Bakugo went back to the agency expecting the worst.
His weekend at home had dragged on, grated through him for what felt like weeks, but it also served as a reprieve to recover from the worst of his injuries and steel himself for what was coming. He wasn’t sure what the consequences for his actions would be, but he knew damn well they wouldn’t be good. Any respect the heroes had for him surely dissipated by now, and he fully expected to be punished for landing the agency such a hefty fine while putting Deku’s reputation in the toilet.
He retrieved his forgotten backpack from his locker and trudged slowly upstairs, thinking he wouldn’t even blame Deku if he gave him the cold shoulder all day.
He deserved it.
The funny part was that his nerves had been fried long before he made the trek to the agency that morning. He’d spent the whole weekend consumed by nightmares and self-loathing and hatred for the villain responsible for it all, and it left almost no room for him to worry about what would happen come Monday.
In fact, he barely felt anything beyond his own sluggish exhaustion and the relentless pounding in his head, wanted nothing more than to spend his time buried and rotting under his covers so it could all just fucking stop… but he couldn’t do that yet. No matter how much the idea appealed to him, he was determined to take accountability for what he did first -- even if it meant losing everything.
He deserved it.
Bakugo walked through the halls and past the colourful hero murals plastered all around him, feeling their painted eyes and the heavy weight of his failure crushing him with every plodding step. Staffers greeted him with false smiles and good mornings as they strolled by and Bakugo could just feel their judgments piercing through him, could feel all of them silently condemn him for what he did.
He clenched his fists and kept moving forward, chanting to himself the same words he repeated whenever his headaches felt extra painful, whenever he woke up in a cold sweat, whenever he remembered that his idol officially hated him.
He fucking deserved it.
Bakugo didn’t dare gaze in the direction of Deku’s office as he approached Shoto’s door. He had no right to think about him or wonder how he was doing after what he did. If anything, part of him hoped Shoto would let him go so he’d never have to face Deku again. The thought of them no longer talking or working together hurt, but Bakugo now realized he’d rather live with that than come in every week to Deku hating him from an office away. That would just shatter Bakugo’s already cracked resolve.
On the flip side, facing Shoto shouldn’t be nearly as hard. It’s not like Bakugo cared what the hero thought of him, he never even wanted to intern with that stiff in the first place. He’d just walk in and walk right back out, easy.
Except, his resolve faltered the moment his hand fell on the door handle.
He sighed. The knowledge that he might’ve also let the top hero down wasn’t easy and no amounts of lying to himself could prepare him for the disappointment that would be written across Shoto’s face. Whether they were close or not, Bakugo never set out to fail him or cause him trouble -- but none of that mattered for shit now, did it?
He took a moment to compose his expression and reminded himself that he deserved what was coming to him.
Let’s get this bullshit over with.
He pushed the door open and stepped in to find Shoto at his usual spot behind his sleek black desk. The hero glanced up from his computer screen and straightened as soon as he saw him.
“Bakugo, hey…” Shoto trailed off with a small frown as he took a good look at him and Bakugo fingers tensed around the strap of his backpack. He knew he looked like shit, had seen the bruises and dark circles reflected back at him in the mirror that morning, but there was only so much bandages and a baggy shirt could hide. No matter what he did, his failure would still be on full display for the world to see.
Shoto stood up in concern and Bakugo averted his gaze, not wanting to watch the pity slowly grow on the hero’s face as he stared at the marks scattered all over his body -- the shameful evidence of Bakugo’s weakness.
The sound of the door clicking shut behind him rang like a gunshot in the silence as he stood mutely in wait for Shoto to come out with his finalizing words.
“...You shouldn’t have come in today.”
Bakugo closed his eyes. There they were. He knew it was coming but somehow that didn’t make it hurt any less. He swallowed down the lump in his throat and spoke dully, “Today and the rest of the term, huh?”
Shoto’s brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“I’m being fired for the shit I pulled, right?” he sighed irritably, hating that this needed to be drawn out. He just wanted to go back home and sleep, to forget everything about how he fucked up the chance of a thousand lifetimes, the best fucking thing that ever happened to him, all because he got too cocky. He didn’t want to think about any of it.
When he looked back up, he was certain he’d find Shoto nodding at him regretfully but the expression on the hero’s face showed absolutely no trace of assent. In fact, the hero looked dismayed.
“Bakugo, no…” Shoto rounded his desk towards him sounding troubled. “I’m not firing you, I was just suggesting it might’ve been better for you to take another day off and get some more rest, that’s all.”
Get some… what?
Bakugo stared at the hero suspiciously as his mind worked to process what he was hearing.
“...You’re saying that after everything I did last week... everything… you’re not letting me go??”
Shoto nodded slowly and frowned. “...Yes, that is what I’m saying. I apologize if I confused you.”
“Confused” didn’t even begin to cover it. Bakugo was in total fucking disbelief. He knew the normal reaction would be something akin to relief, maybe even accompanied by fervid thank-yous and promises to never step out of line again, but he just- he couldn’t accept this!
“I ran off!!”
“I-I wrecked a whole damn building!”
“I fought a fucking villain alone!”
“That is correct.”
