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Meet Me in the Caf

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Bakugo hated sharing.

He hated it in elementary school when he had to share the classroom’s toys -- which usually ended in bite marks and crying classmates.

He hated it in primary school when he had to share the ball to score -- which usually ended in lots of bruises, a blown-up ball, and detention. 

He hated it no less in UA when he had to share the glory of the spotlight -- which usually ended with a bunch of bitter classmates who could never manage to beat him out in his pursuit for any and all the first place spots, which okay, technically wasn’t even his fault.

What could he say? Maybe this was a consequence of being an only child, or it was just him. He was no longer snapping at people like a rabid dog, so he considered that an improvement, fuck you very much. His somewhat improved relationships with others, though, didn’t at all change that one long-standing trait.

He hated sharing.

One can imagine how he felt, then, when students started receiving their work-study acceptance letters and he found that not only was he accepted to his top choice agency with someone else, but that fucker somehow managed to snag the placement under his favourite hero right from beneath him.

It was fucking outrageous. It made his blood boil and the whole class knew it, slowly sinking in their seats as he crumpled up his letter and growled furiously at his desk.

The Soul Heroes agency was the most fought over agency in the country. The world’s top two heroes both worked there after all, so a little competition was to be expected. After graduating at the top of their class, Deku and Shoto wasted no time making names for themselves. 

When they decided to partner up and open their own agency shortly after leaving UA, other heroes simply didn’t stand a chance. With their unstoppable powers combined, what took most heroes an average of two to three decades to accomplish only took them just over five years, making them one of the world’s youngest ever top-ranking heroes at 24 years old.

Obviously, this wasn’t a matter of debate for Bakugo. He had to intern there. Not only to learn from the world’s top heroes but to be closer to his idol. Which would have worked if it weren’t for the absolute turd that snagged what should’ve been his spot shadowing Deku. Instead, Bakugo was stuck shadowing the world’s most pretentious #1 Hero: Shoto fucking Todoroki.

Bakugo didn’t necessarily have a problem with Shoto. He was, like, okay he guessed. Bakugo had a bigger problem with how utterly glorified the man was. So what if he had silky hair and a pretty face and a fancy-schmancy quirk? Big fucking deal. 

It was obvious that all the hero-worship had gone to the man’s head and he now fancied himself god’s gift to men. Why else would he constantly be seen sporting a frown? Or disappearing as soon as a villain was taken care of, not even sparing a moment to greet his fans? The fucker wasn’t even grateful and it pissed Bakugo off.

It takes more than good looks and a cool quirk for someone to earn the #1 spot. It takes strength, determination, and a good fucking attitude. It takes getting off your pedestal and telling a young scruffy starry-eyed boy he’d make an amazing hero one day. 

It takes Deku.

Who would now be spending all his time, sharing all his expertise, with someone else. Some no-name Ketsubutsu punk who didn’t deserve it, who probably didn’t even appreciate just how special Deku was.

Bakugo tried to keep the sour look off his face his first day at the agency. He really tried.

He sat slouched with his arms crossed in the waiting area by the entrance, quite literally waiting 20 minutes now for Mr. Half-and-Half to show himself and get him started. He should’ve expected the wait, it was just so fucking typical. The other student was nowhere to be seen, probably already picked up by Deku and getting a headstart on the internship.

“Fucking garbage,” Bakugo muttered.

“Um, Bakugo?”

Bakugo’s head snapped up and he stood to face the #1 hero, who was sporting his signature hero uniform and watching him with a curious frown.

“Uh, yeah, that’s me.”

“Hi.” Shoto paused for a moment then stiffly extended his arm.

Oh great, Bakugo thought as he shook his hand with a nod and a tight-lipped smile. He’s way more rigid in person. Bakugo wagered he never wanted an intern in the first place.

Shoto cleared his throat. “So, welcome to Soul Heroes. Um, sorry for the wait, I was just backed up with some work and lost track of time.”

“It’s fine.” No, it’s not.

“Well, if you’ll follow me I can show you around and get you started, I’m sure you’re eager to get to work.”

Bakugo nodded and grabbed his backpack before following Shoto to the back.

As the top hero agency, Bakugo naturally expected Soul Heroes to be well-funded. However, as he turned down the hall, he was shocked to see just how well. The place opened up to reveal what looked like something out of a fancy Scandinavian design catalogue, with marble floors and glass panes almost everywhere that walls could be replaced. The few spots where walls remained certainly couldn’t be ignored though, as every inch of them was painted with breathtaking murals of the best pro-heroes Bakugo could’ve named.

Heroes known throughout the course of history were all shown in various states of combat positions and colourful glory stances, with light from the large glass windows giving them a powerful glow. As he walked in awe past artwork of Best Jeanist, Hawks, and even All Might, Bakugo briefly noted that Endeavor seemed to be missing. He then stopped to see the biggest mural of all at the very back by a lounging space with significantly more wall room. Depicted were Deku and Shoto crouched side by side with their quirks activated and looking ready to fight. They looked positively fierce.

Seeing that Bakugo had slowed, Shoto paused in his tour and followed his gaze. He seemed to blush at the sight of himself and sighed quietly.

“Yeah, um, the design team really outdid themselves...”

Bakugo’s eyes narrowed a little.

“I think it’s cool.”

Shoto nodded wordlessly and continued on with his tour. He showed him where his office would be at the end of the hall, and Bakugo quickly took note of where Deku’s own office sat nearby -- it was empty. He was then led up the glass-paned stairs to the executive floor, where the layout’s design became a bit more traditional. They passed a few executive offices where he was either introduced to staff or simply waved to through the glass. 

On their way to the elevator, they briefly bumped into a professionally suited woman who sported what Bakugo thought was a ridiculously high ponytail. She smiled and they slowed.

“Well, good morning! Are you the new intern?"

“Yeah. Katsuki Bakugo,” he introduced himself and she shook his hand. Her grip was firm and she practically radiated professionalism and success.

“Nice to meet you, Bakugo! My name is Momo Yaoyorozu, I'm the agency’s legal representative. Are you showing him our offices, Todoroki?”

Shoto nodded mutely and looked away. Katsuki’s eyes narrowed at him again. Was he always this fucking rude?

Ponytail's smile faltered slightly but quickly perked up again. “Well, I won’t keep you! I hope you enjoy your time here, Bakugo, you are certainly in wonderful hands. Have a great day and I’ll see you around.”

She smiled at them kindly before turning the corner towards her office, her heels click-clacking as she walked away. Bakugo heard Shoto give another one of his quiet sighs before continuing where they left off. 

Throughout the tour, the hero’s boring monotone had Bakugo’s thoughts drifting. He wondered what Deku and his intern were up to and petulantly hoped they weren’t getting along. Maybe they’d even run into them soon and Deku would see how cool he was and want to switch, because obviously Bakugo was the better candidate. He frowned as he considered this. Was it because he was more qualified that he was placed under the #1 Hero instead? 

He was snapped back to the present when they climbed out of the elevator to the bottom floor, which Shoto explained was the “training floor”. He nodded at the red and green lockers lining the walls and patted a specific one.

“This locker’s yours. You can use it to store your backpack, uniform, gym stuff, whatever you need.”

Bakugo took the opportunity to shove his backpack inside before following the hero as he approached two big doors with a large plaque reading ‘Training Room’. His eyes widened in anticipation and they pushed in to see just how much space he had to work with.

Hell yeah, now we’re talking.

Seeing the excitement on Bakugo’s face, Shoto smiled. “It’s the biggest training room in the city. State of the art too, so you won’t have to worry about damaging anything here. The whole space is designed to withstand the harshest quirks.”

He briefly lit his arm up and launched a wave of fire towards the hard varnished walls. Not a single char mark.

“Holy shit,” Bakugo broke out into a grin. He crouched and ran at the wall, jumped and spun backwards, and used an explosion to propel himself into a forward flip. He whooped after landing perfectly on his feet and saw that his quirk indeed left no dent behind. Seemingly more relaxed now, Shoto watched him with a grin. 

“I thought you’d enjoy it here. There’s also a weight room and gym down the hall for when you want to do more muscle work.”

“Cool.” Bakugo shot the training room one last look, picturing all the cool moves he could practice there before they headed back to Shoto’s office on the main floor.

The hero briefly ran him through what his day would consist of, which for the most part meant he’d act as Shoto’s right fucking hand every single day. When he wasn’t puppying along on patrols or training on the exercise floor, he just had to fill out reports and do research on certain villains of interest. He silently thanked whatever powers that be for sparing him all the shitty coffee-fetching.

Bakugo was at his own desk to the side of Shoto’s office where he’d gotten started on some target-villain research when a familiar voice called that had him freezing in his seat.

“I’m here, I’m here! So sorry I’m late, Sho, the lines were crazy today!”

Entirely without his permission, Bakugo’s brain played out the next few moments in slow motion, as he watched the man he worshipped since he was six stroll into Shoto’s office with a flushed smile and what looked like two cups of coffee. Unlike Shoto, he looked perfectly laid back with his hair ruffled and his hero gear substituted with civilian clothes. Bakugo just couldn’t believe his eyes. Deku was actually here in the same room with him.

“It’s okay,” Shoto smiled softly and accepted his coffee. “I just finished up the agency tour with Bakugo here so your timing is good.”

Bakugo’s excitement quickly died and gave life to cold panic as Deku’s eyes suddenly turned to him. His whole body seized. Holy fuck, he was definitely having a heart attack. He was breathing too fast. Wait, was he even breathing at all?

“Oh yeah, our new intern is here! That’s great! Hi, I’m Deku.” Deku approached him with a wide smile and shot his arm out in greeting.

Bakugo’s mouth felt like sandpaper and he couldn’t speak. His fists were clenched tightly in his lap, evidently with no intention to move at all.

What the fuck is wrong with you? He panicked to himself. You’re supposed to show him how cool and badass you are, not act like some dumb pussy ass loser. They’re both staring at you, fucking do something!

Finally getting his arm to work, Bakugo quickly unclenched his fist and wiped the sweat off his palm before reaching to shake Deku’s hand. In a daze, he realized his hand and Deku’s were clasped together, and he thought this might just be the best day of his life. Now all he had to do was say hi and charm him.

“H...hhh...” he croaked.

This was definitely the worst day of his life.

Deku’s brows furrowed and he pulled his arm back.

Think fast, moron, before he thinks you’re having a fucking aneurysm.

He coughed. “H-How’s it going with your intern?”

Deku’s eyes lit up in understanding and didn’t catch Bakugo deflating with relief as he turned to his friend.

“That’s right, I was supposed to get one too, wasn’t I, Sho? But something came up, right?”

“Yeah, they withdrew yesterday,” Shoto confirmed with a nod and rounded his desk to stand by Deku. “Something about family complications.”

Family complications? Wait… did this mean…

“I assume since the application process has now closed, that means Shoto and I will now both focus all our attention on you,” Deku grinned. “Isn’t that great?”

Bakugo didn’t know why, call it a hunch, but he was positive he had the most comical deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. This wasn’t exactly what he wanted, but he did technically get what he set out for -- Deku’s full and undivided attention. So why was he so terrified all of a sudden? None of this had at all gone the way he’d expected it to.

As he forced a smile and glanced over, he noticed Shoto watching him with a suspiciously -- and infuriating -- knowing look on his face. He wanted to punch it right off his stupid mug.

“Oh, did you show him the cafeteria, by the way? Did you tell him the story?” Deku practically bounced with excitement and Shoto shook his head.

“I showed him but I didn’t get into details. I figured I’d save the story for you since you love telling it so much.” Shoto smiled behind the rim of his cup as Deku cheered and turned to Bakugo.

“Bakugo, the caf is where it’s at. Like, okay, it’s obviously a staff room and not a real cafeteria, but Shoto and I have called it the caf since it was first built as an inside joke.”

As Bakugo reflected back on the tour, he did recall Shoto mentioning something about a cafeteria as he peeked into the staff room. It didn’t jump out to him as particularly special; it was just a big room with several wide tables lined up by the windows, a small kitchen area, and a few vending machines. 

“So basically, when we were back at UA’s dorms and left anything in the kitchen fridge, it would always disappear because a random student would eventually come by and just eat it,” Deku explained. “Didn’t matter if there was a label on your turkey sandwich saying it’s yours, it was getting eaten, because people just have no shame in this country.”

“I’m still upset about that sandwich, by the way,” Shoto piped in and Deku laughed.

“I know, you totally lost it! Anyway, so because food kept disappearing from the fridge and students treated it like it was a fair-game space for everyone, we both started calling the kitchen the cafeteria, because caf food’s there for anyone who wants to eat, right? So then it caught on and everyone started calling it the caf, too! Now, Shoto here thought that would all be behind us once we graduated...”

Shoto closed his eyes, exhaling around a pained smile with a shake of his head. “I was so naïve.”

“Yeah, he was. You see, once we got started up here in the agency, Shoto went back to thinking the common room where people eat their food would be a safe place for him to store his lunch in the fridge. During our first week, he put- what did you put?”

“Soba.”

“Soba! He put a container of soba in the fridge, and guess what? It vanished!”

“They didn’t even return my container,” Shoto frowned.

“He thought it was a one and done, he hoped it was just a fluke and that dreaded caf hadn’t followed him here, so he tried again two days later. But once more, his lunch was nowhere to be found. Hence, we now all affectionately call it the cafeteria.”

“Affectionately,” Shoto scoffed with an eye-roll and moved around his desk. “As soon as I realized the people here were the same kind of monsters that were back at UA, I bought this.” He patted a minifridge placed right by his desk with a satisfied nod. “My lunch is now safe and no one else will ever get their hands on my food again. You would do well to learn this too, Bakugo. Trust no one.”

Deku cackled at the serious expression on Shoto’s face and Bakugo chuckled in amusement as well, but couldn’t help feeling his heart sink as he watched the hero sling his arm over his friend and laugh with him companionably. He knew they were friends but he didn’t realize they were so close. 

Deku wiped a tear from his eye and shook himself off. “Gosh, this gets me every time. Anyway, I’m super happy you’re with us, Bakugo. Honestly, if I knew you’d be here when I arrived, I totally would’ve gotten you a coffee too, so I’m sorry about that.”

Bakugo shrugged and fiddled with his sleeve. “Not really a fan of coffee.” 

He winced inwardly, hoping this wouldn’t offend him, but Deku shot him an approving smile.

“You know what, good choice, I like you already. I wish I could quit, but I’m hooked.” He raised his arms helplessly. “Anyway, I’m going to get to work but it was nice meeting you! Can’t wait to see what you got!” He said goodbye to Shoto as well and left in a whirlwind of sunlight and happiness.

Bakugo was longingly watching him go through the glass when he heard a throat clear. He turned to find Shoto watching him with a raised brow.

“I hope you won’t find yourself too distracted during your time here with us, Bakugo.”

“I- no, of course not,” the boy replied quickly and the hero chuckled as he rounded his desk and got to work.

Mortified by his utter lack of discretion, Bakugo ducked his head and turned his attention back to his research. Well, he tried to. What was he working on again?

ooo

It was time for lunch and Bakugo was overdue for some stress relief. Since Deku came and left earlier that morning, he’d been kicking himself for acting like such a timid loser in front of his hero. His lingering embarrassment left him completely wound up, which interfered with his ability to conduct his research thoroughly and it all just annoyed the piss out of him.

Stepping into the empty staff room -- or cafeteria, he supposed he should call it -- Bakugo pulled out his headphones and flipped on his music. With his tunes and some food, he was sure to feel better and hopefully reorient himself so he could compensate for his idiotic behaviour.

But first, a warm drink. Those also had calming effects, right?

Looking through his options and bobbing his head along with the music, he decided he’d make black tea. Easy and practical. He filled up the kettle, pulled down a cup from the cupboard, and waited. He drummed his fingers against the counter and closed his eyes, giving his unbidden thoughts the opportunity to crawl back into his mind.

He’d imagined what his first proper meeting with Deku would be like for years. It ranged from scenarios where they bumped into each other on the street and Deku immediately invited him to be his partner to instances where he saved Deku’s life in a horrible fight and the hero would look at him in starstruck adoration. It had always been his dream to be recognized by Deku as a worthy hero who could fight diligently at his side.

None of his fantasies included Bakugo acting like an illiterate, tongue-tied embodiment of fucking shame. He could just imagine the thoughts that ran through the hero’s head about how awkward he was, and to make matters worse, Half-and-Half had witnessed all of it! He was supposed to impress the world’s top two heroes but he made the worst possible impression-

He grimaced suddenly and growled in frustration. 

It’s fine, he could still fix it. There’s no second intern now so there was plenty of time for him to compensate for everything. For now, he just needed to focus on relaxing before he accidentally blew some poor sod up. Just wait for the kettle and focus on the tunes...

He loosened up his body and let it move along to the beat, drummed his fingers in the air as the song started to build, started to whisper-sing and punch out the notes with his voice, and just as he was getting ready to belt it out for the rocking crescendo, he opened his eyes and found none other than Deku leaning against the cafeteria doorway with an amused grin on his face.

Bakugo nearly choked and grew hot with embarrassment as he scrambled to take his headphones off.

“Hey, don’t stop on my account, you looked like you were really getting into it,” Deku said as he casually strolled in. “Who were you listening to?”

“N-Nothing, no one,” Bakugo stammered and turned to the kettle with an anxious wince. Deku was walking right up to him. 

He hummed and seemed to consider Bakugo’s answer while grabbing a mug of his own from the cupboard. “Nothing, no one, huh? Yeah, I think I came across some of their stuff the other day, they’re actually pretty good.”

Bakugo chuckled nervously and bit his lip, keeping his eyes low and definitely not on the pro-hero right beside him. This was his chance to say something smart or funny back, but the words just weren’t coming. Something about being in the hero’s proximity just made his mind draw a horrible blank. So much for compensating, he thought miserably.

When the kettle mercifully finished boiling its water, Bakugo raised it to fill his mug, only to realize he completely forgot to put the teabag inside. It’s cool, no problem, he totally couldn’t feel Deku occasionally glancing his way, he had complete control over this. He grabbed a packet and started emptying it into the steaming water.

Deku cleared his throat. “So, uh, not a fan of coffee, huh?”

Bakugo shook his head stiffly, muttering, “Nope.” If he could keep his words to a minimum, there would be no risk of embarrassment.

“Then could you tell me why you’re emptying a packet of coffee into your mug?”

Bakugo’s eyes widened, realized he’d distractedly grabbed the wrong packet, and hissed out a curse. He yanked his arm suddenly but accidentally knocked the whole mug over, which shattered on the ground between them and spilled a mess of murky hot water all over the floor.

Shit, I’m so sorry, Deku!” Bakugo stammered and scrambled to find some paper towels before dropping to clean up the mess. This couldn’t get any fucking worse, this was fucking humiliating. “Christ, I’m so fucking stupid, I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with me, I’m really sorry, I’m gonna clean it-” he rambled, thoughts spilling uncontrollably from his panic-addled mouth when he felt Deku grab his shoulder and speak over him.

“Bakugo! Bakugo, it’s okay! It’s fine!” As his eyes met the earnest greens of the hero’s crouched before him, he realized he was breathing rapidly and the man must’ve said his name multiple times before he actually heard him. This was the first time he’d made proper eye contact with the hero, who was now close enough for him to count his freckles and see the thickness of his lashes. Bakugo could feel himself still instantly under his warm touch, utterly transfixed.

The hero squeezed his shoulder and shook his head with a gentle smile. “Seriously, it’s okay. This happens all the time. Come on, help me pick up the pieces.”

Bakugo blinked out of his daze and nodded. Gingerly collecting what was left of the mug, he looked at the mess around them in defeat. Not even his lunchtime could be incident-free. As they threw out the last of the sharp shards, Bakugo murmured glumly. “Sorry about the mug... I’ll pay it back.”

Deku shook his head. “There’s no need, most of the cups here were just gifted to us from random companies to earn our favour.” He handed him some paper towels and Bakugo helped him wipe off the rest of the spillage in withdrawn silence.

Maybe Bakugo had given himself too much credit and just wasn’t ready to intern at the top hero agency yet. He’s never been this clumsy before but obviously it meant he wasn’t good under pressure. Maybe he was too immature to properly handle his admiration for Deku and would just slow everyone else down. At this rate, he was certain they would let him go as he “wasn’t suitable for the job”. He considered withdrawing to stay ahead and his heart clenched painfully at the thought.

“Hey, stop that,” Deku said. Bakugo blinked up as the hero sat back on his haunches and briefly adjusted the towels in his hands before wiping again. “I know what you’re thinking, and trust me, it won’t do you any good.”

Bakugo didn’t know whether or not it bothered him that Deku could read him so well. He didn’t know why he was so willing to help him at all. He was a top pro-hero, he had better things to do than get down on the floor and help some clumsy ass kid wipe up a spill. Bakugo should be helping him with his problems, not the other way around. 

Seeing that the boy had paused in his cleaning and was staring down at his lump of towels with a frown, Deku leaned back and tilted his head curiously.

“You must’ve been really nervous today, huh...?”

Bakugo resumed wiping, his face flushed. ‘Nervous’ is so not how he wanted Deku to perceive him. What a fucking shitshow he made for himself. He could never hope to impress him now. A few moments of silence passed between them.

“You wanna know what I did my first time seeing Sir Nighteye about being his intern? You wouldn’t believe it.” Bakugo glanced up to see Deku grinning at him. He read about the hero’s work study with Sir Nighteye online but didn’t remember coming across any horror stories. 

“I offended him so bad.” Deku’s shoulders shook as he chuckled. “He really valued humour so he asked me to do something funny. That stuff doesn’t really come naturally to me but I thought an impression of All Might would at least get him laughing. Turns out, I completely missed the mark. He got so mad at me, I was scared he’d kill me right there on the spot.”

“You were?” Bakugo asked tentatively. “Why- Why’d it bother him?”

“He thought I was mocking All Might. Can you believe that?” Midoriya shook his head and got back to wiping the floor. “I would never, ever do that, but it didn’t matter to him at that point, he decided on the spot that I’d never intern at his agency. I refused to let him give up on me though, I showed him everything I had and ended up impressing him enough to take me on.”

“I didn’t know that…” Bakugo said softly and followed Midoriya up as he stood, the caf floor now completely clean.

Midoriya nodded and tossed out his wet towels. “I’m telling you this so you know we’ve all made stupid mistakes. Even Shoto failed his provisional licensing exam the first time around and I still tease him about it. The mistakes are what make the memories more endearing, you know? So don’t beat yourself up.” Humour then crept into Deku’s eyes. “Although, your apparent contempt for coffee has now put my last packet in the trash, so you owe me one.”

Bakugo gave him a weak smile and tossed out his own towels. He still felt like absolute shit and guilty as all hell over the mug, but his words did help slightly. Deku always treated people with such good-natured compassion and understanding, he’d seen it online multiple times, but he never thought it would be directed at him like this. They stood facing each other and the hero was smiling at him so warmly, it made his breath catch.

A knock sounded behind them and they turned to see Shoto standing at the doorway. “Um, hey, I was just popping in to see if Bakugo was free for a patrol around the block.” 

Wanting to get the hell out of here and get some damn air, Bakugo nodded quickly and turned back to Deku. There was an awkward pause before he cleared his throat. “Thanks.”

Deku nodded and gestured at his friend in somber warning. “Watch out for him, he may be the number one hero but he still forgets to wait for the light before crossing.” 

The hero rolled his mismatched eyes and shifted to let Bakugo pass him. “Shut up, Midoriya.” 

Deku’s laughter followed them as they walked down the hall together. Taking note of the time, Shoto frowned over at him. “Did you get a chance to eat some lunch first?”

“Lost my appetite,” Bakugo muttered.


ooo

After changing out of his civilian clothes and into his hero uniform, Bakugo met up with Shoto at the agency’s front entrance. He slowed his steps when he found that the hero was looking out the glass with an agitated frown and his arms crossed tensely.

“So uh, are we ready?”

“We can’t go from here,” the hero murmured, eyes stonily fixed outside. “There’s paparazzi everywhere.”

Bakugo let out a quiet ‘oh’ and shifted, Shoto’s tightly-wound behaviour making him uneasy. Most heroes just sauntered out, answered a few questions, and went about their day, but it seemed Shoto was as determined as ever to avoid the public eye.

“Follow me.” Shoto stepped back and headed for the elevator. When they got to the fitness floor, the hero led him down a dark hall towards a big steel door. “This is the side exit we use for covert raids. It helps when we’re trying to keep a low profile.”

He pushed the door open and Bakugo followed him into what appeared to be an alleyway. The boy looked around in mild awe. So this was the path Deku used as he headed out to kick villain ass. Fuckin’ dope.

After closing up behind them, Shoto tentatively poked his head out towards the street and found there were no stray photographers in sight. He relaxed and gestured for Bakugo to join him, who was waiting impatiently and wondering if this ridiculous process was a daily thing.

As they finally -- finally -- started patrolling the street, Bakugo kept his eye out for anything out of the ordinary. With it being just after lunchtime, the area bustled with activity and people chattering all over the place, which laid the perfect groundwork for something to go wrong. No matter what happened, Bakugo would damn well be ready. However, it didn’t take long for Bakugo’s attention to be drawn to something else entirely, and he realized with a sinking feeling what might’ve been Shoto’s problem all along.

They were eyes on them everywhere. 

As quirks and heroes became a commonplace thing in the world, the general public quickly adopted the courtesy of not crowding the heroes whenever they were working. However, it didn’t stop them from openly staring and whispering excitedly whenever they were nearby -- they were still celebrities. Bakugo was familiar with the kind of attention they’d draw from having been in the crowds himself, he even looked forward to it, but this was a whole new level that bordered on oppressive. Bakugo was still too fresh on the scene to be recognized or draw any real attention, so all of this must’ve been solely for Shoto.

Bakugo’s face twisted into a scowl, unhappy with this new turn of events, and he glanced at the man beside him. He may have felt uncomfortable, but Shoto looked like he was ready to disappear into the ground. His shoulders were hunched and his head was down, eyes completely shadowed behind his long hair. Bakugo was utterly dismayed as he watched the number one hero practically shrink beneath the public's gaze and, to his surprise, felt the first hints of sympathy for him. He’d read all the photos online completely wrong. 

“So, um, is this the route you normally take?” he asked, hoping to distract the hero from all the idiots around them.

Shoto’s head moved slightly, indicating that he’d heard him. “Yes,” he answered softly. “I’m assigned to 15 wards but this is the safest one with it so close to the agency.”

Bakugo’s eyes bugged in shock. Fifteen wards for one hero? That was fucking absurd. The average hero had between four to seven. Noticing the expression on his face, Shoto’s lips quirked mirthlessly.

“Part of being the number one hero is being responsible for the protection of more districts. It’s not so bad and Midoriya helps a lot. I couldn’t manage without him.”

Bakugo nodded, not a little bit surprised by that. It seemed the hero would happily volunteer his help wherever he possibly could. He bit his lip as he recalled their conversation in the caf, how close Deku crouched beside him, his kind smile and his warm inviting voice, the way his hand curled around his shoulder like a solid weight anchoring him to the world and the space they shared. Bakugo wanted to spend every waking moment in his presence and would gladly do so if he could control his ridiculous behaviour.

They turned a corner and Bakugo continued to keep his eyes peeled for anything suspicious. This area seemed less busy, which to his relief meant less attention. 

