a couple of drinks in, but he suspects Camie is correct to assume that they’re trailing behind the others by the volume of the room. 

 

“By the way, Katsuki,” Camie says, clapping her hands together, “I convinced Shouto to get lit tonight, but I, like, also don’t want to die trying to outpace him, so basically you’re gonna have to take one for the team here.”

 

“Begging your fucking pardon?” Bakugou asks, which is so incongruous that Shouto has to disguise a laugh as a cough, Kirishima’s smile toothy. “Who says I want to do that?”

 

“You don’t have to,” Shouto informs him, batting away Camie’s leg as she nudges his knee excitedly. “I don’t want you getting alcohol poisoning and blaming it on me.”

 

“Tch, as if I would,” Bakugou retorts, furrowing his brow. “Bet you don’t even have high tolerance. You’re just surrounded by lightweights.”

 

“Ochako would beg to differ.” 

 

“Fine, roundface drinks like a trucker,” Bakugou concedes. “Still loses her shit though. And the others can barely hold a beer.”

 

Shouto only shrugs provocatively; Camie takes the offensive. “Exactly! So unless someone who can hold his drink matches him, how will we lightweights ever know the truth, huh?”

 

“And the best place to get royally shitfaced is at an office party?”

 

“Everyone else is!” Camie exclaims. “And it’s a private venue so there’s no worrying about embarrassing footage on social media or anything. It’s the perfect occasion, really- at least for a test trial.”

 

“So why doesn’t he drink alone, then?” Bakugou demands, not one to be convinced so easily. “I can stay sober and tell you all about it.”

 

As one, Kirishima and Camie look at Shouto. Shouto carefully suppresses the twinkle in his eye. “It’s fine if you don’t want to, Bakugou.” He glances at Camie explanatorily. “Izuku said he’d say no.”

 

Bakugou makes the kind of noise that indicates that were he six years younger Shouto would have found himself mildly concussed from being slammed against a locker and yelled at, rogue sparks flying off his palms onto Camie’s dress. Shouto tilts his head at him, ignoring Kirishima as he yelps and pours his drink onto Camie’s lap in an attempt to stop her dress from catching fire; Bakugou makes a murderous sound through his teeth, eyes flashing. 

 

“You’re baiting me.”

 

Shouto hesitates, nods, placid. It’s not like this is novel. 

 

Bakugou glares at him; Shouto stares right back. Somewhere next to them Kirishima is now profusely apologising for accidentally groping Camie’s thigh as she giggles. “You’re only doing this because you think you can outdrink me.”

 

“…Yes.”

 

“Ugh,” Bakugou says, feelingly, then cracks his knuckles obnoxiously, setting his jaw. “Fucking fine, half ’n half. If you want to embarrass yourself that badly, be my guest.”

 

“I’ll drink to that!” Camie exclaims, nearly sending their waiter to the floor as she shoves their drinks towards them. “Salud!”

 

Shouto drinks with the vague feeling of one taking a blind leap off a building. 

 

 

Just over an hour later, the professional adults that had once populated the bar have vanished, replaced by raucous revellers who all keep offering to pay for the copious amounts of alcohol their table is taking. Camie’s bare feet are in Katsuki’s lap, free hand roaming Kirishima’s bicep as she enthusiastically gushes at a long-suffering Hisoka over the phone; by her side Kirishima has devolved into nigh-undecipherable giggles, cheeks gone red and blotchy. 

 

Between them, Shouto and Bakugou have cleared the table’s kuusu twice, done a round of shots, and finished the other two’s drinks now that they’re in no state to have them. It’s the most he’s ever drank in a day, let alone in an hour. 

 

Somehow, he’s still amidst the soberer contingent of the room.

 

“You need to touch up your fucking nail polish,” Bakugou is saying, as Camie curls her toes and pulls a face. “Also stop kicking my dick.”

 

“Oh my god,” Camie shrieks, dissolving into laughter. “Babe, I touched Katsuki’s dick!”

 

“I love you guys,” Kirishima manages, between hiccups, knocking over a glass as he gestures around. “This is the best night ever.”

 

“Goddamnit,” Bakugou sighs, over the incoherent conversation around them, and looks towards him accusingly, gaze sharp despite the flush high in his cheeks. “You better be helping haul his ass home after he passes out in the next ten minutes.”

 

“‘M not gonna pass out,” Kirishima mumbles. His head has dropped to Camie’s shoulder; she pats it delightedly. 

 

“I feel like this whole thing has been sort of wasted,” Shouto comments, observing the state of the room. “We don’t have much of an audience.”

 

“You need excuses now, icyhot?”

 

In response Shouto finishes his drink and slides the last one over to Bakugou. Alcohol has made him noticeably warm, and there is a sort of giddy feeling in his stomach that he thinks means he’s actually getting drunk, but he feels no inclination to start dancing on tables or anything, just more comfortable than he usually is in social settings, which is kind of nice. Maybe he should get drunk more often. 

 

Bakugou grimaces and drinks, in one long shot because he’s dramatic like that, throat working as Shouto watches him. He’s oddly interesting to watch. Shouto has been keeping a close eye on him from the start of their drink-off, waiting for signs of intoxication, but thus far he has to admit Bakugou has also not done anything worth mentioning, except roll his sleeves up and loosen his shirt. It makes sense he’d do that, anyways- Bakugou is perpetually sweaty, so he can only imagine how overheated he gets. 

 

No matter. Shouto will outlast him. Both of him, if he keeps getting blurry like that.

 

“Katsuki,” Camie sing-songs, grabbing inefficiently at his hands as she moves her feet out of his lap. “You’re, like, my dad. When I get married you should totes give me away, like- you know Mamma Mia? You and Shouto and Inasa can be like- you know, ABBA, and- oh, my god, you guys, I’m gonna have the best wedding ever.”

 

“You’re an idiot,” Bakugou says, but he’s grinning at her as she clumsily starts typing her wedding ideas on her phone, and Shouto nearly chokes to death on a straw when he looks at him, unusually clumsy.  

 

He looks- he looks bizarrely his age, which may be an odd way to describe it, or maybe more aptly more like a real person his age and not so much like Bakugou, eyes crinkled with what may well be naked fondness as he watches Camie and Kirishima bundled up in the corner. It is so foreign to see that Shouto blatantly stares at him until he notices, forgets to try and hide the shock on his own face. Bakugou’s brows furrow, lip jutting out defensively. 

 

“What’re you looking at?”

 

“Nothing,” Shouto mutters, possibly inaudibly. Bakugou’s actually- well, he has eyes, obviously he knows Bakugou’s not exactly bad looking; all of those embarrassing rankings titled things like Handsome Hero Hotties usually have him hovering near Shouto’s well-defended first place slot, and even in school people always seemed to take his deadpan to signify that he couldn’t hear them loudly discussing the physical merits of his classmates, so he’s subconsciously known this for most of their acquaintance. He’s even had his distracting moments, like a number of Shouto’s oddly attractive coworkers. It’s just that he’s never really sat and thought about it, and now that they’re crammed in a booth together surrounded by people alcohol has reduced to giddy children he’s struggling to focus on anything else. Bakugou is still scowling at him with more bark than bite, wine-red eyes narrowed in suspicion, and Shouto really should probably do something at some point other than stare at him silently or things will get awkward. 

 

Quite possibly they’re already awkward, but then he’s been told he’s pretty invulnerable to such things. 

 

With herculean effort (Bakugou’s skin is freakishly nice, which is weird to notice but also hard not to have questions about once you do) he blinks, refocuses his gaze. Now is the time to say something normal.

 

“You’re drunk,” Shouto decides, aloud, watches Bakugou’s brows twist as he takes this in. They really are sat very close together. Kirishima’s impromptu wrestling performance sort of forced them into proximity. His fingers seem interested by this, skirting in the gap between their legs.

 

“How exactly do you figure that?” Bakugou asks, crossing his (unusually unscarred) arms challengingly. Shouto quirks a brow.

 

“You’re smiling a lot. And you’re being less of an asshole than you usually are. Earlier you even said yes to karaoke.”

 

Bakugou scowls automatically, glancing over at the karaoke machine like it’s personally betrayed him. “I only said yes because these two dumbasses were whining about it for twenty minutes.”

 

“It was less than ten,” Shouto corrects, smiling around his straw. “Also, now that I think about it, when Akaba complimented Izuku just now you agreed with her.”

 

“Did not,” Bakugou grumbles, except he did, and he may be more than slightly red in the ears. Fascinating. Shouto runs a mental tally, makes a triumphant sound.

 

“Ah, I see. So you’re the affectionate type.”

 

“Absolutely fucking not!” Bakugou snaps, dismayed; Shouto bites back a smile as he lets his head thunk back against his seat. In retrospect the pattern is clear. He should have suspected it when Bakugou stopped pushing them to the floor whenever they came into contact with him. It’s sort of endearing, which will absolutely not stop him from exploiting this information mercilessly. 

 

Before Bakugou can launch into a tirade, someone clears their throat behind them; Shouto looks up to find their waiter slightly timidly observing them, no doubt reasonable enough to be wary of Ground Zero’s murderous glower. “I’m sorry to disturb, but can I take your empty glasses away for you?” 

 

“Thank you,” Shouto nods; at a glance he’s blocking most of them, so he shifts to allow for better access. It brings his face accidentally closer than intended to the waiter’s, who startles; Shouto moves to draw back, then pauses, glittering catching his eye. 

 

He reaches to helpfully brush off the confetti clinging to the man’s hair, peering up at him through lowered lashes so he doesn’t get blinded by the lights overhead. It takes all of five seconds for him to withdraw, satisfied he’s gotten rid of most of it. The guy has gone scarlet, mouth hanging open slightly as their eyes meet. 

 

“You had confetti,” Shouto explains, usefully. His fingers, sticky with drink, are covered in it.

 

“I-I, uh, thank you, pro-hero Shouto,” the waiter stammers, glasses clattering as he moves them onto the tray. He looks very flustered. Shouto attempts to smile placatingly at him, but it doesn’t seem to help; his mouth is uncooperative, smile stretching more than intended, and the guy is still staring at him. 

 

“Just take the glasses, dumbass,” Bakugou groans, unceremoniously dumping the rest onto the tray and making Shouto flinch a little as he nearly elbows him in the side to do so. “God.”

 

“T-thank you, pro-hero Grou-“

 

“C’mon, scram!”

 

The waiter retreats hastily; Shouto turns to raise his brows rather scornfully at Bakugou, who is looking at him through exaggeratedly narrowed eyes.

 

“What was that-“

 

“You’re drunk.”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“You’re drunk,” Bakugou repeats, lips twisting up into a smirk as his eyebrows rise. “You just gave that poor bastard a month’s worth of weird wet dreams on purpose.”

 

“I did no such thing,” Shouto protests, flushing a little as he glances back to the bar, where the waiter is stumbling into a chair. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“You,” Bakugou declares accusingly, triumphant glint in his eye, “Are the kind of asshole who starts hitting on people when he’s drunk.”

 

“I wasn’t hitting on anyone,” Shouto counters, except for some reason he can hear his voice take on the sarcastic prim tone he usually uses on reporters condescending him, which- “I was just being helpful.”

 

“Yeah, you couldn’t have just told the guy he had confetti in his hair,” Bakugou returns, sardonic. He’s definitely drunk, because he’s uncannily expressive still, gaze glittering excitedly. “Or stopped that HR girl from falling in any way other than a dip. Or examined Eijirou’s burn-scar without making him take half his clothes off.”

 

“He asked me for my professional advice,” Shouto responds, a touch plaintively. He has the unfortunate impression that Bakugou may be correct, and also that he’s not entirely sure how to stop himself. He doesn’t even feel particularly chastised; his lips are curling slightly of their own volition, and he knows Bakugou catches the movement by the way his eyes widen then narrow to slits.

 

“Half ’n half is a shameless fucking flirt,” Bakugou says, in vague disbelief, sounding like he can’t decide whether to mock him relentlessly or to grin in wild entertainment. “No one is going to believe this shit.”

 

“All of your evidence is circumstantial at best,” Shouto decides, somewhat distractedly; he’s not sure how he feels about this development, especially because he suspects that he’s quite enjoying himself, sparkling feeling in his gut still going strong despite the fact he’s apparently been caught at it. “It’s not like I’m flirting with you.”

 

He says it before he thinks it through, into the gap between their faces, and it hovers there almost physically.

 

Bakugou’s brows shoot sky-high; Shouto maybe reconsiders his relative sobriety, but the lack of yelling is intriguing, so he puts any thoughts of damage control aside, waits for his response, mockingly thoughtful when it comes. 

 

“You’re not, huh?”

 

“Well, you tell me, I suppose,” Shouto shrugs, palming his cheek in his hand. There is a hot, fizzy feeling in his stomach, like swallowing fireflies. “Since you’re the one who has this whole conspiracy theory.”

 

“Oh, sure, then,” Bakugou counters, flash of white teeth in his sarcastic grin. He has very sharp teeth. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten your attempts to maul me in the men’s bathroom.”

 

“If I was going to attempt to maul you I wouldn’t do it in a urinal,” Shouto informs him, matter-of-fact; Bakugou actually blinks at him, lips tugging upwards like he wants to laugh but isn’t willing to lose face so easily. 

 

“What, not classy enough for you?”

 

“Not really suited to anything that lasts more than a minute,” Shouto offers, and would you look at that- Bakugou actually flushes, choking back a startled laugh. 

 

“Shit, Utsushimi, are you doing this?”

 

“Nn,” Camie mumbles, batting unseeingly at them. “Wha-?”

 

“So I’m not hallucinating Todoroki hitting on me with all the subtlety of a fucking brick to the face,” Bakugou surmises, eyes glinting with disbelieving amusement. “Just checking.”

 

“I’m still not hitting on you,” Shouto points out judiciously. “We’re just talking.”

 

“You ‘just talk’ to everyone like this?” Bakugou snarks. He’s a lot more amusing tipsy, Shouto finds- just as abrasive but blatantly transparent in his supposed aggression. Or maybe Shouto is just more easily amused when he’s tipsy. 

 

“Well, you’re not everyone.”

 

Bakugou groans incredulously as Shouto struggles not to smile, dragging a hand across his face. “For fuck’s sake, icyhot, you’re embarrassing yourself.“

 

“I’m embarrassing you,” Shouto corrects, and feels himself dimple. “I’m enjoying myself.”

 

If he’d known the easiest way was to get under Bakugou’s skin was just to lob vague innuendos at him for a while, he would have done so years ago, spared himself the annoyance of having to revert to the silent treatment instead when the years have rendered all of his friends far too proficient at reading through his poker face. 

 

Bakugou drops his hand, skin still dappled with pink, and something sparks in his eyes, like he’s just now seeing this for the extension this is of every other verbal game of one-upmanship they regularly partake in. A sense of foreboding creeps distantly under Shouto’s radar. 

 

“Y’know, two can play at this shitty game.”

 

Shouto makes a show of looking around the room; Bakugou sparks him in the crook of his arm, which hurts a lot more than it has any right to. 

 

“Oh, you mean you.”

 

“Insufferable bastard,” Bakugou mutters, almost to himself, then squares his shoulders and smooths his expression to neutral, brows furrowed gently. “Thing is, though, ‘m not particularly interested.”

 

“That’s a pity.”

 

“Sure is for you,” Bakugou agrees, sharp. “I mean, you’ve got guts trying this shit on me, I’ll give you that, or probably you’re just kind of brain-dead. But you’re out of your league.”

 

“I see,” Shouto muses, scrupulously neutral. “So you’re a great expert in this domain?”

 

Bakugou just flips him off, proceeds unperturbed. “Problem with the average dumbass is that they practically cream themselves when any pro-hero spares them a second. And these two morons are easily impressed.”

 

“And you have high standards,” Shouto suggests, following now. Bakugou quirks a brow, like obviously, wraps up his line of argument.

 

“Sort of remember someone calling me an uncooperative pig-headed bastard once. Doesn’t bode well for you.”

 

“How rude,” Shouto notes. They’re at an impasse, it would seem. He considers this, fingers running absently through his hair. It’s his move to make.

 

There’s probably a good reason not to do this. What could it be? His eyes keep chasing the mottled pink on Bakugou’s face, so atypically soft-looking. 

 

“What are you two whispering about?” Camie asks, abruptly, from where she’d been absently staring at some video on her phone; they both startle a little harder than is befitting professional heroes to look at her. Shouto had sort of forgotten they were in company. 

 

Her moving jostles Kirishima loose, who overbalances and topples to the floor with a mighty crash, rock-hard skin against wood, making several groups around them jolt and stare.

 

“Ow,” Kirishima says, morosely. Bakugou sighs explosively.

 

“I’ll get him,” Shouto half-laughs, standing up with some reluctance so he can pull a sheepish Kirishima to his feet. It takes some manoeuvring, Kirishima less in control of his Quirk in the state he’s in.

 

Out of the booth the air is slightly less stuffy, and he feels rationality seep into his brain in slow waves. “This feels like a sign to turn in.”

 

From behind him Bakugou radiates satisfaction, like he was just waiting for him to back down; Shouto refrains from pulling a face at him, biding his time. He’ll get the last word on this.

 

“Yeah, should probably call it a night,” Kirishima is agreeing, rubbing at his face with half a grin. His napping seems to have sobered him up a little; he’s only slurring a little. “Sorry for being such a liability. I haven’t been out in a while.”

 

“You also haven’t slept properly all week,” Bakugou says, swatting at his head very mildly. “Come on, Utsushimi, get your shoes.”

 

“Shoes,” Camie sighs, mournfully. “I, like, hate shoes.”

 

They collect themselves with relative ease, well-accustomed to quick exits. None of them are fit for driving, so they wait for their respective rides together, Camie’s arm looped around Shouto for balance and Kirishima leaning against Bakugou’s shoulder. 

 

“You don’t seem wasted,” Camie yawns, nudging Shouto in the side. “Did the plan fail?”

 

“I wouldn’t say fail,” Shouto says, pensive. “But I also wouldn’t say wasted.”

 

“No thanks to you two drinking half of our intended drinks,” Bakugou interjects, making Kirishima laugh. Camie pouts.

 

“Don’t worry,” Shouto hums, ostensibly for Camie’s ears alone, turning to watch their taxi approach. “We’ll try again this weekend.”

 

Behind him he can almost hear Bakugou bristle.

 

 

He wakes up ten minutes past his alarm the next morning, a sour taste in his mouth. When he glances at himself in the mirror as he rushes out of the bathroom, toothbrush shoved hastily in his mouth as he throws on whatever’s at hand, his eyes seem a little puffy. Hangovers really aren’t so bad if this is all that they involve. 

 

He makes it to work in good time, ten minutes early to his usual fifteen, vaguely conscious that he looks like a mess. A paparazzi outside may or may not have taken a picture. He has more pressing concerns- the junket is taking place just after lunch, and his PR team undoubtedly has some coaching to do.

 

The mood in the office is subdued; a lot of people seem to be running late, and the people present are for the most part slightly grey-tinged. He finds Camie hovering by the coffee-machine looking immaculate.

 

“Good morning.”

 

“Ow, ow, quiet,” Camie says, wincing. At his raised brow she swipes her hand, dissolving the glamour; she looks sort of ill underneath it, huge sunglasses over her eyes and hair in loose braids. She peers over the rim of her sunglasses to look at him eyes widening before she slips them back on. “You’re terrible.”

 

“…Sorry?”

 

“No, no, don’t apologise,” Camie waves away, reinstating the glamour as she sips her coffee. “It’s just- you really aren’t feeling even a little bad, are you? Of course not. And you don’t even look it.”

 

“Being genetically engineered has its perks,” Shouto offers, tentatively apologetic. Camie whines a little and then pats his chest.

 

“You make it hard to be engaged sometimes.”

 

He busies himself in work as he waits for his meetings, casting an eye over that prison case of his before returning to filing the damage claims for Tuesday’s fight. It’s repetitive work; his mind wanders as he types serial numbers out. 

 

For his first experience with drunkenness, he thinks he handled it well. He’d been slightly wary of ever pushing himself to his limits on the off chance that he did something wildly out of character and potentially embarrassing, though he is not easily embarrassed. It seems he has a ways to go to reach that point. For the most part he’d been essentially normal, barring his apparent flirtatiousness.

 

He’s not entirely sure how to feel about that. For all that Bakugou will undoubtedly tell it otherwise, he’d at least been quite tame- none of Kaminari’s cheesy pick-up lines had left his mouth, and he’d avoided any kind of Mineta-style lechery, so he at least doesn’t feel as though he’s overstepped boundaries or done anything he feels uncomfortable with in retrospect. It still feels somewhat at odds with his natural penchant for reserved straightforwardness. 

 

Then again, he reflects, he hadn’t sincerely been attempting to seduce any of his apparent targets. He remembers his state of mind quite accurately, he thinks, and he’d really just been pushing people’s buttons a bit. Put that way the whole thing feels more like an extension of his not-quite covert tendency towards mischief, itself the latent friendlier expression of his deep-set inclination to rebel. He wouldn’t do it sober, because it feels sort of uncalled for in a frivolous sense to toy with people’s emotions like that, and also he wouldn’t want to risk anyone misreading his intentions, but it doesn’t feel so foreign to him when he thinks about it that way. 

 

It is also why he feels no shame at having done it to Bakugou of all people- neither of them took it for a genuine attempt. It’s slightly regrettable, because for a moment or two before it clicked he’d had him flustered, but better in the long run because Shouto can only imagine the shit-show that would take place if Bakugou thought Shouto was sincerely hitting on him. He’s actually not entirely sure he’s ever seen anyone hit on Bakugou, except maybe crazed fans. Then again, he is an uncooperative prickly bastard; it would take someone very brave or somewhat suicidal to actually try.

 

He really has done quite enough musing about Bakugou’s love life, he thinks, noting the time with a hint of alarm. He refocuses on the fascinating endeavour that is insurance invoices.

 

His PR team sweeps in like a kettle of hawks before lunch, equipped with a change of clothes, a stylist, and several pages of guidelines on inter-office press reports. Shouto accepts the change of clothes and the skincare products, refuses the hair-gel and the gaudy belt, and dutifully reads the guidelines before inquiring if there is any guidance on how to act when your inter-office equivalent will no doubt break rules 15 through 36 within the first minute of questions. 

 

“I’m not being difficult,” he points out, when his image rep casts him a warning look. “This is Bakugou. He head-butted a reporter mid-sentence six months ago.”

 

“Well, don’t get any ideas. It’s not as on-brand for you.”

 

“I’ll try my best.”

 

“And don’t head-butt him either.”

 

“No promises.”

 

They’re holding the conference outside of Might Tower, conveniently enough, probably because it makes for a better backdrop and it’s so established that all the major news agencies know the procedure for it by heart, so he only needs to wander downstairs about ten minutes before they’re scheduled to begin, Akaba and some other senior staff in tow as they reach the podium. Ahead, thirty-odd reporters with notebooks and tablets in hand are finding their spots, camera crews milling behind them and the national news stations occupying prime slots amidst them. He skims through them, finding mostly familiar (senior) faces, some newbies with ambitious glints in their eyes- all accredited journalists, though, for an official event like this, so it’ll be dry and business-like, no salacious questions about dating or (god forbid) his father.

 

Bakugou meets his eye from his side of the table, nods at him. Shouto nods back. Bakugou doesn’t look any worse for wear from the previous night either. He’s managed to avoid being shoved into a suit too, head to toe in black as per usual, and the outfit manages to look like it works for the occasion while also being something he could exercise in. Shouto has a dark suspicion he went jogging at some ungodly hour of the morning in it, incorrigible health freak that he is.

 

“Right, shall we get started?” Akaba asks, clapping her hands together. Bakugou’s management team acquiesces, as they begin exchanging bows and handshakes. Shouto mostly stays in his spot and bows in people’s direction; he and Bakugou exchange very perfunctory head movements. Professional politeness is all well and good, but the day the two of them start respecting etiquette with regards to each other is the day hell freezes over. 

 

They turn to face the journalists, now settled down into silence; Shouto’s boss looks meaningfully towards Akaba, their chosen moderator, who nods and leans over her mic. She often takes the role in Might Tower press events; she’s got the timbre and presence for it, and the press turns attentive as she talks. 

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming in today. The purpose of our conference is to discuss the events of the fight that took place yesterday evening between pro-heroes Shouto and Ground Zero and the monster villain known as Godzilla. Much of the fight having been televised, we intend to keep this short and sweet. The heroes will briefly recount the events of the fight from their professional perspective, and then we will open the floor to questions. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you to keep your questions pertinent and respectful.” 

 

She pauses to gesture on either side of the table. “Our speakers will be pro-hero Shouto and pro-hero Ground Zero, accompanied today by representatives of their agencies.”

 

Brief applause follows; they bow and sit. Akaba turns to him. 

 

“Pro-hero Shouto, if you would be so kind as to recount the fight.”

 

“Hm,” Shouto acknowledges, nodding. He makes for extremely accurate reporting, though journalists despair at his dryness. “I was on-duty in Chuo City on an unrelated mission when the call came in. Given my relative proximity to the villain I made the call to intervene. I took the shortest route possible to Shinkawa, presuming given the size of the villain that he would have advanced to there by the time I reached him. On the way I alerted Ground Zero of the attack and he indicated he would be some ten minutes behind me.”

 

He pauses, takes a sip of his water. Taking so long uninterrupted makes him antsy. “I assessed the danger as I approached. My priority was to ensure the villain’s focus was on myself to minimise the threat he posed to civilians and infrastructure in the area, so I initiated the fight by striking at his eye, which seemed the most vulnerable target. I then tested the resistance of his scales with my fire and found them incredibly resilient. I was briefly struck by his tail, which unfortunately resulted in damage to a nearby building. I then began to pry at his scales using my ice, on the presumption that once I did this I could incapacitate the villain through a hit to the brain or other important organs. While I did this I noticed a bus trapped within our periphery and diverted my attention to it. Ground Zero arrived, distracting the villain, and I moved the bus out of the danger-zone. We agreed that attempting to wound the villain seriously enough to stop it would either result in i-his death or massive property damage, and I suggested leading it to the harbour so that I could contain it. Ground Zero took the lead as I stabilised the damage left in the villain’s wake. Our plan was interrupted once by the presence of civilians in an area we were proceeding through, but otherwise functioned as expected. The villain transformed into human form once it became clear he could not escape.”

 

Brief slip-up on the pronouns there; he hopes it won’t be noticed. Anti-hero propagandists are always looking for some ridiculous angle to promote, and his PR team had coached him to avoid dehumanising villains in discussion. 

 

“Ground Zero-san, do you have anything to add?”

 

Bakugou only shakes his head dismissively. “He has it covered.”

 

“Then we’ll move on to questions. Show of hands, please.”

 

“My question is for Shouto-san,” the first journalist says, when Akaba nods towards him. “Your finishing move of restraining the villain was incredibly impressive, and not one we have seen from you before. Will you be coining it as a Plus Ultra move? Where did the inspiration come from?”

 

“Ah,” Shouto says, reflective. “I don’t believe I will brand it Plus Ultra until I have a clearer idea of its potential as a stand-alone move. For the moment it’s too similar to my Ice Wall. I’ve been working on introducing more fluidity into my bigger ice usages, so that’s why I used it.”

 

“My question is for both heroes,” the next man asks, looking between the two of them. “Are you proud of your collaboration? Do you believe there were things that could have gone more smoothly in your teamwork? This is the first major villain you have fought alone as professionals- was it a successful partnership?”

 

Their eyes meet. Shouto raises a brow imperceptibly. Bakugou spares him half a scowl before turning to face the journalist.

 

“Obviously it was a successful partnership. I don’t know if you noticed the lack of a giant dinosaur stomping through Tokyo.” A titter through the audience.

 

“I don’t know what you want us to say that you couldn’t see online. Half ’n half and I have been working together when necessary since the League broke into our high school six years ago. Obviously we’re pretty damn good at it by now.”

 

“I always enjoy working with my ex-classmates,” Shouto concurs. “We’re very familiar with each other’s fighting styles.”

 

“Would you say that is a matter of UA privilege?” one of the younger journalists asks, diplomatic but keen. “Having such a closed-off group of elite pros- might that not function to the exclusion of other heroes?”

 

“Either I got concussed yesterday or you didn’t put your hand up,” Bakugou drawls, crossing his arms over his chest as he stares heavily at the guy. “As for your question- that whole debate is stupid. UA doesn’t recruit people based on some special privilege bullshit, it recruits on Quirk potential, which makes fucking sense. I’m so sorry if some guy with glowing spit’s feelings got hurt because he isn’t suited to defending the country from supervillains. Get another job.” 

 

“I also didn’t call Ground Zero in out of school pride,” Shouto says, unmoved. “Gale Force would have suited me just as well. It’s a matter of Quirks being best suited for the occasion.”

 

Another journalist, with her hand up this time. “Is that your official reasoning for calling Ground Zero in as back-up, then?”

 

“Yes,” Shouto says, serene, as Bakugou glowers at the term. “With a villain of that scale, a high-power, high-intensity Quirk like mine was the most effective. Ground Zero was an obvious candidate.”

 

“You weren’t worried about how his plan of action might intervene with yours?”

 

“No,” Shouto says, and considers Bakugou. He allows the slightest of quirk to his lips. “He’s really quite agreeable to work with.”

 

Akaba snorts under her breath; Bakugou, by his side, sparks him in the thigh. It hurts like a bitch. 

 

“Ground Zero- you were very prompt in responding to the call. Were you expecting trouble? Why did you leave your partner behind?”

 

“A whole dinosaur vanished into a sewer a week ago. Everyone was expecting trouble,” Bakugou huffs. “And his logic holds up- if I’d wanted an assist I’d probably have called him in too. So when the call came I knew what to expect. Red Riot doesn’t have the sort of Quirk for a takedown like this, and we were on-call.”

 

“You left behind an active mission?”

 

“I left behind an administrative argument with Town Hall in favour of stopping Godzilla,” Bakugou scoffs. “I assumed Red Riot could handle that much.”

 

“I would have gone for Godzilla too,” Shouto says, leaning away from his mic, though it carries just enough that the press smiles. Bakugou rolls his eyes at him.

 

“Pro-hero Shouto- how would you respond to naysayers who argue that this latest victory, while undoubtedly impressive, only reflects the necessity of your having a partner at the early stages of your career?”

 

“I would be confused,” Shouto says, after a moment. “As to how the two relate. The kind of villain which requires more than one of me is… rare.”

 

Bakugou snorts. 

 

“I’m conscious of time, so for the both of you- how do you feel about the undoubted impact this fight will have on your hero rankings? Are you excited? Anticipatory? Surprised?”

 

“I’m excited to have saved this city a lot of hassle,” Shouto says, dutifully, in part as reproach for the bland question. “As for rankings, we’ll have to see.” 

 

“Anticipatory? Sure,” Bakugou shrugs, and Shouto doesn’t have to look at him to know what face he’s making, all aggressive certainty. “I’ll be anticipatory until I get that number one spot.” He smiles sharply. “Don’t see why anyone would be surprised, though.”

 

“If Ground Zero-san does break the top five, Shouto-san, how will you take it?”

 

“Hm,” Shouto says, considering Bakugou. “I never would have seen it coming. I’ll have to congratulate him on his uncharacteristic success.”

 

He inflects more heavily than usual in the event that the presses misunderstand his response, but by the entertained looks he gets it seems to get it across fine. It’s silly when people try to goad them into acting like they’re not all mutually aware of each other’s talents.

 

“Were you considering the rating implications when you called him in for this job?”

 

“Wild guess, but I would have figured he was maybe considering how to stop Godzilla from destroying half of Tokyo.”

 

“That did take priority,” Shouto agrees, and folds his hands politely. “Besides, Ground Zero will make for a very qualified fifth on the leaderboard, for now. It would be unprofessional to try to sabotage that.”

 

“That’s our time for questions,” Akaba interjects, amidst more chatter; Bakugou leans back in his chair. 

 

This close, leaning towards each other so their conversation isn’t caught by the microphones, their thighs are touching. Bakugou’s eyes are amber-red against the flash.

 

“A very qualified fifth, huh?”

 

“And, I imagine, a fourth, third, or second.”

 

“Break top five and then we’ll talk.”

 

Shouto mimes zipping his lips. 

 

 

Izuku breaks the news first, calling at what must be an ungodly hour to excitedly yell at him through the phone, all fond admiration and shrewd calculation as Shouto watches his social media flood with news articles celebrating Ground Zero’s ground-breaking placement. 

 

It’s not a surprise, but it still makes him smile consideringly- makes it feel slightly more like their lives are real, like their aims are within reach. He thinks back to thrown Sports Festivals and sends Bakugou a very perfunctory congratulatory text. Bakugou just sends back his address. He presumes correctly that Shouto has lost it since last visiting.

 

When he walks into the apartment that night it immediately feels nothing like the office party, which had at least maintained the pretence of civility. By contrast, the moment Shouto steps foot into the apartment, wincing at the volume, Kaminari seizes him bodily and drags him off his feet into the living-room, crowing in excitement.

 

“Finally, you’re here! Katsuki wouldn’t start without you!”

 

He already seems tipsy. Shouto realizes with a beat of panic that he might be a little fucked. 

 

He barely has the time to find his bearings before he’s being dropped into a seat at the dining table; an alarming amount of shots is lined up on either side, Bakugou scowling for effect as Ochako perches on the corner closest to him pouring something noxious-looking into a glass.

 

“This is a terrible idea,” Tenya says, in the tone of one who fully expects not to be listened to. Shouto is surprised he’s even here, but he supposes this sort of thing is cause for 1-A wide celebration. “That is poison.”

 

“It’s not,” Ochako dismisses, capping the bottle shut again. “It’s a drink befitting of our noble nation’s top five hero.” 

 

“Until you kill him!”

 

“Or me,” Shouto adds, helpfully picking his own glass up. The liquid inside is red and glittery. 

 

“Chug, chug, chug!” Ashido crows, clapping her hands together. 

 

Shouto meets Bakugou’s gaze. He looks relaxed and smug even through his put-upon scowl, which does not come as a surprise. Still, there’s an obstinate expectation to it, like he still thinks Shouto’ll chicken out at the last minute, like Shouto might be embarrassed by his past behaviour. Foolish, really- Shouto was the one winning that round. 

 

“To making the top five,” Shouto says, and downs the glass. 

 

It tastes like swallowing fire. This night is headed for disaster.

 

 

He has no idea how much he drinks. The first ten minutes of the party are a monotonous blur of wincing through whatever the hell Ochako is making them drink. Despite what the delighted disbelief of their friends might suggest, he’s not exactly being a reckless idiot in indulging them- he suspects they’ll get drunk and distracted enough soon enough that he doesn’t have to worry about life-long liver issues. Sure enough, once they’ve cleared the funnier-looking drinks without losing their minds, the party scatters a little. 

 

Neither of them stops drinking, though. It’s definitely a gross misuse of hero training to use his finely honed instincts to spot Bakugou whenever he picks up a drink, but they match each other pretty much evenly from their various conversations across the room. 

 

He feels the difference. Drinking this much this fast may well be fatal to others; Shouto, instead, feels the blooming giddiness of Wednesday night burst through him at dizzying speed, his face grow out of control as his smiles come easily. He’s hot, too, and he catches himself rambling more than once before he stops caring. No one else does- his friends range from tipsy to plastered; no one is pointing fingers.

 

Bakugou’s labelling holds true, though. Shouto doesn’t see much of him for most of the evening, too busy reconnecting with his non-Tokyo based friends or those he never sees regardless while the Bakusquad goes berserk with pride and affection, but he catches himself thinking the words ‘shameless fucking flirt’ with a modicum of scruples as he finds himself somehow convincing Tenya to undo the top three buttons of his shirt.

 

None of his friends take offence to his flirting, at least. He’s not sure if it’s because they’re friends or because it’s him specifically, but short of complaint it only serves to encourage him. He’s aware, distantly, that he must be getting very drunk indeed, but he’s having way too much fun to care. He doesn’t usually have fun, not this obviously. 

 

“Oh my god, Shouto,” Ochako is giggling, red-faced and highly entertained, at some point in the night, straps of her dress sliding down her shoulder as she shifts. “You’re so- you’re so, so- forwards!”

 

“Forwards, backwards,” Shouto hums, hooking a finger under the offending piece of fabric to right it. “Any way you like.”

 

“Shouto!” Ochako cries, delighted, batting him away. “That’s terrible!”

 

He knows; he smiles, keeps his hand on her shoulder. Her skin is soft there, though he knows if he slides down her arm he’ll feel the rough jagged edges of her biggest scar. He likes the contact. He likes feeling the blood course through her veins if he presses his fingers just right. It’s good to feel for his friends and find them present and alive.

 

Ochako is pretty, too, like a Ghibli girl, all brown-eyed and dark-browed, and so very good to her friends. He hopes she knows how much he likes her. He hopes she knows how much Izuku likes her, in a different way. Izuku would probably kiss her if he was this drunk and this close. Their gazes lock; Shouto thinks he could probably kiss her too, and she’d let him, for a laugh. 

 

He won’t, obviously. Ochako is Ghibli-pretty and tough as- as steel, as rocks, as blood under nails, but Ochako is not someone he really wants to kiss. He struggles to think of anyone, really. Kissing is such a tricky physical business, and normally he doesn’t like any of that sort of thing. Now, like this, holed away with someone’s lip-gloss caught on the corner of his mouth and Ochako’s solid heat under his palm, he thinks maybe that’s not so true, but the other, the thing that underlies a kiss and makes it more than skin, that he’s still missing, and he doesn’t like to do things when he doesn’t mean them. 

 

“I’m proud of you,” Ochako says, like maybe she can read minds, or maybe not, because she blinks and sways, like it took an effort to concentrate on that. Her gaze is wide-open; Shouto thinks if he reached he could grab the warmth right out of it. “Y’know? Like- you’re doing really good. Alone. You’re just- yeah. Good.”

 

“You’re so drunk,” Shouto says, to be difficult, and because it makes her laugh and swat at him. He drops her shoulder, presses a thumb to the hollow of her wrist instead so they’re still connected. “Thank you.”

 

“So silly,” Ochako remonstrates, and buries her head against his chest, hair tickling his chin from where it floats lightly. So Ghibli, he thinks, and then forgets what he was thinking about, smelling vanilla and yuzu and faintly conscious of the throbbing music from the next room over. 

 

Someone bangs against a wall nearby, and his eyes open (when had they closed?); he steps back. He’s so hot. Too hot, maybe, actually, like steaming a little. Ochako entwines their fingers and drags him unsteadily out of the corridor, smile bright when they spot Bakugou extricating himself from the sitting-room.

 

“Kacchan.”

 

“Round face,” Bakugou shoots back, and oh, Shouto had sort of forgotten what this party was for until he spotted the five painted sloppily onto Bakuou’s cheek with lipstick. “You two been off frenching in the hall?”

 

“In your wildest dreams,” Ochako snorts, then lets go of his hand to hug Bakugou very hard. “Congrats again, mister big shot.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Bakugou says, running his fingers through her hair distractedly until Shouto drags his gaze upward and he notices himself doing it. Ochako giggles, shakes her head. 

 

“I’m gonna go pee now. Play nice.”

 

Shouto should answer, maybe, but it slips his mind; he’s busy watching Bakugou watch him, both trying to gauge how drunk the other is, how much they can play off. Shouto’s head feels too fuzzy for stratagems. The music is louder from where he’s stood, bass drumming lowly through the floor, and he’s thirsty, and his hair is in his eyes. Bakugou is drunk, too, a lot, he thinks, or it wouldn’t be so obvious he has to try to frown that much. Why it matters is eluding him.

 

He moves with the intent of getting in front of a window, for the breeze, but when he stops moving he’s in the doorway instead, opposite Bakugou, and the cool wooden frame feels nice against his nape, so he stays put. Moving too fast makes him dizzy, now. He’s fairly sure it doesn’t normally.

 

“Haven’t seen much of you,” Bakugou says, more contemplative than he probably wants it to sound, because Bakugou doesn’t like to sound like he thinks about things. 

 

“Miss me?” Shouto offers, not because he means it, and Bakugou’s lips quirk like maybe he was waiting to see if he’d call his bluff. It’s a nice thing, the half-smile, swallowed amusement. Nice like friend-nice, but also different, because Bakugou is very rarely sugar and spice like the others. Bakugou is the other one, with snails and puppy dog tails.

 

“Just worried you’ve been getting off in our guest room.”

 

“You could have knocked.”

 

He’s good at this game. Somehow it makes more sense than the normal rules of conversation. The joke lies in the spark, and it’s easy to tell when it works. Pulse, pupil, palpitations. Bakugou doesn’t show any, but Bakugou’s always difficult. 

 

“You’re fucking ridiculous,” Bakugou says. He’s glancing away as he says it, trying to school his expression into a frown. He manages eventually, turns back towards him. 

 

Shouto only raises a shoulder. “And you’re uncooperative.”

 

Bakugou scoffs at that, shakes his head. “Don’t you know who you’re talking to? You don’t make top five by being hard to work with.”

 

“So I should take it personally.”

 

“Damn right you should,” Bakugou grins. He’s going to be insufferably cocky for god knows how long after this, Shouto thinks, long-suffering. “Try harder or don’t try at all.”

 

The smudged five on his face humanises him. He needs to be humanised sometimes. Shouto too, he’s aware. He wonders if there’ll be a party once he makes top five, or of this is a one-off, if he’ll need to make top four now to have one. He doesn’t like parties in his honour much. He’s liked this one, though, how light and easy things have gotten. Usually he’s always thinking. Now he’s thinking less, and it’s not so serious. Right now he’s thinking about the two of them in this doorframe, and how maybe they really are friends by now, real ones, or Bakugou wouldn’t let him do this, even drunk, even joking. 

 

He won’t play along, but he said ‘try harder’, and that’s an invitation. Probably not intended as such, but Shouto is happy to take it that way. 

 

Kaminari stumbles by, in a daze, so Bakugou moves, and then he’s in the middle of the doorframe instead. Shouto counts freckles absently, thinks about Camie. Six years ago Bakugou didn’t have freckles except maybe on his nose. 

 

Audacity spurs him on.

 

“Katsuki,” Shouto says, thoughtful, and Bakugou balks, eyes flashing startled copper like they never would otherwise, brows shooting up high. 

 

“The fuck?”

 

“It’s your name, isn’t it?” Shouto asks, unabashed, curls his fingers behind his back to refrain from the urge to wriggle around triumphantly. This is perhaps slightly immature. On another night he’d leave him be, but this is not another night, and he’s possibly quite drunk, and Bakugou needs a knock to his unshakeable confidence, and he’s finding it quite hard to think of something better to do than stand in this doorframe poking the bear. 

 

“Yeah, like the name is what’s weirding me out!”

 

“I don’t see why it’s weird,” Shouto says. “You call me by my first name sometimes.”

 

“Only cause it’s your fucking hero name,” Bakugou bites back, then glowers a little. “And just saying my damn name isn’t going to be enough to get me to lose.”

 

“Lose what?” Shouto replies, tilting his head forwards. “Maybe I feel awkward calling by your surname after all this time.” Belatedly: “Katsuki.”

 

It is incredibly satisfying how fast Bakugou’s cheeks heat up. He seems ready to bark out some command, catches himself at the last second, competitiveness rearing its head as he swallows his complaints. It doesn’t quite erase the glare, though. “Guess we’re just not close enough for that shit.”

 

Shouto considers the gap between them. “I wouldn’t have thought you wanted to get any closer.”

 

Bakugou blinks, and then he’s barking out a disbelieving laugh, stifled immediately but recognisable nonetheless. Shouto intends on pressing the advantage, but it’s distracting; he finds himself smiling back, dropping the act a little. That they’ve ended up here, having a frivolous conversation like this, is funny; he understands that, despite his active involvement. 

 

“You’re a ridiculous drunk,” Bakugou informs him, and he thinks he’s probably lost his opportunity to needle him by how unconsciously relaxed Bakugou sounds, but he doesn’t really mind. “You should never fucking drink in public.”

 

“I don’t intend to,” Shouto says, and leans back against the frame, conceding brief defeat. “Although it might be useful in some settings.”

 

“You’re gonna proposition a villain or two?” Bakugou retorts, in tones of mockery, though it’s tinged by the same sort of tone he extends to Kirishima, and when Shouto gives him a pointed look he shoves at his shoulder, palm scalding and gone too fast. 

 

“I was thinking more that it’d make me more- likable,” Shouto says, which isn’t what he planned on saying, but words are a little hard in the moment. For a beat there is silence, as he stares in mild confusion on the purple staining his hand (where did that come from?) and waits for a response.

 

“That’s fucking stupid,” Bakugou decides, which maybe isn’t funny but catches him off guard enough that he laughs, then struggles to stop laughing, back of his hand pressed to his mouth and eyes crinkling with mirth. 

 

“You’re so wasted,” Bakugou says, almost wondering, watching him lose it; Shouto shakes his head silently, still fighting tremors.

 

“And you’re not? You let me get away with using your name twice.”

 

“Tch, whatever,” Bakugou grumbles, shoving his hands in his pockets. “That’s  not half as embarrassing as you.”

 

“I told you you were a soft drunk,” Shouto informs him, wisely. “Don’t think I didn’t see you cuddling on the couch earlier.”

 

“I got stuck between them,” Bakugou retorts, challengingly. Shouto only shakes his head, movements exaggerated emphatically. 

 

“Soft. I could get away with pretty much anything right now.”

 

“Yeah?” Bakugou demands, and narrows his eyes comically. “So try me.”

 

Normally, Shouto would have some kind of plan of action. Currently, his brain-to-mouth filter is non-existent, and he’d thrown that out there without preparing for his bluff being called. Bakugou doesn’t quite know that, though, so as long as he makes it seem confident he can still get away with it. 

 

“Hm. You sure about that?”

 

“Quit stalling.”

 

“You brought this upon yourself,” Shouto murmurs, maybe to himself, watches Bakugou watch him suspiciously as he pushes himself off the wall. He’s not sure exactly what he’s doing. His brain has gone fuzzy, and his gaze is locked in on Bakugou.

 

He thinks of Ochako’s soft shoulder and Tenya’s scarlet blush, the high giggle that had escaped Kaminari. Bakugou’s expression has not changed, even up close- closer than he was intending, actually, alcohol making him clumsy. When he exhales coolly the tiniest fragment of frost lands on Bakugou’s cheek, right on the five.

 

When standing he still has the height advantage. In a way he feels like it’s metaphorical, but he can’t think why, and it doesn’t seem important. What seems important- what feels significant- is outside of his head, and he-

 

Against his thigh, a strident buzz. He startles, stares downwards, disoriented. 

 

“Your phone, dumbass,” Bakugou says, in the strangest voice. Shouto spares him an edged look, feeling like he’s just woken up from a very prolonged bout of sleepwalking and not entirely sure he’s happy about it, but no one ever calls him on his cellphone, not impromptu, and on auto-pilot he pulls it out of his pocket, raises it mechanically to his ear. 

 

His eyes are still sort of automatically on Bakugou, the fierce burn of his gaze. His ears are ringing. 

 

“Todoroki speakin-“

 

“Shouto,” Fuyumi gasps, voice broken with tears. “It’s father.”

 

The phone freezes solid. 

Chapter Text

It’s been years since Shouto visited his childhood home, for a variety of reasons, most prominently the fact that both of his siblings moved out before he left UA and Fuyumi’s became the unspoken new hub of familial activity. She’s expressed worry about their father alone in that big empty house more than once since, but as far as Shouto is aware their house has always been big and empty regardless of who was living in it, so he can’t imagine it makes much of a difference.

 

His first thought as his taxi pulls up to the gate is a confused thought about who exactly is going to inherit the residence if Enji dies. 

 

He’s not in a state to do this. The shock of the call had certainly sobered him some, and the hour-long ride to Musutafu had helped, but he’s still drunk enough that he feels faintly nauseous from the flashing lights, and if there are press around he might just off himself.

 

He pays the guy with distractedly frozen fingers, rights himself heavily against the car door before he steps outside, staring at the house through the gate. Two police cars are blocking their driveway, and Natsuo’s motorbike is pulled up near the shrubbery. He assumes Fuyumi’s car is somewhere out of sight. 

 

He takes a deep breath, scrubs a hand over his face, then lowers to show his eye to the scanner, waits for the whirring of the gate to start walking. He’s not steady on his feet, but years of hero work have given him rigorous balance, so it probably doesn’t show too much.

 

His brother-in-law is the first to spot him from where he stands slightly aside from the others, and he waves him over, expression sympathetic and grave.

The others look up at that; Shouto first meets his brother’s eyes, steely, then his gaze goes to Fuyumi, who immediately moves away from the two officers stood by her to run towards him.

 

“Shouto! You’re here!”

 

She’s shaking when she wraps her arms around him, and Shouto stiffens on instinct, hates himself for it when she loosens her grip. Years of friendship have made him accustomed to handling touch, but with his family it’s like he can’t ever quite override the instinctive repulsion. They never used to touch.

 

“The police have kept us for questioning ,” Fuyumi says, pushing off him and wiping at her tear-stained cheeks. “Father is in the hospital, we were just about to follow.”

 

“Hospital,” Shouto repeats, dully. On the phone she’d said poison. He remembers watching his father fight Hood on national television, the blood gushing from his face, the way he’d crumbled before getting back up, time and time again. The way his own lungs had closed off with the kind of blind panic he’s only felt four times in his life.

 

His head throbs. He wants to sit down, maybe lie flat down on the gravel, regain his breath, remember how to feel about these things. 

 

He turns towards the officers, straightens his shoulders, smooths his expression. 

 

“Status report.”

 

“Todoroki-san,” one of them starts, glancing at the other, “Given the familial nature of the issue…”

 

Was he really at Bakugou’s an hour ago? It feels like a lifetime. He squeezes his eyes shut hard enough to see spots, controls his breathing. His voice comes out icy.

 

“Status report.”

 

“Sir,” the officer defers, clearing his throat. “We were called by Todoroki Enji at eleven fifteen through the emergency pro lines in his office. He reported a villain break-in the property. He was at the time occupied with fending off the villain, and informed us that the villain’s aim seemed to be directly incapacitating him, using a lighting Quirk. We assured him we would send officers to his location immediately.”

 

“Our first patrol arrived on the scene ten minutes later. Endeavour was still holding his own against the villain, and the scale of combat was too important for them to advance past perimeter. Our second patrol arrived during this time. However…” He hesitates, looks troubled. “At one point in the fight when it seemed clear that Endeavour had the advantage, the villain changed tactics; stopped avoiding close contact. It was hard to follow the fight, but at some point he seemed to have made contact, because Endeavour collapsed.”

 

“Collapsed,” Shouto repeats, disbelieving. The officer nods, pale.

 

“His flames went out on impact,” the other officer supplies. “The officers rushed forwards to intervene, but the villain rigged the gate somehow using his quirk, so it electrocuted anyone who approached. By the time we entered he had vanished. We attempted to secure Endeavour, who was falling unconscious, and immediately called an ambulance; the other patrol left in pursuit of the villain, in case he had left some kind of trail. During this time we reached out to Endeavour’s emergency contacts.”

 

“Endeavour wasn’t immediately unconscious,” Shouto notes, sharp. “What did he say?”

 

“He was largely incoherent; it appeared he was only conscious through great willpower. However, he did mention twice that the villain had taken something, presumably from the property. We attempted to clarify what it was, but he was unable to explain further.”

 

Took something, Shouto thinks. With the amount of classified documents at their home, that could be anything. Later, later- he has something else to ask, what does he… 

 

“How did you know it was poison?”

 

“The ambulance workers said those were his symptoms,” Fuyumi says, voice steady despite the cracking. “When they arrived they confirmed the diagnosis. There’s some kind of toxic substance in his veins.”

 

“I see,” Shouto says, belated. He can’t think straight. Search the office. Right. “Have you searched the perimeter?”

 

“Our second team is doing so as we speak. We were in the process of asking your sib- the target’s children if they could supply any context to this attack. Who might have been behind it, what they might have taken.”

 

Natsuo scoffs, darkly. “Like I said- if you’re looking for someone with a grudge, you’re going to be here all night.”

 

“Our father has many enemies,” Fuyumi agrees, leaning into her husband’s hold, expression torn. “In his line of work…”

 

“You didn’t recognise the villain, then.”

 

Simultaneous head shakes. “The fight was very large-scale; it was hard to make either fighter out. We’re searching databases for lightning quirk villains, of course, but the most we could capture were these images at the end of the fight.”

 

The pictures are clear enough, but he understands their difficulty. The figure standing over his father (prone, immobile) is half-hidden in the smoke tendrils coming from around them, dressed all in black, and their face is turned towards the floor. Even if he wasn’t struggling not to see double, he wouldn’t get much from it.

 

The poison, he thinks again. Something about the poison. Why poison? Why poison, if lightning is on hand?

 

“We were going to accompany the Uchiyamas to the hospital, continue our questioning there, check in on Endeavour’s status. Todoroki-san has indicated his willingness to stay behind and help the perimeter crew for a while longer. Would you like to assist either operation?”

 

“You can ride with us,” Fuyumi adds, gesturing to their car. “Stay the night at ours if we get back late.”

 

He pictures his father pale and unmoving in a hospital bed, poison rotting him from the inside, winces at the heavy-handed irony. From the pallor of his siblings’ expressions, his father might not last the night.

 

“Go ahead without me,” Shouto says, aloud. “I need to check the office, and then I have to go do something.”

 

“Shouto-“ Fuyumi starts, soft, not reproachful but visibly worried. “That can wait until tomorrow, you should… You should come see him, before-“

 

“The faster we move the more chance we have of understanding what happened and if it can be stopped,” Shouto says, monotone. “Either way he’ll be the same when I see him.”

 

It comes out wrong, hurtful when he wasn’t- when he’s never trying to hurt his sister, not her, but his thoughts are scrambled and he needs to do this. By some miracle she doesn’t crumble like he expects her to, only squeezes his hand hard, gaze full of concern, and for a moment he forgets how to breathe, thrown back to being four years old and holding onto his mother like a lifeline.

 

Fuck, his mother. 

 

Fuyumi is saying something distantly. He only tunes back into reality by the time they’re in the car. He watches her mouth move as his brother-in-law squeezes her shoulder, stands transfixed for an instant, then shakes himself, turns robotically towards the house.

 

He catches Natsuo in the doorstep; Natsuo whose face is equally stony, who must understand on some level because he doesn’t even try to speak about it.

 

“Mother-“

 

“Fuyumi called her after you. She knows.”

 

“She’s not-“

 

“Depends on what the hospital says. If it looks bad the cops said they’ll go pick her up.”

 

Shouto nods. It feels like wasps are swarming in his head; his feet carry him to the office without his knowing it, and then he’s inside, staring unseeingly at the semi-familiar ostentatiousness.

 

The office looks untouched, as does most of the house. Obviously Enji took the fight outside. Here, not a paper looks out of place. He’s not such a rookie as to assume that means anything, though, even when he’s still drunk enough to stumble and nearly brain himself on a commemorative bust as he hovers over the desk. 

 

It takes him a frustrating amount of tries to see the keyboard clearly enough to pull through the first level of security, passcodes long engrained in his mind, then the scanner emerges, and he leans (too hard) to press his blue eye against it, straining not to blink. 

 

The computer unlocks. He activates voice command on the third try, leans back.

 

“Copy all files opened in last week to new folder. Encrypt folder. Open new email.” 

 

He watches the files load, rubs at his temples hard. Protocol, protocol, what’s the fucking protocol for- 

 

“Search for keyword: lightning. Copy result tab into new folder. Encrypt. Search for keyword: poison. Copy result tab into new folder. Encrypt.”

 

Some of the officers are approaching, distant voices in the hallway, and he stiffens, heart in his throat, until a third voice cuts through their discussion, stops their footsteps. He stays immobile until he hears them fade, sends rapid thanks to his brother for the bought time.

 

“Attach all three encrypted folders to email. Send to Todoroki Shouto- work address.”

 

The email sends slowly, but their work accounts are used to the bulk; forty seconds in it leaves the outbox, and he deletes the sent mail. 

 

“Open action history cache. Clear commands of last five minutes.”

 

By the time the door to the study opens he’s long since moved on to combing through the house’s surveillance footage, his father’s laptop duly locked and inactive. 

 

“Shouto-san?”

 

“You can see the villain at 138-893-0782, then again thirty seconds later, and then twenty-five minutes later leaving the property,” Shouto says, while the printer whirs. He scoops up one copy of the images, hands the other to the officer. “I cross-referenced the image with previous footage and there’s no recognition, but that could be the software. You should send it to IT to be safe.”

 

“Ah, right,” the officer starts, somewhat wrong-footed. “I- should-“

 

“I reran the external cameras, but just after the end of the fight one of them cut off permanently. I assume the getaway vehicle stood there. Check with the neighbour’s security systems to see if they caught anything.”

 

“Of course-“

 

“I need a ride to Fuchū. Can one of your officers take me?”

 

He barely waits for a startled nod before he’s stalking out of the office.

 

 

It takes fifteen of the twenty minutes the drive takes for his attention to turn away from his own swirling thoughts long enough to focus on his brother. 

 

He hadn’t expected Natsuo to come with, but it’s not completely shocking. He just hadn’t accounted for him either way. For the most part Natsuo hates to be involved in any of their familial drama almost more than Shouto himself; if he feels the need to engage, he does so individually, not as a group effort. 

 

He supposes this is different, if their father might really die. Despite the overwhelming complexity of his feelings towards the man, Shouto knows he doesn’t want him to die like this, and he’s sure the same goes for Natsuo. It’s not even necessarily sentimental. It just sounds wrong. A freak break-in, the end of Endeavour? 

 

Sat staring out into Tokyo, Natsuo looks old. He’s only twenty-four, but the light casts dark shadows onto him, the squareness of his jaw, and his grey eyes are shuttered. 

 

“I don’t want to sit around doing nothing,” he’d said, when Shouto had announced his intentions. “And I don’t want to go to the hospital. I won’t bother you.”

 

Shouto didn’t really have any right to refuse. He isn’t sure he wanted any. 

 

He’s never gotten any more subtle at staring, so Natsuo turns to face him, brooding interrupted. For a moment they just look at each other, then Natsuo glances at the officer driving, reaches into his backpack for a while, re-emerges with a clenched fist and a bottle of water.

 

“You look thirsty.”

 

When Shouto takes the bottle he presses aspirin into his hand. 

 

He drops the aspirin into the water, takes a long swallow once it’s half-way dissolved. “You can tell?”

 

“I’ve been thirsty before,” Natsuo says, a touch wryly. For the first time in forty minutes Shouto’s shoulders relax a fraction.

 

“Timing wasn’t great.”

 

“I can imagine,” Natsuo says, and there’s a smile playing on his lips now, despite the hard, distracted set of his eyes. “That friend of yours made top 5.”

 

“Hm.”

 

“It’s crazy how fast you guys have advanced professionally. Seems like yesterday he was at ours on that internship.”

 

“Endeavour was number two hero by twenty,” Shouto says, glancing at the road.

 

“And you’re number six at twenty-one in a much tougher field,” Natsuo shrugs. “There wasn’t a lot of competition for the tough slots then.”

 

Maybe, Shouto thinks, raises a shoulder. “Sometimes it feels like the villains are getting better, too.”

 

“Or worse,” Natsuo murmurs. He shakes his head. “It’s really- I mean, I should be used to it, by now. But somehow seeing you work at such a high level… It’s still a shock. I watched your fight the other day, on the train. It felt like I was dreaming.”

 

His uncertainty must show, because Natsuo waves a reassuring hand at him. “Don’t worry, I don’t mean to dissuade you from it. I just meant- you’ve always been incredibly powerful, but it still comes as a surprise to think that some days you’re all that’s keeping this country from destruction.”

 

“I wouldn’t say that,” Shouto mumbles. He’s never alone, in his field. And he doesn’t hold the fate of the nation in his hands. 

 

“I think a lot of people would,” Natsuo says. For a moment he looks like he wants to say something else, but then the car slows, the high electric fences and imposing cement walls of Fuchū prison coming into view, and they both fall silent as the car makes its solitary way into the parking.

 

They get to reception in little time. It’s nearing midnight, probably, long past time for visitors, even police, but Shouto flashes his hero badge at them and they let him through. Natsuo isn’t allowed in, but he doesn’t seem to care, merely taking a seat in the empty lobby and taking out his phone.

 

“Two for Todoroki Touya,” Shouto says, and feels more than sees the officer swallow. For a second he spares the time to pity the man.

 

 

It’s been three years since graduation; three years since the League fell, three years since Japan’s number one hero Endeavour officially stepped down from his career. Over these three years Shouto has seen his eldest brother maybe ten times, starting with his trial. 

 

Dabi- Touya, but Dabi to him, still- looks unchanged, as he always does. On another man years of semi-solitary confinement in a maximum security prison might show themselves more obviously, but then Dabi’s face is so disfigured that there’s little left to scar. He’s sat cross-legged on his bed when Shouto comes in, skin pale against the teal of his uniform, and he opens his eyes only after Shouto has sat down on a mat. 