Bakugo was breathing heavily as he slowly lowered the hand he had pointed at himself, completely flummoxed by the hero’s casual demeanour. “Y-You’re supposed to fire me… What- what the hell kind of agency lets their interns get away with that shit…?”
Shoto smiled at him gently and answered, “An agency that believes in second chances, Bakugo.”
As the boy continued to stare at him uncomprehendingly, Shoto leaned back against his desk and crossed his arms. “Do you know how many interns we’ve let go since this agency launched?” The hero let a short pause sit between them before answering. “Zero -- because we don’t believe in firing students in the learning stage when they’re supposed to make mistakes. The termination of work-studies is strictly a last resort and I’m very firm on that.”
“But- the fine… and- and Deku-”
“It’s handled,” Shoto assured him calmly. “We’ve dealt with fines and lawsuits before, they’re both par for the course in hero work. Yaoyorozu’s taking care of the legal stuff as always and the agency has plenty of loyal sponsors and benefactors to help as well. Trust me, we have it all covered. As for Midoriya…”
Shoto shifted a little on the desk and Bakugo could tell from the way his jaw worked that this was the part he was unhappy about. The hero looked towards the view of the busy city from his large office windows and sighed through his nose. “...He knew the outrage was coming. He built a sense for that kind of thing over the years and- he told me this one would get bad.” The hero flicked his mismatched eyes towards Bakugo. “Bad enough to deter you from hero work entirely.”
No. Please don’t say it.
“...The police didn’t arrive soon enough to pin down exactly who was involved. He wanted to protect you so he took responsibility for everything that happened.”
“God damn it,” Bakugo whispered angrily and closed his eyes.
Shoto was quiet as he watched Bakugo none too gently fling his backpack to the ground and drag his hands over his face and hair. So it wasn’t just some dumb accidental misunderstanding. Deku put his whole career at risk because he thought Bakugo would be too much of a wimp to handle public crucifixion. Deku deliberately put himself in the line of fire for Bakugo’s sake again.
Bakugo fell back against the door and rubbed at his aching temples in agitation. He was tired and sleep-deprived and he didn’t need more shit to feel guilty about, damn it! Why the fuck would Deku do this??
“It’s just who he is,” the hero supplied perceptively, and Bakugo shook his head with an irritated scowl. That didn’t make any of this shit better.
Shoto lowered his gaze and fiddled with his fingers for a few moments.
“It’s also why he got so angry with you… He, um, might come off as this happy carefree guy most of the time but he deals with a lot behind the scenes. A lot.” The hero sighed quietly, his voice grim. “...He’s not good at losing people. It doesn’t excuse how he treated you but watching you put yourself in danger like that was just... upsetting to him.”
Bakugo looked away and muttered bitterly, “I don’t blame him. The whole thing was a fucking bust anyway.”
The hero fell silent as Bakugo pushed off from the door and trudged towards his desk. With the fate of his internship apparently no longer at risk, Bakugo should’ve felt some modicum of ease -- but as he pressed at his exhausted eyes and fell into his chair with an unceremonious thunk, all he could think about was how he’d now spend the rest of his work-study as The Moron Who Upset Deku™.
He was so caught up in his pool of negative thoughts that he almost missed Shoto quietly murmur, “That’s not entirely true.”
“Of course it fuckin’ is, how can it not…” Bakugo trailed off mid-sentence and narrowed his eyes at the way Shoto fidgeted and looked absolutely anywhere but him. He sat up in his seat suspiciously. “...You know something.”
“...Potentially, yes.” Bakugo stared the hero down until he finally sighed and straightened from his desk. “Alright look, what you did was incredibly dangerous and absolutely, positively cannot happen again -- but with that said…” Bakugo was on edge as the hero approached his desk and leaned over it with a strange look on his face. “The police unearthed some things from the rubble of the sacristy. Random gears and parts... including four callipers from a car’s brake system.”
Bakugo’s eyes widened and Shoto nodded as he continued in a hushed voice. “They matched one of the car models from the crash so Replicate must’ve tampered with it and caused the collision that way. But more importantly, this proves that he’s been using that cathedral as a drop-off point for all sorts of equipment and what we found can lead us straight to associates of his that we’ve been trying to track down for weeks.”
Bakugo finally realized what the look on Shoto’s face was -- it was excitement. By some crazy stroke of luck, Bakugo's actions had somehow managed to bring them closer to catching Replicate. He’d actually given them a lead and he hadn’t even known what he was doing, let alone who the fuck he was fighting at the time.
While a happy accident, part of Bakugo was also infuriated that it had to be an accident at all. Everything could’ve been different, so much could’ve been avoided, if he’d just fucking known.
“Why the hell wasn’t I told about him?” Bakugo asked, trying to keep the anger out of his voice. “If he’s so dangerous, he should’ve been up there in the wanted charts with the rest of the shitface degenerates so why the fuck isn’t he?”
Shoto backed away and rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, Bakugo, it was a classified thing... His case is very restricted and one we’ve been working on for months under wraps. He changes his disguises frequently so it makes him hard to identify but I never imagined he’d be spotted this close to the agency. The fact that he’s been lurking around downtown is a problem in itself because the public simply can’t know he’s out there.”