“So, why Soul Heroes?” asked Shoto. The tension appeared to leave his shoulders slightly and he was actually looking at him now. “You probably gave the whole spiel to the work-study coordinator but I want to hear it from you.”

“I wanna be the best,” Bakugo said without missing a beat, a confident grin on his face. “Soul Heroes is the best agency with the world’s best top two heroes, so if I wanna learn how to get where I want, it’s the place to be. First place is the only place that matters and I’ve already gotten all the top spots at UA so there’s nowhere left to go but up. I'll stop at nothing to get there.”

This was of course only half of it but he definitely wasn’t going to admit to the part where he wanted to be closer to Deku.

He turned to look beside him only to find that Shoto wasn’t even there, that he had stopped behind him and was staring blankly at nothing. Maybe it was just Bakugo’s imagination, but the look on his face seemed haunted.

Bakugo approached him cautiously. “Hey, you good? Shoto?” 

The hero didn’t react until he was nudged and heard his name. He blinked and took an uneven breath. “Sorry. You just reminded me of someone.” His voice didn’t sound right at all. They started to walk again but Shoto’s eyes seemed focused on somewhere far away. Was he hunching again?

“Uh, okay... Who?” Bakugo didn’t think anything he said was particularly abnormal, hell the coordinator seemed to love what he had to say at the interview. Who the hell could he have reminded Shoto of that would make him act so off?

“Doesn’t matter,” Shoto muttered, his tone indicating that this was not something that should be pried into. “And I hate to tell you this, but neither does first place if it gives you tunnel vision. It can cause problems if you’re not careful.”

Bakugo’s eyes narrowed, his anger quickly rising. Who the hell did this asshole think he was? He could handle himself, he didn’t need feedback on his fucking goals.

“Your UA record is impressive and you’re obviously an ambitious kid, which isn’t a bad thing to be if it doesn’t set you off track. What really matters is that you don’t forget you can still make a difference regardless of your rank.”

Yeah, easy for you to say, Mr. Top Shit. Bakugo’s fists clenched furiously. He was totally patronizing him and it was infuriating, especially because he couldn’t snap back and tell him to shut the fuck up about shit he didn’t know. All he could do was grunt and keep his scowl turned away.

Shoto eased off and sighed quietly beside him, no doubt picking up on his mood. “We’re almost done.”

They patrolled the rest of the block in uneventful silence, and by the time the agency came into view it was nearing the end of the day. Feeling his hunger set in, Bakugo couldn’t wait to finish up and get home, but Shoto suddenly inhaled sharply and ducked into a nearby alley. 

The paparazzi from earlier were still lingering outside. 

Bakugo groaned inwardly. They must know something about Shoto’s patrol schedule, otherwise they wouldn’t stubbornly linger like this. The heroes were on the opposite end of the street from the side door, so they couldn’t get to it without passing the trucks and being noticed, or circling the whole patrol route back.

Bakugo turned to face Shoto, who was in the shadows leaning against the wall. His hands were covering his face as he dismally shook his head. “I hate this. What the hell do they want from me? They never swarm Midoriya like this.”

“That’s because he gives them what they want,” Bakugo said irritably. “You’ve been the number one hero for months now and you’re still a complete fucking mystery, of course they’re gonna flock you.”

Shoto’s expression twisted and he rubbed at his scar. “I don’t want to talk to anyone. I just want to be left alone.”

Well, you should’ve thought of that before hitting number one, dumbass. Bakugo rolled his eyes and shook his head, completely fucking fed up with his day. He just wanted to go home and have some god damn food.

“You patrol every day, don’t you? How do you normally get past them?”

Shoto briefly glanced at him and looked away with a swallow. He didn’t answer and just looked guiltily at the ground. When it hit Bakugo exactly how the hero managed this every day, he groaned.

“You’ve got to be shitting me. You just wait them out?? That must take hours!”

“It’s the only thing I can do,” he said softly. “Anything else would just draw attention, believe me, I’ve tried.”

“You can’t even use your quirk and just ice yourself up to the roof or some shit?”

“No, nothing works,” Shoto answered and the boy rubbed at his face with a curse. 

This was not happening. Bakugo was way too hungry for this shit. He looked around the alley and walked up to a rusty donation bin. Shoto watched him with a curious frown as he shifted it so the back was exposed, and briefly looked around before activating his quirk and blowing a small hole right through the back.

“Bakugo, what the hell are you doing? Those are for charity, you can’t just take them!”

“Unless you have any better ideas, this is the only way to get us outta here. We can always bring them back later, but I’m not gonna sit here with my thumb up my ass.”

After pulling out a black beanie and long red coat, grimacing in distaste at its bright plastic material, Bakugo shifted the box so the hole in the back was hidden again and held them out to Shoto. “Put these on. They won’t recognize you if your hair and uniform are covered.”

Shoto didn't take them right away, no doubt battling with his conscience, but he eventually relented with a shake of his head and muttered about this being wrong. Bakugo realized he should be worrying about the kind of impression he was making on his superior with his actions right now but he was too cranky and couldn’t be assed. 

Shoto pulled the beanie over his head and threw on the coat.

"This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever worn," Shoto groused as he buttoned up the shiny red coat. "Wasn't there anything more subtle?"

"Sorry, didn't exactly have time to play retail clerk and build a whole line of shit for you to try on," Bakugo countered sarcastically.

When Shoto was done fussing with the coat, his boots were the only thing left on display and Bakugo hoped they wouldn't be enough to catch any attention. Seeing that a few bi-coloured strands were still poking out the sides of the beanie, Bakugo reached up and impatiently helped Shoto shove them underneath before stepping back with a frown. Not bad, but the scar on his face was still too visible. He removed his black mask and held it out to Shoto.

“Here, put this on. Don’t give me that look, put it on or you’ll get caught halfway there.”

Shoto sighed and put on the mask. When he raised his head with a questioning look, Bakugo stifled a laugh. This was the most ridiculous the hero had ever looked, and part of him may or may not have drawn some satisfaction from that. “You look great.”

“You’re lying,” Shoto said flatly.

“Nah, you totally have that whole hipster bandit thing going for you, it’s a good look.” He coughed to cover his laugh and pulled the bemused hero with him to the neck of the alley. “Alright, you ready for this?”

Shoto nodded and swallowed nervously. They stepped out and into the busy crowd on the sidewalk. As they passed people on the street, Bakugo observed that not a single person seemed at all fixated on them. To the public, they probably looked like average run of the mill heroes. The disguise was working perfectly. He kept a cautious eye on the paparazzi across the street and murmured to Shoto under his breath, “Almost there.”

They stopped at the corner of the sidewalk and anxiously waited for the light to flip. The longer they were in public, the more time it gave people to observe them and notice Shoto’s distinct white boots. When the light finally flipped, they both hurried across the road. They were in such a rush to get down the alley that Shoto accidentally knocked into someone as they reached the sidewalk.

“Hey, watch where you’re going,” a low voice hissed. They turned to see a large figure hidden beneath a wide brim hat and a black coat with the collar popped. There wasn’t a single identifiable feature on him and Bakugo’s eyes narrowed.

“Sorry, sir, I didn’t see you,” Shoto said softly and tugged on Bakugo’s arm. As he was pulled down the alley, Bakugo turned to see that the figure was still watching them from the street. What the fuck was his problem? Just as he was starting to have a bad feeling, Shoto unlocked the door and the figure walked away. Bakugo sighed and followed the hero inside.

Once they were back in the safety of the fitness hall, Shoto sighed with relief and tugged the beanie off. “I have to say, Bakugo, you’ve certainly made this patrol an interesting one.”

As the hero patted down his mussed up hair, Bakugo smirked. “What, was making friends with alley mice not interesting enough before?” 

Shoto gave him a withering look as he shrugged off the borrowed coat and removed the mask. “Very funny. Here, take these and return the stuff you took in the morning. I don’t want you stealing on patrol ever again.”

Bakugo rolled his eyes as he bundled them up in his arms. “Yes, sir.”

Shoto cleared his throat and straightened, reverting to the stiff manner he adopted that morning. “Well, you may go home now. I’ll see you in my office first thing tomorrow.” 

Bakugo nodded and the hero turned to walk away. He pulled out his phone and was about to text his mom asking what’s for dinner when the hero stopped and called out his name again. 

He looked up and watched Shoto take a deep breath and hesitate for a moment, his expression turning vulnerable ever so slightly. “Thank you for your help. I appreciate it.”

Bakugo nodded again wordlessly and watched the hero walk away with newfound consideration. It seemed in the span of a single day, he’d embarrassed himself in front of his idol -- twice -- and also learned that the number one hero was a lot more complicated than he initially pegged him for. As he turned to pull his backpack out of his locker, he wondered if every day at the agency would be this eventful.

If there was one thing he knew for sure, it was that if he stayed the hell away from Deku and coffee, he’d probably be fine.

He went back outside, the sun now starting to set and casting the streets in a warm glow, and was on his way home when he spied a young woman offering samples to people nearby. She turned to him and brightened.

“Good afternoon! Would you like to try our new sample of Deku-themed coffee? It’s really-”

“Nope!” Bakugo threw his hands up and hurried past her without looking. “No fucking thank you.”

Chapter Text

Bakugo was prepared to take the rest of his week by storm. No more disasters, just a badass hero in the making coming through. He’d pumped himself up all night, got in a hell of a good workout, and was now ready to show his mentors just how awesome Katsuki Bakugo could be.

Research? In the bag.

Coffee? Coffee, who?

A persistently awkward crush on a certain pro-hero? Child’s play.

In a drastic turn of events, Bakugo decided to squash down any desire to be near Deku and instead resolved to avoid him at all costs. While this pained him slightly, especially since the hero’s presence was so damn irresistible, he simply had no other choice if he wanted to get through his day incident-free. He could only hope this wouldn’t be a permanent thing and just a temporary measure to keep Bakugo sane while he worked through his… issues. 

Bakugo guessed this shouldn’t be too difficult to manage considering how large the agency was. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to keep his distance, right?

Wrong.

No matter what he did and no matter where he went... Deku was fucking everywhere. 

By his locker: “Morning, Bakugo!” (He smacked his head on the shelf)

At the gym: “Looking good, Bakugo!” (He dropped the weight on his foot)

In the fucking bathroom: “Hi, Bakugo!” (He did not want to talk about this one)

Day after day played out that exact same formula. Bakugo would be minding his business, Deku would greet him suddenly, Bakugo would lose his shit. It was endless and miserable and there was no escape in sight. What’s more, is that it only took him until the end of the week to realize that his master plan of avoidance was doomed from the start. Why?

Fucking lunchtime.

It turned out that not only was Deku somehow in every corner of the goddamn building at once but he also shared the exact same lunch hour as Bakugo. Which meant that seeing him at least once a day was now completely unavoidable. 

Bakugo tried spending his lunchtime elsewhere, but every time he so much as reached for his lunch bag (in the change room, the office, the halls) Half-and-Half would make a sudden appearance and wordlessly point at a “No Food Allowed” sign. He would stare him down and leave only after Bakugo grumpily put his bag away.

He felt so harassed. How did those two sneaky fucks always manage to find him?!

As it turned out from the signs all over the place, you really couldn’t eat anywhere in the building except the cafeteria, and Bakugo just wasn’t desperate enough to eat in a bathroom stall like some little bitch. So, he sucked it up and braced himself for his daily lunch hours at the caf -- which he soon came to realize weren’t actually all that bad.

First, many staffers who were originally away on a work trip had finally returned later that week, meaning that now along with Deku, two or three other staffers were also guaranteed to be there by the time Bakugo arrived. This was a damn good thing because it meant he wouldn’t have to be alone in the room with the hero the way he was on his first day.

Second -- and this came as a delightful surprise to Bakugo -- Deku was often just too distracted to notice he was ever there. As Bakugo would discreetly cross the room to a table on the far opposite end, he’d see Deku poring over a random notebook while muttering to himself intensively. Bakugo had never seen that side of the hero before, so this provided the boy with a very welcome means of observing him.

Lunch quickly turned into his favourite time of the day. He did certainly like the movement that came with training and patrols, but watching Deku from afar as he frowned in concentration and tugged at his green hair was something else entirely. To Bakugo, he was nothing short of captivating. 

The boy learned so many things about him, like how he was a pencil biter when he was stumped but a knuckle-cracker when he was onto something. How he muttered to himself only about things he was really, really interested in understanding and appeared to favour the table on the far right of the room because it had the best light from the windows.

In short, it became a rare thing for Bakugo to actually finish his lunch.

The more the boy watched his favourite hero work under the brilliance of the sun, the more his adoration for him grew and the less he minded the incidents where he was greeted and subsequently embarrassed himself. He even began to think of them as rituals of sorts and actually found himself looking forward to them. Hell, Deku himself seemed to enjoy their brief interactions and would always giggle at Bakugo’s clumsiness, a sound the boy had quickly come to treasure more than any tune or song.

He just wished he could fucking talk to him properly.

The hero seemed to be struggling at something more than usual that day and kept tugging at his green curls with a frustrated huff. Across the room in his usual totally-non-stalker spot, Bakugo played with his food and wondered what could’ve been giving Deku such a hard time.

He would get an answer to that sooner than he’d have liked, as the hero chose that precise moment to look up in his direction. When he realized the hero’s eyes were on him, like an alarm system on lockdown, Bakugo blushed fiercely and his body froze up limb by limb.

Deku had totally caught him staring.

Before he could make a (piss poor) attempt at pretending he wasn’t doing exactly what he was definitely doing, Deku grinned and waved him over. Bakugo’s internal panic multiplied ten-fold. 

Why did the hero want to talk to him? Would he ask why he was watching him like some creep? The whole point of keeping a low profile was to stay inconspicuous and keep their interactions at a minimum, but great job Bakugo, that was all shot to shit now.

He swallowed and grabbed his food before slowly approaching Deku’s table.

Don’t knock anything over, don’t touch anything, just don’t move a fucking muscle, he chanted to himself, knowing full well it was totally pointless and bracing himself for another complete disaster of an interaction by the time he reached the table.

“Are you good at math and number stuff?” Deku asked hopefully, his green eyes shimmering with the sunlight streaming in from the window next to him.

Bakugo blinked, flummoxed by both the random question and Deku’s damn good looks up close. “Uh… Y-Yeah, I guess so.”

Deku perked up and immediately thrust a notebook his way. “Could you please help me solve this puzzle? I’ve been working on it for ages and I’m completely lost.”

Bakugo put his food down and curiously took the notebook. When he saw what seemed to be giving his hero such a hard time, his lips quirked up in amusement. It was a Sudoku puzzle. He used to do these all the time before he got busy with UA work. 

His worries now forgotten, he took a seat beside Deku, picked up the pencil, and analyzed the table partially filled with Deku’s careful handwriting. It was labelled as one of the more challenging ones in the book, but Bakugo wasn’t the least bit concerned. Piece of cake.

As his eyes scanned the page, he felt Deku shift closer beside him to take a look too. His concentration began to fizzle as the hero’s subtle cologne wafted over him and holy fuck he smelled so good. He wanted to close his eyes and sink into him and breathe it in forever and Jesus shit he could feel Deku’s warmth too, like a perfect heated blanket right next to him and he wished more than anything to just bury himself in it.

“Katsuki…” Deku murmured his name, his voice like a hypnotic melody that had Bakugo’s grip on his pencil tightening.

“Y-Yeah…?” he responded faintly, so overwhelmed by the hero’s proximity that the numbers all started to blur right in front of him.

Deku’s hand reached over and Bakugo held his breath in anticipation for his touch. Deku was about to hold his hand, holy shit, this was everything he ever wanted, he couldn’t believe this was happening-

Then he was face to face with his lunch container. 

Haah?

As his mind tried to play catch up with what was happening, Deku curiously tilted the container his way so he saw the label on the lid. “This is your first name?”

Realizing the hero had only read his name and wasn’t reaching for him at all, Bakugo’s shoulders sank in disappointment and he tried to keep the irritation out of his voice. “Oh. Yeah, my mom still likes to label my shit like I’m still five.”

Deku laughed and showed Bakugo his own container. “So does mine! It’s old though, she doesn’t prepare my lunches anymore but I just don’t have the heart to take it off.” The hero looked at the handwriting on his lid fondly before gesturing at Katsuki’s. “Anyway, you have a nice name. Katsuki,” he said, testing it out.

The boy bit his lip, hating how much he loved hearing his name in Deku’s voice. He spoke without thinking, “You can call me that if you want.” His eyes widened in horror when he realized he’d just offered for the hero to address him by his first name, something that was only reserved for close friends and family, and he stammered, “Y-You don’t have to! Only if you- you know, um, like it... better...”

He winced and turned back to the puzzle, not wanting to face whatever weird look Deku must’ve been giving him. There you go making an ass of yourself again, you stupid prick. You might as well run for jackass of the year and at least win something out of it at this rate.

Deku smiled gently. “I’d be happy to. Feel free to do the same for me or just stick with whatever makes you comfortable. Shoto still calls me Midoriya after almost a decade, so.” The hero shrugged with a playful roll of his eyes.

Taken aback by Deku’s easy nonchalance, Bakugo nodded and resolved to, once again, not say anything if not in response to a question. It wasn’t perfectly foolproof but there were no cups of shitty coffee in sight this time, so he was betting for things working out in his favour. He turned back to the puzzle, determined to finish it before the lunch break ended and prove himself not entirely useless.

As he watched Bakugo count under his breath and fill out the table, Deku would occasionally ask him about himself and how he’s enjoyed being at the agency so far. With the puzzle acting as a distraction, the boy actually found himself relaxing enough to -- thank fuck-- hold a conversation like a normal person. 

It turned out that Deku was actually very easy to talk to once Bakugo got past his bullshit, and he was genuinely interested in getting to know him which pleased the boy immensely. Bakugo even waved him off when at one point, the hero stopped and worried about distracting him from the puzzle with all his questions. He’d always been a talented multitasker and could solve any shitty math problem in his sleep, thank you very much.

He also just really fucking liked talking to Deku and part of him wished he’d stopped being a pussy and worked up the courage to do it sooner.

There was a brief moment where the hero asked about Bakugo’s quirk and, opting for a demo rather than an explanation, the boy opened his free palm and let little sparks dance on his skin. He smirked, knowing he’d made the right choice and puffing with pride when Deku’s eyes sparkled in awe and he bounced in his seat with excitement over his quirk’s potential.

Bakugo wasn’t as thrilled, however, when the conversation took a turn and Deku asked him how he was enjoying working with Shoto. Still feeling a little sour over the brief lecture he’d been given on his first patrol, Bakugo didn’t know if “joy” would be the right word to describe how he felt about him. The number one hero continued to act as distant and sketchy as fucking ever, so it was hard for Bakugo not to show just how much it pissed him off. He did his best to provide a short but satisfactory answer in the hopes that they could quickly move on, but Deku had other ideas.

“You’re so lucky to have gotten slotted with him as your mentor, he’s such an awesome hero. I don’t think you’ve seen his quirk in action during patrols yet, but there’s absolutely no stopping him once he gets going. There’s honestly no one who works harder at this job than he does, you know? He’s just so...”

Bakugo could feel himself bristling with irritation as Deku gushed on and on about how fucking wonderful Half-and-Half was. He’d almost finished the puzzle, having replaced a few of Deku’s incorrect guesses with his own throughout their conversation, but something about hearing Deku praise someone he thought was totally overrated threw off his concentration again -- and this time, not in a good way.

As Deku described how much Shoto cared about saving people, Bakugo couldn’t help but interject with his own muttered comment, “Dunno if I got that impression.”

Deku stopped and frowned in confusion. “What do you mean?”

Bakugo groaned inwardly, realizing he’d just broken his agreement with himself to not say more than necessary. With Deku now waiting for an answer, he had no choice but to suck it up and roll with it. “Nothing, I just feel like he doesn’t care as much as people think.” 

He fiddled with his pencil as Deku continued to frown at him, knowing he had to be very careful about his choice of words. This was still Deku’s best friend he was talking about and maybe he didn’t know how Shoto acted when he wasn’t around. 

“He- He doesn’t greet his fans like you do, you know, and he treats reporters who are only trying to do their jobs like they’re just out to get him. He doesn’t smile at anyone and just- just ignores people when they’re trying to say hi. He even lectured me about my reasons for wanting to be a hero like they make me some shitty person, which is whatever, but at least it’s something I want. He acts like it’s the worst job ever,” he finished with a scowl.

Deku was quiet as he absorbed Bakugo’s words, his brows furrowed as he looked down at the table in front of them. It was clear that he was troubled by Bakugo’s answer and the boy shifted uneasily in his seat, hoping he hadn’t offended him. He knew he could’ve just backtracked and given some lie but that shit was just not in him. The truth was always something Bakugo lived by, even if people didn’t like it or want to hear it.

“What reasons did you give him?” Deku asked tentatively. “For wanting to be a hero.”

“I just told him I wanted to win, get to the top, and be the best,” Bakugo groused. “Didn’t think that was a crime, but apparently I reminded him of someone who made him look at me like I took a shit in his shoe.”

Deku’s eyes fell closed and he sighed deeply while rubbing his face. Something about Bakugo’s answer must’ve told him all he needed to know. The hero took a deep breath and fixed the boy with an uncharacteristically solemn look. “I’m sorry those are the impressions you got from being around Shoto but believe me, Bakugo, there’s so much that you don’t know. He’s a very complicated guy and there are reasons why he acts the way he does.”

Bakugo shrugged a little, not entirely convinced as he filled in another box in the puzzle. He was content to just drop the subject but Deku didn’t seem ready to let it go just yet.

“Look, I know he can be distant sometimes, but I promise you, he really does care. He cares more than anyone but he-” Bakugo glanced up as Deku seemed to hesitate. The hero sighed and his eyes darted around the room for any listening ears before continuing quietly. “He has anxiety, okay? Not just, like, nerves or anything, but actual clinical anxiety. He tries to manage but it’s hard for him sometimes, especially with everything involving hero work.”

Bakugo was quiet as he tried to process what he was just told. Part of him couldn’t help but suspect this was some shitty joke but the urgent look in Deku’s eyes told him it wasn’t. Shoto Todoroki, the number one hero, the dude who could literally freeze up entire city blocks and bring down the fires of hell upon all his adversaries, had anxiety? There was no way. 

And yet, as he struggled to accept this, it made perfect sense. All of Bakugo’s previous impressions instantly fell around this new piece of knowledge to reveal a completely different picture of Shoto from the one he’d initially had. His tense behaviour, his quiet way of speaking, his skittish avoidance of conversation and pinched frowns, they weren’t factors of rudeness of snobbishness... They were factors of-

...Holy shit.

“I know it’s hard to believe he’d have anything like that while sitting at number one, but I swear it’s true. It just… It doesn’t translate well.” Deku pursed his lips, more serious now than Bakugo’s ever seen him. “I won't say too much because it’s not my place but he’s had a really hard time, okay? I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that Endeavor, his dad, is missing from our hero murals. That’s not an accident. They aren’t on good terms and Shoto doesn’t like having reminders of him around, which is why he might’ve treated your reasons for being a hero with some... negativity.”

The Sudoku puzzle now completely forgotten, Bakugo mulled over Deku’s words. So the person he’d reminded Shoto of happened to be his own father, whom he didn’t get along with and who had a reputation for being ruthlessly ambitious as he chased down and retained the number one spot. 

Bakugo hated to admit it, but now that Deku explained, he could see how he may have put Shoto off. Endeavor was a cool hero but he was only ever interested in cases that significantly boosted his rank. Bakugo’s classmates always compared him to Endeavor.

Deku shifted, a dark look crossing his normally bright face as he fisted his scarred hands on the table. “Endeavor was always pushing him to get to the top and be the best like him. It was all he ever cared about but it did more harm than good. Shoto doesn’t mean to make you feel like a bad person for wanting those things, Bakugo, he’s just…” 

Deku sighed sadly and ran a hand through his dark curls. “I don’t know. He’s not happy that he ended up where his dad wanted him. No one deserves the first place spot more than he does but it’s not something he associates with good things anymore, you know? It just kind of happened by accident and now he doesn’t know what to do with it.”

“That’s why he hides from the press,” Bakugo murmured and Deku nodded.

“Partly, yeah. He usually doesn’t have to when I’m with him since I can just step in and divert their attention but it’s harder for him when he’s alone. Sometimes he calls me for help but most of the time he just tries to endure it as best as he can. I’m sure you’ve seen how he does that by now.”

“Yeah... “ Bakugo recalled their first time in the alley, how Shoto had self-consciously hidden in the shadows and pawed at his burn scar with a miserable look on his face. He saw all of it with completely new eyes.

Deku smiled dimly, his expression fond. “He’s stronger than anyone I know... He’s come such a long way and I’m damn proud of him but he can still be so hard on himself. I’ve never seen someone more confident and in their element during a fight but put a camera in his face and it’s all just gone. It doesn’t matter how much people adore him, he just doesn’t think he’s good enough and it’s that bastard Endeavor’s fault.”

Well, now Bakugo felt shitty. He was normally such a good judge of character, even prided himself on it, but with every new thing he learned about Shoto that week, it turned out that he was wrong on all counts. With all the harsh things he’d thought about the hero up to this point, Bakugo sensed an unfamiliar feeling creep up on him -- a feeling of guilt.

The more he thought about it, though, the more his guilt transformed into anger towards Endeavor and whatever it was he did to fuck his son up so much that he developed an anxiety disorder. No one deserves that shit, especially not from their own fucking parents. 

Deku seemed to be on the same train of thought as Bakugo, face hardened to stone as he spoke, “I swear if I ever run into him, I won’t hesitate to give him a piece of my mind. Shoto deserved better.” 

Deku’s steely expression wasn’t one Bakugo was at all used to seeing on him. For someone who always smiled even in the middle of a fight, it takes something major to stoke his anger like that. Bakugo understood where he was coming from though -- his friends were not something you wanted to mess with if you didn’t fancy a fire lit up your ass. Part of him couldn’t help but wonder: would Deku ever care about him that much?

“You should pummel the shit out of him while you’re at it,” Bakugo said in an effort to lighten the hero’s mood and punched his own palm with a fierce smirk. “I’d gladly join you.”

Deku giggled at the boy’s suggestion, his features softening back to their normal state. “Good idea, I’ll definitely remember that.” He sighed. “Anyway... I hope you understand everything a little better now. Shoto doesn’t necessarily think power and ambition are bad, he just wants to encourage young heroes to adopt the values we promote here at Soul Heroes on top of them. Things like compassion, patience, selflessness, which all make up the best qualities of a hero’s soul, you know? Hence our name,” his lips quirked playfully.

Bakugo nodded, not having considered the origin of the agency’s name before. Maybe Shoto wasn’t being a patronizing dick after all. Bakugo still wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of being buddy-buddy with the icyhot hero, the dude wasn’t exactly his style regardless, but he could definitely see where he erred in his judgements. 

Feeling a little sheepish after what he just learned, Bakugo didn’t know how he would face the hero but resolved to make up for it in his own way later. For now, he just had to finish the puzzle. When he looked down at the notebook, though, he blinked in surprise.

Deku gasped beside him. “You- You finished it! Oh my gosh, you actually finished it!” The hero picked up the book, eyes shining with wonder. “Holy crap, you’re so smart, Bakugo! I’ve been working on this for days and you solved it in under an hour! You’re a genius!”

Bakugo blushed under the praise, not having realized he’d finished it himself amid all their talking, but happy to be the reason for Deku’s smile nonetheless. As he looked at his watch, he realized they’d finished just in time too.