 

“Little brother. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

 

Since his first visit to prison, some things have changed. His brother is no longer cuffed, for one, and his room is more refurbished; Shouto is allowed to sit near him without any particular threat that he’ll lunge and strangle him bare-handed. Dabi is vicious, but never stupid. He understood the rules of the game very quickly; his reports brand him a model prisoner despite the fact that no prison warden likes to approach him.

 

Other things have not changed. The uncanny blue of his gaze is still just as impenetrable. 

 

He knows, Shouto thinks. Somehow, he knows. News travels fast in prisons. No, it’s not just that- it’s that Shouto is here, at this hour of the night, in the state he’s in. So he has to know.

 

“There was a breakout here,” he hears himself say, “Weeks ago.”

 

The jumble of his thoughts realigns itself. This is what he was trying to remember. 

 

“A poison-quirk user. His name- Tukai, or something like that. In for murder.” He pauses, looks his brother in the eyes. “What do you know about that?”

 

For an instant Dabi considers him with an interested look, then his expression clears into a familiar smirk. “Hm. You want my inside opinion, is that right? You could have waited until morning.”

 

Shouto shakes his head, unwilling to partake in mind games. “There’s no time for that. If this man was involved I need to know how and why.”

 

“I see,” Dabi says. “So you come to me to see if I know something?” His expression darkens, smile broadening into a leer. “You think I have any incentive to speak, if Todoroki Enji’s life is on the line?”

 

Anger burns like a flame in his chest, the way it always does where his brother is involved. He thinks it’s shame, maybe, that makes it so hard to control it, shame at what binds them, instinctive and overwhelming. 

 

“I’m surprised it matters so much to you,” Dabi continues, eyeing his scar. “You don’t give off that impression. But then I suppose it’s the hero’s way to care about scum, hm?”

 

“What I think about him is neither here nor there,” Shouto snaps, verbose with fatigue. “Someone has tried to kill him. The loss of a life might mean nothing to you, but it does to me. And his life matters to infinite others. People he saved. People he might still save. Fuyumi. Our mother.”

 

Dabi’s smile vanishes at that, though he shows no sign of remorse; his gaze scans Shouto’s expression. Shouto keeps going before he can interject, well-aware that they’ll get nowhere if he lets him start talking circles around him.

 

“We’ll negotiate with the prison, if that’s what it will take. Maybe you can upgrade to a room with a window, or get a radio in here, I don’t care. I need intel on this prisoner, and I know how prisons work. If there’s anything to know about him, you know it. So either accept or don’t.”

 

“So business-like,” Dabi says, mocking. His eyes are cold. “Fine, I’ll talk. But you owe me.”

 

Even drunk and dazed he’s not that naive. “No. You set the terms out now.”

 

Dabi snorts, shakes his head. “No can do. You’ll just have to trust me.”

 

“Then forget it,” Shouto says, flat, and stands, but a hand wraps around his ankle and he stills, giving his brother a steady look. Dabi keeps his hand where it is, scar against skin, the feeling faintly nauseating.

 

“Come visit me here,” Dabi says, final. “Thrice this year.”

 

“Thrice,” Shouto echoes. His mind is racing to understand what underlies this request, but he’s not in a state for it, hypervigilant and on edge. It could be anything- some sort of prison break-out scheme he’d be enabling, mind games he can’t spot, even a genuine desire for reconciliation. It could be anything. 

 

Hawks has told him prior, in one of their brief and extremely uncomfortable discussions on the subject, that despite his attitude his brother has no real ill-intention towards him or his siblings, and Hawks would know, he supposes, probably better than anyone. Shouto, however, has never been one to take someone’s word for something he can’t verify himself, and though that may well be a flaw of his, it’s not one he’s interested in addressing. 

 

The thing with Dabi- Touya, is that Shouto doesn’t trust him, and probably never will. Fuyumi does, not because she’s stupid or naive but because she is willing to take the risk of being wrong for the sake of extending love to someone who needs it; Shouto isn’t- has never been- that selfless, and he’d learnt that long before he knew to recognise his eldest brother in the man directly responsible for the second and third biggest traumas of his young life. The irony of where he learnt that lesson doesn’t elude him. 

 

In one of their first one-on-one discussions, just after the trial, they’d fought viciously- uncharacteristically, actually, because his brother doesn’t like to lose control, but in retrospect he’s theorised the lashing out stemmed from confusion, because of what Shouto had said in court.

 

“You expect me to be sorry, maybe?” Dabi had asked, at some point, grating, into the phone. “You expect me to shed a tear for your daddy's sake?”

 

“Remorse doesn’t matter,” Shouto had said, toneless. “You’ve done too much harm for that.”

 

“Remorse matters,” Dabi had responded, silky cruel, gaze drifting tangibly over the scarring on his face. “A little bit of contrition and you’d be happy to forgive, wouldn’t you?”

 

His fists had clenched, hard. “I don’t expect you to be sorry. I don’t expect anything from you.”

 

“Right. Because you’d never expect anything from a villain.”

 

“No,” Shouto had said, with remorseless honesty, “Because you’re just like him.”

 

He’s never told anyone he’d said it. He thinks, if even half of the conflicted morality his brother apparently suffers from is genuine, the fact he’d said that will eat at him for years. 

 

Still- it’s true, on every level that matters. And because it is true Shouto will never truly trust either of them, no matter what changes, because he can’t, and because he won’t. 

 

“I’ll do it,” he says, now, and doesn’t voice any of this, and doesn’t ask for explanations, because he won’t believe what he’s told. 

 

“Daichi Tukai,” Dabi says, then, like Shouto hasn’t been stood silently staring at him for- upwards of a minute, at least. “In for the murder of his mother. She beat him when he was a kid, and this isn’t in the books but it was sexual too. He has a slow-acting but very lethal poison Quirk that he kept on a tight leash his entire life, until the day he snapped. Quiet guy. He tried to hang himself within days of getting here but it was a sloppy job; he just fucked up his vocal chords. He didn’t break himself out.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

“He’s the kind of guy that likes it in here. Thinks he deserves it, probably. And besides without that bitch around he doesn’t know what to do with himself, I reckon.”

 

“So it’s psychological.”

 

“That, and no one got ill. Even if he’d done some shit outside of his cell, his Quirk is poison. Not one guard exhibited symptoms.”

 

Despite the enormity of this assumption Shouto believes him. Dabi notices these things, and he has ways of finding things out. The other prisoners are scared of people like him.

 

“You must have a theory.”

 

“Obviously someone else broke him out,” Dabi shrugs. His gaze is keen. “If I had to guess I would say they needed his Quirk. To take someone else, but why his?”

 

“A target who couldn’t be beaten through brute force,” Shouto says, quiet. “Someone with a Quirk suited to offence on too large a scale. Someone you couldn’t just shoot or stab. But why not just-“

 

“Buy poison? There’s the issue of ingestion. That type of person- paranoid- you can’t just put something in their drink.”

 

So a Quirk would be a way around it. Still- 

 

“Now, if I had some kind of versatile offence Quirk, to keep my target distracted as I brought my poison Quirk user in…”

 

The heavy thud of his father’s body hitting the lawn flashes unbidden through his mind; he clenches his jaw. 

 

“It’s him,” Dabi concludes, dropping the pretence with a crooked little smile. “But you’re not going to get far with that knowledge. It’s the other guy you’re looking for.”

 

Shouto had gathered as much. At the very least he can go obtain Tukai’s file and send it to the medics, specify the kind of poison they’re counteracting, spare them hours of sample analysis, but it doesn’t feel like a triumph. 

 

“He never had any visitors?”

 

“None. This guy is methodical.” Dabi sounds almost entertained by this, which he might well be, amused that whoever is killing their father is proving so impossible to track down. Shouto knows why- Natsuo had echoed the sentiment earlier, after all. There are a lot of people with grudges against Todoroki Enji.

 

He wonders, sharply, if Dabi is involved. Because he might well be, and if he’s lying now Shouto has no way of knowing. 

 

“You should get some sleep,” Dabi says, cutting through his haze, and his gaze is unreadable when their eyes meet, the harsh fluorescent light combined with Shouto’s blurry vision sculpting his scarred face into something inhumane. “You won’t get any further in the state you’re in.”

 

Fuyumi would have meant it in tones of concern, Natsuo of practicality. Shouto can’t place his. 

 

He might well be saying it to goad him into sleeping while he carries out the next step of a tailored plan, but he’s right, despite Shouto’s burning urge to deny and push onwards. He’s too old to power through missions when he doesn’t have all his wits about him; has seen the disastrous consequences of half-assing a job due to sleep deprivation or illness. It’s infuriating to the point that his drunk-dumb mind is struggling not to break something. On any other night he would have managed it, but his steely will-power has only barely gotten him this far, and he can’t risk fucking anything up. He’s nauseous with whiplash just standing here; his mind feels like it’s sieving sand. 

 

His father’s life is on the line, is what it comes down to. He has to do this properly or not at all.

 

He hits the buzzer by the door, waits for the guards to start unlocking it; Dabi snorts, leans back against the wall.

 

“I’ll see you for our next visit, Shouto.”

 

Shouto says nothing; they’re done for the night, and he’s not in the habit of exchanging courtesies with criminals. His mind is already racing ahead, trying to make sense of the fragments it holds, and his head is throbbing, now that he’s not focused on maintaining dialogue, sharp pain behind his eyes that he suspects is less about the drink and more about the icy anxiety lodged into his brain like a physical shard.

 

“By the way,” Dabi adds, once he’s crossing the threshold back into the hallway. “Congratulate your little friend on my behalf.”

 

 

He wakes up at six in the morning to his alarm blaring at maximum volume, whole body taut like a fist, heart in his throat, and it takes him ten disoriented seconds which feel like hours to realise the frigid feeling in his lungs comes from having iced half of his bed in his sleep.

 

Natsuo had insisted they drop him off first, and obviously expected him to crash the moment he got into the car, but years and years of striving for perfection as much as a lifetime of repression kept him stubbornly alert even as he entered his apartment, kept his roiling thoughts focused despite the incurable shaking of his hands as he meticulously wrote down every bit of information he’d gathered thus far lest he forget it in his sleep. The moment he’d penned the last symbol his hand had spasmed hard enough for the pen to clatter to the ground, and he’d stumbled to bed on limbs so barely functional that he’d cut himself hard on the corner of his bedside table just trying to get into it.

 

The first thing he does when he manages to stand, muscles still almost too tense to move, is rip his bedsheets off robotically and shove them into his hamper. Blood is smeared across their lower corner.

 

He washes his face. He gets dressed. He drinks coffee. He waters the plant Kirishima had bought him. He knows he does these things because they’re done by the time he leaves the house, but he doesn’t remember doing any of them. There is a low, persistent buzz in his head, monotone only so long as he doesn’t focus on it. It drowns out the faint pangs of a headache that he attributes to a potential hangover.

 

He doesn’t feel hungover, not really. His thoughts are as sharp as they ever get. 

 

He collects his notes- near illegible to the outside eye, but he remembers his movements well enough to make sense of them, packs his work bag. Drives to work, on auto-pilot. In the car he listens to his text messages, his emails. No missed calls. He’d noticed that when he’d silenced his alarm.

 

Their father is still fighting, Fuyumi writes. The doctors say they’re at a stalemate, in essence- they’ve neutralised the poison enough that it’s unable to kill him outright, but they can’t seem to get it out of his system. 

 

It’s thanks to his message that they even knew how to do that much, she says. Shouto doesn’t remember placing that call, but his phone marks an outgoing conversation of thirty seconds with the hospital, sometime after leaving the prison.

 

He’s not sure if the news has picked up the story yet. Most probably yes. He doesn’t turn on the radio to confirm.

 

He gets to Akaba’s office with no recollection of the journey there, last memory of the parking lot; their eyes meet.

 

“Sit down,” Akaba says, serious, and he twitches a little, remembers himself, a bit, sits down. It must not be good, because her frown deepens as she watches him.

 

“I want to work the case,” Shouto says. 

 

“I know.”

 

“My relationship to Endeavour won’t be an issue. I’m one of the country’s top heroes, and I have the most natural insight into the situation. I’ve already been able to supply information vital to his survival.”

 

“I know.”

 

“It won’t compromise my other work. I’ll do it, just at lower priority. None of those cases need urgent solving the way this does, and from a strategy standpoint it’ll look good for Might Tower to involve one of their pros in the efforts to solve this.”

 

“Todoroki,” Akaba cuts in, and holds his gaze. For a moment he is forcibly reminded of Aizawa, and it’s that as much as anything else that makes him swallow, stop. 

 

“Breathe,” Akaba says. He does, once, then twice, then unclenches just a fraction, incessant buzz slightly less overwhelming. She waits him out before talking. “I’ve talked this through with All Might. He’s of the opinion that the best way about this is to allow you to work on the case, because we’re all aware that if we don’t you’ll just do it on your own.”

 

“So-“

 

“There are conditions,” Akaba continues, raising a hand. “The police are obviously taking this very seriously, and the government has called in the big guns. The National Police Agency is involved. They’re happy to work with pros, but they want this to be a contained operation. They’re willing to either take one or two pros into their own team, or have a separate pro team of a handful of heroes, but they don’t want any clashing between the two.”

 

Shouto thinks this through, mind racing. The second option has the disadvantage of the pros only being assigned certain parts of the job and lacking intel, but the first option implies deference to the NPA at every turn. 

 

“The second one is better.”

 

“I’m glad you agree. All Might insisted we accept the latter. He doesn’t want you shouldering this on your own.”

 

“What other conditions?” Shouto asks. “If it’s work restrictions-“

 

“As you can imagine, a lot of pros have volunteered to take on the job. Endeavour is a big name, and a lot of the seniors worked with him for decades. Not many of them are keen on your involvement.” She shrugs at his expression. “Don’t take it personally. Family is messy stuff.”

 

“It’s the NPA’s choice to make, not theirs.”

 

“The NPA will take their opinions seriously. You need to keep a very level head about this, and you have to be able to promise me you will do the job assigned to you and nothing more.”

 

“I will,” Shouto says. He even means it, the second time. “I will.”

 

“Good. Then you’ll need to convince them too. We’re leaving for an emergency get-together in the next fifteen minutes. The top 10 are gathering to discuss suitability.”

 

He only nods, jaw set, gets to his feet. He has things to confirm before they go.

 

Akaba sighs, briefly, rubs at her forehead and looks her age. “Todoroki.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“The office will help you with this. You’re not alone.”

 

He can’t find what to say back, but he thinks she knows that.

 

 

The first person he spots upon arrival is Hado Nejire, expression drawn and thoughtful in odd contrast to her bright costume. She sees him immediately, shifts closer to extend a hand and press his arm, which he doesn’t expect.

 

“Ah, Shouto-kun!”

 

“Nejire-chan,” Shouto returns, stilted. It’s an odd coincidence that both of their hero names consist of their first names. 

 

“I hope you’re doing well,” Hado continues, patting his arm before turning towards the room. “This is such a bad situation. I’ve been thinking about it all morning. The motivations of such a person…”

 

“Neijire,” Amajiki mumbles, drawing her away by the sleeve, his eyes skirting around a little before he looks at Shouto. He’s grateful for the interjection; Hado makes him uncomfortable, though he holds no ill-will towards her. Their styles of bluntness don’t align.

 

The whole room is looking towards him now; he’s the last to have arrived, as Akaba had insisted they take the long way around to shake off the swarms of paparazzi eagerly waiting outside Might Tower. They’re all professional enough to keep their gazes devoid of sentiment, for the most part.

 

“Shall we get started?” Edgeshot asks, de facto leader through his seniority. “We want to get back to the NPA as soon as possible, and in order to do so we need to designate who will be assigned to this operation, and what this implies for their workload.”

 

Ryukyu nods, tapping her pen. “I’m happy to pick up extra cases so that the chosen team can prioritise this.”

 

“How many people does this operation need, exactly?” Mirko asks, crossing her arms. “The NPA is already putting together a strong team to handle it, right?”

 

“Right, but we’re not treating this as a typical assassination attempt,” Edgeshot says. “Endeavour is one of the nation’s most well-known heroes. Any attempt on his life draws significant attention, nation-wide and internationally. For the sake of public ease as well as national security we have to take this very seriously. It may not be isolated.”

 

A murmur goes through the room. Hawks, thereto silent, hums. “You think this is a Stain-type situation? Hero killer on a rampage?”

 

Shouto thinks of his brother, swallows down questions. Edgeshot merely raises a shoulder.

 

“It’s possible, even plausible,” Kamui Woods muses, gravelly. “The plan seems to have been executed very carefully, with a great level of forethought. That might indicate less of a personal grudge and more of a long-term plan.”

 

“The NPA have put four pros as their proposed target,” Edgeshot continues. “Personally, I think this is excessive.”

 

“Four out of ten?” Bakugou asks, finally speaking up. He’s sat perched heavily in his chair, eyes narrowed in concentration behind the mask. “That’s fucking crazy. It’d be leaving almost half of the major crimes in the country on the back burner.”

 

“Agreed,” Mirko chimes in, nodding at him. “Hell, it even sounds like a trap, drawing us away from work.”

 

“Is there a way around it?” Togata asks, gnawing on a pen thoughtfully. “If they’re really only bulking numbers for reassurance- can’t we put four names on paper and use less?”

 

“I was thinking along those lines,” Edgeshot agrees. Ryukyu nods.

 

“It would make sense to have two or three people at most. The surplus can serve as back-up, so those of us on the case can refer to them where necessary.”

 

“Two in, two out seems logical,” Togata says, pausing to listen as Amajiki clears his throat and says something in a low voice. “Right- it is just an investigation job, isn’t it?”

 

“I wouldn’t assume that makes it less high-risk,” Mirko says. “Whoever this villain is managed to get Endeavour hospitalised. If and when we get ‘im cornered, it’ll be nasty.”

 

“Then it makes sense that the two primary pros are versatile and high-intensity fighters,” Shouto says, at last. His voice is low, cool. 

 

A beat; Edgeshot inclines his head. “Then let’s get to discussing. Is there anyone who wishes not to be taken into consideration?”

 

“Me,” Ryukyu says, prompt. “I’ve flirted in and out of the top 10 too much these last years. I think someone higher-ranked should take the lead.”

 

“I would discount myself from the offence contingent,” Kamui Woods says. “My Quirk is not best-suited to handle a lightning user.”

 

“Right. Then who would like to volunteer for the job?”

 

Hawks’ wings crack as he stretches. “Me. Besides fighting ability, I’m the most skilled in investigation jobs here, and I have the most contacts. It’s a no-brainer.”

 

“Then I volunteer to work alongside him,” Shouto says. “Our skills are complementary. I’m also mid-rank, which would make us a balanced match. And my Quirk is resistant to any form of attack.”

No one appears surprised, but there is a wary air to their appraisal. On another case of this reputation, he imagines the pros would be fighting to claim it; given the depressing specifics, there is a very subdued mood to their discussion. 

“Shouto-san,” Edgeshot says, consideringly. “This matter is extremely personal for you. I have no doubt about your qualifications and professionalism, but can you truly promise that the emotional strain wouldn’t affect your performance?”

 

“Endeavour is my father, yes,” Shouto answers, slowly. “He is also someone you all know intimately, whether through decades of working alongside him or growing up with him on television. Anyone taking on this case is undoubtedly affected by some kind of emotional strain.”

 

“It’s not quite the same, kid,” Mirko says, sympathetically enough. Shouto only frowns.

 

“It’s no secret my father and I are estranged. He and Hawks have been friends for years. That doesn’t make either of us more likely to crack under pressure.” He pauses, fixes his hands. “It’s our primary duty as heroes not to let that sort of thing overtake our responsibilities. I trust you all are capable of doing so. So am I.”

 

There is a moment of silence, but no one objects. 

 

“Then it’s you and me,” Hawks suggests, raising a brow as he looks around the room. “Hm. Who’s our B-team?”

 

“I would suggest at least one more senior pro,” Edgeshot says, thoughtful. “Experience aside, it might help elucidate the motivation behind the villain’s attack to have someone familiar with our past cases.”

 

“I’m happy to join,” Mirko declares, tapping her foot against the leg of the table. “I’m currently doing underground research stuff anyway, for the Guild cases; I can do any one-off investigation jobs you guys need on the job. Raids, too.”

 

“Sounds good to me,” Hawks shrugs. She raises a brow towards Shouto, who nods. 

 

“That’s three," Edgeshot says. "I’m reluctant to add myself to the fray. As Shouto pointed out, it makes for a very occupied top of the leaderboard.”

 

“So another one of the juniors, then,” Hawks says, sly. “Any preference, partner?”

 

On another occasion Shouto might have risen to the bait somewhat. As it is, he just looks gamely at him. “Ground Zero makes the most sense. Lemillion and Suneater’s Quirks both involve more direct physicality, so they’re less suited to fighting lightning or poison Quirks than him or Nejire-chan. If it’s down to the two of them I prefer to work with someone I’ve worked with before.”

 

“You sure had that one ready,” Hawks snorts, turning to Bakugou. “So?”

 

“I’ll take the job,” Bakugou retorts, frowning. “As long as I have some assurance that it won’t mean ditching my partner with the job we’re on. It’s long-term shit.”

 

“I’m sure we could negotiate amongst us for someone to help with any leftover work,” Kamui Woods indicates. “Does anyone have any issues with this arrangement?”

 

Silence, as the pros shake their heads. Hawks leans back in his chair, looking satisfied. 

 

“Then it’s settled,” Edgeshot declares, standing. “You can report to the NPA as soon as you’re out of here.”

 

 

Their meeting with the NPA is for the most part procedural. They arrive, exchange formalities, discuss arrangements, then get debriefed on details Shouto is already aware of, some of which, as the chief investigator points out somewhat stiltedly, were confirmed by Shouto himself the previous night. 

 

Once that’s out of the way, the real work begins. There is a feeling of intense urgency running through the bureau, probably because Endeavour’s comatose body hangs over everyone’s head like a spectre; they are rushed into a side room and given access codes, then left to their own devices.

 

“So,” Hawks assesses, skimming through their files. “They’ve left us with all the juicy stuff. Nice.”

 

“Be a bit weird to leave us to comb through surveillance footage and track down matriculation numbers,” Mirko snorts, gazing at the timeline on-screen. “Well, it’s a tight time-frame, that’s for sure. Fucker knew what they were doing.”

 

“So there’s two people to track,” Bakugou says, from where he stands near the window taking the whole room in. “Tukai, who poisoned Endeavour, and then our mystery Quirk user who masterminded the whole thing.”

 

“Right, but Tukai’s not going to be much use.”

 

“Tukai might not be alive,” Shouto adds, quiet. When Hawks raises a brow he glances at the man’s photo. “It seems obvious he had no personal connection to the attack. If this was a one-off thing, he’s disposable now.”

 

“If it’s not, you should look into big-name heroes with similar Quirk styles to Endeavour,” Bakugou counters. “The orchestrator would want to use the same guy on them.”

 

“All Might is the most obvious candidate, but he’s out of the country,” Hawks hums. “Guess that makes me next in line.”

 

He’s very flippant about this possibility, as he is about most things. Shouto frowns. “You and Edgeshot both have more refined fighting styles, though. Mirko might be comparable to All Might.”

 

“I don’t think this was a hero killer situation, anyways,” Hawks says, dismissively. “It’s so tailored to Endeavour that it has to be more personal than that.”

 

Shouto casts him a sharp look, but he doesn’t look back, just rifling through the boxes further.

 

“There aren’t that many lightning-Quirk users in the country,” Mirko opines. “I say we start with looking at the databases and narrowing the search down. Kids, old people, that sort of thing- we can exclude them from the investigation.”

 

“I’ll start on that,” Shouto nods, pulling the database up on his laptop. “I’ll filter out anyone under- fifteen?”

 

“There were some big fifteen-year olds at UA,” Bakugou says. “Make it thirteen, to be safe.”

 

“And upwards of…” He trails off, thinking of some pros he knows. “Actually, I’ll just filter out people registered for senior medical treatment.”

 

“Filter out Denki Kaminari,” Bakugou adds, as Shouto snorts and complies. Trust aside, he’d seen Kaminari face-down in a bathtub at the exact time someone was breaking into the Todoroki estate.

 

“Interesting stuff,” Hawks says, contemplative. “This lighting use.”

 

“Flashy, isn’t it?” Mirko agrees. “Like, weirdly flashy.” 

 

“I assumed they were trying to disguise the use of the poison Quirk,” Shouto says. Hawks nods.

 

“I’m sure they were. Sad for them that the prodigal son has such crystalline memory.”

 

Shouto only raises a shoulder. “The break-out stuck out to me when I read about it.”

 

“That shit is still weird,” Bakugou declares, moving towards the projector now to pull up the prison report. “Our guy is a lightning-user, right? So why did none of the systems go offline?”

 

This gives them all pause, Shouto glancing up at the board. 

 

“I would have thought they grilled the security system,” Mirko says, slowly. “But you’re right- it didn’t even record a blip.”

 

Shouto shakes his head. “It’s definitely not an electricity Quirk. Watch the footage of the fight. That’s lightning.”

 

“If it’s lightning, then there’s no way it was used in the break-out,” Hawks concludes, placid. “So it was something else.”

 

“Cyber, then?” Mirko suggests. “Sometimes it’s not a Quirk thing.”

 

“Cyber, or some technopath thing. But if it’s that, then someone else most likely is involved.”

 

“Three people?” Bakugou says, skeptic. “So far we’ve only even laid eyes on one.”

 

“But we know there are at least two,” Shouto mumbles, lost in thought. “The lightning-user wasn’t the one who incapacitated him.”

 

“Right, then,” Hawks decides. “I’ll pay a visit to the prison, see what I can figure out about what actually happened during that breakout. I have some friends in the hacking business. If there’s some kind of identifiable handiwork it’ll point us in the right direction.”

 

“Then I’ll work on tracking the two people present on the scene. We know one of them’s name and appearance, and the other has a recognisable Quirk. That’s a lot to go off.”

 

“If I’m not needed I’ll get back to work,” Mirko says, bouncing reflexively on the balls of her feet. “Keep me updated on your findings. I’ll have you both on speed dial, so if shit goes down just send your location.”

 

“I told Red Riot this would take until lunch,” Bakugou adds, after a moment’s silent contemplation of the screen. “I can stay until then to work on this. It’ll be good to have someone on-site if you find something.”

 

“Sorted,” Hawks smiles, and spreads his wings, fluttering easily. He taps Shouto on the shoulder as he turns. “Don’t be a stranger.”

 

Shouto only nods, watches the two of them go. 

 

Despite himself he wonders if his brother will be more talkative if Hawks is the one asking the questions.

 

 

He spends about half an hour working in the police labs as they report back on all their findings on the scene. Footprints confirm the presence of two people besides his father during the time of the fight, though oddly enough the second person’s are only to be found near the hedges. Street surveillance cameras were playing loops for the duration of the hour, but the tech teams having worked tirelessly to restore the footage, there is now a getaway car to identify, an unobjectionable grey Toyota parked in such a way that it’s hard to see the people inside get in and out.

 

“They ditched the car near the Underground,” an IT guy explains, sighing, as he points at the screen. “And it was rented under a fake name, obviously.”

 

Neither Tukai nor the blurry figure in black have been recognised anywhere since. 

 

He returns to their office to find Bakugou stood highlighting a long list of names laid out on the table, eyes focused on the projector. It’s footage of the fight, slowed down tremendously, and by the page of notes scrawled next to him he can wager a guess at what he’s been looking for.

 

“Quirk specifics?”

 

“Disqualifies a lot of them,” Bakugou grunts, still fixated on the screen, where Endeavour has sliced clean through an onslaught of lightning with one solid kick.

 

“They’re not very good,” Shouto says, after a moment, and wonders why this feels like such a betrayal to admit. It makes it worse, somehow, more humiliating to endure, if the person who did this wasn’t even a worthy opponent.

 

“Definitely not a trained Quirk-user,” Bakugou agrees, distractedly, then frowns and pauses the video. “Which is suspicious as fuck, because this type of Quirk would easily land you into a hero school.”

 

“Some people choose not to attend them, though.”

 

Bakugou scoffs derisively, stares at the frozen frame. The lightning user’s extended arm is visible through the glare. 

 

“D’you see that?”

 

“It looks like a karate move.”

 

“A lot of it does. So they can fight, but they’re not used to fighting with their Quirk.”

 

“Could be due to an injury,” Shouto suggests, thoughtful. His gaze wavers. “Or personal reservations.”

 

This makes Bakugou look back at him, frown pronounced even through his mask, then click his tongue irritably. “You look like shit.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“Sit down.”

 

When he doesn’t comply Bakugou bares his teeth at him. “Todoroki.”

 

“It wouldn’t kill you to ask nicely,” Shouto says, but he complies, unenthusiastically. 

 

“Have you eaten anything all day?” Bakugou asks, examining him critically. Shouto feels his mouth set obstinately.

 

“I’m not hungry.”

 

“Yeah, you’re a fucking moron, is what you are,” Bakugou retorts. “You’re running on half a night’s sleep and no sustenance, plus whatever psychological melodrama the inside of your head looks like. Top form to tackle this shit.”

 

“I had five hours,” Shouto counters, looking away. “And I usually don’t have breakfast.”

 

“You don’t have breakfast,” Bakugou repeats, now gratingly sarcastic. “Oh, well in that case. My bad. I can see how that wins you this argument. Dumbass.

 

“I can see you’re being sensitive to my fragile emotional state.”

 

Bakugou lobs a Fuji apple at him that he only manages to catch through some frankly superhuman reflex. “Damn straight I am. Eat. And then have a protein bar.”

 

“Yes, Aizawa-senpai.”

 

The protein bar hits him square in the forehead. 

 

He munches mutinously on the apple while Bakugou continues working his way through the list methodically, one painfully slow frame at a time. He’s always found Bakugou’s odd patience with the most random of tasks interesting, considering how cartoonishly impatient he is about most things. Source analysis, translation, mathematics; there’s a handful of things like that he doesn’t mind spending time on. 

 

He shifts as if to look at a file, do something, at least, and Bakugou slaps his hand away without looking, so he rolls his eyes and sits back.

 

It’s the longest he’s sat without doing anything since he arrived at the scene of the crime, he realises. Maybe Bakugou knew that too, or maybe he really just doesn’t trust him not to keel over without raising his blood sugar. 

 

Leaving the party the previous night is a memory that had eluded him until now, but in retrospect he figures he probably should have texted someone there an update after the way he left. Specifically the someone whose party it was. He doesn’t even remember what he’d said, or if he’d said anything, just remembers listening to Fuyumi trying not to cry, his phone frozen between his fingers, then exiting the apartment in a daze, coat half-thrown over his shoulders. Maybe that had been Bakugou, actually, because he doesn’t recall having the presence of mind to take his coat with him.

 

It’s Bakugou, at least, and that’s reassuring, because Bakugou undoubtedly doesn’t give a fuck about Shouto remembering to text him. Bakugou probably hopped onto police scanners to figure out what Shouto’s distracted half-answers meant within five minutes of his departure.

 

He finishes his apple, wiping his mouth against his palm. When he glances up at the frames his stomach ties itself into knots. 

 

It’s the last minute of the fight, and there is a hand splayed on his father’s shoulder. He watches in painful slow motion as his flames flicker and extinguish, the blaze of shock-pain-confusion in his eyes as he staggers, the way his shoulders jump. 

 

He watches, and watches, and then clears his throat, the sound harsh against the intensified buzzing in his ears.

 

“The silhouette.”

 

“Yeah,” Bakugou says, slowly. “The silhouette.”

 

It doesn’t look much like Daichi Tukai.

 

“It has to have been him,” Shouto says. “There were only two intruders there.”

 

“It doesn’t make sense,” Bakugou replies, and squints at the screen. “You can see the lightning user leave, here-“ He scrolls back to the last big burst of smoke. “And then obviously Tukai comes in, because he’s what gets to your old- to Endeavour.”

 

“Police said one pair of footsteps only carried to the hedges,” Shouto says, thinking. “Do you think the lighting user might have carried Tukai through the air?”

 

“If Tukai’s the unwilling accomplice we think he is, he might have physically dragged him, sure,” Bakugou mutters, staring at the frame. “But this Quirk- there’s not a lot of flight involved. Longest they make it off the ground for is like forty seconds.”

 

Shouto frowns, makes a mental note of this too. So far he has four: the inexplicable breakout, the flashiness of the attack, the footsteps, the disconnect with the silhouettes. 

 

“Maybe-“ 

 

He doesn’t finish his thought; Bakugou’s phone rings, and he casts him a quick look before answering.

 

“Ground Zero.” A beat. “Yeah. No, an hour. Why?” Then, irritably: “Are you shitting me? What kind of dumb-fuck procedure- can you put him on? Yeah, I know, put him on the line, then!” 

 

Presumably Kirishima does; Bakugou’s scowl grows exponentially and his grip on the phone solidifies. “Red Riot is over-fucking-qualified for this job, you moron- no, I don’t care about- yeah, I am, you can’t rack your brains to think of where my expertise might be required today?” 

 

Whatever is said doesn’t placate him, because he growls animalistically down the line. “Fucking fine! Half an hour, and don’t think the office won’t get back to you on this!”

 

“It’s fine,” Shouto says, as Bakugou slams his phone down irritably. “You’ve been very helpful already.”

 

“I know that,” Bakugou shoots back, still scowling. “That’s why they should have let me stay the fucking hour. Goddamn protocol.”

 

“They wouldn’t let Kirishima handle it alone?”

 

“No, and fuck knows why,” Bakugou grunts. “They said it’s because contractually there are two of us assigned to the case and the confidentiality requirements demand it, but I’m pretty sure it’s a ranking thing.”

 

“Ah, the demands of the top five,” Shouto says, commiserating; Bakugou rolls his eyes but at least stops looking like he’s about to explode. “It’s really fine. You can think it through on the job.”

 

Bakugou only grimaces, shoving the few things he’d unpacked back into his work bag, eyes still skimming his notes. “Call if you don’t get my shorthand.”

 

“I’ll call you tonight, if you’re free,” Shouto offers, without really thinking it through. “Review findings.”

 

“Second opinion?” Bakugou suggests, brow quirking a little. Which Shouto hadn’t meant, necessarily, because he’s self-aware enough to know that his habit of doing things alone is only exacerbated in times of crisis, but then he’s not sure what else he could have meant. It just seemed right to confer because so far they’ve been volleying off each other quite neatly. “I can manage that. It’ll be late, though.”

 

“That’s fine. I’ll be working late anyways.”

 

Bakugou hesitates visibly, the movement easy to read because his permanent scowl retreats a little, then seems to decide against saying something, shrugging his bag onto his shoulder. “Right. See you then.”

 

Shouto nods, makes a little hand gesture in goodbye as he goes, then turns back to the table, resets his mind to a working framework.

 

To Bakugou’s oddly neat page of notes he adds a final bullet-point. 

 

 

When Hawks returns in the late afternoon, Shouto has reconfigured the room and changed track completely, and spent about an hour roaming the streets of Tokyo on Mirko’s advice with mixed results. 

 

“Looks like a crime show in here,” Hawks comments, shrugging off his coat (drenched, like Shouto’s had been) and running a hand through his hair. “Making progress?”

 

Shouto, having looked up upon his arrival without really seeing him, too focused on his screen, stops working to reach for his soaked coat and pass a rapid hand over it, dampness evaporating under his fire. “Some.”

 

Hawks shoots him a vaguely puzzled look before meandering over to the middle of the wall and peering at the page of notes tacked to it. “Hm. CS equals fake Quirk? That sounds intriguing.”

 

“Just a theory,” Shouto says, setting his tablet down as he tries to remember his previous train of thought. “Bakugou- Ground Zero and I were reviewing footage of the fight. The villain’s mastery of their Quirk seems minimal, and you noted earlier how attention-drawing it is. It’s inconsistent with their careful planning to just use such an identifiable Quirk for everyone to see. If the villain isn’t actually a lightning-Quirk user, the lightning could be a red herring.”

 

“Right,” Hawks draws out, glancing towards the stills. “So, what, you think it could be some kind of gadget?”

 

“There are plenty of powerful weapons to be bought in black markets,” Shouto replies, monotone. “Or, if the breakout was the consequence of some kind of technopathy, it could even be home-made.”

 

“That’s a pretty solid conspiracy theory,” Hawks snorts, leaning back. “I’m pretty sure the breakout was virus-induced, though, so you might want to lean towards black market purchases.” 

 

Shouto waits him out as he peers under a post-it.

 

“There was definitely a bug in their security systems, and it was planted there a month ago. Whoever planted it had considerable cyber-expertise, and is pretty much guaranteed to be under thirty, because the software is extremely novel and precarious and any self-respecting pro wouldn’t use it.” 

 

It’s a short report for a day’s worth of work, but Shouto is quite content to not be privy to the details of how the intel was obtained, so long as he has it. 

 

“I’ve got some folks who are working on recovering any kind of signature from the attack. Not naming names, but speed won’t be a problem. They owe me a favour or two.”

 

“Do you mean within the day?” 

 

“Shit, nah,” Hawks laughs. “They’re good, not gods. Within the week, I reckon. If one of them commits it’ll be done by Monday or so- he’s sort of a tech whisperer- but he’s a prickly fuck, so who knows.”

 

Monday, Shouto thinks. That’s two more days for his father to last. 

 

“I’ve narrowed the possible lightning users down to four people,” he says, aloud. “And I found a lead on Tukai. He was still alive after the attack.”

 

“Interesting,” Hawks says. “Thought you didn’t think there was a lightning user. Also, where?”

 

“Tokyo,” Shouto replies. “Minato, specifically. He was long gone by the time I got to the area, but a shop-owner confirmed he’d seen him in hanging around the exit of the Underground with someone wearing all-black and a low cap in the early hours of the morning.” He glances at his criss-crossed map of possible station exits. “As for the Quirk, like I said, it’s just a theory.”

 

“Wherever he is I’m sure he’s kept holed away,” Hawks observes. “His face has been plastered all over national news since you dialled the hospital.” He turns to consider the faces of the potential lightning-users. “You contacted these four?”

 

“I submitted their names to the police just now.” 

 

“Right, right.” Hawks sits down, flicks through the files. “Well, I don’t recognise any of ‘em, which might be a good thing for your old man’s sake.”

 

Sometimes, on the relatively rare occasions that they find themselves alone together, Shouto contemplates attempting a discussion with Hawks. They’re not close in any sense of the word, and Hawks’ irreverent facade doesn’t gel well with him, but by some strange twist of fate Hawks is probably the closest thing both his estranged father and his estranged brother have to a friend. Hawks lies incessantly, and he can be quite callous, but he’s a good man, and certainly he’s been good for Dabi in some odd way; Shouto thinks he might covertly be looking out for him, sometimes. So the thought does cross his mind, that he might ask someday, that Hawks would be willing to answer some questions. 

 

It’s on his list of maybes. There are many of those.

 

“So,” Hawks says, shutting a file. “This is a tricky one. There’s a shitload of people who want Endeavour down, and our culprit has done their job diligently. What’s going to trip them up?”

 

“The overlap,” Shouto offers, rubbing at his forehead a little. There has been a persistent ache behind his eyes all day. “There is a relatively small cross-section of people with both means and motive. As soon as we pin one down the other will follow.”

 

“That’s not a bad way of putting it,” Hawks hums, looking interested. “That’s pretty much what I’ll be looking into for the rest of the day, actually. Old acquaintances, I mean.”

 

This makes sense- they’ve collectively spent the day working on means, but until any results get back to them it doesn’t hurt to look into motive. Shouto nods.

 

“And you?” Hawks asks, quirking a brow. “I can’t imagine there’s much else you can dig up from the police reports.”

 

“No,” Shouto agrees, glancing at the clock. “I’m going to look into Tukai’s Quirk with the science teams. If there’s a way of facilitating the medical team’s job in assisting my father’s recovery, it will be of great use to the investigation.”

 

“Ah, taking away the time constraints?”

 

“His witness statement,” Shouto counters, shaking his head. “For all we know he recognised the villain. Even if he didn’t, he might have noticed something over the last couple of weeks that confirms or denies some of our theories.”

 

“So cool-headed,” Hawks murmurs, with a half-smile. “Well, that sounds efficient to me. I don’t think I’ll be back in the office until morning, but if you need me you know how to reach me. I’ll write if I find anything useful.”

 

On another mission, this would be odd behaviour, splitting up so often and conferring so little, but they’re up against a fast-acting poison; it doesn’t make sense to waste any time at their disposal. Somehow, he still gets the feeling he has that they won’t make much further progress today either way. 

 

“Until morning, then,” Shouto replies, and gets to his feet, shaking off his pessimism. “I’ll lock up.”

 

Hawks salutes him gamely as he goes.

 

 

He heads to the science labs about an hour later, having first transferred the files taken from his father’s computer to his laptop for safekeeping. He spends ten minutes rapidly skimming through key-words just in case anything blatant pops up, but as he suspected, there’s little evidence that jumps out at first glance. 

 

He’s not a regular in the science department, so he doesn’t recognise as many people as he does elsewhere in the NPA, but he’s ventured in with some kind of weird Quirk-related injury or villain contraption often enough that he knows the lay-out, finds his way into the toxin lab without much of a hassle.

 

It takes them a handful of minutes to get transfer of the medical records authorised, but given Shouto’s convenient dual role as lead pro-hero and next of kin, the administrative hoops they have to jump through are limited. He spends the next solid half hour watching scientists try not to seem too enthusiastic about the poison mysteriously killing his father, which he finds a little entertaining despite the context.

 

“The most interesting thing about the poison,” a sharp-eyed redhead informs him, spinning his model of the blood vessels in a human body so that Shouto can see better, “Is the way it spread. Or rather the way it didn’t.”

 

“Usually, poisons are injected or absorbed,” his companion recites dispassionately, eyeing his graphs. “Either way, the disruption to enzymes, cells, or the nervous system should be traceable. In Endeavour’s case, even when down to the millisecond, there was no progress.”

 

“Yes, yes,” the other scientist continues, pointing eagerly. “You see- one minute, no trace, then near spontaneously the entire body displays the symptoms. Blood stream totally contaminated by the toxins.”

 

“The contact coincided with the symptoms?” Shouto asks, frowning. Both scientists exchange a look and nod.


“Precisely. It’s hard to even describe it as a poisoning. The action essentially didn’t occur.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“We’re working on hypotheses,” the redhead continues, shifting towards a monitor. “The primary point of analysis is comparative. As you know, the poison Quirk user has acted once prior- in the murder of his mother.”

 

“The symptoms differ?”

 

“In her case, the spread was symptomatic.”

 

“Though in her case he made her drink his poison, so the comparison is imperfect.”

 

“Drink it?” Shouto asks, gazing at the picture of Tukai’s mother, smiling sweetly. “So he can secrete the poison physically too.”

 

“It seems to be his primary form of using his Quirk,” the second scientist says, sketching a rapid diagram of the man. “The poison courses through him, though he is of course immune to it, but he is able to secrete it through his pores, almost like sweat. Which makes Endeavour’s ingestion all the stranger.”

 

“He only touched him,” Shouto agrees, lowly. He glances up. “Then how…”

 

“Best bet?” the red-head chimes in, tapping his pen. “I reckon through one of Endeavour’s injuries. There seems to have been a number of small incisions near the point of contact.”

 

“So it would have been able to get into the bloodstream through there.”

 

“Exactly,” the man nods, and pauses to scribble down a note. “But that still doesn’t explain why its effect was near instantaneous.”

 

“It was instantaneous,” the other scientist retorts. “You shouldn’t be looking at this like a normal poisoning case.”

 

“Either way,” the red-head continues, rolling his eyes a little, “What I can tell you for certain is that neutralising the toxin is all there is to be done for Endeavour right now. The only way of counteracting this poison would be to obtain Tukai’s own antibodies.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“The poison isn’t comparable to any natural or man-made poison,” the second scientist explains, interested gleam in his eye. “It’s specific to Tukai himself. Known antidotes will be of little effect.”

 

“The medical team were smart, identifying some of the symptoms as similar to those of arsenic poisoning, but stabilising Endeavour is as far as they’ll get,” the red-head concludes, pausing to give Shouto a sympathetic frown. “You’ll need Tukai for any kind of cure.”

 

“You don’t need Tukai,” the other man says, making eye contact for the first time. “You just need his blood.”

 

“I see,” Shouto says, after a beat, and then doesn’t say anything for quite some time.

 

 

He pours over his father’s documents until mid-evening, adding details to his notes as he goes, but for the most part he learns nothing from them. His father keeps succinct accounts of his missions, and there are certainly plenty of plausible suspects, but nothing in his correspondence or notes suggests that he was feeling any more paranoid the last while than he usually is. Besides, Shouto is quite sure that his father keeps all of his most confidential knowledge in his head, so if there is some secret connecting factor it’s unlikely to be in his possession.

 

For a semi-retired professional, his father keeps busy. Somedays he almost forgets he doesn’t work anymore, although of course the fact he’s no longer sitting atop the national ranking should be enough of a reminder.

 

It’s not often that he allows himself to dwell on the circumstances surrounding Enji’s retirement, but for a moment or two as he pours himself another coffee he wonders if there might not be some kind of connection between the two. It’s rarely been done before- a pro-hero at the top of their game, stepping down not because of some grievous injury but out of personal reservations. Maybe personal reservations is the wrong wording- Dabi would call it karma, he’s sure. In his resignation speech Endeavour had cited a number of reasons, and the Japanese public had been understanding, given the circumstances. 

 

It’s funny; for all that his life has consistently been haunted by familial ghosts, he’d really sort of forgotten just how bad it could get. Three years of UA, seeing his mother, talking to his siblings, watching his father do penance- he’d almost assumed they were heading towards a new status quo. Then graduation had happened, and Dabi, who was actually Touya, and wasn’t that a pleasant way to be reacquainted, caught in a fight to the death between your father and your long-lost brother, half of your school in flames. The first months of their adult careers had been overshadowed by the sensationalism of the whole affair; Endeavour stepping down, the League on trial, Shouto at the heart of it all. 

 

In confidence and in public, his father had designated Shouto’s entry into the professional hero world as one of his reasons for retiring. “I do not fear for Japan in my absence,” and all that. “My son is more than capable of protecting it as I once did.” Like there wasn’t enough of a spotlight on him already. Like Shouto needed the comparison. 

 

He’s getting tired, evidently, or he wouldn’t be brooding so much. He hasn’t checked his civilian phone all day, and he knows he’ll have missed texts from Fuyumi. Reminders to call his mother.

 

He calls his sister on the way out of the office, fifteen minutes later, bags carefully strapped onto his back, everything locked up and stowed away. Usually he’d take the bus, or a cab, but he wants to walk a while, get some fresh air into his lungs. His muscles have gone stiff with tension.

 

“Shouto,” Fuyumi breathes, relived, when she answers. “You saw my texts?”

 

“Yes,” Shouto lies, then closes his eyes, hard. “I- no, I just saw them now. Sorry. I’ve been at work all day.”

 

“That’s all right,” Fuyumi reassures, rapid. “I just wanted to tell you father is still stable, and that mother came to see him today. She asked after you but we told her you were on the case. Well- I assumed you were, but it seemed confirmed on the news, so-“

 

“I am, it’s okay.”

 

“Right,” Fuyumi says, and then sighs, tiredly. “I know you don’t want me asking-”

 

“We’re not allowed to discuss the details, Fuyumi, I’m sorry.”

 

“What? No, I know, I- I just wanted to ask if you were okay. I know this- I know you’re doing very well on the case. And I won’t ask you to step off, but- you’re handling it all right?”

 

He blinks, stares unseeingly at the passerbys around him. “Yes. I’m handling it all right.”

 

“All right,” Fuyumi echoes, quiet and not quite like she believes him. “Take care of yourself, then. If you need anything- if you want a place to stay closer to the hospital…”

 

“My place is better for work,” Shouto says, and then hesitates, single-mindedness diverted by the urge to say the right thing, somehow. “I- you haven’t seen it yet. Maybe you could come by, after, if you like.”

 

“You’re sure?” Fuyumi asks, surprised, but there’s a sudden brightness to her voice that wasn’t there before, and Shouto relaxes his grip on the phone a little. “I really don’t mind if you’d rather not, you know.”

 

“You haven’t been to Tokyo in a while,” Shouto replies, awkwardly. “If you do come you might as well stay with me. I have a spare room at the moment.”

 

“I’d like that,” Fuyumi says, softly. 

 

Shouto glances upwards, where rainclouds are beginning to gather, tugs his bag higher onto his shoulder. “I’m heading home now. Could you call me if you hear anything?”

 

“Of course. Look after yourself, Shouto.”

 

“You too.”

 

Rightfully he should call his mother next, but it’s late and he doesn’t want to disrupt her fitful sleep patterns. He considers texting, decides against it. He’s not good at emoting over text, especially not with his family. He’ll call in the morning, or else in the day, whenever he has five minutes free.

 

He doesn’t know what he’ll say to her.

 

 

It’s long past ten by the time he gets to his street and recalls that he was going to call Bakugou once he got off work. He glances at his watch, estimates his chances. Bakugou had said late, but then Bakugou normally goes to bed by eleven at the latest even now. 

 

Two months ago he would have gone home with Izuku awaiting him, or they’d have gone home together, and he would have used the time to run through the day’s work with him, make sense of his discoveries, catalogue his thoughts. He hasn’t even had the time to write to him, today, though he’s sure Izuku has heard the news by now, and is undoubtedly doing his own quick review of the facts, full of ideas and suggestions. 

 

Fuck, he misses him. He adds him to the list of people to contact.

 

Bakugou picks up on the first ring, as he is prone to do, a habit which is almost designed to throw off whoever is calling. “Icyhot.”

 

“Hi,” Shouto says, tapping his code into the apartment keypad. “Is this a good time?”

 

“It’s never a good time for you to call,” Bakugou replies, without heat, as Shouto snorts. “Fill me in.”

 

“Mh,” Shouto says, pausing to verify that he’s alone before he drags the door shut behind him and starts talking. “Hawks went to the prison. The security systems were affected by a bug. Technopath, or pro hacker; he’s found people to trace its origin.” 

 

“Right,” Bakugou says, audibly frowning. “Well, that complicates shit, I guess, since it’s definitely not the electric Quirk who did it.”

 

“I’m not even sure there is an electric Quirk. When you pointed out the awkward fighting style of the user, it made me wonder if the Quirk isn’t just a front.”

 

“A front? So the lightning was, what, machine-made?” Bakugou demands, shifting consideringly. “I guess that could check out. Would explain why it’s so damn flashy. And machines could even explain the whole footstep shit.”

 

“That was my thought process,” Shouto agrees, rolling his stiff shoulders as he climbs the stairs. “The thing that I’ve been the most confused by is still the poisoning. Evidently Tukai is just a tool in all of this, but the science lab said the way the poison operated was uncharacteristic- it spread evenly upon entry, without any gradual process.”

 

“I noticed that in the footage,” Bakugou mutters, thoughtful. “He seized up upon contact. I figured it got to his nervous system.”

 

“Even if it had, the science team should have been able to follow its course, but there wasn’t one,” Shouto says, flipping his keys around as he reaches his wing. “It just occurred within the same moment as Tukai touched him.”

 

“All comes back to that asshole. Any news on him yet?”

 

“Yes, I went to-“ Shouto starts, then stops. 

 

“Yeah?”

 

“One second,” Shouto says, slowly, lowering his phone. His free hand solidifies. 

 

There is something dark and large lying in front of his doorstep.

 

He walks slowly, checking his blindspots, arm raised, but some part of him knows before he even gets there that whatever threat once existed has long left. The lights flicker on as he walks, illuminating the figure step by step.

 

It takes him a second to register that the man is dead, eyes gazing unseeing towards him, and another to recognise him.

 

He breathes evenly, arm lowering, squats down next to the corpse. It’s cooling, but not cold- thirty four degrees Celsius, which means roughly two hours since death. Rigor mortis has begun to set in. 

 

“Oi,” Bakugou’s voice says, tinny and impatient. “The fuck is going on over there?”

 

He raises the phone to his ear.

 

“Someone has left Daichi Tukai’s body outside of my apartment.”

 

Bakugou is silent for a moment, then curses violently. “Check for explosives. Is anyone still around?”

 

“Negative, but I can ice him just in case. It’ll preserve the body anyhow.”

 

Bakugou moves away from his phone, hollers at Kirishima to call the cops to his address, then returns, tone still urgent. “He definitely dead?”

 

“Someone slit his throat,” Shouto says, “So yes.”

 

There’s no blood on his floor, which suggests the murder took place elsewhere, or else the murderer was meticulous enough to dry-clean his mat. Tukai’s eyes are wide, expression still frightened in death. The knife seems to have caught in places on the scarring on his throat; he remembers Dabi saying the man had tried to hang himself.

 

“Cops are on their way,” Bakugou says, and clicks his tongue. “You need to get the fuck out once they get there.”

 

This makes Shouto frown. “Why? I’m perfectly capable of defending myself. And I don’t think the perp will be back tonight.”

 

“Yeah, I bet your old man thought he was peachy keen too,” Bakugou snaps. “Listen, dumbass, if our villain could get through all of your place’s security it’ll be because they got the same bug into your systems as they got into the prison. You need to crash somewhere else until the tech team can clear your apartment. For all you know it’s rigged with traps.”

 

“I need to tell Hawks,” Shouto mumbles, distractedly, putting Bakugou on speaker so he can send off a text. “Get his people to compare the two. Could expedite results.”

 

“Yeah, whoop de fucking doo, can I have some confirmation here or what?”

 

“I’ll get a hotel room,” Shouto replies, half-hearted. Call it gut feeling, but he’s sure that the corpse is the only memento he’s been left. “They must have caught wind of me asking after him.”

 

“What, Tukai? He was all over the news today, remember? Don’t think you had much to do with it.”

 

“But he was left on my doorstep,” Shouto replies, running ice over the body carefully. “Which suggests a personal motive. Too much of an effort to be random.”

 

“That’s just as likely to be familial,” Bakugou counters, giving him pause. “Endeavour was the prime target, and you’re his son, working his case. If I was batshit crazy and I hated him, I’d obviously find you a great stand-in.”

 

So simple as that, then. His arms ache, and not with physical strain.

 

“If Tukai’s blood stays fresh enough, it might save my father.”

 

“Hah? How?”

 

“The science lab said the poison is unique to him. His blood contains antibodies.”

 

“Well, shit. Pretty glaring oversight on the perp’s behalf.”

 

“If it wasn’t, then we have to reconsider their goal as being my father’s death.”

 

 

The police arrive ten minutes later, appalled by the body on his doorstep but visibly relieved to find him unscathed; Shouto gives them his account of the events, warns them about his apartment and the security system, alerts the landlord, and then leaves, still in his work uniform, blood on his fingertip. He privately doubts their investigation will go anywhere. They’re working on too major a delay to track anyone down.

 

His phone rings just as his cab arrives, and he answers it vaguely surprised.

 

“Bakugou?”

 

“Look,” Bakugou says, and sighs profoundly. “Just come crash at ours.”

 

Somehow this manages to cut through the grey haze of the past half hour. “What?”

 

“It’s only until tomorrow,” Bakugou mutters, sounding pained. “We’re working the same damn case. And no one trusts you to not get yourself killed within the next eight hours.”

 

“I,” Shouto starts, then stops. “Really?”

 

“For fuck’s sake, icyhot, yeah, really- shitty hair is on my ass about it and it’s fucking late, so just hurry the hell up and get here already!”

 

“Fine,” Shouto says, for a lack of a good counter-argument, and feels a little shell-shocked as he mumbles the address to the taxi-driver. “I’ll see you there.”

 

It only occurs to him ten minutes later that he should have probably have said thank you, but then Bakugou makes it so damn difficult to be grateful sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“I’m sure you’re too busy for this,” his mother says, in greeting; Shouto doesn’t exactly disagree, but then there’s busy and there’s busy, and when it comes to his mother he has a decade to make up for, so he doesn't say so.

 

“It’s fine,” he says, instead, bowing his head in thanks when she pours him a glass of water. It’s always water, or juice; he knows she’s fully capable of making hot drinks, but when it’s just the two of them she never does, maybe subconsciously. “It’ll do me good to clear my head for a little while. I’m sorry I can’t stay longer.”

 

“I wouldn’t want to keep you,” Rei protests, taking a seat and sipping her water. She looks tired, but otherwise all right, despite how hard he’s scrutinising her for some sign of duress. He hadn’t realised he was doing that. “Oh, Shouto. This can’t be easy for you.”

 

It’s not. He glances downwards, back up again. He’s gotten better at being honest with her, no longer just quiet lest he frighten her off, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever stop shrinking himself around her. “It’s fine. I’m fine, I mean. I just wish I could do more.”

 

“You’ve done so much already,” his mother sighs, putting down her glass to press his hand. “If it weren’t for you your father might not have been stabilised at all. And it was your research that lead the doctors to use that man’s blood for its antibodies.”

 

At the start she’d always handled him very carefully, like a spooked horse, and he hadn’t been able to vocalise just how much it made his chest burn with forgotten need whenever she brushed a hand through his hair. Now they’ve progressed beyond that. He presses back.

 

“They would have tried that anyways. It’s- frustrating. I know I’m missing something, or things would make sense, but I don’t know what.”

 

“Sweetheart. It’s only been a handful of days. You’re too hard on yourself.”

 

There’s an unspoken sadness in her voice, and they’re both thinking about the man who made him the way he is to begin with. Shouto closes his eyes, reopens them, takes a sip of his water too. “Fuyumi said you went to see him again yesterday.”

 

“Yes,” his mother says, removing her hand to smooth her skirt. “He’s doing a lot better.”

 

Shouto knows this, despite his continued lack of hospital visits. Tukai’s antibodies had removed the immediate threat of his father’s death: after the successful transfusion, Enji’s body had stopped fighting against the poison and started living with it, his brief returns to consciousness ever-increasing in number and in duration. So he’s grateful, he supposes, that the man’s body turned up on his doorstep, if only because their impossible deadline has been removed. But Tukai dead- such a convenient antidote- it all has broadened the scope of their villain’s presumed aims and motives to an extent that makes the case feel less solvable than ever.

 

“Did he wake up at all?” 

 

He really wants to ask why she goes, but he can’t bring himself too. In a way he thinks he might be afraid of the answer.

 

Rei nods, looks over him with her perceptive cool gaze. “Only very briefly. He seemed cognisant of his surroundings, but he was weak; he couldn’t speak.”

 

This much Shouto also knew. It’s pure logic, in any event- that the poison ate away at his father while he was fighting it, depleted him of much of his strength while he was comatose. Doctor’s reports have noted that his muscles are too weak for speech, movement, or flames. It makes the man sound naked in ways Shouto doesn’t even like to imagine. 

 

He glances up at his mother, finds her gazing out into her garden. The sight makes him remember something else he meant to ask.

 

“I don’t want to pressure you, but are you sure you don’t want to go to Fuyumi’s?”

 

“I’m sure,” Rei smiles, reassuringly. “I’m fine, Shouto. You shouldn’t worry about me.”

 

“You would be safer there,” Shouto frowns, glancing towards the door. There are at least three undercover officers around her rooms at any given time, but he can’t help but think about how little effort it would take him to break through her walls. “And you wouldn’t be a burden at all. I would offer my place if I could.”

 

“I know that,” his mother sighs, carding a hand through her hair. She looks briefly fragile before she settles into certainty. “And I’ll go if there’s no better way. But I trust the police, and I’m careful.” Their eyes meet, and she rubs her thumb across his knuckles. “It’s just important to me, this apartment. It’s my space. I feel safer here than I would elsewhere.”

 

He bows his head, concedes. He hadn’t quite understood her refusal until now. This apartment- small, with its large windows and quiet comfort, filled with assorted knick-knacks that don’t quite go together- is the first place she lived in after the hospital, and the only place she’s ever had to call her own. It is not statuesque or magnificent, but it feels like someone’s home. 

 

“Just make sure you’re looking after yourself. If you feel unsafe at all you have my emergency line. I have contacts in the city, people who could come stay nearby.”

 

“Thank you,” Rei says, then smiles, a dull spark of something different in her eyes as she gazes at their hands. “Your mother isn’t completely helpless, you know. I had to fend off a frenzied reporter or two back in the day.”

 

He doesn’t know how to respond to that, but it makes him smile instinctively, quick and unsure but faintly pleased. “I don’t remember that.”

 

“I think it made the news,” she says, half a laugh, shakes her head. “Your father saved the article.”

 

It’s hard, he realises, as he considers his drink. It’s hard to talk to her when it is impossible to ignore his father. And he knows that, on a normal day, knows that there are difficult things to talk about even now, but like this it’s different; Enji is omnipresent. He feels strung out. He doesn’t know how to hurt her least.

 

“You should be careful too,” his mother says, saving him from his thoughts, gaze pensive when he looks up. “You’re staying with friends, Fuyumi said?”

 

He nods. “Since Saturday night. The NPA has been very difficult about letting me go back to my place. I wanted to book a hotel room but since they have a spare room and one of them is working the case with me it’s proven quite convenient so far.”

 

“It’s good that you’re with others,” Rei affirms, frowning in thought. “That Bakugou boy, I assume, since he’s also working the case. He’s the one who is the fifth national hero, is that right?” 