“Why the hell not??” Bakugo demanded as he stood back up. “If he’s dangerous, people should fucking know about it! If we had them on our side to keep a lookout, we’d be able to catch that son of a bitch in less than a week!”
Shoto shook his head. “Having the public on our side isn’t our concern, Bakugo. It’s having them on his that we’re worried about.”
Bakugo stared at him incredulously. “What…?”
The hero ran a hand back through the white of his hair and sighed again, shaking his head a little like he didn’t know where to even begin. After a moment, he stepped back and gestured to one of two leather chairs facing each other in front of his desk. “Have a seat.”
Bakugo rolled his eyes and irritably did as he was told, wishing the dude would stop acting so damn grave about everything. Shoto followed suit and sat down, his posture straight in contrast to Bakugo slouching across from him. The hero laced his fingers primly over his lap and took a deep breath.
“The first thing I need you to understand is that Replicate is not your typical subversive villain. He is a zealot who believes humankind is a reflection of god, that powers make people divine and earth should exclusively belong to those who possess them. Somehow, he reached the conclusion that he was the ultimate reflection of the divine and has now taken it upon himself to target those he deems unworthy -- those without powers.”
Bakugo’s brows furrowed and he sat up, his interest now piqued.
“His crimes often target the quirkless and he recruits radicals along the way who have extensive track-records of hate speech and hate crimes against them. Which means we’re not just dealing with some amateur villain league, we’re dealing with a growing back-alley militia that can be comprised of just about anyone, including civilians. He wants to build an army so he can purge the world, Bakugo,” Shoto said gravely. “He wants to commit genocide.”
The hero patiently waited for Bakugo to digest this information, which sure as hell was more serious than he expected. If what Shoto said was true, it meant quirkless lives were in grave danger. They were marginalized enough as it was, but if people heard that someone out there sought to wipe them out entirely, the problem would fucking skyrocket. Replicate could generate a massive following, have the public rallying behind him, expressing their support for him on the news, online, in the streets, and likely even joining him.
People wouldn’t call him a villain -- they’d call him a fucking hero.
“...I trust you now understand why hero agencies have been keeping this situation under wraps for so long. Someone with ideals as dangerous as Replicate’s becomes a much bigger threat with public backup. The recruitment would take care of itself and the quirkless would live in a constant state of terror. It would be chaos and we can’t allow that to happen.”
Bakugo nodded mutely, reeling over how this was a villain he’d actually faced and let escape back into the world. The fucker wasn’t just some freak, he was a straight-up terrorist cult leader. Bakugo hated terrorist cult leaders. He was somewhere out there now and Bakugo had to find him, had to make things right again. He’d make him pay for all the shit he put him and Deku through, all the shit he was trying to stir up and get away with in his city.
If Replicate thought he’d seen the last of Bakugo, he was dead fucking wrong.
Bakugo resolutely turned his gaze back to Shoto. “I want his file. I want everything you have on him.”
Shoto sat back in his seat, eyes narrowing as he contemplated whether or not this was a good idea. Bakugo held his gaze unwaveringly -- hard to do with his eyes burning from lack of sleep but fuck if he wasn’t stubborn -- until the hero finally nodded. “Alright. You’re only the second person to face him in an actual fight and survive so I suppose you’ve earned it.”
Bakugo frowned and stood along with the hero. Only one other person had managed to stay alive? He watched Shoto rifle through the drawer of his desk for a few moments when curiosity finally got the better of him. “Who was the first?”
Shoto straightened with a thin black file in hand and held it out over his computer monitor as he answered mildly, “He’s right next door.”
Though his tone was light, the hero’s mismatched eyes were far too loaded as he watched Bakugo take the file with a quiet, “Oh.”
Shoto crossed his arms and cleared his throat, both of them finding themselves standing in that awkwardly silent, silently awkward way again. “I’m sure he’d, um… be happy to talk to you about it if you asked…”
Bakugo looked dully at the file knowing damn well that wasn’t true. “Happy” was the last thing Deku felt around Bakugo and he made that fact very clear. The boy turned back to his desk and muttered, “I’m good.”
Shoto gave a quiet sigh behind him but mercifully dropped the subject and returned to work. The hero no doubt judged him for being such an evasive coward but Bakugo just couldn’t bear to face Deku right now. Not until he took care of this Replicate shit and redeemed himself first.
Once he sat down in his seat, he took a moment to trace the white ‘confidential’ sticker plastered across the file before turning to the first page. He rubbed his eyes and hoped his headache wouldn’t hinder him from absorbing the contents of the folder, because this was more important than anything right now. He wouldn’t stop until he learned every last detail about Replicate, who he was, what his habits were, where he liked to shit, fucking everything.
Bakugo wouldn’t rest until that bastard was dead at his fucking feet.
He pored over the file’s contents for hours. There wasn’t much to begin with, which explained why the file was smaller than normal, but there was at least enough for Bakugo to get a glimpse into the fucker’s past -- turned out, Replicate, the ever-so fearsome villain, used to be Masanori Saito, the fucking biotechnologist.
