Kaminari was straight-up not having a good time.
He had bumbled in training and Bakugou laid into him because his mistake caused their team to lose to Midoriya's; his last math quiz came back and he bombed it; finals were coming up and he had been so stressed and distracted he forgot to get his medication refilled and he had two days left of it but it was only Tuesday and he couldn't leave campus to get it refilled until the weekend - and all of it was directly tied to the fact that he hadn't been sleeping well, which made him even more of a mess than usual.
Kaminari knew he needed a break; and not a stretch of a few minutes where he zoned out and time ceased to exist, like on gorgeous summer days when he was stuck in class.
For a moment he considered going to Jirou's room and asking to borrow her guitar, but Jirou had been on their team earlier and she hadn't stepped in to defend him when Bakugou was chewing him out. In fact, the person who had stepped in had been Kirishima, the truest of MVP's, but he hadn't even been on their team . Normally it was something that wouldn't bother him, but he was having a bad mental health week and it was only Tuesday .
He needed a break.
So, with a heavy sigh he dropped his textbook and went for the bedside table, opening the drawer and rifling through assorted bullshit, looking for his tablet.
He missed his house in Saitama, mostly for his mom's library; the smell of books and ozone that surrounded his mom was a comfort he missed, but he had his little ways of feeling close to home. His tablet was a prized possession, loaded with digital copies of all of his favorite books from his mom's library, and in a font that was easier for him to read and understand. Through years of practice he was able to read the standard fonts, but when his brain wasn't running with all cylinders it was nice to not struggle through it.
So, Kaminari decided he wanted to reread 'The Outsiders'; he'd had a rough day or two, and he missed his mom's hugs, so he figured reading his and his mom's favorite book would be a nice way to take a break.
But after a few minutes of groping he frowned when he didn't feel the rough plastic of his tablet's case. He frowned and started pulling out the assorted knickknacks he kept inside of it; mostly stress and stim toys, a massive, ungodly collection of them.
But no tablet.
Kaminari stared down into the empty drawer blankly for a few seconds as he started to sweat, his eyes scanning over the toys scattered on his bed. Whenever his anxiety started to spike he could feel static crackling along his skin, so he quickly grabbed a rubber stress toy shaped like a lightning bolt, a gift from his parents, and focused the sparks into that as he used his other hand to pull the drawer out completely, checking behind it for his tablet, and then in his underwear drawer below it, just in case he threw it in there by accident.
It wasn't there.
He spun and yanked his sheets off of the bed, uncaring of how it scattered his toys over the floor, dropping the rubber lightning bolt to pat over his mattress, yanking it back next and starting to shake when he didn't see his tablet there, either.
He went to his desk and started emptying his drawers, then dumped his backpack out on the floor, tore through his closet, and he dropped the floor and started groping under his bed but he couldn't find it anywhere .
He had the realization that he was losing control of his quirk as he curled up in the fetal position, struggling to breathe. All he could feel was the sparks dancing over his skin, creating a shell around him as he gasped, grabbing at his arms and his hair and he couldn't fucking breathe .
He was still struggling to breathe when he felt a gentle touch on his shoulder, startling so badly he jumped and scrambled to press himself against his bedpost, clutching at his chest and staring in shock at Aizawa, watching him with floating hair and red eyes.
Kaminari felt like he was underwater when Aizawa spoke and he didn't hear anything, and then his vision was obstructed by Sero kneeling in front of him with a determined expression and started miming something - oh .
Breathe with me, Kaminari , Sero's lips formed, and he nodded shakily, struggling to imitate the way Sero's shoulders rose for a few seconds with puffed cheeks and then deflated again, in a pattern that it took a few times to follow.
"... You go, yeah, that's right, there you go," Sero murmured reassuringly as Kaminari's other senses started to return, but his vision started to blur when the first thing he became cognizant of was how low the lights were, like the emergency lights.
"I'm sorry," he whimpered, and Sero looked confused.
"Dude, what are you apologizing for?" He sounded concerned.
"I-I blew the breakers again, didn't I?" He couldn't hold back his hiccup, "I'm sorry -"
"Don't apologize," Aizawa interrupted while standing up. "You were having a panic attack. Were you attacked?" He looked around Kaminari's room, observing and cataloging how it was in disarray.
"N-no, I-" he felt his cheeks flush with shame and lowered his eyes. "I lost my tablet," he admitted, hanging his head.
Everything was quiet, and Kaminari swore he could sense Aizawa's judgement and disapproval.