 

Technically he’s not supposed to divulge his current residence, but the pro group working the case is public information, and of his three teammates he thinks it’s fairly obvious that he’s not crashing on Hawks’ sofa. The NPA has been wary of his current living arrangement, worried that the obviousness of his location might not elude the villain either, but three pros under one roof is as safe as it gets, in his book.

 

When he nods, keeping this tirade to himself, she smiles. “I saw the ranking announcement on the news on Friday. And he was at that press conference with you the day before.”

 

It hasn’t even been a week since the press conference; it feels like a month. “Yes. He’s very good at his job.”

 

“I’m sure he is,” Rei says, a little sorely, then shakes her head. “I wasn’t thinking about the case, really. I just recognise him well. You’ve been friends for a long time.”

 

“In a manner of speaking,” Shouto confirms. He’s never entirely sure how much his mother knows or remembers about his life. They talk, and he knows she keeps track of his public record, but a lot of things he forgets to share, or doesn’t know to voice. 

 

“I remember the first time you came to visit me,” his mother says. Only the lightness of her voice keeps him from stiffening. “We weren’t allowed to watch television unsupervised at the institution, so I never got to watch your Sports Festival matches that year- the violence upset some patients. But I read about them in the next day’s newspaper, just a day before you came. That’s the first time I knew a lot of your classmates’ names. Katsuki Bakugou. He won that year. Against you.”

 

She meets his eyes, smiles a little at his quiet confusion. “I still remember first reading that name. It’s quite telling, isn’t it? Someone who names their child Katsuki is either setting them up for feelings of inadequacy or for great things.”

 

“In his case it was both.”

 

“Ah, is that so. He’s always seemed a very confident type, but I suppose a lot of people like that are only posturing.” Their gazes lock; she hums and sips her water. “In any event, I don’t mean to ramble on. I just remembered his name from that day. His and Izuku Midoriya’s. Maybe because you’d fought them last. Somehow they’ve stayed intertwined with yours ever since, haven’t they?”

 

“I hadn’t thought about it like that,” Shouto says, honestly. It’s strange to think of that as his mother’s first introduction to them, but in a way it mirrors his own. The Sports Festival had made him look into himself foremost, but it had also allowed him to understand his classmates- Izuku’s drive to save, Katsuki’s drive to win, above all their similarly intransigeant morality when it came to beating someone fair and square. “We’ve grown up a lot since then.”

 

“I’ve noticed,” Rei says, fondly. “I don’t think you could have stayed at Katsuki Bakugou’s then.”

 

The astuteness of this observation startles a laugh out of him for the first time in days.

 

 

He doesn’t know how Wednesday creeps up on him. His inner clock froze sometime on the drive to his father’s place, and working through the weekend has done nothing to readjust his sense of time. It’s the mixture of repetition and inconsistency that does him in.

 

Every day of the investigation so far has brought new leads that are then revealed to go nowhere, Tukai serving as the most egregious example. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the dead body of one of the people directly involved in the attack literally rolling up to his doorstep would serve to put some breakthrough into motion, but thus far Tukai has been the most unhelpful of all, serving only to deprive Shouto of what little rest he gets, all nebulous guilt and frustration.

 

The week has given him either too much or too little to work with. Sunday morning, three out of four of his potential lightning Quirk users rolled up to the station, all willing to help and all blatantly innocent. The fourth has now been missing for six days. Hawks’ leads came through mid-Monday, pinpointing the hacks as non-Quirk related and narrowing down their frame of reference to a particularly savvy hacker, a revelation which has gotten them nowhere seeing as said savvy hacker hasn’t touched a computer since hacking into Shouto’s building security system and can’t be identified outside of the web. Tuesday his father managed to stay awake for longer than a minute at a time. None of this helps.

 

He should have seen his mother sooner, he thinks, as he pulls out of her street, estimating his time of return to the NPA offices. He’d called come Sunday morning, but he’d been too caught up in the hopes of making better progress now that the threat of his father’s immediate death was gone. 

 

She’s coping well, at least. Or she looks like she is. Rei tends to be honest when it comes to her state of mind, after all the years of therapy, so he takes her at her word more than he would otherwise. He thinks he might have stalled because he was worried about what he would find, but he’s not sure why, really. Of them all his mother is probably the one who takes this kind of thing the least badly, after all the years of being married to a pro hero. 

 

He thinks, slightly irrelevantly, back to Camie’s engagement party, to Hisoka. Besides his own parents he doesn’t actually know any relationships between pros and civilians. He’s not sure they’re particularly common, or at least not at his level of professional heroism. Maybe amongst the lower ranks of heroes it’s less hard. Most of the older pros he knows are either single or married amongst one another. 

 

It’s not surprising, really. Even lacking any real experience in the domain he can imagine how difficult it must be for both parties. Pros put their life on the line on the daily, and having civilian attachments is a real liability. That’s without getting into the actual relationship part. Not all pros are his father, but all pros come with baggage he can’t imagine any sane civilian wanting to handle. 

 

His conversation with Inasa comes to mind, and he frowns in thought as he switches lanes. He wasn’t lying- love, that sort of thing, he’s never really given much thought to, if any. It’s always seemed very detached from his reality, and he’s never felt much need for it. Maybe younger he just didn’t recognise the lack of it in himself, but since school he’s gotten all of the emotional connection he can handle. The thought of- what, marriage, settling down somehow, little children with tricoloured hair and a faceless smiling wife that resembles Momo somewhat, unsettles him. He guesses in a way a part of him expects it of himself, like a natural next step at some point in the ten years, but now he’s thinking about he doesn’t know why. He can’t raise children, for one thing. Can’t take that risk, continue that legacy. And some civilian wife- it makes his gut clench anxiously just to think of the dangers.

 

Still, it’s not like it has to be four children and a sprawling estate. He thinks of the women he works with with less discomfort. He’s close with a fair amount of incidentally female pro heroes, ex-classmates and other coworkers. Camie comes to mind first, which makes him smile a little. Yeah, no. Of the other women in his life he is closest to Ochako and Momo, and he tries for a moment to slot them into his life, imagine some other connection between them. 

 

Momo is an easy fit, obviously. Shouto loves Ochako dearly, but he can’t even try to imagine them together. Momo, on the other hand, is extremely well-suited to him, in ways that everyone in Japan has noticed. He thinks if they were married they would have a happy marriage, all things considered, because certainly they love and respect each other, and he knows from experience that they can live together just fine. It’s just that when he thinks of Momo he feels a sort of serene contentment, and though that might sound romantic on paper he knows himself well enough to suspect it doesn’t work that way for him. Thinking of marrying Momo is like thinking of marrying Tenya, some sexless sanitised camaraderie that borders on pastiche. 

 

The thought of marrying Tenya makes him smile again. The man is one of his very closest friends, and he’s not even hard on the eyes, but there is something inherently comical in picturing him as a house-husband of some variety, aggressively dusting shelves and lining up a dozen children that Shouto can’t help but imagine as looking exactly like him. 

 

He thinks of Inasa again, talking about love, and how it hurt, and rubs at his knuckles consideringly as he drifts into traffic. He’s not sure he wants it, if that’s what it is. He can take hurt, but where his friends are concerned it is already so potent that it makes it hard to breathe, sometimes, watching them fight within an inch of their lives. He does nothing by halves (ha!), he knows- commits fully to everything he cares about, and it’s frightening in an abstract way to consider more, to consider hurting worse. 

 

He wonders who Inasa loved hard enough to hurt. 

 

Tokyo’s skyline comes into view, closer now, and he sighs to himself, concentrates on the road. These things are not relevant to him. He’s too young to concern himself with settling down, anyhow- times have changed, and his career comes first, besides. It’s not like any of his friends especially differ from him, Camie excepting. At best they’ve had some casual relationships. Work keeps everyone too busy otherwise, in a variety of ways. Once Mineta gets engaged he’ll start worrying about it.

 

His touch-screen blips, alerting him of yet another phone notification that he swipes away somewhat regretfully. Izuku again. He’ll call him if he has the time in the afternoon; he can’t afford two social calls in a row when he’s mid-case, so he’ll have to spin it as getting an expert opinion. Which he is, so it’s not like he’s lying. Izuku was very helpful on Sunday. 

 

For a moment he entertains the thought of just marrying Izuku, which would certainly raise some brows but would very definitely be worth the hassle. If only Izuku wasn’t obviously in love with Ochako. He’s sure they could have worked it out somehow.

 

It strikes him that he has been considering this all very dispassionately, which is probably not socially adjusted of him, but then he’s come to realise over the last few years that women don’t really do it for him, so it’s not like he can really muster any excitement at the thought. This would be a bigger issue if he had any intent of seeking out his one true soulmate anytime soon, but, again, he isn’t. He could very well stay celibate for the rest of his life. It would sadden his female relatives, and gravely disappoint his father, but the latter is more incentive than anything and he can’t see that the alternative would be much better. Certainly the press wouldn’t be particularly suspicious of his bachelor lifestyle- the whole ice prince label lets him get away with a lot.

 

The NPA office comes into focus; it’s almost a relief to start thinking about the case again.

 

 

“Let’s review this one last time,” Hawks says, half a sigh, as he twirls a pen between his fingers with ease. “What do we have for sure?”

 

“There is at least one mastermind behind this, probably just the one,” Shouto recites, not bothering to look at his notes. “This individual is the one who hacked into the prison, the street cameras, and my apartment, using technical abilities rather than a Quirk. They were responsible for breaking Tukai out of prison, and brought him to the site of the attack to poison my father. The poisoning was unusual in its totality. Tukai was still alive up until the next afternoon, when his throat was slit; he was left on my doorstep late that evening. Given the intelligence of the villain, it is almost impossible that they were unaware that leaving him there would save Endeavour’s life.”

 

Hawks bobs his head in agreement as he talks, then taps his upper lip with the pen. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Our motive has completely shifted. Endeavour’s death wasn’t the intended purpose of the attack.”

 

“But you still think he’s the principal target.”

 

Hawks’ sharp gaze flits over to him. “I do. He was too seriously injured for it to be incidental, and besides…” 

 

He trails off, thoughtful; Shouto watches him in silence until he turns, smiles crookedly like he’s been caught out. “Ha. Besides, going after his kid- that feels pointed to me.”

 

“It might just have been because of the investigation,” Shouto offers. “A warning. The villain hasn’t done anything since.” To him it has started to feel like a taunt, dropping their most obvious lead at their feet like that.

 

“Could be,” Hawks shrugs. “Doesn’t feel like it to me.” He taps a picture of Tukai’s body, pensive. “At least we managed to confirm his presence at the crime scene, hm? Always love a good footprint.” 

 

“Where do you think he is?” Shouto asks, abrupt, eyes caught on a different picture. “Rakurai, I mean.”

 

“Ah, our elusive lightning-user,” Hawks says, shifting to lean against his desk. “Well, he could well be our hacker. Fits the demographic. Certainly his Quirk resembles the one used in the attack.”

 

“You don’t believe he’s the one behind this.”

 

“Don’t I?” Hawks asks, then smiles. “Nah, you’re right. I don’t. Neither do you.”

 

Shouto nods slowly. It’s gut feeling more than anything, but even though it complicates their task further he can’t quite buy it. “It’s more likely that he’s another Tukai.”

 

“My thoughts exactly.” Hawks hops off his desk, turns to consider him. “So our mastermind hacker remains Quirkless.”

 

“You think they’re Quirkless?”

 

“It doesn’t really matter either way,” Hawks shrugs. “A tech genius like that- I’m sure you’ve met some over the years, on UA’s support course and whatnot. They’re perfectly capable of stimulating the outcome of a fight from afar, Quirk or no Quirk.”

 

“Controlling the fight through technology,” Shouto says, testing it out as he replays the scene in his mind. “It would explain the physical disconnect.”

 

“And it keeps our focus on tracking our villain down not via Quirk usage but through their cyber footprint.”

 

“Your hackers haven’t found anything new?”

 

“Oh, lots. But none of it can help us find this person in practice. Interesting tidbit, though- my main guy says he’s pretty sure it’s a woman.”

 

“A woman,” Shouto echoes, mentally reworking his ideas. It doesn’t really change anything. “Does that help at all?”

 

“Cuts half of our villain-with-grudge list out,” Hawks offers, snorting. “But considering she may not even be on the list I would say a resounding nope.”

 

‘Whoever it is, it’s not over,” Shouto says, almost to himself, before looking up again. “Whenever they strike again we’ll have to move fast unless we want to lose sight of them for good.”

 

“Agreed,” Hawks says, glancing towards the door. “The NPA is expecting them to return to the hospital and try and off your old man, but they’re missing the point. If killing Endeavour wasn’t the aim, now that he’s recovering, the real plan is going to kick off anytime.”

 

“They don’t like not knowing what to expect.”

 

“Oh, well. Keeps them out of our feet, at least.”

 

Shouto looks down at his notes, thinks for a while. Then, unable to contain himself, he fixes his partner with a look.

 

“You’re keeping things from me, aren’t you.”

 

This gives Hawks pause; he turns, crouches onto the nearest desk chair to examine him. “Why’d you say that?”

 

He doesn’t know how to explain it. It’s just visible. “You talk a lot, but you don’t really say much.”

 

Hawks makes a sound like he’s repressing a laugh, which Shouto frowns at. He sobers quickly, though he still looks almost pleased under the quirked brow. “Sorry. I’m not laughing at you. Myself, really.” He shakes his head, grey-blonde hair bouncing as he moves. “You’ll probably take this badly, but you’re really similar to your folks sometimes.”

 

“I think it’s fairly universal to not respond well to lying.”

 

This does make Hawks laugh, shaking his head. “I did say you’d take it badly. Just reminded me of some conversations with your brother.”

 

“You’re not denying what I said.”

 

“No, I’m not,” Hawks confesses, smile fading into inscrutable observation, though he remains completely relaxed. It does not surprise Shouto that he fared so well undercover. “Would be in bad faith if I did, since you’re right. I’ve been keeping some things to myself.”

 

Shouto wants to snap at him, but he keeps himself in check, just keeps staring at him blankly, which makes Hawks smile again, ruefully this time.

 

“Shit, you’re not half bad at that. I feel very admonished. Listen, I know. It’s not protocol. But I’ve only failed to inform you of things that I’m absolutely certain you couldn’t use in this investigation.”

 

“That’s not your call to make,” Shouto says, sharply. 

 

“Yeah, I know,” Hawks replies, more serious now, looking towards the window. “But it’s messy family business, and it really has nothing to do with any of this.”

 

“As far as you’re aware,” Shouto retorts. “You’re perfectly capable of missing something I wouldn’t.”

 

“True, but I really am sure of it. It’s not connected to the case. It just might complicate things further down the line.”

 

Shouto feels his breath go icy with frustration, keeps his limbs grounded. “Even if that is true, there is no good reason for you to keep any information from me.”

 

“I don’t disagree,” Hawks says, raising a shoulder. “Take it up with your brother.”

 

For a moment he is very tempted to break something, or at least freeze the room. “You’re keeping things from your work partner because one of the nation’s most infamous criminals asked you to.”

 

“I’m keeping things from the infamous criminal’s little brother because he’s a very useful source of intel and he’s extremely difficult to get to talk,” Hawks replies, tapping his knee. “If I directly break the terms of our agreement it’ll get back to him and cost me a lot of time and effort.”

 

“So you’re just making deals with criminals, then.”

 

“Didn’t you go to see him on Friday night?” 

 

“And the deal I made with him doesn’t compromise my work,” Shouto retorts, cold. “You can’t seriously believe he’s getting you to keep intel to yourself out of familial concern.”

 

“I don’t care about his motivations,” Hawks says, plainly. “I agree that the intel doesn’t have any bearing on this case, and it was a good bargain. You can go demand answers from him if you like. It’s just business.”

 

“Business,” Shouto repeats, harsh. It’s close to voicing something he’s purposefully never dwelled on, and Hawks actually looks a little surprised, for once, wings twitching minutely as he tilts his head.

 

“Yeah. Business.”

 

“Now you’re just lying to my face,” Shouto says, and does not void his voice of how this makes him feel, pushes past Hawks for the door, inhales deeply. “I’m going to get some air.”

 

He’s out before he can catch Hawks’ reply.

 

 

Tokyo is so densely populated that even years into living in the city he still sometimes finds it hard to think that every blur of movement is a person in the same way that he is.

 

He stands and watches traffic for a minute, arms pressed against the cool railing of the rooftop. It’s the kind of place you’d expect a pro to stand and brood. He’s not trying to make himself hard to find.

 

He trusts Hawks, professionally. Obviously he does. He’s not especially trusting in general, and certainly the amount of shocking betrayals he’s witnessed over the years has not made him any less paranoid, but he’s seen Hawks at work for long enough that he chooses to trust him. It’s a necessity in their line of work. Hawks may lie, but he’s a good man; Shouto believes this honestly.

 

So he trusts Hawks, which means that he will have to stomach this confession. Hawks is not keeping anything about the investigation to himself, so he says. Instinctively he rebels against this, but intellectually it’s a good thing, to have his suspicions confirmed, at least. Hawks didn’t lie about it, seems happy enough to have him chase answers from Dabi. It’s bad manners, and questionable practice, but strictly speaking it’s not unacceptable behaviour.

 

He thinks back to the files he has. Different, sure, but in principle he also has things he shouldn’t have. In fact he probably stands a good chance of discovering whatever tangled drama Dabi is aware of but doesn’t want him knowing by combing through said files. 

 

Most probably there really is no connection to the case. Between the three of them- the father, the son, and the deranged criminal- they certainly have enough disturbing intel to keep them occupied for the next fifty years, so it’d be quite coincidental for every one of Dabi’s sordid secrets to be somehow related to this particular attack. 

 

He sighs, scrubs at his eyes. At times like these he itches for a cigarette. It’s a bad habit he picked up very briefly two years ago, but it’s hard to shake off the urge when he’s worked up, and also hard not to enable considering he’s his own personal lighter. 

 

“Hey,” Hawks says, from the door. “Enough air for two?”

 

Shouto only nods, lets him float over to him. He’s not angry anymore, and everything he might say is superfluous. Is Hawks sure? Of course he is. Wasn’t there a better way to let him know? Probably. It’s not worth wasting time on.

 

“You’re interesting, y’know,” Hawks decides, a propos of nothing, when he reaches him. Shouto glances at him, finds his expression thoughtful, casual. “Surprisingly likeable.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“Anyways, I didn’t mean to upset you. You can cuss me out if it helps.”

 

“There’s no need. I’m not upset.”

 

“Hm?” Hawks says, peering at him, then raises a brow. “Oh, you’re serious, huh. You really are interesting.”

 

“You have news,” Shouto suggests, looking him over. Hawks nods, smirks to himself, pulls out a cigarette.

 

“How’d you figure?”

 

“You didn’t leave me here long. I expect you have news or you’d have waited longer for me to cool down.”

 

“So observant,” Hawks half-laughs, taking a drag from his cigarette. “Yeah. Bad news, or good, depending on how you’re looking at it. Rakurai’s turned up.”

 

“Dead?” Shouto asks, thinking of the man’s laughing face. Only barely older than Shouto. 

 

“Very. He was dumped outside Fuchū.”

 

Shit, Shouto thinks, and frowns. His mind works fast. “Outside?” 

 

“That’s right. No hacking this time; only the security cameras on the street, and they didn’t come close to any of the gates. They’re being careful.”

 

“Damnit,” Shouto exhales, staring out at the city. There is a dull anger burning in his chest. Two people dead, now. “No eyewitnesses?”

 

“We’re waiting to hear more details. I presume whoever dropped the body off was thoroughly disguised, though.”

 

They’re so far behind. Whoever did this- whoever is doing this- has planned for this every step of the way. He has to force himself to think big picture. “The order doesn’t make sense.”

 

“You, then your brother? Yeah. Doesn’t work if this is supposed to be targeting all of you kids. But I’m pretty sure they’re not going after anyone else.”

 

Just him and Dabi. It wouldn’t be surprising. Certainly they represent his father’s legacy best. Still, his thoughts swirl; he wonders if there’s any reason he was targeted first, if there’s any meaning to be found in their respective victims. It’s all more information, and no confirmation. 

 

“We should get back to work,” Shouto says, finally. When Hawks hands him the cigarette he takes it.

 

 

He calls Izuku during his ten-minute lunch break, aware that it’s a terrible hour of the morning in America but equally aware that Izuku is expecting his sleep to be interrupted. 

 

“I can’t talk,” Shouto warns, when Izuku answers. “They’re expecting me at the lab. But I’ve sent you the files from the past two days.“

 

“That’s more than fine,” Izuku assures him, rapid-fire. “I don’t know if I’ll be of any help, but-”

 

“Just your outside perspective would be helpful,” Shouto says, shaking his head. “And I could use your insight. But don’t force yourself if you’re busy.”

 

“Not at all,” Izuku rushes, almost audibly shaking his head. He must be speed-reading the files, because he inhales a little. “Fuck, Shouto, another one dead?”

 

“Hm. For Dabi this time.”

 

“Right, I’ll look into it,” Izuku says, firmly, and for a moment Shouto misses him terribly, wants nothing but to see the shining conviction on his face and trust that they’ll sort this out somehow. “Go on. Call me tonight if you have the time, or I’ll text you if I think of anything.”

 

“Thank you,” Shouto says, heavily, and stands there for a second too long after the call ends.

 

 

He spends the whole day working intently, but they don’t reach any useful conclusions by the time the office begins emptying out, and so it comes as a relief when Hawks flits over to his desk to give him a look.

 

“You’ll never guess what fun news I have.”

 

Shouto stares at him to convey that he’s listening, and Hawks’ wings flutter.

 

“I’ve been speaking to my guys in tech all evening, and it seems they actually got somewhere with the prison run today.”

 

“I thought there was no cyber interference.”

 

“Minimal, yeah,” Hawks agrees, pointing towards their board, “But our mutual friend inside has managed to haggle himself binoculars for his bird-spotting hobby, and as it turns out he happens to have been watching the street since Tukai turned up at yours.”

 

Bird-spotting. Sometimes he wants to give up. “He saw something?”

 

“Something indeed,” Hawks stresses, leaning in. “The getaway car, for one. Which wouldn’t be much help, because it’s a disposable piece of junk, except it gave us a number plate sooner than our villain thought we’d get it, so when my guys got onto it she hadn’t gotten around to deleting any traces of her hiring it out today.”

 

“Surely she didn’t take it out under her own name.”

 

“Of course not- but the fake account she set up to buy it?”

 

“Traceable,” Shouto says, following. She would have counted on the absence of functioning surveillance to make her number plate untraceable until she’d gotten rid of the car, which means that she wouldn’t have secured the transaction with the amount of protections she’d used to hack into any of the previous sites of attacks, expecting the time to clean up after herself later. 

 

“Bingo. My guy was a bitch about it because he’s busy having some kind of domestic with his boyfriend about their chess habits or whatever, but he’s been good enough to send me this.”

 

He slides his tablet over; Shouto stares at the link warily. “You haven’t opened it yet?”

 

“Thought I’d let you do the honours.”

 

He clicks on the link. The site loads for a moment, then pings, four tabs opening simultaneously. 

 

“Chihiro Kajiya,” Hawks reads, slowly, as Shouto observes the girl in the picture. It’s outdated, a school picture from five years ago; she looks somewhere around fifteen, dark-haired and impassive.

 

“I don’t recognise her.”

 

“Neither do I,” Hawks says, frowning, “But the name rings a bell. Scroll?”

 

Shouto does. The first tab is her high school record- final grades, class picture, location. The second is the last known use of her laptop. The third is a series of encrypted emails and their attachments, recovered from said laptop. The final tab is a collage of blurry security camera footage retrieved from god knows where, snapshots of the current Chihiro.

 

“Remind me not to cross your contact,” he says, scrutinising the emails. There’s nothing about the case, but that doesn’t matter. His heart is pounding in his chest. A name and a face. 

 

“Yeah, he’s an asshole,” Hawks says, distractedly, leaning over him to look at the second tab again. “Best technopath I know, though.”

 

“So Kajiya is our hacker,” Shouto observes, sending her picture off to print and getting to his feet. “Which makes it probable that she’s also the one behind this.”

 

“She ought to be just about your age,” Hawks notes, biting the end of his pen in thought. “Hm. Kajiya. That name… Your old man fought any metal Quirk users recently?” 

 

It’s rhetorical; he’s typing as he asks it, so Shouto pins the picture to the board without answering, looks at Kajiya’s unseeing gaze. 

 

“What are we doing with the laptop’s last address?”

 

“I’ll call Mirko,” Hawks decides. “It’s not far from her part of town. I doubt the girl’ll be around, but it’s worth a shot.”

 

“Alert the police too. They should search the premises for anything.”

 

He zones out as Hawks explains the situation to Mirko, trying to extrapolate any possible revelations out of the villain’s identity, and only remembers himself when Hawks exclaims something behind him.

 

“Here,” Hawks says, pushing the tablet towards him when he turns. “Endeavour arrested a Kenji Kajiya for aggravated robbery eighteen years ago.”

 

“Served twelve years for it,” Shouto comments, scrolling through the record. He has no recollection of the man, which is hardly surprising, considering his father’s case record. 

 

“Daddy issues, then,” Hawks declares, glancing over at Chihiro on the board. “There’s our motive, but what are the specifics?”

 

“The specifics?”

 

“What’s the point, you know? She wants to get back at Endeavour- we knew that already. But what’s the goal? Make him suffer? Could just have killed him. Going after his kids as payback? Why the drama of it all? We need to understand the details to understand the next step.”

 

Shouto glances at the report again. It’s barely a couple of pages, one of those quick fights his father probably forgot as soon as it ended. He’s had his share. 

 

In their line of work no job is as simple as it looks. 

 

“I might have something to help with that,” Shouto says, slowly, and fishes the USB out of his bag. Hawks’ brow dips.

 

“That looks like it belongs in evidence.”

 

“It’s in evidence now.”

 

Hawks snorts, taps his nose. “Nice work, kiddo.”

 

“You’re seven years older than I am,” Shouto reminds him, because he can only let so much slide. Hawks pulls a face.

 

They comb through work files for an hour, digging up the details of the case until they have a clearer picture. Kajiya the elder was a blacksmith in a rough area of Toyama, a metal Quirk user; Endeavour thwarted his attempted bank robbery with minor strain. Records note the man as having died not long after he was released from prison, leaving behind a wife and daughter. No mention is made in the newspaper eulogy of the other child Hawks digs up in old birth records. 

 

Mirko calls in to report that the rooms have indeed been deserted, though police is combing the area, which was to be expected but stings nonetheless. It’s nearing nine by then, and he can’t stomach having to sleep on yet another fruitless lead. They have her name and face; it feels insane that this is not enough.

 

“I’m going,” Hawks announces, when the clock starts to creep close to ten. “I have a dark suspicion that shit is going to go down soon and I need to check on some precautions if that’s the case. No point sitting around.”

 

Shouto shares this suspicion, nods. “Are you passing by the prison tonight?”

 

“What, to warn Dabi? We’ve already alerted the staff, and he knows he’s a target.”

 

“I assumed someone would need to fill him in on the details in the event that they end up mattering.”

 

“Well, feel free to do so yourself. It’s probably not a bad idea to see if you can get him to give his two cents, but he’s been really damn moody now that his one true hate is in the hospital, so I wouldn’t hope for much.”

 

“That’s fine,” Shouto says, mentally rearranging his plans for the night. He’s been hyperfocused with urgency the past hour, gone slightly claustrophobic with the lack of progress. Kajiya the younger has been scrupulous in removing most traces of herself from the Internet, and the only new intel he’s dug up is that she’s registered as Quirkless on government records, which might not even be true, if she’s capable of hacking into their systems. Checking on Dabi wasn’t on his schedule, but it gives him a reason to force his limbs into action and sling his bag onto his shoulders. Staying cooped up alone in the office won’t get him anywhere.

 

He and Hawks part ways by the door; he has the presence of mind to alert Kirishima that he’s on his way back, then descends into silent brooding for the duration of the ride to the apartment, only marginally paying attention to his surroundings on the off chance that someone is lying in wait in the next car over.

 

Kajiya’s dark eyes crowd his vision as he drives.

 

 

“Fucking hell,” Bakugou says, when he appears in the living room, nose crinkling in disgust as he sets groceries down. “You’ve been smoking again?”

 

“How do-“ Shouto starts, then gives up when Kirishima laughs at him. “Hello, Bakugou.”

 

“Don’t even think about smoking in here,” Bakugou warns, kicking off his boots with undue aggression before stepping neatly into his slippers. “It reeks, and I’m not paying any bills if I blow through the ceiling because you leave your stubs around.”

 

“I’m not even a smoker,” Shouto sighs, which makes Kirishima laugh again, leaning to wave at Bakugou.

 

“Hey, man. There’s leftovers in the oven.”

 

Bakugou grunts in thanks, vanishes into the kitchen with the groceries in tow. Shouto watches him go, lost in thought, then turns back to Kirishima. “You were saying?”

 

“Forgot,” Kirishima huffs, shaking his head with a smile. “I don’t know how he does it either. He has a sixth sense for anything he doesn’t like, or something.”

 

“That would be very unsurprising.”

 

“Ah, right, I remember now,” Kirishima says, snapping his fingers. “Since you have her cyber signature, did you guys check to see if she had any tech registered to it?”

 

“You mean when we first looked into the hacking? I think so,” Shouto says, frowning. “Hawks said some equipment did come up, but nothing that seemed particularly fitting for this attack.”

 

“So no sign of the bitch?” Bakugou asks, reappearing in the living room with a bowl in hand. “Figures. Doubt she’ll show her face until the next attack.”

 

“You think there’ll be a next one too?” Kirishima asks, as Shouto mentally confirms that Bakugou has indeed read the email he sent out.

 

“No shit,” Bakugou says, rolling his eyes as he sits on the arm of his chair. “It’s some kind of revenge plot. There’s obviously some grand finale coming up.”

 

“I thought the bodies might just have been taunts,” Kirishima shrugs, “Like serial killers sending them to the police. But then I guess those guys tend to strike again too.”

 

“I think it’ll be personal,” Shouto says, carefully, trying to formulate it properly. “The last attack.”

 

Bakugou grunts, considers him. “She’ll do the fighting herself?”

 

“I expect so,” Shouto nods. Call it instinct. “It’s possible that there are other- decoys, but there were only two used in the attack, and this has all been too well-planned. It would feel- off, if she introduced any new players at the last minute.”

 

“Woah, smart,” Kirishima says, eyes wide and considering. “I guess you’ll need to gear up for fighting against some kind of tech then. Do Hawks and Mirko agree?”

 

“From the sound of it yes. Hawks expects trouble soon. It’s just a matter of knowing what kind, and where.”

 

“It’ll be you, your old man, or your brother,” Bakugou declares, chopsticks scraping against his bowl. “Bringing someone else in- like icyhot says, it’d disturb the whole arrangement.”

 

“Hawks has vetoed my father. He thinks he was kept alive for a reason.”

 

“Shit, Shouto,” Kirishima frowns, looking worried now. “You mean like he’s supposed to witness something happening to you?”

 

“Myself or my brother, most likely.”

 

“Could do us all a favour and take out that asshole,” Bakugou grumbles, finishing his noodles. Shouto rubs at his wrists, and Bakugou stops. 

 

Todoroki.”

 

Shouto gazes very blankly at him, but the scowl he receives doesn’t bode well. 

 

“You’re going to go see him again?” Kirishima infers, somehow, gazing between the two of them like he’s watching a tennis match. Caught out, Shouto stares obstinately at the door.

 

“I need to check in on him.”

 

“Oh, fuck no,” Bakugou barks, slamming his bowl down. “This is some Silence of the Lambs bullshit. You’re not driving out to his cell in the middle of the night like the world’s stupidest target.”

 

“I don’t have the time to wait. For all we know the attack is tonight, or tomorrow morning, and then I won’t have the chance to talk to him.”

 

“Yeah, and if the attack is tonight she might have expected you to go running to that exact location! Just get someone else to talk to him!”

 

“I’m going,” Shouto says, tone final. “He needs to be made aware of the situation, and I want to gauge his reactions. You’re not going to change my mind on this.”

 

“No?” Bakugou asks, dangerous glint in his eyes. “Guess I could just stop you from leaving, then.”

 

“You could try.”

 

“Guys, chill out!” Kirishima exclaims, disrupting their stand-off to clap his hands together. “Seriously, am I back in high school? You’re not about to destroy our apartment about this!”

 

Shouto wilts a little, but remains standing, jaw set. “It’s not your choice to make, Bakugou.”

 

“I’m on this case too,” Bakugou reminds him, arms firmly crossed. “I’m well within my rights to veto this stupid-ass idea.”

 

“Guys,” Kirishima repeats, more of a groan this time. “Katsuki, man. Just go with him.”

 

“What?”

 

“Look, if you’re worried he could be in danger if he goes,” Kirishima starts, patiently, which makes Shouto feel abruptly awkward, because it sounds different put that way, “Then go with him. You guys can keep an eye on each other. I don’t think there’s a villain in the world that could take you both out by surprise.”

 

Shouto shifts uncomfortably. “I don’t know if that’s necessary.”

 

“You have to be shitting me,” Bakugou snaps. “Now you have qualms?”

 

“It’s-“ Oh, never mind, he doesn’t have the time to argue. “…Fine. If that’s what you want.”

 

“When do I ever fucking get what I want,” Bakugou mutters darkly, the melodramatic asshole, but he stomps over to the door and starts shoving his boots on, so Shouto follows long-sufferingly, sparing Kirishima a grateful look. The latter just shakes his head fondly.

 

“I can’t believe you don’t like Silence of the Lambs, ‘tsuki.”

 

“That FBI girl should just have shot the asshole and solved the case herself,” Bakugou declares, getting to his feet and ignoring Kirishima’s grin. “Get a move on, half ’n half.”

 

“I’m driving,” Shouto announces, then escapes through the door. Bakugou swears at him the whole way down.

 

 

Though the start of the drive is terse, habit and distraction quietens them both down quickly. Shouto drives on auto-pilot, reviewing facts, only belatedly remembers Bakugou is in his car. When he wants to be Bakugou can be disturbingly silent.

 

“I don’t see the point,” Bakugou says, maybe fifteen minutes into the drive, testy. Shouto glances at him.

 

“The point?”

 

“Kajiya,” Bakugou elaborates, staring out onto the road. “She’s some kind of pro-hacker or whatever. Hawks thinks it was tech of some kind that controlled the other two.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Then I don’t get it,” Bakugou repeats, now frowning harder. “Why the fuck would she have bothered to organise a getaway car and all that shit if she has tech that sophisticated? The whole point of tech like that is to distance herself from the crime scene while she controls it- but she had to pick them up and drop them off herself?”

 

Shouto thinks this through, frowns. “She could have gotten a driver, I guess.”

 

“You said yourself that she keeps this shit too clean. Tukai was taken specifically because he had the rare kind of Quirk that could actually hurt your old man. Rakurai is less specific, but he had a strong and flashy Quirk she used to cover her tracks and keep Endeavour’s attention on the wrong threat. Shit she couldn’t do herself, for some reason. So why would she bother to hire surplus to serve as a driver?” Bakugou pauses, turns his scowl towards him. “And another thing- she has some kind of body and mind control tech, but she couldn’t just make the tech to shoot out some lightning and shove a needle into Endeavour?”

 

“Having Quirk users was a better red herring,” Shouto answers slowly, processing. “Probably bought her the time to make sure no one tracked her before she carried out the rest of her plan.”

 

“But if she hadn’t broken anyone out of prison and all that shit it would have been way fucking harder to track her cyber presence to begin with. I just don’t buy that she’s got some kind of god-tier tech like that. That family was flat broke; even if she’s some genius she wouldn’t have been able to buy the materials without leaving a trace.”

 

“She must have some kind of tech,” Shouto argues, frowning. “Tukai at least wouldn’t have acted willingly; if it’s not a Quirk then it’s tech. And Hawks said something about Rakurai’s autopsy too.”

 

“So she has fucking mind control at her disposal- then why couldn’t Tukai and Rakurai drive themselves out, huh? Hell, she could have had Tukai walk up to your door and slit his throat himself. Same goes for Rakurai.”

 

“I don’t know,” Shouto retorts, trying to sort his thoughts. “But if it’s a Quirk then the same question applies. It can’t be mind control. Or if it is then she has to be in proximity of her targets.”

 

Maybe that’s it. It would explain her playing chauffeur, if that is her, and explain her active involvement. Bakugou grunts, looking dissatisfied, and shifts in his seat.

 

“Still doesn’t make sense. All of this shit just feels unnecessary if she has mind control somehow. Whatever the evil plan is- she could just have made you lot do it to yourselves from across the street and then fucked off. No need to get the others involved.”

 

“If she doesn’t have control over her targets somehow, then how do you explain it at all?” Shouto counters. “There were only the two of them at the scene of the attack, and you saw yourself that Rakurai’s control of his Quirk was weird. He went to Isamu, so he wasn’t that sloppy by nature.”

 

“You don’t need to do some voodoo shit to control people,” Bakugou fires back. “She could very well have intimidated them into doing it. Tukai was a massive pushover, not to mention suicidal. Maybe that’s why Rakurai was acting weird- cold feet, or something.”

 

Shouto thinks this over, finds no immediate retort, and pauses. “What was Rakurai’s cause of death again?”

 

“Ha? Slit throat too, wasn’t it?” Bakugou asks, pulling his phone out. “Yeah. Slit throat. Why?”

 

“I just wondered if he might also have been poisoned,” Shouto dismisses, then frowns at his windshield, where the autopsy report is projected. “Can you enhance that?”

 

Bakugou does, then frowns hard, following. “What the fuck?”

 

“Lab says he was brain-dead by midday,” Shouto reads, disbelieving. He would suspect a typing error, but he’s met the coroner, and her Quirk doesn’t lie. 

 

“I’m sorry, Rakurai was brain-dead before the damn attack took place?” Bakugou repeats, mind almost audibly whirring as he makes sense of this.

 

“That must be why Hawks was so sure control was involved,” Shouto says, feeling faintly sick. “His body…”

 

“Can you even use your Quirk when you’re brain-dead?” Bakugou asks, voice rising in volume. “Like some zombie shit?”

 

“The Nomu,” Shouto starts, stops. “I don’t know. I- assume so.”

 

“What the fuck,” Bakugou repeats, less loud, then pulls up the footage of the fight. “There is no way this is a damn reanimated corpse.”

 

Shouto wants to reply, but the prison looms ahead, and he slows the car instead, pulls up to the gate.

 

“Hold that thought.”

 

They get in with minor haggling, security irritable about the amount of pros milling around the prison; Shouto glances at the foreboding grey walls as he parks the car, wondering how he would go about breaking in if he were Chihiro Kajiya. 

 

“Who am I signing in?” the receptionist asks, looking between the two of them. Shouto pauses, stiffening as he looks towards Bakugou. 

 

“Two for Todoroki Touya,” Bakugou says, gruff, and pushes away from the counter as Shouto stares after him, stomach twisting faintly.

 

He really wasn’t intending on bringing anyone along. For all of Bakugou’s flippancy his visits to the prison do have a sort of psychological thriller aspect to them; Dabi always makes things into some mind game. Shouto can handle himself fine, though he’s aware he can’t help but let his brother get under his skin sometimes, but he’s never wanted anyone else to endure it, and Bakugou in particular-

 

He doesn’t have the time to say a word; they’re already moving into the building, guards on both sides, Bakugou scrupulously avoiding eye contact as he marches ahead. 

 

He feels somehow nauseous. He’d been thinking of other things on the drive over, allowed himself to forget. 

 

“Bakugou,” he starts, knowing he’s fighting a losing battle but too stubborn and vaguely sick with shapeless anxiety to concede defeat. “I don’t think-“

 

“Shut up,” Bakugou says, quite mildly. Shouto swallows several aborted replies. Bakugou resents any protection on the best of days, and when it comes to things like this- fuck, why couldn’t he have dragged Kirishima along? Even Izuku could have managed it, give or take a fistfight in the parking lot.

 

“Here we are,” one of the guards says, warily; Shouto bites his lip hard and pushes forwards to enter first, listening to locks whir as the door slides open.

 

On any other day, he would find the flash of surprise on his brother’s face reassuring, proof that he’s not actually the inscrutable genius he pretends to be. Today, watching his surprise melt into a darkly pleased smile, he thinks he’d take the inscrutable genius instead.

 

The door slams shut behind them like the lid of a coffin.

 

 

“Well,” Touya says, after a drawn-out silence. “You should have told me you were bringing a guest, Shouto. I would have dressed up.”

 

Bakugou bristles in annoyance, pushing into the room to sit heavily on his desk. “Skip the posturing, jackass.”

 

“And Katsuki Bakugou at that,” Dabi continues, unperturbed. “You really haven’t changed much, have you? Though I suppose you have filled out nicely.”

 

Shouto flinches at that, the leering tone catching him off-guard more than he’d like. It’s not even a good ploy, playing the shock factor, but it lands; he has to school his expression into neutrality. Bakugou, on the other hand, growls violently as he jabs a finger in Dabi’s direction.

 

“Keep that shit to yourself, staple-face.”

 

“It has to be that,” Dabi decides, mock assessing as he looks back towards Shouto. “Can’t see what else you keep him around for.”

 

“Oh, fucking rich,” Bakugou barks, impatient. “Says the loser who tried and failed to recruit me to his lame-ass criminal organisation.”

 

“I have questions,” Shouto says firmly, before Bakugou breaks his brother’s nose. “This shouldn’t take long, so don’t make it hard when it doesn’t have to be.”

 

“Don’t begrudge me my entertainment,” Dabi shrugs, unfazed. “Prison is unbelievably dull.”

 

“Whatever it is that Hawks knows,” Shouto starts, perfunctory. “Can you confirm that it’s not connected to this case?”

 

Dabi quirks a brow, visibly considers his answer. It’s one of Shouto’s least favourite parts about dealing with him- he likes to blatantly construct his answer in front of his interlocutor and then sell it as truth. 

 

“Would you believe me if I did?”

 

“Doesn’t matter,” Shouto answers. “Having you say it on camera will give me evidence of your obstruction of justice if it turns out you’re lying.”

 

“You’d turn in your fellow pro just like that?” Dabi snorts, disbelieving. “What a momma’s boy.”

 

“Don’t tell me that was some convoluted way of calling him cold,” Bakugou groans, looking like he’s seriously considering braining Dabi with the desk chair. Shouto ignores him.

 

“If Hawks purposefully helped cover up information crucial to an active investigation involving several murders, he wouldn’t exactly be good at his job.”

 

“God, you’re a buzzkill,” Dabi sighs, vaguely put-upon. “Yeah, whatever, Takami’s a paragon of morality, he’s not lying.”

 

That’s that out of the way. “Does the name Kajiya ring any bells to you?”

 

“Hm, is that the guy who’s after me?” Dabi asks, quirking a brow. “Can’t say it does. Why, is he League associated somehow?”

 

“She’s a woman,” Shouto corrects. “She’d be somewhere between our ages. Her father was arrested by Endeavour years ago. He was in prison for over a decade.”

 

“I see,” Dabi drawls, looking faintly interested now. “A matter of karma, huh? How ironic. I hope for her sake she goes after you. Not much of a revenge plot otherwise.”

 

“It’s not a question of who has a bone to pick with our father,” Shouto retorts, flat. “She’s trying to get to him through us.”

 

“I got that, thanks. If she really thinks that he’ll shed a tear at my loss she’s delusional,” Dabi smirks. When Shouto only frowns at him silently his smile twists. “Oh, don’t tell me you bought into the melodrama at the trial. And to think you’re meant to be the smart one.”

 

“Get over yourself,” Bakugou interjects, irritable, refocusing Shouto as he gives Dabi an unimpressed look. “No one gives a fuck if you two have reconciled. The point is that Kajiya clearly bought the whole regretful spiel, so you stand just as good a chance of biting it as he does. Everyone knows you’re not the honourable martyr type, so quit the dramatics.”

 

Dabi’s expression cools, and he considers Bakugou through a heavy-lidded look, blue eyes calmly malevolent, and Shouto feels ice spike through him, muscles gone tight with anticipation as he rushes to interrupt. “Can we focus on-“

 

“Ah, Katsuki Bakugou,” Dabi says, name mockingly drawled, like Shouto isn’t even in the room. “You’re fifth nationally now, I hear. How predictable. A big-shot bully who cares about heroism only because it’s the easiest way to win in our society, crawling into our top rankings.” 

 

His eyes flash vivid blue, and for a moment Shouto almost doesn’t hear him speak, how sad, Todoroki Shouto ringing through his ears. “There’s nothing heroic about you. It’s why you’ll never beat that moronic successor of All Might’s.”

 

For a second Shouto is sure that Bakugou is about to throw his brother through a wall and possibly break his spine; he’s halfway to throwing up ice to stop him, but Bakugou’s palms only crackle loudly once before he slams them down against the desk, snarling contempt on his face visibly restrained.

 

“You’re saying I’m like your old man,” Bakugou says, finally, voice taut with some unnamable expression. “Yeah, fine. I got that a lot when I was fucking fifteen. Didn’t like it much then either.”

 

Shouto glances towards him in surprise, wonders if he somehow read minds during their first year, because the comparison had not eluded him either, and had certainly not made him consider Bakugou in a favourable light for quite some time.

 

“Thing is,” Bakugou continues, almost conversational, “That shit was six years ago. Your edgy comparison is severely fucking outdated.”

 

Dabi’s expression remains flat. “Right, so you’re a changed man. I must have missed that somewhere under all of the abuse.” 

 

Bakugou assumes a long-suffering intolerant look that reminds Shouto disturbingly of Aizawa. “Well, brace yourself for some brand new information, then. UA loves forcing some character development bullshit on you, and I guess that shit sticks. Hell, you can have some kudos, if that’s what you want; listening to a bunch of jackasses tell you why you’d make a great villain does make you question your life choices.” 

 

“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Dabi says, not giving an inch. He flicks Shouto a glance, smiles mirthlessly when their eyes meet. “How Oedipal of you.”

 

“Stop fucking projecting your daddy issues,” Bakugou finally snaps, eyes flashing as he leans forwards. “It’s embarrassing that you think you have some moral high ground to preach from when you’ve done ten times the damage that asshole ever did.”

 

He doesn’t think either of them quite expect him to say it so flat-out, and Bakugou seizes the opportunity to push on, crossing his arms expectantly. “Now stop picking fights and answer half ’n half’s damn questions so we don’t ever have to see each other again.”

 

Shouto still feels vaguely numb with tonal whiplash, so he doesn’t even react when Dabi abruptly snorts in what could well be genuine amusement, casually derisive once more. “All right, then. Since you ask so nicely.”

 

Shouto allows himself to sigh heavily. “I really only came to make sure you were properly informed. We’re still not sure how exactly Kajiya is planning to attack, and it could be anything from a Quirk to technology, so you should be careful.”

 

“That’s sweet, little brother, but you might have noticed my fate is out of my hands,” Dabi says, gesturing pointedly with said hands. His two cuffs look almost like innocuous, like bracelets. “If she bursts in guns blazing the best I can do is hit her with a chair.”

 

“Obviously you’ll be protected,” Shouto replies, not about to be played into divulging any details. “I wouldn’t worry too much. But if you happen to see this woman anywhere you might want to let someone know.”

 

“She looks about thirteen.”

 

“It’s an old picture.”

 

“Then she probably looks nothing like that,” Dabi says, leaning back. “You hardly recognised me during our touching reunion.”

 

“I doubt she’ll out-do you in that regard.”

 

“Don’t you start using the stoic sarcasm,” Dabi sighs, rubbing at his cuff. “This place has already taken enough from me.”

 

Shouto looks at his hands, and then freezes. Inside his head the first domino topples, setting the row in motion.

 

“Sounds like a wrap to me,” Bakugou announces, somewhere in the real world, shoving off from the desk. “Enjoy rotting in here for the rest of your life, staple-face.”

 

“Enjoy domestic bliss,” Dabi replies, smiling with his teeth. 

 

“Taken,” Shouto says, to himself, and barely registers the both of them pausing to look at him quizzically. “He said-“ 

 

His head snaps upwards as he straightens, glances distractedly at his brother before grabbing Bakugou by the shoulder and almost dragging him to the door.

 

“What the hell?”

 

“Taken,” Shouto repeats, over the buzz of the gate as they emerge back into the prison hallways, and he just about waits for the tell-tale slamming of the doors before he stops to meet Bakugou’s gaze, mind outpacing his words. “He said- just now, prison took enough from him.”

 

“Yeah, I got it, the cuffs took his Quirk,” Bakugou retorts, impatient, then frowns hard. Shouto half-nods, movement jerky with adrenaline, distantly trying to remember how speaking works.

 

“They took his Quirk,” Shouto repeats, with all of the importance he can put into words. “The police- when they found my father, all that he managed to say was that someone had taken something from him. He’s awake now and he still doesn’t burn.”

 

“Holy fuck,” Bakugou exhales; his eyes are ruby red with intent concentration, and Shouto’s are locked onto them, too busy thinking to look elsewhere. “Kajiya takes Quirks.”

 

“It’s like All for One,” Shouto says, then squeezes his eyes shut, trying to get it right. “No, it’s- and Rakurai-“

 

“Rakurai was dead,” Bakugou bursts out, Shouto’s eyes flying open again. “He was dead from Friday- she took his Quirk before that. She was the one who fought Endeavour. That’s why she was so shitty with it.”

 

“Then Tukai-“ Shouto starts, and then jolts. “The poison. It transferred immediately, because- no, that- unless she… So it has to be different from-“

 

“One at a time?” Bakugou suggests, rapid-fire, and that works; Shouto could kiss him, slots that in and watches the rest fall into place. If Kajiya can only hold one Quirk at a time, then…

 

“She took the electricity Quirk from Rakurai, to fight my father. Then she- took the poison Quirk from Tukai, and- gave him the electricity. Then she gave my father the poison Quirk-“

 

“Which is why there was only one set of fucking footsteps on the property, because she just had to run back and touch Tukai or whatever-“

 

“And it transferred the Quirk, except that his body wasn’t built to contain it,” Shouto breathes, dizzy with knowledge. Then it hits him again, and he has to concentrate on not staggering dramatically. If the poison Quirk is in his father-

 

“That bitch has his fire,” Bakugou concludes, at the same time, wide-eyed with shock. Shouto stares at him and feels slightly unhinged.

 

 

It takes them a solid twenty minutes to get to the car. They recover from the whole revelation with remarkable speed, all things considered, but then they keep halting their return to confirm some aspect of their theory, and by the time it’s become clear that their theory is pretty much factual, they have to start placing calls left and right to get everyone else up to date. The hospital, obviously, then the NPA, then Hawks and Mirko.

 

“Well, shit,” Hawks says, when Shouto manages to get him on the line. “Good fucking detective-work, Todoroki.”

 

“Thank you,” Shouto replies, automatic, mostly just relieved there’s not some glaring oversight in his logic that the high of the past ten minutes has hidden from him. “It was luck mostly. If the conversation hadn’t gone the way it did I would never have made the connection so fast.”

 

“Seems so obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it?” Hawks laughs, feathers ruffling across the line. “Makes our motive all the more obvious, too. Threatening Endeavour’s sons is one thing, but doing so with his own power…”

 

He knows he doesn’t quite control his expression in time because Bakugou stops hollering at Mirko to shoot him a sharp look. “Right.”

 

“Well, anyways, your timing is good; I was going to text you soon. I got back in touch with my computer guy, and he says Kajiya’s wiped all of her shit clean. All that’s left when you try for any of her servers is a timer.”

 

“A timer,” Shouto repeats. How dramatic. 

 

“Yeah, I know. It’s set for tomorrow at eleven thirty six. Could be a red herring, but I don’t think so, because I reread the records and that’s the same time that the judge sentenced her old man to jail.”

 

“So we have until then to understand her plan.”

 

“Oh, her plan is to kill you, I think,” Hawks says, quite casually. “You or Touya, or you and/or Touya, but most likely Touya and then you.”

 

“Why in order?” 

 

“Vice versa is almost equally probable. I just think she’ll want to get you both, and he’ll overall be the easier kill, seeing as he’s Quirkless.”

 

“So she’s not concerned with her own survival.”

 

“Nah, no way. This is a suicide mission. Ah, hold on.”

 

“Not much point in having two separate calls if we’re discussing plans,” Bakugou offers by way of explanation as he pockets his phone. It takes a second, then Mirko also appears on-screen, visibly mid push-up. 

 

“Hey, jackasses. So, plan?”

 

“Killing me,” Shouto repeats dutifully; she snorts, switches arms.

 

“Got that much. I meant ours.”

 

“Not dying,” Shouto says, which makes Mirko laugh, Hawks smirk, and Bakugou swat him on the head. 

 

“Solid starting point.”

 

“If we can’t figure out who she’s going after first can’t we all assemble around staple-face?” Bakugou asks, cracking his knuckles. “She’s got Endeavour’s Quirk, but it’s not like she can use it as well as he can, and one on four she’s got no fucking chance of lasting.”

 

“I like that plan,” Mirko grins, muscles flexing ominously as she hops upright. Shouto feels disturbingly attracted to her for a second.

 

“As much as I would love to witness the chaos of you two combined, I’m going to have to veto that,” Hawks says, mournfully. “We can’t have such a high-intensity battle right next to the nation’s most high-security prison. If the terrible twosome here combine with Endeavour’s fire there’s no way the whole building won’t get caught on fire somehow. The last thing we want is to trigger a mass prison breakout.”

 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Kajiya intended exactly that to happen somehow,” Shouto adds, thinking it through. “Considering her motivations.”

 

“So, what, we split up?” Bakugou asks, quirking a brow. “The two of you on Dabi-watch?”

 

“That’s fine by me, but then what are you two going to do?” Mirko adds, pushing her hair out of her face. “Just sit pretty in the event that she comes to find you?”

 

“That might not be such a bad idea,” Hawks hums. “But it’d be good to find somewhere where you can fight properly, then.”

 

“Away from civilians,” Shouto agrees. “If she’s not in control of the fire it could be devastating.”

 

“Finding us makes sense if she comes to the prison first,” Bakugou points out, scowling. “If she goes after Shouto first, then what guarantee do we have that she’ll find us at all?”

 

It takes Shouto a beat to reply, too thrown off by the use of his name- his hero name, and only to differentiate the two Todorokis, but still- to compute. “She’s still a pro hacker. No doubt she has eyes on the apartment. If I set off from there she’ll follow.”

 

“We need to try our best to take her in alive,” Hawks says, gaze distant. “There’s no guarantee that the Quirks she takes can be reverted if she dies.”

 

“Speaking of,” Mirko interjects, audibly tapping her foot, “This Quirk-stealing shit. She does it through touch, Ground Zero said?”

 

“Seems like it,” Shouto confirms, glancing at Bakugou for support. “We looked through the fight footage, and it looks like she has to touch skin.”

 

“Hm,” Mirko says, glancing downwards. “So I guess I’ll wear my winter costume then. D’you reckon wings count, Hawks?”

 

“Probably not,” Hawks says, before cracking a cocky grin, “But then I don’t intend on finding out.”

 

“That’s the spirit!”

 

“Just how confident are we that this timer shit isn’t just to throw us off?” Bakugou demands, leaning in like he’s not the- well, not even close to the loudest person Shouto knows, but hardly quiet enough that he needs to be hovering over his shoulder. “Not really an issue for us, because we’re in the same place anyways, but shouldn’t you two stick around in case you’re wrong?”

 

“Damn,” Hawks says. “My negligent manslaughter plan foiled again. You’re probably right, though.”

 

“Ugh, Fuchū is in such a crappy district,” Mirko groans. To Hawks, she says: “We’re billing the NPA for our hotel rooms.”

 

“When have I ever not?” Hawks asks, lazily faux-wounded. 

 

“And don’t pull that ‘there was only one bed’ shit on me again, I swear to God.”

 

“But it went so well last time.”

 

Shouto clears his throat more out of a sense than duty than any urge to interrupt this fascinating turn of affairs. Hawks and Mirko both shoot him amused looks for his sacrifice.

 

“I know given the time limit and how hard Kajiya is to trace it makes the most sense to just wait for her to come to us, but shouldn’t we prepare for the eventuality that she expects us to do just that?”

 

“We have two pros and an excessive amount of the police force waiting for her,” Mirko retorts, reasonably. “The girl is obviously smart, but she’s acting alone, driven by revenge, and in possession of a Quirk she’s had four days to get used to. Whatever scheme she has- it’s not going to be unmanageable.”

 

“What she said,” Hawks echoes. “We’re as ready as we should be. Planning every minute detail out will only make us inflexible.” His lips quirk up in a sarcastically cheesy manner. “Sometimes, you just gotta wing it.”

 

“On that note, I’m going to pack my shit,” Mirko declares, in disgust, and disconnects. Bakugou shakes his head with strident disapproval; his chin hits Shouto’s shoulder on every second movement.

 

“See you tomorrow,” Shouto attempts, somehow the designated voice of reason of their group. Hawks is still grinning when he hangs up; the moment he vanishes from sight, Shouto’s screen floods with notifications. 

 

He blinks.

 

“What are you staring at?” 

 

He can feel himself smile when he holds up his phone; five missed calls and a flurry of texts. “I think Izuku figured it out too.”

 

 

Bakugou drives them back into Tokyo, after a pretty brief stand-off. Shouto knows he’s more tired than he feels, and he feels tired, now that all that’s left to do is wait, so he doesn’t put up too much of a fight.

 

Bakugou drives slower than Shouto does, which is ironic but really quite unsurprising, so the drive takes longer, and the adrenaline rush wears off about half an hour away from the apartment, Shouto’s head heavy against the window as he stares into the city.

 

His thoughts, obviously, are focused on the upcoming fight, but he can’t stay on track, keeps drifting away from strategy to more morose subjects. 

 

Depending on their disposition, people always assume one of two things about the grotesque red patchwork of skin on his face. If they’re naive, they think it comes from some youthful misuse of his powers; if they’re cynical they assume it came from his father. He has no doubt that Chihiro Kajiya falls in the latter camp, just as he does not doubt that she is well-aware that his brother and his father have faced each other’s flames many a time. This whole plan, hinging so carefully on this use of Endeavour’s Quirk, turning the fire on two burn victims- it’s malicious, and exaggeratedly so. 

 

He’s never fought his father. He’s not sure how their flames compare. Dabi would know.

 

His cheek aches faintly, so he shifts in his seat to press himself further against the window, watches Bakugou’s reflection come into focus. 

 

Watching him drive, brow furrowed and eyes flitting incessantly between mirrors and windows, he thinks back to the drive back from the airport, what feels like no time ago. Almost three months now- can that be right? Three more and Izuku will be back, and there will be someone else living in his apartment, and things will be back the way they were.

 

God, he’s tired. He’d thought high school was the end of the Todoroki melodrama. He supposes that’s because his father retired and his brother was hauled off to prison, so having his family hang-ups intertwine with national security became less of an everyday occurrence. Some days it feels like they’re unable to progress without some national incident triggering change.

 

It’s a good thing he has Bakugou on his team, he thinks. Certainly Bakugou has had his fair share of fire-centric combat. Admittedly, he did lose against Shouto that one time at the third year Sports Festival, but Shouto isn’t being arrogant in thinking that there aren’t many people in the world who wouldn’t have, and besides Bakugou very much made him fight for that win. It’s funny; Shouto remembers a lot of things about that fight, many of which do not correspond to the fight everyone else was watching, but one of the things he remembers most clearly is that split second at the very end where they both realised he’d won. 

 

Bakugou had smiled. Not nicely, mind you, more of a savage snarl than anything, responsible for several audience members having minor seizures, but even by that point Shouto had become quite adept at reading his expressions, and he remembers cataloguing it all in slow motion- the white of his canines, the manic burn of his gaze, the delighted fury radiating off him- as they thudded to the ground, feeling like he’d won far more than some piece of metal.

 

Bakugou and Izuku are similar in that way; they’re contagious somehow. It took him too long to recognise it, and by that stage they’d gotten to him too. Izuku, in first year, screaming at him to make his Quirk his own, burning with drive; Izuku with his broken body resolutely hunting down his worst enemy, Izuku, always unfailingly kind, always self-sacrificing and getting back up from it. Izuku had made heroism tangible where it had only ever been aspirational, distant. Bakugou, on the other hand, lights a fire in everyone he burns past; Izuku himself is proof. Bakugou gets under people’s skin, batters himself into their bones, turns into a voice that is always demanding more and better, and never doubts that this is possible. God, he remembers standing behind that wall frozen solid in fear listening to Bakugou spit insults at All For One, suddenly understanding why Izuku cared so much. 

 

In their third year Sports Festival it had been like that again. The three of them had walked into the arena exchanging looks, and something savage and not quite his had lodged into his chest, demanding a win. They’d blown through the competition with dizzying ease, and Bakugou had scraped past Izuku very unapologetically, payback for getting pushed out of finals the previous year; Shouto had met his eyes from the stands as he stood panting and bleeding all over Izuku and felt his hairs stand on end.

 

“Kick his teeth in,” Izuku had yelled, seconds before the bell, grinning viciously from the audience. It had set the tone of the fight.