Bakugo damn near lost it. The creep was really trying to come off like he was this big bad scary criminal when he was just another pathetic nerd who studied chemistry and electrical engineering in school. Bakugo could wipe the fucking floor with shitty little losers like him.
The file’s contents dead-ended 15 years ago, when he worked in a performance and quirk enhancement program and got fired for his “increasingly disturbing acts of misconduct”. Among the testimonials highlighting his emergent fanaticism and hostility in the workplace, Bakugo came across one belonging to an Emiko Sera, a lab tech who was supposedly the catalyst behind his termination of employment. He yawned as he sat forward and read over part of her statement:
“I just walked in after taking an early lunch and there he was, just injecting one of our experimental quirk-enhancer serums into his arm. No one can guess how long he’s been sneaking those doses but with the formula in its early testing phase, it was nowhere close to approval for human trials. That’s why it’s so concerning, because while the rodents we used for testing did show enhanced performance and intelligence, they also came with side-effects of violence, aggression, and even insanity-”
Bakugo’s vision began to blur, making him sit back slightly and rub at his burning eyes. His exhaustion was starting to catch up to him but he couldn’t afford to take a break right now. He blinked rapidly and shook his head a little, ignoring the concerned looks Shoto was shooting his way as he continued reading.
“The serum’s effects on Saito manifested themselves in the worst possible ways. It changed the mechanics of his whole quirk, which only worked for about 10 minutes at a time before, and amplified it to a point where he could wear it like a second skin for as long as he wanted. He was virtually unrecognizable, even his voice changed-”
“One minute,” he mumbled, pressing his throbbing forehead against his palm as he leaned blearily over the papers. He had to keep reading, keep studying, had to catch him.
“Being a quirkless woman, I was used to the discomfort of working in close quarters with people like him and getting the odd snide comment or dirty look here and there. The rest of the staff was very friendly so I did my best to ignore it and keep things professional, but when I caught him in the lab that afternoon he was just erratic in a way I’d never seen before. He was yelling all these things about ‘eradicating the unworthy’ and ‘cleansing the world’ and I started to genuinely fear for my life. If our lab manager hadn’t chosen that moment to walk in, I have no doubt he would’ve tried to kill m-”
The file slammed closed in front of him and Bakugo jumped right out of his half-asleep state to find Shoto standing in front of him with his palm pressed against the file. “Hey, what the fuck-”
“I did not give you this file so you could waste away over it,” Shoto said lowly, eyes glaring in displeasure. “Your lunch hour was nearly 30 minutes ago and you’re still poring over these papers and practically falling asleep at your desk. Go eat something or have a cup of coffee at least.”
“I’m not fuckin’ hungry and I don’t want any shitty coffee,” Bakugo grumbled irritably and reached for the file again. “I’m almost done, just let me-”
“No.” Shoto yanked the file away from his hands and held it behind his back. “You need to take your break and put something in your stomach so you can feel better.”
Bakugo growled and stood up from his desk. “The only thing that’ll make me feel better is catching that motherfucker and I can’t do that if I don’t know everything about him!!”
Bakugo bounded over to him and Shoto shifted his body away as the boy’s arms shot out in an attempt to snatch the file from his back. “You won’t catch him if you’re minutes away from passing out, Bakugo.” He shifted slightly again as another arm shot out. “We’ve been after him for months without any luck, you can afford to take a break for one hour.”
The boy growled again and attempted to snatch the file a third time, desperate to seize his one chance at redemption, when Shoto finally got fed-up and grabbed his wrist with his free hand. The hero’s eyes stormed with anger as he enunciated his next words slowly, “This is not a suggestion... I am ordering you, as your boss, to go have lunch. If you don’t, I will have no choice but to send you home. Better yet, I might just freeze you to your chair and hand-feed you myself.”
Bakugo glared at him stubbornly, hating that he had to crane his neck up to make eye contact with the taller hero. He knew he couldn’t just let this go when he made so much progress already, but the hand around his wrist was starting to grow unbearably cold on his skin. If he didn’t relent in the next few seconds, ice would almost certainly encompass his whole arm and leave him at Shoto’s mercy -- who clearly had no fucking qualms with following through on his threat.
“So what’ll it be, Bakugo?” The hero raised his brow challengingly. “I’ve got a bowl of cold soba sitting right there on my desk.”
As the temperature around his wrist approached its freezing point, Bakugo twitched out a smile and strained through his answer, “You said you were firm on that whole not-firing-your-interns thing, huh...?”
“Good. So before I take my break, I can tell you to go fuck yourself."
Shoto released his arm with a tight-lipped smile and Bakugo stepped back to grudgingly rub some warmth back into his skin. The hero turned to his desk and tossed his next words over his shoulder, “Enjoy your lunch. The file will be here when you get back.”
Bakugo gave him a hateful look before reaching for his bag and storming out the door. He was such a fucking asshole. What did it matter to him whether Bakugo ate or slept or took a fucking break? It wasn’t his goddamn problem. His problem was Replicate, and he should’ve been glad Bakugo was so dedicated to studying the fucker so he could help them catch him.