“There goes our lunch hour, huh?” Deku grinned and stood up. Wishing it weren’t over, Bakugo nodded and followed suit. “Well, this was fun. I’m really glad we talked. We should have lunch together more, I still wanna learn more about your quirk!”

"Yeah, sounds good." The boy gathered his stuff and tried not to show his excitement over getting to sit down and talk with Deku again. The hero was like a vision as he stood smiling haloed by the sunlight.

“Well… I’ll see you around…” As Deku walked past him towards the exit, he impishly murmured, “Katsuki.”

Taken completely by surprise, Bakugo fumbled and almost dropped his container. Almost. 

He was getting better at this. Fuck yeah.

Chapter Text

After his talk with Deku, Bakugo walked back to Shoto’s office in a pensive mood. Having interacted with Shoto in a terse manner for most of the week, not knowing any better at the time, he was begrudgingly ready to clean up his act and show some real respect. 

This didn’t mean they’d have to braid each other’s hair and talk about their problems but Bakugo wasn’t an unreasonable guy (well, not usually) and had to give credit where credit was due. He was known to give people shit all the time but that was only if they deserved it.

Walking into the office, however, Bakugo found it empty with no sign of Shoto. It was almost time to go on patrol again, so he expected him to be back shortly. Figuring he may as well occupy his time, Bakugo walked around the room and explored the stuff sitting around the office in hopes of learning more about the oh-so mysterious hero.

He realized very quickly that this might be harder than expected. There was hardly any clutter and everything was organized neatly but there were also no signs of memorabilia or souvenirs, which at the very least Bakugo would’ve expected to see. It was odd to see an office sit so bare without any hints as to who it belonged to but he guessed Shoto was just that basic a person.

So fucking typical.

When he rounded Shoto’s desk, though, his eyes spied a single picture frame propped up behind the hero’s idle laptop. He curiously leaned over and picked it up to find that it was a photo of Shoto and Deku. 

They must’ve been at a party of some kind because they were both dressed in distinctly nicer clothes and loads of people could be seen in the dimly lit background behind them. Deku had his arm slung around Shoto and was shooting the camera a wide toothy grin while throwing up the peace sign, which Bakugo snorted at. Dork. 

Beside him, Shoto was more tuned down with his lips curving into a soft smile, looking the most relaxed Bakugo’s ever seen him. Both heroes were leaning into each other and looked very much like they were inseparable.

Bakugo’s grip tightened as he felt a pang of envy over how close they were. While Bakugo was still a roughhousing shithead kid in primary school, Shoto was bonding with Deku at UA where they’d become best friends and establish their hero identities together. That wasn’t a headstart he could ever hope to catch up on.

As he put the frame back on the desk, Bakugo also couldn’t help but be irritated at the fact that Shoto would choose a picture of himself with Deku as the sole sentimental piece for his office. He knew there were best friends, fine, but didn’t he have a family he cared about? Other friends? A damn fuckbuddy? Why was it just Deku?

Whatever. As he started going back around, his foot stumbled on something lying on the floor beneath the desk.

“The fuck,” he muttered.

He crouched down and found what was practically an overflowing pile-up of stuff at the bottom of the desk. He took a closer look and discovered they were plaques, certificates, and even medals all carelessly thrown on top of each other. Bakugo frowned as he pulled out several honour awards recognizing Shoto’s accomplishments, many given by prominent hero organizations, national councils, and even the prime minister himself. 

Bakugo was in awe. These awards were a huge deal. Why would Shoto want to hide these?

“Bakugo.”

Bakugo whacked the back of his head on the desk and hissed out a curse. He hated it when people snuck up on him. The boy straightened and rubbed at the sore spot as he turned to face Shoto, who stood with the signature blank look on his face.

“Would you mind telling me what you’re doing looking through my stuff?”

“I wasn’t. I mean, I was but I found this shit by accident,” Bakugo groused, still rubbing his head. That fucking hurt. “I was just waiting for you to come back for patrols and thought I’d look around.”

“You mean snoop,” Shoto said flatly and took the plaque Bakugo didn’t realize he was still holding.

The boy inwardly rolled his eyes and went around the desk. Maybe he was snooping a little but the dude was a closed book of fucking surprises, of course he’d be a little curious. Especially when there was a literal treasure trove of awards collecting dust under his desk.

Shoto was looking down at the award with an unreadable look on his face when Bakugo asked cautiously, “Why are you hiding those anyway?”

The hero gave a weary shrug. “It’s not a big deal. They don’t mean anything.”

The boy’s eyes narrowed incredulously. “Are you serious? Those are some of the best awards a hero could ever hope to get, people bust their asses trying to get even a fraction of what you have. It means a great deal to a whole hell of a lot of people.”

As the hero traced his award with a dull look, Bakugo realized this must be part of the complications Deku mentioned about the hero’s perception of himself. Shoto wasn’t just anxious, the poor sod must also have a serious case of imposter syndrome.

Bakugo released a long-suffering sigh. “Dude.” Shoto looked up and the boy squared with him fiercely. “Those awards weren’t given to you as some sort of fluke. You’re the top fucking hero and saved thousands of people. You earned that shit. You should be proud of them and put them all over your damn walls so everyone knows what a badass you are. End of story.”

“...I guess,” Shoto murmured after a few moments and put the award down on his desk. Bakugo wasn’t thrilled with the underwhelmed response and wished the hero would just take his head out of his ass already, but he’d take any victory at that point. On top of the desk was better than under it.

They heard a knock on the open door and turned to find Ponytail peeking in with a hesitant smile. “I hope I’m not interrupting?”

Shoto slowly straightened upon seeing her and shook his head. She walked in, all pinstriped and ponytailed, and presented the hero with a bundle of papers. 

“I thought I’d bring you a stack of blank incident reports, just, um, in case you were running low.” She smiled sheepishly as the hero took them off her hands. Awkwardly holding the paper bundle, Shoto seemed to revert to what Bakugo had originally thought was his rude silence again and it was painful to watch.

Grasping for something to fill the silence, Ponytail turned her bright smile on Bakugo. “So, how’s your first week at the agency been, Bakugo?”

Oh fuck no, I’m not getting dragged into this trainwreck.

“Uh, good... Nothing to write home about yet but, you know, it’s going,” he offered warily, hoping to god she wouldn’t ask him anything else.

“That’s great, things should definitely pick up soon. There’s never a dull moment when you work in Soul Heroes!” Her airy chuckles slowly trailed off in the silence of the room and she cleared her throat with an embarrassed blush. Aware now that neither of the guys would offer much in the way of conversation, she stepped back. “A-Anyway, I should get going. Um, please let me know if you need anything else, Todoroki, I’d be happy to send down whatever you need.”

Shoto nodded wordlessly and she turned to hurry out of the room. The hero dropped the stack of papers on his desk with an unceremonious thunk and sighed. A few moments passed between them, neither wanting to even discuss what just happened, before Shoto finally raised his head. “...You good to patrol?”

Bakugo grinned. “Hell yeah.”

 

ooo

 

The front door rattled as he slammed it behind him.

“God damn it, Katsuki!” His mom snapped from the kitchen as he carelessly toed off his shoes by the front door. “If you slam that fucking door like that one more time I’ll tear your goddamn head off!”

Bakugo rolled his eyes as he heard the same threat she’d been throwing at him for the last six years. They both knew she couldn’t and wouldn’t but it didn’t stop them from running through the same ass routine every afternoon. Normally he’d snap back but he had other shit on his mind and just didn’t want to deal with her at the moment.

He walked past the living room where his dad sat contentedly ignoring them while reading the paper and headed towards the staircase to his room.

Or tried to.

“Hey!” His mom called and he groaned irritably by the stairs.

“What the fuck do you want?

“I want...” Mitsuki started as she left the kitchen and walked up to him. “...to tell my twerp son I missed him and that Eijiro's waiting for him upstairs.” She gave him a saccharine smile and ruffled his hair with her hand, which he slapped away. He hated it when she did that and she knew that perfectly well, which is exactly why she kept doing it.

“Fine,” he grumbled and started heading up.

“Dinner’s in two hours so your ass better be down here by then or I’ll drag it down myself!”

“Just try it, old lady,” he muttered and rounded the top of the stairs. 

When Bakugo pushed open the door to his room, however, he found it darkened and empty. With no sign of his shitty haired friend, Bakugo’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. He knew the idiot had to be hiding here somewhere if his mom let him in, and was probably -- most definitely -- trying to pull another one of his stupid ass pranks. 

Not if I can fucking help it.

Bakugo slowly dropped his backpack by the door and stepped in, but before he could properly analyze his room, the lights switched on and a heavy weight slammed into him from behind the door.

“Surprise, motherfucker!” Kirishima yelled as they both tumbled to the ground.

Ow, you fucking asshole!” Bakugo struggled to untangle himself from beneath his friend’s weight. This has been happening regularly since they’d first met at UA and every time Bakugo would think he’d finally get the best of him, they’d end up in the exact same place -- on the floor with him angrily pinned beneath Kirishima. “Get the hell off me, you fatass fuck!”

“Hey, fat is beautiful, you take that back!” Kirishima pressed heavily against him.

Bakugo snarled and twisted his body just enough to grab Kirishima’s shoulder and yank him down so that he’d have more room to move. The redhead slammed into the floor with a surprised ‘ooph’, no doubt signalling their activities to the indifferent adults downstairs, and grinned devilishly as Bakugo tried to maneuver him into a lock. 

They grappled and wrestled on the floor, limbs jamming this way and that, when Bakugo’s frustration from the day finally peaked and he angrily kneed Kirishima’s abdomen. When the boy grunted and loosened his grip, Bakugo spun him around with a growl and twisted the boy’s arm up behind him, hard.

“Ow ow ow ow!” Kirishima gasped from the sharp pain in his shoulder and immediately began tapping the floor. “Youwinyouwinyouwin, I surrender!”

Satisfied with his victory, Bakugo finally released him and climbed off. They were both breathing heavily as they shifted their bodies to lean side by side against Bakugo’s bed. They’d made a slight mess of the room but with everything going on with the work-study, Bakugo hadn’t been as occupied with keeping everything as neat as he usually did anyway. 

The room was large enough to handle tussles like theirs in general, as Bakugo had deliberately left plenty of open space in the center to work out. The far corner by the large window had his weights and (a very charred) punching bag, with his desk a little closer to the door, and the other corner had his bed and a TV at its foot for the nights when his mind was too loud and he needed some other noise to sleep. His walls were lined with posters of Deku and shelves of trophies from various competitions throughout the years, many of which included -- you guessed it -- wrestling.

Kirishima was rubbing at his shoulder with a wince. “Sheesh dude, I was just messing around... You nearly dislocated my arm.”

“Serves you right,” Bakugo grunted, only mildly sorry. He knew he was rougher than usual but that would probably also be because he felt more agitated than usual.

Ever the perceptive friend, Kirishima glanced over at him. “What the hell’s got you so riled up anyway?”

And wasn’t that the million-dollar question?

Yeah, he was fucking riled up. Has been since he left the agency. It followed him like a dark stormcloud during his patrol and on his way home, turning the last two hours of his day into an angry blur. He vaguely remembered Shoto asking if he was okay during their rounds and also not-so-nicely shoving past several offended pedestrians on his way home. It definitely wasn’t how he’d have liked to wrap up his week.

He tried not to let his mood turn into a rotten, festering heap in his chest but it was well beyond his control. How else was he supposed to react when Shoto opened his locker to grab his patrol stuff and Bakugo was faced with a door displaying not one, not two, but three fucking pictures of him with Deku? In them, they were shown bowling, camping, and even scuba diving. Every single one of them had the heroes side by side touching each other and looking as happy and chummy as fucking ever and it pissed him off.

He had been willing to let the picture in his office slide, but three more in Shoto’s personal locker? Who fucking does that? The only photo Bakugo had of Kirishima was a blurry one in his phone where he’s asleep with sharpie dicks drawn all over his face (not that he knew about that). It just wasn’t normal for a guy to have several pictures of his best friend everywhere, which hinted at a possibility that Bakugo just couldn’t stand to consider.

It wasn’t even something he could openly admit to being pissed about, so he stood up and settled on some bullshit answer for his friend. “Nothing, just tired and had a shit day at work.”

Kirishima nodded sympathetically as Bakugo climbed into his bed and rubbed at his face. “I feel that, dude. Fatgum’s fucking testy when he’s got nothin’ to eat. The guy practically personifies hanger,” he chuckled. He then jumped onto the bed with enough force to make them bounce, meeting the blonde’s annoyed scowl with his own cheeky grin. “But now it’s the weekend and I can finally spend time with my bestest buddy in the world!”

“My ass,” Bakugo snorted at the boy crouched beside him. “You’re just here for the Switch.”

Kirishima sat back with an affronted scoff. “Wh- I can’t belie- Do you really think so low of me, Bakugo? You really- I’m hurt. Hurt.” Bakugo watched him with his brow raised knowingly, and after a few moments, Kirishima dropped the act. “Yeah, I’m here for the Switch.”

With a sigh, Bakugo crossed his arms behind his head and closed his eyes. “Side table, top drawer.”

Yes,” Kirishima whispered happily and pulled the console out, booting it up in no time. He settled on his stomach beside Bakugo and, within a few moments, the blonde could hear the quiet Super Smash Bros theme. 

Unlike Kirishima, Bakugo wasn’t crazy about video games as he was never a fan of activities that required him to be idle to begin with. There’s also the fact that with combat games in particular, you could lose not for lacking actual battle skill but for pressing the wrong fucking buttons, which to Bakugo was complete bullshit (Kirishima called this being a “sore loser” but he could go fuck himself). 

Despite all this, his dad still thought getting him the newest Switch would be an appropriate birthday gift. What he didn’t realize was that in gifting it to Bakugo, he’d really actually gifted it to Kirishima. With Bakugo’s parents each working in the high-end fashion industry, they were both well-off enough to leave him wanting for very little in his life. Kirishima’s parents, on the other hand, weren’t so well-off. 

His friend didn’t discuss it much, but Bakugo was observant enough to notice him wearing more than a few shirts with poorly-patched holes in them. Since then, Bakugo was always sure to get him new clothes around his birthday and Christmas, and would dismiss Kirishima’s grateful watery-eyed gaze with a muttered, “Can’t have people thinking I’m hangin’ with homeless trolls.”

Being the gamer fanatic that he was, Kirishima had been absolutely ecstatic when he heard his friend had received a Switch and immediately asked if they could play together. However, his excitement rapidly turned into terror when Bakugo started to angrily lose the game and his hands smoked around his controller -- the redhead had immediately snatched it out of his hands and cradled it like it was a wounded fucking baby while scolding him for being such a “monster”.

Kirishima clearly valued the stupid thing more than his own life, so Bakugo saw no issue with letting him enjoy it when he had so little to enjoy back home. He just wished he wouldn’t play it right fucking next to him.

Bakugo opened his eyes and kicked him. “Do you have to play that shit right in my fucking ear? Fucking go sit at the desk or someshit, I’m trying to relax.”

Kirishima smirked, eyes not leaving the screen as his fingers flew over the controls. “Nah, I haven’t seen you all week, you’re not gettin' rid of me that easy. Just be glad I’m not sitting on top of you.”

“Don’t even try it, fuckface,” Bakugo growled irritably and turned his body towards the wall. 

As his friend snickered behind him, Bakugo realized it really had been a while since they’d last hung out. UA had reworked their curriculum that year so that student work-studies no longer coincided with classes to alleviate the strain of juggling both, so this meant the students no longer needed to go to class every day or saw much of each other at all. 

Bakugo could’ve stayed in his dorm room like a few others have -- and gladly would have done so to get away from his nagging old bat of a mother -- but his agency happened to be closer to his home so moving back seemed like the more practical choice.

Since they both now worked full-time hours at their respective agencies, this was the first time in over a week that Bakugo had seen his friend, which he was mildly shocked to find was their longest time apart in a while.

“So, aside from your shit day, how’s the rest of your week been?” Kirishima asked.

Bakugo shrugged and muttered to the wall, “S’fine.”

“Just ‘fine’? Dude, you’re interning at the best agency in the country with the best heroes in the world, one of whom happens to be on a poster right here next to your bed and the object of every wet dream since your balls dropped-”

Bakugo immediately sat up and angrily whacked him with his pillow. “Shut up, you dumb fuck! Talk out your ass again and I’ll fucking kill you!”

Kirishima snickered but immediately panicked over his game. “Oh no no no, damn it, shit! You just made me lose my match!”

“Fucking good, get off my bed!” Bakugo kicked him harder than before and the boy tumbled off and landed on the floor with a hard thump.

“Owww,” Kirishima whined from the floor as Bakugo settled back into his bed with a huff. “You’re a fucking jerk.”

“Yeah, fucking cry about it,” Bakugo snapped and turned back to face the wall -- the wall with his poster of Deku that he’d put up when he was 11 years old.

He remembered seeing it in the mall with his mom, displaying his favourite hero standing proudly in his dark green uniform with his fists at his hips and a big shining smile. His eyes had lit up with starstruck excitement and he knew right then and there that he just had to have it. 

He could have all the Deku posters in the world if he wanted to… but could he ever have the real thing?

As he heard his friend grumble and start the game up again from the floor, Bakugo’s eyes trailed up the poster with a small frown. He mulled over the events of the whole week and couldn’t help but return to the stormy thoughts he’d come home with. The thoughts of how Shoto and Deku were a little too friendly with each other. How all Deku did was talk Shoto up with this dumb dreamy look on his face, how it seemed Shoto was just as fond of him with all his pictures of them going on their date-like activities alone.

Could it be possible that they were into each other? Or even hiding a secret relationship? 

Ugh, it made him want to fucking throw up. He couldn’t bear to think of spending weeks at the agency while they snuck around and acted all discreet and lovey-dovey. His heart clenched miserably at the thought, not that he even knew why. It’s not like he’d expected someone as awesome as Deku, with his powerful body and dark green curls and freckles smattered over his dimpled cheeks, to take notice of some scruffy clumsy ass kid like him. He’d have to really impress him if he wanted to get his attention but even then it wouldn’t help with the Shoto problem. 

Fuck, this was going to eat at him all weekend. He didn’t want to go back to resenting Shoto but the hero seemed insistent on giving the boy reasons to hate him.

“Bakugo, look, look!!” Kirishima jumped on him suddenly and his anger crested dangerously.

What the fuck do you want,” he grit out and Kirishima thrust the Switch in his face.

“I beat Bowser! See?? Am I the best or what, huh?”

Bakugo’s red eyes slowly turned to his friend, who grinned excitedly, with his dumb pointy teeth and dumb pointy hair, and wanted to share his hard-earned victory with him. Victory, which he knew Bakugo so dearly approved of and valued over so many things. As the blonde looked back at the screen displaying the “Winner” title, he felt his anger slowly diminish with a small huff and his lips quirked up.

“Good for you, idiot.”

Kirishima’s grin widened proudly and he settled cross-legged back onto the bed for another round. As Bakugo sighed and relaxed beside him once more, his worries now temporarily forgotten, a deep -- and he meant deep, like so fucking deep not even gravity could touch it -- part of him was grateful to be around his best friend again.

Chapter Text

Bakugo had never been one to care about his appearance.

He always had very little respect for dress codes growing up and that wasn’t something he ever planned to change. He made this very clear when he chose to be the only student in his class not to wear UA’s token red tie -- his annoying ass teachers never stopped giving him shit for it but they clearly underestimated just how stubborn he could be. It was also why he chose to leave his pants loose around his hips and his shoelaces untied.

The way people conventionally dressed was just too fucking constricting for him. For someone who sweats a lot, having stiff neck wraps and tightly looped belts did nothing but make him feel hot and suffocated. Same went for his shoes; he figured why waste time tying and untying them when he’d eventually just jump into his hero boots anyway? It’s more efficient and comfortable and it wasn’t like he was ever uncoordinated enough to trip (you’ll want to remember this for later).

Worrying about how he looked was just nothing to him but a shitty waste of time. He felt the same about worrying in general, but his mind seemed to have other plans that day.

Bakugo was currently standing in the hall outside the caf and fiddling nervously with the straps of his lunch bag. A few staffers had walked by and given him strange looks, but he just gave it right back to them with pissed off looks of his own. He just needed a minute to pep himself up, was that such a fucking problem? And no, the fact that five minutes had already passed was completely irrelevant.

The only thing he could think about all morning was spending lunch with Deku. His anticipation over it manifested into a shaky vibration in his body that he’d never felt before: his knees wouldn’t stop bouncing, his hands were clammy and needed constant shaking off, even his heart kept doing this fucking thing where it felt like it was doing somersaults in his chest. Somersaults!

It all ambushed him like a goddamn Batallion and, for a brief panicky moment, he’d genuinely thought he was getting sick. His body, normally such a well-oiled killing machine, was now reduced to a strung-out jittery fucking mess. He had to keep taking deep breaths just to soothe the damn circus parade happening inside his ribcage and he wasn’t enjoying it one bit.

Bakugo just couldn’t believe it -- he had actually become one of the nervous wrecks he’d always looked down on and laughed at in school… and it was all thanks to a certain freckle-faced hero with eyes so green they reflected the garden of fucking Eden itself. The mere thought of him had Bakugo’s heart wanting to burst.

Deku was already at his usual spot at the sunny table and he’d confirmed it by taking a quick peek inside. Bakugo’s heart leapt instantly at the sight of him and he immediately pressed back into the wall.

Maybe he handled this (kind of?) well last time but that was never a planned thing. He didn’t have to think about it all day and try to prepare for what to say or how to act. To prepare for the sight of Deku sitting right across from him, radiating with all his confidence and smiles and speaking directly to him.

His heart somersaulted again and Bakugo rubbed at his chest in aggravation. 

You’re wasting time, you chickenshit. Just get your shitty ass in there before you lose your chance to make him see you as anything other than a no-good fucking klutzilla.

He closed his eyes and took a deep, steadying breath. All he had to do was what he came here to do: impress Deku. He’d somehow managed to snag the hero’s notice enough for him to suggest having lunch together, and in the midst of all his disasters that first week, Bakugo considered that a fucking win. Now, he just had to keep winning.

Bakugo breathed out slowly and straightened by the doorway. His heart might have thought it was a circus performer but it sure as hell wouldn’t make a clown out of him today.

(Remember that part from earlier, about Bakugo’s “efficient” style and unfailing coordination? Well, get ready for a demonstration.)

He walked inside, eyes zeroing in on the hero in front of him, and for the first time in the history of his existence... tripped over his laces and fell flat on his face.

“Oh my gosh, Bakugo, are you alright?!”

Bakugo was glaring murderously in the direction of the ceiling when Deku rushed to help him up. There had to be a higher power out there that loved to torture him. There had to be.

“I’m fine,” he grumbled and got up on his knees. “I was just…” He trailed off when he finally looked at the concerned hero and realized just how close they were. His heart did another somersault but he couldn’t even bother being annoyed about it with Deku’s warm hands currently holding him up. The hero was wearing a blue chambray shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal his perfectly toned forearms and Bakugo practically short-circuited. “I-I’m fine,” he repeated intelligently and drew back.

“You took quite a tumble there.” Deku eyebrows knit worriedly and the boy became aware of the curious eyes of the other two staffers in the caf with them. 

Fuck’s sake, an audience to the shitty klutzilla show was the last thing he needed.

Face hot with embarrassment, he turned to grab his lunch bag only to find its contents had also spilled out with his fall. Great, fucking perfect.

“Here, let me help.” Deku reached for his container of steamed broccoli and cheese (thankfully still sealed) while Bakugo grabbed his water bottle, boxed utensils, and spicy beef stick. The hero smiled at him playfully as he stood and handed back his lunch. “Cleaning stuff off the caf floor seems to be a weekly thing for us, huh?”

Bakugo followed and took his food with a strained haha-please-kill-me smile. “...Yeah, guess so.”

“Well, I was just working on another puzzle if you wanted to join me?” Deku gestured back at his table and Bakugo nodded gratefully, relieved that the hero kept taking his clumsiness in stride. He probably expected it at this point, which didn’t thrill Bakugo by any means, but he’d have to worry about fixing that some other time.

As they sat down across from each other, the boy noticed his nerves from earlier had almost completely vanished and privately marvelled at the calming effects faceplanting seemed to have on the body. Shit was fucking humbling.

Bakugo removed the lid from his lunch and looked over to find Deku regarding his Sudoku notebook apprehensively. His lips quirked up a little. “How’re the numbers treating you?”

Deku gave him a wincing smile. “They’re okay... Not as mean as usual but not as nice as they could be either.”

Bakugo smirked as he took a forkful of his broccoli. Something about Deku having at least one weakness was comforting to him. “Why torture yourself solving ‘em? Just work on a crossword or someshit.”

The hero sighed. “I would but this kinda used to be my dad’s.” 

Bakugo slowed his chewing. “Oh.” 

There wasn’t a lot Deku shared about his family to the public, but if there was one thing that was clear, it’s the fact that his dad was not in the picture. No one knew the circumstances of his absence but seeing the sole unwavering support of his mother throughout the years had always raised questions about the father’s whereabouts -- questions that the hero dodged frequently enough to hint at it being a sensitive topic.

Deku gave him a close-lipped smile. “Yeah. I just found it with some of his old stuff and figured I’d finish what he started. See, look.” 

The hero turned the book towards him and flipped through the pages. The handwriting in the first half was definitely different, more muddled and disorderly where it filled up the margins. The few pages that Deku managed to fill were much tidier in comparison.

Wanting to ask questions but knowing better than to pry, Bakugo opted for a simple nod instead. “That’s cool.”

The hero smiled and turned the book back around. “Yeah. Unfortunately, I’m not much of the math nerd he was. You seem to be, though.”

Bakugo’s mood instantly soured at the implication and he stabbed at a piece of broccoli. “I’m not a damn nerd.”

Deku’s eyebrows shot up and he tilted his head. “...You don’t like to be seen as smart?”

“Not if it means the shit I actually work hard at is ignored. I train my ass off to make sure I get strong and master my quirk, that’s what I want people to see. The number shit is just there, it won’t even help me in the field.”

He tried to keep the irritation out of his voice but this was something the boy had always privately hated about himself. Yeah, being good at math and school in general came with its perks but it also came with stereotypes that were damaging to his reputation -- labels like ‘nerd’ didn’t do him any favours when he was trying to be taken seriously as a tough hero.

Deku hummed thoughtfully and spun his pencil around his fingers. “Fair enough... but I think you’re underestimating that side of yourself a little. Someday you might find being number-savvy a lot more helpful in the field than you think.”

Bakugo frowned and played with his food some more, not quite sure when something like that could possibly be helpful. “I guess.”

Deku smiled and took a bite of his own lunch, which appeared to be chicken fried rice. “So, what’s training your quirk been like? It must’ve taken a while to get used to having bombs literally at your fingertips.”

Hell yeah it did. Bakugo might have made it look easy but it was a lot harder than people imagined. When his quirk first manifested, his teachers and classmates all fawned over its awesome potential, even Bakugo was excited about what a superior hero it would make him, but none of them could have guessed how much of a struggle it would be to keep under control. 