 

Afterwards, when they’d been on the floor, Shouto’s arms trembling so much he could barely keep himself above Bakugou at all, his vision blurred and the roaring of the audience deafening, Bakugou had looked up at him, animal grin fading into something more contained, and he’d dragged a charred hand over his own cheek to rub Shouto’s blood off. He doesn’t know why he remembers that so clearly, the blood dripping from his mouth, the twitch of Bakugou’s brow as he wiped it off himself. He doesn’t know why he’s thinking about it at all, really. 

 

He considers Bakugou now. Sat in the drivers’ seat with his eyes on the road he looks impossibly adult, respectable somehow. For a moment Shouto feels a pang of discomfort at the disconnect, wants to drag the seventeen year old to the surface; then Bakugou catches him looking and scowls.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing,” Shouto says, smiles to himself. “I was thinking of the Sports Festival.”

 

Which one, someone else might have said. Bakugou only glares combatively. “That was a fluke. Tomorrow’s not going to be a repeat performance.”

 

“A fluke,” Shouto repeats, and freezes Bakugou’s hand just before he can blast a hole through his face, watching the ice crack and burst. It seeps into his car seats; he cant be bothered to evaporate it.

 

“I hate your car,” Bakugou says.

 

“I know.”

 

“Go to sleep already.”

 

“I’m trying to keep you company.”

 

Go to sleep already.”

 

He only gets about ten minutes in before they reach the apartment, but hell, he sleeps. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“We should have just gone to a park,” Bakugou says, somewhere past eleven, glaring at their surroundings. “I feel like I’m back in Fuchū.”

 

Casting a look around, dirty grey as far as the eye can see, Shouto can’t quite disagree with the latter point. Still: “If we were in a park we would have completely destroyed it.”

 

“Yeah, so what? Parks are just a bunch of trees and grass,” Bakugou retorts, never one for sentimentality. “If shit gets out of hand here we’ll start costing businesses money.”

 

“I didn’t take you for such a capitalist.”

 

“That’s not it, dumbass.”

 

Settling on neutral ground had taken them some time; big, open, empty spaces aren’t exactly plentiful in Tokyo. Bakugou’s original suggestion had been the Olympic stadium, but city officials had vetoed that, not wanting it to incur any damage after the amount of money poured into its construction. So Shouto had suggested the industrial district, on account of the work sites, and the NPA had struck a deal with some transportation firm, wrangling authorisation to occupy the area for the day. Spread out like they are on the flat cement he imagines they look like some kind of ill-organised ant colony.

 

He glances backwards towards the veritable horde of police officers scattered around them, frowns to himself. Back-up on this kind of mission is always tricky. The confrontations Shouto gets called in for just aren’t the type to get resolved via mild gunfire; more often than not the police presence ends up becoming an additional burden for the pro on the scene. 

 

“It’s not like your agency needs to worry about property damage. The NPA will be the ones footing the bill for this.”

 

“That’s the most helpful thing they’ve done all week,” Bakugou scoffs. He’s halfway through some stretching exercises and he’s got his leg practically over his shoulder, which means Shouto keeps tilting his head into uncomfortable angles to try and meet his eye. 

 

“They put a lot of time and effort into the investigation.”

 

“Mineta puts a lot of time and effort into hitting on girls, but that doesn’t mean that shit is of any value to anyone,” Bakugou counters, straightening only to bend backwards instead, now facing Shouto upside down. How he achieves such effortless flexibility while wearing gauntlets that each weigh about the same as a ten year old is anyone’s guess. 

 

“That’s a harsh comparison,” Shouto says, disinterested in engaging in a fervent defence of the police for the next half hour. He’s mostly grown past his teenaged suspicion of any kind of authority, but he’s never really seen eye to eye with the police force, and adulthood hasn’t changed that much. There are some officers he likes just fine, but generally his interactions with the NPA tend to be somewhat strained. It’s only natural, he supposes; hero-police relations are always a kind of sore subject, especially at his level. 

 

He wonders incidentally what Mineta is up to these days. He can’t even remember if he’s seen him since high school, though he must have. It’s not like they were ever close at UA.

 

He squints upwards at the sun, burning white-bright as mid-day nears. It feels strange in some indescribable way to have spent most of the morning standing in the middle of a deserted construction site waiting for someone to come and try to kill him. The attempted murder part isn’t so unusual, but the standing around and waiting for it is. Usually when he’s in a near-death situation it’s because he actively sought it out. Now he just has to stay put and wait for the other shoe to drop.

 

Thus far, no game-changing news has come from the other team, either- there has been no sign of Kajiya all day. For Hawks, this is simply proof that the timer is an accurate countdown to the attacks and not a red herring. He is most likely correct, but where the finer details of her plan are concerned none of them actually buys that they’ve guessed it all correctly. Shouto only hopes whatever miscalculation they’ve made isn’t catastrophic. The interminable wait has made him overthink all of the disastrous alternatives, a distant fear that while they stand around doing nothing Kajiya might be breaking into his sister’s house guns blazing. 

 

He shifts his weight a little, rolls his shoulders. No matter what Kajiya pulls, he’s determined that they can take her on, but the uncertainty of their expectations has left him with a sense of trepidation. It’s not that he’s afraid to lose- he’s unsure at what cost they’ll win.

 

Reflexively, he checks his watch. Eleven sixteen. 

 

People often mischaracterise his endurance for patience, but he doesn’t like to wait for things, especially not like this; in different circumstances he might have asked Bakugou to spar with him so he could at least let off some steam. Time seems to have slowed down just to spite him. 

 

“You seem tense, icyhot.”

 

He blinks, looks back down towards Bakugou’s sardonic expression. “I feel like that’s warranted.” 

 

“What, not enjoying playing at prey for once?” Bakugou snorts, eyes flitting to the horizon. “Guess I should welcome you to the club.”

 

It takes him a moment, then it hits. This isn’t the first time someone has hunted them down like this.

 

He’s not entirely sure how to respond, as he mulls it over, just looks towards Bakugou for some sign of his tone. It’s one of the things he’s always appreciated about him, if appreciated is the right word- reading his emotions has rarely been difficult. Currently, Bakugou’s brow is furrowed, but he doesn’t look testy, just sort of sarcastic, which means he won’t blow up at him if he says anything blunt.

 

“This will probably go better than last time, at least.”

 

“I’d fucking hope so, yeah.”

 

“Do you still think about it?” Shouto hears himself ask, then blanches a little, because even he actually possesses the tact not to prod this particular issue, most of the time. It’s just that he can’t remember the last time anyone actually spoke about it- Izuku and Kirishima, maybe, drunk at Izuku’s twentieth birthday- and he thinks about it probably more often than anyone would suspect. It’s not the kind of thing you forget, in fairness, but then there’s also the Dabi element, and the fact that to date it’s still one of the rare recollections he has of failing so utterly. 

 

Bakugou makes a sort of disparaging sound, but his gaze is assessing, and though he clenches his jaw he doesn’t seem angry exactly. “Sometimes. Depends what part.”

 

Shouto nods, bites back a further line of questioning. For him the most vivid memory of that entire night consists of the last five seconds of the kidnapping itself, his brother’s taunting voice and the blank helpless rage on Bakugou’s face. He remembers most keenly how it felt to grasp at air.

 

Aloud, he says: “It would really have been ironic if you’d ended up guarding Dabi today.”

 

Bakugou scoffs. “Would have been worth it to see him suffer through that indignity.”

 

This makes Shouto almost-smile, imagining what his brother sees when he looks at Bakugou now. He suspects it awfully resembles a fifteen year old gone feral with righteous indignation. 

 

“Shouto, Ground Zero,” one of the officers calls, echoed through their earpiece. “Five minute warning.”

 

“Got it,” Bakugou says, over the comm, then turns to pull a face at Shouto. “Whose idea was the fucking tank?”

 

It’s not actually a tank, but it’s not far off. There is something quite militaristic to the police’s equipment on this kind of job, all big guns and clunky machines. He assumes they’re more sophisticated than they look. 

 

“It’s probably fireproof.”

 

Bakugou only wrinkles his nose. “The hell are they expecting to hit with that? The dust around us?”

 

“They need something for their own protection.” 

 

There’s more to it, obviously. Though Bakugou and Shouto are the first line of defence for any Quirk related attacks, the unknown element could manifest itself in any form, and then having technical support might prove very useful indeed. But Bakugou knows this; most likely he’s just being contrary out of impatience. 

 

He rolls his head from one side to the other, flexing his fingers, stares out at the rows of metal containers. What’s that English expression- fighting fire with fire? 

 

His watch beeps: one minute left.

 

He’s so focused on his surroundings that he almost doesn’t register the strident buzzing of his earpiece, but by the way Bakugou starts irritably he’s not the only one.

 

“Hawks?”

 

There is a faint cracking sound, then thumping; Hawks’ voice is even when he speaks. “She’s-“ A burst of gunfire cuts him off; Shouto exchanges a rapid look with Bakugou before Hawks cusses and resumes, more strained this time. “She’s coming for you, so be ready.” 

 

“What’s happening at-“

 

Down!” Hawks bellows, wings rustling loudly as something audibly crashes near him. “The cells are all unlocking themselves. We have a bit of a- yeah, I see him- prison break on our hands.”

 

“She got through their security system again?” Bakugou demands, eyes flashing. His arms are already braced defensively. 

 

Shit, Shouto thinks. Dabi. 

 

“Does anyone have eyes on my-“

 

He doesn’t get around to completing his question. A colossal booming sound cracks through the air; on pure instinct he feels himself throw his arms out, ice rushing to shield him, the impact of the collision making him shift his footing. 

 

“The fucking tank!” Bakugou hollers, already airborne. Shouto wastes no time in chasing after him, slicing through his ice to advance on their escort, blocking hits left and right. God damnit. Policemen are desperately trying to regain control of their machinery, but there are shots erupting from all sides, the boom of the tank and the high whirring of the drones. 

 

“Be careful!” Shouto yells, ducking and weaving to freeze a machine-gun locked onto him as several officers scramble away. “Don’t destroy the equipment!”

 

This makes Bakugou swear irately from wherever he is, but Shouto has no time to check in on him, twisting just in time to dodge a volley of bullets. Both of their Quirks could easily halt the entire assault, but that would mean destroying the police’s weaponry beyond repair, so he has to wing it, almost falling back on Quirkless combat as he kicks a drone out of the air and swings it into a second. There’s no time for this stupid skirmish- it’s no more than an obvious distraction, which makes it all the more infuriating that there’s no easy way to get around it. 

 

“We’re trying to deactivate the machines but they keep overriding our controls!” one of the officers shouts at him, struggling with the gears of his vehicle. Shouto spares him half a nod, gaze flitting around rapidly to gauge the total of guns aimed at him, then does a leg-spin onto the roof of a car, ice whirling out to block in eight directions as he goes. No time, no time, they need to cut this out somehow.

 

He freezes faster and harder, less careful with his hits, but despite his wariness the ice holds, relieved policemen clamouring at him as their weapons cease working, and he looks around for Bakugou as he redirects the next canon aimed his way to shoot harmlessly into his ice wall, finds him soaring through the air across the site, perfect symphony of explosions following him as he moves. 

 

“Hitting the engines!” Bakugou hollers, in explanation, as he launches himself skywards back in Shouto’s direction; Shouto throws him a ramp to quicken the jump, grabs hold of a straggler drone before it can tase him. It’s pure coincidence that he looks up in that moment; his stomach drops and he forgoes the drone to pounce upwards as fast as he can, fire blazing behind him.

 

Above them, the two police helicopters have abruptly ceased flying; the screaming is crystal-clear despite the ruckus below.

 

He levels a phenomenal blast of fire right between them, wave of hot air diverting them from a collision with seconds to spare as the heat burns through him, then twists, shooting up an ice mound the size of a small iceberg to catch them as they fall, both machines thumping as the ice hits them mid-air. 

 

He has about five seconds to feel himself exhale in relief, shaky looking pilots peering downwards, then Bakugou yells across the earpiece and a burst of flames burns through the ice just off from Shouto’s head. He reacts on pure instinct, whipping around to refill the hole as the ice cracks under the strain, helicopters rocking precariously, then twists back to situate the source of the fire, finds himself unable to see anything on the horizon but a burst of smoke and debris.

 

Bakugou swears into the earpiece. “She’s retreating to the warehouse.”

 

“Follow suit,” Shouto manages, voice only catching a little with unreleased adrenaline. So Bakugou had been responsible for the shot being off-target; he’d gathered as much from the explosions, but the confirmation is not particularly welcome. Had the shot gone as planned he would have been scorched. Kajiya has good aim.

 

“You realise it’s definitely some kind of trap.”

 

“I do, but I’ll take that risk,” Shouto says, already streaming ahead as his hair whips around his face. Bakugou was right, it is getting too long; with the strength of the breeze it actually sort of stings. “If we stay out here there will be collateral.”

 

Bakugou grunts but doesn’t argue, appearing within his line of vision as he jumps off the edge of a nearby container, bursts of orange almost one continuous explosion in their synchronicity. 

 

His immediate acquiescence is slightly unexpected, but then when it comes to self-endangerment the two of them are fairly evenly matched, and beyond that Shouto really doesn’t see any better options at their disposal. The police has been rendered completely helpless, weapons useless at best and actively trained on them at worst, and like any worthwhile villain Kajiya is obviously quite happy to watch them die en masse so long as it over-exerts her actual targets. Better that the two of them remain her sole focus, whatever the danger- they’re the only people he trusts to survive it.

 

“Her control is limited, but in terms of force she doesn’t seem to be restrained much,” Bakugou calls out, eyes fixed ahead as they circle the warehouse. “Expect giant bursts of flame whenever she attacks.”

 

This is pretty much what he’d expected; he nods, then realises Bakugou can’t see it, makes an affirmative sound instead. They slow by the warehouse, both still hovering in the air on residue bursts of energy, exchange a look. 

 

“She’s expecting us either way,” Shouto says, raising a shoulder. Bakugou groans irritably but drops down to the ground, kicking the door open with little decorum.

 

“Oi, asshole! Surrender now and get this shit over with!”

 

Predictably, there is no response. 

 

Shouto follows him in carefully, hyperaware as he surveys the building, but there is no sign of life, even as his eyes adjust to the semi-darkness. Their footsteps echo as they walk. 

 

The warehouse is empty, for the most part, like it should be, which is a relief, because he’s fairly certain they both expected some kind of sensitive explosives to be rigged everywhere as soon as they walked in. Instead the building is mostly devoid of anything bar infrastructure and some abandoned equipment. Obviously the company had cleared it of valuables ahead of the fight.

 

He’s just about to consider making some banal statement of intent for the audience’s sake when lights start flickering on around them, both of his sides immediately igniting as they shift positions, back to back in the centre of the room. It’s all fairly dramatic, but after years of putting up with the League he can’t muster any particular trepidation at the theatricality.

 

“Well, here we are,” a young woman’s voice says, clear and casual. “I have to say, I didn’t originally account for it to be the three of us here.”

 

She’s nowhere in sight. Shouto peers carefully into the shadows, at the ceiling, shifts against the floorboards, but there’s no tell-tale vibration or flash of pale skin. Most likely she’s not in the room at all, just watching them somehow. 

 

“I expected that if you got this far you would have been with Hawks,” Kajiya continues, almost self-deprecatingly. “Maybe I got a little carried away hoping for such a poetic outcome. In retrospect Ground Zero coming along for the ride was quite predicable, with Dekiru out of the country.”

 

Bakugou nudges him in the shoulder; Shouto follows his gaze to the faint red glow of one of the purportedly inactive security cameras. 

 

“You don’t have to do this, Chihiro.”

 

Kajiya laughs humourlessly. “Oh, let’s not do this. You’re the heroic son, I know. All of that doesn’t matter to me. This isn’t about you.”

 

“Yeah, it’s all about you,” Bakugou retorts, unimpressed, glaring at the camera. “You’ve already landed Endeavour in the hospital. What’s the point of torching Shouto?”

 

“Well, I was going to monologue anyways,” Kajiya says, faintly amused, “But thank you for the opportunity.”

 

“If you’re so damn genre-savvy you ought to know how shit turns out for villains who monologue.”

 

“What happens to me is irrelevant,” Kajiya replies, unfazed. “When this is all over we’ll all be gone. So it’s now or never for the explanation.”

 

Bakugou rolls his eyes, gestures at the upper floors; Shouto nods. Splitting up is yet another inevitability. 

 

He turns and skates silently up to the first floor, hoisting himself easily over the railing and quietening his footsteps with sheens of ice; across the warehouse Bakugou has shot up to the second floor in one great burst of energy, less concerned with noise as he lands heavily on the railing. It’s classic partner tactics, a study in contrasts, though in their case it doesn’t require any tweaking, their styles opposite by happenstance.

 

“I know you’ve done your research, Todoroki Shouto. I’m sure you read the files diligently. My father was just another small-name arrest in your father’s illustrious record.” She stops to scoff disparagingly, something uncontrolled and harsh in the sound. “My father was a good man. We grew up poor as dirt not for lack of effort but because of circumstances beyond his control. He ran an old-fashioned forge that had been in our family for generations; he always said it was his duty to keep it alive, and that he had his Quirk for a reason. But demand was low, and the rich folks who could afford such things preferred foreign imports. Money was always short.”

 

“I’m not sure she’s in the building,” Shouto murmurs quietly, eyeing the cameras. “But she can’t have gone far or we would have seen her on our way in.”

 

“I reckon she’s on the roof,” Bakugou replies, equally quiet. It’s always a little foreign to hear his voice when it’s so carefully controlled, low and oddly smooth without the usual aggression. When Shouto glances covertly towards him he finds him stood pointedly beneath one of the cameras. “Biding her time.”

 

“When I was nine we realised what my Quirk was,” Kajiya’s voice continues, wistfully. “You wouldn’t know, with Quirks like yours, but something abstract like mine is hard to recognise early on, especially when you live in a single-Quirk household- before that we all assumed I just had some kind of defective version of my father’s. My parents were thrilled for me. More than anything they wanted to get me into a hero program of some kind. New opportunities, you know. But of course we barely had money for food; enrolling me into any kind of fancy school was an unobtainable fantasy. How do you get your grades high enough for consideration when you can’t afford proper textbooks? How do you get your Quirk on a passable level if you can’t even afford the Internet connection to answer your questions? My father tried for years to scrape up funds somehow, but it never got us anywhere. So he got desperate. This part you know already.”

 

There is a faint grizzling sound; the lights are all switching on around them. Shouto moves pre-emptively away from the walls, tries not to imagine the Kajiya of the school pictures with her mournful black eyes, watching her father get hauled off to prison. 

 

“Twelve years, they sentenced him to. He was the sole breadwinner in the family. My mother’s always been sickly; she was bedridden when he got jailed. I was in middle school. My brother was seven. The government gave us food stamps.” She laughs, voice cracking a little. “We counted down the days until his release, doing unimaginable things to keep our shop. My mother begged me constantly to sell, but I refused; I had to keep it open for him. I learnt how to work computers, keep our debts off record for as long as I could.”

 

Slowly, the cameras all move upwards, tracking movement. 

 

“Two months before my father was released my brother died. Accident at school. It shouldn’t have killed him, but he was so malnourished he didn’t recover. That finally broke my father.” There are footsteps up high, now, and Shouto digs his nails into his palms and exhales frostily, fighting nausea. Kajiya continues unperturbed. 

 

“He couldn’t use his Quirk again. They gave it back upon release, but something in him just rebelled against it instinctively. I think he saw it as having left him somehow. So the shop closed up, too. The day we sold our lease, he shot himself. For the life insurance, I’ve always suspected, though I don’t know. Maybe he was just that broken down.”

 

“Focus, Todoroki.” Bakugou’s voice cuts harshly through the hush, and Shouto releases a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding, forcing his muscles to relax. Fuck. 

 

“So you see, overall,” Kajiya concludes, matter-of-fact, “I’ve been quite neat in my planning. Your father took everything from us, when he took my father’s Quirk from him. Now I’ve taken his Quirk, and I’ll use it to take everything from him too.”

 

It is not quite the symmetry she makes it out to be, Shouto thinks, sharply, as he shifts to follow her cues. Two men have died as pawns in her game already. If things take a wrong turn here or at the prison, countless others are at risk too. 

 

“If that’s your goal, why go after me?”

 

“Not your siblings, you mean? I would have thought that was obvious. You’re the only one that turned out as planned, aren’t you?”

 

Fucking hell. “And Dabi?”

 

“You both got your fire from your father, didn’t you? Whatever damage is done by your brother will be his to take the blame for. It’s no secret why he retired. I suppose he thought locking your brother away would free him of his guilt. I figured I would dissuade him of any such delusions.”

 

“You’re putting thousands of innocent people at risk,” Shouto bursts out, fists clenching. “If any of these convicts escape- why should the citizens of Tokyo pay for my father’s sins?”

 

“They were happy enough to let us pay for my father’s,” Kajiya says, tonelessly. 

 

Then the ceiling explodes.

 

 

 

He spends the next thirty seconds focused on securing the walls around him, bracing in case of collapse, then takes a running leap off the platform to avoid a veritable wave of flames roaring towards him, fire spinning out of his fingers to control his trajectory as he turns to estimate the arc of the next hit. It rushes by him in long lashes, like a whip, red-hot in a way that is recognisable but not quite familiar.

 

The ceiling hasn’t actually exploded, he notes, as he volleys several lines of ice in the direction of the hits, constructing a perimeter- just burnt through very violently where Kajiya burst in, flames still roaring around the hole.

 

There is a great hiss of air as Kajiya lashes out impatiently, fire devouring the ice around her, but she doesn’t manage to strike again; one of the abandoned metal machines knocks her cleanly across the room as Bakugou volleys it at her with meticulously restrained strength. It almost knocks her out cold, but she manages to do damage control at the last second, exploding into a ball of fire that burns clean through the pillar ahead of her. The flooring above it cracks ominously. Shouto dives.

 

In the morning, eating breakfast around the coffee table, a sleepy-eyed Kirishima had frowned consideringly at his cereal and levelled a questioning gaze at Shouto.

 

“If she does come after you- how are you going to stop her?”

 

“Doubting us, spiky hair?”

 

“No, really,” Kirishima had pressed, gnawing at his lip in concern. “Because you can’t hurt her too badly, or she won’t be able to fix Endeavour, but you also can’t just fight her in close contact or she might burn you or take your Quirk.”

 

Shouto had glanced towards Bakugou. “We’ll probably have to tag-team her.”

 

“One of us takes the offensive,” Bakugou had elaborated, cracking his neck. “Handles the fire. The other one uses the distraction to find an in.”

 

“She’s obviously prepared, but it’s unrealistic that she’ll be able to handle the brunt of our attention.”

 

This assessment was not incorrect; of this much he is conscious, as he plunges towards the pillar, ice shooting upwards to stabilise the dipping platform, spreading further to combat the searing heat. He is also conscious, however, that they need to get off the defensive fast, because the longer this goes on the more of a risk their surroundings will become, and they can’t afford Kajiya’s careless violence.

 

He turns to situate her now- on the third floor, spinning indiscriminately as Bakugou weaves through her flames to launch a mid-range AP-shot at her, blast blowing cleanly through the fire to slam her into the railing as she cries out in anger.

 

The resulting collision rings out through the empty building as Shouto races closer, but up close there’s not much Bakugou can do. Kajiya’s loose grasp on the fire means her whole body is almost constantly spewing flame, and trying to touch her through it would be risking serious burns.

 

He thinks they reach this conclusion around the same time, because as soon as he approaches Bakugou falls back, redirecting Kajiya’s focus so Shouto can surge up behind them, keeping his ice to minimal levels as he rises so that the change in temperature doesn’t alert her to his movements.

 

“What, scared?” Kajiya calls, watching Bakugou circle her warily, smile sardonic. She’s already bleeding from the mouth, but seems completely unaffected by her injuries. “Shouldn’t be playing with fire then.”

 

“Spare us the fucking puns,” Bakugou growls, lobbing a series of hits around her so she has to scramble back; before he can press the advantage, she throws her arms out like they’re mid-karate fight, jabs sending fire roaring towards Bakugou fast enough that he has to throw himself off the platform entirely, and Shouto just about has the foresight to brace for impact when half of the floor caves in on impact, fire colliding with residue nitroglycerin. 

 

Splinters and debris rain down against the ice he’s encased himself in; he kicks through his defence to launch a counter-attack. Ice unfurls like a river across the floor, fire hissing out helplessly as the walls freeze solid. 

 

“You can’t win this,” Shouto says, into the momentary hush, listening for the crunch of Bakugou’s boots behind him, watching the manic flicker in Kajiya’s eyes as she strains to power through the cold. 

 

For a moment her face twists into something deeply ugly and unsettling, a glimpse of the desperate turmoil driving her, and then it smooths out again; by her feet ice dissolves into steam. “Neither can you.”

 

In the distance, he hears a booming sound, feels leftover tremors in the walls as he fixes her sharply. 

 

“The fuck was that?”

 

“Your back-up,” Kajiya smiles, and slams her palms together, fire rippling from her through to the walls, high enough to lick at the ceiling above them, the heat so potent that it’s hard to breathe, the light distorted ahead of them. Shouto is moving before he registers the recoil, ice spun sideways to cover Bakugou as he dives relentlessly forwards.

 

It’s a calculated risk. Kajiya’s eyes widen as he closes in, insensible to the fire licking at his skin, and he hadn’t known for sure that it wouldn’t burn but it doesn’t, irony of all ironies, prickles faintly at his skin like hot summer rain. She’s quick on her feet, rolls to dodge his first blow and spins to counter the sweeping fire that descends her way, but it’s graceless, and too slow, above all; as he throws an arm outwards, ice sculpting itself agile and precise, she stumbles. The first three ice picks miss her as she raises her flames to melt them mid-way, but there’s a limitless supply, and a lifetime’s training behind them; Shouto guides them forwards as he runs, darting through dead air, and one lands, then a second, pinning through her sleeves and catching on the nearest pillar.

 

It only gives him about ten seconds, because she’s melting the ice even as he closes in, but ten seconds is an eternity in a fight like this, and they both know that, just like they know that her fire is ineffective against him, and she doesn’t want him close. He expects it, when she snarls and surges forwards, ripping free of the ice: he already has one arm raised to halt the collapsing ceiling, ice twining through his fingers and upwards. 

 

The flames lick outwards towards Bakugou, instead, Shouto’s pulse skipping with the miscalculation; Bakugou deflects easily, but the reverberation of his explosion knocks the floorboards unsteady, and Kajiya rips free of Shouto’s hold in the split second that he is forced to change his footing, one sleeve of her shirt shredded as she leaps off the edge of the platform.

 

Fire keeps her descent controlled, or would have, but in the same moment that Shouto cuts off her landing with a mound of ice Bakugou whizzes across to drop-kick her from behind, just fast enough that her flames barely lick at his ankles before he’s retreating again, Kajiya crying out as she free-falls.

 

Now, icyhot!”

 

Shouto dives, ropes of ice coursing past his extended palm, counts half an exhale as her eyes widen dazedly, and Kajiya screams, bursting into flame before he can immobilise her, but it’s too late: she smacks against the icy platform hard, and Shouto whips the cuffs out and launches himself forwards, passing through the flames unharmed. His pulse is a hard tattoo in his ears; with one swift kick her arm is pinned down, frozen into place, and-

 

She twists, full-body, arm snapping sickeningly under the ice, and he is just a second behind. Her fingers glide over his face; he reels back, staggers, falls.

 

For a moment he feels nothing, hears nothing, sees only a blur of grey-white-grey as the world turns upside down, gasping like the air has been knocked out of him; he falls, endlessly, limp like a rag doll. His mind is static.

 

Solid slick heat envelops him, an arm wound tight around his waist; they hit the ground heavily, Shouto half-braced in Bakugou’s lap, head ringing, and almost for the first time in his life he feels acutely helpless, as his senses filter back, because Bakugou’s eyes are wide with something like uncertainty and he has never once looked at Shouto like that. His fingers clench against the rubble, his throat working, and Bakugou says: “Did she-“

 

“Yes,” Shouto manages, unbalanced and sick with it, the wrongness visceral, and as he shoves himself upright his arms tremble for an instant because he feels like someone has reached through his ribs and ripped one of his lungs out. 

 

He stands, shaky, takes one step, two, ignores the instinctive hysteria, ignores the fact that it has ignited in him and he is burning up, and so when the ice deluge unfolds he almost withstands it, fire roaring through him so violently none of the ice even lands.

 

“Jesus,” Kajiya says, hoarsely, from where she stands atop the ice, one frost-tipped arm swinging sickeningly by her side. “You really did hit the genetic jackpot, huh.”

 

“Don’t you feel like your plan has been slightly fucked by losing Endeavour’s fire?” Bakugou snaps, and blasts off from the crater he’s carved through the ice, blows raining down furiously as Kajiya counters at random and Shouto tries to convince himself he is capable of breathing. 

 

He can’t afford to do this. He can’t break focus now. His Quirk- he’s- it doesn’t matter, he has a Quirk, he has a Quirk he knows how to use, he can still fight. He can still do what he’s meant to do. Has to do. 

 

He grits his teeth, gets ahold of himself, rejects the feverish panic crawling through him. When he exhales it burns.

 

Above, Bakugou has mercilessly battered through every wall Kajiya is hastily flinging his way, the air thick with smoke and sparking heat, and this time around Shouto recognises the move before she uses it.

 

“Fall back!”

 

Bakugou does, launching himself into a handspring backwards just as Kajiya foregoes the ice, flames streaming in all directions, and it’s a good thing that Bakugou is fast, Shouto thinks dully, because the flames catch his gauntlets but nothing else, licking just past his face as he flies backwards.

 

He falls between them instinctively, palms raised and flames roaring, and Kajiya glances around like she’s scanning the room, hair matted from the heat now, a funny expression on her face.

 

“Your Quirk is hard to control, Todoroki Shouto.”

 

“Feel free to give it back, then,” Shouto replies, voice gone low and cold with anger. She just laughs, a little hoarsely. 

 

“It makes for a fairer showdown this way.”

 

Before he can so much as open his mouth to let her know just how fair he’s found this whole charade to be, Bakugou levels the ice block. The explosion hits it dead centre, impact blowing the whole mound wide open; they both go flying, though he recovers near instantaneously, instinctively vaporising the ice to clear his landing. The warehouse looks like the inside of a blizzard as he stabilises, ears ringing. 

 

When he refocuses Kajiya is kneeling on the damp floor, just about keeping Bakugou at bay with a wall of flames. Ice would make more sense, he notes distantly, but he’s not sure she can withstand the pain of her broken arm enough to use it much more. 

 

He straightens, feels his arms alight as he strides towards her. It’s reactive, or maybe his father’s Quirk is simply more physical than his, but the flames come more freely than he’s used to; he can feel them dancing on the tips of his hair, twirling through his fingers.

 

Kajiya sees him approach, blasts herself roughly upwards on borrowed fire to land on the platform overlooking them, moves as though to knock a frozen pillar down; Shouto melts through it in half a breath, pace unbroken. In his line of vision he sees Bakugou pull back, awaiting his next move.

 

“Ice won’t stop either of us.” He pauses to wipe a sweaty lock of hair out of his eyes, smoke in his lungs. “And your fire still won’t burn me. Surrender, Kajiya. You’re no better off than you were.”

 

She licks her cracked lips, eyes flickering between them, curls her fingers. Something in the way she moves reminds him of Momo, always two steps ahead. 

 

“You’re fireproof,” Kajiya concedes, quietly, dark eyes tunnel-like as she fixes him. “But he isn’t.”

 

It’s fast. Almost, almost too fast, fire blazing out in an endless stream towards Bakugou, but Shouto jumps, spins, intercepts, the heat hitting him mid-blow as he redirects the flames upwards, arms outstretched and posture strained with the rough landing. For an instant he is ablaze, two currents of incandescence running over and through him, overstimulated with awareness; then he breathes out, extinguishes, feels smoke rise in great gusts of wind around him. 

 

It’s an opening. Mid-movement he shifts to ride the wave forwards, Kajiya’s flames faltering as he nears. She’s smiling, he realises, with a spike of urgency- and behind him Bakugou is moving, and that means-

 

“Impressive display,” Kajiya says, in the moments before his hand can close around her arm. “Unless you’re concerned with his survival, of course.”

 

Shouto stares at the flames reflected in her malicious gaze, then can’t stop himself from whipping around, chest tightening, because the fire- he’d redirected it upwards, and shit- the walls, the ceiling; the warehouse has turned into a blazing inferno, and Bakugou is not fireproof, Bakugou is flitting between perches but Bakugou has no way out except through. 

 

He swallows back a choked sound, mind racing, because he can’t have- he’s missing something, why had he not- because he can just-

 

“Forgot something?” Kajiya asks, breath cool against his cheek, and Shouto shivers with impotent anger-fear, pulse roaring in his ears, tries desperately to correct course. He doesn’t have his ice, and he’d forgotten that, instinctively, had relied on the expectation that he could damage control, and everywhere around them the room has gone warped with heat and Bakugou is cussing under his breath and if he can’t- all that he has is his father’s Quirk, which only ever destroys, and he can’t fix this.

 

His gaze locks on Bakugou, heat-flushed and furious and trapped, and Bakugou yells “Just cuff the bitch, Todoroki!” but he can’t, because she doesn’t matter, and-

 

A pillar crumbles directly above Bakugou; his breath catches in his throat, and then he’s seizing hold of Kajiya and flinging her in Bakugou’s direction, all of his weight behind it, heartbeat thundering desperately. Kajiya’s eyes widen in uncomprehending shock as she soars through the smoke and ash, and Shouto wants to scream instructions but all that he can do is meet Bakugou’s eyes wildly and pray fervently that he understands.

 

She free-falls for one long moment. Bakugou catches her by the hand. 

 

The next ten seconds are endless. The floor is splintering under his feet, and his vision is warped by calefaction, and his thoughts are an incoherent jumble of when his father absorbed Tukai’s Quirk the poison that got into his bloodstream was inherently destructive to the human body but this is different because his Quirk is compatible with Bakugou’s in operation and it won’t harm him on impact, it won’t burn or freeze him instantly, it won’t- and he can’t see through the smoke, the platform is collapsing beneath him and it’s getting hard to stay upright but he’s moving now, into the fray- 

 

Ice erupts from below, and he inhales, dives through the smoke.

 

It takes him moments to dispel the smoke, and there is a scream and then the floorboards overturn, but he’s already mid-air as the aftershocks ripple through the room, and he follows the cold breeze downwards, lands neatly where Bakugou is sprawled amidst the ice, blue-white crystal spattering his side. 

 

He inhales a shuddering breath of frosty air, stares. For a beat Bakugou just lies there, glowering distantly, then he groans and looks at him. 

 

“I hate this,” Bakugou rasps, pushing himself unsteadily upwards, and he looks singed and disoriented but very distinctly alive, batting away Shouto’s performative attempt to stabilise him. It takes Shouto a moment to remember how to respond.

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

“No, I hate this,” Bakugou repeats, looking disconcerted as flames erupt from his hand at the statement. When Kajiya abruptly launches what could almost be a very amateur AP-shot at them he growls and throws an unreasonable amount of fire back at her like a missile. “Give me back my goddamn Quirk!”

 

“Come here and we’ll trade,” Kajiya calls out, with impressive steadiness, considering that she has no more chance of withstanding fire than Bakugou did thirty seconds ago. Through the fading smoke Shouto meets her eyes, still unreadable, and feels anger settle low in his gut.

 

This obstinate bloodlust of hers - it’s intolerable. He needs her out cold, and fast, because it is getting very fucking difficult to remember that they need her in one piece.

 

Kajiya begins firing indiscriminately around them from her good arm, evidently obstructing the chase by making them fend off the collapsing warehouse, but it buys her little time- Bakugou takes to fire like a duck to water, eviscerating the debris around him, Shouto matching him blow for blow, and without his Quirk in her she is more sensitive to the smoke, movements going sluggish. 

 

She drops and rolls, explosion destabilising the last of the platforms, and there is a cacophony of metal as the flooring begins collapsing inwards, but Bakugou is passing by him, shouting encouragement of some variety, and fuck it, Shouto trusts him to handle it; he ignores the falling debris to plunge towards Kajiya, who whips around with remarkable agility to shoot several small explosions directly towards him. 

 

It’s of no use, obviously. In other circumstances he might feel sorry for her, because if Bakugou were firing explosions at him Shouto would fear for his life, but Kajiya is decisively not Bakugou, and as such he barely flinches as he presses onwards; cuffs glowing like embers against the light. She grits her teeth and blows up at him right as he reaches for her, a direct hit he has to twist to avoid taking, the change in position negligible but noticeable nonetheless; he knows while he shifts what she is planning on doing.

 

He watches, in slow motion, shards of wood and metal pass him by, races through his options. Letting her proceed means reverting to their earlier status quo, but he’s close enough that he thinks- no, he’s sure, he can do this, he just needs to steel himself through it.

 

Her fingers brush his, and the disconnect is just as potent the second time around, he finds, fire deserting him entirely for the first time in his life, but the dizzying pulse of energy igniting in his chest is blazing in a not-unfamiliar way, and he bites down hard enough to draw blood as he keeps his momentum, grabs hold of her wrist. 

 

He thinks he hears Katsuki yell something at him, or maybe just imagines it, because in his mind’s eye he can see the sequence crystal-clear, and it’s with a rush of adrenaline that he moves, thoughts gone calm with focus.

 

He spins, explosions leaving his free palm in rapid-fire motion, numb to Kajiya’s thrashing fire as he collects air, keeps spinning faster and faster as heat crackles through him, force gathering around them as he moves, and this time it’s definitely Katsuki’s voice that cuts through the air, now, Todoroki echoing off the walls, and so he releases, explosion bursting from his palm uncontrollably as he flings Kajiya backwards in a surprisingly graceful arc, nerves singing with power.

 

She crashes into the floor with a tremendous amount of noise, like so many others before her, and for a moment Shouto sees Izuku at fifteen lying dazed on the floor, feels inappropriately like smiling.

 

There’s no time to revel in it; he hits the floor hard, aftershocks coursing through his legs as his palms crackle, and her arm is slick with his sweat and he knows before it happens that Kajiya’s fading consciousness will hit seconds too late, feels himself sprint forwards as the building caves in. She stirs once, flames bursting forth a final time, and he can almost see it, scorching heat meeting residue explosives; he’s out of time, out of manoeuvres, caught between retreating and advancing. 

 

Bakugou barrels into him, and they both go flying towards Kajiya’s prone form just as the detonation hits; he closes his eyes against the glare, feels the ground shake and his hearing turn to high-pitched noise as everything goes to shit.

 

 

 

For some indeterminate amount of time, he is in darkness, free-falling, shoulder-to-shoulder with Bakugou, and it feels like the world is disintegrating, everything earth-shatteringly loud. But he is cold, he realises, even before they hit the floor, his extremities numb with it, and so his eyes open just as his knees hit the ground, and for a moment all he sees is an amorphous smear of colour reflected endlessly in crystalline blue.

 

He exhales, a cloud of hot air, gazes skywards, where the sun is shining merrily, ice rising to vanish into clear blue.

 

It’s not quite his Heaven-Piercing Ice Wall, but it’s not far off.

 

He looks down. Kajiya is out cold besides him, dark hair haloed around her pale face as she lies unmoving, but she’s breathing, he can tell, chest rising and falling slowly. She looks battered, clothes torn and arm broken and littered with bruises, but she’ll live. On auto-pilot, he reaches for the cuffs, clips them onto her wrists.

 

He shifts. Bakugou is watching him when their eyes meet, and Shouto forgets if he had anything to say, emotions coursing through him for an instant before he breathes out and settles down. They’re fine, and they’ve won, and that’s really all there is to the job, on days like these. His pulse has slowed down again.

 

He expects one of them to say something, but he doesn’t know where to begin, and maybe Bakugou doesn’t either, because they just sit there scrutinising each other for a minute, catching their breaths. Bakugou is soot-stained, and frost has crept up his throat to reach his jaw; his hair is an untameable mess. He is frowning, but not very hard, looks almost a little lost in thought, or maybe just shell-shocked. His eyes are wine-red in the sunlight.

 

Shouto’s legs are damp from the ice, and he wonders if it always feels this much colder without his Quirk. He feels vaguely detached from these physical considerations. There is something coiling inside him, and he opens his mouth, licks his lips, tries to formulate a sentence.

 

Tentatively, his earpiece crackles to life. 

 

“…Ground Zero? Shouto?”

 

Somehow he’d forgotten there was a world outside of the glacier.

 

“That’s us,” Shouto says, a little hoarsely, and blinks up at their surroundings. Bakugou had thrown up the ice like he’d throw a grenade, spreading in all directions; upon closer inspection it’s contained the blast, freezing the foundations of the warehouse as it exploded and leaving them perched atop a wonky glacier.

 

“Oh, thank God- are you all right? What’s happening over there?”

 

“Kajiya’s knocked out,” Bakugou answers, gruff, and gets to his feet, dusting debris off his lap. A strange look flickers through his face, and then he extends an arm to Shouto, who blinks at it dumbly for a second before he seizes hold of it to hoist himself up, fingers sparking at the touch. “What’d we miss?”

 

The officer audibly releases his breath; the sound of people moving filters through. “We’re fine for the most part. We managed to regain control of the remaining equipment once the fight broke out, but it appears that Kajiya wanted to ensure that there would be no outside interference, because her virus made our devices malfunction the moment we approached the warehouse. We judged that falling back to the perimeter was the wisest course of action.”

 

“It was,” Shouto confirms, dropping Bakugou’s arm when he realises he’s still holding onto him. His arms feel stiff. “Don’t bring any equipment any closer until you’re sure you’ve counteracted the virus. We’re fine to carry her out ourselves.”

 

“What’s the news from the prison?” Bakugou demands, before turning to Shouto, lowering his voice. “How am I moving her?”

 

“Unfreeze her first,” Shouto replies. “Start melting the ice a little, it’ll make it easier to handle.”

 

“Our communications were interrupted for a while,” the officer says, clearing his throat, “But it’s not looking optimal. A significant number of prisoners managed to evade recapture.”

 

“Dabi?” Shouto asks, the question mirrored on Bakugou’s face.

 

“Secured,” the man reports; Shouto closes his eyes briefly, shoulders slackening with relief. “There was some kind of fight with him early on, but he didn’t leave the site.”

 

“Copy. We’re coming now; have the medics ready.”

 

“Standing by,” the officer returns hastily, line clicking off. Bakugou frowns in concentration at Kajiya, small flames flickering from his fingers as he wipes his hair out of his face. 

 

“I can’t completely unfreeze her, right?”

 

“Keep her limbs immobilised,” Shouto confirms, then shakes his head at the bursts of fire. “Don’t do it like that. It’s supposed to flow.” 

 

“Well it clearly doesn’t want to,” Bakugou grunts, annoyed, and shoots more flames at the ice, re-icing where he melts too far. Shouto catches his hand before he can move again, relaxes his fingers when he stops resisting.

 

“Try it again. It’s-“ He pauses, thinks. It’s hard to put into words when he’s never had to think about it, but he thinks of the way Bakugou’s Quirk moves through him, tries to contrast the two. “You’re not actively externalising it. Just let it run through you.”

 

Bakugou scowls, but he holds position, and when he moves his hand again the fire dances around his arm and stays burning. 

 

Shouto carries Kajiya down in a fireman’s hold, careful not to break her icy restraints, Bakugou clearing a path for them as they descend, and focuses hard on putting one foot ahead of the other, eyes locked firmly ahead. He can’t let his thoughts wander, despite the jarring wrongness inside him, his aching limbs, the way that he keeps nearly slipping because he’s used to the ice morphing itself for his convenience. If he loses focus, if he starts thinking about what happens next- 

 

He shoves it down, straightens his back. Takes his next step. For the moment his next mission is to deliver Kajiya into the arms of the law. He has to do that before he does anything else.

 

He is sweating profusely.

 

“Should I melt this thing?” Bakugou asks, dropping down besides him once he emerges from the skeleton of the warehouse, squinting against the sun. There is a strain to his posture, exhaustion or restraint, briefly visible as he stares up at the glacier. Shouto’s chest clenches in sympathy.

 

“Leave it. We shouldn’t overexert ourselves with each other’s Quirks.”

 

This makes Bakugou clench his jaw, and he looks away, exhaling heavily through his nose. Shouto forcibly resumes walking. Not thinking about it. 

 

He bites down on his tongue and tastes sparks.

 

They reach the police barricade, where officers gaze wide-eyed between them; Shouto only manages to issue monotone sounds and a couple of nods as he pushes towards the ambulances, Bakugou trailing behind, and watches the medical team sweep out en masse, loading Kajiya onto a stretcher with supreme efficiency.

 

“Your injuries,” one of the nurses demands, as the first ambulance packs up and makes ready to leave, police escort in tow. “Give me the rundown.”

 

“I don’t have many,” Shouto half-realises, thinking it over. His head hurts like a bitch, but he knows that’s not really physical, though it certainly feels it. “Nothing major, anyways. Bruises, I imagine. I may have dislocated my shoulder a little.”

 

“My leg got burnt some,” Bakugou adds, shrugging. “Otherwise I’m the same.”

 

“You took some ice,” the nurse points out critically, examining his side. “Residue?”

 

“Our Quirks were swapped,” Shouto clarifies. The sun is really hurting his eyes now; he closes them briefly, seeking reprieve. 

 

There is dead silence. He opens his eyes to find thirty people staring in his direction.

 

“Your- you what?” The woman’s mouth opens and closes, and then she snaps into actions, medics scurrying to comply as she barks out instructions. “Get me two stretchers stat! Hook two IVs up and haul them over- yes, power those up, we have the hospital guidelines- no, the red ones- call them now, get the rooms ready- when?”

 

It takes him a beat to realise the last one was aimed at them, but Bakugou answers, crossing his arms. “I got stuck with his about halfway into the fight. He’s had mine for- what, ten minutes?”

 

The nurse’s expression falls; she scrubs rapidly at her nose. “Oh, god. Okay. Sit down.”

 

When they don’t comply, staring questioningly at her, she snaps out of it, clapping her hands together. “You have gotten extremely lucky. Your Quirks both operate in, all things considered, very similar ways. They manifest physically in thermal manipulation, which bodily control allows you to alter. This is why neither of you promptly imploded upon exchange.”

 

Helpfully, Shouto sits. 

 

“Kajiya’s Quirk literally alters her body to adapt to whatever Quirk she absorbs,” the woman explains, as Bakugou slowly condescends to taking a seat on the other stretcher, glaring suspiciously at the proffered drip. “However, Quirks, even non-mutative ones like yours… They are extremely genetic-specific. Unless a Quirk is made to carry over, abruptly gaining it the way you have- I’m surprised you haven’t passed out yet, frankly.”

 

“Hang on a second,” Bakugou says, resisting the nurses around him. “Are you implying you’re going to drag us off to the sick bay? There’s a massive fucking prison breakout happening, you realise. We have shit to do.”

 

To her credit, she doesn’t even falter. “Absolutely not. You’re a liability to yourselves in this state, let alone anyone else. There are plenty of other heroes in Tokyo. Let them have a turn.”

 

“Are you fucking serious?!”

 

“We fought against Kajiya just fine,” Shouto adds, bluntly. “Is it not possible that our Quirks are compatible enough that the secondary effects of the transfer are minimal?”

 

The nurse exhales through her teeth, shakes her head, brow furrowing. “No. It’s not. Resilience, adrenaline and very strong metabolisms have carried you this far, but I’d bet my right arm that you’ll be unconscious in the text ten minutes. Am I right in assuming your fatigue has increased exponentially in the minutes since you’ve stopped fighting? Headaches, sore muscles, perhaps?”

 

When neither of them answer, she nods. “I completely understand your motivations, and they are admirable. But I can promise you that the science does not lie. You’re in no state to do anything right now, and I am sorry to be so disrespectful, but if you try to leave now I will shoot you both with tranquillisers myself if it keeps you from going.”

 

“You’re threatening us?” Bakugou asks, incredulously; two of the nurses cower a little, but he seems quite cooperative to Shouto. 

 

“You’re two of the nation’s top heroes,” the nurse retorts, eyes flashing with conviction. “Your continued wellbeing matters more than my deferral to you.”

 

They meet each other’s eyes; Shouto thinks of Dabi, then of his growing headache, the feverish prickle at the back of his neck. His jaw clenches hard. 

 

“Goddamnit,” Bakugou growls, and sticks his arm out for the IV.

 

 

 

True to prediction, Shouto feels the world spin and fade to black about five minutes into the ambulance ride, and from there on out his recollection of the day is fuzzy at best.

 

He knows he awakens at least once during the ambulance ride, because he vaguely remembers bolting upright and accidentally ripping himself free of his restraints, disoriented by the sight of Bakugou shivering sporadically nearby as ambulance staff rush to calm him. He remembers, later, being rushed into hospital, the unsteady bumping of the wheels on the pavement as he blinks blearily at the blur of faces around him.

 

The first time he wakes up properly, two doctors are leaning over him, and one smiles reassuringly when he blinks questioningly at them, hands twitching by his sides.

 

“Todoroki-san.”

 

“I’m in the hospital,” Shouto observes, dry-mouthed, feeling heavy and overheated. It is hard to see properly against the bright hospital lights. 

 

“Yes. Your vitals are perfectly fine, but your body is struggling with the Quirk. We’re doing our best to stabilise it.”

 

His mind is slow to register this information, words blurring into one another. “Where’s Bakugou?”

 

“Ah, Ground Zero? In the same ward. He’s faring about the same as you are.”

 

“He fought longer than I did,” Shouto says, taking pains to enunciate, because it feels important that they know this. “With my Quirk, I mean. I had fire before that, but I always have fire.”

 

His head feels cottony. He’s drugged, he suspects. 

 

“Yes, the ambulance staff told us,” the second doctor nods, folding his hands. “Rest assured that we are monitoring your respective conditions with due diligence.”

 

“I think it’s probably worse for him,” Shouto says, staring vaguely at the tubes plugged into his arm. “For me it’s different but it’s still heat. But for him it’s also cold. The ice.”

 

“Apt observation, Todoroki-san. The strongest reaction we’ve contended with has been that aspect of your Quirk.”

 

“He’s not fireproof,” Shouto mumbles, eyelids heavy. “Don’t let him freeze.”

 

The next time he awakens, he lashes out in momentary panic at the feeling of something pressed over his scar, mind momentarily situating him in a different hospital a very long time ago, but it’s only a compress, not a bandage, and when he reigns himself in he’s far less drugged out than the first time around, apologising politely to the startled medical team as they regain their cool. He stays awake longer that time; it’s mid-afternoon, or so they say. Most of their conversation centres around the operation of his own Quirk, finer details they can use to monitor Bakugou’s responses better.

 

At one point it occurs to him to ask: “Can’t Kajiya return our Quirks?”

 

There is a tangible pause. The head doctor sighs. 

 

“Chihiro Kajiya has entered a comatose state, I’m afraid.”

 

Shouto thinks this through, feels sweat drip down his forehead. 

 

“Ah. Fuck.”

 

He drifts off again.

 

The last time he wakes up it is dark, and he is alone in the room save for one nurse, sat in a chair near his bed and tapping away at a tablet. He feels heat-damp but clean, like he’s fresh out of a bath, and judging from the faint vanilla smell he might well have been washed in his sleep. There is a comfortable burn in his veins that he can’t quite place.

 

He curls his fingers tentatively, quick response-time confirming his relative sobriety, though his arms themselves feel numb.

 

“Good evening.”

 

The nurse starts, looks up at him with wide eyes. She’s young, and reminds him of Ochako somehow, brown-haired and conventionally pretty. “Ah! Shouto-san. You’re awake again. Can I get you anything?”

 

He shakes his head, then reconsiders. “Does the television broadcast the news?”

 

She makes to turn it on, then pauses somewhat warily. “You’ll stay put, right? I really can’t encourage any break-outs.”

 

“I’m not going anywhere,” Shouto promises, which is true enough, despite the fact that for every second that he is conscious he grows increasingly restless with cabin fever. Given the veracity of the on-site nurse’s verdict thus far he is willing to accept his current confinement rather than collapse mid-rescue. 

 

She seems to buy it, at least, nodding and switching channels until they land on the news. “Do you mind if I keep the sound off? Some of the other patients are sleeping.”

 

“That’s fine. I’ll read the captions.”

 

For a minute the broadcasters’ discussion remains firmly political, and he watches the text scrolling at the bottom of the frame instead, angry red headlines foreboding. 50 high-profile prisoners remain at large. Pros roam streets of Tokyo. 

 

The nurse shoots him a concerned look. He lifts the corner of his mouth placatingly. She flushes and turns back.

 

On-screen, a photo of his father appears, followed by an incredibly old family photograph he swears he’s never seen in his life: his parents sat on a traditional sofa, Fuyumi sat between their feet smiling shyly upwards, Natsuo on his father’s lap, and what can only be Touya staring round-eyed at the photographer by his sister’s side. Presumably the baby cradled in his mother’s arms is Shouto. The photo is only on-screen for moments, replaced by Shouto’s hero ID photo and Dabi’s mugshot (how predictable) as the newscasters begin to recount the specifics of the operation. 

 

…who has now been identified as twenty-five year old Tokyo resident Chihiro Kajiya launched a dual attack on Endeavour’s sons this morning, breaking into Fuchū prison’s systems to enable a mass breakout and release Todoroki Touya, also known as the criminal Dabi, as well as directly attacking pro-hero Todoroki Shouto with Endeavour’s own Quirk, in what we can now confirm to have been a revenge-motivated attempt on his life. 

 

Pro-hero Shouto, accompanied by Ground Zero, successfully managed to defeat Kajiya with no collateral harm, but police reports indicate that both pros were affected by her Quirk in the course of the battle, and both were hospitalised in the early afternoon as a result. Hospital reports have been succinct, but medical staff has confirmed that both heroes are not in a life-threatening condition. It would appear, however, that until Kajiya recovers from the coma she has sunk into, whatever Quirk exchange occurred cannot be reverted.

 

We return now to chaotic scenes from the prison breakout many viewers might have seen earlier today- a breakout which was thankfully curtailed by the efforts of established pros Hawks and Mirko in collaboration with the NPA, who managed to greatly reduce the numbers of fleeing prisoners and avoid the escape of a number of particularly infamous villains. The breakout itself resulted in a great deal of violence between the escaping prisoners, with at least thirty people in medical care and somewhere around fifteen prisoners dying on the scene or in hospital as a result of their injuries. An unknown number of civilians, police officers and pros have also sustained injuries throughout the day as the escaped prisoners are chased down.

 

Reports across the day have marked the number of remaining escapees as reduced down to 47, but the NPA warns that recapturing these villains will not be easy, and cautions Tokyo residents to be on the lookout for them until their capture, in particular the six high-risk individuals now shown on-screen, all in possession of dangerous Quirks.

 

Indeed, it is best to assume that the escapees will have rid themselves of their Quirk-nullifying cuffs somehow, and proceed with caution until they are returned to their cells. 

 

Across the country, citizens have been following the unfolding of today’s events with great emotion; on social media, several hashtags have continued to trend nationally and worldwide, particularly in support of the Todoroki family, and global news has continued to report on the situation. The case had, of course, gathered much attention ahead of today, with the shock attack on erstwhile number one hero Endeavour, now also confirmed to have been orchestrated by Kajiya, per the NPA…

 

“You can turn it off again,” Shouto says, into the silence, watching screenshots flit across the screen, absurd amounts of people he’s never met expressing their heartfelt encouragement. His palms are sweating.

 

So the breakout wasn’t too disastrous- no civilian deaths thus far, which seems miraculous. Still, almost fifty prisoners still on the loose, and some of them high profile villains- he shifts, agitated with the need to return to the action. It’s his case to resolve.

 

He glances at the nurse, thumb hovering over the remote as she watches the screen, and follows her gaze, frowning a little as he recognises the blurry images on display.

 

In breaking news, it appears that footage of the fight between Kajiya and the two pros has surfaced online on some deep-web servers, as a result of security cameras rigged in the Toyota warehouse where the brunt of the fight took place. Much of the video is damaged or incomplete due to the scale of the fight, but the images paint a shocking picture of the battle as it raged on this morning near the industrial district in Tokyo, with Kajiya seemingly using Endeavour’s own famous fire Quirk on his son, pro hero Shouto- 

 

“Sorry,” the nurse rushes, a little embarrassed, turning the television off again, and then makes awkward eye contact with him, visibly unsure whether to acknowledge the footage or not. He shakes his head dismissively.

 

“No need to apologise.”

 

She bows her head a little again, then clears her throat. “You were very brave out there.”

 

Years of experience have made him accustomed to praise, though no better at responding to it; he blinks. 

 

“Ah. Thank you.”

 

“What that woman wanted to do-“ She pauses, seemingly overwhelmed with emotion, fists clenching. “It makes me sick to think there are monsters like that roaming our streets.”

 

Shouto thinks back to Kajiya, fuelled by helpless rage, the depth of her gaze, her voice echoing through the warehouse. Not a monster, no. Someone very human indeed.

 

She would get along with Dabi, he thinks. It’s probably best if he doesn’t voice that thought.

 

“She had a hard life,” he settles on, finally, and rubs at his eyes. “A lot of people don’t recover from that.”

 

When he glances back the nurse is giving him a wide-eyed look that he recognises with a sense of foreboding, her gaze softening admiringly, and he fakes a cough lest before the moment can stretch meaningfully. 

 

Somewhat tiredly, he wishes his hospital visits weren’t so predictable. In the early days of his career he’d often pleaded with his agency to request that he solely be treated by misanthropic senior staff, but even that had not stopped the people healing him from somehow deciding that his stoic attitude was extremely charming rather than insensitive, and besides management had rarely complied in any event, too keen on the free PR. 

 

He’s sure Bakugou doesn’t have these kinds of problems; his handsomeness is too evenly proportionate to his terrible attitude, especially in hospitals, for which he has no patience whatsoever. Then again, unconscious, he might well collect his share of delusional admirers. In second year once Bakugou had gotten knocked out saving half of the class from a rampaging elephant villain, and Shouto, racing over from another part of the fight, had taken the collective intake of breath to signify that Bakugou was bleeding out on the floor; instead, all of the girls’ expressions broadcasted a bizarre mixture of outrage and appreciation, staring in shock at Bakugou’s slack features. “Oh, god,” Ashido had gasped, in horrified delight, “Bakugou is good-looking?”

 

His skin feels too tight; he shifts, winces, stares up at the ceiling. 

 

Complaining about these things is entitled of him, he knows. It’s not like the staff is ever any less competent at their jobs just because some of them happen to find him attractive; it’s not their fault he’s always on edge in hospitals. Per Kaminari, he is in fact an ungrateful jackass for resenting the attentions of young hot doctors and their ilk. Still, it wears him out, being trapped in a sterile cot fending off advances as he lies drugged out and haemorrhaging all over the place.

 

He’s not bleeding now, at least, just sweating, and sparking, and feeling like he’s just ran a marathon based on the rapid-fire tattoo of his pulse. He’s not sure if that’s inherent to the Quirk or if it’s his body straining against it. He imagines that wherever Bakugou is his breaths have gone slow and shallow.

 

His thoughts are turning nonsensical; probably fatigue is settling in again. He wonders what hospital he’s in, and if his father is awake, if his phone log is filled with missed calls, if Hawks and Mirko are still on the job, roaming the streets of Tokyo. Wonders if Dabi fought, and if so who, and how, and why.

 

Wonders where Kajiya lies, unseeing and unfeeling, not dead, not alive.

 

His eyelids are heavy; he feels his head sink back into the pillows.

 

It hits him just as he fades out of consciousness, why he recognises the burning inside of him: it feels just like when Bakugou flicks him in the crook of his elbow, bright and sore and somehow not quite unwelcome nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“So, let me get this on record,” the Times journalist asks, eyes gleaming with the look of someone who has just come up with a winning headline. “Until Chihiro Kajiya regains her consciousness-“

 

“We’re stuck with each other’s Quirks, yeah,” Bakugou interrupts, fingers tapping against his arm impatiently. Shouto is sure that were they elsewhere he would have propped his shoes onto the table. 

 

“And you’ve been cleared for hospital release,” an Asahi Shimbun journalist interjects, curious. “Will you be able to return to work?”

 

“Our metabolisms have sufficiently adapted to each other’s Quirks where their usage should not endanger us,” Shouto answers, monotone, glancing away a little when twenty different cameras start aggressively flashing at him. This makes the Yomiuri representative raise his own mic, eyebrow shooting up dubiously.

 

“With all due respect, is that really the prime consideration in allowing your return to professional work? Your health is one thing, but whether you are fit to work when you have no experience handling each other’s Quirks is surely an entirely different matter.”

 

“That’s why we’re going through testing this afternoon,” Shouto responds, unruffled. “If we’re cleared we’ll be taking some time to adjust to using these Quirks in a fight situation.”

 

“You mean like training?”

 

“Something like that.”

 

When the Yomiuri journalist continues to look politely questioning, Bakugou bristles. “Oi, we’re not exactly incompetent without our Quirks. Even on a purely combat or rescue basis we got our level 5 certification in fucking high school.”