He marched towards the corner of the hall, feeling his anger balling up in his throat and stinging at his eyes and just wishing it could be over, wishing things could go back to the way they were before his life went to shit. He’d never be able to redeem himself, never be able to make things better with-
He suddenly collided into a hard body and felt a steaming drink that smelled dreadfully like coffee spill over his arm and splatter across the floor between him and... a pair of red sneakers.
Bakugo was frozen stock-still with his eyes on the ground, barely registering a staffer gasping beside the uniform-clad hero and announcing that she would call someone to clean it up right away, barely registering the smarting of his skin from the hot drink that was now lying with its cup all over the white marble floor, barely registering that they were now standing alone and still have yet to say a single word to one another. The only thing Bakugo could think was that he’d wished for things to return to normal and, for one moment, they had.
He spilled coffee again.
Part of him wanted to laugh because the whole thing was just so fucking funny, but he tamped it down because he knew if he started he wouldn’t stop, knew it would eventually just turn into uncontrollable sobbing because he always fucked up every little thing.
Bakugo knew that the best thing he could do was to just choke out some shitty apology and get out of Deku’s way as fast and as far as possible, but he couldn’t get his voice to work. He’d failed too many apologies in his head to try again. Fortunately for him, Deku was the one to speak first.
"Are you okay?" he asked quietly.
Bakugo swallowed and kept his eyes fixed on the empty coffee cup. "Fine."
“I didn’t see you at the caf today."
When they lapsed into silence again, Bakugo closed his eyes. He couldn’t do this.
Through sheer power of will, Bakugo forced his feet to hurry past the hero, wanting nothing but to find a quiet place where he could spend the next hour hating himself for the irrevocable damage he’s done to their friendship.
He stopped a few feet away, gripping the strap of his bag tightly and hating how Deku’s voice could so easily wrap him in the inescapable compulsion of its spell.
“Please. I just want to talk.”
He knew he shouldn’t, knew that whatever Deku had to say couldn’t be good, but Bakugo just couldn’t refuse him. He could never refuse anything Deku asked of him.
With a slight turn of his body, Bakugo gave a small nod and kept his eyes turned away as the hero spoke softly, “Okay… Um, let’s head to my office and get you cleaned up."
They started moving just as a custodian rushed past them to clean up the coffee spill, and Bakugo carried the weight of his guilt with him the whole way back to Deku’s office. The hero opened his door and politely held it open for Bakugo to trail in past him before shutting it and leaving them alone in the quiet privacy of the room.
Deku’s workspace was starkly different from the simple professionalism of Shoto’s office, with the only similarity being the small student desk at the side of the room. Unlike Shoto’s empty dark blue walls, however, Deku’s were painted in a cheerful mint green and were covered in framed certificates and shelves littered with souvenirs. Bakugo spied some All Might bobble-heads standing proudly next to his awards, saw more little figurines propped carefully on one corner of his desk, and even noticed a small one hanging mid-flight from a string above a collection of succulent plants by the large sunny windows.
If this were a week ago, Bakugo would’ve felt right at home in the welcoming warmth of Deku’s office. Now, he just felt like an unworthy intruder. He stood quietly by the door and kept his eyes downcast as Deku tossed his gloves over the tan leather couch under the windows and uncapped a bottle sitting on his mahogany desk. After a few moments of fiddling, he saw the hero tentatively approach him again with a damp cloth in tow. As soon as Deku started to reach for his reddened arm, however, Bakugo instinctively shrunk back and held it behind him.
Bakugo didn’t know why he did it. Shying away from Deku was never an instinct before. He flicked his eyes back to the cloth in Deku’s now lowered hand and muttered, “I can do it.”
The hero quietly handed him the cloth, seemingly unharmed by any spilled coffee himself, and Bakugo took a moment to drop his bag on the floor before pressing the cool fabric to his skin. What was another little burn in his astounding collection of injuries anyway? His quirk already made his body resistant to burn scars so he wasn’t torn up about it. In fact, he welcomed the pain for as long as it would stay because he deserved that too.
Deku backed away from him to lean against his desk, obviously wanting to put as much distance between them as possible, and Bakugo found himself, once again, in the exact position he was in with Shoto that morning -- standing wordlessly by the office door while being silently judged for his beat-up haggard appearance. He felt eyes fall on the hand-shaped bruise on his arm and shamefully tugged the sleeve of his oversized shirt down, wanting nothing in that moment but to go home. He was broken and now Deku had seen every trace of it.
“I’m sorry,” Deku cracked out suddenly and Bakugo’s breath came to a halt.
“I’m so sorry for the way I treated you, Katsuki, I was horrible and I never should’ve said those awful things to you. I never should’ve grabbed you or shouted the way I did. There is no excuse, absolutely none, it was unacceptable and I should’ve handled it better. I swear I’m not like that, I’m not that person, I just- I got so worried when you disappeared and then finding you with him- ” Deku stopped, took a deep shaky breath, and whispered. “...I was so scared, Katsuki, so unbelievably scared I wouldn’t be able to save you. I thought you were going to die.”
Bakugo stared at the sandy carpeted floor, his free hand painfully squeezing the palm-shaped bruise on his arm. His mind had come to a complete standstill, unable to comprehend what was happening as he just stood there in muted shock.