Hundreds of clothes, bedsheets, furniture, and toys were lost to his quirk and it was a huge source of his parents’ aggravation with him growing up. The combined quirks from his mom sweating glycerin and his dad sweating acid produced in him an explosive quirk they hadn’t been equipped to handle so early in their parenthood. Add the fact that he was also a hotheaded kid and it was just a recipe for trouble -- when he snapped, his quirk snapped with him. As it grew more and more powerful, it would even leave his forearms aching and in braces for days until he could build enough muscle mass to withstand it.

Most people didn’t know this about him, but Bakugo has actually done a lot of work on training his temper. He could do all the physical training in the world, but (much to his annoyance) it didn’t change how his emotions were a central part of his quirk’s mechanics. If he remained level-headed, there was no risk of inadvertent detonation. Obviously this wasn’t something he had a complete hang on yet, but he sure as hell came a long way. Most of his pent-up frustrations were now taken out on his punching bag or drumkit -- most. 

As invisible as his progress basically was to those outside of his family, Bakugo had no complaints about it. He actually liked it when people saw him as someone who was born to harness a powerful quirk without trouble.

He could have been the only person in the world for how intently Deku listened to him explain it all. By the time he was done, though, the hero was looking down at the table with a troubled expression. Silence hung heavy between them and Bakugo shifted uneasily. “What’s with the face?”

The hero blinked and shook his head a little. “Um, it’s nothing, I just… I couldn’t help but think of how lonely that must’ve been. Dealing with all those problems by yourself while pretending you had none must’ve been exhausting.”

Bakugo didn’t know how to answer that. He’d never really thought about it before but looking back, none of the relationships Bakugo had growing up were exactly genuine. His friends just followed him around because they thought he was popular and his quirk was cool, but none of them had stuck around in the long run. He didn’t realize it bothered him at all until he met Kirishima, who was his first friend not to make a big deal over his quirk and actually know a thing or two about who Bakugo was as a person.

As he thought this, he also realized that Deku had gauged the truth about him through only a small supply of information. People have known Bakugo for years and could never figure him out, but Deku managed it in a few measly minutes. He thought this would’ve bothered him but his fluttering heart told him something different. It meant Deku could actually see him.

The hero took a moment to swallow another bite of rice then continued. “It’s really cool how your parents’ quirks combined as a happy accident though, since there are lots of couples who will get into these awful “quirk marriages” deliberately. All it does is just turn their kids into products of some ridiculous experiment, but you?” His lips turned up as the revelation came to him. “You’re the product of serendipity. That’s a really special thing, Katsuki.”

Bakugo’s heart was in his throat, not sure he would ever get used to hearing the hero speak his given name. Deku, the symbol of peace and winner of hearts, talked about Bakugo like he was some amazing gift to the world. He was utterly stunned. He had no idea what to say and Deku was still smiling at him with his pretty dimples and freckles and Bakugo’s mouth was going dry and fuck no no no, he was clamming up again.

“Are you okay?” Deku asked with humour dancing in his eyes and Bakugo nodded jerkily. Desperate for something, anything to do, he looked around and grabbed the first thing his eyes landed on -- he hastily ripped the plastic off his meat stick and took a big wrenching bite. 

The hero looked at him with his eyebrows slightly raised and Bakugo awkwardly held up the stick and spoke through his food, “S’good. Meat’s good.”

Deku bit his lip and giggled a little. “...I’ll take your word for it.”

As the hero turned his attention back to his puzzle, Bakugo’s face twisted in mortification.

"Meat’s good”?? What the everloving FUCK is wrong with you?!

Bakugo closed his eyes and went beet red with horror. It’s like every interaction with the hero was doomed to be a total and complete disaster. If Kirishima were here, he’d be fucking losing it. Bakugo just couldn’t believe how utterly moronic he was. Deku gave him his full attention and spoke to him nicely and he couldn’t even manage a proper fucking response? He didn’t even deserve to sit with him if he kept acting like such a brainless turd.

“Oh, I forgot to ask!” Deku suddenly interrupted his mental tirade. “Has your class chosen their hero names yet?”

Shocked that Deku still wanted to talk to him at all, Bakugo answered warily. “Um, yeah…”

The hero sat up instantly and his eyes sparkled with excitement. “What name did you choose?! I bet with your quirk it must be awesome.”

The boy took a deep breath. Resist the sparkle, answer the question directly, NO talk of meat sticks.

“Uh, I went with Ground Zero.” Which only happened after weeks of begging on Kirishima’s part not to go with King Explosion Murder, but Deku didn’t need to know that. Bakugo still thought it was a cool name but, you know, whatever.

The hero took another bite of his rice and frowned thoughtfully. “Ground Zero, that’s a military reference, right? Something about a point of explosion?”

“Yeah, the closest point,” Bakugo confirmed as he finished up his spicy snack. “Took a lot of googling before I found somethin’ that fit right.”

“It’s clever for sure.” Deku hummed and rested his chin on his palm. “I like it, it suits you.”

Bakugo met the hero’s smile with a small one of his own and, at the risk of being sucked into the endless green-eyed vortex, forced his attention on finishing what was left of his lunch. After a quick look at his watch, Bakugo was shocked to find that their break was already halfway over. It was unnerving how being with the hero could make time run so far away with him. He could imagine himself getting caught up in Deku's beautiful whirlwind and being lost to time forever.

He glanced up at the hero who had returned to frowning down at his puzzle. His green eyes darted rapidly across the page like they didn’t know where to possibly land and the back of his pencil took the brunt of his uncertainty between his teeth. The rest of the pencil sat cushioned by Deku’s bottom lip and just looking at it Bakugo found himself biting his own. 

Deku’s lips looked so delectably plump and Bakugo could just imagine how they’d feel pressed against his or even caught between his own teeth. The hero clearly had an oral fixation if the sorry state of his pencil was anything to go by, so he could just imagine what a stupendous fucking kisser that made him. It made him hot all over just thinking about it.

As his eyes trailed over the curve of the hero’s lips, however, the sight of the pencil’s ravaged condition suddenly had him picturing Deku as a fluffy beaver. It was enough to pull him straight out of his fantasies and make him start snickering.

Deku blinked up at the noise and smiled suspiciously. “...You’re laughing at me.”

Bakugo covered his grin with his fork and shook his head, trying to put the image of the furry green beaver out of his head. “Sorry dude but if you bite that thing any harder you’ll end up with a mouthful of lead.”

Almost like he didn’t realize he’d been doing it at all, Deku sheepishly pulled the pencil out of his mouth and put it down. “Sorry, bad habit…This stuff just really hurts my head.”

After a few moments, Bakugo sighed at the hero’s defeated expression and reached for the book. “Eat your lunch, I’ll finish the damn puzzle.”

Deku’s appreciative smile lit up his gorgeously handsome face and the boy’s stomach flip-flopped. “Thanks, Katsuki.”

Bakugo would solve all the fucking puzzles in the world if it kept that smile on Deku’s face. God, he was so whipped.

He mentally shook himself off and started on the table while Deku finished up his rice. They sat in companionable silence for a bit when Deku finally set his empty container aside and commented curiously, “You know, I’m surprised you haven’t asked about my own hero name yet. I usually get a lot of questions about it.”

“That’s why I don’t need to,” Bakugo filled in another box and shrugged like it was obvious. “All the questions end up online with your answers. I don’t know why the fuck people keep asking you when all they gotta do is just look it up. It’s annoying and makes them all look like lazy assholes.”

Looking intrigued, Deku chuckled and tilted his head. “So you already know then?”

“I know it has to do with quirkless issues, which you care a lot about. You always stand up for ‘em and go to all the marches and rallies and stuff, so yeah.”

Bakugo was aware that ‘Deku’ had been a popular slur against quirkless individuals for a long time. He’d watched plenty of interviews where Deku himself said he chose the name in an effort to flip the meaning of the word so that it didn’t have to mean ‘useless’ but it could also mean ‘you can do it’. By choosing Deku as his hero name, he gave hope to quirkless people all over the world that ‘Deku’ could also be the name of a hero. 

The fight for the quirkless still sat on the fringes of society and met a lot of political resistance, which meant Deku himself received heaps of criticism for sullying his image on behalf of “lesser beings”. However, just like Bakugo, the hero had a stubborn streak that refused to be silenced no matter how unpopular it made him.

Deku sat up with a look of wonder. “You’ve read about my activism…?”

Bakugo shrugged again, blushing a little as he fiddled with his pencil. “Yeah… I never knew any quirkless kids personally but, you know, I’ve always backed you up and stuff.”

“Wow, Katsuki…” The hero seemed moved and looked at him with newfound appreciation. “Thank you... People normally like to ignore all that stuff so that really means a lot to me. They may not be everywhere but quirkless people need all the support they can get, you know? Especially children.” The hero sighed quietly and looked towards the window, his eyes dimly reflecting the light outside. 

“Kids are really mean when they want to be and having a supportive friend can make a world of a difference... but you know, making friends is a lot harder when everyone’s already decided you’re worthless and less than human. The bullying is just awful and I can’t stand by and let it keep happening. I have to help in any way I can.”

The determined expression on Deku’s face in that moment was how Bakugo knew he’d chosen his favourite hero right. He’d always looked up to Deku’s strength and there was nothing stronger or more unstoppable than a hero on a mission. To see Deku take on and invest so much of himself into a cause that had nothing to do with him was all the more inspiring. 

Bakugo had never spared the quirkless much of a thought until he came across Deku, but now? God help anyone who tried to fuck with them in his presence.

Deku turned to look at him once more and his face softened into a smile. It wasn’t the same easygoing grin he usually wore, but seemed to carry something deeper and more substantial with it that had Bakugo completely rooted in his spot. “You know... We’ve had a lot of interns come and go from here but I don’t know what it is about you. You’re different.”

Without thinking (because he sure as hell couldn’t think about what Deku could’ve possibly meant by that) Bakugo replied, “Um yeah, that would probably be all the tripping, slipping, falling, banging, spilling....” 

Deku started giggling halfway through Bakugo casually counting down every time he ate shit at the agency and nodded concedingly. “Okay yeah, that definitely might be part of it.” 

Bakugo grinned as the hero continued to chuckle, feeling a little breathless in the way he only ever did after a really good fight. Deku was genuinely enjoying his presence and actually laughing with him. Bakugo might have had some rocky moments (“meat’s good” fucking hell) but overall, it seemed their lunch together was a success.

He took that moment to proudly turn the Sudoku booklet back to Deku, table now fully complete. The hero blew out an amazed breath and picked it up. “You never fail to impress, Katsuki... Thank you.”

It looked like he’d finished up right on time once again as their lunch hour now seemed to be over. Just as he was about to pack up, Shoto made an appearance and walked over to their table. Barely giving them a chance to greet him, he jumped right into business as usual.

“Tsukuyomi offered to cover our patrol route for the day so, now that the afternoon’s freed up, I was thinking...” He regarded Bakugo with a small smile that could only promise exciting things. “Would you be in the mood for a short sparring match?”

The boy shot him a fierce grin, jumping on the chance instantly. “Hell yeah.”

With a satisfied nod, Shoto stepped back while Bakugo packed his stuff. “If you’re not working on anything urgent you can come watch too, Midoriya. I’m sure Bakugo would appreciate some pointers.”

“You know, I might actually take you up on that. I just need to put away my things first so I’ll meet you guys down there in a few.” Shoto nodded and turned to leave the room. As Bakugo followed him out, he heard Deku call out his name and turned to find the hero grinning at him. “You should probably consider tying those laces before going anywhere. You know, just to prevent any more tripping, slipping, falling...”

Bakugo actually barked out a laugh. Fuck, he adored that man.

 

ooo

 

Bakugo stood beside Shoto in the tense air of the elevator and tried to brainstorm how best to diffuse the awkward silence between them. Awkward silence was something Bakugo was never good with, especially after something incredibly embarrassing took place.

“Are you-”

“Don’t.”

Bakugo paused and tried again.

“That was-”

Stop.”

Bakugo nodded and bit his lip, trying his damndest not to snicker. It’s not like he didn’t sympathize. Bakugo was a walking disaster so he was the last person to judge. Then again, it’s not like he was a top-ranking pro hero yet… so there might have been some slight cause for shame.

It happened when they were waiting for the elevator that would take them down to the fitness level. As soon as the doors opened, Shoto had stepped forward and collided into none other than Ponytail on her way out -- who also happened to be carrying a large stack of papers that flew fucking everywhere. 

Bakugo stood a few feet away and watched as both individuals simultaneously exclaimed in shock and stammered out apologies to each other.

“P-Please forgive me, Yaoyorozu, I should have waited-”

“I’m so sorry, Todoroki, I didn’t see you-!”

“Let- let me help you clean this up-”

“No no, that’s not necessary, I can-”

“I insist, please, it’s my fault-”

On and on they went as they crouched over the scattered sheets of paper and Bakugo couldn’t help but wonder if he looked and sounded that ridiculous whenever he embarrassed himself in front of Deku. From the looks of their identical beet-red faces, Bakugo concluded most likely. He bent down to pick up the outlying sheets of paper that landed further out and was just grateful it wasn’t him that time.

When both adults finished gathering up their piles, they started to stand but Ponytail’s weight teetered on her heels. She stumbled right into Shoto and the hero’s arm instantly shot out to keep her upright. As soon as she regained her balance, they both looked at each other with barely any space between them and immediately shot apart with more stammered apologies. Bakugo resisted openly rolling his eyes.

Shoto awkwardly handed her the stack of papers and gave a stiff bow of his head. “I hope that is all of them. I apologize once again for the trouble.”

Ponytail hastily righted her dress shirt and stray pieces of hair as she answered, “N-No trouble at all, Todoroki, thank you for your help. Um, I’ll- I’ll just get going now.”

She started to rush away, no doubt to put an end to her embarrassment, but Bakugo would unfortunately have to delay that a few more seconds. He cleared his throat pointedly and she stopped to see him hold up his own small pile of papers. 

“Right…” She cleared her throat and took them from him with an overtly polite nod. “Thank you.” Her eyes darted briefly to the discomposed hero beside him before she rushed off.

Bakugo’s eyes caught the red bottoms on her black heels and he scoffed softly. Having parents in the fashion industry didn’t teach him much, but if there was one thing he knew for sure, it was that Louboutin stilettos were not fucking work shoes. No wonder she fucking tripped.

He turned to find Shoto gingerly pressing the button to the elevator again. The doors opened immediately but the hero still hesitated as though someone would magically pop out and run into him a second time. Once he was satisfied that it was safe, he stepped in and Bakugo followed.

And that’s what brought them here. In the elevator. Awkwardly silent and silently awkward.

After what felt like ages, the doors finally opened and they stepped out. Shoto turned to address him as though everything was perfectly normal. “There’s no need to put on your full uniform for this, so take a few minutes to get into your regular workout clothes and stretch. I’ll be waiting for you in the training room.”

Bakugo nodded and tried not to be annoyed over the fact that Shoto was already suited up by default. He had to remind himself it was only a sparring match and he (sadly) didn’t have to worry about kill-shots. After going their separate ways and grabbing his stuff from his locker, Bakugo’s mind was already formulating a game plan.

From what he knew about Shoto, he’d been trained to fight by Endeavor his whole life and that gave him an edge. Bakugo didn’t get the same pro-level guidance and was entirely self-taught. However, he had his own advantages, like the fact that he was already familiar with the number one hero’s fighting style. Shoto wasn’t familiar with Bakugo’s techniques as an up-and-coming hero yet and that limited his ability to predict the boy’s next moves, which gave him the element of surprise.

As Bakugo got dressed and tied his running shoes, he started thinking up the best ways to fight against Shoto’s quirk. Bakugo’s explosions were formidable but limited without his gauntlets, which meant he’d have to beat Shoto quickly before his forearms got too strained. That wouldn’t be easy, as this was the number one hero Bakugo was going up against. He’s seen evidence of Shoto’s advanced agility, durability, and stamina in many of his fights. His quirk was a two-in-one package of blatant raw power that had a variety of uses and could activate in an instant.

Bakugo stood up and worked on stretching his arms and legs, his face set in deep concentration. Shoto’s quirk might have been threatening but the same didn’t necessarily have to apply to its wielder. The hero was strong but relied too heavily on his ice and firepower, which made his physical abilities slow and predictable. Rather than experiment with his strategy and application, Shoto often only focused on reinforcing the base powers of his quirk with the standard “wall of ice” or “wall of fire” attacks to overwhelm his opponents. This might have been effective at taking down groups of villains but was too straightforward an approach against single opponents who fought with tactical instincts -- like Bakugo.

Body loose and thoughts still racing, the boy picked up his bag and made his way towards the training room. The few things he knew he had over Shoto were his speed, mobility, and technique. His fighting style focused more on perfect execution than powerful imprecise attacks and didn’t require him to stay put the way Shoto often did, which could be the exact key to his victory. As long as Bakugo kept blindsiding him and didn’t stray too far, conducting a sneak attack could get him his win.

Feeling ready to do some real (friendly?) ass-kicking, he pushed through the training room doors and found Deku already in the center of the space with Shoto. The heroes paused their discussion and Deku shot him a smile, reminding Bakugo that he would have an audience for this match -- an audience that he often made big mistakes around. He hoped this would be the one time he could prove not to be an embarrassment.

“You ready for this?” Deku asked when he finally walked up to them and Bakugo nodded, crossing his arms confidently.

“Born ready.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” The hero grinned and jogged backwards. “I’ll be watching from the viewing hall. Looking forward to a good show, boys!”

Bakugo curiously watched the hero go through a door and wave at them through a glass window on the training room’s right wall. Huh, he didn’t notice it the first time around but could see how it would be useful to keep onlookers out of the line of fire

Shoto huffed at Deku’s excited waving and turned to Bakugo. “So, I was thinking we start hand-to-hand then throw in our quirks once we’re warmed up. Sound good?”

Bakugo shrugged and took his position a few feet from the hero. “Fine by me. Either way I’m still kickin’ your ass.”

Shoto’s eyes flashed dangerously and he smiled. “Bring it on.” 

As the hero took on his fighting stance, it was like an entirely new person stood in front of Bakugo. His posture set comfortably, his eyes were sharp and focused, and he radiated calm determination. This was no longer Shoto, his quiet anxious mentor. This was Todoroki, the fearsome number one hero.

Bakugo grinned and raised his fists. He might have been fighting with a slight disadvantage but Shoto was about to discover Bakugo’s greatest weapon: his desire to win. No challenge could ever put him off his ferocious pursuit of victory, and that included the number one hero.

His feet bolted forward and he swung with his right arm, which Shoto quickly blocked and countered with his own swing. Bakugo dodged and spun around to land a kick, but the hero blocked and his fist flew sharply towards Bakugo’s head. The boy felt the air rush over his face after barely shifting out of the way and grinned as he jumped back. Not bad.

A smile also seemed to dance on Shoto’s face as they began to circle each other. Bakugo darted forward and shot his fist out but Shoto shifted his head slightly and locked eyes with him. “Wrong move.”

Bakugo realized his mistake too late as Shoto grabbed his outstretched arm and used it to flip him over. Bakugo’s body flew and he landed on his back with a grunt. Noticing Shoto reach for his foot, he quickly drove a blunt kick towards the hero’s chest and sent him stumbling back. Bakugo kicked up onto his feet and Shoto smiled. “Nice save.”

“You ain’t seen shit yet, Icyhot,” Bakugo sniped and shot forward with his right hook again. Shoto parried with his forearm, letting Bakugo stumble past and driving a sharp hand chop to the boy’s exposed back. Bakugo gasped at the force of the blow and staggered a few feet away.

“You’re relying on those right hooks too much. Try something less predictable.”

Bakugo’s eyes widened in outrage. Predictable?! The poster boy for basic unvaried fighting was calling him predictable?! Oh FUCK no.

His palms popped as he growled and ran at the hero with full force. He sent several punches and kicks the hero’s way, a few of which he managed to block but plenty hitting their desired targets. Shoto grunted as Bakugo spun and drove a kick into his shoulder. The hero tried to grab at his leg but before he could yank Bakugo off balance, the boy threw his palm forward and let out an explosion small enough to blind him and let go. Bakugo took that opportunity to propel himself up with another explosion so he landed behind Shoto’s body and drove another kick into his back.

“How’s that for ‘less predictable’?” Bakugo taunted, panting a little as the hero stumbled forward.

Shoto turned to face him and smiled breathlessly. “Looks like someone’s ready to jump into the real fight. Well, I’d hate to keep you waiting.”

Bakugo grinned as he watched frost slowly begin to form on Shoto’s right arm. 

Now we’re fucking talking.

The boy’s palms glowed and sounded a pop-pop-pop behind him before driving him forward into an air attack. Just as his foot was about to land on Shoto’s face, an ice-path formed under the hero’s feet and he slid away.

Bakugo landed on his knees and straightened with a mocking look. “Running, Icyhot? Not very manly of you.”

Shoto smirked. “Not running. Just getting you where I want you.”

Bakugo’s eyes widened as Shoto’s right foot came forward and ice shot out with blinding speed in his direction. He knew he would be frozen stuck to the ground if he didn’t move out of the way fast, so he propelled himself upwards with another explosion. He barely landed when another wave of ice came at him and he blasted out of the way again.

“Who’s running now, Bakugo?” Shoto snarked as he shot wave after wave of ice at the evading boy. “Thought you were gonna show me how to be a man.”

“Just-” Bakugo shot towards the wall, “-fucking-” then jumped out of the way, “-wait!” as another shot of ice covered the space he was in a second ago. 

The whole gym was covered in sharp icy crystals and Bakugo’s breath started to cloud in front of him. This wouldn’t be good for his sweat production so he had to end this fast. Little did Shoto know that he was playing right into Bakugo’s plan.

Just as he’d predicted, Shoto used the same uncreative fighting technique he always did. Instead of pushing his quirk to the limit and using it to a greater effect, he chose the straightforward route and threw up his ever so trusty walls of ice. With the training space almost fully covered in ice now, Shoto had inadvertently created obstacles that obstructed his view of Bakugo, which would now play to the boy’s advantage. 

Bakugo landed on the ground and prepared to put his plan into motion when he heard knocking on glass behind him. He turned and his eyes widened when he saw Deku waving at him cheerfully from the viewing room. 

“Hey, Katsuki!” came his muffled voice. “Oh my gosh, you’re doing so great!”

Bakugo grinned and quickly looked around for any sign of Shoto before stepping close to the glass where Deku had his hand pressed up. “Watch this,” he mouthed and Deku’s handsome face lit up as he nodded.

This is for you, Deku.

Bakugo turned and heard Shoto call out, “I’m disappointed in you, Bakugo. I didn’t take you for a hider. Going on the defensive won’t win this for you.”

Having pinpointed Shoto’s exact location, he let his palms charge up and called back, “Who’s hiding, Icyhot? Just gettin’ you where I want you!”

Arms ready, he launched an explosion right into the wall of ice in front of him, which cracked and blew away with the force of his blow. The pieces closest to him melted, but the rest? They flew like sharp shards straight towards Shoto. 

The hero’s eyes widened and he threw up a block of ice to protect himself, but Bakugo quickly jumped up and blew the same explosion at another ice wall. Every protective barrier Shoto threw up broke under the force of the blasted ice and made him throw up another.

The smoke from Bakugo’s explosions covered up the whole training space, acting as the perfect cover for his sneak attack. Shoto was powerful as a long-range fighter, but he’d be at Bakugo’s mercy up close and blinded. The boy ran stealthily in Shoto’s direction, and just as he was about to shoot his winning blow, the smoke split open to reveal Shoto with his palm face-up in his direction. 

Bakugo’s eyes widened and he flew back just in time for the shot of ice to miss and clip his outer leg. He flipped backwards and landed roughly on his knees. Damn it, he lost his shot.

The smoke eventually cleared to reveal the hero standing a few feet away from him. They were both panting heavily and Shoto’s breath clouded icily in front of him.

“Not bad, Bakugo... I underestimated you.”

Bakugo stood shakily on his feet and gritted out, “Last person to underestimate me ended up with his ass whooped into next week… and you’re about to join him.”

The boy’s arms were trembling from exertion and he clutched at one tensely. His body couldn’t afford to give out now. He would win this and prove to Deku that he was a winner if it fucking killed him.

Shoto’s lips turned up at one corner, absolutely no evidence of fatigue on him, and straightened. “Fine… Then I’ll give you a proper fight.”

Anticipation built in Bakugo’s gut as he watched the hero close his eyes and the frost begin to melt off his arm. This was it. His left side would be the toughest to fight by far.

Shoto’s hair blew around him as his left side ignited with ravenous flames. His eyes slowly opened to reveal one half that was a startling piercing blue. The temperature rose around them almost instantly and Bakugo had to squint to see him at all. 

He knew the stakes have now risen tenfold and that should make him worry, but for some reason, Bakugo could only find it in him to grin like a maniac. The odds weren’t great but his determination to win didn’t waver one bit. He welcomed the challenge and would give it everything he had. Especially now that Shoto’s quirk generated heat, which meant more sweat, and more -- you guessed it -- firepower.

“You look awfully happy for someone who’s about to get barbecued,” Shoto said lowly as they began circling each other again.

Bakugo gave a surprised laugh. Shoto was a trash talker? He didn’t know the hero was that cool.

“I’m just havin’ fun Half-and-Half. Aren’t you?” Bakugo asked as he charged up his hands behind him.

“I’m about to.” 

Shoto suddenly lifted his arm and shot an endless barrage of fire at Bakugo. The boy blasted into the air and felt the flames completely engulf the space below him. Shit, the guy wasn’t kidding, he really was trying to get him barbecued. Shoto was metal as fuck.

Bakugo landed on what was left of the yet-to-be-destroyed ice pillars and waited for the hero to aim another blast of fire his way before jumping off again. Physical abilities had physical limits, so Shoto was bound to wear himself out at some point and recharge. That was Bakugo’s opportunity to strike -- and he would hit his mark this time.

By the time Shoto’s fire attacks stopped coming, all the ice was gone and they ended up right in front of each other again.

“You’re a slippery one, aren’t you?” the hero huffed and Bakugo grinned through his exhaustion.

“I just needed to work up a sweat... Thanks for the assist, by the way.”

Shoto’s eyes widened at the sight of Bakugo’s soaked shirt. “...Sweat boosts your quirk.”

“Yup,” Bakugo smirked and raised his glowing palms. “...I’m always one step ahead. That’s why I won’t lose to you.”

The hero’s face twisted in determination and he held up his own glowing hand. “We’ll see about that.”

There was a moment of pin-drop silence.

They each took a breath.

Then their powers released, colliding into a devastating supernova between them.

The impact sent Bakugo hurtling back and slamming into the wall behind him. Blinded by the explosion, his eyes struggled to focus and eventually saw nothing but smoke in front of him. His lungs burned and he coughed, arms screaming out in protest as he stood shakily on his feet. His thoughts spun, desperate to seize his chance for victory. 

He took a step forward. 

...Last time I tried a sneak attack, Shoto heard me through the smoke.

He took another step.

...This time I’ll go airborne and attack from above.

Another step.

...He won’t see it coming until it’s too late. 

One more.

...It’s a guaranteed win. I just need to push my quirk one last time.

Bakugo’s hands popped weakly and he groaned in pain. Time was running out. If the smoke dissipated, he’d lose his cover. He had to do this now.

Bakugo growled and barely blasted himself up above the thick black blanket of air. It wasn’t as high as he’d have liked, but it was high enough to grab onto a (very convenient) set of exercise rungs in the wall. He climbed up, arms trembling with effort, and stabilized himself.

He turned at the sound of Shoto coughing somewhere below and twisted to aim his arm out. As soon as he saw a window, he was taking it. No hesitation.