 

“Does this mean you’ll be active in the recapturing operations?” a Nihon Kezai journalist chimes in, enthusiastic. “Do you consider the continued freedom of over thirty dangerous convicts as a failure on your part?”

 

“I’ll be active in whatever job needs me by the time I’ve gotten the necessary clearance,” Shouto says, meeting his eyes. “As for the escaped prisoners, no, I don’t.”

 

“No?” the Nihon journalist presses, then falters a little when Shouto continues to stare balefully at him. “You don’t think that a better plan would have anticipated the prison breakout as part of Kajiya’s plans?”

 

“Until two days ago we didn’t even know who Kajiya was,” Shouto replies, flatly. “The only certainties we had about her was that she possessed the Quirk of the ex-number one pro in the country, and was intent on killing either myself or my brother, if not both. There were no signs that she would enact her revenge in such a wide-spread operation rather than the contained attacks of her prior behaviour.” 

 

He pauses to take a sip of his water, throat dry from so much talking. “And we did anticipate some kind of attack on the prison. That’s why there are only thirty escapees instead of the several thousands of inmates that Fuchū is home to.”

 

Momentary silence falls; the Nihon Kezai journalist has the decency to look slightly abashed.

 

“Anyone else want to get their half-assed bait out of the way?” Bakugou grates.

 

The Nikkei journalist pushes to the forefront. “What do you make of the estimates of your numbers coming into the end of this week?”

 

It takes Shouto a minute to realise what he’s talking about. “For the Hero Billboard.”

 

“Have you had the time to look at them since your hospital release?”

 

Bakugou snorts. “Take a guess, considering where we are.”

 

“Evidently, the fight yesterday gathered significant attention, and public opinion is highly favourable to you, especially in the circumstances,” the Nikkei journalist elaborates, unfazed. “But given the chaos of the breakouts and the highly active role other pros might play as you recover, it could be difficult to climb any higher into the rankings.”

 

“Look,” Bakugou says, pushing back in his chair to lean forwards, “The Hero Billboards aren’t a fucking prom queen race. If I’m quarantined for the next two weeks I don’t see why I’d expect to be promoted for it. If I’m free to get back to work, I sure damn will, and I expect my position will reflect that just fine.”

 

“You aren’t worried to any challenges to your ranking during a potential convalescence, then?”

 

This makes Bakugou crack a smile, unfriendly. “What challenges?”

 

Jackass, Shouto thinks, with a dismaying amount of fondness. 

 

 

 

As he makes his way into the car, ignoring the cameras flashing after him, the Hero Billboard is frankly the last thing on his mind. Well, perhaps not the last thing- he has been told quite feelingly that his incapacity to switch off his ambition is one of his more obnoxious traits- but certainly not at the forefront of his thoughts.

 

He’d awoken in the early hours of the morning feeling rejuvenated and weirdly purified, then been informed by an exhausted but content-looking medical team that they’d spent the night working tirelessly adjusting his supplements to the changes in his body, with frankly outstanding results. Something about having both him and Bakugou at their mutual disposition had greatly facilitated finding some plausible balance for both of them, and though Shouto had understood almost none of the scientific jargon they’d bandied around he’d gotten the gist. Their Quirks really are extremely conveniently compatible with their general morphologies, so the doctors hadn’t needed to worry about any pending self-destruction, just tweaking so that their bodies stopped instinctively rebelling against the changes. They’ve both been administered about ten different ominous looking vaccines, and Shouto has extremely uncomfortable patches all over his back and forearms for vague some sweat-regulating purpose courtesy of the over-eager science team at Might Tower, but they’re pretty much fit for purpose, to the best of his understanding. 

 

The more pressing question is whether fit for purpose actually means fit for purpose- because Tokyo is still, despite his admonishments, overrun by a number of dangerous escaped convicts, and given that said convicts only escaped as part of an aborted plot to exact revenge on his father, Shouto is extremely unwilling to sit idly by and watch them run rampant. 

 

There are other questions, too, of course. Like whether Kajiya is even remotely close to emerging from her coma, and what this means for his father, and what this means for him, and whether he will ever be able to regain his Quirk, and what the fuck exactly he’s supposed to do with Bakugou’s Quirk inside of him. Shouto is very scrupulously ignoring these questions. He’s never been prone to pointless existentialism.

 

Medical clearance obtained, he’d been swarmed by his office team, Akaba emerging with a change of costume and a bullet-pointed list of their next steps, for which Shouto could have kissed her, if only because it robbed him the chance to sink into some kind of crisis. They’d coordinated his exit with Bakugou’s, who’d taken slightly longer to get the medical OK, presumably because he was coping with double the adjustment, and fended off the press’ eager questions for about ten minutes before being rushed off to the office. 

 

He hasn’t even spoken to Bakugou since he blacked out in the ambulance, Shouto realises, with a pang of- discomfort, maybe. He’d seemed fine when they’d exchanged brief greetings in the hospital entrance, and certainly he’d been on form during the Q&A, but it feels odd not to even have had the chance to question him about his state. If Shouto is stuck with these patches, he can only imagine what they’ve sicced on Bakugou- leg-warmers and a thermometer, maybe.

 

He glances at his phone. It’s just past nine in the morning. He needs to be at the NPA headquarters by noon. 

 

His father is awake, so he hears. On the news, not from his family- he hasn’t had the time to look at the hundreds of notifications lighting up his screen. 

 

Three hours is more than enough time for him to go to Musutafu and back. 

 

The driver asks for an address. Shouto gives him his apartment details.

 

 

 

The first thing he does after locking the door behind him, hit unexpectedly by a strong sense of homecoming, is shed clothes left and right and get into the shower, cool water a wordless relief as he leans his head heavily against the bathroom wall. He feels simultaneously drained and refreshed, slumped and immobile as he watches water stream down over him, rivulets passing unmoved over scrapes old and new. 

 

With every second breath his chest aches with his Quirk, stinging waspishly like it recognises that it’s been misplaced. Maybe it feels like this all the time, but he doubts it, somehow. As much as he doesn’t doubt that Bakugou would endure minor aches and burns without much notice, he also can’t imagine any part of Bakugou’s Quirk ever operating in less than scintillating harmony with him. Izuku’s childhood stories painted a clear enough picture of the prodigal child.

 

He runs a hand through his hair, hanging dark and low into his eyes, inhales wetly. He doesn’t have the time for a come down, the unwinding he puts himself through whenever he’s completed a mission, though the vague numbness in his body means he could use it. There’s no point- letting his emotions break through and exhaust him now will only make him sloppy later today, and he can’t afford that, not when the job’s not done.

 

They’re alive, at least, which is an objectively good outcome. Not that he ever really doubted they would be. Especially not two-on-one. That his brother remains safely imprisoned without too much collateral is more of a surprise. He’s still not sure what the fuck went down at the prison- he should check the news, he reminds himself, and call Hawks, gauge the state of things. 

 

They’ve stopped Kajiya, too. That’s a victory, though it doesn’t feel much like one.

 

He turns the shower on harder, letting the water hit his back until it’s faintly painful, the sensation drawing him out of his thoughts. He has plenty of time to mull over the ethics of hero work and the sins of his father when he’s not still cleaning up his own messes.

 

He stays in the shower for a good fifteen minutes, insensible to the outside world, then wraps himself loosely in a towel to answer his phone, ringing stringently from his discarded jacket’s pocket.

 

“Shouto.”

 

“Shouto,” Tenya’s voice comes, so unexpected that Shouto feels abruptly more awake somehow, shifting his hold on his towel. “I am sorry to call you at such short notice- I realise you must be very preoccupied.”

 

“It’s no problem,” Shouto replies, sincerely, eyes caught on the plant Kirishima had bought him. It’s drooping, leaves brittle with drought, and the sight makes his chest ache inexplicably. “Do you need something?”

 

“Actually, I was wondering if you had any plans in the next hour,” Tenya announces, rapid-fire. “I came to Tokyo last night to assist with one of the villains in particular, and would be glad to see you before I depart, if you would at all appreciate the company. Of course, considering your recent hospitalisation and upcoming meeting I completely understand if you would rather recuperate your strength in the following hours, and would in fact suggest that-“

 

“I’d like that,” Shouto interjects, before Tenya can embark on some ten-minute tangent about his recovery. “I’m free now, if that suits you.”

 

“I see,” Tenya says, briefly thrown off, before he soldiers on unperturbed. “In that case, I shall be at your apartment promptly, if that is not too presumptive!”

 

“That’s fine.”

 

“Until then, my friend!”

 

“Bye,” Shouto says, as the line cuts off. Then he stares contemplatively at his phone. 

 

He gets dressed, reapplies the patches, towels his hair a little, not particularly keen on starting on anything bigger when Tenya is due to arrive diligently at any given moment. His lips twitch faintly as he imagines Tenya whizzing through the streets of Tokyo with that familiar intent look on his face. 

 

His intercom buzzes about ten minutes after he put the phone down; when he lets Tenya in the latter clasps him firmly on both arms, earnest gaze scrutinising him with habitual concern as Shouto smiles a little. Out of everyone he knows, their class rep has probably changed the very least since their first meeting.

 

“It’s good to see you. Are you fully recovered? I wasn’t able to recover the details of your injuries.”

 

“I’m fine,” Shouto dismisses, disengaging from his grip to lead them upwards. “Neither of us really got injured. It’s just the Quirk thing that’s an issue.”

 

At Tenya’s obviously restrained curiosity, he pauses, turns his hand palm up to let off a brief explosion. The blast still startles him, though no more than it startles Tenya, whose glasses flash as he contemplates him.

 

“You’ve truly exchanged Quirks!”

 

Shouto only nods, gesturing him into his flat. His hand is tingling. 

 

“Fascinating,” Tenya mutters, before shaking himself and meeting his gaze. “I apologise, I shouldn’t pry.”

 

“I don’t mind. It’s a novelty.”

 

“It’s just,” Tenya elaborates, losing some of the stiffness at Shouto’s genuine tone: “This sort of transferral- it’s very uncommon outside of familial lineage. Unheard of, for the most part, except of course for-“

 

“One for All,” Shouto agrees. “Or All for One, I suppose, in a way.” 

 

“Exactly!” Tenya nods, brows furrowing as he examines him, less scientifically this time around. “How does it feel?”

 

He’s unknowingly echoing the queries of the medical team, but it sounds different coming from a friend. Shouto pauses, considers it. “Strange. I can tell it’s not supposed to be there.”

 

“I see,” Tenya says, rubbing his chin in thought, before looking concerned once more. “It’s not painful, is it?”

 

“Not anymore,” Shouto replies, shrugging a little. “They gave us a lot of shots to counterbalance the effects. And I have these.”

 

Tenya balks a little when he pulls his shirt off, but raises his brows interestedly once he notices the patches. “Ah- absorption of some kind?”

 

“Sweat,” Shouto says, grimly. His own Quirk is not so messy or physical. 

 

Tenya blinks. “Oh. Yes. That makes sense.”

 

“Can I make you some tea?” Shouto asks, slipping his shirt back on. Thus far being Bakugou has mostly made him sweaty and thirsty. 

 

“Tea would be much appreciated.”

 

Tenya only stays for about half an hour, insistent that he not overstay his welcome, but in that time he miraculously saves Shouto’s ailing plant’s life (a trick he had to learn after constantly almost killing his vegetation by jogging too vigorously around them, he claims), unknots a muscle in his back, and informs him of the current comings of goings of every single one of his ex-classmates and teachers, so Shouto considers it time well-spent. 

 

They don’t discuss the fight or the prisoners in much depth, which Shouto is grateful for; Tenya is already aware of most of Shouto’s side of the affairs, and mainly just fills him in on how the race to recapture the prisoners has been going. He was called in to dispose of some escapee with a feeble but persistent teleportation Quirk who kept outpacing the police, but can’t stay long, involved in some kind of months-long sting operation involving some variety of the Yakuza back in Kyoto. 

 

“You’ve done very well for yourself here,” Tenya says, à propos of nothing, as he helps Shouto rinse their bowls. Shouto inclines his head.

 

“You’re doing well too.”

 

“I always expected that the three of you would exceed expectations,” Tenya adds, serious, as he sets the towel down. “But I’m also glad that things are going well for you outside of work.”

 

This Shouto hadn’t expected so much; he frowns questioningly. 

 

“Of course, current circumstances are not ideal,” Tenya rectifies, “But it’s clear that you’re happy here. I’m happy to see that for myself.”

 

“Oh,” Shouto says, rather touched. He’s missed Tenya more than he likes to think about, the past couple of years, isn’t good at telling him so. “I- thank you. It’s been- different than I imagined, without Izuku.”

 

“I also wanted to say,” Tenya starts, then frowns, looking a little unsure. “I- I’m sorry, about your father.”

 

Shouto picks up a bowl, sets it down. “He’s doing fine now. It’s just a matter of time until Kajiya wakes up.”

 

“I am sorry about his current condition,” Tenya says, shaking his head, “But that’s not what I meant.”

 

Their gazes meet. Shouto’s hand stills on the bowl. 

 

“I apologise if I overstepped,” Tenya continues, though he doesn’t sound regretful, and Shouto shakes his head minutely, anyways. “I just thought it should be said.”

 

“That’s all right,” Shouto says, after a moment, closing his cupboard. No one’s actually said it outright, before. He wonders why Tenya chose to do so now. Maybe because Shouto nearly got killed by someone who had a bone to pick with Endeavour. Again.

 

They’re not questions he wants to consider too deeply, today, but Tenya only nods and clasps his shoulder, more solidly this time. Shouto leans into it a little, silent communication of some sort, then wrinkles his nose. 

 

“I hate sweating.”

 

Because Tenya, unlike a lot of Shouto’s friends, is an upstanding citizen, he at least tries to disguise his amusement. Shouto doesn’t begrudge him it too much.

 

 

 

He orders an Uber to the NPA almost the instant that Tenya is out the door. He has the time to do something else- exercise, maybe, or call someone, or pass by the office- but he’s not keen on pointlessly distracting himself when his mind is going to be on the news either way. Thirty two convicts left out on the streets, and several high profile skirmishes throughout the morning. Tokyo can’t resume its operation until they’re locked up again. 

 

His phone informs him cheerily that he has a hundred and seventy four pending notifications. Out of these, four are voicemails, three are missed calls, and about a solid hundred and thirty seem to originate in 1A’s group chat, a stream of heightened emotions and exclamations that Shouto only skims through. The rest are distributed proportionately amongst the usual suspects: his friends, Fuyumi, people from the office. 

 

Izuku he texts back properly, answers his queries and accepts his various compliments. Fuyumi he reassures. The others he sends perfunctory responses to. 

 

Maybe it’s only because he’s stood outside his building with nothing to do but overthink, but as he stares unseeingly at his screen his fingers move of their own volition, and then he’s texting Natsuo.

 

to: Natsuo T

 

How is everyone?

 

Oddly enough, his message is read almost immediately. It still takes his brother nearly three minutes to answer.

 

from: Natsuo T

 

all right

 

Think mostly they’re relieved now that woman’s locked up

 

and that you’re OK

 

to: Natsuo T

 

That’s good.

 

from: Natsuo T

 

are you really going back 2 work ? 

 

If you get clearance i mean

 

to: Natsuo T

 

Yes. 

 

from: Natsuo T

 

Right

 

b careful shouto

 

to: Natsuo T

 

I know.

 

He expects that to be it, but thirty seconds later Natsuo replies again.

 

from: Natsuo T

 

Rmr it’s not all on you 

 

look out for e/o yeah

 

He’s not sure how to respond.

 

 

 

“Have I told you recently that you’re my favourite Todoroki family member?” Hawks says, cheerily, when Shouto picks up his call.

 

“I don’t think you’ve ever said that,” Shouto says. “Also, I don’t think it’s true.”

 

“I did very much enjoy talking to your mother that once,” Hawks concedes, without skipping a beat. “As of right now you’re a close second, though.”

 

Yes, because I’m up against such strong contenders, Shouto almost says, except that he is stoically resistant to becoming yet another Todoroki beguiled by Hawks’ dubious charisma, and so stays stern in his reply. “What happened yesterday?”

 

“Well, you and the blonde menace curb-stomped the shit out of our target, for one,” Hawks says, audibly smiling around it, “Which, at risk of repeating myself, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the replay of.”

 

“I meant on your side of things.”

 

“I figured,” Hawks snorts. “Well, all right, let’s see. Obviously, you know about the systems failure thing. We’d been prepared for that sort of thing, but her virus managed to override Fuchū’s defences initially because the attacks were sequential- the cells didn’t all open at the same time, they opened in waves. It was a shit-show, as you can imagine. The whole building was swarmed, and we’d been expecting an outside attack, so we lost time trying to get in. Fuck knows how, but in the chaos one or two real persistent prisoners managed to deactivate their cuffs by shoving their hands into the active electric circuits, and once there were Quirks involved everything got completely out of hand. Usagiyama managed to shove her way to the frontlines and starting beating them back, and I fought off some of the more difficult stragglers trying to make a break for it. The police and the wardens were completely overwhelmed, though, so the prisoners kept getting their hands on guns and shit- most of the injuries and deaths came from gangs going after each other or the wardens. It was a hot mess.”

 

“I’m surprised you managed to keep the escapees so limited,” Shouto frowns, imagining the chaos. Hawks laughs.

 

“Yeah, we got lucky, for sure. This is the best part of the whole fiasco, though, prepare yourself. At some point in the fight we were fending off almost a thousand people all storming the gates, right, and some of the guys with Quirks are really starting to become an issue, so I’m trying to cover about fifty cops at once, Mirko’s pummelling her way through the prison, we’re both swamped, and then the high-risk security floor opens up. Now, we don’t even know this shit at the time, because the security systems inside are fucked, so it’s literally completely beyond us when they all start traipsing out as well- well, some of them; some of the others just stayed put- and then one of them breaks through the wall with his restored Quirk and I’m there trying to balance cop collateral with not letting this particular lot of jackasses escape into Tokyo, and then who decides to get involved? Todoroki the elder.”

 

Shouto had guessed as much, from Hawks’ gleefully sardonic tone, but he still doesn’t know how to compute this. “What did he do?”

 

“Starts flaming the shit out of half of his block mates, is what,” Hawks announces, entertained. “Now that he’s back in his cell, of course, he’s claiming that he was acting selflessly to aid us poor struggling pros. My guess is he just didn’t like the fuckers. To be fair, there were some real unsavoury types locked up on his floor, so I can’t say I care either way. Anyways, he just starts giving everyone around him third-degree burns, and I’m still handling the low-risk lot so I leave him to it, y’know, less work for us.”

 

“Did he kill any of them?”

 

“Didn’t get that far outright, but I wouldn’t give him too much credit for it; Mirko had gotten to his side of the building by then, and she pretty much knocked him down and cuffed him in like thirty seconds flat. I will say that he didn’t seem to be trying to escape at all, but then again I’m pretty sure he just has a thing for her so maybe he got distracted.”

 

For some reason this is the information that disturbs him most. “Da- he has a thing for Mirko?”

 

“Oh, yeah, he’d definitely sub for her in a heartbeat,” Hawks declares, serenely. “Then again, who wouldn’t, right?”

 

Shouto’s face does things that make his driver shoot him an alarmed look. “I really don’t want to know.”

 

“Buzzkill,” Hawks reproaches, and continues unperturbed. “Anyways, we managed to turn the tide after that- got some back-up, you know the drill. Got the systems back on line, started chasing down the guys who got out. Pros have been at it all night.”

 

“How much of a problem are the ones still out in the open?”

 

“Hm, depends. I’d say there’s only about ten that your average pro couldn’t handle. A couple of guys that’ll take a while to track but aren’t massively dangerous. Five real assholes. Out of them there’s only four who are Quirk users. You might remember Kamiya?”

 

“He caused the earthquake by Mount Fuji.”

 

“Yeah, that’s the one. Abe’s gonna be difficult too- he’s the elastic one from three years ago. Then there’s Hashimoto, a telepath, and Dotani, who has enhanced strength.”

 

“Have you been able to keep track of their locations?”

 

“It’s about fifty fifty. We’re sending people to take care of the people we’ve located while we work on tracking the others. Luckily the radius of movement is still pretty restrained.”

 

It all sounds almost under control, Shouto thinks, and feels some of the tension seep out of his posture. Hawks, meanwhile, seems to have decided he’s been informative enough, because he shifts topic entirely. 

 

“So, you and Ground Zero have switched Quirks, huh. What’s that like?”

 

“Inconvenient.”

 

“I’ll bet,” Hawks drawls. “You blown anything up yet?”

 

“No. I’ve been pumped full of enough medicine to keep myself in check.”

 

“Oh, right. What kind of weird supplements d’they have you take to adjust, then?”

 

“Mostly sweat-suppressants. And my blood pressure is really terrible.”

 

“Low blood pressure? Makes sense, what with all the nitroglycerin. You reckon that’s why he has no chill whatsoever?”

 

“I think that’s just his personality.”

 

Hawks laughs at that, although Shouto wasn’t really joking. “God, I hope this coma lasts at least a day or two.”

 

Shouto resolutely does not.

 

 

 

By some twist of luck, there are hordes of people standing around the NPA headquarters by the time he arrives, many wearing merchandise in some shade of orange or red, which makes him seriously consider sinking down in his seat and crawling out of sight. As always, this is not an option, so he steels himself, steps out of the car, and takes what feels like ten minutes to complete the forty second walk from the street to the office door.

 

“I love you, Shouto-chani!” someone screams, right as he emerges, before being drowned out by the general cries of what he surmises to be encouragement. The fans are orderly, at least; no one grabs at him like the more rabid ones sometimes do, but they’re very loud and emotional and he feels more uncomfortable than ever having to by-pass them to get to his destination, the genuine emotion in their voices unsettling. 

 

These people he’s never spoken to all care about his life, his family, the fact he was in hospital a handful of hours ago. It’s not like when they’re just cheering because they like him, or his Quirk, or his face- this matters to them. He feels like he owes them some attention, if nothing else, but he’s never sure how to address them- they’re strangers to him, and hard to treat as fully realised people when he only knows them in relation to himself.

 

It is no small relief when Akaba appears as if summoned by his elbow, waving politely yet firmly towards the crowds as she steers him inwards. “Yes, thank you all, Shouto-san has a very long day ahead, we can’t linger.”

 

He lets her guide their way into the lobby, where she pauses to shake her head at him. “You look tired.”

 

“I showered,” Shouto offers, perplexed, because he had actually tried to look presentable for this. It only makes her look a little long-suffering.

 

“I don’t mean physically. I’d be far more worried if I thought we were in danger of losing your pretty face.”

 

Oh. “I’m all right,” Shouto reassures, which is true, but makes her sigh anyways. “I’m medicated and everything.”

 

Akaba mutters something under her breath, then refocuses, leading them into the elevator. “This meeting should be quick. We just need to make sure everyone’s on the same page about this before we send you two down to go play lab rats.”

 

“Do we know who’s on the testing team yet?”

 

“Ground Zero’s people were lobbying for an independent group rather than the NPA lot,” Akaba says, flipping through her notepad. “We offered our science division. That Shield woman is in Japan at the moment, so we might be able to call her in.”

 

“Ah, Melissa?” Shouto asks, mildly surprised. “I didn’t know she was here.”

 

“Yeah, some kind of convention. She’s very good at her job, or so I hear. I always liked her father.”

 

“You know David?”

 

“I’ve been working at Might Tower for a while,” Akaba snorts. “Now, back on topic, are you sure you want to get back on the field if they clear you?” 

 

She’s hardly the first to ask; Shouto just nods.

 

“I figured. I only ask again because I want to make sure you realise how careful you’re going to have to be. This isn’t your Quirk, Todoroki, it’s not adapted to you and you’ve never had to use it before. I know you’re good, but you’re going to have to be on top form for as long as you do anything with it, you understand? No risk-taking, no room for fuck-ups.”

 

He considers this for slightly longer, then nods again. 

 

“Well, those five seconds give me hope,” Akaba sighs. “I’ll have to talk with Ground Zero’s team some more then. Until you get your Quirk back you’re going to have to see some more of each other so you know what you’re doing.”

 

“I hope it isn’t causing you any trouble,” Shouto frowns, having neglected to consider this particular aspect of his fuck-up and now feeling unimpressed with himself for it. She only shakes her head, stepping neatly out of the elevator.

 

“Oh, none.” When he continues looking at her she smiles. “I wasn’t being sarcastic. We’re on good terms with his agency. And he’s good for PR, for some unfathomable reason.”

 

“You like him,” Shouto accuses, with relative certainty, because he knows the nuances of Akaba’s disapproval and she talks about Bakugou the way Ochako does. 

 

“And you could have won that fight without picking up his Quirk,” Akaba counters smoothly, pulling the conference room’s door. “Hello, gentlemen.”

 

 

They spend about ten minutes going back and forth with the NPA representatives, who are more friendly than they were for the entire investigation, meaning that Shouto doesn’t need to intimidate anyone into letting him do what he wants, and thus sits staring sightlessly out of the window as Akaba handles the finer points of the feedback. It’s not strictly speaking her job to come with him on these sorts of things, because her managerial duties tend to be far more hands off, but she’s always liked to tag along to meetings when she has the time, claims it keeps her mind sharp. 

 

Hawks comes knocking once the NPA people filter out, so Shouto says his goodbyes and follows him up to their office, already mostly cleared of their files.

 

“There he is,” Mirko says, when he walks in, and stands to punch him in the shoulder very hard. “Nice work, Todoroki.”

 

“Thanks,” Shouto says, rubbing surreptitiously at his throbbing arm. “I heard you knocked my brother out.”

 

“Damn straight I did,” Mirko grins, crossing one muscled leg over the other as she sits. “Highlight of my day.”

 

“Well, I believe this calls for a self-congratulatory speech, team,” Hawks says, arms crossed as he leans against the door. When they all look expectantly at him he rustles his wings and clears his throat. “Ahem. Congratulations.”

 

“Consider me fucking moved,” Bakugou scoffs. Hawks only raises a mock-hurt eyebrow at him.

 

“Where’s your team spirit gone?”

 

“No one in this room is a team player,” Bakugou retorts, rolling his eyes. “Also, seeing as you lot let a bunch of criminals skip on out to Tokyo, I wouldn’t be so quick to self-congratulate.”

 

“Oi,” Mirko protests, tapping her foot threateningly. “Don’t get smart. You two landed yourselves in hospital.”

 

“We also landed Kajiya in hospital.”

 

“Girls, girls, don’t fight, you’re both pretty,” Hawks says, which makes them both flip him off in perfect unison. “As messy aftermaths go, I’d say this one is pretty decent. No one died, for starters.”

 

“Well, none of us died,” Mirko corrects, though she doesn’t look very bothered by the distinction. “Caught the big bad, always a bonus.”

 

“No property damage bill to foot except that fucking warehouse,” Bakugou concedes.

 

“The NPA owes us big time.”

 

“That’s more like it,” Hawks smirks, piercings jingling as he nods his head to each of them. “Well, it was a pleasure doing business with you all.”

 

“Oh, now it’s business?” Mirko asks, raising both brows high. “I knew you’d change your mind in the morning.”

 

This makes Hawks laugh, devoid of his usual faint mockery. “Baby, it’s not what it sounds like.”

 

“Bastard,” Mirko shoots back, amused. Bakugou groans quite dramatically and crosses his arms.

 

“Could we actually get to fucking business at some point?”

 

“Fucking business?” Mirko repeats, now fully grinning, which makes Bakugou glower murderously and Shouto stifle a choked laugh. 

 

“Ha fucking ha. We’re on a schedule here. Half n half and I have to go get dissected by a bunch of lab coats.”

 

“Save it for the bedroom,” Hawks stage-whispers to Mirko, then settles down. “Well, depends on what the medics say. If you’re fit to fight I’m happy to let you tackle whoever you like.”

 

“Might be a good idea for you two stick together if it’s a big guy,” Mirko comments, contemplative. “In case one of you forgets a move or something.”

 

Shouto makes a resigned sort of sound, and Bakugou looks put-upon. “Of course. Couldn’t possibly go five minutes without being joined at the damn hip.”

 

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s been really hard for you,” Hawks says, eyes twinkling, as he shoves his hands in his pockets. “Keep us updated on the lab reports, then- I’m off to go play footsie with a telepath.”

 

“Only you would actually look forward to someone trying to destroy your mind,” Mirko snorts, throwing her hair back. “Poor asshole.”

 

Hawks just winks at her.

 

 

 

They ride to Might Tower together, in the end; Bakugou does not protest the decision, probably because it’s Might Tower. Then again, despite his territoriality, he’s never been one to value brand loyalty over personal gain, so he might just not care. It’s the first time they’re actually together since the ambulance, and for a minute or so they sit in silence, Bakugou glaring thoughtfully out of the window as Shouto observes him. 

 

He looks fine, he thinks. Bakugou had passed out first, in the ambulance, gone noticeably pale, and Shouto had sat there uncomfortably monitoring the rise and fall of his chest, imagining his own Quirk battering at the inside of him, trying to get out. Now he’s recovered his colour, lost the soot and dirt from the fight, and he looks himself, though he can’t possibly feel it. Even in a world where Quirks are so intrinsically linked to everyone’s personal identity, he thinks Bakugou must rank amongst those whose sense of self is most closely connected to his Quirk. His Quirk has always seemed tailored to his personality, at that- explosive, aggressive, attention-drawing, powerful. 

 

His own chest throbs, discomfort surely more psychosomatic than physical, and he huffs a little, resisting the urge to rub at his sternum. In those Harry Potter movies that Izuku and Ochako like so much, there’s that whole thing with wands choosing their owners- how taking someone else’s wand might or might not transfer its ownership. If Quirks are at all like that, he is certain that Bakugou’s Quirk will remain fiercely resistant to any other receptacle until the day he dies.

 

He realises only slightly belatedly that Bakugou is looking back at him now, and he quirks a brow a little to acknowledge the attention, which makes Bakugou pull a face and rearrange himself so he can kick one leg up on the seat between them. He still seems somehow hesitant, taps his gloved fingers against his arm before he frowns and glances sideways.

 

“You reckon this is what it was like for Deku?”

 

The question catches him off-guard. Shouto hadn’t thought about that, somehow; he gazes subconsciously towards the pouch where his phone is stored, thinks it through. “Probably not.”

 

“Yeah,” Bakugou mutters, looking pensive again. “One for All is made for transferral.”

 

“And he was Quirkless,” Shouto adds, unthinkingly clenching and unclenching his fingers. “So it wouldn’t have felt so…”

 

He trails off, not sure where to go with it. Destabilising? Suffocating? Fundamentally wrong? Electric? He’s never been known for his way with words.

 

“I went and talked to the people monitoring Kajiya,” Bakugou says, staring combatively down at his boots. “It’s not going to be some life-long shit, but it’ll at least take the weekend, and that’s if we’re lucky.”

 

Feeling this way for longer than a day is, frankly, nightmarish, to the extent that he feels himself visibly wince. 

 

“Oi, you should feel fucking honoured that you get to handle my Quirk, asshole,” Bakugou reproaches, though it’s half-hearted, and he leans his head heavily back against the side window, raising one hand to let flames flicker over it. “What’d they stick you with?”

 

Shouto tugs his shirt collar down demonstratively. “Patches for the sweat. And Midorine and Fludrocortisone for the hypotension.” 

 

“That’s nothing,” Bakugou says dismissively, tugging his arm sleeves down in distaste to reveal an alarming amount of pulsing patches beneath them. “I’m being treated for fucking heatstroke and frostbite at the same time. Your metabolism is a nightmare.”

 

“You’re not burning yourself?”

 

Bakugou shakes his head. “That was the easiest adjustment. Nearly destroyed my lungs with that ice wall yesterday, though.”

 

Shouto lets his expression do the talking, and Bakugou snorts, snuffs the flames out against his knee. It’s unspeakably bizarre to see him do it. 

 

“You don’t usually sweat this much,” Shouto hears himself half-ask, which really wasn’t what he was going to ask, but has also been bothering him since they first stuck the patches on him. 

 

“How am I supposed to compare, dumbass?” Bakugou retorts, all offence, before sighing. “I guess because it doesn’t come natural to you it’s just automatically generating sweat constantly, I don’t know. I only sweat hard when I need to.”

 

Gross, Shouto thinks. It’s funny, because he doesn’t actually find Bakugou’s Quirk gross when he’s using it, but it feels gross in him. “I guess it’s better than getting turned into a block of cement or going invisible.”

 

Bakugou kicks him, now looking actually offended. “My Quirk is fucking awesome, you ungrateful bastard. You could have ended up with a damn bird head.”

 

“I wonder if mutations would transfer,” Shouto muses, rubbing at his shin. “Maybe Tokoyami would get a human head if we swapped.”

 

“That’s horrifying,” Bakugou decides, shifting in his seat. “Some people really get the short end of the stick with this shit.”

 

“All comes down to your parents, I suppose,” Shouto says, staring thoughtfully at his hands. Actually, now that he thinks about it- “Yours must be one of the most convenient Quirk combinations in the world.”

 

“Hah?”

 

“Your parents, I mean,” Shouto elaborates, trying to remember if he knows what their Quirks are. “Neither of them have combat-type Quirks, but you ended up with a category four.”

 

“Yeah,” Bakugou concedes, looking somewhat considering. “Guess that was pretty lucky. Could have ended up with some bullshit if they’d married someone else.”

 

He tries to guess for a moment, then gives up. “What are their Quirks?”

 

Bakugou pulls a face, looking vaguely defensive. “They’re not fucking national standard, that’s for sure.”

 

“You don’t have to tell me,” Shouto sighs, instead of any given protest about the fact that having been birthed for the sole purpose of improving upon said national standard Quirk really isn’t all it’s cut out to be. They both know Bakugou knows that already. 

 

“…Hers is glycerin, and he has acid sweat. He can’t use it for shit, though, it’s just like normal sweat. And she has moisturised skin or whatever.”

 

“Ah,” Shouto says, and tries to imagine Bakugou with a Quirk like that, just an average civilian with above-average skin. He fails, though some distant observation of his feels validated somehow- he feels like he’d noticed the skin thing at some point. 

 

Bakugou looks very much like his mother in general, he knows. Maybe that explains Shouto’s inexplicable nerves around Mitsuki. 

 

“I told you they were lame,” Bakugou mutters, though he seems to be following a similar train of thought, because he narrows his eyes at Shouto and looks him up and down. “Hey, since your Quirk’s such a perfect half ’n half and all, are you meant to look like an exact mix of your folks? Cause you don’t look much like Endeavour.”

 

“I’m not sure,” Shouto blinks, thinking it through. Certainly he’s inherited a lot of his mother’s traits- even as an adult he has retained her finer features and generally slimmer build, ironically more like Dabi than either of his other siblings, who instead share her colouring. “I think I might take after her more, apart from the...”

 

He gestures vaguely at half of his face, wonders if there’s some kind of pattern to be found there. Izuku also seems to have inherited all of his features from Inko, and it seems kind of weird that that much is true of the three of them. It’s not like any of them are particularly feminine, though, he supposes- he’s not entirely sure what femininity even implies, in all honesty; there is little commonality between the women in his life beyond his lack of attraction to them, and his concept of manliness has been thoroughly warped by Kirishima, if he ever even had one.

 

“Quit the conspiracy theories,” Bakugou says, in a frightening instance of omniscience. “We’re here.”

 

When Shouto shoots him a suspicious look he seems momentarily amused despite himself, pushing himself easily out of his seat. “I can’t read minds, dumbass. You get this look on your face.”

 

He’s not sure if this is more or less worrisome.

 

 

 

Melissa Shields, as it turns out, is indeed available, and also has not changed in the slightest, unless she’s somehow grown more blonde and more buxom. She bounds towards them with typical American enthusiasm, radiating enthusiasm as she moves to embrace them like they’re old friends and not near-strangers who share exactly one slightly traumatic battle experience. In Shouto’s book, it takes at least five of those for things to get serious.

 

“Oh, Ground Zero, Shouto! It’s so good to see you both!”

 

Shouto awkwardly allows her to hug him; Bakugou does not. 

 

“This must be so strange for you both,” Melissa continues, cheerfulness unaffected by their lack of response, though she stops beaming. “I’m very honoured that Might Tower asked me to come work on this.”

 

“Nothing personal,” Bakugou interjects, never one to enjoy undue familiarity. “You’re good at your job, aren’t you?”

 

Melissa blinks, a little thrown, glances at Shouto, who tries to school his features into something reassuring and is not sure he succeeds. “Oh, well- yes, I am.”

 

“Then let’s get on with it. There are escaped criminals at large.”

 

“Right,” Melissa hesitates, and then controls herself, abruptly professional. “Right! Well, we’ve been in contact with the medical staff who treated you to get an idea of your state, and based on my estimations I would say that you don’t need to worry about any relapses any time soon, so long as you don’t put yourselves through extreme duress. The doctors were very clever in their adjustments.”

 

This is a relief; Shouto has never been one to enjoy fainting. 

 

“The bigger question, of course,” Melissa continues, in her accented but technically flawless Japanese, “Is whether you’re fit for resuming your jobs while your Quirks are swapped. So that’s what we’ll be looking at this afternoon. It shouldn’t be too uncomfortable for you- I’ve adapted some of the Quirk monitoring technology I use in my research so we can track your body’s responses to your Quirk usage, and it’s pretty uninvasive. We’ll try to record your reactions in a variety of scenarios to reflect the range of situations you might be confronted with on the job- combat, obviously, but also rescue, and what happens when you start tiring out.”

 

“Sounds like UA boot camp.”

 

“I guess it does!” Melissa laughs, tucking her hair behind her ear. “It seems the best way to go about this to me, though. The alternative suggestion that the labs put forth was just taking you down to Medbay and using various stimuli on you in a controlled environment, but I thought you might prefer it this way around- I hope that wasn’t too presumptive of me?”

 

“Not at all,” Shouto says, sending a rapid prayer to whatever deity has spared him an afternoon of being strapped to a table and injected with drugs. Melissa beams.

 

“Oh, good! Then follow me, please- we’ll get you suited up so we can get started.”

 

They partially undress amidst a flurry of scientists, several of whom display brief breaks in their hypercomptetence whenever they accidentally make eye contact with either of them. Shouto’s not uncomfortable exactly, largely insensitive to social mores of this variety, but it’s also been a hot minute since someone else was touching him skin-to-skin (or glove to skin, in this case) and it’s not particularly enjoyable, staring over their heads at a panel of computer screens as Melissa scrupulously concentrates on tweaking their monitors. 

 

It’s all very medical, except for the occasional faltering and fumbling; he glances sideways when one of the scientists drops his electrode  upon accidentally groping Bakugou’s chest, observing the man’s scarlet face curiously as he stutters out an apology and blindly fixes the electrode onto his arm.

 

Bakugou looks no more enthralled by the procedure than Shouto feels, jaw set and eyes fixed irritably on the wall; Shouto mentally catalogues the arm-patches and notes the metallic strip affixed between his pectorals, likely responsible for keeping his breathing regular. Even under his clothes Bakugou is largely unscarred, a rarity in their line of work that Shouto now suspects he might have his mother to thank for. There are four thin red lines near his hip that he recognises from graduation, and an ugly jagged scar that runs along his side, a memento from third year to match the one splayed across Izuku’s back; a bullet mark somewhere on his thigh, out of Shouto’s sight. Maybe it’s the years of watching Izuku destroy himself, but it suddenly seems to him that Bakugou rather has a knack for emerging from fights unscathed, at least physically.

 

He’s in remarkably good form, too, but this much is unsurprising. No one in their industry can afford to be out of shape, and Bakugou was already a lean powerhouse when they were fifteen. All the years have done is bulk him up further. He wonders abstractly whether he and Mirko share some common lineage somewhere, because thigh-wise there is a definite resemblance. 

 

Actually, now that he thinks about it-

 

“My eyes are up here, jackass,” Bakugou says, breaking through his day-dreaming; Shouto meets said eyes with the utmost innocence, finds them guarded but vaguely mocking. 

 

“I was looking at your patches. Is this one respiratory?”

 

“Yeah, heat-regulates the air in my lungs,” Bakugou replies, shifting to allow a scientist to tighten a clasp around his arm. “Trust you to fuck up breathing somehow.”

 

It occurs to Shouto that there are a number of very easy jokes to be made about his Quirk being breath-taking, but he has the self-respect not to say any of them aloud. 

 

They get dressed again, still in their hero costumes for authenticity’s sake, as Melissa and the others test the functionality of their monitors, making little adjustments for accuracy before giving them the green light.

 

“You’ve used the training room before, I presume, Todoroki,” Melissa says, hitting the lights as the other scientists file up to the observation deck. “Bakugou, do you need any familiarisation?”

 

Bakugou shakes his head. “I interned here.”

 

“Oh, that’s right!” Melissa exclaims, waving a hand apologetically. “I’m sorry, Izuku did tell me, it’s slipped my mind. Dad actually designed this place, did you know? Of course it’s been updated quite a bit across the years- but in its original form it was tailored specifically to Uncle Might! The dummies were even based on villains he’d fought.”

 

“That’s dedicated.”

 

“That’s love for you,” Melissa agrees, fondly, and claps her hands together. “Well, if you’re both familiar with the way it works, you might as well position yourselves and get to it, hm?”

 

There is a slight delay where Shouto’s mind is still caught on her prior statement, brows knitting together, but before he can voice his confusion she snaps her finger and shakes her head. “Ah, of course- before we begin, I should remind you that you are essentially medical miracles, so if you start at all feeling pain, you should be very clear about it. We will probably be able to detect it on-screen, but it’s very important that you don’t overexert yourselves for this- we don’t want to have to rush anyone off to the hospital.”

 

On that note, she flashes them an encouraging smile and bounds up the stairs. 

 

“I’ll take the titan,” Bakugou says, business-like, and strides off to the far end of the room. Shouto feels oddly cast adrift for a moment, then heads for the quick combat section.

 

He settles in amidst a circle of six dummies, stretches his legs and then his arms, a little stiff from all the bedrest. It’s close quarters combat he’s most worried about; letting off some giant explosion is undoubtedly far easier than achieving the meticulous command Bakugou exerts over his Quirk. It’s simple fact that Shouto is extremely good at controlling his own, but achieving said control came easier for him than it would have for Izuku or Bakugou. Fire and ice makes for a versatile arsenal; it takes a lot of initiative, instinct, and training to use explosives as a multi-purpose tool.

 

Initiating simulation,” an automated voice announces serenely, as Shouto rolls his shoulders one final time and raises his arms. “In five… four…. three…. two…. one…

 

With a shrill beep and mechanical whirring, the dummies burst into action, battering him from all sides. The hot sting of Bakugou’s Quirk courses through him, and he blasts one then the other, explosions erupting from his palms as he familiarises himself with the feeling. Fending off the next volley is easy enough.

 

It feels good, surprisingly, the sparking release of it- it had felt good in the adrenaline rush of fighting Kajiya, too, but he’d attributed that to the finality of it more than the Quirk use. Using it now is almost a relief- loosens the knot in his chest, power surging through him in a recognisable way as he weaves through attacks. It occurs to him as he launches two simultaneous hits in opposite directions that he’s not sure whether it’s just a rush of power comparable to his own Quirk or if the recognition comes from being conditioned to associate the specific use of Bakugou’s with winning a fight. 

 

He bounces back onto his heels, breathing sped up a little, dodges a double assault by blasting himself upwards unthinkingly. He stumbles a little doing it, drops back down, tries again. Bakugou keeps himself airborne on surplus energy, continuous movement; he has to concentrate to imitate him, pulse racing quite giddily as he lets go. The resulting explosion flings him up far higher than necessary, but he finds it a little exhilarating, propelled upwards on aftershocks alone, stomach flipping as he starts to plummet. Two palms outstretched, there; it comes easier, softening the landing, though it’s clumsier than Bakugou would ever be. 

 

A chain flung out at him is a near-miss; he falls back into Quirkless combat for a while, only enhancing his hits with the odd explosion as he keeps his assailants at bay. While he stalls he experiments, throwing in a kick or two, trying to keep track of his body. His own fighting style is very arm-focused, since he mainly uses his body as a conduit for his powers, more reliant on the changes to the environment that he causes than his own precise movements, but Bakugou does a lot with his legs, too, and controls his positioning very carefully, since it has far more of an impact on his attacks. 

 

The dummies change track, shifting into a higher gear again, so he grounds himself firmly and flexes his hand, tries to emulate an AP-shot. It’s not at all like making a small flame, or using a small amount of ice, which is simply a question of how much- with explosions he has to regulate type, too, he finds, and once he’s made one he can’t control its trajectory, so he needs to be thinking ahead before he’s even hitting. It’s a strenuous exercise. 

 

He gets the hang of smaller explosions after a scrape or two, though with little consistency, and by the time he’s somewhat satisfied with the outcome the poor dummies are in no state to withstand them. He falls back as they disappear back into the floor, wipes at his brow. He feels drenched in nitroglycerin.

 

There is another beeping sound, and he straightens, conscious of his own heavy breathing as he steps down. Where Bakugou is crouched, the titan dummy is also being wheeled back into the wall, one side melted and frost smattered across the walls. 

 

“OK, promising stuff, guys!” Melissa’s voice chimes through the speakers, drawing his gaze upwards. “You both seem fine for the hand to hand combat. How are you feeling?”

 

“Fantastic,” Bakugou says, sarcastic, brushing ice off his shoulder. 

 

“Great!” Melissa exclaims, as the room rearranges itself loudly, floor and ceiling reconstructing into what could pass for a collapsed building. “Because there’s four more of these to do.”

 

Shouto’s palms crackle.

 

 

 

They spend the next hour running through more specific situations- rescuing people from debris, fighting off an All-Might expy, simulating a rooftop brawl- that are mostly completed quite successfully, no fatal fuck-ups or complete missteps on anyone’s part. It is undisputedly more tiring than it should be, though, which Melissa assures them is not a symptom of their ill-adjusted bodies so much as a natural side-effect of fighting with someone else’s weapon of choice. Mostly it wears Shouto out in a mental way, having to overthink everything that comes naturally to him, filtering all of his moves through Bakugou’s style.

 

“It’s particularly important that you stay hydrated,” Melissa advises him, handing him a water bottle as they take a break, Shouto sat cross-legged on the cool metal floor as he wipes at his neck with a towel. “Since your Quirk is so sweat-reliant.”

 

Uncommonly flushed with exertion, Shouto drinks the offered water without complaint. His skin feels disgusting in a sort of satisfying way wherever his uniform sticks to it. 

 

Perched on a fake rock by his side, Bakugou has shedded his arm-wear, brightly coloured patches shimmering as he scratches around them. He is also heat-flushed, though the tips of his fingers are freezing; his darkened hair sticks to his neck where it’s visible above the collar. 

 

“We should fight each other,” Shouto says, struck by inspiration as he sets the bottle down. 

 

“What’s that?”

 

“We should fight each other,” Shouto repeats. “As our final test. There’s no one better equipped to test weaknesses and correct form.”

 

“Ah,” Melissa murmurs, glancing at Bakugou and back. For a moment she looks a little like Izuku, hand under her chin as she thinks it through. “It’s getting late, and perhaps it isn’t entirely safe to push you any further than we discussed with the doctors- but that does sound like a good idea.”

 

“Could keep it tame,” Bakugou says, having never done anything that could even remotely be described as tame in his life. “Set some limits.”

 

“That could work,” Melissa brightens, tapping her notepad in thought. “We’ll keep it very short- five minutes, maybe? Like a cool down exercise. It’ll make it easier for you two to feedback afterwards, if that’s what you were counting on doing.”

 

“You’re green-lighting us, then,” Shouto deduces, because there’d be no point in their comparing notes otherwise. She nods firmly.

 

“Absolutely. Of course, I don’t encourage you to take any big risks or engage in the fight of your lives, but you’re certainly capable of performing the basic motions of hero work for the next couple of days.”

 

“Thank fuck,” Bakugou declares, looking abruptly re-energized as he gets to his feet. “Well, come on then, icyhot, let’s have our nice cool down session.”

 

Shouto gives him a look to convey just how ominous that sounded, but follows suit, brushing his hair out of his eyes. Wet it’s even harder to see through.

 

“Oh, actually, Todoroki,” Melissa says, catching his wrist, “I thought you might make some use out of this.”

 

She slides what looks like a loopy elastic into his hand, and when he stares at it blankly she laughs and points at his head. “It’s to push your hair back. It keeps falling into your eyes.”

 

“Ah,” Shouto says, surprised, and slides it over his head, then pushes it up, marvelling at the sudden clarity when his forehead is freed. He casts her a grateful look, bows his head in thanks. “Thank you.”

 

Melissa’s gaze has gone a little funny, cheeks slightly pink, and she clears her throat. “You’re very welcome.”

 

A clang makes her jump back a good foot as Shouto shoots Bakugou an unimpressed look, gesturing to the two discarded gauntlets now lying between them. “What was that for?”

 

“I can’t use them,” Bakugou grumbles, fire dancing along his side as he glowers into the distance. “They’re not there to look pretty.”

 

This gives Shouto pause, and he gazes slowly at the gauntlets where they lie discarded, stomach twisting unhappily. God, Bakugou’s worn them- or some version of them- since their first year of UA. Over time he’s actually kind of forgotten they serve a purpose, aren’t just basic elements of his uniform in the same way that his mask is. 

 

He reaches to pick one up, absurdly heavy as always, slots it over his arm. It won’t quite fit, since his sleeves bunch up beneath it and their arms are different sizes, but he can’t imagine fighting with it either way, given how awkward it is to wear. 

 

“I’ll fight without them. It’s too short notice to adjust to their weight in combat, and I don’t expect to be in any fight where I’ll be needing that much reserve power.”

 

“Whatever,” Bakugou sighs, cracking his knuckles, bare-armed save his patches now. “Let’s get to it.”

 

“Five minutes,” Melissa warns, making her way back to the stairs. “And no funny business, please!”

 

They exchange a look. Americans.

 

“Starting the timer…. Now!”

 

True to form, they’ve barely found their footing before Bakugou lobs what can only be described as a massive fireball at him, flames roaring through the air. Shouto curses, dodges, and then propels himself upwards, twin explosions blasting him into the air to avoid Bakugou’s next hit, the earth shaking beneath them. 

 

He free-falls as he readjusts his aim, launches a blast in Bakugou’s direction as he dives towards him, and Bakugou quite literally throws ice at the explosion to halt its trajectory, collision shaking through the air as he jumps back. Shouto lands hard, legs spread to control the landing, has to bend over double to avoid getting hit in the face by the next fireball, which really only misses scorching him because the wind extinguishes some of it before it reaches him.

 

Not one to enjoy being so back-footed, he shoulder-rolls beneath the next hit, springs upwards to detonate a rapid-fire series of hits in Bakugou’s direction. Bakugou ducks and weaves, looking annoyed by how grounded he is, and one of them actually clips him in the shoulder solely because Shouto miscalculates its size. His eyes flash.

 

The next blow gets countered mid-way by a blaze of fire, impact throwing Shouto off-balance again, and he narrowly avoids getting scalped by an ice shard, throwing his palms out and launching himself off the ground sloppily so that it ends up skimming his cheek instead.

 

He’s airborne already, so he curls his body up like a cannonball and avoids several spitting flames, releasing his limbs as he gains on Bakugou so he can try and tackle him from above, a move which Bakugou predictably side-steps, skidding back heavily so the explosion goes off just past his head. Shouto drops heavily to his feet, blasts satisfyingly through another volley of ice, arms crackling enthusiastically as he gains speed, Bakugou’s lip curled as he falls back. 

 

He launches an explosion that makes his shoulder ache, and Bakugou has to drop down to avoid it, eyes narrowing in irritated concentration as Shouto moves to press the advantage, but he’s barely taken a step before Bakugou slams his boot down hard, and a burst of flames shoots up close enough to him that his nose gets singed.

 

He flies back, arc controlled, lands with his leg extended and his arms locked into position, barreling hits at Bakugou as he weaves closer, flames crackling loudly as they match each other blow for blow. It’s a contained mess of heat and force, and it feels familiar in a bizarre sort of way- even the sound of their fighting is grounding somehow, recognisable despite the thrown rhythm. 

 

He knows fire, he thinks to himself, as he falls back, letting his arms rest for a second; knows its properties, how it reacts. Bakugou is obviously more reliant on fire because ice is a far cry from explosives, so knowing how it works means knowing how to get to him. He watches a flame arc his way, counts the seconds, then jumps, following its trajectory back to the source, a hair-breadth above it to count for the air moving around it, heat scalding beneath him as he dives. 

 

Bakugou kills the flame immediately, blasting ice upwards in defence, but Shouto knows very well how non-instantaneous the switch is. Before Bakugou has even fully raised his arm Shouto is hitting his other side dead-on, and Bakugou grunts, goes flying backwards hard, ice crumbling at his fingertips as the reverberations carry him through the air.

 

On anyone else this would be game over, but this is Bakugou- Bakugou and his mythical fucking reflexes. Even as he falls back, Shouto still mid-landing, he flings his hurt arm behind him, and in the moment that fire erupts from his palm in one enormous blast he is twisting himself forwards, upwards, bearing down on Shouto in the blink of an eye.

 

Shouto blasts an explosion at him, all perfected aim, and Bakugou loses the Quirk to shift trajectory, pounces at him like an animal on leftover momentum alone. It’s so unexpected that Shouto lets him barrel into him, knocking them both to the ground, and as his shoulders hit the floor hard he hears the shrill ringing of the timer blaring from the speakers above.

 

“That was not five minutes!” Bakugou protests, voice loud from up close, as Shouto blinks from beneath his heavy weight. His whole body feels almost unbearably warm.

 

“I let you go for ten,” Melissa’s voice says, somewhere between amused and impressed. “Call it a draw.”

 

Absolutely not.

 

Bakugou looks down at him from where he’s straddling his waist, features hard to read with the light behind him. “You’re the one on the floor.”

 

“You didn’t land any hits.”

 

“You didn’t land any either,” Bakugou starts, except when Shouto raises a brow and jabs a finger at his charred-looking shoulder he hisses through his teeth and wrenches his arm away. 

 

“Did so.”

 

“You just got slammed into the ground,” Bakugou retorts, pointedly, raising his fist as if to hit him. “And you wouldn’t have gotten back up.”

 

“Within the confines of the fight, that’s up for debate,” Shouto counters, and pushes himself up onto his elbows, palms raw from abuse. The movement makes him halt when he realises how close their faces have suddenly become, Bakugou’s fist now hovering inches away from his cheek and their breaths mingling.

 

His brain has abruptly deserted him; he can’t remember why he pushed himself up in the first place.

 

The door to the training room clangs open, Melissa’s voice echoing towards them, and Bakugou jumps off him so quickly he nearly concusses him. Shouto gets to his feet a little dazedly. Maybe he hit the floor harder than he thought.

 

“Very impressive stuff,” Melissa is saying, when he refocuses, tablet in hand. “I’ve emailed you both your respective performance reports- really only a few minor things to consider, I’m sure you’ll have a lot more to say than I do.”

 

Bakugou nods, runs a hand through his hair, eyes already elsewhere, so it befalls Shouto to incline his head in thanks.

 

“You’ve been very helpful.”

 

“Just doing the job,” Melissa dismisses, but she flushes again, a little, and this time Shouto thinks oh, right. 

 

 

 

It’s late afternoon by the time they’re officially cleared to go, but no one expects them to burst into action the day of their hospital release, and Akaba’s neutral statement on the matter really serves as a threat that if he goes about this too quickly she’ll fit another sexy photoshoot into his schedule somehow, so once they’ve taken advantage of the Might Tower facilities and showered, Shouto feels like it’s pretty obvious they might as well hang around and discuss tactics for the rest of the evening.

 

Bakugou apparently does not share this mindset, which actually catches him a little off guard, because it seems like such a moot point. 

 

“You’re going?” Shouto asks, surprise seeping into his voice as Bakugou laces his boots (aggressively, everything he does is so unduly aggressive). “Oh.”

 

Oh, what,” Bakugou parrots, looking annoyed as he drops one boot and replaces it with the other. “I haven’t been home in two days, I’m starving, and these stupid patches itch.”

 

“We still need to give feedback,” Shouto says. Wonders if he’s missing something. 

 

“So I’ll text you,” Bakugou counters, yanking at his laces. “It’s not like you need a hands-on demonstration. You managed to pull off an explodapult just fine without any of my input.”

 

He sounds- angry, Shouto realises, now verging on baffled. So he asks flat-out: “Are you angry that I did?”

 

“Why would I be- no, I’m not fucking angry,” Bakugou snaps, pausing in his aggressive boot-lacing to give him a heated look. “It did the damn job, why would I be angry about that?”

 

You don’t like people using your moves, Shouto wants to say, or maybe I finished her off using your Quirk, but even as he thinks it he knows that can’t be right, because Bakugou’s not like that, really, not anymore, not when it comes to work. Instead he meets his gaze firmly. 

 

“I don’t know. You sound angry.”

 

Bakugou looks like he wants to blow up at him, shoulders taut, but then he looks away, deflates, returns to his boot. “I’m not. I just- look, forget about it, okay? It’s been a long day.”

 

This is a highly unsatisfactory answer, but since he seems less frenetic Shouto drops it, focuses on his more pressing queries. “I’d rather we work on this together. In person.”

 

“I just said-“

 

“I know, but it won’t work by text. Not for me, anyways.” He pauses, frowns. “If we start now we can get it done early, and then you can go home.”

 

“And what, eat dinner in the cafeteria?” Bakugou retorts, acerbic, though he seems resigned now. Shouto shrugs minutely.

 

“Or order food, I don’t mind.”

 

Bakugou doesn’t answer for a good thirty seconds, expression stormy, and Shouto feels wrong-footed, shifts a little, pushes on: “If you have to go home for some reason-“

 

“I’ve told you the reasons,” Bakugou snaps, immediate, but he sighs, fishes his phone out of his pocket. “Fine. Just let me warn Eijirou.”

 

He’s lying about his motives, Shouto is pretty sure. He can’t remember when last he found it so difficult to read him, and the thought makes him uneasy. More than once recently he’s found his demeanour foreign to him somehow. 

 

Bakugou slides his phone away, marches moodily out of the changing room, and Shouto follows, feeling like he’s fifteen and trailing Bakugou to their remedial license course, trying to understand why he has to be such a contrary asshole all the time.

 

They pick up dinner from the cafeteria, because (per Bakugou) they might as well make the whole event as time-efficient as possible, then return to the training room, apparently primarily so Bakugou can complain about the price of the food, the look of the food, and then the taste of the food. Shouto just eats his cold soba and tunes him out.

 

“Right,” Bakugou declares, once they’ve rid themselves of their trays. “Don’t rely on your arms so much. Don’t take so long to launch a second blast. Don’t go on the defensive so easily. Don’t use anything stronger than AP-shot auto-canon on people or you’ll kill them. That’s the main shit covered.”

 

Shouto raises a hand. “Was I supposed to take notes there?”

 

Bakugou scowls. “I’m not repeating myself.”

 

It’s good advice, in practice, so Shouto ignores the bad attitude. He argues Bakugou into a corner and then spends about fifteen minutes doing basic manoeuvres as he tries to incorporate it into his movements, Bakugou’s stubborn silence defeated by his innate need to correct. As Shouto moves he produces an endless stream of criticism from his perch on an overturned dummy, mostly useful, sometimes capricious.

 

“Stop,” he declares at some point, crossing over to Shouto where he stands doing target practice. “You’re doing that completely fucking wrong.”

 

“You couldn’t have told me that five minutes ago?” Shouto asks, his shoulders aching from the push-back and his tone exasperated. Bakugou only glares.

 

“I couldn’t tell what you were fucking up five minutes ago. Make an explosion. Right now.”

 

Shouto sighs internally, complies, small explosion flickering in his palm. Bakugou clicks his tongue triumphantly.

 

“Yeah, that’s awful. Look- your Quirk, it’s like a resource, okay? You have ice, and you have fire, and you make some and then you use it, which is confusing as fuck. My Quirk doesn’t work like that. You have to control the entire explosion while you’re making it.”

 

“I noticed that,” Shouto says, less combative, shaking sweat off his palm. “But I don’t know how to do it differently.”

 

“I think-“ Bakugou starts, hand miming the motion, then pulls a face, frustrated. “Try thinking about it in terms of magnitude, if that’s more your speed. When you’re drawing from it- quantify it.”

 

This does not come naturally to him either, but he focuses, feels the buzzing under his skin, imagines he’s readying himself to unleash a very contained ice barrier. When the explosion bursts from his palm it’s about football sized, and when he braces against it it doesn’t knock him over.

 

“Better,” Bakugou concedes, not even begrudgingly, as he concentrates on his own Quirk, applying his logic in reverse. It takes him two tries, but on the third the flames that ripple down his arm seem more orderly than they have all day.

 

There is a beat where they contemplate each other, no doubt struck silent by the inherent weirdness of seeing someone else handle their Quirk, and then Shouto says: “Don’t throw your attacks so much. Don’t use fire for flight. Don’t make your ice so brittle. Don’t-“

 

“Oh, fuck you.”