“Katsuki, please look at me...”
Bakugo's fingers tightened around his bruise as he slowly did what he was told, once again unable to refuse him. What he saw made his breath catch in his throat. Deku had white bandages wrapped around the width of his forehead, his curls spilling over them the way they would with a headband. The hero looked so utterly sapped and tired.
All because of Bakugo.
“I never, ever wanted to hurt you,” Deku pleaded earnestly, his face twisted with an enormous amount of guilt. “You deserved better from me and I promise it won’t ever happen again, I swear to you it won’t.” When Bakugo still didn’t provide a response, the hero lowered his head in contrition. “Could- Could you ever forgive me...?”
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Deku was bowing his head at him. Deku was beating himself up and asking for his forgiveness. Bakugo was totally and utterly horrified.
“Why… Why the fuck are you apologizing to me…?”
The hero raised his head cautiously. “...Because I made a mistake-”
“No, you didn’t,” Bakugo said incredulously. "I'm the one with all the shit to apologize for, not you. Everything you said was right, I was reckless and I was irresponsible and I never should’ve followed him into that dumb fight. You didn’t do anything fucking wrong, what the hell are you asking my forgiveness for??”
“Katsuki...” Deku was shaking his head in disbelief, but the boy wasn’t anywhere close to stopping.
“Fucking look at you, Deku! You’re in goddamn bandages because of me! The whole fucking country is blaming you because of me! You’re supposed to be pissed, why the hell aren’t you pissed at me? Why the fuck are you apologizing??”
“Because none of that justifies hurting you!” Deku looked positively shaken by Bakugo’s words. “Have- Have you been blaming yourself for those things all along?? The way people feel about me isn’t your fault, I told them I did it so they wouldn’t target you!”
Bakugo shook his head with a wet little laugh. “God, you’re just- so fucking heroic, aren’t you? You just had to take the fall for me, huh? Well guess what, I didn’t fucking need you to save me! Why’d you have to tell them it was you, why would you do that, Deku??”
“I did it because I’m used to it, Katsuki,” Deku said, eyes wide and earnest as he stepped closer to him. “I couldn’t let this ruin things for you when you were just getting started-”
“But I fucking deserved it!!”
Deku stopped, his expression a mix of shocked pain as Bakugo tearfully yelled, “I wanted to be strong like you but I was too weak, I failed because I wasn’t fucking good enough, Deku!! I’ll never be a perfect hero, I’m just a worthless shit who ruins everything!! You and Shoto should’ve cut your fucking losses, you should’ve just let them all hate me because I want it to be them instead of you!!”
For an aching moment, the hero watched Bakugo struggle to keep the air from hitching out of him as he flung his wet cloth to the ground and swiped at his face in frustration. He tried so hard to hold his emotions back, to be strong in front of the symbol of peace, yet hadn’t the faintest clue just how much his display of vulnerability touched the deepest parts of Deku’s heart.
As he stood there covered in his bruises and bandages, so worried about being a letdown, the hero stepped towards him with a sad smile. “I could never hate you, firecracker...”
Bakugo kept his eyes fixed anywhere but at Deku, certain they looked red by now as the hero placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “You are so wrong about yourself, Katsuki... You are so much more than a silly old church or the outcome of one meaningless fight. Your value comes from a place far beyond that, buried deep in your heart. I’m talking about your passions, your hopes, the very essence of who you are. I don’t care if you win or lose, I don’t care if you trip up sometimes, and I certainly won’t hate you for making an honest mistake. Do you understand? Katsuki, look at me.”
Bakugo sniffed and turned to face the hero expressionlessly. Deku tenderly wiped at his cheeks with his thumbs before gripping him by both shoulders and bringing them eye to eye.
“...You are not a failure and you are not weak or worthless. You are learning. You are training your instincts so you can start fighting to save the world. No hero is strong or perfect all the time, least of all me, but what matters is that you never stop trying your best. Mistakes don’t define you and you do not deserve to suffer for them, Katsuki... You are so strong and so smart and you can’t keep beating yourself up like this. You can’t give up on yourself when you’re only just at the beginning because you belong out there, do you hear me? You belong out there just as much as I do.”
Bakugo blinked rapidly and swallowed down the lump in his throat as he nodded. Deku blinked back tears of his own and brought him in for a tight hug.
“...I’m so sorry you dealt with all of this alone. I never should’ve left you after the things I said.”
Deku’s arms enveloped him close to his chest and tucked him beneath his chin, making Bakugo feel safe and cherished for the first time in what felt like years. His warmth wrapped around him like a safety blanket until all he could feel was Deku’s strong heartbeat against his ear. Normally the boy wouldn’t let hugs like this get drawn out for long (attempted hugs in general were often received with a complimentary black eye) but he was physically exhausted and emotionally spent and just so fucking relieved that Deku still gave half a shit about him.
He felt the hero raise one of his hands to cup the back of his scruffy blonde hair and Bakugo closed his stinging eyes and finally hugged him back. He didn’t think about how their voices had carried over into the next room, didn’t notice Shoto curiously peek in through the glass wall of the office and receive a thumbs-up from Deku, didn’t see the relieved smile on the two-toned hero’s face before he walked away. No, Bakugo was too busy relishing in his solid comforting embrace.