However, as the smoke started to clear, Bakugo’s eyes widened in panic. He could see his arm clearly but his vision of everything past it was a complete blur. Straying too far was the one thing he was supposed to avoid from the start and he completely forgot to keep it in mind. He had to take his chances and jump.

Bakugo released his hold on the rungs and launched himself in Shoto’s rough direction. He could vaguely make out the hero’s shock of bi-coloured hair but it was still too blurry to aim. He had his shot right in front of him and he couldn’t fucking see. 

Panicking, he saw no choice but to chance it and hope his shot landed. His palm glowed at the ready but the smoke had almost fully dispersed by now, leaving him in full view of the hero below -- who had finally turned and noticed him.

Bakugo wasted too much time.

Shoto’s eyes widened and without hesitating hurled three ice daggers in Bakugo’s direction. One of them struck the boy right in the forehead, immediately powering his quirk down and sending him crashing straight to the ground.

As his body lay on the training room floor, aching and breathless, Bakugo could only think one horrible, gut-wrenching thought.

I lost.

Chapter Text

I lost.

It looped in Bakugo’s head over and over again and the shock of it had him completely unmoving on the ground. In any room, he’d always been the strongest. He’d always been the best. He was supposed to win -- because winning wasn’t fucking optional. How could this happen?

You were too weak.

Something rocked inside him and his fists clenched in a sudden bout of self-directed fury. Victory had been in his grasp and he’d fucked it up like a total fucking failure. He was nothing, a disgrace, a no-good loser who’d sink to the bottom and never, ever be number one. He would never prove himself a powerful hero, he might as well give up now and swan-dive off a fucking building-

A fuzzy voice suddenly filtered into his awareness and a halo of green curls appeared over him.

“Bakugo! Oh my gosh, Bakugo, are you okay?!”

The raging torrent inside Bakugo quietened a little as he felt warm hands grip his head and shoulder, practically holding him. A small part of Bakugo wanted to just stay there and savour the closeness, but a bigger part told him he didn’t deserve it to begin with. Not after that pathetic loss. 

He tried to sit up but hissed sharply as spikes of pain shot up his arms.

“Take it easy! You took a nasty fall,” Deku worried, helping him sit up. Seeing the strained wince on the boy’s face, Deku turned to scold the other hero hovering nearby. “What the hell were you thinking, Shoto? This was supposed to be a spar, not a death match! You could’ve killed him!”

Bakugo grit his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut, feeling angrier at himself by the minute. Deku now thought he was weak and breakable and it was all his fucking fault.

“Sorry…” Shoto apologized softly, sounding chagrined and back to his usual diffident self. The two-toned hero crouched in front of him in concern, face covered in soot stains. “...Are you alright, Bakugo?”

“I’m fuckin’ fine,” he grumbled, annoyed with all the fretting, and tried to get back on his feet. As Deku immediately went to help him up, all Bakugo could think was how the hero should’ve been congratulating him right now, not coddling him after a shitty loss.

He stumbled a little on his feet and Shoto regarded him guiltily. “I apologize for letting the match get out of hand... I shouldn’t have gotten so carried away.”

“Don’t you dare, Icyhot,” Bakugo warned and pointedly stepped away from Deku’s supporting hand. “I’m not some wimpy little bitch, I can take a fair fucking fight.” 

“...You did do really well,” Deku reluctantly agreed and started pulling away. “I never expected to see you hold your own like that- Careful!”

The hero’s hands immediately darted back to help him take a wobbly step forward as Shoto agreed begrudgingly, “Yeah, me neither. You’re a gifted fighter, Bakugo.”

“Damn right I am.” Bakugo winced as he straightened again, trying not to openly grunt in pain. He hadn’t pushed his body like this in years but he should’ve guessed fighting the number one hero gearless wouldn’t be easy. He clutched his throbbing arm and bit out, “Your ass was mine too, you just got fuckin’ lucky.”

Shoto rolled his eyes with a light scoff, “I’m ready for a round two any time, I’m just not sure you can handle it.”

Bakugo’s eyes narrowed at the challenge. “Fuckin’ try me and I’ll show you who can’t handle what, Half-and-Half.”  

They both took a threatening step towards one another when Deku suddenly groaned in frustration between them. “You two are unbelievable! Both of you look like an absolute wreck and probably inhaled way too much smoke to be healthy, yet all you can think about is fighting again?!”

The two paused and glanced at each other, hair rumpled and torn clothes covered in soot, then answered simultaneously, “Yes.”

Deku threw his hands up in aggravation and shoved at them. “Well not today, you’re not! Both of you need to get washed and cleaned up, you smell disgusting. Come on, on you go!” 

Deku herded the grumbling pair towards the change room and they briefly exchanged wry looks as he fussed behind them. It seemed their fight had given them newfound respect for one another, so it might not have been a total loss.

...Yeah no, fuck that, it absolutely was.

Bakugo’s body ached as he got into the shower stall further down from Shoto’s and turned on the water. The first thing he did was flip his hands up so the stream could soothe his now sensitive palms. He closed his eyes in relief as soon as its coolness cascaded over the raw and abused skin, which hurt plenty but not nearly as much as his arms did. Water wouldn’t help them much and he irritably realized this was something he’d have to dig out his old compression sleeves for. 

As he gingerly scrubbed his way down his body, his scarlet eyes found a sharp cut running down his lower leg and he remembered just barely dodging Shoto’s ice and getting clipped. The heavy weight of his failure dragged through him all over again, his disappointment over fumbling in front of Deku yet another time worse than ever before. To be so close and have his victory ripped away from him by something so frivolous and inconsequential had him grinding his teeth in annoyance. 

Whatever, don’t think about it. You fuck up in front of Deku all the time so it’s not like this set you back. He still sees you as the same klutzy ass kid you’ve always been, so you should be glad you can’t sink any lower.

Bakugo ignored his clenching heart and straightened sullenly, having judged the cut to be superficial and not of serious concern.

Once his skin was clean again, Bakugo switched the water off and patted himself dry with his unused gym towel. He threw on his jeans and t-shirt, making a note to replace his now torn and stained activewear, then walked past Shoto’s still running shower stall. Pretty boy was no doubt giving himself the full spa treatment, he thought with an eye roll.

He walked back into the change room and found Deku scrolling through his phone on a nearby bench. He slowed and a pang shot through him at the sight of the strong and unstoppable hero whose approval and affection he could never hope to gain. His fist clenched on his bag strap as he felt himself overcome with shame.

When Deku finally noticed him, he straightened and gave him a small smile.

“Hey, Katsuki… How you feeling?”

Like shit, but he wasn’t about to admit that. He simply dropped his bag on the ground and shrugged, muttering. “Fine.”

Deku regarded him with a look that knew far too much. “...You’re beating yourself up again, aren’t you?”

The boy scowled and leaned against the lockers behind him, arms crossed stubbornly. He knew he’d initially liked how well Deku could read him but it wasn’t what he needed right now. “So what? I lost and I’m pissed, what the fuck ever, I’ll get over it. I don’t need you to pity me.”

Deku leaned back and frowned a little. “Is that what you think I’m doing?” 

The boy rolled his eyes and scoffed, his wounded pride making him defensive. “Don’t pretend like you don’t think I’m just some loser kid who can barely keep his shit together let alone get through a real fight. It’s fucking obvious.” 

The hero stood, looking genuinely troubled now. “I do not think you’re a loser. The match might not have ended the way you wanted it to but you did get through that fight. No one’s ever used Shoto’s quirk against him the way you have, you met every one of his shots with brilliant counters of your own. You should be proud of yourself for that.”

Bakugo’s fingers dug into his arms as he grit out, “There’s nothin’ to be proud of if I couldn’t manage the one fucking shot that mattered.”

The hero fell into wary silence for a few moments. “...You did have an opening.” 

Bakugo felt himself stiffen. Deku saw that?  

As though reading his mind, the hero explained, “I ran out as soon as that big explosion hit because I got worried. I saw you jump through the smoke with Shoto in your sights but it’s like you just… froze up or something.” Deku looked at him closely. “What happened up there?”

Bakugo’s eyes fixed on his feet and he eventually muttered, “...Got distracted, shit happens.” He knew full well that nothing could ever throw off his focus in the middle of a fight but he refused to divulge the real truth behind his failure.

Deku didn’t seem convinced by his answer but sighed and sat back on the bench. “Well, either way, I think you did a really good job. You might not see it the way I do but you really proved yourself today. In fact, you fought like an actual pro. You were smart and quick on your feet and even smiled through that whole fight. You completely blew me away.”

The boy blinked up at him, not daring to hope. “I did...?”

Deku nodded and gave him a fond little smile. “Yeah, you really did...” Bakugo wasn’t sure, but it almost seemed like Deku’s voice had taken on a softer quality. His green eyes rested on him with the tenderness of a feather as he spoke. “You’re quite the firecracker, Katsuki.”

Bakugo’s breath was stuck in his throat. Deku had seen him fumble and fall, watched him tank the match and come out of it with absolutely nothing but cuts and aching bones, and still didn’t think he was worthless. Bakugo lost and yet the way Deku looked at him revealed nothing but respect and admiration. His hero looked at him like he was proud.

His heart felt ten times lighter, like a hot air balloon ignited by a fire that wanted to soar to the highest reaches of the sky. Bakugo didn’t just feel relief, he felt genuine bona fide joy. His lips couldn’t help but turn into a small, pleased smile as he reached up to rub at his still-damp hair. 

The movement inadvertently sent a small spike of pain shooting up his arm and he grimaced a little, making Deku frown. “Your arm’s shaking.”

Bakugo held it against his chest and gave a dismissive shake of his head. “It’s fine, just overworked. Should be good to break noses again in a few days.”

Deku giggled and beckoned him over with a hand. “Let me take a look at it.” Bakugo hesitated, not wanting to make a big thing out of it, but Deku wouldn’t budge. “Come on, I know a thing or two about how to make them feel better. Trust me.”

The boy sighed and reluctantly sat on the bench beside him. He bit his lip as Deku’s fingers gently gripped his forearms and pressed lightly at various tension spots. One particular movement had Bakugo hissing and squeezing his eyes shut in pain. “Motherfucker, that fucking hurts.”

“Goodness, the potty mouth on you,” Deku chuckled playfully. “I thought you said it was fine?”

“Well, I fucking lied. Stop- Stop digging in like that, damn it!”

“Don’t be so fussy,” the hero clucked. “I’ve dealt with muscle cramps for years and the sooner they’re tended to, the better. I just needed to pinpoint where it hurts most.”

Bakugo grumbled under his breath and let Deku do his thing without further objection. The hero had his legs falling on either side of the bench while Bakugo sat facing forward with his arms turned to his left, unable to look at the gorgeous man in front of him directly. His eyelids gradually fell shut as Deku gently kneaded his muscles and he tried not to let his breath hitch out loud. 

“Does it feel a little better?”

Bakugo nodded slowly, refusing to look at him let alone speak and risk his voice cracking like some little schoolboy. He had to keep it together but the sensation of his pain gradually giving way to pleasure was just too fucking good. A lightweight feeling settled over him and he sighed a little, unclenching his fists entirely so his arms sat completely lax and at the mercy of Deku’s grip.

The hero breathed out a quiet laugh as his thumbs continued to rub circles into his arms. “...Your quirk is a bigger handful than I’d imagined. The kickback from the explosions must always do a number on your arms and shoulders.”

Bakugo’s red eyes opened and gazed pensively at the ground beside him. “...It’s worth it.”

The hero hummed and they lapsed into comfortable silence with only the sound of Shoto’s running shower in the background. Bakugo bit his lip again as Deku worked his way down his arms like a perfectly trained expert and he couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to have the hero’s hands do this to his whole body. 

What if Bakugo hadn’t changed in the showers and came in without his shirt on, complaining about his shoulders and chest too? Would Deku lay him down on this same bench and massage him all over? He nearly trembled at the thought of Deku climbing on top of his body, his strong hands kneading him, stroking him, pressing into him…

Bakugo breathed out slowly and turned tentative eyes towards the source of his relief beside him. Deku’s dark curls had fallen over his eyes slightly but didn’t hide an inch of their determined shine. His expression was completely focused on moving with the right amount of precision. Bakugo’s gaze trailed longingly over his lips, down the tempting sharpness of his collarbones, over the button-up pulled tightly over his muscled arms and chest, until they finally reached the sight of his upturned arms resting in the hero’s grip.

Deku’s touch was as warm as always, his fingers calloused but soft. The tanned skin on the back of his hands and wrists was broken up by distinctive zig-zagging scars that looked much thicker up close than they ever did in the tabloids. Bakugo couldn’t begin to guess what kinds of painful injuries created marks so deep.

“Hideous, aren’t they?” Bakugo blinked up to find the hero looking at him knowingly. His fingers continued to work on the boy’s muscles as he went on, “I got most of them when I was about your age at UA's sports festival. It was in a match with Shoto that it happened, actually. I broke all my fingers just to keep up with him, some twice over, and ended up with both my arms and left leg in casts.” The hero chuckled. “He’s ferocious when he wants to be, but you know that by now.”

“Tch, whatever,” Bakugo groused and looked away. “He ain’t all that.”

Deku laughed lightly. “Well, in any case, I hope to get the chance to fight you myself some time. I get the feeling going up against you would be a lot of fun.” 

Excited by the prospect of facing off with Deku’s deductive fighting skills, Bakugo nodded eagerly. “I’m down.”

Deku shot him a warm grin. “Good, it’s a deal then.” The hero nodded down at Bakugo’s arms which he now held by the wrists. “How do they feel now? Did the cramps ease up any?”

Bakugo flexed his arms and was surprised to find the pain in his muscles had indeed dulled significantly. “Holy shit…”

Deku giggled and sat back proudly. “I take it that’s a mission accomplished then.”

The boy raised his arms and rubbed at his wrists, still tingling where the hero had held them not a few moments before. “Yeah, um... Thanks… That helped a lot.”

“Happy to help! It should keep you going until tonight at least.”

Bakugo nodded, privately mourning the loss of Deku’s touch on him. He hadn’t felt anything like it and wondered if it would be a bad idea to exert himself on purpose if it meant he could get these treatments from the hero regularly. A guy could fuckin’ dream.

Part of Bakugo had always feared his hero would turn out to be nothing like he imagined, but in reality, Deku was everything he’d hoped for and more. He somehow managed to be one of the only people who could effortlessly lighten Bakugo's mood just by being his sincere and authentic self, and for some reason it made him feel indebted. Bakugo wanted to be able to do the same for him too. He wanted to be the reason Deku smiled.

“Hey, uh…” He started suddenly and Deku glanced up at him. He felt his pulse race as he worked up the nerve to say his next words without fumbling. “Y-Your scars… I don’t think they’re... ugly or whatever.” His mouth began to feel like sandpaper but he forced himself to push through. “They’re like- like battle wounds, y’know? Like marks of a warrior. I think that’s dope.”

Deku’s eyes went round and he huffed out a happy little laugh. “Thanks, Katsuki… I guess it’s like you said, right?” There was that soft voice and tender-eyed gaze again. “It’s worth it.” 

Bakugo only had it in him to nod dumbly at his words quoted so beautifully back to him and Deku gave him a fond smile. He looked like he was about to say more but the sound of footsteps padding their way had them lifting their heads and shifting apart. Shoto walked in dressed in black jeans and a grey shirt slung over his bare chest. 

“Hey, Sho,” Deku greeted as the hero dropped his bag by Bakugo’s and towelled his damp hair. “I was starting to think you’d never come out of there.”

“Sorry, I was exfoliating.”

Caught off guard by the unexpected admission, Bakugo choked on a laugh and immediately covered it up with a few coughs at his elbow. Shoto lowered his towel and frowned at him. “Are you alright?”

“Mhm, yep, all good,” Bakugo nodded.

Deku stood and threw his arm around his friend with a playful grin. “Ahh yes, being the highest-ranking hero wasn’t enough, you just had to be the best looking too, didn’t you?”

Shoto blushed and murmured, “I just like taking care of my skin...”

“Right, that’s my Shoto. Cute and modest,” Deku teased and Bakugo’s pleasant mood slowly began to sour as the other hero protested weakly and ducked his head in embarrassment.

“My Shoto”?? "Cute and-" What the actual fuck? Deku was totally flirting with the other hero right in front of him! 

Bakugo’s suspicions about them being more than friends came rushing back with a vengeance and all he could think was how there was no way he could be wrong. It was the only thing that could explain the dumb bashful look on Shoto’s face and the suddenness of Deku’s overly sweet behaviour. 

Bakugo’s fists clenched angrily in his lap as his favourite hero playfully poked at Shoto’s face and toned chest, giggling as his friend squirmed and coyly slapped him away. He sure as hell wasn’t going to keep watching this shit.

Bakugo stood abruptly and grabbed his bag. The two heroes stopped their games and Deku asked, “Hey, where are you going?”

“Upstairs,” Bakugo bit out curtly and started to walk away.

“Hold on, we’re coming with you,” Shoto called and quickly threw on his shirt. Bakugo stood irritably by the door, trying to remain calm if only for the sake of his overused quirk. Losing control wouldn’t be good for him right now. 

Besides, so fucking what if they were into each other? They could rot together for all he cared. This was bullshit.

They put their bags away and headed towards the elevator, Bakugo fuming behind them as Deku continued to tease his friend. “Oh my gosh, is that a bruise on your arm?? Don’t say you’re going soft on me now, Sho. Does this mean I should expect to overtake the number one spot soon?”

Shoto scoffed and nudged him with his shoulder. “Try it and I’ll kick your ass like I did at the sports festival.”

Deku threw his head back and laughed and Bakugo felt like he was going to combust. He thought the hero only laughed like that around him -- now he may as well have been completely fucking invisible. Had he been reading everything wrong this whole time? Maybe Deku never really cared about him at all. Maybe this whole time Deku’s interests lay with anxious pretty boys who fucking “exfoliated”, not shitty roughhousing sixteen-year-olds. What the hell was Bakugo even thinking getting his hopes up?

As they waited for the elevator, Bakugo tried not to shoot the two-toned hero dirty looks. It’s not like it was Shoto’s fault how he and Deku felt about each other, but Bakugo still couldn’t help but resent him. The whole “I’m shy and hard to get” act just grated on his nerves. It’s like the hero refused to openly show Deku he liked his attention and instead just kept dodging his compliments while acting like some stupid blushing little girl. 

It was obvious from his relaxed demeanour and fond smiles that Shoto felt something special for Deku, so why couldn’t he just stop with the games and own up to it? Bakugo would’ve given anything for even half that attention, because he wasn’t a complete fucking ingrate.

They stepped into the elevator and Bakugo kept his eyes stubbornly fixed on the floor numbers above him. Meanwhile, Deku was asking Shoto about his skincare regimen and if he could teach him all his “secrets to handsomeness”. Bakugo wanted to fucking puke.

“Stop it, Midoriya, you’re embarrassing me,” Shoto mumbled. “Honestly, you always do this.”

Deku giggled and elbowed him. “Sorry, but you know what it takes to get me to stop.”

The boy’s red eyes widened. What the hell did that even mean? Was Deku making a pass at Shoto?? In front of him???

“Yeah, I know...” Shoto replied softly. “I just need some time.”

Holy fuck.

Bakugo was about two seconds away from blowing himself up. He couldn’t take another moment of this shit. He was ready to storm the hell out as soon as the elevator doors opened.

“Um, It looks like we have just under an hour left of the day so if you aren’t too tired, Bakugo, you can go home as soon as you are finished with the day’s report,” Shoto said.

“Fine,” Bakugo replied flatly, bitter about having to spend the rest of his day around the one person who not only stole his victory but also stole Deku’s attention. The only thing he was “tired” of was Shoto’s fucking shit.

When the doors finally opened, Bakugo made to step out but was cut off by Shoto himself, because the hero was obviously a stupid self-centred fuckface who did whatever the hell he wanted. He swallowed down a pissed off growl and trailed behind as the heroes finished up their chat.

“I should probably thank you for coming down to the match. Bakugo and I might’ve tried to kill each other if you hadn’t been there,” Shoto shot the boy a wry smile over his shoulder and Bakugo gave an inward scoff. The hero might have been joking but he didn’t realize just how much Bakugo would’ve loved to incinerate him right then.

Deku grinned and squeezed his friend’s shoulder. “I’m glad I did, it was one hell of a fight. He and I had a really good talk afterwards, too.”

Bakugo deliberately kept his eyes averted as Deku turned to look his way. He wasn’t getting sucked in this time. Deku could take his bright smiles and glittering green eyes and fuck right off. 

“Anyway, I got some incident reports I should probably finish up,” Deku sighed as they passed a group of third-floor suits gathered by their offices. The hero crossed his eyes comically and mimed shooting himself in the head as he pushed his door open. “I’ll see you guys later.”

Shoto chuckled, “See you.”

Bakugo continued to glare at nothing as he waited for the hero to enter his own office. He just wanted to get his damn report over with and get the fuck out of there already, but after a few moments, he noticed Shoto was lingering outside his door with a wistful look on his face.

A wistful look pointed right in the direction where Deku had just been standing.

Something inside Bakugo snapped and he burst out, “Are you fucking shitting me?”

Startled, Shoto blinked back at him. “What’s the matter?”

The boy growled and pushed past him into the office, his body shaking with anger. He couldn’t believe this shit. Trailing after them like some invisible dog while they flirted was bad enough, but he absolutely refused to watch them pine for one another. Absolutely refused.

Shoto followed him inside with a cautious look. “Is there an issue, Bakugo?”

Bakugo rounded on him. “Why don’t you tell me, Icyhot? Is there a fucking issue? ‘Cause looks to me like something’s on your mind.”

The boy’s combative attitude made Shoto’s expression harden. “I caution you against taking that tone with me, Bakugo. I’ve let your unprofessional language slide thus far but I am still your boss.”

Bakugo barked out an incredulous laugh. “You wanna talk unprofessional? How about you tell me about the agency’s policy on workplace romances then? Something tells me you might know a thing or two about being attracted to coworkers.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Shoto’s composure dropped and he sucked in a sharp breath. 

Bakugo smirked and crossed his arms.

Gotcha.

The hero quickly turned and shut the door behind him, leaving them both in the quiet privacy of their office. His hand was still on the handle as he turned his head slightly. “...What are you talking about?”

“I’m talkin' about your shit poker face, Half-and-Half. I know all about your little crush.”

Shoto slowly turned and looked very much like a deer caught in the headlights, which pleased Bakugo immensely. For once, he was the one who had the upper hand.

He took a step forward, lips curling with disdain. “You really thought I wouldn’t notice? I’m not fucking stupid.”

Shoto swallowed, fists clenched at his sides. “Bakugo, I swear it’s not what you think-”

“It’s exactly what I think. You wouldn’t have that dumb guilty look on your face if it wasn’t.” 

Unable to come up with a response that wouldn’t immediately be shot down, Shoto reverted to chagrined silence. Bakugo shook his head with a disgusted huff as he recalled the sight of him and Deku all up in each other’s space the whole way up to their offices. 

“You know- I wouldn’t even give a shit how you two felt about each other if you weren’t so fucking obvious about it. It pisses me off. I didn’t come here to see that shit every goddamn day.”

Shoto looked down at his feet, sighing in what could only be total defeat. “You’re right... I’m sorry.” He closed his eyes and covered his face. “I didn’t mean for it to get to this point, believe me, it just- happened. I’ve tried my hardest to be discreet and haven’t uttered a word about it to anyone, but I- I just don’t know how to act anymore. I'm going out of my mind.”

An ounce of sympathy for the distressed hero in front of him lifted itself up above his anger and Bakugo scowled in irritation. Of course he knew how that felt, Deku was obviously irresistible, but in no lifetime or world would he ever be ready to bond over it with Shoto. Deku has clearly made his choice and Bakugo would just have to learn to live with that.

“Whatever,” he grunted flatly and turned away. “Do what you gotta do, just go make out someplace I don’t have to fucking see.”

“You won’t have to worry about that,” Shoto murmured behind him. “She doesn’t know.”

Bakugo froze and everything came to a grinding, screeching halt. 

“...What?”

Shoto sighed. “She doesn’t know. I don’t know how to tell her or if I even should.”

Bakugo slowly turned back to him. “...Who the fuck are you talking about?”

The hero finally noticed the bewildered look on his face and eyed him warily, realizing they might not have been on the same page at all. “Who- who are you talking about?”

“Fuckin’ Deku, who else?”

Shoto stared at him for a few seconds, as though his mind needed to process what he heard. As soon as it hit him, the hero’s face twisted incredulously. “Midoriya?? You- You thought I- But how- I could never, he's my-” He stopped and breathed out in confusion. “...What on earth made you think such a thing, Bakugo?”

The boy threw his hands up. “Oh, well where do I fucking begin?” He turned and picked up Shoto’s picture frame and raised it accusingly. “Maybe it’s the cutesy ass photos you have of each other all over the place? Or how he always talks about you like you hung the fucking moon? Just now he was practically all over you and kissing your ass the whole way up here! You expect me to believe all that shit means nothing?”

“It doesn’t, I swear. Ugh,” Shoto rubbed his reddening face, flustered. “This is so embarrassing.”

“Yeah, maybe you just ‘need some time’ huh?” Bakugo sneered. “Time to what, be ready to bone?”

“No! God-”

“You know- forget it, I’ll ask Deku instead since you won’t give me a straight fucking answer.”

Bakugo reached for the door and was suddenly seized by a searing grip on his wrist. His aching muscles screamed in protest as Shoto loomed over him with a dark, furious look. “You will not drag him into this.”

The boy stubbornly glowered up at him and tried not to wince in pain. Normally nothing would have stopped him from escalating things but his arms wouldn’t be able to handle another fight and Shoto was definitely not messing around right now. He needed to remember that this was his boss and he had to be careful about challenging him.

“Heroes are supposed to be honest...” Bakugo bit out. “So tell the fucking truth.”

Their eyes were locked in a glaring match for a few more moments when eventually Shoto’s angry expression fell and his shoulders sank. His fingers loosened around Bakugo’s wrist and the boy gingerly pulled his arm back. Looking incredibly exhausted all of a sudden, Shoto walked away from him and leaned over his windowsill.

Bakugo rubbed his wrists and watched the hero with an annoyed scowl as the seconds ticked by between them. With his eyes fixed outside, Shoto eventually spoke, “I will only tell you this because I don’t want you to spend the duration of your work-study here with the wrong idea about us. Once I do, you will not speak about it again.” The hero waited for Bakugo to mutter ‘fine’ and then sighed quietly. 

“...I love Midoriya like a brother. He knows who I am and how I work without needing me to tell him. When I struggle he tries to help me, because that’s just what he does -- he helps people. The photos, the compliments, they’re all…” he hesitated, shoulders hunching a little. “They’re just his attempts to make me feel better. That’s it.”

The boy shifted, eyes narrowing. “What the fuck do you need to feel better about?”

“...Myself.” 

Shoto’s quiet admission shut Bakugo right up. 

In the following silence, Shoto turned his head slightly towards the boy behind him. The look on his face was painfully ashamed. “...You’ve already seen what I do to avoid the press. Midoriya’s seen it too. He knows I don’t like to be on camera and it’s because- because I…” Shoto lowered his head, hair shrouding his face as he clenched his fists against the sill. “Because I’m branded by this disgusting mark on my face.”