 

They swap places; he watches Bakugou use his Quirk, lobbing fireballs and ice shields left and right, interjects every couple of movements when he makes a choice Shouto wouldn’t have. For all that he fights nothing like him, Bakugou at least appears spectacularly more at ease with Shouto’s Quirk than Shouto feels with his, which has to be mostly posturing but still looks fairly impressive. It’s beyond strange to watch someone else with his Quirk, from an outside perspective- stranger still because it’s Bakugou. He feels- thrown, but also kind of engrossed, vindicated in a possessive sort of way. 

 

“Do I call you icyhot now?”

 

“Shut the hell up, Todoroki.”

 

He falls silent as Bakugou winds down, wonders abruptly if maybe Bakugou’s frayed nerves are simply the consequence of the switch itself. It’s certainly not been particularly enjoyable for Shouto. Actually using the Quirk has eased things for him, at least in the sense that he feels more in command of himself, but inaction makes the disconnect potent. It’s fairly possible that Bakugou is just feeling like shit because he’s got someone else’s parasitical Quirk shoved in him. 

 

He was the one to cause the switch. To save Bakugou from getting seriously burnt, sure, but Bakugou has never liked to be saved, and in his waking moments Shouto has been able to envisage alternatives- he could have created a way out for him, pulled him out after himself, shielded him bodily, something. They’re not good alternatives, but they existed. If Bakugou blames him for their current state, maybe his reason for not wanting to stay behind is as simple as resentment. 

 

It’s not a good reason for acting like a jackass, but it makes Shouto feel somewhat guilty anyways, because he’d made the decision to switch twice without Bakugou having any say in it, and Bakugou was only even there because Shouto requested for him to be.

 

I owe you, he thinks, as Bakugou knocks the last dummy flat. It feels empty somehow.

 

“Not much feedback towards the end there,” Bakugou says, joining him by the bench. He seems less worked up, though there’s still something tense in the way he holds himself.

 

“You were handling it fine.”

 

Bakugou flicks him a look, looks away, stretching his back from side to side. “Guess your Quirk’s not that big of a deal after all.”

 

“Right,” Shouto replies, dryly, because in this at least he is transparent. The training room is empty now, their obstacles folding away, and it seems imposingly big, all gleaming metal and open space. He imagines All Might pulling late nights in it, thinking of his friend abroad. 

 

This latest exercise hasn’t tired either of them out much, though he feels his arms straining a little under the patches, and his palms are itchy with overuse, the way they were years ago before he started getting callouses. 

 

He looks at Bakugou, remembers the way his stomach had dropped seeing him surrounded by fire. No, he doesn’t feel sorry for the choice he made. Even if it the switch had been permanent, he thinks, even then- 

 

He can’t finish that thought; it feels overwhelming.

 

Aloud, thoughts jumping in a different direction, he says: “You should make a fire wall.”

 

Bakugou straightens, looks at him quizzically. “What?”

 

He’s not sure either, except that he’d been thinking about Kajiya, and flinging her to the ground, and the brief burst of exhilaration he’d felt, even with the wrong Quirk inside of him.

 

“We only have each other’s Quirks for a few days,” Shouto says, slowly, putting his thoughts in order. “And it’s unlikely we’ll really be going all out during that time.”

 

He doesn’t bother to say that this is a one in a million shot at using each other’s Quirk freely, because it’s not like either of them to admit to ever wanting to trade Quirks for a day. But it’s crossed his mind over the years, watching Bakugou perform some kind of stunt, and he is dead certain the reverse is true, because if nothing else Bakugou has always recognised him as competition, and also because Shouto’s Quirk is factually impressive.

 

“So, what,” Bakugou questions, not bothering to challenge the omission either. “You want to blow shit up?”

 

Shouto tilts his head in assent.

 

For a long second, Bakugou stares at the door like he can somehow teleport himself through it on willpower alone; then he gives in. “Ah, fuck it. Let’s see you blow shit up then.”

 

 

 

It is at least a full half hour later than intended by the time Shouto finishes blowing shit up, and whatever attempt at precaution guided them originally has long since dissipated into chaos.

 

They’re not reckless, obviously- they don’t overexert themselves, or do anything seriously dangerous. It’s just that exertion and danger are relative concepts, and their Quirks lend themselves to very broad definitions of both. 

 

As it turns out, despite their general obnoxiousness, Bakugou’s gauntlets really are quite conducive to launching explosions the size of small houses. Also, launching explosions the size of small houses is as fun as it looks.

 

They are, nonetheless, generally serious adults, and so eventually when Bakugou says: “No, fuck off, this is the last one,” he actually means it, and Shouto agrees, aware that his arms are throbbing and he is very much out of breath. 

 

They make it count, at least; Bakugou jumps down from his perch to slam his feet to the ground in rapid succession, ice shooting up almost to the ceiling, and Shouto puts his hands together and fires off an explosion big enough to tear through it, plummets down through the hole he’s made, displaced air whistling in his ears as he drops.

 

The ice is shattering behind him when he lands, crumbling haphazardly to the floor so that he uses one last blast to avoid getting caught in the fallout, stumbling a little on the second landing. His body aches, medically dulled fatigue rearing its head at long last, and he’s panting a little, but he feels more human than he has since- well, since the phone call, if he’s honest with himself.

 

The air in the room is cool from the ice, making him shiver a little, still unused to the feeling, but it quells the sweating some, at least. He catches the towel Bakugou flings at him with one hand, pushes his hairband up with the other. Melissa Shields is a life-saver; as soon as this job is over he’s bulk-ordering fifty of them.

 

He dries himself off a little, deplorably sticky still, exhales longly. He feels the good kind of sore, where he knows he’ll sleep unperturbed as soon as he lies down.

 

He’s not sure what time it is, actually. Maybe eight. He thinks he’ll head straight for bed when he gets back. Or have his third shower of the day.

 

He takes a seat next to Bakugou, resting his legs, and passes the towel back to him. Bakugou wrinkles his nose but shoves it in his bag. For a moment they sit in companionable silence, regaining their breaths, and Shouto feels almost drowsy, like he could close his eyes and fall asleep quite contentedly where he sits.

 

Bakugou shifts, rubs a little at his ice-spattered forearm, and Shouto watches him for a moment before pressing a knuckle briefly to the centre of his palm.

 

“Try melting it from there.”

 

Bakugou doesn’t. Instead, he turns abruptly towards Shouto, a flash of his earlier temper in his eyes, and clenches his fists like he’s restraining himself. “Yesterday- why’d you do it?”

 

He searches for context, finds none. Bakugou’s posture has gone taut again. “Do what?”

 

“You-“ Bakugou starts, then stops, jaw working, knuckles white. Shouto’s heart skips a beat with something like anxiety. “We had her cornered by the end. So why’d you let her swap Quirks with you?”

 

Shouto frowns slightly, can’t bring himself to break eye contact when Bakugou looks so intense. “It only occurred to me at the last second. I thought throwing her like that was the best way of knocking her out without scorching her.”

 

“You could have just knocked her out yourself, up close,” Bakugou counters, something urgent and unwilling to his tone. “There was no need for my Quirk.”

 

“I guess not,” Shouto answers, slower now. He has a feeling he knows what Bakugou’s asking about, but he can’t fathom why it matters. He considers acting like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, for a moment, the way he usually does when people pry, but there’s something off about Bakugou and he doesn’t lie to him as a rule, so he keeps his expression neutral and raises a shoulder. “It just felt wrong to leave it with her.”

 

Two strands of hair have managed to break free of his hairband, he realises, vaguely, and he moves to push them back, except before he can get that far Bakugou’s frost-tinged hand has wrapped vice-like around his wrist, and there is something sort of murderous in his gaze, a headiness he can’t place.

 

“Bakugou?”

 

Bakugou exhales through his teeth, releasing his wrist with visible difficulty, and Shouto cannot read him at all but he looks so strained it hurts. “What if she never woke up, huh? You think about that, in the moment?”

 

It sounds like a last-ditch attempt of some kind; Shouto frowns. “I didn’t have the time. It wouldn’t have changed my mind.”

 

“It wouldn’t-“

 

“No,” Shouto says, resolute and getting sort of nervously irked now. “You had mine already. I wasn’t going to let her keep yours. Seriously, Bakugou, what-”

 

Bakugou moves so fast it takes him embarrassingly long to register what is happening, his mind trying to compute the sudden wet-hot-good feeling on his mouth. 

 

It’s not the first time he’s been kissed, but it’s Bakugou, kissing him, hand tangled in his hair, and this matters, Shouto realises, pulse thundering, because it feels- it feels-

 

His eyes snap shut on instinct, lips parting like he wants to say something, but it slips his mind. For one indescribable moment all of his attention focuses in on the sensation, nerves singing, and he forgets himself.

 

Bakugou wrenches back so hard Shouto jerks forwards after him, eyes flying open in belated shock. His face is pale, and his eyes are wide, his expression unrecognisable.

 

“Fuck,” Bakugou spits, hoarsely, and then shoves himself to his feet, throws his bag over his shoulder and leaves, and Shouto sits there and watches him go, rooted to the spot.

 

The door slams shut violently. Unconsciously, he raises a hand to his chest.

 

It hurts to breathe.

 

“Fuck,” Shouto echoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

At some point between leaving Might Tower and returning to it the next morning, Shouto comes to several conclusions.

 

The first and most difficult to accept is that it was in fact Bakugou, and not some clone, impostor, or hallucination, who kissed him in the training room. He knows this solely because when he’d left the building the office security guard had helpfully informed him that he had frost in his hair, and no matter how he spins that he simply can’t reach any other conclusion than the Bakugou of the fight against Kajiya being the same one who’d laid one on him and then stormed off.

 

So Bakugou had kissed him, then, and he doesn’t know what to make of that.

 

He does try, for a solid fifteen minutes, to reinterpret the whole event as something else. Maybe Shouto had briefly blacked out and Bakugou was attempting CPR. Maybe Bakugou had lost his balance and landed on his mouth. Maybe Bakugou had been trying to get his Quirk back by sticking his tongue down his throat. (This last part is pure embellishment). 

 

He analyses the whole thing like some kind of mission report. The known facts: Bakugou had kissed him and then absconded. The motives: unknowable. 

 

People kiss people. People kiss people all the time. A significant number of his friends have kissed him, one way or the other, over the years, be it under the mistletoe or by accident during a fight (Izuku, once, quite spectacularly), and it hadn’t been strange. 

 

Bakugou is not people. 

 

He Googles it. Google proves unhelpful. So he falls back on what he does know, or what he thought he did, at least, which is Bakugou. 

 

He remembers with abrupt clarity how he’d sat and mulled their relationship over, on the way back from dropping Izuku off at the airport, unsure how to classify them, and it feels absurd that all these months later he’s somehow just as lost. He and Bakugou are- friends, yes, he knows this now, have been friends for some time. This suggests that Bakugou at least likes him on some level. And it feels like he does, Shouto decides, reviewing his memories, because for all of his complaining and insulting he hasn’t refused an invitation once, and he’d let him sleep on his couch, and he enjoys their back and forth. So they’re friends, and they like each other, and that still does not make what took place in the training room make any more sense.

 

Kissing someone is not a platonic action. His friends have kissed him platonically, but for all that he softens when drunk, Bakugou is generally bristly and touch-averse and probably the last person on Earth who would spontaneously kiss someone out of overwhelming friendliness. So if Bakugou kissed him, it was not platonic, and that makes it proof of one of two things: either Bakugou loves him, or Bakugou wants him.

 

(At this point in the evening, Shouto digs up a half-empty pack of cigarettes he’d shoved behind a bookcase.)

 

On some level, bizarre as it feels to acknowledge it, Bakugou must love him, because they all love each other, in their incestuous tight-knit group, after everything they’ve been through. But that he might love him in the marriage sense, in the way Hisoka and Camie look at each other, in the way Izuku’s throat still goes visibly dry around Ochako after all this time- that he can’t imagine. Bakugou likes him more than he lets on, and certainly he cares about him, but love? If there’s one person in the world Shouto finds harder to imagine in love than himself, it’s Bakugou. 

 

He tries to picture it, can only conjure the face Bakugou pulls when he’s imitating Shouto, all glamour and false sincerity. Then he tries to imagine Bakugou with someone, holding hands and taking romantic strolls, and physically recoils at the incongruity. 

 

The best he can muster is Bakugou married, because for all of his bite Bakugou is disturbingly domestic, but all that does is conjure images of Bakugou and Kirishima’s apartment, which makes him feel sort of ill, so he drops it.

 

Unsurprisingly, then, Bakugou can’t have kissed him as a result of some irrepressible romantic attraction reaching a boiling point. Which means that if he meant it, and Shouto thinks he did, or he wouldn’t have looked so mortified in the aftermath, then it’s because he’s physically attracted to him. And this, finally, Shouto can sort of buy. He’s never seen Bakugou demonstrate an iota of attraction to anyone in the six years he’s known him, but he’s human, beneath the mythos, and from what he’s gathered Shouto is sort of everyone’s type. He’s seen it in movies, he knows how it goes- sometimes this sort of thing just creeps up on people. It’s actually pretty plausible that seeing Shouto use his Quirk was what got him going. Bakugou strikes him as the type of person to find that attractive.

 

What remains to be elucidated, then, is whether this was some kind of freak accident, a one-off incident to ignore, or whether it goes beyond that. At first he is certain that it is the former, because it feels more in character for Bakugou to just do something blindly emotive in the heat of the moment and never again, but when prompted his brain seems to have an endless supply of alternative evidence on hand. That moment at the party, forgotten in the turbulent aftermath but now glaringly obvious, where he’s relatively sure Bakugou would have let him kiss him, in retrospect. The weight of his gaze at the bar. The countless times he’s noticed something off in the way Bakugou looked at him, without knowing what to make of it. 

 

A further complication: the more he looks into this, the more he starts realising things about himself. Because he has done a whole lot of noticing, as it is rapidly becoming obvious. 

 

It all feels surreal. He finds himself simultaneously incapable of accepting this newfound reality and somehow completely unsurprised by it. This is Bakugou. If any of their friends knew what happened he thinks they’d haul them back to the hospital to get checked for brain damage. The thought of telling anyone is borderline hysterical.

 

Hi, Izuku. Sorry to bother. Remember that whole thing where I’ve spent over two decades resolutely resistant to any form of interpersonal attraction? Turns out that was a lie. Also, putting Bakugou in the ER in third year was my sexual awakening, I think. Call me back.

 

It can’t be possible that he’s somehow remained oblivious to this for a good three years, and yet it is. That Bakugou is easy on the eyes is not shocking- a lot of his friends are, and there’s no accounting for taste. That the inexplicable breathless feeling he gets around him sometimes is not heatstroke comes as a much more damning revelation. 

 

This all could be fine, he reasons, at some ungodly hour of the night. Physical attraction- he’s always felt somewhat above it, but it’s not like he has some kind of moral opposition to it. In a way if it’s only Bakugou it’s probably for the best, because he’s obviously quite capable of keeping himself in check around him. And it’s reciprocal, at that, which brings him up short but is objectively a good thing. Wanting Bakugou is not catastrophic if Bakugou wants him back- it keeps them on even footing.

 

It occurs to him then that the ball is in his court. Bakugou has clearly been fighting this for a while, but he’s made his move, though he doubtless regrets it now. It’s up to Shouto to decide if he wants to pretend like it never happened or not. 

 

Reasonably, he should probably do exactly that; he can very clearly visualise all of his friends frantically advising him not to pursue any kind of covert relationship with the person who wanted his hero name to be King Explosion Murder. He’s just struggling to figure out why exactly that is, because personally all he can think of are the pros of the situation. They’re both private and extremely work-focused adults, so it’s not like this is realistically going to impact their careers or much of their personal lives. No one else even has to know; he can’t imagine Bakugou is keen on broadcasting the news to anyone, and they’re both smart enough to keep this away from the press. More importantly, they’re on the same page about what they want from each other, so there’s no need to worry about emotional complications. 

 

He recalls the abrupt aching in his chest in the aftermath of the kiss and shoves the thought away. 

 

That brief hurt does not mean there are feelings involved. He categorically cannot like Bakugou romantically. They’re friends, fine, and he might want to jump his bones, but he doesn’t have butterflies, or swoon when he walks into a room, or daydream about feeding him chocolates; the thought of waltzing through rose petals with him makes him no less nauseous than it normally would. Even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t matter, because Bakugou doesn’t like him that way, and he can think of few things that appeal to him less than unreciprocated affections for Katsuki Bakugou of all people.

 

No, he knows where they stand. He just needs to make a move to show it.

 

He finally falls asleep sometime in the early morning, worn and filled with an unfamiliar sense of trepidation; his last conscious thought is that if Camie knew about this she would lose her shit. 

 

 

He has little recollection of how he gets to work come Saturday morning. He wakes up disoriented, sparking holes into his bedsheet, upon which the events of the past days return to him in one steady rush, and after that he’s so engrossed in speculation that he forgets himself entirely. He goes mechanically through his morning routine, then appears on the steps of Might Tower with ten minutes to spare and no clear idea of how he got there.

 

It only strikes him that the office is unusually empty when he reaches his floor, upon which it finally occurs to him that it is technically the weekend. Heroes work odd schedules, but the other agency workers usually take weekends off, so the only reason there’s anyone around is due to the extra workload from the prison break. 

 

His disoriented musing is interrupted by an amused cough behind him; he turns to find Akaba striding by with a knowing glint in her eye and a coffee in hand, looking far more awake than anyone has the right to be at a quarter to nine on a Saturday after several days of constant stress.

 

“Lost your sense of time, Todoroki?”

 

He had, as a matter of fact. Considering the events of the past week, he thinks he can be forgiven for it. 

 

He finds himself unsure of how to kill time until Bakugou shows up. If their Quirks weren’t in the state they’re in, he wouldn’t have gone to the office at all- in situations like these, his modus operandi is usually to go directly into the areas where the villains were last seen and operate from there. Instead, he winds up distractedly rereading his briefs from Hawks and the NPA, cataloguing the strengths and weaknesses of the villains he’s after with one eye on the door.

 

Despite the added wait and the unfamiliarity of his distracted state of mind, he finds himself quite grateful for Kajiya’s prolonged comatose state. A selfish thought, but without the excuse of having to work together he is certain that Bakugou would have managed to avoid him entirely for the next six months, and he really is not good at managing that sort of melodrama. Fortunately for him, and less fortunately for Bakugou, work is the one thing he can trust the blonde never to slack on no matter his personal qualms: until their Quirks are restored, he has to at least minimally interact with Shouto for the next couple of days.

 

This does not mean that talking to him about this is going to be easy, Shouto knows. For one thing, he is still not entirely sure that Bakugou won’t find a way to return to active duty with Kirishima as back-up, stranding Shouto in the office. For another, even if Bakugou shows up in personam, he is remarkably good at only hearing what he wants to hear, and also at relentlessly rebuffing any unwanted attempts at conversation. That he hasn’t done either of these things to Shouto in quite some time is irrelevant: it’s an innate talent.

 

Beeping from his monitor alerts him of Bakugou’s arrival at the office sometime around nine, his heart briefly in his throat as he stares at the screen. It’s probably best if he intercepts him himself- at the very least it will stop him from working himself up for no good reason until Bakugou appears in his doorframe.

 

Despite his stern mental remonstrations, his breath catches a little when he sees him glowering by reception, because his wild theorising feels abruptly real in a way that it wasn’t before. Bakugou’s entire demeanour is shuttered- not especially aggressive, even, just untouchable, expression stony and eyes like flint. 

 

“Good morning,” Shouto says, uncommonly self-aware. 

 

Bakugou grunts in response and shoulders past him to the stairs. 

 

He half-expects to have to show him the way, but Bakugou navigates his way around confidently, which he would, Shouto recognises, having worked at the Tower for a year. They reach Shouto’s office in what feels like thirty seconds with no further words exchanged.

 

This much he expected, but the moment he closes the door behind him Bakugou meets his gaze with unusual discomfort and clenches his jaw. 

 

“I know you’re going to say some shit about yesterday, so before I kill myself with a stapler- just fucking forget about it. It’s not gonna happen again and it wasn’t supposed to happen in the first place.”

 

Before he can even react Bakugou has pushed past him towards the eraser-board, back firmly to him as he launches into speech.

 

“There are twenty three escaped prisoners still at large in Tokyo. This lot is easy pickings, not worth the bother unless we spot them on route somewhere else. Hawks has already handled this asshole, so that leaves these three as the main priority. Since we know roughly where Dotani is likely to be it makes the most sense to go for him first.”

 

It strikes him as he blinks in somewhat shell-shocked silence that there is something very unpleasant in being confronted with such an unyielding wall of rejection. He sends a quick mental apology to everyone who knew him in his teenaged years.

 

“Bakugou-” 

 

It’s like he’s not even in the room; Bakugou continues unperturbed. “If we’re going after Dotani, since he’s just some dumbass who can punch hard, beating him’s not gonna be the problem. The real shitshow will be containing the damage.”

 

“Bakugou.”

 

“Cleanest way of going about it is getting him off the ground, but that depends on if you think you’ve got enough of a handle on flying,” Bakugou persists, staunchly. “If you’re not going to be able to maintain flight long enough then I’ll try fixing some shit with the ice.”

 

He’s certainly got better at hiding it over the years, but frost is creeping onto the marker, so Shouto isn’t fooled by his composure. So be it; he squares his shoulders and plants himself between Bakugou and the board, expectantly intrusive.

 

Bakugou’s eyes narrow, but he stays put, gritting his teeth. “Move.”

 

It’s not the way he’d planned to go about this, but he refuses to spend the rest of the day held aggressively at arm’s length, so he stays put, fixes Bakugou intently. 

 

“Listen to me first.”

 

“If it’s not about work, I don’t give a shit,” Bakugou snaps, abrasive. His eyes are fixed stubbornly on the board. “Save it.”

 

“So you can run away some more?”

 

It is somewhat reassuring that this blatant taunt still works, Bakugou’s eyes flashing as he loses some of the distance. 

 

“I’m not fucking running away, I’m fast-forwarding to the part where you get over the shit that happened yesterday.”

 

“You mean when you kissed me.”

 

“Fuck you,” Bakugou bites out, looking properly furious now, but also sort of miserable, which has the dual effect of de-ageing him and making Shouto abruptly realise that if Bakugou has been so cagey it’s not out of pure embarrassment but because he thinks his advances were unwanted.

 

Well, shit. That might need some rectification. This whole time he’s found his own actions so retrospectively obvious that the possibility that Bakugou had gone into this blindly hadn’t even occurred to him.

 

He considers his options, then moves past Bakugou to pull the shutters on his glass wall. When he turns around Bakugou looks defensive again, but his gaze has sharpened; Shouto stamps down on his inexplicable nerves. He has nothing to lose here- just needs to set the record straight, keep his cool, make sure Bakugou knows they’re on the same page.

 

His voice is carefully impassive when he speaks. “You didn’t have to run off. I wasn’t going to reject you.”

 

Bakugou’s features twist disbelievingly, suspicion warring with something novel and open that makes Shouto’s gut clench. “You better not be fucking with me.”

 

“When do I ever lie to you,” Shouto sighs, habitually long-suffering. “I’m serious.”

 

Bakugou’s brow furrows, but he looks less hunted, more calculating. “That so?”

 

“It doesn’t have to change anything,” Shouto adds, dispelling any further concerns that he might have misinterpreted the action for something it wasn’t. “So you don’t need to freak out about it.”

 

Something flashes through Bakugou’s face, like it had in the aftermath of the Kajiya fight, and for a moment Shouto thinks he’s said something wrong somehow, or that he’s invented the whole thing. When Bakugou speaks again he is at his most controlled, gaze analytic and tone almost devoid of emotive tells. “You’re saying you want- what, exactly?”

 

Shouto blinks. “I think the technical term is friends with benefits, but-“

 

“Forget I fucking asked,” Bakugou interrupts forcibly, looking pained. “God, did you Google this shit?”

 

Shouto may or may not evade his gaze. Bakugou looks like he is reconsidering his life choices, but when their eyes lock again he calms, something serious and evaluative to his features. “And you actually want that?”

 

“No, I throw myself at everyone who kisses me,” Shouto replies dryly, and moves towards him before he can talk himself out of it, chest tightening in trepidation. “I liked it.” 

 

Bakugou exhales, sounding a little incredulous, but he doesn’t budge, just meets Shouto’s eyes with a challenging spark. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Shouto echoes. There are sparks on his fingertips, as much of a giveaway as anything he could say or do, but he remembers how gobsmacked he’d felt on that bench, feels like he owes Bakugou some transparency of his own, even beyond his increasingly undeniable urge to move of his own volition. It’s the wrong simile, but it feels like throwing the first punch when he moves in, his pulse electric, eyes squeezed shut. 

 

His hands fist in Bakugou’s shirt upon contact; he is hyperaware of Bakugou’s fingers when they find purchase on the back of his neck, lips slick against each other. It feels like he’s vibrating out of his skin, stomach flip-flopping; when Bakugou bites lightly at his lip he stifles an incriminating noise of surprise. It’s good in a sort of suffocating way. He feels a distant retroactive sympathy for everyone who’s ever lusted after him, because he gets it now, his famed mental fortitude collapsing like a house of cards in the face of adolescent physicality and what feels worryingly like simple glee. 

 

In their push and pull they knock loudly into his desk, which only barely manages to remind him that he is at work. Detaching himself from Bakugou seems a monumental effort, but they collect themselves fairly well.

 

“Fine,” Bakugou declares, when there is finally some degree of separation between their faces, voice a little hoarse. “I believe you.”

 

Despite his odd restraint he sounds helplessly smug, reddened lips curled up over a sharp smirk, and Shouto immediately loses all urge to self-control and kisses him again, internally cursing himself for wasting three years being an obtuse moron. Bakugou indulges him for a moment before pushing himself off him with a bitten-back smile, leaving Shouto half sprawled against his own desk.

 

“Work, icyhot.”

 

Shouto very bravely resists the urge to pout.

 

“…If we’re going after Dotani first you can just secure the perimeters with ice. It’ll limit the scope of his attacks.”

 

The momentary beat of surprise on Bakugou’s face is worth the indignity of having to rearrange everything on his desk as he straightens. 

 

“Yeah, fine. He got spotted heading into Taito last night, but no one’s seen him all day.”

 

“Wasn’t he in university when he got arrested? Bunkyo is right next door.”

 

“Yeah, he went to Hosei. Get this: the guy who turned him to the cops still teaches English there.”

 

“Ah,” Shouto says, and raises a brow. “You know, my English has been getting kind of rusty.”

 

 They’re on campus within half an hour.

 

 

He manages to call Izuku come Sunday evening, and once he gets the necessary queries and concerned fussing out of the way the latter switches into predictable theorising and barely disguised fascination, gaze fervent and brows furrowed as Shouto dutifully demonstrates his borrowed Quirk for him.

 

“I have never wanted to be back in Japan more than I do now,” Izuku moans feelingly, once he’s stopped muttering maniacally to himself. “I can’t believe I’m missing this.”

 

“Our state of medical emergency is a sight to behold, yes.”

 

“You know I don’t mean it like-“ Izuku sputters, eyes wide, then stops when he catches Shouto’s smile. “Oh. Mean.”

 

“I told you I didn’t mind. It is objectively very interesting.”

 

“And subjectively?”

 

“…Kind of cool,” Shouto allows, lighting his palms up. “Uncomfortable, though.”

 

“Yeah, I can imagine,” Izuku mumbles, eyes midway to glazing over again before he gets ahold of himself. “You’ll be back to normal by- Wednesday, you said?”

 

“Around then. A handful of days left, in any event.”

 

“You’ve made the most of the trade, that’s for sure.” Izuku’s eyes gleam excitedly as he smiles, Shouto’s own lips quirking to mirror his. “They’ll release the updated ranking soon, right? End of the month.”

 

“Hm. No promises.”

 

“Come on, there’s no precedent for something like this!” Izuku exclaims, leaning forwards excitedly. “Two major pros trading Quirks and staying on the job? You handled Kajiya and you’ve been cleaning up the breakout! There’s no way you’re not breaking into the top!”

 

“Maybe,” Shouto concedes, trying to keep his voice impassive. “There is no precedent. They could temporarily disqualify us from the rankings.”

 

“You don’t believe that,” Izuku counters, sitting back to shake his head. “Ah, seriously, Shouto, you’re amazing. We watched all of the fight in replay, and Melissa-san sent us your training footage- when I think about how hard it was for me to master my own Quirk, and then the two of you…”

 

“That’s very different, Izuku.”

 

“Still!” Izuku exclaims, undaunted. “All Might literally broke our hotel sofa with excitement. It was really incredible.”

 

At the insistent complimenting Shouto only shakes his head, allowing his gaze to soften as he contemplates his friend. He’s been busy enough that he hasn’t felt it, but he wishes he were here in flesh and bone now- sat tucked into the couch opposite him, instead of some hotel sofa across the Pacific. 

 

“Kacchan’s been really great too, of course,” Izuku continues, on his way to rambling. “In that fight against Dotani yesterday- at first I was really surprised by his mastery of ice, but Kacchan’s always thrived on subverting expectations. It looks so different when he uses it, though, doesn’t it? Like ice knives.”

 

“Wouldn’t be Bakugou without the threat of grievous bodily harm.”

 

Izuku snorts at that, caught out, then shakes his head, sobering. “You have- fifteen escaped prisoners left?”

 

“Yes. We got lucky today, rounding up four. The last ones are going to be harder to drag out of their hiding spots. Especially Abe and Kamiya.”

 

“Kamiya definitely has the territorial advantage,” Izuku mutters, before shaking himself. “I’m sure you’ll manage fine.”

 

“You can send your report of our weaknesses over whenever you like.”

 

“It’s not a report,” Izuku protests, half-hearted as Shouto snorts. “I just made note of some things I’d watch out for if I were you two.”

 

“Kidnapping, I know,” Shouto agrees gravely, nodding to himself. It takes Izuku a second before he giggles.

 

Shouto! Don’t say that to Kacchan, oh my god.”

 

“It does happen to him a substantial amount more than any other pro I know.”

 

Izuku continues to suppress mildly guilty laughter for a couple of seconds before he quietens, and then his gaze goes gentle and warm as their eyes meet, smile softening around the edges. 

 

“…What?”

 

“Nothing,” Izuku says, then goes a little wry. “Nothing. Just- you seem happy.”

 

“Oh,” Shouto says, and thinks about the fact that Kajiya is recovering, that his father is soon to be healed, that he is set to break top five this week. Thinks about how seamlessly he has worked these past few days, foreign Quirk be damned, thinks about how it had felt to fire off a semi-decent AP-shot to blast Dotani cleanly into Bakugou’s waiting hands. Thinks about hesitating in his empty lobby before deciding he resoundingly didn’t care about coming off as too eager, thinks about showing up uninvited to Bakugou’s apartment, cheerfully welcomed by Kirishima and irritably mauled by Bakugou as soon as the latter went to bed.

 

It’s not that he usually thinks of himself as unhappy, exactly. He knows he was before UA, but he hasn’t felt that way in a long time, so it is not that he is unhappy. It’s just that he’s rarely conscious of feeling happy, at least in the moment.

 

“I think I am,” Shouto concludes, a second too late, mulling it over. Izuku’s responding smile is blinding.

 

 

Monday starts off promisingly, the two of them on patrol with a lead helpfully delivered by Mirko on an earlier run through the area, Kamiya’s brand of wreckage left in his wake. There is something a little cagey about Bakugou, though, a certain resistance to his conversational attempts that makes him uneasy. Things between them are definitely the best they’ve ever been; it’s odd that he would choose now to withdraw, so something must be bothering him.

 

He doesn’t get far in his musing; Kirishima joins their patrol about two hours in, chattering enough for the both of them, and in his presence Bakugou seems on-form, comfortable enough exchanging the usual banter with either of them.

 

Kamiya proves elusive, but his attacks do not- within half an hour of Kirishima’s company, they are called in with great urgency to a nearby bridge, destabilised in the aftermath of Kamiya’s close call with Edgeshot earlier in the weekend.

 

It’s in a sorry state by the time they reach it, shaky foundations having failed to support the strain of a lorry attempting to cross it. The bridge, half-collapsed, has trapped fifteen people beneath it, and atop it people have abandoned their vehicles to run to safety, cars sliding dangerously downwards towards the overturned lorry.

 

“Get the civs,” Bakugou says, immediate, as Kirishima nods and sprints towards the debris. “I’ll clear the vehicles off the bridge.”

 

Shouto eyes the lorry, frowns. “You’ll need help.”

 

“You don’t have enough precision not to damage shit,” Bakugou dismisses, jerking his head towards Kirishima. “Go help him get under the bridge.”

 

He’s off in a blast of flames, landing neatly atop the side of the bridge, and Shouto watches him with a set jaw for another second before shaking his head and sprinting towards Kirishima, who is crouched speaking reassurances to the people beneath the bridge as he searches for a good hold on the largest slab of concrete.

 

“You’ll all be fine, okay? You just need to stay still while I move this for you. Ground Zero is moving the cars off so it won’t be as heavy for me. Is anybody hurt?”

 

“My dad’s not moving,” someone calls, teary and afraid, as others chime in with lesser injuries. Kirishima’s teeth gnaw at his lip in concern as Shouto approaches, but he keeps his voice light and certain as he answers.

 

“Then we’ll be quick so we can get him looked at. My friend Shouto is going to clear some of this stuff out of the way so I can get to you all, so I need you to stand back a little if you can, all right?”

 

Because he is careful not to blast anything into the caved-in area, it takes him a good couple of minutes to clear the rubble around them, but with Bakugou’s quirk clearing chunks of a bridge is hardly difficult work; it isn’t long before Kirishima is flashing him a grateful nod and setting his shoulders as he begins to worm himself into the gap between the bridge and the side of the road, skin shifting solid as he moves. From beneath the bridge there are relieved exclamations as Kirishima makes his way down; Shouto shifts back to glance towards the bridge, now cleared of cars and slick with ice as Bakugou works on the overturned lorry.

 

“How are we doing there?” Kirishima calls, from below, shadowy red eyes blinking up against the light as he gets into position. “Am I good to lift?”

 

“Not yet,” Shouto warns, and steps back. “Ground Zero! How long until the bridge is safe to lift?”

 

“Give me a minute,” Bakugou yells back, vanishing in a flash of flames as he makes his way over the lorry. “I’m going to have to slide this down your way.”

 

“The added weight will make the bridge too fragile,” Shouto calls back, brow dipping in alarm. “If that’s the only way we’ll have to destroy it so we can move fragments back the other way.”

 

“I’m not going to make the weight rest on the bridge,” Bakugou retorts, reappearing somewhere above their heads, voice abruptly up close. “I’m going to push it over an ice ramp.”

 

“One minute,” Shouto informs Kirishima, then propels himself up, grabbing hold of a crooked lamppost to swing himself onto the bridge and landing smoothly on the ice. 

 

“What’re you doing?” Bakugou calls, atop the lorry. He’s already half-covered in scattered patches of ice, confirming Shouto’s suspicions that his move to assist was well-timed. It is still faintly disturbing to see the hallmarks of his own Quirk on Bakugou’s skin. 

 

“If you’re making a ramp you’ll need force to move the lorry onto it,” Shouto answers, waving his hands. “I’ll get behind it and push.”

 

Bakugou frowns hard, but he’s not the only stubborn asshole on the bridge, and he knows it; after a beat he twists his mouth and shrugs. “Fine. But if you blast a hole through it I’ll beat your ass.”

 

“I’m not the one who’s been pushing my limits today,” Shouto retorts, pointed, which makes Bakugou flip him off but not deny the accusation as he jumps onto the bridge. 

 

He stands guard as Bakugou constructs his ramp with rough accuracy, vigilant lest any signs of further collapse present themselves. The plan makes sense, despite his reservations- making Kirishima lift the bridge and the lorry is reckless at best, and if they don’t want to destroy its cargo they need to slide it off somehow. It’s just that he’s uncomfortable with watching Bakugou overuse the Quirk he’s least adapted to. Bakugou’s not stupid; if it were really weighing on him he’d say so. Watching frigid blue twine itself up his arm and neck is uncanny nonetheless, discomfort weighing in Shouto’s gut.

 

Bakugou works fast; less than a minute later he is ascending in a twist of flames to test the solidity of the ramp for himself, and then he is landing with a thunk atop the container to nod at Shouto, puffs of smoke drifting upwards around him. 

 

“Brace,” Shouto says, redundantly, and steadies himself. The lorry will have to move fast. The ice bridge is solid, hovering just above the real one, but he is unwilling to test its construction long lest the lorry break through and land atop Kirishima and the trapped civilians. 

 

He takes a breath, focuses his attention, takes one step back, then two. To generate force there is no need to direct a blast towards the lorry: far better to generate enough power to push himself towards it.

 

Bakugou’s Quirk always gives him the vague sensory feeling of starting a car’s engine; with a crackling boom he is propelled towards the lorry feet first, force of the collision sending the lorry sprawling downwards even as steel bends beneath his feet. Grumbling and groaning the lorry creaks down the ramp, building speed as it goes; Shouto detaches himself from it and flies overhead, wind whistling in his ears as he watches its great heavy body rush down the ramp towards Bakugou, stood attentively bracing as he watches it approach.

 

He lands perched atop the wall, stomach clenching with anticipation as the lorry skids ever-closer, own hands twitching impatiently as Bakugou is swallowed by its shadow. 

 

Now, he wants to call, brace now, because he knows how fast his Quirk works but he swears it doesn’t usually look this bad. There is a tremendous crashing sound, metal hitting ice, and then dead silence, rogue debris chattering to a halt on the pavement as the lorry creaks and stills on the side of the road, police swarming cautiously as the observe the cleared bridge. They fall back when Bakugou angrily warns them away, voice rising above the settling noise from somewhere unseen.

 

“Clear?” Kirishima calls, voice faraway. Shouto nods absently before remembering himself.

 

“Clear.”

 

He leaps downward in time to watch the bridge slowly begin to move, seemingly of its own volition, lifting inch by inch as Kirishima strains below it, chunks cracking around them as he searches for a steady grip. 

 

Slowly, steadily, Kirishima begins to reappear from the depths, whole body gone Unbreakable as he grits his pointy teeth. Shouto gives him a little nod that makes him smile despite the strain, focused but irrepressibly encouraging. 

 

There is noise near them; he glances briefly sideways to watch Bakugou approach, Kirishima managing a quick greeting as he pushes. 

 

“Thanks for the assist, man.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, concentrate on the job,” Bakugou replies, crossing his arms as he peers cautiously into the increasing gap between earth and bridge. Like Shouto, he seems to deem it of no use to start moving yet- they need enough leeway to extract the civilians without any danger of jostling the bridge and destabilising Kirishima. 

 

Later, Shouto will privately blame his delayed reaction on distraction, preoccupied with cataloguing the spread of ice and trying to assess the severity of the stress. Regardless, he is not focused on the bridge; this is what keeps him in delayed slow-motion in the events of the next ten seconds.

 

First, damningly, something cracks: a chunk of the bridge, dislocated in the constant shifting, plunges towards the opening with alarming speed. It is small enough that Kirishima could easily deflect it, but the timing is terrible: if he shifts he risks dropping the rest of the bridge back down. Shouto moves, sluggish to his own eyes, pulse thundering, but Bakugou is beneath it in instants, punching upwards on instinct- and what leaves his hand is a blast of pure flame, Kirishima yelling in alarm as the cement carries on unperturbed, shadow engulfing Bakugou entirely as his eyes widen.

 

Shouto moves before he can think, explosions bursting from his palms to shatter the block before it can hit them. Abruptly time resumes its normal course, debris exploding in all directions as Bakugou flings a frozen shield over them, shrapnel catching in the ice and falling harmlessly to the ground around them.

 

“Holy fuck, Katsuki,” Kirishima coughs, through the smoke, body straining a little as he grounds himself. “Your arm, dude.”

 

“Stupid fucking Quirk,” Bakugou mutters, wincing in annoyance. His left arm is blood-drenched where the block grazed him. Shouto feels light-headed.

 

He is clumsy when they retrieve the civilians, and his pulse does not slow down for a good twenty minutes afterwards, mind stuck on the sick crunching of cement on flesh, Bakugou’s outstretched arm. His Quirk, he thinks, incoherently. That’s his Quirk.

 

It’s not even a particularly serious injury, but it feels like a bad omen, a feeling only intensified when he gets the news on his way out of the office that evening, Bakugou cussing and shoving his phone in his face.

 

“Look at this shit.”

 

His eyes skim the text, stomach sinking as he progresses.

 

Unprecedented circumstances…. temporarily suspended from ranking… Quirk restored….

 

“They can’t be serious.”

 

“They’re saying we can’t be properly judged on performance using someone else’s stats,” Bakugou spits, furious. “This is bullshit.

 

“Shit,” Shouto says, staring unseeingly at the screen. So much for Izuku’s optimism. It’s not catastrophic; just means they’ll have to wait a couple of days for their rankings to be reassessed, but it is stringently unfair. 

 

“Fucking bureaucrats,” Bakugou mutters darkly, pocketing his phone with a stormy expression as he shoulders his bag, careful with his injured arm. “Like to see them last a day on the job.”

 

Not for the first time since the swap, guilt courses through him; he thumbs at his hand. “Sorry about this.”

 

Bakugou glances up at that, scowl receding a fraction as he sighs. “Don’t be stupid. ’S standard Hero Billboard jackassery.”

 

“Hm. Can’t argue with that.”

 

For some reason this makes Bakugou shake his head wryly, looking more tired than annoyed now. “See you tomorrow, Todoroki.”

 

“Oh,” Shouto says, and blinks as he strides moodily down the stairs. “Yeah. See you.”

 

He eats leftovers from the last time he ate at Bakugou’s, falls asleep watching reruns of old All Might fights. 

 

 

Of all of his siblings, Shouto probably has the most in common with Natsuo; it is thus not so incomprehensible that they have exchanged calls maybe twice in his entire life, but it makes it no less bizarre when his phone starts vibrating on Tuesday morning with a call from Todoroki Natsuo displayed on the screen. His first instinct, naturally, is to suspect someone has died, suspicion supported by memories of Fuyumi’s stricken voice piercing through his alcohol-happy haze; he clenches his phone subconsciously when he answers, stopped on a street corner.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Look, I wasn’t going to do this, but it’s better if I tell you rather than mom or Fuyumi,” Natsuo starts, matter-of-fact tone some reassurance as Shouto waits for the other shoe to drop. “And I couldn’t really think of how to write it, so. Sorry for the call.”

 

“It’s fine. What is it?”

 

Natsuo sighs; there is faint rustling that Shouto imagines denotes him ruffling his hair. “The family lawyers have gotten in touch with Fuyumi. Will-related stuff.”

 

He can hear his own voice go blank with instinctive rejection. “He’s not dying.”

 

“No, he isn’t,” Natsuo agrees, brittle in a pragmatic way. “But they say this could have long-term consequences, and they’re pouncing on the opportunity to review the current terms with us. Apparently he instructed them to check in with us if he was ever seriously injured. Practice run, I guess.”

 

In other circumstances he could have laughed. He can almost hear Dabi’s sarcastic reply, like really milking the drama for all it’s worth while he’s still kicking, isn’t he? 

 

Making them review the terms of the will- so they can debate him over it during his convalescence, presumably- is so incredibly typical in its mix of obstinate practicality and insane insensitivity. No wonder Natsuo decided to beat Fuyumi to the job- he can only imagine how his sister took the news.

 

“What do they want from us?” Shouto asks, monotone gone slightly sandpapered and own flat expression reflected with kaleidoscopic distortion as he eyes the windows ahead. From across the line Natsuo makes a dismissive sound.

 

“Hell knows. Just have a look at the terms so we know what qualms we want to raise with the old man once he’s up and at it again, I guess.”

 

“Right,” Shouto says, after a beat in which he does not bother to vocalise just how little he wants to find out which of father’s many assets he’s been pointedly left in some belated and misguided attempt at reparations. Given Natsuo’s ensuing scoff he imagines they’re pulling similar faces.

 

“Yeah. Anyways, I just wanted to give you a heads up. If you can make any time to stop by the house in the next few days you probably should. If not just email the legal team, I guess. Fuyumi has their contact details if you need them.”

 

“Thank you,” Shouto says, simply, as Natsuo makes a dismissive sound.

 

“Don’t mention it. For all you know I’m only calling now that I’ve already called dibs on the dining table.”

 

The dry humour startles half a smile out of him, oddly reminiscent of their absentee brother. “Hm. You can have it.”

 

“I’ll leave you the portraits to be fair.”

 

“That I might need to talk to the lawyers about,” Shouto replies seriously, which gets a laugh out of his brother.

 

“Talk later. Good luck with work.”

 

Some businesswoman bumps into him; he absently mumbles an apology, refocusing on the street as he tries to organise his thoughts. 

 

There’s no way he’s seeing the lawyers face to face- he doesn’t have the time for it, for one thing, and even if he did he can think of few things less appealing to him that hearing some middle-aged solicitor dispassionately recite his future assets to him for ten minutes. He’s quite sure he can get their details out of his recent case files, send an apathetic email to satisfy formalities, then just ignore what he is sent in return. 

 

He has absolutely no intention of looking over the will, of course. There’s no point- he’s not going to go argue with his father about what he gets left, and besides he resents the morbidity of the task. Confronting his father’s potential death would only serve to dig up discarded uncertainties regarding the state of their relationship, and he staunchly refuses to put himself through that kind of turmoil for the sake of discovering what silverware he’s been left.

 

It doesn’t matter. His father is not dying, and will not be for quite some time. No use crying over spilt milk, the expression goes; surely there is even less in crying over undead fathers. He’s wasted enough tears on the man as it is.

 

 

He is grateful that their day is as hectic as it is, though he feels bad for the residents of the western Tokyo region: Kamiya’s progressive escape to the mountains leaves enough damage in his wake that Shouto has no time to brood. They spend much of the morning doing rescue-work again, which inherently requires more care than combat and especially does so when you’re working with explosives.

 

“He’s rusty,” Bakugou notes, during their lunch break, smeared grey from the dust. “Or else he wouldn’t be leaving such a trail.”

 

Shouto nods around a mouthful of rice, swallows. “I was thinking that too. He keeps having near-misses with pros.”

 

“He’s obviously headed for the mountains, but if he’s only using his Quirk when he feels cornered he must be using regular transportation to do it.”

 

“So if we alert public transport authorities to search their vehicles-“

 

“Either way he’ll expose himself,” Bakugou agrees, sharp, reaching a grimy hand towards his earpiece. “Get me MPA HQ.”

 

It only takes about an hour before they’re called into a location near Hachioji on the Keio line, accompanied by a nearby Kamui Woods and one of his sidekicks. In normal times having three top 10 heroes against one villain would seem like overkill, but given the precarious state of their Quirks and the scale of Kamiya’s attacks Shouto is grateful for the company, if somewhat concerned for the Lurker’s sake- wood doesn’t typically mix well with fire and nitroglycerin. 

 

He mentions this last concern to Bakugou as they ride the next train over, perched on the roof as they survey the landscape ahead, and the latter snorts his agreement, focus breaking momentarily.

 

“He’s a national standard. Ought to be able to deal with a little heat.”

 

They listen carefully to the slow updates from the other pros as they advance. Kamiya isn’t stupid- the second he spots Kamui Woods outside the stopped train, he makes a break for it, first quake snapping the two halves of the train cleanly apart as the land around it caves in. 

 

“He’s obviously counting on our being too preoccupied by the civilians to chase after him,” Kamui Woods notes over his comm, voice calm despite the background noise. “There will have to be both a rescue and a combat-heavy aspect to this arrest.”

 

On paper, this would pose no problem: in terms of fighting power Kamiya is completely outclassed. In practice, however, he is dangerous in that time is on his side. The damage he causes is pervasive, structural; not handling him fast enough means having to retreat lest he wipe out half a nearby town. With the trapped train caught in the crossfire, they will have to have him disarmed within ten, maybe fifteen minutes if they are realistically going to be able to prevent any deaths.

 

It’s a grim picture to enter. 

 

“You’re going to have to get the train secured before you do any fighting,” Shouto says, firmly. Ice is their best bet at creating durable protection for the civilians, and Bakugou knows it, which is why he only gives a mutinous nod as he shifts his weight.

 

“If you’re making the first move you’re going to have to be real fucking comfortable staying airborne, icyhot.”

 

Shouto had considered this too. Kamiya’s other biggest asset is that he destroys his opponent’s standing ground, at best causing them severe distraction and at worst making them topple to their death mid-fight. Flight is their most certain path to bloodless victory, and if it were either of them mastering their own Quirk he’d be fully confident. Current circumstances are less ideal. 

 

It’s not that he is unused to flight, or something approaching it, but Bakugou really flies, and does it almost constantly, rarely on solid ground for more than ten seconds until a fight is won. Attempting to match him in this has been one of the hardest parts of adapting to his Quirk- maintaining proper flight Bakugou-style drains him far more than his attacks do, and compared to the latter his efforts are hopelessly clumsy in his own eyes. 

 

“I can handle it,” Shouto says, simply. He’s a professional, and lives are at stake- lives that are only at stake because of someone’s plan to destroy him. Taking down Kamiya is a matter of purse necessity. 

 

He makes the mistake of glancing towards his companion, stomach twisting when he catches the look he’s giving him. Bakugou’s gaze is hard and assessing, but there is something in it that makes his skin prickle, like he’s looking right through him. It makes him feel slightly unsteady in a way he never wants to be before a serious fight.

 

“You better be sure,” Bakugou says, after a beat, too heavy to be disparaging. “Because if you’re not we have five minutes left and we can come up with some kind of alternative.”

 

Shouto has thought of these alternatives. All of them involve Bakugou having to pull off some incredibly complex work with Shouto’s Quirks, and he has found reasons to dismiss each one. It’s not that he is underestimating Bakugou; the exchange in risk would just be far too disproportionate. 

 

He keeps this line of thought to himself, lacking a death wish, drags his gaze back to the horizon. “I’m sure.”

 

Bakugou only grunts in response. Shouto isn’t sure how to feel about the unwilling vote of confidence. 

 

True to form, Kamui Woods has spun himself in two dozen directions by the time they arrive, branches spread as far as the eye can see to keep the collapsing ground from swallowing half a train of screaming citizens. It takes Shouto a moment to locate Kamiya and the sidekick- the latter seems to have some kind of animal mutation, maybe spider-adjacent, silvery thread shooting from his fuzzy hands just visible above the canyon-like crevices around the tracks. 

 

The scene is surreal even for his line of work, ominously reminiscent of street photographs from the height of the Fukushima earthquakes, terrified faces plastered to the shattered train windows as the groaning metal is drowned out by the rupturing ground around them. 

 

“Fuck me,” Bakugou mutters disbelievingly, staring at the devastated landscape. Shouto shares the sentiment. It’s been a while since he’s seen such a large-scale villain attack- or such a blatant disregard for civilian life. Quiet anger settles in his chest like a physical weight, hands crackling in response.

 

“Let’s get moving.”

 

They set off in formation, plans formulated on the way over; Shouto plunges through Kamui Woods’ roots with a quick nod to the pro as he dives past, heat roaring from his palms as he goes. It’s good timing: as ice audibly crystallises behind him, he watches the spider hero topple downwards into the widening chasm below, spun silk streaming uselessly from his hands as it struggles to catch onto the shifting earth.

 

He doesn’t think he could ever get used to Bakugou’s Quirk speed; he’s barely conscious of the time it takes him to close the gap, explosions racketing beneath him as he plunges forwards. His instincts take over once he reaches the man, muscles clenched hard as he propels them around and blasts upwards, sweaty with concentration as they soar, the pro gripping his arm tight and exhaling in shaky relief.

 

“Hold on,” Shouto warns, strained as he tries to stay their trajectory with only one free arm, clumsy course correction sending them this way and that as they move. Days of work and years of watching Bakugou spare them any major harm; they make it back to solid ground without much damage as he carefully sets the wincing pro down.

 

A sarcastic clap rings through the broken earth; somewhere over the rising fragments of ground Kamiya is approaching, voice clear over the ruckus as he nears. 

 

“Nice save, Todoroki Shouto.”

 

God, pretentious villains and full names. Shouto sighs to himself before turning to the sidekick and frowning in assessment. “Can you get out of here by yourself?”

 

When the man nods determinedly, weaving silk around his wounded shoulder, he straightens and turns, straining to listen for the approaching villain. If Bakugou were asked he’d probably say the full name thing is some kind of cheap intimidation ploy. Personally it’s only ever made him think of roll call at school.

 

He rises, dodging collapsing rock and steel, lands atop an unsteady mound of earth. Ahead, beady eyes narrowed and expression somewhere between twitchy and mocking, Kamiya stands. Unlike his dumber or less fortunate cellmates, he’s been quick enough to change into nice work clothes and cut his hair; he looks more like a dapper businessman than a criminal on the run. 

 

“You’re not getting out of this,” Shouto says, tone warning as sweat trickles down his neck. He’s read the files- he could take Kamiya, easy, but if he spooks him too much the risk to the trapped train is immense. “Turn yourself in before anyone gets hurt.”

 

Kamiya must be similarly informed, because he gives a nervy sort of smile as his fingers twitch and the earth shifts beneath his feet. “No one will get hurt as long as you let me leave.”

 

Shouto’s never been one to banter with criminals; all he does in response is shift his stance.

 

“Have it your way.”

 

The ground rumbles, but it’s too little too late: what could generously be described as a Stun-Grenade erupts from his hands with enough force to blow him off his feet, Kamiya giving an aborted yell as he hurriedly flings mounds of earth upwards to block the blow, dirt and stone flying in all directions. Shouto leaves him no time to recover, ignoring the sting of scrapes as he turns mid-air to push himself higher, jaw clenching with effort. He lets off another explosion from overhead, blasting clean through the half-made wall Kamiya erects. Smoke, thick and metallic, billows around him and stings his eyes as he twists downwards, mindful of Kamui Woods’ branches and the deteriorating landing space at his disposal. 

 

His care costs him when he is forced to land on a collapsing strip of the ground, his ankle wincing in protest as he jumps to safety; when he looks up Kamiya is ascending, ground grumbling around him as the wincing villain rises out of harm’s way, intently focused. The sound sets off alarm bells in his head- force bursts from his palms before he can think twice, and just in the nick of time: as he blasts upwards, shoulders taut and poise awkward from the pushback, the earth caves in beneath him, roaring waves of dirt descending upon his previous landing spot, off-shoot spraying him as he rises, one particularly unfortunately timed splinter ripping clean through his shirt and grazing his rib.

 

He firmly ignores the sting, landing hard against the teetering train, straightens only to take a running leap forwards, where Kamiya is raring up for a second push, earth cracking ominously beneath his feet. He is sweat-slick but thrumming with excess force; his palms rise to barrel off three hits in rapid succession, hot stinging power in his veins as Kamiya is thrown violently off-balance, last hit decimating the earth by his feet as he goes flying into a crevice.

 

Distantly he is aware of Bakugou’s voice somewhere behind him, metal straining and ice crunching; he gives Kamiya no time to recover, footsteps heavy as he sprints across the ruptured ground, ears ringing from the explosions. He feels the earth move before he sees it, and adjusts in time, launching himself high as a battered-looking Kamiya emerges from beneath in a literally earth-splittingly loud manoeuvre. From the look on the villain’s face as he watches him fly safely (if clumsily) overhead he is aware that he is two steps behind, and lagging heavily- his attacks are too simple and too ground-based to do Shouto any real damage.

 

Cornered villains almost always lash out, so he is prepared for some sudden last ditch effort, but the magnitude takes him aback. He is mid-dive when Kamiya gets a feverish look and slams his feet down heavily, and then the whole meadow around them groans in audible agony, echoed near-instantly by a pained yell and muffled screaming as steel grates heavily behind him.

 

He whips around, arms aching from the need to stay airborne. Almost as far as the eye can see the floor is quaking, great waves of motion ripping through the tracks, and the strain has cracked several of Kamui Woods’ branches, his balance thrown as he goes flying. The train, displaced, has begun to tilt heavily over the icy restraints beneath it, people inside screaming in terror as the tumbling compartment drops towards the gulf beside it.

 

His fists clench; before he can make up his mind Bakugou is in sight, boots colliding with the side of the train hard as he shoves them back, fire trailing behind him, his posture tight with effort as he barks questions at the older pro.

 

Bakugou is strong, and he’s well-versed in using released energy to boost his physical abilities, but he can’t single-handedly keep a train afloat. They need this over with- and fast.

 

He spins, sweat sticking his hair to his forehead, keeps both arms raised as he grits his teeth and batters through walls of dirt and stone, focus numbing the damage. The resulting collision knocks Kamiya askance, and as he lands heavily amidst the debris Shouto doesn't let up, barely balanced and upright before he sweeps one arm forwards with subconscious grandeur as his palms spit explosions out. He feels rather than hears his footing crumble beneath him, Kamiya scrambling for an escape, but he keeps his arm steady even as he feels the earth give way, body thrumming with terse concentration as a perfectly aimed hit bursts forwards to catch Kamiya solidly in the chest.

 

He falls, then. Heavily, into darkness, and it takes him a second to notice even so, still focused on Kamiya’s crumpling form, cataloguing his injuries as the world shifts abruptly into a blur. He is dropping fast, he realises, gaze snapping upwards towards the diminishing light as wind whistles around him and his arm catches against protruding stone- but the light is fading too quickly even so, walls closing in of their own volition; Kamiya is still conscious, he understands, fading awareness straining to bury him alive.

 

For an instant he is distantly aware of his own rattled breathing, a hint of claustrophobia in his startled inhale. He staunchly refocuses on the task at hand, mindless of his physical tells as his palms ignite and he jerks upwards, weaving roughly from side to side as he pushes through the downpour of debris. No use dwelling on his internal weaknesses in the moment- there is still a job to be done, and it does not matter that he feels like he’s being entombed.

 

What he can’t ignore is the chafing feeling under his skin as he hunches inwards to minimise the collisions, breathing controlled despite the increasing amounts of dirt he’s inhaling as he rises. Bakugou’s Quirk burns unfamiliarly always, but this is painful, enough that though he could ignore it he knows he shouldn’t. The constant flying, obviously- taking its toll. 

 

It’s not as though he can stop in the moment. He bursts from the crevice in a cloud of grime and stone, coughing hard on instinct as his explosions sputter and die out; he has to drop and roll forwards to avoid falling backwards right back where he came. He’s on his feet within an instant despite his off-beat breathing, eyes zeroing in on a faintly stirring Kamiya- his legs carry him over in three quick steps, one hand bracing the man’s prone form as the other efficiently cuffs him, steady despite the twitching in his fingers.

 

Beady eyes flicker open as he carefully drags Kamiya upright, shifting to keep his balance as the floor grumbles unhappily beneath them. The man flashes him a tight malignant smile.

 

“You seem tired, pro-hero.”

 

If he is he is only dimly aware of it, still thrumming with battle reflexes; the rawness of his limbs and his sweat-drenched uniform register as a secondary priority. He is careful to keep his expression coolly unbothered as he silently turns to eye the train. With his interference Kamui and his sidekick have managed to reset the previous web of stabilising branches around them, and above them Bakugou has gone half-blue with exertion again, ice holding even as the train creaks and stills. 

 

“Don’t look so relieved,” Kamiya mumbles, lips upturned darkly. “Didn’t they teach you about aftershocks?”

 

“You’ll stabilise the ground before they hit,” Shouto answers, short. “If you don’t you’ll die too.”

 

Kamiya doesn’t try to bluff him on this, evidently presuming correctly that Shouto has read his file, but his dark amusement does not lessen. “Only if I’m still restrained by then.”

 

“I wasn’t intending on letting you go.”

 

“You might want to,” Kamiya retorts, as tremors begin to gently rock the earth below. “If you don’t you won’t be able to get out yourself.”

 

This, finally, makes him pause, because if he has stood still so long it has only been to allow his still-stinging arms some reprieve, and he knows instinctively that the villain is correct in his assumption. He’s already overdone it with the flying- he might be able to get himself out of their precarious perch through sheer determination and last reserves of strength, but his body is physically resistant to the idea of having to bear a second person’s weight. 

 

If he leaves Kamiya, Kamiya escapes. If he doesn’t, he will undoubtedly survive, but it’ll cost him- and the passengers of the train, if Kamiya intends to push his luck. 

 

His comm crackles to life before he can strategise any further, loud now that the noise around them has mostly faded. 

 

“Train’s sorted. You have Kamiya immobilised?”

 

“I do,” Shouto says, slowly, feeling the vibrations increase in duration around him. “But there are aftershocks incoming. I think I can cut them short, but you’re going to have to brace hard.”

 

“Copy.”

 

“Care to fucking elaborate?” Bakugou asks, suspicion loud and clear enough that it almost makes him smile despite the circumstances. 

 

“Just brace, Ground Zero. Don’t overdo it with the ice.”

 

He doesn’t hear whatever irked insult Bakugou responds with, buzzing in his head drowning out external noise as tunnel vision kicks in. The mangled grass beneath them rips in two; he flings Kamiya bodily over his shoulders and takes a running leap upwards, knees jolting as he lands heavily on the next deteriorating platform.

 

It’s simple enough. If he can’t trust himself to fly them both out, he’ll just have to climb out. 