"I-I just -" he fumbled to explain himself, "I've been tired and stressed and I - I just wanted to read something I could understand -"
"You can read?" A snide voice piped up and Kaminari had never felt such a surge of anger before.
" Fuck off , Bakugou !" He shrieked, sparks crackling across his skin before puttering out when Aizawa activated his quirk again. That was when he finally noticed the audience of his friends loitering in the doorway, with a few of his classmates visible in the hallway outside.
Bakugou looked stunned by Kaminari's outburst; Kirishima and Ashido looked like they were on the verge of tears; and Jirou looked nervous and worried, which was unusual for someone as stoic as her.
Bakugou's surprise faded into something more considering before he sneered and turned around. "Alright, extras, the rest of you can fuck right off, this isn't a goddamn show!" He snarled, explosions crackling in his palms threateningly until people dispersed. He finally turned back to Kaminari, saying, "What does it look like?"
"What?" Kaminari wasn't expecting Bakugou to be so calm after being told to fuck off, but the most ire he showed was a sneer.
"Your tablet , Pikachu, what does it look like?"
"I-it's a ten-inch tablet," he sniffed, wiping at his cheeks. "An older model, so it's kinda clunky. And it's in a yellow otterbox case that's scratched all to hell."
"Have you ever taken it out of the dorm?"
"I don't remember even taking it out of my room!" He cried out, digging his nails into his arms and dragging them down.
"Kaminari!" Sero grabbed his hands, sounding alarmed. "You're hurting yourself!"
"Wha-?" That was when he noticed red lines on his arms, dark enough it looked like it was close to breaking skin. "Oh," he mumbled absently, "I haven't done that in awhile."
"You've done this before?" Aizawa spoke up, and Kaminari shrank back.
"I… I got better," he whispered, his eyes watering. "I hadn't done it in awhile."
“Progress is hardly ever linear,” their teacher said with his usual solemnity. "What did you do then?"
The shame curled in his stomach, and Kaminari felt the phantoms of his middle school bullies laughing at him and calling him a mama's boy, like it was a bad thing. But - fuck , he missed his mom hugging him and petting his hair, reading to him no matter his age and then letting him read to her once he had calmed down.
The shame started to twist into fear when he felt everyone staring at him.
"Kaminari," Kirishima's voice was closer, and Kaminari looked up to see him looking at him with kind, understanding eyes. "We won't make fun of you. I promise." Because of course Kirishima would be able to just know . He grinned and said, "On my honor as a man!"
"We're - training to be heroes -" he faltered, and Aizawa's sigh sounded so tired .
"That's right - training . But right now you're all children who are going through a great deal. You are under a lot of pressure, Kaminari, and there is no shame in it."
Kaminari sniffed, and rubbed at his cheeks. "My mom," he croaked, "I'd go to her and she'd read to me, and when I calmed down she'd let me read to her. E-even when I fried myself, she would read to me until I came back. It was… our thing." He sniffed and looked away from everyone, bracing himself for derision.
"Kaminari…" Ashido spoke up softly and told him with an audible smile, "that's so cute, and sweet."
"You -" he hiccuped, warmth building in his chest as he looked up at his friends in awe. "You don't think it's lame? You're not - not gonna laugh at me and call me a mama's boy?" He sniffed.
"Dude, no, it's adorable!" Sero insisted, smiling brightly. "What kinds of books do you read?"
Kaminari stared at Sero in disbelief and then his eyes traveled over his friends, until they finally settled on Bakugou, who was tapping his foot impatiently.
"I like poetry. And... coming-of-age stories," he admitted quietly, lowering his eyes to the floor. "My… my comfort read is this book called 'The Outsiders', it's an American novel."
"Present Mic loves that book," Aizawa spoke up, and Kaminari felt something unraveling in his chest.
"He does?" Kaminari whispered, staring at Aizawa; his teacher nodded.
"He loves American literature. Given the opportunity he won't shut up about it."
"Alright, fine, enough of this sharing-circle bullshit!" Bakugou spat, and Kaminari shrank back. "Kirishima!"
"Stay and cuddle him or whatever, that's what you do best."
There was a moment of stunned silence before Kirishima beamed and nodded. "Right!"
"Earphones, go see if Nevermore or Ponytail would be willing to part with anything from their secret stashes of pulp novels that I fucking know they have ." Jirou nodded and was out the door in the next second. He pointed at Ashido next. "Raccoon eyes, start asking around the girls' side, see if anybody might've seen it." Then he pointed at Sero and said, "Soy Sauce, you do the same for the boy's side."
"Right!" Ashido and Sero declared in unison before bolting out of the room.