...An embrace that felt far too familiar.
In a split-second of paranoia, Bakugo’s eyes snapped open. Was he dreaming again? He had no memory of dozing off but he’d been so fucking tired all day that he could have easily fallen asleep at any point in the last few hours. If this turned out to be another illusion his brain had conjured up, it would be the cruellest one yet -- but there was only one way to be sure.
Bakugo slowly trailed his hand down the hero's back towards his red belt, seeking out the pointy mirror shard that was always inevitably there, the murder weapon that set off the beginning of his end in countless other nightmares. He just... needed to find the right flap...
“Uh, Katsuki?” Bakugo’s wandering fingers froze. “...What are you doing?”
He jumped back from Deku immediately, feeling the kind of mortification that could only exist in the waking world, and scrambled for an explanation. “I-I was just, um, I was checking the- the condition of your belt!” He cleared his throat nervously and nodded in approval. “...Sturdy.”
“Oh. Thanks, I guess,” Deku chuckled and sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. “For a second there I thought you were trying to cop a feel or something.”
Bakugo wished for death’s mercy as he gave a strained laugh, “What, you’re telling me your classmates never gave you regular belt checks at UA?”
“Uh no, usually when guys’ hands wander down my back it just means they’re trying to get below the belt.” The hero winced and turned aside immediately. “Wow, wildly inappropriate, I’m so sorry, please forget I said that.”
There was absolutely no fucking way Bakugo was forgetting that. He smirked at the rare sight of Deku all blushing and flustered in front of him, thinking it was damn nice to have their roles reversed for a change. Even better was the fact that Deku just accidentally admitted he fooled around with guys, which was just the kind of good news Bakugo needed.
Deku cleared his throat and awkwardly ran a hand through his hair. “Anyway, just um… yeah, no more sneaking off, okay? And no more beating yourself up.” Bakugo nodded and he grinned. “That’s my firecracker.”
Bakugo reached down for his backpack and hid the elated smile on his face at the hero’s comment. Part of him was uneasy with the fact that he’d openly broken down the way he did, something he never, ever wanted to have witnesses for, but a bigger part was just completely over the moon that Deku was happy with him again. Nothing could ruin that for him, not his embarrassing outburst, not his lack of sleep or aching bones, not even the pounding in his head.
Ready to leave Deku to his work and find someplace to daydream for the rest of his lunch hour, Bakugo reached back for the door when the hero quickly piped up, “If you were about to have lunch, feel free to eat here! I just, you know, finished up some PR stuff so I should be in the office for the rest of the day. If you want. Totally cool either way.”
For the first time in days, Bakugo felt his heart doing its somersault thing again. He never thought he’d be glad to have his ribcage circus come back, but after the rollercoaster of bullshit he endured the last few days, he was definitely welcoming it with open arms -- especially if the reason for its return was Deku offering to spend more time with him.
Trying to act casual (and knowing full well he didn’t actually bring a lunch), Bakugo nodded. “Sure, yeah, that’d be cool.”
Deku smiled and eagerly made room for him to sit at one of the guest chairs before taking his own spot behind the desk. Now that Bakugo was closer, he could see a picture frame of Deku and Shoto among all the hero’s paperwork along with three more selfies posing beside what looked like his mother. Bakugo didn’t know when the hell he got so sentimental but seeing the happiness on Deku’s face as he hugged her close with both of them mid-laugh warmed his heart.
He settled back into his seat and yawned as they lapsed into a companionable silence. He tried to ignore the heaviness in his eyes and his belligerent bitch of a headache in favour of discreetly admiring the way Deku muttered under his breath as he worked, wanting to soak up every last second of his presence until he felt whole again.
There came a point, though, when a pressing question occurred to him that he found himself too curious not to ask.
“Um, Deku?” The hero glanced at him expectantly and he shifted, hating to dredge this back up again. “Back at the church, when you, um, saved me… How’d you know it was me?”
Deku gave him a faint smile.
When Bakugo’s brows knit in confusion, the hero shrugged a little and fiddled with his pen. “When you aimed at the ceiling, you raised your right arm. Replicate mirrored you and raised his left. I knew you were right-handed from watching you solve the Sudoku puzzles, and that you favoured your right arm for bigger blasts after watching you fight Sho, so... I hazarded a guess.”
“Oh…” Bakugo felt his cheeks heat up and looked towards his lap. He had no idea Deku had been observing him so closely.
“Yeah...” Deku’s smile faded and he looked at him solemnly. “Those thirty minutes you were missing were the longest thirty minutes of my life, Katsuki. I thought you might’ve gotten kidnapped or worse, but then I followed the explosions and realized who you were fighting…”
The hero wore a faraway look, reliving a side of things Bakugo could only guess at before he gave a small shake of his head. “...It’s my job to keep you out of harm’s way but- I need you to help make that easy for me, okay? If you suspect something, tell me and we can look into it together. Please don’t wander off and get into dangerous fights alone, I can’t have you gambling with your life like that.”