 

“What are you doing?” Kamiya yells, tone rising in panic as he catches on. Shouto ignores him completely, bracing for impact as he throws himself onto the protruding fragments of rock, one arm wound tightly around the man as he hits the wall hard. For a second they free-fall, his other hand grappling for purchase- then he catches onto a hold, digging his boots in below him as they screech to a halt, displaced pebbles around them dropping ominously into the cavernous opening beneath.

 

“You’re insane!” Kamiya shouts, voice gone raw with fear as he struggles against his grip; Shouto only digs his fingers in, forehead pressed to cool stone as he exhales, pulse racing. Their combined weight is hard to brace, his one arm screaming in protest and his stomach muscles clenched hard to hold position. There is no time for reprieve- his hands are sweat-slick, and he can feel his fingers slipping slowly as he breathes.

 

Three more jumps and they’ll be level with the tracks. He doesn’t know if he has the time for them. Just behind them the aftershocks have already caused their previous perch to crumble slowly downwards, the steady wall they’re hanging off vibrating with warning tremors.

 

No time to think about it. He kicks away from the wall with a swimmer’s form, grip vice-like around the screaming Kamiya as they go flying, makes the next platform by the skin of his teeth, breath knocked out of him as his torso hits the side of the rocky incline, legs dangling into nothingness for one long moment as his ears ring and his teeth clench hard. 

 

No time to think about it. He drags them both upwards with one heave of his arms, blinking to clear the spots in his vision as he adjusts his hold on the villain, taking three steps forwards. Not so far in front of them now, the train rocks dangerously this way and that in the churning landscape, voices echoing through the chaos as Kamui and Bakugou fight to keep it from toppling over. Distantly he berates himself for struggling to keep himself from toppling over when the others are dealing with the far more difficult task, but there is no time to think about it- just one more leap and they’ll be out of harm’s way, one jump and he’ll be on steady ground, one move and he’ll be able to think straight.

 

“Wait!” Kamiya yells, seconds too late, as Shouto sprints for the edge of the rails. “Wait, it’s going to-“

 

His feet hit nothing but air. 

 

They plummet; instinctively his free arm swings in an arc, going for ice, but nothing comes, and his stomach lurches violently, Kamiya’s body slipping from his grip as they fall, vision blurring with tears from the momentum. For an instant he teeters on the verge of shutting down completely, physical and mental fatigue coalescing, then he squeezes his eyes shuts in frustration and coils inwards, rolling Kamiya up onto his back as his hands ignite in bursts of heat, explosions sputtering in a broken rhythm as their descent is violently interrupted, sharp pain in his arms and torso as they buck haltingly upwards. 

 

It’s too much, he knows, feeling his jagged ascent slow. Alone, he could cross the gap easily- if he just threw Kamiya he could stick a decent landing. But he’s a hero, and a stubborn one at that; even as his muscles seize he takes a ragged breath, pours every last inch of willpower and physical strength he has into the final push, heat sizzling through him like an ache as he braces for the blow.

 

The resulting explosion flings them sky-high, abruptly sailing towards and over the train, a fact which he barely registers, mind gone numb with pain and overexertion. Whatever remnants of control he had over Bakugou’s Quirk are gone: his veins have gone scalding, chemical burn aggravated by the spasming of his arms as he lets out a punched out noise and tries dazedly to concentrate on anything but the sizzling hurt. Somewhere distant he is aware of Kamiya now actively clinging to his back as he yells in panic, but he can’t think straight as they begin to drop, eyelids heavy and movements sluggish. 

 

His job is not done until they’re back on firm ground. He knows this. But he is burning, and falling, and his eyes are straining to stay open, and he can’t- can’t- focus, brain clamouring in alarm even as the noise grows louder and he slips further out of consciousness. 

 

His arms won’t move. Or maybe he’s not moving them. Everything is so loud. Somewhere through the blur he sees a flash of blonde pressed hard against metal, feels a faraway beat of relief even as Bakugou flares into heat. 

 

His last conscious thought is Izuku, years ago, talking about an egg in the microwave, an unfit receptacle. He gets that now.

 

 

He’s not out long. Something solid catches them before they hit the ground, and his eyes flutter open at some point after it deposits them to the floor, just in time to see the tendrils of Kamui Woods’ branches retreat back to the pro, one branch still firmly wrapped around an unmoving Kamiya.

 

He tries to sit up, falls back immediately, dizzy and nauseous, vision gone blurry from the effort. A warning branch presses his chest lightly.

 

“Everything is under control. Don’t push yourself.”

 

He makes some vague noise of assent, manages to bat the branch away this time as he painstakingly pulls himself up onto his elbows. For a moment his head spins too much to get a clear visual; when he stubbornly blinks the image rearranges itself, their surroundings gone still in the aftermath of the fight. The quakes have stopped definitively- either Kamiya has passed out or he’s given up the ploy in the face of Shouto’s refusal to back down.

 

It doesn’t look good even so, landscape devastated, but it is quiet, the ground stabilised despite the mess, and the train has been firmly deposited back on the ground, first doors cautiously creaking open as he watches pale faces peer outwards towards him, incoming helicopters whirring overhead.

 

He is still too drained to process much beyond the all-consuming pain in his arms and torso, cold sweat trickling endlessly down his neck as he pushes himself shakily further upwards. His arms are entirely singed, and he leans heavily forwards so the brunt of his weight is displaced, breathing loud to his own ears.

 

Crunching nearby alerts him to the spider pro’s continued efforts in prying the front compartments further apart from their frozen barrier. Considering the state of the ground ahead, it looks like Bakugou’s had to construct what is essentially the lower half of an iceberg to halt its impending collapse. It’s impressive construction work, despite the roughness of the edges. 

 

He barely has the time to register these developments before two boots are planting themselves firmly near him, the slight tremors of the ground enough to make him wince at the shock as he glances upwards. 

 

Bakugou looks nowhere as terrible as Shouto feels, but he can read the exhaustion on him clear as day, in the terse way he holds himself, the set to his jaw. His breathing is off, too, cloudy with cold air- no doubt the ice spread across his arm and torso has made its way into his lungs.

 

Mostly, Shouto realises, as he draws close, he looks incensed.

 

“Are you fucking stupid?” Bakugou snarls, before Shouto can try to remember how to form coherent sentences. “Did you get fucking concussed on your way to work this morning?”

 

His eyes are ruby slits, fists clenched like it’s a real effort not to instinctively try and explode anything; Shouto can feel himself shutter in response, too overwhelmed to want to deal with whatever is being unleashed upon him. 

 

“Can we not do-“

 

“That was incompetent,” Bakugou continues, ice hissing as flames dance across his furious features. “I’ve seen better combat judgment on junior sidekicks. You said you could handle it.”

 

“He threw a curveball at us. I handled it,” Shouto replies, flat. His head is pounding, and maybe he'd expected Bakugou to cuss him out, but he certainly hadn’t expected this vitriolic a reaction- it’s all a little much.

 

“You handled it?” Bakugou demands, laugh mirthlessly spiteful. “I saw that last explosion. You think it’s good hero work to put another pro in a position where they have to choose between upholding a train of civs or saving their own fucking coworker from snapping his neck on landing?”

 

“I apologise for the stress caused,” Shouto says, cold even to his own ears. It is no surprise that this makes Bakugou’s expression turn somehow more thunderous; he looks like he could spit as he stomps away.

 

The onslaught feels incredibly unwarranted, he thinks, unsettled: his actions were reckless but logical, and Bakugou is usually far more results-oriented. Maybe if he was in a better state he’d be more attentive to some nuance he’s missed, some damage he’s caused without noticing, but as it is his only impulse is to shut down further, leave the analysis for another day. It’s not conscious- he can handle criticism fine, though he admittedly hates receiving it, but it’s been a while since he’s been so violently berated by anyone, let alone Bakugou; he feels a little sick from it, stomach in unhappy knots as he watches the blonde storm off towards the train.

 

It’s possible that he’s lightly concussed, he reflects, wincing at the feeling. Or Bakugou’s Quirk is just eating him alive. The latter option would certainly be characteristic.

 

 

He ends up walking out of the hospital with no major lasting damage, which he suspects is far more due to the hospital staff’s frantic damage control than any precaution on his part. Still, despite how shaky he feels, his freshly stabilised Quirk helps him sell his narrative of control at the office, enough so that he thinks everyone bar the pros he’d fought with will go home thinking he’d pushed his limits far less than he had. It’s not entirely honest, but it’s the cleanest way forward, and it saves him the fussing and berating he knows would follow otherwise.

 

He almost expects Bakugou to throw him under the bus when his turn comes to give a report, but the latter seems to have calmed down in the hours following the fight, waspish but no more so than he usually gets when tired out; he retells his side of events and corroborates Shouto’s story with monosyllabic answers.

 

He doesn’t push his luck. When they part ways at the door he makes no attempt to engage, just silently retrieves his things and nods in Bakugou’s direction before he makes his exit. Tough day; they all have them. Things will have settled by the morning.

 

He’s halfway to a taxi when he gets around to checking his phone, and his stomach sinks immediately.

 

Four missed calls. Three from the hospital, one from Fuyumi. He doesn’t even bother checking his voicemail, just heads for his browser; sure enough, the papers have smelt blood, the script clean atop the hero news page. 

 

Update on Endeavour attack: villain’s coma prolonged indefinitely, doctors say.

 

He puts his phone away. He goes home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

He sees his mother again on a Saturday, and it doesn’t even occur to him that it’s been as long as it has until he is greeted at the door by his slightly startled looking brother-in-law, whose face shifts blatantly into commiserating sympathy the moment he lays eyes on him. 

 

“Oh, Shouto! You’re coming to see your mother?”

 

Tarō is a nice man, Shouto thinks, almost apologetically, as he nods his assent. It’s just that he’s unbelievably nondescript: kind, curious to a limited degree, unfailingly polite, and always a little bemused by the family he’s married into. Bar Fuyumi he thinks they all feel the same bemusement where he is concerned; for the first while Shouto felt almost physically incapable of remembering his name or career. 

 

He wonders, as he nods his way half-attentively through his brother-in-law’s small talk, if in marrying her husband Fuyumi hadn’t managed the most successful act of rebellion any of them have yet pulled off: conclusively thwarting the genetic misery of their family by choosing a simple, happy life in spite of the odds. 

 

If that’s right, he wonders what his own choices say about him. 

 

“If there’s anything we can do to help,” Tarō is saying, following a very nice and sensitively-formulated inquiry about the highly publicised and unfortunate circumstances of his life the past few weeks: “If you’d like to take a day off, or someone to help with administrative things…”

 

“Thank you,” Shouto says succinctly, pushing aside any potentially topical thoughts about the partners his siblings have chosen across the years. There’s nothing his sister can do for him, nor her husband, but then they both know it as well as he does: it’s a symbolic offer. “Tell Fuyumi I said hello.”

 

“Of course. It’s good to see you.”

 

It occurs to him as he makes his way into the apartment that there is something slightly odd about his brother-in-law visiting his mother alone. On the other hand, it is rare enough for them all to get together that they could well be far closer than he believes them to be by now. 

 

He considers simply asking his mother about it, finds himself lacking the drive to do so. He’s seen and heard more of his family since his father’s attack than he feels like he ever has, and though he feels nebulously bad for thinking it, the overexposure drains him. Rather leave his extended family's goings-on a mystery. 

 

“You look tired,” Rei says, almost as soon as they’re settled, reaching carefully to trace his cheek. He keeps dutifully still throughout it, resists the urge to close his eyes.

 

“I am, a little.”

 

“You work too much,” his mother sighs, a little wry, a little sad, ghosts withholding her gaze before she smiles. “Thank you for coming. You didn’t have to.”

 

“I said I would,” Shouto dismisses, shaking his head. “And things have quietened down at work, anyways.”

 

Things have. In the past two weeks, almost every straggler has been rounded up and escorted back to prison; his working schedule has returned to a state of relative calm, give or take Bakugou’s peripheral presence on the job. They're no longer required to partner for the duration of their workdays, only when a specific job calls for it, though in practice they still spend most of the week in each other's company, if only because it keeps their schedules aligned for medical check-ins. 

 

“I'm glad to hear it,” Rei says, white hands steady as she pours them water. “Did you see Tarō on the way out?”

 

He takes his water with a nod. “Does he visit often?”

 

“I see him and your sister quite a lot,” Rei replies, noncommittally. “He’s a considerate man, I think. And he loves her very much.”

 

“Mh,” Shouto acknowledges, sipping his water pensively. This much he has noted about his brother-in-law from the beginning. “They seem happy.”

 

His mother smiles a private little smile. “That they do.”

 

He realises, as he tries to decipher her smile, that there is almost nothing in his life he can tell her about for as long as things don’t change. All he really does is work, and work leads back to his father, irrevocably- to the strange state of stasis his life has been suspended in for what feels like an eternity, Kamiya resisting, Enji incurable, his ranking frozen, Bakugou’s Quirk in his body, fighting for freedom. The almost dream-like exhaustion he’s been living with. For every banal anecdote he could share, its context looms large and threatening, tying his tongue. He’s so careful with his mother.

 

He is saved from having to drag up some obscure topic of conversation when she glances curiously towards his hands and he catches himself sweating sparks. 

 

“They don’t hurt?”

 

“They’d hurt you, if you touched them,” Shouto warns, though he extends a hand so she can look, focusing hard on restraint. “They don’t hurt me.”

 

“Those doctors do such wonderful work,” Rei assesses, folding his hand back onto itself as she moves it back to his lap. “It’s the same for Bakugou, I imagine?”

 

“They’ve made adjustments for him too,” Shouto confirms, curling his fingers reflexively. “He hasn’t said anything about it bothering him. Although he does complain a lot.”

 

“I see,” Rei notes, lips quirking upwards a little. “How are you getting along? It’s been a while since you’ve worked so much with someone.”

 

He's a little surprised by the question, and his brief moment of hesitation costs him; he’s not entirely able to make up his mind as to how to answer, and it reads as uncertain when he does. “Ah, fine. We’ve worked together a lot before, so.”

 

“Well, there’s working together and then there’s working together,” his mother notes, setting her glass down. “You shouldn’t worry if things are a little tense. You’re working under strange circumstances.”

 

Maybe it’s the oddly normal parental advice, but he abruptly feels keenly aware of himself in a way he is usually not: aware of how little he can actually share with his mother, especially on this subject, and aware of his unusually emotion-driven urge to do so. 

 

“Things are fine,” Shouto repeats, instead, running his finger over the ridges in his glass. He doesn't quite meet her eyes.

 

 

Things are probably not fine. 

 

It’s not just the obvious- that as long as Kamiya resists the best efforts of the medical team, his father remains trapped and his career is effectively on hold- though certainly these unfortunate truths have been taking their toll. It’s not even that his usual means of distracting himself has been somewhat indefinitely skewed by virtue of the whole Quirk business. Obscurely disquieting though it is to admit it, even to himself, what has really kept him from throwing himself into a comforting routine is that things with Bakugou are weird.

 

Weird is the best way to put it. Contrary to all expectations, it’s not that they struggle to work with one another nowadays- they’re not ideal partners, and they butt heads over strategies sometimes, but on the whole Shouto has been quietly unsurprised by the fact that they run like a well-oiled machine. It’s also not even that their new arrangement has imploded in some catastrophic way; Bakugou is as much of a pragmatic over-achiever in this as he is everywhere else. 

 

He doesn’t know how to explain it without sounding intensely childish to his own ears, but his problem is that it doesn’t feel like they’re friends anymore. 

 

He’s evidently never been the best at qualifying his own relationships with people, and he is fully aware that Bakugou in particular has proven historically difficult to categorise, but even so, he feels as though he has come to have a fairly accurate understanding of who counts as his friends. As Izuku’s absence has made abundantly clear, Bakugou qualifies as such- or should. And yet, despite their perfectly civil working relationship and- well, civil’s not the word- after-hours relationship, he can’t shake the feeling that something is missing between them.

 

If he could, he wouldn’t be thinking about this at all. He’s sure he’s never spent this much time obsessing over anything like it, or at least not since he’d first met and rapidly formed an undying friendship with Izuku. Even the whole mess with his secret criminal brother hadn’t been like this- he’d spent far more time dwelling on justice and legacy than he had actually contemplating the details of their brotherly bond. It’s not in his nature to pay heed to the fact that Bakugou has been sidestepping his instinctive attempts at casual conversation with uncanny subtlety, but it eats away at him anyways, enough that he realises there’s no point in pretending it doesn’t. It’s so frustrating, and he is so rarely genuinely frustrated that he finds it all the harder not to itch to fix it. If Bakugou had actively wanted to get under his skin, he couldn’t have chosen a better way- it's common knowledge that he’s terrible at reading cues, and usually fails to care about this; being forced into a position where his only way out lies in reading into every silence is driving him slowly insane.

 

He presses a thumb to his forehead, allowing himself a moment of respite as he smooths out his knotted brow. Around him, Tokyo hums with life, streets brimming with chattering teenagers and hassled looking parents chasing after their children.

 

He has the weekend off, technically, a prospect which looms exhaustingly ahead of him. He normally works at least one day regardless, less out of the need for distraction and more because he genuinely likes to, but he currently has no good excuse for setting foot in the office until Monday; all there is to do is comb through case files. Their higher-ups are too wary of sticking either of them on some major case only to lose one of them as soon as they get their Quirks restored, but giving them minor skirmishes to resolve would be a waste of their time: as a result, they've ended up underworked. Shouto has never been less appreciative of being cut some slack. 

 

On paper, a day off is what he needs, just about now. He’s no longer as physically exhausted as he'd been in the aftermath of the Kajiya fight, having returned to a stable sleeping schedule, though Bakugou’s Quirk still wearies him by the end of the day, but he feels about as mentally drained as he has since he got that damn phone call. It’s most likely a combination of a lot of things he is too tired to look into. 

 

Hypotheticals are all well and good. He knows he could make the most of this- could go do something fulfilling and pleasant, or even just spend the day getting some extra rest in. He was hospitalised twice in relatively rapid proximity a fortnight ago; his body would appreciate the extra recovery time. But this is pure fantasy: he doesn’t think he’s napped once in his life, and even if he tried he knows very well he couldn’t do it. He’s just not wired that way. Normally this wouldn't be an issue, and he could muster up the state of mind to do something relaxing like go to a tea shop or wander through the park, but with the way things are that would be courting disaster- too many people around to recognise him, and too much time spent alone with his thoughts.

 

He is aware that if he just asked, his is a problem he could easily solve. Momo has been discreetly trying to see him since she returned to Tokyo; any number of his other friends would be genuinely happy to see him, if he called. He wouldn’t even need to leave the apartment- Izuku is awake by now, and they haven’t spoken in over a week.

 

He feels the faint and unfamiliar pangs of a headache make themselves known as he pushes his building door open, pausing to hold it for two teenagers who rush gratefully by. He misses the flustered smiles he gets in return, struck instead by the realisation that he lacks the ability to regulate his body temperature until the migraine vanishes. His head throbs as if in response, sharp and reproachful. 

 

The thing to do, he tells himself, rubbing absently at his temples, would be to reach out. Call anyone. Anything other than sit in his empty apartment listlessly reviewing files, resigned to wasting the rest of the day to stewing in confused anxiety about Bakugou. 

 

His front door shuts behind him with a decisive click. He sets his phone on the coffee table.

 

He’ll call tomorrow, he thinks, half-heartedly. 

 

 

Monday rolls around none too soon, though he can muster no great enthusiasm for his return to the office, somewhat to his irritation. He’s managed to work with far worse in the past- hell, he’d interned with his father twice. That he feels something approaching nervous when he goes to work these days is beyond embarrassing.

 

It’s the change he doesn’t like, is all. Some component of their dynamic has vanished noticeably, and it leaves him on unsteady footing, unsure how to proceed. He’s never once been awkward around Bakugou before- or not felt it, at least, despite Bakugou’s best efforts to make him, all those years ago. Now, though, his attempts to engage Bakugou in their usual back and forth are met with such persistent suspicion that he feels like he’s dreamt up the past several years of their friendship. 

 

He arrives to work very slightly late as a result of his fitful sleep, tousled and annoyingly sweaty from running into the office, trying testily to stamp down on his unwarranted nerves. They’re still working from Might Tower, both because it has the superior resources and because All Might was extremely amenable to having Bakugou stomping around reading company secrets; he’s gotten used to the sight of Bakugou perched against his cabinets. 

 

“What the fuck crawled up your ass and died?” Bakugou asks, upon sighting him. It's reassuringly normal, makes him relax an inch.

 

“Slept badly.”

 

“No shit,” Bakugou judges, absently raking his eyes over him with such a crotchety expression that Shouto wants to smile. “Try getting to your office on time some day, might sleep easier.”

 

“I think you gave me a stress headache,” Shouto replies, flippantly enough that it comes off as more ambiguous than true. It makes Bakugou give him a funny look anyways.

 

“Wasn’t for my tardiness.”

 

“Not that,” Shouto agrees, and then glances towards the folders on his desk, brows rising. “That looks like an actual job.”

 

He flips open the first folder as Bakugou comes to stand by him, crossing his arms. “It is. Not even an escaped prisoner, if you can believe that.”

 

This gives him pause, an odd mix of trepidation and relief in his gut as he contemplates the target. An actual job is good- lets him feel less like someone’s broken wind-up toy, for one, and the lack of a prison break connection is a weight off his shoulders. On the other hand…

 

“Looks like a tough one,” Shouto says, noncommittally, eyes raking over the pictures. 

 

He swears Bakugou stiffens, though when he glances covertly towards him he finds his face stuck in a default disparaging frown. “Not exactly up to standard.”

 

He’s not wrong. On a normal day, Shouto wouldn’t be particularly concerned by any of the specifics of the operation. All they're doing is playing offence for the NPA as they circle in on some Yakuza branch that’s been playing with robotics- a little tricky, given the machinery, but hardly significant given their track record. He knows this, logically, but his mind still jumps irresistibly to his last two stints in the hospital, and what landed him there.

 

It’s different, with their Quirks swapped. He can’t quite place the complex jumble of feelings he takes into every fight, but it’s there, too heavy to ignore. He worries for Bakugou, when it comes down to it- some obscure feeling of responsibility, maybe guilt, carried over from the fight in the warehouse. It is observably his fault that they are fighting with each other’s Quirks; whenever fire or ice fails Bakugou he feels sick to his stomach. It’s violently discomfiting, especially because he knows Bakugou is more than capable of getting by with the tools at his disposition, and because he is fully aware of how condescending it would feel were Bakugou to voice the opposite concern. 

 

It’s not like he’s never worried for his friends’ safety before- hell, he’d certainly worried for Bakugou’s all the way back during the Kamino Ward mess. It’s just never been this problematic. Their fight against Kamiya had worked out fine, but he had actively chosen a plan more likely to injure him than to involve Bakugou, and he’s not sure he could justify it if pressed. 

 

The other issue is that Bakugou has picked up on the change, too, no question about it. Not the specific motivation, if he's lucky, but the slightly off decision-making at least. He’d been so pissy after the Kamiya incident that Shouto had half-expected him to retain the bad attitude for the foreseeable, but the outburst had come and gone like a brief clap of thunder on an otherwise sunny day, and proven almost the more disturbing for it. 

 

Bakugou's demeanour since may point to a storm of a different nature, though. Whatever caginess he’d felt from him ahead of the fight has clearly taken the helm since.

 

“We have an hour to prep and get there,” Shouto notes aloud, closing the file. It’ll take them thirty minutes at most. 

 

“Half an hour to spare,” Bakugou echoes, their eyes meeting almost reluctantly. Plenty of time to talk- to ask the questions he's been putting off asking for two weeks now. 

 

“Locker room?” Shouto says, after a beat. Bakugou looks somewhat put-upon.

 

“God, fine.”

 

Shouto finds this oddly heartening. 

 

 

Everything would be a lot clearer to him if Bakugou showed any signs of regretting their new arrangement, he reflects, cheek pressed against the cool window of their escort car as they drive. Being driven around makes him feel like a kept man, but the NPA are always very sensitive about heroes bringing their own vehicles within the danger radius. It gives him even more time to waste, which he is neutral about on a good day and resolutely resentful of on days like these. 

 

He shifts in his seat, tired of his own nonsense, and refocuses on his tablet, skimming the pictures at his disposal. If Bakugou’s group was around, he’s sure they’d be making references to every kind of robot-based media in the world; all he can see when he examines their blocky medal bodies is the vague outline of two motorbikes pressed back to back.

 

Odd how these things work. Three weeks ago they’d still harboured the suspicion that Kajiya herself had some kind of technopathic Quirk, or at least had someone with one with her employ. That had turned out to be demonstrably false, and yet here they are on a completely unrelated case where the man behind the weaponry possesses exactly that.

 

On the other side of the car, Bakugou is giving their driver increasingly dirty looks, presumably for his incredibly cautious driving. Shouto allows himself to observe the increasingly murderous twitch of his brow until he feels the car round a curb with the world’s slowest manoeuvre, turning away just in time for Bakugou to swear loudly and stick his head between the front seats. 

 

“The start time wasn’t given as a fucking suggestion!”

 

Their tires screech. He presses his face back to the window. 

 

They arrive on-site with five minutes to spare, mainly through intimidation, if he’s being honest. The police have already taken position along the street, two blocks away from their target location; there is an audible hum of anticipation that rises once he and Bakugou step out of the car.

 

He spots their contact first, a tall grey-haired man named Saito he’s worked with before but tends to forget the name of between missions. He’s not good with remembering names and faces when they don’t matter to him, and he works with so many people nowadays that he can’t muster the urge to try harder. 

 

“Shouto, Ground Zero,” Saito greets, rapidly bowing as he gestures them closer. “There’s been a slight change of plans.”

 

Instinctively he looks towards Bakugou, expecting some eyebrow quirk or side glance that never comes, the blonde firmly focused on their contact. “That so?”

 

Saito nods, sending a harried glance backwards. 

 

“These machines are going to be a bigger concern than anticipated. We’ve just had confirmation that they’re essentially bullet-proof.”

 

Of course they are. “What does that change?”

 

“We’re not going to be able to assist you as much as we planned,” Saito elaborates, running a habitual hand through his hair. “Most of the troops are reliant on standard protective gear rather than Quirks. Against these machines that’ll be insufficient for close quarters combat.”

 

He doesn’t display much surprise at the announcement- he can count on one hand the amount of missions he’s been brought in on where there wasn’t some kind of necessary twist to force him into the front-lines. Still, it’s a pain in the ass to have this dropped on them at the literal last minute, if only because it forces a reworking of the plans they’d so carefully gone over half an hour ago.

 

“Are your guys going to be able to do anything for us?” Bakugou asks, with an unimpressed glower. “If they can’t get past the machines we might as well go retrieve the guy ourselves.”

 

At this, the officer gives a tight shake of his head. “No. The people we’re after are too flighty. As soon as you start fighting the machines, they’ll be making a break for it. That’s when my men will intercept them.”

 

“If you’re sure,” Shouto says, tonelessly. He’s learnt it’s best to implicitly shift responsibility over to the NPA when they rearrange plans like this- keep his doubts to himself, since there’s no time for debate, but ensure no one can try to pin the blame on the pro side when something goes wrong. 

 

“Then it’s settled. You two take front ranks, proceeding as planned, and we’ll follow. You are fit to fight, right?”

 

“Should have asked that earlier,” Bakugou retorts, flashing teeth in a sarcastic rictus as he rolls his shoulders. “Let’s move.”

 

They set off ahead of the fray, careful as they near the target’s household. It’s a nice residence, extremely spacious by Tokyo standards, with a gated lawn and a two-storey house; Shouto is intimately familiar with the layout. 

 

They stop when they’re just one street back, turning off to scale the building opposite the street. Height is best for any kind of stealth approach; Bakugou propels himself upwards in a burst of fire as Shouto follows more slowly, trying to pace his explosions enough to restrain their volume.

 

It is bizarrely silent. For a moment he toggles  thoughtlessly with his earpiece, casting an eye around as he advances cautiously atop the roof, but the comm isn’t the issue- it’s just that neither of them are speaking. 

 

He’s not sure exactly when he got so accustomed to ambient noise on their stake-outs, but he is confident enough that it’s been a while. Bakugou isn’t exactly famous for his volume control or passivity; as much as he can be quiet when necessary, he certainly never seems to deem it necessary when they’re on the job. 

 

Seemed. Now’s a different story.

 

Shouto catches himself staring, rips his eyes away to refocus on the house across the street. It does little to shift his train of thought; they’re still waiting on the signal, and unless anyone bursts out guns blazing there’s nothing to do but wait. 

 

He is uncomfortably aware that this is their first big job since the Kamiya fight. Bakugou has been off ever since, committed fully to whatever shift in behaviour he’d already been flirting with post-Quirk swap. If he knows him at all, his anger will have carried over from then; he’ll be watching Shouto with extreme suspicion for any sign of unnecessary exertion. 

 

It occurs to him, not for the first time, that Bakugou’s attitude could just be the symptom of his own concern. It’s the kind of thing Shouto could feasibly have failed to pick up on, and it would explain his overreaction in the aftermath of the fight. It’s not like he’s grasping at straws; he’s seen Bakugou lash out out of worry on numerous occasions. It’s just that he can’t quite convince himself that Bakugou would worry. They’ve always been on even footing where their Quirks are concerned, and Bakugou has always considered him capable, bluster aside. Why he would abruptly start perceiving Shouto as somehow unable to perform the basics of his job eludes him, and besides his skin prickles at the idea. All that would make sense is that the strain of his familial melodrama has begun to show, and if that’s the case Bakugou’s concern would smack of pity. 

 

He’s not quite on the ‘needed to be heavily eased into accepting a rescue mission’ level of pride, but he shuns pity decisively. And if Bakugou really thinks he’s gone fragile just because his father has characteristically upset his routine-

 

“Movement,” Bakugou says, hunching to survey the windows. Shouto follows his gaze, straightening his posture in anticipation. Sure enough, there is someone inside, retreating away from the light. 

 

On cue, their comms sound the alert, police channels activating simultaneously. 

 

“Pros clear to go. Advance guard moving in in five… four… three… two…”

 

He takes the lead from Bakugou by fractions of seconds, knees high and arms extended as he arcs downwards, boots landing steadily on the outer wall of the residence just as alarms begin to blare. He’s already halfway to jumping off the wall when the upstairs window bangs open and someone starts shooting, an attempt cut short by Shouto flicking an explosion right at the source of the gunfire with quite Bakugou-like precision.

 

He lands on the lawn, smoke clearing as the shooter audibly swears and retreats, thunk behind him signalling Bakugou’s presence, and has about five seconds to get his bearings before somewhere around a dozen machines come bursting out from each side of the house, followed by a loud metallic whirring that Shouto takes to mean they’ll soon be joined by bigger problems.

 

He slams his palms together at their approach, ensuing shockwave enough to blow the first wave back so that he can take the time to shift into a more apt fighting stance, then spins to direct an explosion outwards that manages to skewer two bots in one hit. He registers their relative fragility as he moves, dodging a blast that leaves a scorched black hole where he’d been stood. 

 

These machines are of no real concern to them, which they’d anticipated; despite their hard shell and dangerous aim, they weren’t made to withstand glaciers or double-strength dynamite. The real issue will be dispensing with them fast enough that the bigger machines don’t catch them unawares- and whilst avoiding too much damage to the stronghold. They need the mob alive.

 

He slides underneath a horde of advancing bots so that they crash into one another, rolls to his feet with one hand already aiming behind him as he turns. The explosion bursts from him with ferocity, ripping clean through one of the machines and sending one of the others into a wall hard enough that it snaps in half. The last one remains standing a while longer, mechanical beeping gone distorted from damage; Shouto weaves closer without even the assistance of his stolen Quirk, too quick on his feet for the attempted blasts to pose any real threat, then hits the machine smack in its centre, curling up to avoid shrapnel as it bursts into pieces. 

 

Blows rain down on him from two different directions, and he launches himself swiftly upwards, the crackling burning of his palms still walking the line between pain and pleasure as he ascends. He wastes no time on semantics; as soon as he has a clear shot he lets himself free-fall, mimicked AP-shots firing in rapid succession to skewer the incoming bots. 

 

He lands cleanly atop one of the overturned bots, clunking sound accompanying the movement, and meets Bakugou’s eyes from across the courtyard, suddenly aware of the sound of his own lightly increased breathing as he notes the absence of machines blocking them from one another’s sight. 

 

He licks his lips distractedly, about to make some comment about which of them took out his portion of the bots faster if only to provoke some competitive annoyance (he’s fairly sure it was a near-tie, given that the smouldering pile of metal Bakugou is crouched atop is still smoking heavily) when Bakugou’s eyes flash with alarm; Shouto is airborne before he can even think to move, just in time for a hail of bullets to rain down where he’d been stood. 

 

He redirects, shifts mid-air, pulse a little skittish. There are four new bots rolling in, bigger this time: where the others had stood about as tall as All Might or a Nomu, these easily double that, and there is a funny glint to their surface that makes him think that…

 

Bakugou directs a wave of fire towards the advancing machines. The wave unfurls right back at them.

 

Shouto lands heavily, bracing for impact as he ducks beneath the flames; the dampness seeping through the lawn means Bakugou intercepted with ice, and smoke is descending heavily around them, obscuring his visibility as he falls back.

 

“Two ‘o clock!” Bakugou barks, over the comms. Shouto vaults forwards, missing the burst of gunfire aimed his way, and uses the momentum to break into a sprint, explosions lifting his feet off the ground so he can twist ahead of the fray, releasing one arm to aim a colossal blast at the first gleam of metal he sees closing in through the settling smoke.

 

His shoulder aches a little from the recoil as he swings backwards, but as he suspected the blow lands- the back of the bot caves in hard from the impact, machine whirring loudly as it sparks. He shoots off a second to finish it off, resounding boom signalling impact as he drops out of sight.

 

Well, there’s that hypothesis confirmed, he thinks, a little short on breath as he touches down.

 

“They’re reflective only to a certain degree. If you hit them up close they can’t withstand direct damage.”

 

“Copy,” Bakugou replies, sounding sort of harried himself; as Shouto glances sightlessly in his direction ice spears right through one of the bots with a forceful crack, gunfire slowing into inaction from the remaining husk. 

 

The arm of one of the machines nearly hits him, a crushing blow he avoids only by virtue of having felt the smoke disperse around him ahead of collision; he punches up, rapid explosion ricocheting with enough violence that he barrels off a second one to nullify it midway, cursing silently as he launches himself into the air. 

 

He’s getting distracted again. Like Bakugou can’t handle a fucking robot. 

 

Pent-up frustration sings in his veins when he sees the machine move again, his feet firmly planted as he tempers its approach, deflecting bullets with a continuous stream of explosions until it’s close enough to make another grab for him. His next hit is slightly over-scale for the space they’re in, palms stinging and feet digging hard into the lawn as the force rips clean through the machine, giving him a clear picture of the yard for a second as he stares through the gaping hole in its centre. There are two new bots incoming. 

 

“Company,” Shouto warns, using the collapsing bot as a stepping stool as his hands crackle. He feels impatient, all of a sudden- eager for this to be over and done with, tired of his newfound combat hypervigilance. It’s like he’s back at UA failing some kind of assessment- aware that he’s off his game, doubly aware that he’s being watched, caught in a feedback loop that leaves him tetchy and frustrated.

 

His forehead is slick with sweat when he pushes his hair back, both hands falling in front of him with cool focus as he awaits the bots’ approach. Their shots are easy enough to deflect; he just needs to wait a second longer. Up close he needs to focus on scale, but if he stays put he might as well just level both of them in one go; his stolen Quirk is certainly itching for it, waspishly buzzing inside him as he sets his jaw. 

 

He stops the low-caliber explosions just long enough to brace in-between rounds of the machines’ shots, twitching with concentration as the power surges into his hands, hounding for release. 

 

Just one more step. One more. Bullets are bursting forth right towards him, but it’s too late; he can feel the explosion rattling through him, and-

 

Bakugou, suddenly, Bakugou in his line of vision, one swift ice-embedded kick through the motor, metal splintering on impact, and Shouto’s hands igniting, his chest pounding with heavy panic as he aims blindly sideways instead, power rippling through him with unstoppable speed as the blast hits the next machine instead, reverb sending him flying into the air as his ears ring nauseatingly.

 

“What are you doing?” someone asks, in an unsteady raw tone of voice, and it takes him a second to register that the question came from him, his heart beating out of his chest.

 

“Trying to stop you,” Bakugou snaps, strung-out over the comms, and Shouto levels an incredulous stare in his approximate direction as he steers himself downwards, knees locked into a landing stance when he touches the ground. 

 

“Stop me?”

 

Movement, light; Bakugou visible, closer now, flames crawling over him. He is quite literally incandescent.

 

“Yeah, stop you. Why didn’t you blast them from up close like you just fucking told me to do?”

 

“I could take them from afar by using a stronger hit,” Shouto replies, disbelief mingling with dawning anger. “I nearly hit you just now.”

 

“You keep overestimating how strong of a blast your body can handle,” Bakugou snarls, fists clenched tightly by his sides. “Happened last time too, in case you forgot sometime while you were passed out.”

 

His arms are still shaking lightly, and he’s sure Bakugou would take this as confirmation of his hypothesis. It’s not. 

 

“I’m not overestimating anything,” Shouto says, low and clear. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. It’s not Bakugou’s place to make these calls- not Bakugou’s place to take stupid risks like that just to rectify Shouto’s miscalculations. “If you keep underestimating me you’re going to get yourself hurt.”

 

I can handle myself,” Bakugou retorts, like a punch to the stomach, and Shouto doesn’t know what his face does but he thinks it shows, because something panicked flashes through Bakugou’s face before he looks away, jaw clenching.

 

“You’re unbelievable,” Shouto says, and this isn’t the time and place, but two weeks’ worth of confusion and suspicion are fighting for purchase in his chest and he can’t help himself. “If you have some problem with me you might as well just come out and say it.”

 

This gets Bakugou’s attention, gaze snapping to him instantaneously, and for a second Shouto thinks he’s about to come clean, confess some ulterior motive that will somehow demystify everything. There is a tremendously loud grating sound behind the house, tell-tale tremors beneath their feet, and still he waits, expectant, for Bakugou to make sense again, for some answer that Shouto is clearly not going to obtain otherwise.

 

The house trembles, automated whirring approaching, and Bakugou shifts, eyes narrowed.

 

“My problem is that you clearly fucking have one. You’ve been off your game for weeks now. If we’re stuck working together for god knows how long you can’t be acting up for no good reason.”

 

There is no time to respond: with a grating scraping sound, a new machine emerges from behind the house, walls splintering at its passage. Before Shouto has even made it out in its entirety he is moving on instinct, spurred into action by the familiar sound of a machine-gun. 

 

“Down!”

 

The ensuing blast hits the machine hard, enough that it spins slightly, gun pointing away from them for a moment’s reprieve, but he has no time to feel vindicated- within instants the bot has spun around, revealing a second machine gun, and he is throwing himself into the air to avoid being struck down by about fifty bullets. 

 

Wave upon wave of shells rain down on them as they move this way and that, the noise ear-splitting and the roving guns making it impossible to land out of harm’s way; he keeps up a small stream of explosions that function as a shield, aware that they need to move into the offensive or risk exhaustion getting the better of them. 

 

He’s not very injured- a couple of bruises and scrapes, nothing more- but that won’t last, with this one, the obvious final boss of the confrontation. It’s colossal, easily the size of the house, shell a hard metal that no doubt resists attacks as well as the previous wave; with every roll of its wheels stone and grass fly upwards, tiles cracking under its weight. 

 

He glides past Bakugou, who is attempting to construe an ice wall to buy them some time, feels his gut clench with directionless anger. It’s not the time or place, he knows, but it doesn’t matter- he recognises this uncontrollable frustration, now, knows he is functionally at its mercy. The last time he felt so dominated by emotion despite the combat stakes was during their provisional license exams, rising helplessly to Inasa’s bait. This time around he feels just the same- aware of the petty nature of the argument, incredulous that it’s even happening, and yet too slighted to let it go like he damn well should.

 

Stupid, stupid, letting this unravel now, getting wrapped up in something so meaningless. Meaningless and entirely foreseeable, though he’d been somehow expecting an alternative.

 

It’s no surprise that Bakugou’s problem is his problem- a slight circumstantial increase in protectiveness, which naturally Bakugou sees as a flaw, something to rebuff harshly like Shouto isn’t a grown adult capable of keeping himself in check, like Shouto’s actions in the Kamiya fight had been completely devoid of rationality. Of course Bakugou had seen his hesitation and immediately stopped acting like they were friends at all; he’d told himself there was nothing emotional to his attraction, and clearly his assessment had been spot-on, because the moment Shouto displayed any kind of momentary emotional weakness Bakugou had reneged any of the growing familiarity of their relationship completely.

 

Bakugou is an asshole, that’s nothing new- Shouto’s own fault for letting his emotions factor into his work, Shouto’s own fault for thinking their growing familiarity was something he could rely on. 

 

Heat pulses through him with sudden venom, and he is flying, spinning, evading shots left and right; his boots slam into the bot’s right arm hard, metal groaning on impact, gun spinning confusedly to follow. 

 

“The fuck are you-“ Bakugou starts, then gets it, hairs on Shouto’s neck standing on air from the chill as he slams his own palms into the junction where robotic shoulder meets arm, ensuing metallic groan ringing violently through the momentary pause in gunfire as the bot whirrs furiously to lock onto his position. 

 

He jumps just ahead of the burst, noting one lone bullet grazing his elbow with annoyance, lands heavily atop the machine, jaw finally unclenching with some difficulty. 

 

“I don’t have a problem. I’m just adjusting.”

 

There is a crunching sound as the machine-gun fires fruitlessly into solid ice, arms still grabbing blindly at Shouto, and he can’t see Bakugou but he can imagine the way his face twists.

 

“Adjusting.”

 

It’s said in this tone, like Shouto’s lying, all dismissive double entendre, and Shouto’s hands spark reactively even as he drops onto one of the bot’s arms to launch himself rapidly overhead, machine guns swerving up after him as he concentrates on remaining within its blind spot, distracting from the advancing curve of ice. If Bakugou’s going to insinuate- if this is how he’s going to be, after two weeks of waxing hot and cold inexplicably, then what exactly is the point of correcting his assumptions? 

 

“Clearly I miscalculated in thinking I could adjust well enough. Won’t happen again.”

 

He sways too far left, blocks an incoming hail with a blast, dropping back down to shoulder-roll over the top of the bot; out of the corner of his eye he can see the ice crystallising on the grass near them. For all his force Bakugou’s containment needs work.

 

“After all of your bullshit- should have known that was it,” Bakugou scoffs, sounding angry despite himself, and then Shouto has to dodge and drop rapidly when the bot finally detects his advance, swerving to unleash its guns upon Bakugou as he volleys towards them in a flash of white-blue-black. Too late, though: fire erupts from his hands with volcanic heat, so strong Shouto can feel himself sweat responsively, and the metal groans as the guns begin to curve downwards. Over the comm Bakugou sounds more aggrieved than strained. 

 

“This was predictable to you.”

 

“Fucking said this was a terrible idea, didn’t I?”

 

God, the asshole. 

 

“Yes, you were right,” Shouto retorts, even as he dives just beneath the bot’s grasping arm, the thunking sounds above signalling Bakugou’s handspring over the top of the bot. “I apologise for having pushed for this foreseeable fiasco. Obviously I haven’t been in my right mind lately.”

 

“Foreseeable,” Bakugou repeats, violent crunching preceding the halt of the second gun’s fire as Shouto gets into position beneath the extremely volatile bot, dodging kicks as he goes. “That’s fucking rich.”

 

A metallic heel almost catches him in the stomach; he grits his teeth, repositions himself. “We don’t have the most tender of track records.”

 

“That’s right,” Bakugou says, in a horrible sarcastic sort of tone. “You only decided to get all buddy-buddy once Izuku left. Not apt replacement, in the end?”

 

Shouto’s delicately calculated explosion rips through the robot’s shell so hard it hits all the way up into the engine. His head is throbbing so that he feels like he can’t see properly, arms working mechanically to boost him up inside the shaking body of the machine, and as he fixes his sights on the pulsing engine he feels momentarily like he’s about to tear out some dying beast’s heart.

 

Bakugou is not a replacement for anyone, he knows. He knows, and thinks he should say, because Bakugou is never usually so vitriolic, and that speaks of- something, but he is so unfamiliarly, uncontrollably angry at himself and Bakugou both that he doesn’t care. Apt replacement. Like that’s what this is. Like that’s the type of person Shouto is. 

 

Bakugou has carved himself a place in Shouto’s life that is far bigger than he realised up until this exact moment, and the fact that he has let him, when Bakugou is- petty, and spiteful, and harsh, makes him feel vividly, viciously young, makes his spine rigid with humiliating defensiveness.

 

“You’re not a replacement,” Shouto says, hands steady on the vibrating engine. “We’re barely even friends, remember.”

 

The blast rips the head clean off the machine.

 

 

They emerge from the smoking debris to streaming sunlight, the crowd applauding rapturously as Shouto squints silently at the sunbeams reflecting off the twisted shreds of metal littering the yard. It looks like some kind of post-apocalyptic graveyard. 

 

“In a word, wow,” one of the younger officers says, or is saying, as police begins to make their way carefully towards the house. “I mean, tremendous work as always, Shouto-san, it’s an honour-“

 

“Thank you,” Shouto says, and doesn’t blink when flash goes off behind them, from where bystanders have begun to press just past the gates, wide-eyed in recognition. 

 

Police lines crackle to life; Saito’s voice now, a little strained but mostly more contented than Shouto’s ever heard him. 

 

“Target safely secured. He gave up much faster than predicted once he understood who was on the scene. Good work, Ground Zero, Shouto.”

 

Neither of them replies until Shouto, distantly, hears himself make some kind of acknowledgement. 

 

They drive back to NPA headquarters, give their report. Then back to Might Tower for much the same. He silently holds the door to the conference room open for Bakugou, who nods at him as he walks in. 

 

When it’s over, his neatly redacted mission statement joining Bakugou’s on his desk, he glances cursorily over at the board. Nothing else scheduled for the afternoon. He’d known that this morning- had planned on some routine patrols to fill the time.

 

“I’m patrolling this afternoon,” he informs Bakugou, skimming through his schedule. 

 

“I’m doing recon for the office.”

 

He thinks he says goodbye, though he can’t quite recall. They’ll see each other tomorrow in the afternoon, most likely- medical checks, again. Thirty seventy odds of good news, the doctors had said. 

 

Patrols are, of course, uneventful. He stops a minor robbery at a grocery store in about a minute and a half flat, till returned and robber left tied up and immobilised for the police to retrieve. At some point in the afternoon, he has a thought that actually sticks, which is that he wishes there was something worse happening for him to resolve. This in turn makes him think irrepressibly of his brother, and then he has to stop walking for a second to get his Quirk under control.

 

His work phone rings at some point as he heads home, and he answers habitually, though it takes him several rings to actively register the sound.

 

“Hello.”

 

“You’re ignoring your texts,” Akaba says, all half-hearted reproach. It brings him back somewhat from wherever he’d been, blinking at his surroundings. “I told you to stop keeping that thing on silent.”

 

“I forgot,” Shouto says, which is truer than it usually is. 

 

“Yeah, well,” Akaba sighs, in the tone that signals she has more pressing matters to attend to. “If you’re looking to avoid bad news, cutting your phone isn’t going to do much.”

 

“Bad news?” Shouto asks, feeling himself tense. Before he can begin conjecturing, Akaba clicks her tongue dismissively, an oddly familiar sound.

 

“No, no, I think you’ve had enough of that for the next while. And thank god for that, too- any more and we’d lose your marketable good looks.”

 

“Good news,” Shouto surmises, looking at his palms. 

 

“Good news indeed,” Akaba agrees. “Now, of course, your position is still frozen until we get this whole Quirk situation sorted, but they’ve done the monthly tallies, and no matter what happens between now and then your points are too high for anyone to challenge your spot.”

 

“My spot,” Shouto echoes. He seems to be unable to contribute anything else to the conversation. Akaba only snorts.

 

“You’ve made top five. Wide margin. All these high-profile fights the last while, and resolving the Endeavour situation- and the public is frothing at the mouth over you, which I’m sure you’ve noticed.”

 

“Oh,” Shouto says, glancing upwards, where the sun is drifting slowly downwards. Top five. 

 

“We’ll have to work on your reaction for the press junket,” Akaba answers, dryly. “Some intonation, maybe. Multiple words, even.”

 

How many years has he been working towards it? His whole life, it feels like. Unlike most children that’s probably an accurate assessment.

 

“Hey,” Akaba says, voice gentling a little. “Congratulations. It’s well-deserved.”

 

He thanks her, he’s pretty sure. He doesn’t check the rest of his notifications, though; doesn’t check much of anything until his feet lead him back to his apartment, the door shutting with a firm click as he stares at the living room, eyes caught on the coffee table.

 

He feels- bad. He thinks- no, he knows. He feels bad. He has accomplished something he has wanted to accomplish for a long time, and he must be proud, somewhere, but he feels bad. Worse than he has in some time, even through all of the low-level unhappiness of the past few weeks, which he has tried so hard not to acknowledge.

 

He sits. He should change, shower, but this seems a tremendous effort. 

 

He knows- obviously he knows that this whole debacle has made him miserable. He’s not oblivious. His estranged father has been viciously attacked, dragging all of his entangled feelings about his family to the surface; he’s been thrust head-first into an intensive high-stakes plot to kill him and unleash his psychotic brother. His Quirk doesn’t belong to him. His best friend is an ocean away. These are not things that make him happy, but he hasn’t had the time- there was nothing to be done, and he was working fine, up until today, except for the Bakugou thing, which-

 

His breath feels a little caught in his lungs. He takes a long inhale, wills the shudders away. He doesn’t do panic attacks. 

 

He calms himself forcefully, waits for his breathing to regulate. God, if Izuku had seen that whole embarrassment- if anyone had… He hasn’t- he is not the type to fight, confrontational only when conflicts demand it, and he can’t recall the last time he got caught up in something so stupid.  If they’d slipped up on the job-

 

He is upset, he realises. He is upset enough that every ounce of unhappiness that has laid dormant inside him is threatening to erupt in a haze of misery, and he is this upset because of Bakugou. It’s like some absurd vicious cycle of awareness, where the fact that he is so affected by this upsets him even more. 

 

He feels like he could cry, which makes him get a grip, pushing himself out of his huddled position on the couch. He has to- do something. Go out, except he can’t possibly show his face to the outside world like this, can hear the words PR-disaster ring through his head like an alarm. He could sleep it off, but his brain feels staticky, and it’s not even dinner time. 

 

Helplessness sinks into him heavily, followed immediately by furious denial; he sways a little where he stands, feeling rooted to the spot. 

 

He shouldn’t be vulnerable to this sort of thing. There is no reason for him to be this affected by this sort of thing. 

 

His eyes, roving the room aimlessly, catch on the book-shelf, and for a second his mind clears, eyes focusing; he moves, plants himself in front of it, breathing evening out as he looks. This is where Kirishima had decided to deposit his photos, stuck in unbelievably tacky plastic frames- Shouto had protested, uncomfortable with keeping someone else’s pictures, but he’d insisted that he had plenty to spare, and besides, Shouto was in them, so he had as much claim to them as anyone else. 

 

“That’s not how fucking ownership works.”

 

“Don’t be a spoilsport, man.”

 

Staring, now, at the frozen faces of his friends, laughter and warmth in the immortalised vignettes despite his own awkwardness in front of the camera, something unclenches in his chest.

 

He has another option. It’s one that makes his skin crawl, but it is measurably better than staying here alone.

 

His phone is in his hand, suddenly. Turns out it’s not so hard to use.

 

 

Momo doesn’t pick up immediately, but she calls back so fast he spares a thought to wonder if she’s put him on some kind of emergency alert setting at some point. He doesn’t remember what he even says to her- it’s all very dry and reluctant- but she can clearly hear through it, because by the time he hangs up she’s already rescheduled some kind of work obligation and promised a rapid arrival. 

 

He’s not sure how much time passes; he makes tea, at some stage, which is still steaming when his intercom buzzes and he lets her into the building.

 

“Hello,” Shouto says, when she appears atop the stairs, stood hovering in his doorway with tea in hand. “I made tea.”

 

If it were Izuku, he is entirely sure he wouldn’t have been able to bear the obvious worry radiating off him. Momo is made of subtler stuff; she accepts the tea graciously, and though her eyes are searching her stance is not that of someone who has just rushed through Tokyo traffic to get to him.

 

They sit. She looks around the apartment, makes appreciative noises. Sometime in high school Momo learned to pretend to find normal people’s housing something other than terribly cramped.

 

“It looks lovely. Lived in. I’ve been meaning to stop by and see for myself.”

 

She says it like it’s her own fault for getting busy rather than Shouto’s continuous reluctance to extend any invitations, which makes his stomach turn faintly leaded with guilt. His jaw feels clamped shut.

 

Momo sips her tea, sets it delicately down, turns dark eyes on him, gaze soothingly cool.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

It’s direct for Momo, which is most definitely for his benefit. He still can’t quite bring himself to do anything but incline his head.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

Momo’s expression twists a little, hands smoothing her skirt. “Forgive me, but I don’t- I don’t think you are.”

 

Her hands are still moving, and it’s this nervous habit more than anything that spurs him into action, despite the crawling discomfort in his skin. 

 

“Maybe not.”

 

“I,” Momo starts, then clasps her hands together to stop them from moving.

“Shouto, ah. I’ve been very worried for you. And I- we all know you are more than capable of looking after yourself. But I- this has been such a terrible, terrible time, and if you’re- if it’s getting to you, that’s normal, you understand? It’s normal.”

 

When he says nothing, feeling somewhat blindsided, she gets a determined glint in her eyes, leaning forwards. 

 

“I understand this has been- very intense. I’m sure there has been no time to process how you feel. Your professional behaviour has been commendable. But you can’t fault yourself if you feel overwhelmed.”

 

He feels his head jerk a little in denial, fingers curling around his teacup. 

 

“I’m not- it’s not…”

 

She waits him out; he exhales, relaxing his hold around the cup.

 

“It’s not just the- that. I would have- I could have dealt with that later.”

 

Momo doesn’t contest this, which makes his chest ache with abrupt appreciation for her. “So there’s something else.”

 

Last chance to change his mind, Shouto thinks. Last chance to divert- to bring up any of the other things that have been plaguing him, Kajiya’s anger or his father’s will or the fact he sometimes thinks he will always be like this, conscious of his failings and yet powerless to cope with them any better.

 

Momo looks at him expectantly, mottled bruise high on her cheekbone, nails carefully trimmed, hair tidily tucked behind her ears, and he gazes away.

 

“It’s uncomfortably personal,” Shouto says, in warning. His tone is strange.

 

“And also a secret. You’ll probably want to tell a lot of people and not be able to.”

 

He pauses in thought, then adds, for good measure: “It could ruin whatever image you have of me forever.”

 

This finally breaks Momo’s textbook ‘I am listening’ posture, her brows shooting up, and for a moment he thinks he might have been a little amused under different circumstances, watching her try and fail not to think of the most salacious of secrets that he might be hiding.

 

It only lasts a moment; her brows descend to polite levels, then furrow, determined set to her shoulders as she nods. 

 

“If you want to tell me, I’ll listen. I won’t tell anyone.”

 

He could probably confess to murder and she’d hold to that, he thinks, though somehow this does not particularly erase the weight of his confession. He manages a nod.

 

“I’ll spare you the details. The point is-“ 

 

He has never been so halting in his life. Concern bleeds into Momo’s expression; to prevent any further speculation, he mentally shakes himself, digs his nails into his sweating palms.

 

“I fought with Bakugou today.”

 

It’s not what he meant to say, but in a sense he supposes it answers the question. Momo’s hands have stilled, and she pauses, then nods. 

 

“Are you upset you fought, or what you fought about?”

 

“Both,” Shouto says. He’s better with the direct questions. “It was like that time with Inasa, at the provisional license exam. I felt like I was out of control.” He pauses, swallows. “It was on the job.”

 

“I see,” Momo says, after half a second, concern less nebulous now. “But you worked through it, correct?”

 

“It didn’t affect our performance,” Shouto agrees, dully. Small mercies. “It got ugly. I don’t think I’ve ever fought like that with someone outside of my family.”

 

Momo hesitates audibly, then her hand shoots out to grab tentatively at his, fingers wrapping around his when he stops tensing so hard. He’s extremely conscious of how uncomfortable it must be for her, holding on to his hot and sticky hand, but she shows no sign of it, worrying her lip with indecision before she seems to reach a conclusion.

 

“I’m surprised that you fought.”

 

It sounds like an admission. For a moment he wants to say something more intelligent; then he considers it, inclines his head. 

 

“So am I.”

 

“It’s just,” Momo starts, delicately, “You’ve- you’re close. Or- it’s always seemed to me like you were, at least for these past few years. Especially since Midoriya left.”

 

“I think we are,” Shouto says, with some difficulty. He’s so sweaty. “But I’m not sure I really knew that until recently.”

 

“Oh,” Momo replies, understanding. “Well- he is a little difficult.”

 

This makes him give her a look, to which she has the decency to smile guiltily.

 

“Maybe more than a little.”

 

“Maybe,” Shouto echoes, sobering. “I don’t think I’m very good at showing affection either.”

 

“I think you’re better than you think,” Momo counters, turning a little shy when he looks up at her. “I- I’ve certainly felt quite confident in our friendship for a long time now.”

 

“You should,” Shouto says, quick, serious. It makes her smile again, eyes darting aside briefly before she nods.

 

“I don’t want to make this about myself, but- I’m not always very good at letting people know how I feel, either. And I’m better now, but when I first went to UA I was very prone to keeping things to myself, blaming myself for my own unhappiness. Nowadays I try not do to that, but when- something bad happens, it’s hard, I think, not to fall back on old habits.”

 

Their gazes meet. “I’m not saying it’s the same for you, but- I was a little worried, when you stayed here by yourself. Then things seemed to be going well, and then, with your father-“

 

“This wasn’t about that,” Shouto starts, but Momo only shakes her head.

 

“I know- it wasn’t only about that. But if you’re- unhappy, and angry, and trying not to feel it, because of all these other things, then I don’t think it’s surprising that you got into this fight, Shouto. And if it was immature of you I don’t think that’s unexpected.”

 

He thinks, immediately, of the defensiveness roaring in his chest, of the way he’d shut down two weeks prior, of the day Bakugou had thrown cereal bars at him because he couldn’t bring himself to eat. That was you before UA, his mind declares, Momo’s hypothesis neatly substantiated. Except…

 

“I don’t usually start fights when I get like that.”

 

“No, but Bakugou does,” Momo says, and just like that Shouto recalls, stupidly, the numerous brawls Izuku and Bakugou have gotten into, recalls their source, recalls that he knows that Bakugou baits people into fighting him when he’s upset.

 

His chest does something funny; he is entirely distracted from the subject at hand, trying to fill in the pieces.

 

“He baited me into it,” he hears himself mumble, aloud. “I don’t know why he did that.”

 

Momo is quiet for a moment, then she shifts. “Is it- were you on good terms before today?”

 

No, Shouto thinks. Evidently not. 

 

He shakes his head. Momo nods.

 

“Then maybe he didn’t know how else to approach it. I don’t- I think he’d be best placed to explain.”

 

“He does so love explaining his feelings,” Shouto mutters, flat, staring at their joined hands. In his head he keeps replaying Bakugou’s yelling; he sags.

 

“I think he’s been angry at me ever since we swapped Quirks, but I don’t think it’s because of that. Then for a while- I don’t know. I don’t understand what he wants from me.”

 

There is the longest pause yet, and then Momo asks, almost apologetically: “And what exactly do you want from him?”

 

It hits him like a physical blow, which he thinks she expected, judging by her little wince when he stares at her. His stomach is in knots again. 

 

“I don’t know.”

 

He’s thinking- he’s thinking that he feels like an alien in his own skin, foreign with emotion, and he’s thinking that he feels raw, and that this whole mess hurts more than it has any right to. He’s thinking, violently, of Inasa, and then trying not to, his brain stuck on the phrase. Love hurts. Love had certainly hurt when he’d been growing up, or had that been the absence of love? This is not that- couldn’t be, isn’t. This is just- different, hurts different, doesn’t hurt most of the time. 

 

Third year, sprawled in the dirt, dripping blood. Aching in a good way. Feeling like-

 

“I don’t know,” he repeats, with less conviction. Shit. “I think I’ve been looking at this the wrong way.”

 

“Looking at what?” Momo asks, so gentle, so practical that he can stand to answer it.

 

“I think I want-“ Shouto starts, stops. “I know what I want, I just don’t know how I want it.”

 

He’d thought about this, after the kiss. Laid it all out, logically. Carefully omitted any examination of the most unlikely of possibilities. Why, in retrospect? Why the reluctance to be thorough? Why had his primary explanation been the unlikeliness of Bakugou’s feelings? 

 

They look at each other, and her brow smooths like he’s just confirmed a theory, eyes flickering briefly wide before she sucks in a breath and squeezes his hand. 

 

“I’m sorry that I’m going to be presumptuous,” Momo says, eyes shining with a determination he recognises all too well. “But I think it would do you well to say it, either way, so.”