Just like that, Bakugo realized he’d made a miscalculation about the same issue all over again. He closed his eyes and tightened his crossed arms, kicking himself for not knowing better.

“I didn’t worry about it much when this whole hero thing was still new but… but I just kept climbing the ranks and getting more and more attention. When I hit the top, it was supposed to be this big accomplishment but all I could think about was how people everywhere would now see me with- with this monstrous fucking scar. All I want is to forget it’s there but I’m reminded of it every second of every day."

Shoto took a deep shaky breath and turned around, his face pinched. “That photo in your hand and the rest you’ve seen were put there by Midoriya. He hopes that if he has us taking enough pictures together, that I’d eventually get comfortable with cameras pointing at me and having my face plastered everywhere. So, I humour the photos and compliments because I don’t want to let him down... I say ‘I need time’ for it all to work…”

His lips turned up into a lifeless smile. “...But I’ll never stop hating the sight of it. Everything he does to help… it’s all pointless. There's the truth.”

Bakugo glanced down at the photo of the heroes posing together, Deku grinning ear to ear and Shoto’e smile looking so much like the one he wore now, and felt the reality of his mistake fully hit him. If he could rank first in anything it’d be #1 Douchebag for constantly jumping to conclusions about the duo-toned hero. Deku was the one to tell him about Shoto’s struggles, so of course he would be trying to help his best friend in any way he could. 

Bakugo had once again read everything completely wrong -- and all because of some dumb scar.

It was all so stupid. Bakugo didn’t know what caused it but he never believed the red mark was anything to make a big deal out of or that it detracted from Shoto’s image in the slightest. People everywhere wore Shoto costumes and proudly sported his distinctive scar because they thought he was a hero worth celebrating -- but none of that mattered in the end because Shoto didn’t see it that way. 

Bakugo might have thought a small scar in the throes of success was a dumb thing to get bent out of shape over, but it was that exact lack of understanding that kept childishly misjudging Shoto as his enemy. His feelings of entitlement for Deku’s attention ended up skewing the hero’s acts of kindness into acts of a jealous fantasy -- so Bakugo selfishly backed his best friend into a corner and pressured his deepest insecurities out of him with an accusing finger.

Deku would have been appalled with him. Bakugo was appalled with himself. He had a secret of his own kept tightly under wraps and would have hated having it so ignorantly forced out of him. He was an asshole.

With a guilty scowl, Bakugo stepped forward and kept his eyes averted as he offered back the picture frame.

“...For your sake, I hope it does work,” he said gruffly. “Those peace signs Deku keeps throwin’ up are fuckin’ atrocious.”

Shoto blinked and let out a surprised little chuckle. He took the photo and looked down at it with a pensive smile. “He’s the most hopeful person I know... He’d take a bullet for me and I’d do the same for him in a heartbeat if it meant the world could keep its symbol of peace even a second longer. I’ll always be grateful to have him as my friend.” He glanced up and gave Bakugo a withering look. “...and nothing more.”

The boy had the decency to look sheepish as he shoved his fists into his pockets and grumbled, “Yeah, alright, I get it...”

“I trust you’re now satisfied and will put your ridiculous notions about my affections to rest.” 

Shoto walked past him with an air of stern finality and Bakugo fell into silence, reconsidering the situation. So, Shoto claimed not to have any feelings for Deku beyond friendship but it still didn’t explain the look Bakugo had seen on his face just minutes ago outside his office. It had been pointed right in the direction where Deku had stood with all the suits gathered in the background so who else-

Wait.

Suits…

“She doesn’t know.”

Awkward silences…

Clumsy crushes...

Walking past a distinctive pair of red-bottom heels in the crowd-

“No fucking way...” Bakugo said suddenly as he realized who Shoto had actually been looking at. “You’re into that perky Ponytail chick! Holy shit, that’s who you were talking about??”

The hero froze instantly in the middle of putting his frame back, turning almost as red as his scar as he stammered out, “I- I wasn’t- That’s not- She’s just-” He gave up and huffed in frustration. “It’s none of your business, alright? You are extremely out of line.”

Shoto tensely rounded his desk and Bakugo laughed, marvelling at his dumb luck. His miscalculation accidentally dredged up a secret crush that had actually been hidden damn well all along. “Dude, holy shit, it makes so much sense! I totally see it now, you always clam up like an idiot around her!”

The hero gripped the back of his chair and ran a self-conscious hand through the white half of his damp hair. “Seriously, Bakugo, just- drop it. It doesn’t matter anyway, she’d never...” 

Bakugo raised his brows as the hero trailed off. “Never what? Be into you? Are you shitting me? She totally has the hots for you, dude.”

Shoto shot him a mirthless look. “Forgive me if I can’t exactly trust your perception after having just accused me of crushing on Midoriya, of all people.”

Yeah okay, he deserved that. Time to switch gears.

“Alright fine, don’t believe me. Not my ass on the line.” Bakugo sauntered back to his own desk and continued airily, “Just saying, she makes any excuse to come down here and acts just as idiotic around you so, figured you had a shot.” He fell into his chair with a sigh and added for extra effect, “But you know, your loss.”

Bakugo made a show of getting back to his research as Shoto frowned and fiddled with his belt. 

“...You think I have a shot?” the hero asked tentatively after a few moments.

Bakugo gave a casual shrug and Shoto bit his lip. The boy tried to keep the smug look off his face as the hero seemed to consider it. He then gave a small shake of his head and fixed Bakugo with a serious look. “Everything we discussed stays in this room, is that understood?”

“Yeah, whatever.”

Shoto nodded and sat down at his desk. As they finished up their work for the day, Bakugo couldn’t help but be grateful that Shoto was the forgiving kind of boss who wouldn’t fire him for his unacceptable display of misconduct just now. Not many heroes would be as patient with such disrespectful outbursts while juggling their own problems, so he owed Shoto some damn good behaviour from now on.

In fact, he owed him more than that for taking himself off the board completely with his crush on Ponytail -- because that meant Deku was now all his.

 

ooo

 

“It’s your power! Yours and no one else!”

Bakugo sat raptly at his desk as he watched his favourite part of Shoto and Deku’s old Sports Festival match in the darkness of his bedroom. 

After fighting Shoto and hearing Deku talk about the injuries he’d sustained from their own match, a part of him was drawn to seeing it again that evening. He’s obviously watched it a hundred times before, and so have millions of other people judging by the view count, but that was only when he’d been a mere fan. Now he was an intern who knew the heroes and the extent of their friendship personally.

From their guarded expressions at the start of the match, however, their friendship had yet to form. As they both walked onto the platform, appearing much younger and less filled out than they did today, Shoto regarded Deku with an unnervingly cold look on his face. Bakugo knew that look all too well -- he often wore the same contemptful expression when thinking someone was no more than a bug that needed to be crushed. He just never expected to see such an expression on Shoto. 

No one watching could have guessed the two kids tensely facing each other in this match would grow up to be the best friends he’d seen playfully joking together that afternoon.

As the announcer’s voice rang out to signal the start of the match, Bakugo closely watched a young Deku release a gargantuan blast of air with a mere flick of his finger, only to be blocked by a huge ice wall. Both heroes were way less refined in their fighting skills, and Deku especially seemed to be struggling with his power.

Bakugo leaned forward and narrowed his eyes as he watched the young green-haired hero grip his injured hand in pain, much like Bakugo had during his own match. He absently rubbed at his arms, which were now recovering in his old black compression sleeves, and a thought came to him -- he won his own year’s Sports Festival tournament, but how would he have fared against Shoto and Deku if they’d been in the same class? 

Deku’s blows were imprecise and haphazard, a far cry from his combat skills now, while Shoto’s movements were much slower than they’d been during his fight with Bakugo -- neither had mastered the use of their quirks yet, but around their age, Bakugo still managed to do a damn good job fighting Shoto as an experienced pro-hero. He was confident he’d have beaten him as a teenager, but Deku was a complete wild card.

Every flick of Deku’s finger sent an extraordinary razor-sharp blow shattering through Shoto’s ice, but the hero wasn’t kidding when he said he’d broken every single finger in order to pull it off -- and Bakugo could only ask himself why. Having watched plenty of Deku’s fights as an emerging hero, Bakugo always wondered how years of growing up with a quirk could result in such a complete lack of control. It was unusual to be so unpracticed that late in the game but he always chalked it up to the sheer awesome power of Deku’s quirk.

Even so, Deku never let it slow him down. Despite broken fingers and an injured arm, the young hero still landed several blows on Shoto all while pushing and demanding for more. Shoto had been holding back the whole match but Deku wasn’t having it. Bakugo wouldn’t have either, and that’s why this part was his favourite. The young hero’s passion made itself clear in this moment as he yelled loud enough for the cameras to pick up on his desperate cry.

“It’s your power! Yours and no one else!”

It was almost like Deku, at that moment, ignited something that lay dormant in Shoto for years. His mismatched eyes had slowly come to life and his left side erupted with blazing hot flames-

His door slammed open and Bakugo immediately hit the spacebar and minimized the screen, gritting his teeth in irritation as his mother sauntered in with a bowl of chips like she fucking owned the place. 

“Hey twerp, I brought you some snacks,” she said through a mouthful of chips.

The boy scowled. “I didn’t ask for shit.”

Mitsuki gave a careless roll of her eyes and put the bowl on his desk, “I don’t give a rat’s ass, you got it so say thank you and shut up. Honestly, Katsuki, you have absolutely no manners.” She looked around the darkness of his room with a disapproving frown. “Sitting like this is shit for your eyes, I’m turning the light on.”

Bakugo nearly burst a blood vessel at her tone-deaf criticism as she flipped the switch and filled his room with the glaring light from overhead. He was seconds away from screaming for the umpteenth fucking time about her inability to knock or leave his room the way he goddamn liked it when she forced his head down and nosily peeked at his screen. 

“Aww, look at that, is my little baby studying?” she crooned sweetly, ignoring his rising growls. It seemed that when he’d minimized his screen, it revealed some old villain reports he’d been drafting for Shoto in the background.

Bakugo yanked himself out from underneath her and snapped, “Fuck off you old hag! I’m not your little anything!”

Mitsuki laughed as the boy angrily fixed his hair. “You can act as tough and as grown-up as you want but you’ll always be my little shit.”

She forced a kiss on his cheek and he swiped it off with a furious snarl. It’s like she had to make a point out of harassing and mocking him every day when he just wanted to be left the hell alone. He already missed the privacy of his dorm back at UA and having an actual fucking lock on his door.

Having enough of bugging him for the night, Mitsuki shot him a cheeky smirk and started to turn away but paused at the sight of glinting glasses on his desk. Bakugo ground his teeth, knowing full well what was coming as she picked them up and wiped a light coating of dust off the lenses.

“Why haven’t I been seeing you wear these?”

“‘Cause they look stupid and I don’t want to,” he bit out, ignoring her as she put her fists on her hips and got into her dumb yelling pose.

“It wasn’t a fucking suggestion you little shit, the doctor said you have to wear them or you’ll-”

“I don’t give a shit what the dumbass doctor said, I’m not fucking wearing them so piss off!”

Mitsuki’s face twisted to match his own raging expression and she knocked him hard on the head while snapping back, “Well don’t come crying to me when that damn stubbornness comes back to bite you in the ass, you shitty little ingrate!"

She marched off with a huff and Bakugo shouted after her, “Stay out of my fucking room!” When the door slammed shut, he settled back in his seat and rubbed the spot on his head where she’d punched him, grumbling, “Annoying bitch.”

His eyes fell on the glasses where his mom angrily tossed them on his desk and he clenched his fists. There it was. His dirty little secret. The source of his aversion to being “the math guy”. The reason why he couldn’t take his final shot at Shoto and blew his sparring match. The weakness he could never reveal to the world for as long as he lived.

Bakugo picked them up, tossed them into his drawer, and slammed it closed with a stubborn scowl. He didn’t want to think about them let alone fucking see them. He just wanted to finish watching this goddamn match. 

He turned the lights back off with a mental “fuck you” sent his mother’s way and pulled up the video again. He settled back into his seat and munched on the chips as he watched the crowd gasp collectively at the sight of Shoto’s burst of flames. He remembered how excited he’d gotten the first time he’d seen it and even more so when he saw how Deku’s determined expression didn’t waver one bit. Both his hands were a mangled mess and his left arm fell uselessly at his side, and yet he didn’t back down. Instead, Deku grinned -- and Shoto grinned back.

Bakugo realized this must’ve been the moment that built the first block of their friendship. Deku had pushed Shoto to fight with his best even if it put his own victory in jeopardy, because a hard-earned win was the only win that mattered. In drawing out the full potential of Shoto’s power, he’d set the young hero free. 

He watched Deku shoot forward as the flaming young hero surrounded the arena with his large icy boulders. The match was about to end. Both boys stretched their arms out for the final blow and several large slabs of rock suddenly rose between them to intercept the devastating blast of power that followed.

This was the part Bakugo hated. The part where the smoke cleared and Deku collapsed in tatters out of bounds. Shoto stood in the arena looking dazed as the crowd cheered and the announcer declared him first place in that year’s Sports Festival. 

Bakugo shook his head at the pronouncement and closed the video. Another damn lucky win for Shoto. Deku totally would’ve owned that match if his bones hadn’t been broken and he had proper reign of his power -- but maybe getting through to Shoto had been more important to him at the time.

Bakugo slumped back into his chair and huffed lightly, knowing that thought would’ve made him immeasurably bitter a day ago. Now that he had some perspective, he realized Deku’s friendship had been absolutely vital to Shoto’s growth as a hero. All Deku wanted was to help people, and in setting himself up for failure, he’d done exactly that for his friend.

Deku lost and somehow still turned that loss into something meaningful. As someone who’d always placed value in victory exclusively, that astonished Bakugo. Maybe that’s what made Deku so special -- no matter what he did, he always made it count. There was so much Bakugo had yet to learn, and he wanted to learn it all from Deku.

He sighed and switched his computer off, grabbed his bowl of chilli chips, and hopped onto his bed. Normally he liked to head to sleep by eight but his exhaustion from his own match with Shoto had him accidentally knocked out in bed as soon as he got home, which meant now his stupid ass wouldn’t be getting any sleep for a few more hours. He wasn’t happy with having a wrench thrown into his strict sleeping schedule, especially on a weekday, but figured he’d throw on some shitty office shitcom and hope it put him to sleep eventually.

Bakugo propped his pillow up and grabbed the remote before burying himself under his thick grey blanket. The TV lit up his dark bedroom as he settled in with the chip bowl on his chest and started where he’d left off the previous night. He felt his arms pang dully beneath his compression sleeves and rubbed them absently, remembering the feeling of Deku’s hands on him as he spoke his encouraging words. With a sigh, he glanced up at the hero’s poster beside his bed and smiled.

I’ll impress you one day, Deku. I’ll make you goddamn proud.

Chapter Text

Bakugo always imagined he’d die in a fight. 

He’d battle a menacing high-level villain, take every one of his powerful shots, and finish off his enemy with a climactic blow before the exertion finally caught up to him. With his victory in tow, Bakugo would fall to the ground and take his final breath before millions.

He wouldn’t have it any other way. It would be a death worthy of a hero -- a warrior’s death.

But strangely, one thing had always been missing from his imagined final moments... and Bakugo thought it fitting that this missing part made itself present during his actual death. He was tired and spent, his lungs burned worse than his singed skin, but having that piece with him somehow made it all worthwhile.

Deku was there. Deku was safe.

That was all that mattered.

 

ooo

 

Two Hours Earlier

 

“Hey Sho, would you mind if I borrowed Bakugo for my morning rounds?”

Bakugo looked up from his work, eyes widening at the freckled hero’s unexpected request on appearance. A patrol with Deku? Getting to be his partner and seeing him work up close and personal?? Hell fucking yeah he was in.

Seeing the excitement on the boy’s face, Deku winked at him playfully from where he leaned against the office doorway. The hero was already in his token-green uniform, which looked damn fine on him as it stretched deliciously across the shape of his body and complemented the rich hue of his eyes and hair. Suffice it to say, Bakugo’s research was already long forgotten.

Shoto smiled behind his desk and leaned back in his chair. “It looks like he’s more than happy to join you, so I don’t see why not. Just make sure he doesn’t run into any trouble.”

Bakugo shot him a cocky smirk as he stood and gathered his stuff. “It’s the trouble that won’t wanna run into me, Icyhot.”

Both heroes chuckled and Deku stepped back with his thumb pointed behind him. “Meet me at the front when you’re dressed?”

Bakugo nodded. “I’ll be there.”

The hero left with a parting smile and Bakugo’s anticipation grew. Most of the time he’d spent with Deku so far had been in the caf, so he was stoked to see what he’d be like in a more active environment. There was absolutely nothing like witnessing Deku in hero mode.

As he hurriedly rounded his desk, he almost completely missed Shoto’s softly spoken words. “Have a good patrol, Bakugo. You’ll enjoy working with Midoriya.”

Bakugo slowed and the hero smiled at him. Something about Shoto’s words seemed to indicate an awareness that he wasn’t much fun to be around. It wasn’t spoken in a passive-aggressive or self-pitying kind of way, but only rung like detached acceptance. The hero looked genuinely glad for him.

Bakugo shifted on his feet and nodded. “...Thanks.”

Shoto nodded back and picked up his pen. “I’ll see you after lunch.”

Leaving the hero to get back to work, Bakugo went off to change. There was a lot of fumbling and hissed swearing as he rushed to put his gear on, not wanting to waste a precious second of time with Deku. It was one thing to read about the hero’s activities and the places he frequented on the job, but it was a whole other thing to see it all with his own eyes. This could finally be his chance to learn what it takes to be a hero straight from the symbol of peace himself.

He hopped on one foot towards the front doors as he hastily finished pulling up his boot and turned the corner to find Deku waiting for him. The hero’s face brightened upon his arrival and he straightened. “There you are. All set?”

“Yup,” Bakugo said, trying not to sound too breathless. 

Deku nodded happily and started heading out the doors, but it was also in this moment that Bakugo finally noticed the sight of his gauntlets worn on opposite arms and mentally slapped himself. Usually he could throw on his hero uniform with his eyes closed and still come out looking perfect, but the thought of patrolling with Deku must’ve really had him distracted.

Shit, shit, shit.

While the hero’s back was turned, he frantically switched them back and had just finished fastening the last strap when the hero turned to him with a smile. Bakugo straightened innocently behind him, hoping Deku hadn’t noticed anything amiss.

“How are your arms doing?” the hero asked as they stepped out onto the street.

“Oh, um, they’re fine,” Bakugo said with an awkward shrug. It’s been a few days since his fight with Shoto and the dull ache in his arms seemed to have finally ebbed. The traces of Deku’s touch, however, lingered stubbornly on his skin.

“That’s good! You know, I was actually thinking we could-”

“It’s Deku! Deku, over here!”

“Could we have a few words, please?”

“What can you tell us about-”

Bakugo groaned inwardly as a flock of reporters surrounded them, microphones pointed out like spears holding them hostage. There weren’t as many as there were in the afternoons when Shoto patrolled, but there were still enough to make him uneasy. Deku, however, didn’t seem put-off in the slightest. He smiled pleasantly and welcomed their questions, answering them all with practiced ease and even earning a few titters from the reporters with his lighthearted answers. 

Predictably, a few curious questions about Shoto were posed but Deku skirted around them so smoothly that Bakugo himself nearly missed it. The boy began to feel awkward just standing there when Deku suddenly turned to introduce him and the cameras shifted his way. Not entirely sure what to do, he went with old faithful and fell back on his bravado, puffing out his chest and raising his chin confidently as he answered their questions. 

Much to his surprise, the reporters seemed to take a liking to him and even appeared amused by his swaggering retorts. With Deku’s easygoing laughter at his side, it all started to feel less like an invasive interview and more like a pleasant conversation among friends. The whole experience felt extremely bizarre and nothing like what he’d witnessed on patrols with Shoto.

The weirdness didn’t stop there, either. After Deku bid goodbye to the reporters and they began their rounds of the downtown block, people everywhere waved at him cheerfully and called out good morning. There were greetings from teens on skateboards, gardeners watering their plants, sales clerks handing out samples from local cafes, and even residents calling out to him from balconies and windows high above. It was like Deku had befriended damn near every person on the street.

Bakugo had no idea how to act, let alone process it all. He knew patrolling with Deku would be a little different but he didn’t expect it to feel completely new. When he was with Shoto, they always did their best to remain inconspicuous to avoid public attention, but it seemed that very thing was the source of Deku’s flushed exhilaration. The more people waved or cars honked in greeting, the more Deku blossomed with energy and life. 

There was a moment where the hero even stopped to fawn over a passing corgi pup as it yipped at him with the kind of enthusiasm dogs only had for their special friends. Deku crouched to pet her, laughing as she licked his cheek happily, and doted over how adorable she was before giving her and her equally love-struck owner a warm goodbye -- and no, that totally wasn’t the first time Bakugo found himself jealous of a dog, that’s- that’s fucking stupid.

From the looks of it, Deku genuinely loved his job -- and people loved him back for it tenfold. It was as clear as the summery blue sky above them that he was born to be the perfect hero and watching him live so joyfully in his element made Bakugo’s heart grow several sizes with adoration. This was what had drawn him to Deku so long ago, that infectious love for life and the ability to be someone people could look up to and draw hope from. Bakugo just wished he could be as inspiring one day.

At one point, they were both stopped at a small cafe by a stout old woman with stern brown eyes and silver hair hidden beneath a white headscarf. She’d stubbornly insisted on giving Deku “his daily breakfast muffin” but, not wishing her to go through the trouble, Deku tried to assure her it wasn't necessary. This turned out to be the wrong move, as she responded by whacking him over the head with her cane while ranting -- in very colourful language -- about not having one second of his bullshit. 

It goes without saying that Bakugo liked her instantly.

Deku rubbed his head with a pout as she grumpily stalked inside to fetch his food and Bakugo snickered. “You sure know how to keep ‘em wrapped around your finger, don’t you?”

“Wrapped around my- Did you not just see what she did?? She nearly split my head open!”

“Eh, tough love’s still love,” Bakugo shrugged, knowing this better than anyone.

Deku grumbled under his breath but wisely put on a pleasant face when the elderly woman returned with two small muffin bags. Bakugo was shocked when she thrust one of them in his arms too, not expecting her to keep him in mind. 

“That’s blueberry muffins for the both of yas, on the house as always,” she rasped with a thick accent.

“I’d be happy to pay, it’s really not.. not a...” Deku trailed off, visibly shrinking as she fixed him with a stormy glare, and squeaked, “N-Nevermind, thank you, we really appreciate it!”

Bakugo tried not to laugh at the sight of Deku cowering before a cross old woman less than half his size and nodded his thanks. She gave the ground a satisfied tap of her cane and nodded at them. “Best keep the heroes of this country fed since yer damn generation can’na be fashed to do it yerselves. Now on with yas, the rest of us got work to do.”

She shooed them away and Deku timidly thanked her again before wading back into the crowded street. Bakugo curiously pulled his muffin out of his bag and took a bite, eyes going wide at the richness of its taste. It’s like a fucking blueberry explosion. 

Deku chuckled next to him. “That’s a great way to describe it.” Realizing he’d spoken aloud, Bakugo turned to see the hero contently munching his own muffin. “Y’know, I’ve been having these muffins for a few months now and just can’t get them anywhere else anymore. I swear, it’s like all other muffins are officially ruined for me.”

Bakugo’s lips quirked in amusement and spoke through a mouthful of muffin. “I’m right behind ya, this is fuckin’ awesome.”

As they turned the corner, Bakugo curiously twisted the package to see the cafe’s logo on the front. Madamu Maisie. He made quick note of the name, knowing damn well he’d be going back again.

“So, aside from the old broad, do the people on that street always kiss your ass like you’re best buds?” 

Deku blushed with an embarrassed smile. “It’s nothing, really… The patrols just turned into a daily routine and then I gradually started seeing familiar faces, helped a few people out, and it all kind of worked out this way. I guess it was different from what you’re used to with Shoto, though.”

Bakugo snorted and swallowed another bite of muffin, “Oh yeah. None of those people say shit to Half-and-Half, they just stare like a buncha fuckin’ lemurs.”

The hero nodded with a close-lipped smile. “Yeah, I guess they get the sense that anything more wouldn’t be welcome… but hopefully he gets the chance to befriend some of them one day, they’re all really nice.”

“Yeah, and I’m sure if anyone could get on that Madamu lady’s good side, it’d be him,” Bakugo rolled his eyes with a huff. “All he’d have to do is just flash her some dumb smile and she’d instantly turn into one of his thousand other fangirls. She’d probably even trip over herself trying to give him every last one of her…” Bakugo trailed off when he noticed Deku wasn’t beside him, “...muffins.”

He stopped with a frown and turned to find Deku a few feet behind him with his hands and face plastered like a fucking starfish to a shop’s glass display. As he approached cautiously, he heard the hero’s manic mumbling under his breath.

“...can’t believe it’s all here… didn’t think I’d ever set eyes on the whole set... full collection must value at thousands of dollars, I wonder if... actually all back, this is the best day of... should maybe pinch myself to make sure it’s rea- ow!" 

Deku jumped back to face the boy beside him and rubbed his arm with a look of disbelief. “Bakugo! What was that for??”

The boy blinked his scarlet eyes innocently. “You said you should pinch yourself, just thought I’d help out.”

Deku shook his head with a dry huff. “Very funny.” 

Bakugo smirked and stepped closer to the glass. “What’s the big deal anyway?” 

“See for yourself,” the hero answered giddily.

They appeared to be standing in front of a hero merch store where an ostentatious hard-to-miss display of classical-looking figurines could be seen by anyone walking past. It was obviously designed to draw attention with its big gaudy arrows and yellow stars, but Bakugo realized no amounts of tackiness could possibly detract from the appeal of these particular dolls. The legacy left by the greatest hero to have ever lived was just that powerful.

Deku gave a dreamy sigh beside him. “Can you believe it? The vintage limited-edition DoublePlus-Ultra All Might collectibles are all right there in front of us… It’s like a dream come true.”

Bakugo’s lips quirked at the starry-eyed look on the hero’s face. So often such expressions were only worn by common citizens, so to also see it on Deku was a damn refreshing thing. It was hard for anyone not to be wonderstruck at the mention of All Might, as the hero’s career truly was the stuff of legends. His record still remained unmatched after nearly a decade since holding the number one spot, even with Deku and Shoto dominating all the rates.

Like many of the kids his age, Bakugo regarded All Might the way someone would an iconic old band they grew up with just because it was something their parents listened to. He didn’t mind Guns N’ Roses, hell he even liked them, but part of him also couldn’t help but cringe at the memory of his mom and dad headbanging to their music in the living room. 

All Might was similar in that way -- he was an awesome hero, a fucking phenomenal one, but he just went out of date. The only people who still raved about him were older folks like his parents, expert hero analysts, and, if the intensity of his dork-out didn’t wasn’t already clear, Deku.

“I’d give anything just to have just one of them,” the freckled hero murmured softly next to him.

“...So get one,” Bakugo said like it was obvious. From looking at the price tags, the figurines cost about 20,000 yen each which should be pocket change for someone like Deku. 

A hopeful look crossed the hero’s face as he genuinely seemed to consider Bakugo’s suggestion, but something must’ve occurred to him to make his green eyes dim once again. “I can’t.”

“Why the hell not?”