Bakugo nodded quietly, feeling his dejection and guilt creeping up on him again -- only to get stopped in their tracks when the hero gently spoke his name.
“Hey… I’m telling you this because I care about you and don’t want you to get hurt. When that roof collapsed, saving you was the only thing that mattered to me. I didn’t even care that he escaped in the end because at least I knew you were okay.”
Bakugo’s lips turned up into a subdued smile, touched that the hero worried about him so much. Trying to get himself crushed was definitely not the best way to go about things but part of him knew that if he saw Replicate again -- after everything that happened and everything that he’d learned -- there was no way Bakugo wouldn’t go after him. This was personal now.
He just hoped that next time he’d have Deku ready to fight by his side.
Bakugo rubbed his eyes and cleared his throat. “Icyhot told me you were the only one to face him and survive...”
Deku huffed wryly and nodded. “Yeah, um, it’s a long story...” The hero then frowned and sat up. “Hey, where’s your lunch?”
Bakugo winced sheepishly. “...I didn’t bring one?”
Deku’s frown deepened. “You have to eat something, Katsuki. Here, I have a sandwich in my bag-”
“Oh no, that’s…” The hero paused and Bakugo sighed in defeat, knowing exactly where this was going. “It’s fine, I just... can’t really keep anything down.”
“What??” Deku immediately stood up in alarm and Bakugo groaned internally as the hero rounded his desk towards him. “Why, what’s wrong??”
“It’s nothing, I’m fine, it’s just a little headache…” He sank in his seat, eyes flicking up at the hero kneeling in front of him then back down as he mumbled, “You know, the... concussive type…”
“You have a concussion?!”
The sudden outburst left the boy grimacing in his seat. “Dude, seriously, not fucking helping.”
"Oh my-” Deku stood up and rubbed his forehead in aggravation. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at home, Katsuki! Does Shoto know about this?”
“Hell no, if I told him he’d want me on fuckin’ house arrest for a month and you know it.” Bakugo stood and tried to reason with the agitated hero. “This isn’t my first time having one, I can handle my shit. I’m just sick of being home, Deku, I want to be here.”
I want to be here with you.
The hero shook his head unhappily, clearly warring between sending Bakugo home and letting him stay. Bakugo knew he’d unloaded a lot on the Deku, knew that revealing the burdens he carried while suffering from a head-injury all weekend would make the hero worry, but coming to the agency was his only escape. Being here with Deku was the only place he wanted to be and he tried to communicate that through his eyes the best he could.
As they stood in front of one another, Deku’s eyes fell back on the palm-shaped bruise peeking out from beneath his sleeve and his resolve faltered a little. His hand slowly reached out to hover over it and Bakugo nearly shivered as he felt the hero’s heat so close to his skin.
“No wonder you look so tired…” Deku said in a soft, sad voice. “Have you been sleeping at all...?”
Bakugo looked away and shrugged, not wanting to worry him even more. He knew going home would be the smart thing to do, especially when his eyes felt so heavy and he’d been falling asleep over his work, but he just wanted to be as close to Deku as possible right now.
Eventually, Deku relented with a sigh. “Okay, you can stay.” Bakugo raised his head hopefully and the hero nodded with a smile. “You’re in the clear for now but… I really think you should get some rest. Why don’t you lie down on the couch for a bit and I’ll let Sho know you won’t be able to do patrols today? That sound good?”
“I guess,” Bakugo grumbled with a shrug and shuffled towards the couch where Deku led him, figuring it beat going home.
The hero chuckled as Bakugo thunked onto the couch and stretched over the length of it like he owned the damn thing, taking a moment to ensure he was settled before turning back to call Shoto from his office phone. Bakugo yawned and rubbed his heavy eyes again, then squinted up at the large white gloves Deku had tossed over the top of the couch earlier.
Just what he needed.
He grabbed one and slipped it beneath his head so it cupped his cheek like a perfect little Deku-scented headrest. Once his body was properly adjusted on its side, he relaxed into the couch and let Deku's soft murmurs lull him like a gentle song. When the hero finally hung up, he turned and tilted his head with a puzzled smile. “Is that my glove?”
“S’my pillow now.”
Deku giggled and gave a fond shake of his head before taking his seat and going back to work. Bakugo watched sleepily from the couch as the hero read through some reports and eventually began to bite the back of his pencil in concentration, finding himself wondering once again what it would be like to kiss him. With Deku’s scent lingering close to him from the glove, it was so easy to imagine the hero’s actual hand on his cheek… Just like the way he touched him earlier.
The memory of Deku holding him and wiping away his tears -- the kindness in his voice, the sincerity in his grip, the faith in his eyes -- further fuelled the fires of Bakugo’s affection, and he didn’t care how much closer it brought him to getting burned. He might struggle to adjust the harsh standards he'd lived by his whole life, but for Deku’s sake he’d sure as hell try. He could never refuse the hero anything he asked of him.
Deku’s eyes flickered over to him in that moment and he smiled when he noticed Bakugo secretly watching him.
“...Close your eyes, firecracker,” Deku said, turning back to his work with humour in his voice.
Bakugo snickered and did as he was told.
What could he say? He simply couldn’t refuse.