 

Her grip on his hand tightens. His lungs constrict.

 

“Shouto, do you-“

 

“Yes,” Shouto says. 

 

Yes. Before she can finish. Before he can really think it through. Somewhere in his mind it has just clicked that in every way that matters the answer is the same.

 

Yes, he cares about Bakugou. Yes, he enjoys his company. Yes, he finds him attractive. Yes, he panics when he is in danger and it feels like his fault. Yes, it hurts his unduly sensitive feelings when Bakugou shuts him out. Yes, he has most likely known all of these things for a long time now. Yes, he finds them simultaneously excruciating and not at all. 

 

Yes, he loves him. Yes, he is quite probably in love with him.

 

He feels slightly concussed. 

 

“Sorry,” he says, for the interruption, feeling slightly out-of-body. “I- yes. To whatever you’re asking. For a while.”

 

“Oh,” Momo says, at a brief loss for words. When he levels her with a look she makes an aborted expression that’s half smile half wince, uncharacteristically sheepish. “That- oh.”

 

“Not what I expected either,” Shouto concedes. Her free hand flutters towards her mouth, as if to politely spare him a moment’s further shock, then resettles.

 

“I understand better why you turned me down in high school,” Momo manages, mouth twisting like she’s not sure if she’s allowed to smile, and it hits Shouto with unexpected relief, his own brows rising as her smile spreads.

 

“Ah, I- sorry.”

 

“Tough competition,” Momo dismisses, and then really smiles, a little helplessly, as Shouto feels his own lips quirk upwards. 

 

“If I had good taste I would have said yes.”

 

“Acquired taste,” Momo attempts, fighting slightly hysterical laughter. “I’m sorry, this is so inappropriate-“

 

“Don’t apologise,” Shouto says, distantly, still feeling lighter than he has in eons. “I’m as surprised as you are.”

 

To this, Momo can’t quite help but make a doubtful sound. Shouto smiles a fraction. 

 

“Maybe slightly less.”

 

Only slightly, though. He thinks back to the direction his thoughts have taken, over the last few years- the discussions he’s had, love and marriage and the forms they take. A month ago he’d still been abstractly contemplating marriage to a woman, despite his complete lack of attraction to the female sex. Stupid, of course- naive, more generously- to expect to fit the mold here, when he never has elsewhere, when he knows no one who does, really. All the healthiest relationships he knows are unconventional in spades- and he knows that loving people is never rational, never expected. 

 

Maybe his inner fatigue with his eternal failure to connect the right dots shows, because Momo squeezes his hand again before she sits back to pick up her tea. Shouto glances at her, wonders if she’d run the numbers for him, if asked- if she could give him the correct strategy, or confirm his odds. 

 

He doesn’t ask; his finger traces the rim of his cup thoughtfully.

 

Love. He loves him. And Bakugou-

 

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

 

Momo is nothing if not adaptable; she mulls this over around a mouthful of tea before she shakes her head firmly. 

 

“I don’t think anyone does, with these things. And you’ve never seemed especially constrained by what you were supposed to do.”

 

“Following my instincts hasn’t worked very well for me of late,” Shouto replies, slowly, though he knows as he says it that this isn’t quite true- if he’d followed his instincts, he would have done things differently, this past while. Shouted more. Chased Bakugou out of that practice room. Spoken his mind instead of holding his breath. Done something other than stew in silence in his empty apartment. 

 

“It’s your choice to make,” Momo says, sympathetic, before her gaze goes soft with something like faith. “You’ll make the right one.”

 

He doesn’t know if she’s right. He knows, though, that he feels like a fog has lifted, and like he could blow up half the street with surplus adrenaline, battle-ready and a little heady with it. 

 

“Even if it works out, it won’t fix anything else,” Shouto notes, to remind himself. “It’ll just make everything more complicated.”

 

Momo very reasonably does not dispute this, but there is something auspicious in the way she smiles. 

 

“But happier, I hope.”

 

He inclines his head, neither an admission nor a dismissal, and she sets her finished tea down.

 

“You’re off work tomorrow,” Momo says, a subdued twinkle in her eyes. “Sleep on it. But talk to him. And- for the everything else, if you’ll accept my advice…”

 

“Always.”

 

“Buy a cat.”

 

Oh.

 

“I really wish I had better taste,” Shouto says, mostly honestly, and Momo bursts into irrepressible laughter.

Chapter Text

 

The cat is looking at him. 

 

It’s not the first to do this, of course. Even some of the pedigree cats- the big fluffy white ones, with the perfectly symmetrical ears- have stirred curiously at his approach. But there’s something alert to this particular gaze- not inviting, necessarily, but interested. 

 

Or maybe he’s just projecting.

 

He approaches the cat. Yuki, says the tag on the box. Snow. The cat isn’t white, which makes the name choice odd- more of an orange brown colour, like spiced mocha, with big melon-coloured eyes that consider him skeptically.

 

“Hello,” Shouto says, formally. The cat blinks slowly, then stands, stretching. They look at one another. The cat settles, licking his paw. 

 

It’s early morning; the shelter is nearly empty. He gazes backwards towards the shop workers. Two of them are hanging around the counter fawning over a new kitten; one surly-looking teenager is manning the till with his face glued to his phone.

 

“I should warn you,” Shouto says, lowering his voice. “I’m not very equipped to look after you.”

 

Yuki flicks his tail imperiously. 

 

“I’ll take good care of you,” Shouto rectifies. “It’s just that I’m not the best at managing my relationships.”

 

The cat makes a rumbling sound, curls up as if to listen. 

 

“I’m not very good at being on my own,” Shouto admits, looking at the gallery of curious felines observing him. “I used to think I was. I’ve always done fine on my own. But nowadays I think maybe I don’t like it.”

 

He shifts, rubs his arm. “Izuku will be back, in a while. For a while. But until then it’ll be just the two of us. Which would be nice, I think. I shouldn’t be in too much, so you’ll have time to yourself too.”

 

Orange eyes narrow in consideration. Shouto smiles despite his solemn mood, then sobers, remembering himself.

 

“There could be someone else around too. I don’t know yet. It depends on how it goes this afternoon.”

 

The cat shifts suspiciously. His gut clenches.

 

They’re due back at the clinic, this afternoon. Tests, updates. He’s supposed to wait until then. It makes sense, as a strategy. 

 

Yuki narrows his eyes. Shouto sighs.

 

“I can’t really tell you about that in more detail. I’m not sure where it’s headed. It’s sort of complicated.”

 

When Yuki only turns his head, revealing an illuminating patch of white that spreads from his right ear to the back of his head, Shouto sighs.

 

“There’ll probably be a lot of fighting either way. I’m not very confrontational usually, but Momo says we have overlapping insecurities.” He pauses, considers it. “It feels like I have a lot of those. I don’t really think about it a lot. He definitely does, but I’m not so good at side-stepping them.”

 

Yuki looks back. Shouto inclines his head. 

 

“We’re both quite stubborn. And not particularly open with our emotions. I think that’s common with pro-heroes though.”

 

Disparaging meow; the cat’s gaze leaves him. Shouto’s veins sing with sudden heat, the need to present his case.

 

“I know I don’t need this. My life is on track, career-wise. I’m closer to my goal than I’ve ever been. And I have people around me as it is. But I want-“

 

He gets stuck on the I want, hard-pressed to formulate the incoherent wants that Bakugou elicits from him nowadays. Maybe that’s enough, though: he wants. He wants, and he wants something unnamable and upsetting that might well be what he thinks it is.

 

His mind casts back to that day at the airport, months ago now, and he remembers the days beforehand, watching Izuku pack, telling himself that it wouldn’t be such a monumental change, having him gone. He remembers steeling himself for it anyways, the long empty months until Izuku came back and things resumed their normal course. Beneath it all he had suspected that there wouldn’t be a normal left to return to.

 

There isn’t, as it turns out. Izuku might not have changed, but he has, even though he’s increasingly sure that he hasn’t so much changed as grown aware of changes past. In a way, he can’t help but wonder if the familiar balm of Izuku’s presence had enforced that obliviousness- if he’d been too wary of destroying their well-worn routine to consider he might want any different.

 

He’s a pro hero for a living- he’s not sure why he’d ever thought that placid stagnation was what he wanted out of life.

 

Risk is not recklessness. He knows this instinctively, wholly, when it comes to hero work- knows that even what seems like a fatal blow is most often not, knows how to thrive in the liminal spaces between safety and danger. In his personal life, he has never quite made this leap. Friendship was a risk, for most of his childhood, just like opening himself to others, but UA had forced his hand on that. Love in the romantic sense of the word, though? That’s felt like an unjustifiable peril for as long as he can recall. 

 

It doesn’t seem so unjustifiable now. 

 

It doesn’t seem so reckless either. 

 

It’s not that he thinks Bakugou is some kind of fix for his problems. He’s lonely; he’s withdrawn, he struggles with emotions. But he has his friends for that, and maybe his family, and a cat, soon, and Izuku, when he comes back. He doesn’t need Bakugou; he just wants him around. Wanting him around in this particular way- that’s the risk. 

 

He does want it, though. He’s sure he’s been slow in figuring this out, but then he also thinks it’s the first time he’s ever wanted a person in the way that he’s used to wanting concrete things. He hadn’t really understood how that worked until now- or 

not consciously, at least.

 

“This has been a long time in the making,” Shouto murmurs thoughtfully, as Yuki sniffs in understanding. It fills him with a strange determination, thinking about it. A long time in the making, and also a long time in the undoing, if he has any say in it.

 

He’s allowed to want things. He’s allowed to want people. He’s never been shy with his ambitions, but it’s taken him years to understand that these can extend beyond his career. He knows it rationally; his friends never let him forget it. If it still manages to slip his mind it’s probably down to the usual cocktail of childhood traumas. 

 

He thinks maybe he’s used to wanting without knowing to express what he actually wants.

 

Yuki makes a satisfied sound, and Bakugou’s Quirk sparks energetically.

 

He’s supposed to wait until this afternoon, he reminds himself, and then immediately wonders: why, exactly?

 

“Can I help you with anything, sir?”

 

He turns. One of the saleswomen, hands twined anxiously as she smiles. He doesn’t think twice.

 

“I’d like to adopt this cat, if he’ll have me.”

 

Her eyes widen with surprise, then she flushes excitedly. “Oh! How wonderful! He definitely likes you- usually he prefers to lie at the back of his cage when there are clients around.”

 

“Ah,” Shouto says, locking gazes with the cat as he twitches his tail coyly. His chest feels warm; he smiles. “That’s good to hear.”

 

The saleswoman makes a funny cooing sound, blushing fiercely when he looks back at her. “I, ah- would you like any further information about Yuki before you sign for him?”

 

“Further information?”

 

“Well, let’s see,” the saleswoman says, counting fingers rapidly. “He’s a very healthy young male- oh, he’s turning two in a month- we got him because his owners passed, you see, car accident in the winter, a very sad story. He’s one of our friendlier cats, actually! Just a little standoffish at times, but that’s easily remedied if you engage with him. He likes some alone time, though, but he doesn’t mind clingy owners. And he’s really quite low-maintenance!”

 

We’ll see about that, Yuki seems to indicate, curling up on himself with a pleased mewl. Shouto smiles.

 

“I think we’ll get along.”

 

The saleswoman beams, relieved. “I’m sure you will! Would you like me to start you on the paperwork? We can also help with getting the right set-up for him, if you like?”

 

Yes, a part of Shouto’s brain demands, loudly. Obtain the cute cat as soon as possible. The quicker you claim him the more you can pet him. 

 

“Actually, could you just put my name down for now?” Shouto asks, mounting adrenaline rush cresting with some regret. “I’ll be back for him tonight. There’s just something I need to do this morning.”

 

The saleswoman bobs her head in slightly startled reassurance as the cat gives him a disgruntled look, nestling back into his cage. “Of course! No problem at all. We’ll take his cage to the back for you.”

 

Shouto frowns apologetically in Yuki’s direction. It’s poor etiquette to leave like this, but he has more faith in his ability to make it up to the cat than he does in Bakugou’s willingness to hear him out the longer he waits. One takes slight priority. 

 

“It’s Todoroki. Written the usual way.”

 

“Yes,” the saleswoman blinks, pink-cheeked. “I know.”

 

He really shouldn’t expect any different by now.

 

 

He has the day off only because the office has started forcing them to take days off on weeks where they don’t take weekends, but since his and Bakugou’s schedules don’t precisely correspond it takes him a while to wager a guess at where he might be. Kirishima, the default source of Bakugou-related information, is on patrol, Shouto knows- and Bakugou might well be with him, but could just as easily not be. Over the past weeks the rules have relaxed despite their continued Quirk swap; Bakugou could just as well be patrolling alone.

 

Given the circumstances, he thus has no idea where to begin to look. There’s no obvious big threat to dispose of as far as he knows- maybe some minor stragglers left over from the prison break, or the usual Tokyo riffraff. No major players, though, or at least none he’s aware of yet. In the moment he can’t help but very ungenerously wish there was some greater threat menacing the city, that he might at least have an area code to look for.

 

It is completely irresponsible of him to call Kirishima’s work line for his own intimately personal ambitions, but it’s  a quiet day, and he’s never been a stickler for the rules.

 

“Red Riot speaking!”

 

“It’s me,” Shouto says, weaving his way through busy streets and wishing he’d thought to wear his hero gear. “Do you know where Bakugou is?”

 

“Oh, Shouto!” Kirishima exclaims, voice losing the serious edge. “Uh, Katsuki? Well, I- why’d you wanna know?”

 

“I need to talk to him.”

 

Kirishima makes a sound, like sucking air in through his teeth. “I don’t know, bro. I think he’s a little bit mad at you right now.”

 

It’s said in very friendly tones, but Shouto knows him well enough to detect the steely note beneath it. Whatever Bakugou has told him- or, more likely, whatever Kirishima has inferred- he probably hasn’t come out of looking very good.

 

He sighs a little, mingled nerves and frustration, closes his eyes. “I know.”

 

“Just, like- he broke three punching bags last night, y’know? Which is kind of overkill, even for him.”

 

“I know,” Shouto repeats, bites his tongue. “Eijirou. Please?”

 

“You dirty cheat,” Kirishima says, sounding mollified nonetheless. “Last I heard he was letting off steam somewhere in Shibuya. You know Omotesando Hills?”

 

“The mall?”

 

“Yeah, that’s the one. Some kind of mob there, I think?”

 

“Thank you,” Shouto says distractedly, already entering the address into his phone. It’s not far, maybe twenty minutes by train- the rescue shelter is right by Shinagawa station.

 

“Don’t mention it,” Kirishima dismisses amiably, then pauses, less casual when he clears his throat. “Hey, Shouto?”

 

Shouto pauses, thinks back to film upon film upon film.

 

“Is this the part where you threaten me with bodily harm?”

 

Kirishima, very kindly, only laughs at him. 

 

“We’re friends, dude, that’d be lame.”

 

“But?”

 

“But if this goes badly I’ll be super disappointed in you both?”

 

“Noted,” Shouto says gravely. The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been.

 

 

The journey to Shibuya is simultaneously the longest and the shortest voyage of his life. He spends the entire time wishing he could get there already instead of listening to his own churning thoughts on repeat, but somehow even in this small eternity he can’t quite concentrate long enough to get them in order. 

 

It’s a state of mind he’s not entirely unfamiliar with, though the context is wildly off: usually this sort of thing hits him when he’s mid-fight, overwhelmed with potential next steps but too focused on the present to sort through them.

 

His inability to concentrate his thoughts would stress him out more if he was in the habit of thinking these things through, seeing as he’s spent the whole night with nothing more refined running through his head than a repeating refrain of his immediate next steps. It doesn’t: he feels himself, chasing a feeling, instinct-reliant and determined. Izuku, he’s sure, would have twenty full contingency plans completely memorised by now; Shouto doesn’t work like that. He thinks best on his feet.

 

The simplicity of his plan is deceptive, of course. Finding Bakugou and talking to him seem like very self-evident steps. But talking, as Shouto has repeatedly and irritatingly learned, is possibly one of life’s biggest challenges, when it matters- talking not just to say something but to convey something right. 

 

Communication: that’s the key. He’s not stupid- he can communicate just fine, when he knows the language. That’s why he and Bakugou have a years-long habit of working seamlessly on the field despite the constant sniping, and why even a melodramatic shouting match hadn’t stopped them from getting the job done. 

They’re both fluent in the art of combat; hell, they’re fluent in each other too. No way would he have adjusted to someone else’s Quirk in his body if it hadn’t been one of the select few Quirks he is so intimately familiar with. 

 

He can talk to Bakugou just fine, is the point. It just depends what they’re talking about. Because when it comes to the interpersonal, they’re probably both in need of well-paid interpreters.

 

He’s not sure, going into this, what he can expect from Bakugou. If he looks back at the past weeks- months- years, even, things start to fall into place somewhat, one overarching explanation to make sense of it all. But he’d considered it before and come to different conclusions, so there’s no telling where his own bias lies- in denying the possibility, or in fabricating it. It doesn’t really matter, when it comes down to it: he’s asking regardless, and he’s accepting Bakguou’s answers as truth. Practically it means facing endless potential rejection: even on the off chance that he’s not just deluding himself, Bakugou is fully capable of having decided to loathe Shouto on principle regardless. 

 

He hopes he hasn’t chosen that particular option. Being in love with someone who hates you sounds incredibly uncomfortable.

 

This station: Shibuya. 

 

He pulls into the station in sync with an arriving train, slightly sweat-drenched (how does Bakugou stand it) and wind-swept but none the worse for wear, the tingling in his arms and hands painless. 

 

He could have left this for until the afternoon, he knows. In the long run it won’t really make a difference whether he adds a couple of hours of fuming into Bakugou’s day. Standing there watching Yuki, though- something he wanted, within arm’s reach- it had made him think about passivity, and how he has a bad track record of letting it slither into his system to cover the fact that he desperately wants something. Maybe there are ways to process these thoughts without doing what he’s doing now, but they’re not ones he’s interested in: the sooner he gets there the better, for him and Bakugou both. 

 

He maps his way through Shibuya for a good ten minutes, mindful of noise and movement lest some hint of flame catch his eye, but once he reaches the mall there’s no sign of either Bakugou or a mob, just chattering civilians with shopping bags. Five minutes later he finally finds some sign of life, a cleaning crew working their way through shattered glass as a diminishing group of bystanders watch, and he slows to approach an old man watching from a nearby bench.

 

“Excuse me, sir? What happened here?”

 

“Shoot-out,” the old man blinks, frowning under heavy-set brows. “Bah. Mobs these days. Some kind of botched robbery.”

 

“I see,” Shouto says, and considers the empty scene. “They were apprehended?”

 

“That pro was there,” the old man rumbles, dismissively. “The angry blonde. One of All Might’s. Made ‘em drop like dominoes! I barely even got out of the bench.”

 

“The police took them away?”

 

“Just missed ‘em,” the man confirms, settling back into his bench. “He was off in a flash. Fire, nowadays. Big mess with that Endeavour debacle, isn’t that right?”

 

“Right,” Shouto echoes. “You wouldn’t happen to know where he went?”

 

“Well, how on earth should I know? I look like a pro to you?” When Shouto only stares, he harrumphs, shakes his head. “Seemed like it was down west, into mob territory.”

 

“Thank you,” Shouto replies, already halfway airborne. West. He can’t have missed Bakugou by much, so it shouldn’t take long to find him, especially not if he’s fighting. 

 

Fire and ice, he reminds himself. Somehow he has to do that even when using Bakugou’s Quirk to fly. 

 

Commotion comes sooner than expected, though with less fanfare- a handful of fleeing bystanders emerging from an industrial street, two older teenagers supporting a crying little girl. He drops down to street-level without any sign of his Quirk ahead, which makes sense as soon as he rounds the corner- by his standards Bakugou is barely trying to upset a thermostat, let alone take on a street. There’s less than ten people involved in the fight, and all they seem to be doing is circling Bakugou, who seems supremely nonchalant just dodging hits as the presumable villain hisses out some kind of threat. 

 

“There is no stopping the children of the night!”

 

Shouto squints: midway down the street the darkly clad figure has gone for the neck, absurdly large fangs glinting as he snaps at air. He never reaches target; Bakugou’s boot hits him square in the head, sending him flying back into the brick wall, where he promptly explodes into a flurry of bats. 

 

Vampire villain? Shouto thinks, with flat bewilderment, then stops questioning it and runs forward. 

 

Bakugou isn’t even relying on his Quirk half of the time, which explains the uncanny subtlety of his movements. There must be at least six of the villains still left standing, but what exactly they can do besides turning into a distracting colony of bats isn’t so clear- some enhanced fighting capacity, perhaps, considering Bakugou tosses one into the floor without seeming worried about the state of his skull. Maybe it’s a strength in numbers thing- what with the bat escape tactic, it seems difficult to permanently incapacitate them, though two are already frozen to the wall, unconscious. 

 

Points for persistence, Shouto thinks, as he vaults an overturned car: the remaining six seem entirely undaunted by their lack of success as they swarm their uncooperative prey.

 

“Resistance is futile, day-walker!”

 

“You’re out in broad daylight, you moron!” Bakugou snaps, dropping into a crouch and spinning outwards as fire arcs protectively around him, holding the villains at bay. “Could you drop the damn act for a second?”

 

“It isn’t an act, faithless creature,” the biggest of the lot responds, perched ominously on a window-sill. “You have interrupted our feast.”

 

Maybe he’s the spreader, Shouto reasons, as he advances; passes his Quirk on to the others through some vampire-befitting ritual. There’s no sign of the would-be-feast, but there is blood against the wall. Patrol intercept, then- he thinks back to the running children, connects the dots.

 

“Another!” one of the villains exclaims, pointing towards him with hungry enthusiasm; Shouto doesn’t give him the pleasure of making a move, propelling himself upwards and forwards to kick him right in the jaw. 

 

It confirms his developing hypothesis: the villain’s head snaps back as he tumbles, but he doesn’t pull the bat trick, just curls into himself and swoops away in a flurry of cape. So there’s a threshold, Shouto thinks.

 

More relevantly, Bakugou has dispatched two of his would-be assailants skywards to check his surroundings, and his face is frozen in malcontented disbelief when their eyes meet, both of them disregarding their hissing attackers for a beat.

 

“Hi,” Shouto says. Bakugou’s expression twists thunderously.

 

“What the hell, Todoroki? Are you fucking stalking me?”

 

“I was in the area,” Shouto deflects, letting his explosions carry him forwards so he doesn’t have to shout to be heard and ignoring the affronted looks of the incoming villains as he passes them by. “Also I asked Kirishima where you were.”

 

Bakugou makes an aborted growl of frustration, then twists away resolutely, vaulting upwards to grab an incoming villain by the shoulders and slam their heads together.

 

“I’m fucking busy, and I didn’t ask for an incompetent sidekick, so fuck off!”

 

The villain goes loose-limbed, groaning, and Bakugou swings him around by the foot like an Olympic disk-thrower, releasing him just in time to knock the big one off his window-sill. 

 

“I’m not incompetent, and you’re not busy,” Shouto counters, jogging after him. “There’s something I have to tell you.”

 

“Don’t care!” Bakugou retorts, and then kicks a heavy block of ice in his direction, purportedly to knock one of the villains back as he dives towards him. Shouto sets his jaw, palms crackling to life.

 

He’s just about airborne when he’s roughly intercepted, one of the villains slamming into him with a fang-heavy grin as they topple to the ground.

 

“Not busy? Are you sure you-“

 

“Not now,” Shouto reprimands, irked, Quirk erupting from his palm as he blasts clean through him. The subsequent gaggle of startled bats don’t fare any better- when he slams his hands together the sound-waves alone set them screeching in confused pain, spinning drunkenly until the villain reforms and Shouto knocks him out against the nearest car door, eyes refocusing on his target. 

 

“It’s important, Bakugou.”

 

“Yeah? Still not interested,” Bakugou volleys back, neatly dodging two bite attempts to set one would-be attacker’s cape alight, using the ensuing freakout to ice him in the face and slam him downwards by the foot. “This isn’t fucking Sailor Moon- we’re not friends, and I don’t have to listen to whatever contrite bullshit you want to spew so you can get back on your high horse.”

 

“I’m not here to apologise,” Shouto replies, brow furrowing as he makes rapid work of cuffing the two prone villains together. “This would be kind of overkill for that.”

 

Bakugou only growls, another iced vamp falling to the ground as the final three all revert to bat-form, the advancing horde of shrieking animals forcing them together. Shouto holds them at bay with a smattering of explosions, drifts back into his field of vision.

 

“I am sorry about yesterday, though.”

 

He gets a filthy look for his efforts as Bakugou ignites. “Damnit, I said I don’t want to hear it!”

 

They’re close enough that Shouto blasts himself forwards through the squealing bats to land next to him, grabbing at his free arm.

 

“I’m not sorry about all of it. You were being an asshole. But I didn’t mean what I said at the end. I was just lashing out. You know how that goes.”

 

“For fuck’s sake,” Bakugou grits out, sort of ambiguously in his direction, because the bats have reorganised and dived in for the kill, one mass of flapping wings oppressively descending upon them. Bakugou’s gone in a flash, diverting half of the group as Shouto exhales in frustration and soars upwards, lining up his shot. The first blast sends the bats flying in all directions, squeaking, and he shoots off two others before landing atop a lamppost, recalibrating.

 

“Look,” Bakugou yells, over the sound of crunching and screeching. “It doesn’t fucking matter, all right? Can we just get over this shit and get on with our lives?”

 

“No,” Shouto yells back, wishing there was a quicker way to get rid of the ambient noise. Having to limit property damage is such a pain in the ass with this Quirk. “I was wrong back then when I said things didn’t have to change. They did.”

 

Louder crunch; one resolidified villain lands atop the pile in a block of ice. Bakugou lands just beside it, rubbing his jaw, and he looks more strung out than angry when their eyes meet, Shouto dropping down towards him as the last two villains rejoin forces.

 

“I know I shouldn’t have started it,” Bakugou grits out, staunchly looking at the reforming bat-cloud above. “Call it temporary insanity. Fucking excusable in the circumstances.”

 

“That’s not it,” Shouto says, surprising himself by sounding something less than steadily neutral, a tentative edge to it. “I know I’m slow with things like this, but it’s the first time it’s ever happened to me.”

 

Something like alarm flashes across Bakugou’s face; he jerks his head instinctively towards him, then visibly withdraws. “What the hell are you talking about, icyhot?”

 

“I don’t not like you,” Shouto says, and then mentally slaps himself. “I mean- I thought I didn’t but it turns out I just have really stunted ideas of love.”

 

“Are you fucking-“ Bakugou starts, furiously disbelieving, and then curses and knocks him sideways as he alights into flame, incoming bats screeching as Shouto rolls to his feet. 

 

Shouto thinks some very uncharitable thoughts about two-bit villains who don’t know their place in the world, then propels himself into the air to unleash a steady stream of hand-grenade blows upon the bats, clearing the swarm out. 

 

“You’re delusional,” Bakugou informs him in passing, expression set unflinchingly as he burns his way through the fray. “Your emotional breakdown bullshit is manifesting through some kind of fucked up attachment to the nearest available target.”

 

“Untrue, and petty,” Shouto retorts, stung, back-flipping neatly over a stream of fire and hitting the struggling bats above him mid-motion. “I could have done that to Kirishima, if you’re saying Izuku’s absence prompted it. Or Hawks, if it was the case. And Momo is a far more obvious choice.”

 

Exactly, so-“

 

So, if I say it’s you then isn’t that the kind of irrational thing I would never think of fabricating?”

 

Bakugou makes a very annoyed sound, punching upwards in a blast of ice that hits Shouto’s reforming target just as he falls. “You are not in love with me, you’re just losing it.”

 

“I don’t know what I am,” Shouto concedes, weaving under the falling figure to stare him down, heart abruptly in his throat. “I don’t exactly have anything to compare it to. But I know you, and I like working with you, and I like being with you outside of work, and you make me feel a lot of things I’m not sure I recognise but I don’t think I mind feeling.” 

 

Bakugou stares at him, blank-faced, opens and shuts his mouth. 

 

“Touching,” the final villain declares, in tones of scathing amusement. Shouto very slowly swivels his head to look at him, glare frigid. Recomposed he seems bigger somehow, more shadowy. “Lovers’ blood does taste so sweet.”

 

Shouto launches an AP-shot at him; he flickers and reappears just out of harm’s way. 

 

“You’re shitting me.”

 

The villain smirks toothily. “When my children slumber I regain their forces. And before my full potential-“

 

“Not you,” Bakugou snarls, turning towards Shouto. “You’re not- you can’t- you don’t know what you’re asking, half ’n half. Foreseeable fiasco, remember?”

 

“Excuse m-“

 

“I’m not saying it won’t be difficult,” Shouto says, heart pounding with sudden violence. “But when we’re on the same page we don’t do so badly with difficult things.”

 

Excuse-“

 

Same page? Half of the time we’re not in the same fucking library,” Bakugou snaps, whole body drawn tight with tension as he gesticulates. “Was that shit yesterday not embarrassing enough? Fighting like fucking kids-“

 

The villain roars, and then Shouto is being slammed into a wall while darkness envelops the street, Bakugou cussing from somewhere nearby as he regains his bearings.

 

“Impudent fools! Before the might-“

 

“Will you shut up?” Shouto snaps, great blazing light bursting out of him as the shadows dissipate, the move just as effective now as it had been on Tokoyami all those years ago. There is an affronted sputter in return, and flames rising high on the other side of the street, light returning as Bakugou wipes at his shoulder irately. The villain, flabbergasted, is scurrying back to his feet from where Bakugou presumably volleyed him, some distance down the street. Their eyes meet.

 

“Yesterday was bad,” Shouto manages, quietly. “Camie says we have incompatible defence mechanisms.”

 

This is the hard part, somehow. He can feel himself stiffen, forces his jaw loose. 

 

“You weren’t wrong, about the thing with Kamiya. I’ve been shaky since the Quirk swap. But it’s not because I’m off my game, or if it is it’s not because I- I know you can look after yourself. I know that. But that means that if something goes wrong, I also know it’s because you’re stuck with my Quirk, and that’s because of me.” He pauses, exhales. “It makes me paranoid. I can’t do anything about it.”

 

Bakugou looks at him with the strangest expression, his own pulse skittering in response, and then it’s like something gives; the blonde makes a wincing motion, eyes flashing away and then back with heavy uncertainty.

 

It’s not often Bakugou looks uncertain about anything; Shouto’s stomach knots.

 

“And you’re fine with that,” Bakugou says, finally, voice rough, gaze searching. “Not having control over your own emotions. Acting like a fucking idiot.”

 

Same page, Shouto thinks, with a muted burst of hope. He nods seriously, watches Bakugou’s brows furrow.

 

“Fuck,” Bakugou mutters, running a hand through his hair. “I-“

 

There is a whooshing noise from above; they turn in unison, explosion knocking the man backwards just as ice bursts violently forth to encase him in a rough-hewed box. He collapses very anti-climactically; when he makes to move again Bakugou slams his head against the ice, and they both watch him slowly slump to the floor as the ice rises to pin him down.

 

Bakugou peers at him, nods. “Should be concussed enough not to remember any of this.”

 

Shouto raises a brow; the blonde clicks his tongue dismissively.

 

“He and his goons were halfway through eating some kid when I got here. Call it proportionate use of force.”

 

Vampire villains, Shouto thinks again, with exasperated resignation. Why not.

 

They’re still staring at each other, and the street has gone silent, devoid of passerbys or of conscious low-tier criminals, nothing but their breathing and the faint chittering of moving debris to populate the quiet.

 

Funny, how insurmountably terrifying it can feel, just waiting for someone to talk. Trepidation rises in him like a physical force, parting his lips to shakily exhale. Love hurts, Inasa had said. Even so: Bakugou hasn’t once tried to dismiss his come-ons by reference to his own lack of feelings.

 

Maybe this thought crosses their mind at the same time, because Bakugou’s conflicted expression shifts abruptly into one of pure, slightly disbelieving resignation.

 

“Should’ve just fucking kissed you at that party.”

 

Sweet, sweet concession; Shouto’s chest alights with disturbing giddiness even as he blinks, mind moving like molasses. Then his eyes crinkle of their own volition.

 

“Or that night at the bar.”

 

Bakugou shakes his head, scrubs at his face, glances back at him. “After the dinosaur.”

 

“When you fixed my apartment,” Shouto counters, smiling now, irresistibly, so hard his face kind of hurts.

 

“On the way back from the airport,” Bakugou retorts, dropping his hand over an incredibly unwilling smile of his own. 

 

“Last winter after the crater,” Shouto says, voice softening a little at the realisation. Bakugou’s eyes flash in recognition, then he visibly commits. 

 

“After trainee graduation.”

 

His chest tightens; he thinks back. “After UA graduation.”

 

Bakugou looks at him with an undecipherable cocktail of emotions, then sighs. “After the third year sports festival.”

 

Oh, Shouto thinks, and motherfucker, and also I definitely do love you, except he can’t quite manage to vocalise it, and anyways he thinks it translates somehow because Bakugou’s skittish glance fixes itself on him with widening eyes. He doesn’t leave himself the chance to say something stupid anyways, because hypothetical kissing doesn’t really compare to the real deal, and so his mouth is somewhat otherwise occupied, hands curled tightly into Bakugou’s shoulders.

 

One of them very admirably puts an end to the kissing some undetermined time later, the words public street making themselves known to his cheerfully dormant consciousness. It takes him a moment to catch his breath, not entirely convinced that his Quirk hasn’t returned to him by sheer virtue of how blazingly warm he feels, and Bakugou laughs lowly and incredulously, dropping his head back to stare upwards. 

 

Hot, his mind supplies, unhelpfully, and also mine. He exhales.

 

“What’s funny?”

 

“This is just-“ Bakugou starts, and then looks back at him, tousled and heat-flushed and always so incredibly, ridiculously intense about everything. “You’re fucking sure, half ’n half? A hundred percent? Because if this is just some kind of weird- if you’ve been influenced into it somehow-“

 

“Because I’m so very influenceable?” Shouto replies, evenly. Bakugou snorts, glances away.

 

“Point taken.”

 

“I know it’s hard to tell with me,” Shouto says, unusually earnestly, watching stray strands of blonde glint golden in the mid-day sun. “But I’m trying to be very unsubtle about it. So if there’s something else I can do-“

 

“This was unsubtle enough,” Bakugou interjects, looking pained, though Shouto suspects this is directed inwards, judging by the way he colours. “I hate that I already know you’re going to be perfectly fucking relaxed talking about this kind of shit.”

 

“One of us has to be,” Shouto concedes, unapologetically. “You still haven’t even returned the sentiment. I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s supposed to go.”

 

The glare he receives is rewardingly familiar. “Like it even crossed your mind that I wouldn’t.”

 

“I hoped not,” Shouto admits, and then goes a little awkward despite himself, thinking back to his early analysis. “I’m used to thinking we’re closer than we are, though.”

 

The ghosts of TV interviews past float through the street, and for a moment he feels kind of ill, borrowed Quirk burning uncomfortably. Bakugou has a long and sordid track record of stubbornly resisting Shouto’s newfound understanding of human interactions, even when he is entirely sure of himself. 

 

There are warm fingers on his jaw, pushing until his eyes have stopped travelling the street, and Bakugou’s hand lingers before he drops it, looking mysteriously adult and self-aware.

 

“Dumbass. Never stopped you before.”

 

“No,” Shouto agrees, and maybe it’s still a little recalcitrant because Bakugou sort of groans and then meets his gaze determinedly.

 

“You’re usually right, anyways, all right? We’ve been friends since high school. Don’t make me say that shit again.”

 

It takes a second to sink in, incredulity stalling his reaction; then his lips quirk slowly upwards. 

 

“While we’re at it,” Bakugou continues, chin lifting challengingly, hint of a grin in the set of his lips, “I don’t not like you either.”

 

His cheeks heat before he shifts into something dangerously close to a pout. “You’re such an asshole.”

 

“Yeah,” Bakugou agrees, flashing teeth, and of course he’s comfortable now. “Which you don’t not like about me, I assume.”

 

It’s Shouto’s turn to fight the urge to cover his face. “You’re not allowed to mock me for a botched confession. You didn’t even have the nerve to confess.”

 

There are sirens approaching; Bakugou steps back, brushes himself down, gaze somewhere between affronted and amused. “Still made the first move.”

 

“And then ran away.”

 

“Considering how you reacted, that was an entirely fucking reasonable instinct!”

 

Two police cars round the corner, and Shouto poorly suppresses a smile. Nothing reasonable about any of this, he suspects. He can live with that.

 

 

Even when he was very young, he’d always liked cats. Not all animals, necessarily- he generally side-eyes birds, and he finds rodents suspicious, not to mention that he treats all fish as food- but cats had always seemed somehow appealing to him. 

 

It could be pure aesthetics. Despite the fact that his friends often gently (or not so gently) mock his conventional clothing choices and his general lack of reaction to other people’s attractiveness, he suspects he’s actually somewhat of an aesthete. Just because he only betrays awareness of hot people in the privacy of his own thoughts or whilst very intoxicated does not mean he doesn’t have eyes, and he’s always been particular when it comes to his living spaces; it’s just that he values practicality over design, and that often means neglecting to show appreciation for the finer things in life in the face of bigger things. Maybe that’s why he likes cats so much, for managing to combine both with ease, perfectly compact creatures that they are, all agility and guarded charm. Temperamental beasts, too, but that had only ever made them seem more interesting, when he was younger- given him the motivation to pursue their affection.

 

He’d been a quiet, shy child, but he’d always tried to pet cats, forgotten his wariness in the face of their coy demeanour. He’s not a shy adult, nor particularly quiet either, but the affection for the little predators remains. 

 

In the morning, lying awake in some limbo state of reminiscence and anticipation, he’d remembered this early fascination and wondered somewhat wryly if there wasn’t something to be said for projecting your miserable childhood fantasies of freedom on the only living creatures that seemed at liberty to come and go off your property as they pleased. It’s a solid theory, but it’s not one he dwelled on. He’s tired of tracing his every idiosyncrasy to his shitbag father.

 

Still, he wonders if his siblings like cats.

 

Thinking about the cat thing had made him think about other things, though. The cats that had weaved their way into the Todoroki estate had probably been local, or maybe some very well-fed strays; surely they’d roamed far further than his house, crossed the paths of many, familiar and forgettable sights to hundreds of people across the years. To him, though, they’d represented the high-point of his day for well over a decade- unpredictable breaks in his routine, some glimpse of otherness to look forward to amongst the endless hours of training and roaming the halls like an angry ghost.

 

It’s not the same thing at all, but he’d thought about Bakugou after that, tried to imagine him as a stranger. It’s not like he doesn’t have a fairly good impression of what Bakugou represents to the outside eye- he’s a national celebrity; it’s not so difficult to come across external opinions. To the average Japanese citizen, Bakugou is an up-and-comer of the heroism scene, another UA prodigy, foul-mouthed and attention-grabbing, counter-intuitively reserved despite his brash honesty. So it’s illuminating that Shouto can’t quite see him like that, after all this time- can’t look at him without seeing the whole confusing contradiction of a person, knows how he takes his tea and ties his boots and what his guilty pleasures are; knows to predict his carefully cultivated unpredictability, to dodge when he hears him shift in a particular way, to relax at the sound of a specific type of shockwave. 

 

Bakugou is a lot of things to a lot of people, and somewhere down the line he’s grown to know most of them. It’s a funny thing to realise. 

 

He thinks about this as he watches Bakugou dispatch the villains to the police, feeling unusually on the sidelines in his scuffed civilian clothes, wonders if the thought ever occurs to Bakugou in reverse. 

 

Subjectivity is a difficult concept to grapple with. He’s heavily biased in some aspects of his life, but people tend to brand him as the most clear-eyed of a given group. With people he’s never sure how much of what he sees is just plain truth and what’s down to his own impressions. It’s hard to tell when you’re surrounded by so many colourful characters, especially when ‘colourful characters’ serves as a helpful euphemism for everything from national sweethearts to psychotic mass murderers.

 

Bakugou is certainly colourful by any standard; Shouto watches him direct the police with impatient efficiency, all heavy frowns and no-nonsense tone of voice, has a weird pang of nostalgia for the permanently yelling teenager of old. 

 

He wonders when he actually started thinking of Bakugou the way he does now. It’s probably for the best that he doesn’t know.

 

He gives half a wave to the retreating officers when they call out in his direction, slants a smile towards Bakugou when the latter sighs loudly and uncrosses his arms, falling back in his direction.

 

“We have to be at the hospital in an hour.”

 

“Think it’s going to be good news?”

 

“Hasn’t been so far,” Bakugou mutters, stretching his arms reflexively. “Feels like forever since I’ve had this Quirk stuck in me.”

 

“I don’t know,” Shouto says, faux-pensive. “I think I’ve sort of gotten used to blowing things up. Maybe I’ll keep yours.”

 

“Ha fucking ha.”

 

“Want to do lunch before we go?” Shouto offers, and feels strangely shy offering it, like this of all things is a step too far. Bakugou, though, only vaguely registers the question, gaze gone sharp in a different direction as he looks at him.

 

“That shit you said earlier- about me having your Quirk.”

 

“Right,” Shouto says, hesitates. This feels like the kind of thing he’ll misspeak over. 

 

“Don’t look at me like that,” Bakugou rebuffs, shaking his head. “All I was going to say was that you’re braindead if you think this is on you. I would have taken that job with or without you around, so she would have stolen my Quirk anyways. Only reason I haven’t gone fucking berserk since is because you were insane enough to take it back from her before she went all spite-coma on us.” 

 

Really? Shouto wants to blurt, except somehow he believes him, or believes him enough. It’s not going to assuage the panic, but it removes some of the urge to self-flagellate. Coming from Bakugou it’s as good as being gently walked through therapy.

 

Aloud, he just says: “Spite coma?” because that is clearly the preferred response, and Bakugou gives him a wry semi-smile in return.

 

“I could do lunch. You have somewhere in mind?”

 

“I know this place near the hospital.”

 

“No, don’t tell me: they do cold soba.”

 

“And hot,” Shouto counters, and then thinks: this is a date, which makes him feel something akin to glee, kind of the way he usually feels when his friends are doing something monumentally stupid but also entertaining. 

 

“And they’ll let us in looking like this?”

 

“It’s not upscale.”

 

Bakugou gives him a look. Shouto returns it.

 

“You’re so-“ Bakugou groans, and bumps their shoulders together when Shouto blinks innocently after him. 

 

Subjectivity, Shouto thinks, politely taming his mischievous smile. Even Bakugou’s not impervious to it.

 

 

He’s starting to develop some kind of pavlovian response to unexpected sightings of his team in medical settings; as soon as he lays eyes on Akaba in the hospital lobby he stiffens in anticipation, Bakugou following his gaze and pulling a face.

 

“What’s gone to shit now?”

 

Akaba rolls her eyes without much heat. “Hello, Ground Zero.”

 

“I doubt you’re here to break good news,” Shouto says, half a sigh. The older woman inclines her head, makes a so-so motion with her hand before getting down to business.

 

“The short version is that doctors have had a breakthrough with Kajiya. If they continue with the treatment they've started on her, she’ll be waking up in no time.”

 

“Right,” Bakugou draws out, slowly. “Which is bad news now, because…”

 

“You’ll have to ask the scrubs for details,” Akaba warns, crossing her arms. “From what I understand, forcibly waking the girl up from this is like putting her through a system reboot. Back to factory settings, as it were.”

 

“Factory settings,” Shouto echoes, understanding dawning slowly. “And she has my father’s Quirk.”

 

“Isn’t her default setting to adapt to any borrowed Quirk?” Bakugou counters, frowning intently. “Why the fuck would that be an issue?”

 

“Not a doctor,” Akaba repeats, sounding sympathetic despite her usual hassled attitude. “It’s something to do with the fact that her Quirk on a base level adapts upon obtention, whereas now she’s awakening with it already inside of her. Her body won't have its usual incentive to register the foreign Quirk, and given the reboot element, her current recognition of the Quirk will vanish.”

 

“Fucking-“ Bakugou cuts himself off, exhaling heavily before glaring back at the older woman. “So, what? The moment the bitch opens her eyes she’s bursting into flame?”

 

“It’s a possibility,” Akaba agrees, as Shouto shuts his eyes heavily. “Though I’m told it would be a far slower and more gradual process. The hope is that they can get her conscious enough to transfer it back into Endeavour before it reaches her vital organs. She should hang on long enough to effectuate the transfer for your Quirks afterwards.”

 

“Why have they called you in?”

 

There’s a beat of silence; he reopens his eyes to fix her staunchly. This update could have been delivered to them directly. If their teams are around, there’s something else going on.

 

Akaba sighs, shifts her folder away. “Given her instrumentality in this case, and the high-profile status of it, the Minister of Justice has authorised an override of familial consent for this. That means it’s up to the Commission and the agencies to decide if we go through with the procedure or not.”

 

No,” Shouto says, instinctive, and then turns his head away, biting his tongue. 

 

The older woman's voice is calm. “There’s a lot to consider, Shouto.”

 

“No,” Shouto repeats, rigid. “They’re making us decide whether she dies. That’s not happening.”

 

“You need your Quirks back,” Akaba says, tone gone steely. When he stares her down she doesn’t flinch. “You can’t spend the rest of your lives operating with a handicap and rob this country of your protection.”

 

“We could work around it,” Shouto interrupts, anger rising in him poisonously. “We could wait. Killing her solves nothing.”

 

“She’s in a coma. And if she wakes up, she’s spending the rest of her life in jail.”

 

He shakes his head mutely, looks away, nails digging into his sweating palms.

 

“What are the odds on this?” Bakugou asks, abrupt. “So there’s a risk the Quirk will burn her- what’s the probability of that? Is there a chance she’ll get it under control? Some way of mitigating the injury?”

 

“The medical team is giving us the numbers today.”

 

“But they called management in ahead of that,” Bakugou grates, cynical. “Fucking stellar.”

 

“I need some air,” Shouto decides, because the alternative is blowing someone up. He’s halfway through the doors before anyone starts calling after him, head pounding and breathing stuttering. 

 

Footsteps near as he throws himself onto the nearest wall, eyes firmly fixed on his hands, and Bakugou swears under his breath before dropping down next to him. 

 

“I’m not killing her."

 

Bakugou doesn’t answer; he manages to glance towards him, finds him staring sightlessly at the trees.

 

“I can’t do this,” Shouto begins, refocuses. “I won’t. It doesn’t matter that-“

 

It does, though, of course. It matters, because he’s not an isolated factor in this equation. If he does nothing, Bakugou never regains his Quirk. If he does nothing, his father never recovers. If he does nothing, he loses years of perfecting his abilities, costs untold victims their safety. 

 

Kajiya is dying, either way. She knows this as well as all of them; it’s why she hasn’t awoken yet. But cold rationalisation does not alter the reality that this would be an execution. And life in prison doesn’t match that, not even under the direst circumstances, which he knows, because Touya could have killed himself many a time and hasn’t.

 

“Fuck,” he says, throat tightening, chemical burning in his lungs. “This is such a fucking mess.”

 

“You should talk to her,” Bakugou says, lowly. Shouto looks towards him uncomprehendingly, finds him gravely thoughtful. It’s not the first time he’s seen it, but it distracts him anyways, quietens his pulse as he takes him in. 

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“You should talk to Kajiya,” Bakugou repeats, and meets his eyes. “You know as well as I do she’s conscious somewhere in there. She might listen.”

 

He thinks back to the warehouse, the look on her face, clenches his fists reflexively.

 

“She won’t. She’s made up her mind to die for her cause.”

 

“Her old woman’s still alive, isn’t she?” Bakugou asks, glancing skyward again. “Akaba said override familial consent. Family matters to her- could matter enough.”

 

“And if it doesn’t?”

 

“Then I guess we fucking wait her out.”

 

When the words register he comes dangerously close to crying, unfamiliar stinging pain behind his eyes; he inhales, turns his face away, wills down the hot spike of emotion.

 

It’s not a concession; if Bakugou was opposed he wouldn’t have offered. But that he is offering in the first place makes Shouto feel sick with gratitude regardless, because it gives him the space to breathe- gives him even just a singular moment to believe that there is a chance he can get out of this without any more blood on his hands.

 

If they weren’t on public stairs outside the busiest hospital in Tokyo- but they are, and he refuses to cry, so he just drops one hand to tighten around Bakugou’s wrist with bone-crushing intensity, holds on until his breathing has evened out again.

 

Bakugou leads them back inside, and it’s to his back that he manages to speak, tongue twisted by things he doesn’t know how to say.

 

“Katsuki.”

 

He gets a look that’s somewhere between startled and vigilant. 

 

“I owe you one,” Shouto says, quietly.

 

 

It’s the first time he steps into Kajiya’s hospital room, which is perfectly logical but still feels wrong somehow. He supposes that considering his near-compulsive hospital avoidance and the fact he has been equally reluctant to set foot within his father’s private wing he can be forgiven for not rushing to her bedside.

 

Kajiya isn’t a large woman. During their fight they’d both dwarfed her in stature, though he’d hardly registered it in the moment, given the viciousness of her combat strategy. There is no such distraction here, just quiet mechanical humming and stark white sheets to rival the unhealthy pallor of her skin as she lies immobile.

 

“Never look so tough in their hospital gowns,” Bakugou notes, arms crossed where he’s slouched against the furthest wall. “Strips away the melodrama.”

 

He’s refused to attempt to address Kajiya himself, which probably makes sense, though privately Shouto sometimes thinks Bakugou is more personable than he is. Even so, he hasn’t made any moves to leave the room, which has even odds of being due to his wanting to provide moral support or his lack of trust in either Shouto or Kajiya herself. Intention notwithstanding, he appreciates his presence. Even back when he’d only ever addressed Shouto in violent bouts of shouting there had been something somehow grounding to having Bakugou around, a certain reliability to his temper. He needs all the grounding he can take, hovering in the death-scented room. 

 

He doesn’t think it’s unreasonable that he loathes hospitals, though he will acknowledge that it is irrational. So it’s not a conscious choice; who beyond medical staff actually likes hospitals? Nothing good ever brings people to them; most of his recurring nightmares involve his retracing his steps through their halls to find familiar faces broken and suffering inside their sterile cages.

 

He sits; the plastic chair squeaks as he drags it forwards. In sleep Kajiya looks peaceful, young, unmemorable; her vitals beep steadily as her chest rises and falls. 

 

“I know you can hear me. The doctors say your brain is still working fine. I can tell by your neural patterns, anyways.”

 

Unsurprisingly, the body on the bed has no answer. He considers her carefully.

 

“They’ve figured out how to do it. To wake you up. Maybe you know that already. And they think it’s going to kill you, if they do. Putting you through that is going to disconnect you from my father’s Quirk, and it’ll burn you up from the inside.”

 

Rise, fall. Nothing but silence.

 

“If you know this already I’d imagine that’s what you want to happen. You get the last laugh- maybe we don’t even all get our Quirks back before you’re gone. Except my father, of course, which is ironic, considering.”

 

He shifts in the chair, looks at her open innocent face.

 

“I don’t think you care about that very much. You know you’re not killing him, and you know your plan didn’t work. Now you just want to die a martyr.”

 

His fingers curl into loose fists as he sits forwards, lowers his voice. 

 

“I want you to know that that’s not going to happen.”

 

Outside, a bird chirps; Bakugou moves towards the window, leans to look outwards. Shouto’s gaze never leaves Kajiya.

 

“I’m not letting them wake you up. If I have to spend the rest of my career using the wrong Quirk I will. And you did your research, so you know I’m not bluffing. I won’t kill you: this is it for you. Lying here, until your organs atrophy. And given the kind of medical care you’re getting that could be years; decades. There won’t be any hero’s death.”

 

It’s more of a threat than he intended to make; Kajiya has that effect on him even comatose. But he remembers, more than his anger, the way he’d stood still to listen, in the early minutes of their fight, the unwelcome empathy that had kept him from moving. He knows this girl, on some level, and not just because he can look at her and see his brother, his father’s sins reflected. It’s not sympathy he feels for her; it’s understanding.

 

“There’s no third option for you: you sleep or you wake up. Maybe you don’t care either way. I imagine your mother does.”

 

There’s a lot he could add on the subject. Mothers, and monsters, and brothers doing penance, and all of that subjectivity he’d been dwelling over in the early hours of the morning. None of it matters, though- Kajiya knows the stakes as well as he does. Whether or not the reminder of her sole remaining relative is enough to shift her priorities is out of his hands.

 

He stands; the chair squeaks louder. Bakugou shoves off the window-sill.

 

Kamiya’s vitals don’t so much as fluctuate as they leave the room.

 

Now we wait, Shouto thinks. Then he turns towards Bakugou.

 

“Do you want to come see my cat?”

 

 

An hour later and the previously surly cashier seems unable to re-hinge his jaw as Bakugou grills the saleswomen for details on every imaginable aspect of pet-care and cat ownership.

 

“Why Yuki, anyways?” Bakugou is currently demanding, staring demandingly at the sales assistant as the cat sniffs Shouto’s hand. “Might as well have called him fucking Starbucks frappé if the only bit of white on him is the size of a mochi.”

 

“Well, we got him in the winter, and he was covered in snow when we found him…”

 

“You named the cat after his traumatic backstory?”

 

Yuki meows acceptingly and presses his head into Shouto’s palm, tail flicking leisurely behind him. Shouto tunes out the conversation a little harder to scratch behind his ears, slight smile betraying his serene contentment.

 

“I have everything I need, right?”

 

The saleswoman looks relieved at the interruption, nodding rapidly. “Food, bed, travel cage, collar, toys, medicine- you’re all set.”

 

“You’re sure you won’t just buy a damn goldfish?” Bakugou asks, considering the cat. “Lot less work. And less of an attitude.”

 

“Anything but an attitude,” Shouto replies, dryly, and smooths his smile at the defeated snort he gets for it.

 

“Deku’s allergic to cats, you realise.”

 

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Shouto says, only mostly because he knows this isn’t true. “Could I pay for this?”

 

The previously surly cashier slowly rips his gaze off Bakugou, mutters agreement as he fiddles with the till. Shouto gives Yuki one last pat before ushering him into the travel cage and handing the latter over to Bakugou.

 

“Not the fucking help,” Bakugou grouses, lifting the cage to eye level as Shouto retrieves his wallet. Yuki mewls conversationally from within.

 

“Thanks,” the cashier manages, when Shouto slides his card back into his wallet, and then glances shiftily upwards, flushing as his voice rises. “Um, do you think I could- do you think he’d mind if I asked for an autograph, or-“

 

“Not at all,” Shouto says, suppressing the urge to laugh. Explains the abrupt attitude shift. “Ground Zero?”

 

“What?”

 

“Would you mind signing something for a fan?”

 

“If that’s supposed to get me to sign your cheque, yes,” Bakugou retorts, though his gaze lands quickly upon the furiously blushing cashier. “What’d you want me to sign, kid?”

 

The cashier promptly sticks his arm out, wide-eyed, stuttering something about a tattoo, and Bakugou narrows his eyes as he uncaps the pen. “If I find out you have some kind of copy Quirk and this is a ballsy attempt at defrauding me, I’ll kick your ass, understood?”

 

“I wouldn’t,” the cashier, protests, wide-eyed, as Bakugou makes swift work of his signature. “Uh, I- thank you for your service, my friends and I all think you’re sick.”

 

“The sickest,” Shouto agrees, seriously. Bakugou hits him across the back of the head.

 

“I don’t know what is is with edgy teenagers,” Bakugou comments, as they make their way towards the car park. “They all trip over themselves if I breathe in their direction.”

 

“Can’t imagine why.”

 

“You don’t get to talk about teenage fanbases, Seventeen magazine.”

 

He gets into the drivers’ seat, hesitates about where to put Yuki until Bakugou rolls his eyes and puts the carrier on his lap. 

 

“Have I mentioned lately that this car is the lamest thing in the world?”

 

“I can always use the reminder,” Shouto says, and then pauses, tilts his head sideways to look at him. It’s typical of him not to let a moment pass without getting overly serious about it, but whilst he’s not far gone enough to have actually missed the usual rolodex of car-related barbs the same cannot be said about their back-and-forth. 

 

“Stop doing that,” Bakugou reproaches, half-heartedly, as he leans back against his headrest. Shouto attempts to look less caught.

 

“Doing what?”

 

“If you keep looking at me like that every five seconds there’s no way we’re keeping this shit under wraps,” Bakugou mutters, fighting a smirk in a way that Shouto is powerless to find anything but extremely endearing.

 

“That obvious?”

 

“That or you’ll make me look like a jackass.”

 

“Rarely intentionally,” Shouto answers, and laughs when Yuki meows in response.

 

“Oi,” Bakugou reproaches, rapping his fingers against the grill of the cage. “Don’t fucking side with him.”

 

The cat meows again as if in its defence; Bakugou shakes his head. “Can’t trust half ’n half’s judgment. Have you seen the piece of shit you’re in?”

 

“Don’t turn my cat against me,” Shouto protests, if only to stop himself from melting into his seat as he turns the car on. “I thought you were a dog person anyways.”

 

“Everyone’s a dog person,” Bakugou dismisses, rifling through his work bag for his phone. “Cats are like people. Some are more tolerable than others.”

 

“Glad to be tolerated.”

 

“Don’t fish for compliments.”

 

“How else am I supposed to get them?”

 

Bakugou’s brows quirk incredulously. “Am I hallucinating or is the nation’s darling acting like he doesn’t get praised enough?”

 

Point, Shouto concedes, tapping the steering wheel, though he’s not in the habit of folding so easily. “Not by you, I don’t.”

 

Yuki mewls in sync with Bakugou’s protesting noise. “Absolutely fucking not. Don’t act like you’re so damn effusive yourself.”

 

“Fine,” Shouto says, rising to the occasion. “I think you have unparalleled instincts, and you’re incredibly talented-“

 

He manages to dodge the first icy sheet flung his way, not the second; the car swerves a little as he regains control over the steering wheel, stifling laughter as Bakugou flares scarlet.

 

“You’re a fucking nightmare,” Bakugou says, over the honking of the cars around them. “Every damn time I think there’s no way you’ll do some shit you do it anyways.”

 

“If that’s your idea of a compliment,” Shouto starts, just to be difficult, as Bakugou groans and drops his head against the head-rest. 

 

“All right, Todoroki, you’re incredibly talented-“

 

“That’s cheating.”

 

Unbelievably headstrong-“

 

“That sounds like a negative.”

 

“You already know you’re stupidly pretty,” Bakugou pushes onwards, warming to the game now he can make a challenge out of it. “You don’t take shit from anyone. You never half-ass anything. And people can throw any kind of shit your way and you’ll always adapt so fast it looks like you were expecting it from the start.”

 

Maybe, Shouto thinks distantly, he should have predicted that baiting Bakugou into aggressively complimenting him would have unforeseen consequences. Like the fact he’s sweating so hard his hands are sliding off he steering wheel, and his organs seem to be rearranging themselves, and he also can’t look anywhere except straight ahead. 

 

“That enough?” Bakugou drawls, smugness outweighing embarrassment. “You feeling appreciated yet?”

 

Silently, Shouto turns on the radio. Bakugou laughs loudly enough to drown the music out.

 

 

There are no bodies in his hallway, and no empty cupboards for Bakugou to criticise in the kitchen. He stays long enough to make sure Yuki is properly set up, thwarts Shouto’s ploy to make him stay over with some difficulty: work obligations in the morning, and he’d promised Kirishima to help him review the case. 

 

“Fine,” Shouto says, in tones of neutral displeasure. “Since you promised Kirishima.”

 

“Fuck off,” Bakugou replies, pointing a warning finger at both him and Yuki. “Stop trying to play on my sensitive feelings. They don’t exist and you know it.”

 

“Maybe one day,” Shouto reneges, dropping the attitude. “Tell Kirishima I say thanks.”

 

“Thanks for wh-“ Bakugou starts, then grimaces. “Oh, tell him yourself.”

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Shouto says, leaning against the doorframe as he watches him throw his coat on, and then frowns and tests it out: “Katsuki.”

 

Bakugou twitches unwillingly, gives him a look. “’S fucking weird when you do that.”

 

“You don’t mind it,” Shouto half-asks, as he reluctantly shakes his head.

 

“Didn’t say that. Just weird.”

 

“You’ve called me by my name before.”

 

“It’s different when it’s your hero name,” Bakugou counters, shrugging his bag onto his shoulder before fixing him. “Shouto.”

 

Shouto’s turn to squirm. “I take your point.”

 

“Told you.”

 

“I can’t believe we slept together before we got on first name basis,” Shouto says, thoughtfully. “We’re really bad at this.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Bakugou mutters, eyeing him. “Got time to fix that.”

 

“I don’t think there’s a billboard ranking for relationships,” Shouto notes, catching on. Bakugou only scoffs.

 

“I set my own standards.” On this most characteristic of notes, he pushes the door open, nods at Yuki then at Shouto. “See you at work, icyhot.”

 

“What, no kiss goodbye?”

 

“That’s a fucking oxymoron with you, so no,” Bakugou calls, already retreating down the stairs. “Go feed your fucking cat.”

 

He does. Then he sends Bakugou pictures.