Deku stepped back and sighed. “...I have other expenses. I can’t spend money on stuff like this.” Bakugo frowned deeply and was ready to object, but something about Deku’s shuttered expression told him it was better left alone, even as he played it off with a small smile. “It doesn’t really matter anyway, I just miss him is all... Come on.”

As Deku started walking away, Bakugo gave the display one last look before turning to follow him in pensive silence. Even though All Might was no longer top-of-mind for a lot of people, it was undeniable that many had been shaken by the circumstances of his passing. Bakugo had only been seven years old and just starting to cultivate his love for Deku when All Might went up against All for One and saved the city -- only for his body to fail him a few months later as a result of an old but major respiratory injury. 

Bakugo might have been young at the time, but he wasn’t young enough to miss the sheer devastation that was felt after having the symbol of peace perish so suddenly. All Might’s death had rocked the world like none before it, and no amounts of statues erected in his honour could ever make up for his gaping absence. People thought plaques and memorials could hide how fickle their society was, but it would never change the reality that the world constantly sought new champions to fixate on and often left many of their fallen heroes forgotten.

Despite this, no matter how much time passes, some people would never forget.

In stark contrast to his bright mood from earlier, Deku now only appeared glum as he picked absently at his muffin. It looked all sorts of wrong and Bakugo just couldn’t fucking bear to see him like that, even if he knew just why it hurt Deku so much.

“He was your mentor, wasn’t he?”

Deku glanced at him with a sad smile and nodded. “Yeah. He’s the reason why I got into hero work in the first place…” His eyes misted over and he cleared his throat quietly. “He was the most inspiring, self-sacrificing person I’ve ever known... Sometimes I still can’t believe he’s gone.”

As the hero sniffled and wiped his eyes, Bakugo couldn’t imagine how he must’ve felt. He’d seen the funeral coverage and how choked up with grief Deku had been as he delivered his heartfelt eulogy before millions of tearful faces. Bakugo wouldn’t know what to do with himself if something befell his favourite hero. Just the thought of losing him forever made him feel sick with distress.

“You know, the first thing you’ll learn in hero work is that you can’t save everyone,” Deku said, his voice a little rough as they continued walking down a quieter street. “It’s hard and awful, but part of you learns to get used to losing people on the job. I’ve lost a number of them myself, but I know now that none of it ever prepares you for losing your loved ones... It’s like taking a knife to the gut and walking around with it sitting there for the rest of your life, and somehow, on top of everything else, you just have to get used to that too.”

There was a dark storm swirling behind Deku’s eyes and Bakugo finally got a sense of the kind of burden the hero must’ve carried with him all these years. He’d seen many pictures of Deku with All Might, watched plenty of interviews where he’d sung his praises, so it was clear that Deku adored the great hero just as much as Bakugo adored him. To lose such an influential player in his early career and even wind up replacing that person in the eyes of the public must’ve been an extremely hard thing to do, especially while pretending everything was okay.

Bakugo’s half-eaten muffin sat forgotten in his right hand, and his left twitched where it swung so closely near Deku’s. The hero obviously had an intimate relationship with death and brushed it every day, so he wished he could do something, anything, to make him feel better. Even if just to reach out and hold his hand. To thread their fingers together and squeeze tightly so Deku knew he wasn’t alone in this... If only he could.

The boy bit his lip, knowing he was an absolute dumbfuck with words but they were the only thing at his disposal right now. “This, um, probably goes without saying but he taught you well.” 

Deku glanced up at him and Bakugo hurriedly clarified, “All Might, I mean. People must’ve been pissin’ themselves after he died ‘cause he was the one they trusted most to fight for peace, but they aren’t scared anymore, y’know? Now that you’re around, they know you’ll fight for the same shit so they’re just as safe as before. You saw for yourself back there how much they’re obsessed with you, I’ve even got the muffin to show for it right fuckin’ here.”

Deku chuckled wetly as his eyes regained their happy twinkle again. “...Thanks, firecracker. I guess if I can keep All Might’s memory alive this way, then he’ll never really be gone.”

“Exactly.” Bakugo felt his chest fill with pride knowing he’d helped Deku feel better. With the weight of the hero’s grateful gaze and the appearance of his new nickname, which Deku had taken to calling him since his match with Shoto, it was clear that Bakugo was making some real headway. He was damn determined to make that shit last.

“...Anyway,” Deku chuckled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry for making things grim, I um... hope it didn’t put you off.” 

“S’fine,” Bakugo gave a dismissive wave of his hand as he finished off the rest of his muffin then tossed the leftover packaging in a nearby trash can.

“Well, I’m glad I brought you with me today...” Deku admitted as they turned another corner. “If I’d seen that display by myself, I probably would’ve been in a dark place for the rest of the afternoon. Having you here really helped.”

Bakugo smirked and puffed his chest smugly. “Obviously. I’m a fuckin’ delight.”

Deku giggled. “Yeah, you are.”

Before they could say more, the pair noticed they were approaching a thickening crowd of spectators surrounding two crashed cars where two men appeared to be locked in a heated shouting match on the road. Deku frowned in concern.

“Oh no, I’m going to have to step into this. Here, finish this off while I take care of it.” 

Bakugo made a sound of protest as the hero handed him what was left of his muffin. “Hey no, fuck that, I want in on this, Deku!” 

Deku turned to grip his shoulders firmly and brought them both at eye-level. “I’m sorry firecracker, but you haven’t done your de-escalation training yet so you have to stay here. I promise you will one day, but just watch and don’t move for now. I’ll be right back, okay?”

Bakugo scowled as Deku left him to wade through the crowd towards the angry drivers. He couldn’t believe he was hanging behind with a snack like some useless fucking kid. He slunk back from the crowd and leaned against a building as he bitterly bit into Deku’s muffin. Not even the delicious explosion of blueberries could lighten his mood at the moment, although the knowledge that the hero’s mouth was on it just a minute ago certainly came close.

He was just finishing it up when he caught sight of a familiar black trench coat and hat ensemble in his peripheral vision. He straightened and slapped the crumbs off his hands as his eyes narrowed suspiciously. Where had he seen that outfit before?

The shrouded figure seemed to slink away from the crowd unnoticed, and it was when they looked backwards over their popped collar that Bakugo’s mind finally made the connection: it was that same sketchy ass creep he and Shoto had run into on their first patrol together. 

Bakugo had a bad feeling then and he had that same bad feeling now. He always followed his instincts, and his instincts were now screaming at him not to let this fucker slip away again. 

He swore anxiously. Deku had asked him not to move and wandering off was doing the exact opposite of that. He could get in trouble but he also couldn't just stand there.

Time was running out and he was about to lose track of the figure. He had to make a decision now.

The boy swore again and shot an urgent look in Deku’s direction, who was standing between the angry drivers and engaging with them calmly. He’d likely be stuck there for quite some time.

Ah fuck it, Bakugo thought, and walked away.

 

ooo

 

Was it normal for a person’s mind to repeat the same thoughts over and over again in their last moments?

A few moments were all Bakugo had left, and yet it felt like his mind was slugging through each one. His thoughts were a muddled mash of DekuhereDekusafeDekuhereDekusafe, and he could no longer tell if he wanted it all to speed up, slow down, or just stop altogether. None of it would make a difference anyway. The outcome was still the same.

Deku was screaming at him as the roof began to collapse over his head, but Bakugo heard none of it. His desperate shouts were only a faint buzz in the back of his mind. Seconds away from being crushed, the only thing he could be glad about was that his hero -- his magnificent, extraordinary, gorgeous hero -- was the last face he’d see.

It was better than any death he could have imagined. Bakugo had finally proven himself.

He closed his eyes and smiled.

 

ooo

 

1 Hour Earlier

 

Bakugo followed the mysterious figure for some time, each passing minute feeling like a lifetime. The further he strayed from Deku and the familiarity of their patrol route, the more his apprehension grew, but he couldn’t bring himself to regret his decision now. He knew this fucker was up to something, and if his hunch was right, he might be able to pull off his first takedown all by himself -- Deku definitely wouldn’t see him as a helpless little intern then.

He made sure to keep a good distance between them, since he wasn’t exactly lowkey in his hero uniform, but it was getting harder and harder to stay out of sight as the street-goers dwindled the further outskirts they went. Where the fuck were they going?

Forced to hide behind alleys instead, Bakugo poked his head out and kept his eyes trained on the dark-cladded figure. All he needed was to catch him in the act and he’d take him down in seconds. With his gauntlets, the villain wouldn’t stand a chance against the explosive power of his quirk. He just had to wait for something to happen.

It would be nice if that something happened in this fucking lifetime, though. Bakugo was starting to get impatient with the tediousness of walking and ducking out of sight. How much longer did this asshole need to walk for? He toyed with the idea of just confronting the fucker regardless of any proof when the person in question suddenly crossed the street. Bakugo quickly hid and watched as the figure headed in the direction of… a cathedral? 

This fucker was going to church??

Bakugo hissed angrily under his breath and pressed back against the wall. He couldn’t believe this. He’d really tailed some creepy asshole all this way just to discover he was hitting up the good ol’ supreme? What a waste of fucking time. Deku must’ve noticed he was gone by now and Bakugo didn’t even have a good excuse for wandering off anymore.

“Hey Deku, uh, sorry for disobeying your orders, I just really wanted to feel useful so I saw some random dude who creeped me out a while back and thought he was a villain for some reason, so I followed him and was ready to take him down but then it turned out he wasn’t a villain at all and was just some weird churchgoer so I guess I made you worry over nothing, but at least I’m here now so let’s kiss and make up?”

Bakugo shook his head and dragged a hand over his face, knowing exactly how stupid this whole thing would look. He might as well just cut his losses and turn back now in hopes that Deku wasn’t too upset, but part of him was still in disbelief that his instincts were wrong. No normal person walked around all hooded and concealed like that in the middle of a sunny afternoon, not unless they were hiding something.

He poked his head out again just as the figure entered through the front doors, and it was right then that he actually took notice of a few things he’d missed before -- the grass was in an awful state of neglect and several windows were cracked where they sat among crumbling mossy bricks. There was no way any self-respecting congregation would allow their church to reach this level of disrepair, so that could only mean one thing...

This cathedral was abandoned.

Bakugo grinned. He might’ve been onto something after all.

With his plan back in action, Bakugo hurried out of the alley and crossed the empty street towards the dark looming building, though his feet were compelled to slow the nearer he came. The structure was massive and built with a gothic-looking design large enough to block out the sun behind it, leaving the path before him completely shrouded in dark shadow. It was like the building itself was trying to intimidate him from coming any closer.

Bakugo wouldn’t be deterred, though. He clenched his fists in determination and pushed forward. Scarlet red eyes cautiously scanned the tall doors in front of him as he approached with his arm raised. As soon as he pressed his fingers against the rickety wood, his skin pebbled with a rush of goosebumps at how starkly cold it felt inside.

For a moment, Bakugo hesitated and turned his head towards the street, empty but covered in the safe blanket of sunlight. If he called this off now, he’d be chickening out -- and Katsuki Bakugo was no chicken. He’d see this shit through even if it meant putting himself at risk, because that’s what heroes did. Holding his breath, he turned his back on the outdoors and slipped into the darkness.

The door creaked shut behind him and he winced a little, eyes carefully surveying the space around him for the villain as he crept inside. The air felt thick and musty, dust floating like glitter in the muted beams of sunlight that slipped through stained glass windows on both sides of the church. Bakugo’s face twisted in disgust at the sight of it coating the ground like a carpet of grey snow, dense enough to even leave visible footprints behind.

Hold on a minute...  

Bakugo’s eyes zeroed in on a set of tracks ahead of his own and smirked. Bingo. Now all he had to do was trace them back to the fucker they belonged to and he’d have his bad guy.

It was eerily silent as he trailed the footprints in the shadows, so much so that he became hyper-aware of his breathing and the muffled sound of his boots on the dusty stone floor. He kept his eyes peeled for any sign of the figure he’d seen slip in, but so far everything seemed deathly still. It was almost like the old church itself was holding its breath.

While scanning his surroundings, he was able to see enough in the dim light to make out just how ornately enormous this cathedral was. If he tried, he could probably even picture how glamorous it might have looked once upon a time. There were several overturned benches at the nave of the church in front of him, tossed and heaped aside to leave an open space at its centre. 

His eyes narrowed suspiciously. That seemed awfully deliberate. Could this place possibly be used as some kind of rendezvous point?

Movement up by the back platform suddenly caught his attention and, without thinking, he sharply called out, “Hey!” The figure seemed to freeze in place as Bakugo marched forward. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing here?”

The figure straightened slowly and seemed to consider him for a moment, features still obscured from sight and blending into the darkness around him. 

“It’s not very polite to follow strangers, little imp…”

Bakugo’s hairs stood on end at the sound of the figure’s familiar hissing voice. He clenched his fists and raised his chin. “I’m not here to be polite, asshole. I’m here to take you down and turn you in.”

“Oh...?” The figure gave a dark chuckle and slowly descended the platform towards the main floor. “I suppose you fancy yourself a hero then…” Bakugo was on edge as the figure began to circle him like a phantom, unable to even hear his footsteps on the ground. “I thought you might have been at first but… You don’t look like a hero…” 

Bakugo growled lowly. “Keep talkin’ and I’ll blast you out of that shitty hat of yours, you creepy fuck.”

The figure chuckled. “What exactly would you turn me in for, little imp…?”

Bakugo grit his teeth, knowing full well he didn’t have a complete answer to that. “I know you’re a sketchy villain who’s up to some sketchy shit, that’s all I need to know.”

“Am I...? Haven’t you considered I might simply be a homeless man who seeks divine refuge...?”

Bakugo’s eyes narrowed. He knew he didn’t have anything concrete on the guy but he wasn’t fucking stupid. “Don’t play games with me you lying fuck, I could still turn your ass in for trespassing.”

“You would report a homeless man for seeking shelter with god…? That doesn’t sound very heroic at all...”

A small sliver of doubt crept unbidden into Bakugo’s mind. He was almost certain this creep was playing him for a fool, but that wasn’t enough to warrant an arrest. Bakugo needed absolute proof that he was a villain, but how? He had nothing and this fucker knew it. 

The figure slowly came to a stop in front of him. “Why don’t you just turn around and run back where you belong...? Kids like you shouldn’t be alone with strangers in dark places… We can forget any of this ever happened…”

Bakugo’s mind tried to grasp for a next move of some kind when he caught a glimpse of something shiny poking out of the figure’s trench coat pocket and latched onto it. “What the fuck is that in your coat?”

“Oh…” The figure went silent for a few moments before slowly pulling it out. “You mean… this…?” 

Bakugo’s eyes widened as the villain playfully dangled a side mirror. A car’s side mirror.

The accident on the road... That was his proof!

"You son of a bitch,” Bakugo snarled and instantly powered up his quirk.

The figure laughed wickedly. “Don’t say I didn’t give you a chance to run, little imp.”

Bakugo pointed his gauntlets forward just as the villain swiftly pulled out a second side mirror from his opposite pocket. The boy caught a split-second glimpse of the reflective glass melting in both the figure’s hands before shooting off his explosions. The villain flung off his black coat, which took the brunt of the blast as he darted off behind it, but Bakugo wasn’t about to let him get away. The figure dashed through the shadows as Bakugo chased after it with his gloves glowing.

Not gonna miss this time, you fucker. Let’s see you run from my kill-shot.

Bakugo grinned fiercely as he took aim and yanked off his gauntlet pin, instantly shooting off a massive blast. He was confident he’d put an end to this when just as suddenly, he felt himself flung back through the air by a separate and equally powerful explosion. A sharp gasp ripped out of him as he slammed back into a pillar and crashed into a pile of benches right below.

It was like the wind had been knocked right out of him. His ears rung as he clutched at his aching chest and tried to process what just happened.

What the fuck was that??

With a groan, he tried to sit up through the screaming pain in his back, lungs burning as he coughed and struggled to maneuver himself out of the mess of pews. He managed to crawl off the edge of a bench and roll onto his side on the floor, still trying to catch his breath in the silence of the building. Looking up, he saw that the force of the explosions had blasted a hole right through the walls on both sides of the cathedral, but there was no sign of the villain anywhere. 

Did he run off? No, he couldn’t- he couldn’t let him get away. He had to get up. 

Bakugo hissed out a curse as he forced himself to stand but stumbled back into the pews for support, dizzily clutching his pounding head. He might have a concussion. He was so fucked.

He squinted blearily through the dispersing smoke and frowned as he focused on a silhouette standing in the still largely-shadowed area up ahead.

The villain.

Bakugo inhaled sharply and held his arm out at the ready but noticed a glow coming from the opposing figure. His eyes widened in alarm, realizing another attack was on its way, and immediately threw himself aside to dodge. He landed with a grunt in the middle of the church nave, tensely waiting for the attack -- but it never came. 

The boy cautiously looked over the arm he’d thrown over his face and his lips parted at the sight of the figure across from him, who seemed to have thrown himself in the opposite direction and was now also crouched on the floor with his arm up. As Bakugo’s eyes traced over the now strangely familiar planes of his body, a terrible feeling started to grow in his gut. For some reason, he knew he had to get closer.

On his hands and knees, Bakugo watched with trepidation as the figure crawled along with him towards the circle of light beaming in through the holes in the church walls. As soon as their heads crossed into the light, Bakugo felt sick with horror. The face in front of him was taking form right before his eyes, swirling like a silvery metallic liquid that looked almost like-

Like a melted mirror.

Before he knew it, the face had fully formed and Bakugo found himself staring into his own reflection along with a pair of red eyes that mirrored his look of sheer panic right back to him.

“What the fuck…” he whispered shakily and shifted back into the shadows, only for his double to imitate him fearfully.

They both stood at the same time, breathing heavily as Bakugo tried to come up with a way to handle the sheer fucking insanity of this guy’s quirk. So what, he had some kind of mirror transformation ability? What the hell did this mean? 

He let his palm pop as a little test and watched his double do the same. Shit. This confirmed that the villain’s quirk allowed him to use people’s powers against them and explained the blast against Bakugo from earlier. What the fuck was he supposed to do now?

The double’s face warped again suddenly, making Bakugo’s wary features twist into a devilish grin. “Not so confident now, are you, little imp...?”

At the sound of the familiar hiss mocking him from his double’s mouth, Bakugo clenched his fists and growled furiously. This fucker was toying with him.

"Fuck you!" In his anger, Bakugo shot out another blast only to get knocked down once again by the harsh explosion sent back to him.

He struggled back onto his shaking knees and punched the floor with a frustrated snarl. This wasn’t fucking working. How was he supposed to fight someone who mimicked his every move? 

Before he could even begin to formulate any sort of plan, he felt a powerful force overtake the limbs in his body, causing his legs to push up into a standing position entirely without his control. He watched the stiff movements of his body in terror (because yeah, he was officially fucking terrified) as it imitated the way his double slowly closed the gap between them.

This villain couldn’t just imitate others. He could force others into imitating him.

Bakugo was in big fucking trouble.

The double pulled out a sharp mirror shard, which also happened to appear in Bakugo’s own hand, and gave him a fiendish smile. “Following me and interrupting my sacred work was a big mistake... It’s time you were given your divine punishment...”

Bakugo was in really big fucking trouble.

His double raised the sharp shard to its own neck and Bakugo’s breath trembled, unable to utter a word or make a sound as his body did the same. He knew now that he wasn’t capable of taking this religious nutjob of a villain anymore. He was completely at his mercy and now seconds away from slitting his own throat.

“Any last words, little imp…? Oh, that’s right… You can’t speak…” His double pouted sympathetically. “No matter… I’ll make sure your death is swift…”

Bakugo closed his eyes, fingers twitching as the shard pressed deeper into his throat and-

“Katsuki, no!”

The hold on his body instantly released and the mirror shard clattered to the floor where Bakugo fell gasping to his knees. He clutched his throat and looked up to find Deku frantically stepping over the rubble of the blasted wall. He nearly cried with relief at the arrival of his hero, who would definitely fix everything now.

“Deku, thank fuck,” he panted and started moving towards him.

“Don’t come any closer!” Bakugo froze and finally saw that Deku had his quirk activated and sparking through him as he cautiously stepped forward with suspicion in his eyes. “I-I don’t know which one you are but I promise we’ll get you out of this, okay Katsuki? I’ve already sent for backup, so just stay right there.”

Bakugo was so focused on his relief over Deku’s arrival that he was momentarily hurt by the hero’s distrust and inability to recognize him. Then he remembered he wasn’t out of the woods yet and slowly looked to his right where his double was crouched looking equally as scared as he did.

No, fuck this! Deku had to know it was him!

“Deku, it’s me! I’m Bakugo, he’s the fucking villain!” 

But as he spoke, his double echoed him in perfect sync. Deku’s glowing green eyes helplessly darted between them as they shouted and pointed at each other, at an utter loss for who was telling the truth. The hero maintained his combat position as he approached warily. “...Stand up slowly and tell me what happened, Katsuki.”

Bakugo raised his hands and nervously did what he was told. “I-I noticed someone who looked like a villain back at the crash scene and followed him here. He stole the mirrors from the cars so I knew he was a bad guy.” The double spoke in tandem with him as he quickly recounted what happened. “I-I thought I could take him down myself, but then he- he fucking warped into me and started copying everything I did! Then he forced my body to copy his and nearly fucking killed me!”

Deku went pale as Bakugo spoke and whispered, “Replicate… You’re telling me that... one of you is Replicate?"

Bakugo’s face twisted in confusion. Was Replicate supposed to be the villain’s name? Why hasn’t he heard it before? Why did Deku look so scared all of a sudden??

A strong force overcame Bakugo’s body once again and he felt his features twist into a nasty smirk. “We meet again, renegade.”

Deku’s eyes widened as two separate explosions were sent his way and he jumped out of the way just as they blew up another hole in the cathedral wall.

In that split second, Bakugo was able to take back control of his body again and immediately blasted towards his double with a snarl. No one made him attack Deku.

They slammed into each other and Bakugo whaled on the double mercilessly while taking every one of his explosive punches back. If taking a beating was what kept Deku safe and out of harm’s way, he’d gladly fucking do it. 

Deku straightened from where he’d landed and watched wide-eyed as two versions of Bakugo brutalized each other all over the cathedral. They went from rolling over each other on the floor to slamming blasts across the air and shattering every stained glass window in their vicinity. Deku ducked away from the falling glass as the cathedral was turned into an absolute fucking wreck.

“Katsuki, stop this!!” Deku shouted fervently as they blew past him in the air. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with, Replicate’s just hiding behind your reflection!” The hero stumbled back as another shockwave blast sent the two Bakugos apart. “Damn it, Bakugo, listen to me!! You’re not attacking him, you’re just attacking yourself! You can’t get to him without deactivating his quirk first!”

Bakugo panted heavily and spat out the blood in his mouth where he leaned over the now cracked, uneven floor. What the fuck was Deku going on about? “Deactivating his quirk?” It’s not like the bastard had a fucking off switch.

The boy stood shakily and wiped the blood from his lips as he faced his double once again. Each of them was covered in identical bruises and burn marks, clothes torn in the exact same places. If what Deku said was true and he was the sole person taking damage in this fight, then what the fuck did that leave him? How could he possibly switch off Replicate’s reflective abilities?

If his quirk worked like a mirror, maybe all he had to do was block his reflection somehow. Maybe if he found a way to cut off his source of light-

His body was seized once again and he groaned, too exhausted to fight back. His double grinned as it swiftly pointed both their arms in Deku’s direction once again and shot out an abrupt explosion in barely a second’s time. With no space to react, the blistering attack sent the hero flying and slamming into a column hard enough to send it toppling over entirely. It crashed to the ground in a wave of smoke and rubble and Deku groaned as the world spun like a top around him.

Bakugo watched as the hero coughed and gasped for breath through the smoke, his movements dazed and weak as he tried to recover from the blast. His blast. This was all Bakugo’s fault and there was nothing he could do to stop any of it. 

Deku finally caught sight of Bakugo and his double standing side by side a few feet away from him, tear tracks on their faces as they smiled at him sadistically. The unused gauntlets on their right arms were slowly lifted towards the hero and Bakugo couldn’t, he couldn’t let Deku die like this.

“Fight it, Katsuki…” Deku croaked out and winced, blood trickling down his forehead. “Take back control, you can do it…”

Bakugo remembered how Deku had looked when he talked about All Might and realized a person didn’t have to be alive to be an inspiring self-sacrificing hero. If one of them had to die that day, then Bakugo would make damn sure it would happen on his terms.

Replicate only seemed capable of controlling him in short intervals, which meant there was still a chance for Bakugo to turn things around. The cathedral was now in utter shambles so it would only take one perfectly aimed blast for it all to crumble apart and cut off Replicate’s quirk -- and life -- for good. Deku was just a few feet away from the hole in the cathedral wall, so he’d definitely be able to escape in time. If this was the only way to guarantee his win and Deku’s safety, he’d happily lay down his life to see it through.

He’d go down a saviour just like All Might did. Deku would understand.

With a strained growl, he pushed back against Replicate’s powerful influence and both of their arms shakily shifted upwards and away from Deku. One blast may not bring down the whole building, but two definitely would. 

Replicate obviously wasn’t the only person here who knew how to turn people’s quirks against them.

Deku watched wide-eyed as both Bakugos raised their trembling arms while warring for control inside themselves. “S-Stop, Katsuki, what… what are you doing…?”

The pair smiled at him, no hint of sadism this time, only Bakugo’s signature smirk.

“I got this… Deku… Go…”

“No!” Realizing Bakugo’s plan, Deku frantically scrambled up as both boys reached for the pin. “Katsuki, don’t! Don’t!!”

The pin slipped out with a quiet clink and Bakugo closed his eyes as two roaring torrents of fire flew towards the painted ceiling, instantly blasting it apart and sending it crumbling down over their heads.

 

ooo

 

Now

 

One thing had always stuck with Bakugo from his world religions class a few years back, and that was the texts depicting the end of days. The way the verses painted in great detail how the ground would quake and rumble, how the sun would turn black and the sky would vanish, how nothing would be left on earth but blood, fire, and columns of smoke.

He’d never admit it but the dreadful brutality of it used to put him ill at ease. 

Now, however, he just found it ironic that the biblical end of days also seemed to describe his end of days -- in the middle of an old church, no less.

However, another thing he remembered was reading a few texts where great things were promised for noble self-sacrificing soldiers who fought and died for justice in battle. Bakugo never used to believe in any of that shit, but now as he awaited the crushing mass that would end his life for good, he found himself contently looking forward to what was in store.

Then a hard weight speared sharply into his stomach and sent him hurtling back into the blinding sunlight.

Bakugo gasped in surprise as he landed on the grass outside the crumbling church, which caused the ground to shake as it loudly collapsed in on itself. He felt the debris hit his cheek and, after a few moments, tentatively blinked his eyes open to find Deku breathing heavily on top of him. His wild green curls were framed by the sunlight and made him look for all the world like a sublime angel. Maybe he was in heaven, he thought as Deku’s gemstone eyes locked in on his with a look of utter astonishment.

“You… You’re completely insane, you know that...?” Deku panted. “You almost got yourself killed…!”

“Bound to happen eventually, huh?” Bakugo coughed with a breathless smirk. His head pounded like a motherfucker and he was covered in an innumerable amount of light burns, cuts, and bruises, but he still survived. He beat the villain all by himself.

He expected Deku to laugh with him and pat his shoulder for bravely putting his life on the line, maybe even tenderly fuss over his wounds while praising him like he did before, but none of that happened. Instead, Deku scowled -- scowled -- and the light mood instantly shattered. Bakugo found himself being roughly dragged to his feet and had barely regained his balance when Deku yanked him forward with a vice-like grip on his arm.

“Is this all some sort of joke to you? Do you think acting reckless and suicidal is heroic??”

Bakugo’s spirits sank as he looked into the hero’s face, one half now covered almost entirely with blood, and realized there was no trace of the pride and admiration he’d hoped for. Deku was furious with him. 

“I ordered you to stay put, yet not only did you disobey me and wander off, but you actively sought out a fight with one of the most dangerous villains in the city all by yourself! You were lucky I ran here as soon as I heard the explosions or else he would’ve killed you!”

“I-I was just trying to help-”

“Well, next time, don’t!” Deku snapped, his grip on Bakugo’s arm unbearably tight. They were both so caught up in each other that they didn’t notice Shoto arriving ahead of some local authorities and slowing down at the sight of Deku shouting at the grimacing boy.

“Your job is to support us and learn, not jump headfirst into danger without backup! You hardly knew anything about him, what if his quirk overpowered you before I could even show up, huh??”

Bakugo felt a lump form in his throat and his eyes began to sting. He’d really fucked up this time. Deku was so, so angry with him and Bakugo couldn’t even fault him for it. In running off, he’d not only forced the hero to track him down halfway across the city, but he also forced the hero to save him from certain death -- twice. He was such a fucking failure.

“You’re supposed to be smart! Being a good fighter with a powerful quirk doesn’t give you a free ticket to act like you’re invincible! I never would’ve brought you with me if I knew you’d be this irresponsible. If you got hurt, that would’ve been on me, Bakugo! If anything happened to you-”

"Midoriya.” 

Deku stopped his raging tirade when he felt Shoto firmly grip on his shoulder. “Enough. You’ve made your point, he won’t do it again.”

Deku’s breath was heavy as he followed Shoto’s pointed look and finally noticed the way Bakugo had his head turned and sniffled quietly. The hero’s furious expression faltered and he finally released the boy’s now reddened arm. He opened his mouth to speak again but then stopped with a shake of his head and pushed past them without another word.

Bakugo’s breath trembled out of quivering lips as he held his bruising arm close to his chest, feeling the closest he’s ever been to breaking down in years. 

Deku had given up on him.

“Don’t mind him, Bakugo…” Shoto approached with a gentle expression. “He was just scared you’d get hurt. He’ll cool off.”

The hero went to touch his shoulder but Bakugo shrugged him off, refusing to be comforted like some little kid. He stepped past him without so much as a glance and instantly took off for home, not giving a shit that it was only midday and just wanting to be left the fuck alone.

"You think acting reckless and suicidal is heroic??”

He wouldn’t cry.

“You’re supposed to be smart!”

He wouldn’t cry.

“I never would’ve brought you with me if I knew you’d be this irresponsible!”

He wouldn’t f-fucking cry.

Chapter Text

“... early this afternoon. The Nonoike Cathedral was among the first Catholic churches built in Japan after the ban on Christianity was lifted in 1862, but was abandoned in the early 20th century due to repeated flooding of polluted water from a copper mine nearby. As a result of job losses and slews of vacating residents, the town suffered an economic crisis and was forced to file for bankruptcy, leaving many of the surrounding buildings abandoned to this day. 

“The church was approaching its 160th anniversary as one of Japan’s earliest historical heritage sites but was caught in an unfortunate crossfire between pro-hero Deku and a mystery villain who seems to have escaped the rubble sometime before the police’s arrival. Many are left angered by what they call 'the needless destruction of Japanese history' and are supporting a fine of 500,000 yen on the Soul Heroes agency for its involvement in the incident. Take a look.”

“They should be fined! That Deku’s been detroyin’ buildings left and right across this country, and he damn well has to pay for it! Every property that so-called hero destroys is more money taken from our hard-earned taxes and I gotta say, enough is enough!”

“It’s just a shame he keeps dragging that poor Shoto down with him... he’s an outstanding hero who always keeps to himself and protects our country responsibly. Young men like him really have no business associating themselves with such unfavourable characters.”

“As a bishop entrusted with the authority over the holy churches of this nation, I vow to see to it personally that every member of every clergy shall come together to press direct charges against this miscreant! Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if this 'villain' was nothing but mere fiction, an excuse to hide behind so that- that heretic could have his wicked way with the house of the lord!”

“This was an attack on our community and our nation at large. Deku has made it clear on many occasions that he would stand on the fringes against us with his herd of quirkless animals and this sends a clear message that he will stop at nothing to destroy all our long-held values and traditions. He is a radical criminal and should be thrown in pris-”

Bakugo tossed the remote across his mattress and the room fell back into soundless darkness. He hugged his knees and sniffled quietly on his bed. 

It was all for nothing. Bakugo destroyed a whole building and risked his life for absolutely fucking nothing. Replicate had somehow escaped and all that was left was an angry senseless mob that wasn’t even pissed at the right fucking person. There was absolutely no mention of Bakugo anywhere. Not a single word. All of them were demanding that Deku be punished for what happened when he’d been the only blameless party there.

Bakugo hadn’t meant for things to turn out this way. How could the impulses that lead him to such an innumerable amount of success before now be the cause behind this colossal fucking mess? It shouldn’t have happened like this, none of it was.

His body was stiff with pain and covered in wounds he’d sloppily treated through his pounding headache and teary vision a few hours ago. He was home alone and it was hard to get anything done let alone fucking think when everything just hurt so goddamn much. His hands shook and his eyes burned and his heart was in fucking pieces inside of him. With his head now pressed to his knees, Bakugo clenched his fingers tightly around his arms and felt a certain hand-shaped bruise greet him with a dull pang.

He’d been doing that a lot since he got home. He wasn’t sure if it was to punish himself or to feel Deku’s presence nearby… hovering beside him with that soft comforting smile and telling him it’d be okay. That he didn’t hate him. That there was still a chance to redeem himself and be a hero worth something.

There was still a chance… right...? There had to be...

Bakugo had grown up hearing countless people say he was destined to be a great, powerful hero. He’d bathed in the endless showers of their reverence as they praised his quirk and all his innate talents -- and eventually, he believed them. He was the fucking best. No one would ever be better than him because he was destined to be the #1 Hero. 

The constant influx of compliments for his power’s potential built up his confidence in such a way that it based his worth solely on how he could use that power to win -- that was obvious. What wasn’t as obvious was the fact that this meant Bakugo had to grapple with an enormous amount of pressure to satisfy not only his expectations, but everyone else’s. 

Usually, he welcomed that pressure. It was the perfect incentive for him to keep excelling, to keep using his strength to carry himself to victory. He was always the strongest, the smartest, the fucking best, and no force in the world could ever challenge that.

Except... sometimes there was. They’d back him into a corner until he had no choice but to confront them, and that was when the pressure he liked to consider his friend suddenly turned into a cruel stranger. It circled him and planted whispery doubts in his head, made him question himself enough to stumble a little, enough to make a mistake -- and when he eventually does, his perception of himself and the whole fucking world just… breaks.

Bakugo relied on having his superior position in the world being fixed and immovable. Everything that he was -- his heart, his mind, his body -- depended on it. If that fell apart, so did he. He might build himself back up, always did, but it got harder and harder to put those pieces back together each time. He grew angrier, harsher, stonier, desperate to hide how haunted he was by growing fears of sinking to the bottom and becoming a disappointment. 

A weak loser. 

A no-good waste of breath. 

They kept fucking eating at him until he felt his grasp on his worth weaken, and sometimes it took everything he had just to hang on. That’s the daily fight Bakugo had to survive. He was always taught to value his power -- if it failed him, he had nothing left in himself to value.

So what was he supposed to do now that his position in the world was suddenly at risk? He was supposed to make it to the top with the rest of the pro-heroes, but what if he proved himself unworthy? What if he lost the internship, everything he’d worked so hard for, and amounted to nothing? 

What if he lost Deku?

Bakugo’s breath stuttered and he felt his chest tighten with dread. He didn’t mean to disappoint him. He didn’t mean to make him mad or turn the world against him or put him in harm’s way. He just wanted to show Deku how strong and capable he was. He wanted to help. He wanted to be a hero too.

But he wasn’t, was he? He was just a kid. A stupid fucking kid and Deku knew it. That’s why he turned his back on him, couldn’t even bear to look at him. Bakugo choked out a laugh as he realized he’d really almost given his life thinking he’d accomplish something great. What a fucking joke. If Deku hadn’t saved him, Bakugo would’ve been the only pathetic fuck lying dead under that rubble -- and the world probably would’ve blamed the hero for that too.

He made a huge bloody clusterfuck of everything all because he wanted to show off. The least he could do now was make good use of his time and start thinking up a plan to fix it but no, instead he just stayed in his pathetic little corner where he could feel sorry for himself and do a shitty job of fighting back his tears.

He just wanted Deku to forgive him, to give him a second chance… he- he knows he’s made things harder and made a lot of people angry but he couldn’t fucking bear it if the hero stopped talking to him after this. What was the point of pursuing hero work if the symbol of peace himself didn’t even think he was up to the job? He’d started this because of Deku. 

But the look on the hero’s face… The memory of it all bloody and twisted with so much revulsion was seared into his brain and Bakugo expected that of all the injuries and all the blows he’d sustained throughout his life, this would leave the worst scar yet. He didn’t need anyone to tell him what he already knew deep down in his bones -- it was too fucking late.

His fingers were digging punishingly into the bruise on his arm when his computer lit up with a sudden ping. He slowly blinked up at it from the dark corner of his bed, trying to wade through the mental muck in his mind as it pinged again. 

...There was only one person who liked to send him messages back to back, and that was Kirishima. The dickhead's been messaging him all fucking day. At one point, Bakugo did remember that they were supposed to meet up after their work shifts ended but he’d just been too fucking miserable to respond.

Now was as good a time as any to answer him though, before the poor fucker blew a gasket. He shook his head and sniffled, taking a moment to wipe the wetness from his cheeks before going over to his chair and squinting at the slew of unread messages on the screen. 

Shitty Hair (16:03)
>yo we still good for the gym at 5?
>ready to get them gainzzzz 💪🏼

Shitty Hair (16:56)
>ya boi’s here where u at
>YOO that chick w the red hairband just waved at me!! 
>i got a chance right
>don’t answer that lmao i’ll just meet u inside

Shitty Hair (17:15)
>hellooooo
>damn is this what it feels like to get stood up by bakugo?
>i really thought we had something special 😭

Shitty Hair (17:43)
>holy shit i just saw the news are u good bro??
>omg this shit is crazy wtf

Shitty Hair (18:24)
>i know you barely use your phone but at least let me know your okay dude im getting worried here

Shitty Hair (19:14)
>wow won’t even answer my calls alright then asshole
>i got hairband’s number if that matters at all lmao. call me

Shitty Hair (20:33)
>dude what’s going on? answer your phone this is so not cool
>stg if u don’t get back to me in the next 30 mins im egging ur window, bet

Bakugo sighed and rubbed his eye. He wasn’t at all in the mood to explain fuck-all right now but felt obligated to at least respond; his friend was also just too much of a shitty prankster wildcard to risk thinking he wouldn’t follow through on his dumb threat. Bakugo straightened, brought the display brightness down to near-zero because fuck that shit, and then typed out an answer.

Me (20:36)
>I’m fine. Left my phone with my shit at work then slept so fucking relax

He got a reply almost instantly.

Shitty Hair (20:36)
>wow so u stood me up at the gym to nap? that’s soft
>i respect it tho i know u work on granny hours
>why’d you leave ur phone at work tho are u good
>were u at the church when everything went down? shit looked intense

Bakugo pursed his lips and looked away with a frown. That was the last thing he wanted to talk about. How could he begin to explain how he basically fled the scene of a fight that he’d started but couldn’t even finish properly? That he wasn’t even rightfully taking the blame for? Instead of sticking around and taking accountability like he should have, he’d run straight home like a snivelling fucking coward and let everyone else clean up after him. 

No, he couldn’t do it. He'd be a laughingstock. Deciding avoidance would be the best tactic for now, he took a deep breath and hedged his answer.

Me (20:39)
>I said I was fine dumbass I just forgot it there. Tell you about the church shit later

Shitty Hair (20:40)
>ohhhh shit so u were there!!
>damn yeah we’ll catch up after work on monday but you owe me a soda for standing me up all day fuckin bitch
>and i’m still egging ur window

Bakugo’s lips quirked up as he typed out a response.

Me (20:40)
>Try it and I’ll egg your ugly ass face

Kirishima responded with a shocked Pikachu sticker that had Bakugo sniggering as he signed off. That should shut the idiot up for now and also gave Bakugo two more days to think of what to tell him before they eventually met up on Monday. He could try making something up for the sake of his own pride but was there really any point? The shitty-haired fuck could always catch him in a lie so it would only make things look worse.

He slumped back in his seat and spun his chair around with a defeated sigh, only to come face to face with the large Deku poster above his bed. His mood sobered as he looked upon the grinning hero from where he stood illuminated by the dim glow of his computer screen. The person whose image he fondly woke up and fell asleep to, who watched over him in his most vulnerable moments for the last five years.

Deku may not be happy with him, may have even hated him, but at least this version didn’t. This Deku would always smile at Bakugo. It wasn’t much but it was enough.

Bakugo stood and slowly crawled onto his bed towards the hero’s image. He felt so tired. He just wanted to float away and feel the blissful embrace of nothing for a little while. Settling his side against the wall, he hugged his knees beneath Deku’s red sneakers and sighed. 

His screensaver switched on after a few minutes and he idly watched its colours swirl across the screen. It bloomed and flowed ever so gently, painted his bedroom with its shifting subtle hues until his eyes gradually drifted shut and he fell asleep with the reassuring ache of a hand-shaped bruise beneath his fingers.

 

ooo

 

It was dark.

Deku was standing a few feet in front of him, his head turned down. His eyes were shrouded in shadow, his face void of emotion as furious shouts rung between them.

“It’s Deku’s fault!”

“Lock him up!”

“He doesn’t deserve to be a hero!”

Deku didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. He remained still in his uniform as the cacophony of voices all screamed their anger around him, looking lifeless and empty.

“Deku will corrupt us all!”

“Nothing but a criminal!”

Bakugo couldn’t bear it. This was his fault. They should’ve been angry at him, not Deku. Deku was a good hero, the best one. He didn’t deserve this.

“He’ll destroy the country and us with it!”

“Make him pay!”

The boy stepped towards him, his body wracked with guilt over what he’d done. He had to make it right. He had to protect Deku.

“The world doesn’t need him!”

“Nobody needs him!”

Bakugo walked through the darkness towards the hero, whose eyes still remained obscured behind his hair. He walked to him until they stood right in front of each other and Bakugo just couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Deku was supposed to be happy and smiling, but it was like the public’s disapproval had stripped him bare, leaving him an empty husk of his former self.

“He’s better off rotting in the ground!”

“He’s better off DEAD!”

Bakugo reached for him, his face twisted in pain. He wanted to make him feel better, to let him know he wasn’t alone, that he could fix this. But as soon as his fingers touched Deku’s hand, the voices instantly ceased.

The silence between them was deafening.

Bakugo was breathing heavily as Deku continued to stand unmoving in front of him. His heart was pounding as he carefully wrapped his fingers around the hero’s gloved hand.

“Deku,” he whispered brokenly.

“...You did this to me.”

Bakugo's breath caught at the sound of the hero’s deadened voice.

“I-I know… I know, and I’m- I’m sorry.”

“You ruined my life.”

Bakugo’s lip wobbled and he squeezed his eyes shut as he croaked out, “I’m s-so sorry, Deku...”

“Sorry doesn’t fix what you’ve done.”

Bakugo’s eyes watered and he angrily swiped at them, knowing he had absolutely no right to cry. This was his fault and he had to make it right. He had to convince Deku to forgive him.

“I… I’m- I’m just…” He pressed his fists forcefully against his lids and shook his head as his face crumpled. So many things he could say crowded in his head but he just kept coming back to the same two fucking words. "I'm sorry!"

He hugged the hero tightly, wishing he could say or do something to make this better, but all he could do was desperately beg for forgiveness. “Please, Deku, I didn’t mean it, I swear I didn’t, please-”

“You fucked up.”

Bakugo felt an icy chill shoot down his spine as the voices in the shadows returned, only this time they aimed their venomous words at him.

“You fucked up.”

“You fucked up.”

“You were too weak.”

“Deku HATES you.”

Bakugo’s arms tightened around the hero, flinching and shaking his head jerkily as the voices lashed at him. “I-I can still fix it-”

“You can’t.”

“This is your fault.”

“You ruined his life.”

“He’ll NEVER forgive you.”

“No,” Bakugo choked out and held Deku’s motionless body close, terrified he’d disappear and leave him alone in the unforgiving dark.

“You were supposed to be smart.”

“He wishes you never met.”

“Reckless, irresponsible.”

“You ruined EVERYTHING.”

“No, no, shut up, SHUT UP!”

Bakugo trembled as the darkness surrounding them went silent again and turned to bury his face into Deku’s chest. He would be safe here. It was going to be okay.

His breath hitched quietly against Deku’s uniform and soon he felt the hero lift his arms, nearly sobbing as they wrapped gently around him. He closed his wet eyes as Deku hushed him tenderly and stroked his gloved hand over his hair.

“It’s okay, Katsuki… It’ll be okay...”

Bakugo slowly relaxed in the hero’s arms. He was safe. Deku didn’t hate him. As long as they could stay here together nothing else mattered. It would all work out, he was sure of it.

As Bakugo’s arms slid down to hug Deku’s waist, his hand felt something poking out of the hero’s belt. He frowned and carefully picked it up… then gasped sharply at the sight of a mirror shard in his grasp.

He instantly released his hold on Deku, shaking as he staggered away from him and stared in disbelief at the sharp reflective piece in his hand. No, this couldn’t be happening, it couldn’t-

Deku finally lifted his head and Bakugo’s stomach dropped in horror as he saw that the hero’s green eyes were replaced by scarlet ones. Bakugo’s eyes. He was standing right in front of his reflection. His reflection grinned demonically as it forced him to imitate its movements so that they both had mirror shards pressed to their necks.

“Nighty night, little imp,” it hissed and Bakugo slit his throat.

 

ooo

 

Bakugo woke up flailing and gasping as he desperately clutched at his throat. He was covered in sweat and his heart raced and he couldn’t fucking breathe it’s so dark he was drowning, he was suffocating-

He hastily stumbled off the bed, wanting to get out, to see anything to assure him he wasn’t trapped in that horrible black prison. He fell to his knees and groaned as his stomach lurched nauseously, wishing he could disappear, wishing it would all just stop but it wouldn’t, it just wouldn’t, something had taken over his body and he was losing control, he couldn’t let it have him, it can’t fucking have him!

Fight it, fight it goddamn it, stop being such a fucking pussy!!

Straining to breathe through the unbearable vice grip tightening around his lungs, Bakugo grit his teeth and forced himself to close the gap between him and his window. Not too far now.

By the time he’d reached the window and roughly shoved his curtains aside, he was lightheaded and struggling just getting his stiff window open. When he’d finally managed to push the glass aside, he stuck his head out and gasped for breath, instantly feeling the cool night air brush lightly over his clammy skin as it rustled through the trees. He was so dizzy he could barely keep his eyes open, could only fall to his knees and keep his head resting on the arm he had slung over the sill. He concentrated all his energy on levelling his breathing as he clutched the black fabric of his tank top where it rested over his pounding chest. 

After a few passing moments, he dazedly opened his eyes and let them roam over the familiar sight of his childhood street. The sight that greeted him from his window every time he needed help centring himself, when he made the mistake of letting his thoughts run rampant, when even his punching bag couldn’t help quieten the frantic panic that seized his body hostage and he just needed air.

Bakugo tentatively lifted his hand so that it could feel over his neck and sighed when he found nothing but smooth uncut skin. It was just a nightmare, he was fine. He closed his eyes and let the calmness of the night slowly put him back at ease, let it help the tremors in his body subside until his heartbeat returned to normal. When he felt his breathing finally level out again, he shook his head with a small huff.

Some fucking hero he was cracking up to be. How did he expect to impress anyone when he could hardly take a steady breath? How was he supposed to be a hero when he was this fucking weak? He couldn’t keep letting shit mess him up like this. If he was already having a fit-inducing nightmare after only a single villain encounter, what would happen when he inevitably faced others? No, this had to fucking stop, he had enough to deal with and couldn’t let this be a new norm.

He winced and stood stubbornly on shaking legs. Now that the effects of his fit had passed, he could finally feel his throbbing headache again along with a new stiffness at his neck and back from falling asleep so awkwardly under his Deku poster.

Deku.

Bakugo stilled at the thought of the hero and his eyes warily trailed up to his image on the wall, now lit up by the moonlight filtering in from his window. He never thought Deku could ever be a primary player in a nightmare as horrible as the one he’d just endured. The hero had always been an object for his dreams, not his basest fears. For the first time ever, Bakugo now found himself unable to bear the very sight of his poster. Instead of the hope and excitement it used to make him feel, it now only filled him with shame and dread. 

He deliberately turned away from it and instead went to check the time on his bedside clock. 1:40 am. It seemed he’d be stuck staying up for the rest of the night because he sure as hell wouldn’t be getting any sleep after the shit he was just put through. He couldn’t even stand being in the darkness of his bedroom in the presence of all his Deku merch right now. 

Having decided to grab some food from the kitchen and spend the rest of the night watching TV in the basement, Bakugo left his room and quietly made his way downstairs. His parents must’ve come home from whatever dumb fashion event they attended by now and he really didn’t want to risk them waking up and questioning why he was up at this hour.

Yet, it seemed the fates insisted on making that specific night a trying one.

As soon as he walked into the kitchen, he found his mom drinking a glass of water in the darkness by the sink. He stilled and was about to discreetly step back when she turned and jumped at the sight of him.

“Fucking shit, Katsuki!” she hissed and put a hand over her heart. “Don’t sneak up on me like that, you little turd.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets irritably and held his tongue -- he wanted to shout, was just fucking itching for some release, but his aching head simply wouldn’t let him get to that point. 

Mitsuki sighed and put her glass down on the counter, her face subtly illuminated by the moonlight from the kitchen window and revealing a face full of makeup. Bakugo supposed it was naïve to hope his mom would go to sleep early for once after attending a long evening event, but it seemed that would remain a habit exclusive to him and his dad.

“Did you eat the dinner I left out for you?”

“Yeah,” Bakugo lied, fully aware that telling her he’d felt too nauseous and ended up dumping it wouldn’t be well received. He tensely pressed at his forehead as his head continued to throb and send surges of pain shooting through his skull. Fucking hell, he needed to sit his ass down and wait this goddamn wave out.

“What’s wrong?” Mitsuki frowned at him as he took a seat at the kitchen island and tiredly lay his head on his crossed arms. “You’re never up this late.”

“M’fine, just go away,” came his muffled answer. Even as he said it, he knew she wasn’t going to let this drop because when did his mom ever make things easy for him?

Bakugo winced with a groan as the kitchen light flipped on and found her standing right beside him. “Look at me.”

“For fuck’s sake, mom-”

"Now, Katsuki.” 

He felt her forcefully pull his arm away from his head and then lift his face towards her with a firm hand on his chin. He winced and blinked through the splitting pain in his head, the light in the kitchen not helping in the least. His mom frowned as she took in the sorry state of his arms and face from where she stood in her purple floral dress.

“God, look at you…” she said as she turned his head this way and that with her manicured fingers. “You’ve got bruises and bandages all over the place. What the hell happened?”

“Nothing fuckin’ happened,” he groused, trying to bat her hand away only to have her grip his chin more firmly as her scarlet eyes narrowed into his.

“...Your pupils are dilated. Katsuki, did you get another concussion??”

“I dunno, probably?” he finally yanked his head out of her grip with a scowl, feeling her perfume wafting over him and making his headache all the worse.

“Idiot, you should’ve seen a doctor for that,” she snapped in a hushed tone and Bakugo was thankful that’s all she could do to avoid waking his dad up, because yelling was the last thing he needed right now. "You can't just hole your ass up in your room with a serious head injury, you could've at least called-"

“And what?? Listen to another goddamn doctor give me the same shit about 'getting some rest'? I’ve had concussions a million fucking times, I’ll be fucking fine.”

“Is this because of what happened at that church on the news today? Were you also in that big fight?”

Bakugo detected a note of worry in her voice and tried not to snap in frustration as he angrily pressed his fists against his forehead. She was acting like this was his first time coming home all roughed up, as if she hasn’t seen him like this dozens of times before. Maybe he looked worse than usual but it still didn’t warrant all this bullshit. He didn’t need to be fucking babied and he sure as hell didn’t want to talk about that stupid fucking church. 

“Just fucking leave it, mom. I’m too tired for this shit.”

Mitsuki threw her hands up and growled in aggravation, “You are such a stubborn little nuisance."

...Yeah. He knew he was.

His mom sighed in the silence that followed, the only sound coming from the quiet tick-ticks of the kitchen clock. She stepped closer to him after a few moments and reached up to gently stroke his hair. “I just wish you’d take care of yourself for once, Katsuki…” she said in a soft voice she rarely ever used with him anymore. “You can be so reckless sometimes.”

Reckless. That’s what Deku had called him too. It seemed everyone in Bakugo’s life was in agreement that he was the epitome of bad choices.

He kept his eyes on the counter in front of him as his mom sighed again and briefly kissed his temple. “...I’m gonna head off to bed. Love you, kiddo.” She squeezed his shoulder, knowing she wouldn’t receive a response as always, and mercifully switched the kitchen light off before heading upstairs. 

Left with nothing but the moonlight and his own company, Bakugo rested the side of his head back on his arms. With all the wounds and cuts covering him, it felt like his whole body was one big pulse as it tried to heal itself. If his body was already hard at work and back on the mend, he had no excuse not to do the same.

Bakugo raised his head slightly and noticed his dad’s reading glasses sitting where he usually left them by the weekly newspaper. His ever-constant reminder that at least one aspect of his life has been rigged against him from the start, made him weak when all he wanted was to be nothing but. The knowledge that he wasn't actually as exceptional as he appeared pissed him off but he could live with it, has learned to live with it (usually in denial but hey, if it worked, it worked).

Now though, it was no longer just a matter of him fighting and beating down his own flaws. He got so caught up in his mental battle trying to prove he could be worth something more than he was that he ended up dragging Deku down with him. The hero was now suffering for his mistake and Bakugo knew he had himself to blame. However, it wasn’t his fault alone. 

It was also Replicate’s.

Replicate was the reason behind everything that had happened. He was the one who’d caused the car crash, the one Bakugo defied orders to follow, the one who brought them to the church. He made him attack Deku. He made the hero bleed. He nearly killed Deku. 

Bakugo was angry at himself, certainly, but not Replicate. No, what he felt for the villain was much more acute than that. It vibrated inside him like a sentient thing coursing through his very blood and boiling right down to his clenching bones. 

What he felt was deep, all-consuming wrath.

Bakugo's fingers were white and shaking with how hard he fisted them as his face contorted into an unrecognizable mask of hatred. Replicate was still out there and Bakugo was going to find him. He was going to make him pay for what he did to Deku. He was going to crush him, mangle him, rip him to shreds.

He was going to fucking kill him.