"Sensei, will you help me check the common areas?" At that point Bakugou didn't necessarily sound pleasant, but he didn't give Aizawa an order.
Aizawa seemed to understand this was character growth and smirked. "Fine," he said, proceeding to shuffle out of the room.
"That was weird," Kaminari whispered.
"Nah, not really," Kirishima laughed, squeezing Kaminari's shoulders. "Bakugou doesn't want to admit it, but he does consider you a friend. And he takes care of his friends!" Kaminari didn't know what to say to that. "Hey, is there anything else I can do?" He asked, and Kaminari leaned his head against his shoulder.
"Pet my hair?" He sniffed, closing his eyes when Kirishima pulled him into a tight hug so he could hold him closely and pet his hair at the same time. "I'm sorry I'm such a mess."
"At least you're a hot mess," Kirishima chuckled, and Kaminari smiled into his shoulder.
"Hey." There was a knock on the door and they looked up to see Jirou standing in Kaminari's doorway with a book cradled in her hands. "I told Tokoyami what kinds of stories you like and he gave me this?" She sounded unsure as she approached, extending a thin book towards him. He frowned, the characters unclear until it was already in his hands.
"Oh, Murakami!" He exclaimed, feeling a sense of relief. "'Norwegian Wood' - I wish I knew Tokoyami had this, this is my favorite Murakami novel!"
"About that," Jirou spoke softly as she sat down beside Kaminari, opposite from Kirishima. "Why didn't you tell anybody you like reading? Why did we have to find out because you had a panic attack from losing your e-reader?"
Kaminari hung his head to avoid looking at either one of his friends. "I… have trouble reading," he admitted quietly. "I pretty much powered through it with my mom's help and the power of love or whatever, but it's still hard, and… it shows in my schoolwork. And ever since elementary school, people have always used my grades as a way to gauge my intelligence, and if I ever did anything to disprove it I - I got made fun of. For trying too hard, or for faking. Or for being weird." He cleared his throat while his eyes burned. "And I - I got so used to people being annoyed by me or making fun of me, I've kind of conditioned myself to assume that I'm one wrong move away from making everyone sick of me. And everybody - everybody thinks I'm dumb and funny, and me liking reading doesn't fit with that, and I - I like you guys, I wouldn't be able to handle it if you ever laughed at me for something I actually care about -"
" Kaminari !"
He jolted upright, gasping when he realized he had started sobbing and was very close to hyperventilating again.
"Kaminari, we would never make fun of you over something so important to you! No one in our class would!" Kirishima insisted.
"Yeah, and making fun of you for liking reading would be dumb!" Jirou insisted.
"It…" he felt his throat growing thick, remembering middle school. "It wasn't the 'liking reading', it was the whole… loving it, part. Like, I would get stupidly excited talking about the newest book I read, and my hands would do this… thing," he demonstrated by wagging his hands. "My mom calls them 'happy hands', but everybody in middle school said I acted stupid and called me a spazz," he grimaced, “among other things.”
"You're still you!" Kirishima insisted, giving him another squeeze. "You're still fun, and honestly? Watching someone get excited and passionate is super fun, and it gets me hyped! And I know you feel the same! That's why you love listening to Jirou talk about music so much, right? And why you never stop me when I get going about Crimson Riot?" He chattered, and after a moment Kaminari smiled and nodded.
"I like seeing people happy," he admitted.
"And we like seeing you happy," Jirou assured him, taking one of his hands and giving it a squeeze. "So if books are what you like, you can talk about them."
"Yeah?" Kaminari sniffed while wiping his cheeks.
"Yeah - and, hey! Maybe you can join the literature club!" Kirishima suggested, but Kaminari shook his head.
"I considered it, at the beginning of the year. But with how much time I spend on homework and training, I don't have time to make it a commitment," he admitted.
"You know, it doesn't have to be a commitment," Jirou pointed out, "you can just go when you have time."
Kaminari's face went blank and he looked between the two of them, genuinely baffled. "You can do that?" He whispered disbelievingly, and they both smiled at him.
"So, how about we do some reading?" Kirishima said while taking the book from Kaminari's hands.
It was a bad idea. A few minutes in and Kirishima couldn't read a few more words without crying, and Jirou was too stunned.
"You like this?" She demanded of Kaminari.
"It's beautiful and tragic!" He objected, taking the book from Kirishima before he could cry on the pages.
"It's just - so sad !" Kirishima wailed. "Her sister dying like that, and - she had so much life ahead of her, so much promise -!"
"I think -" Kaminari faltered and looked down at the passage that had ruined Kirishima so badly; Naoko talking about her sister, how she had lived and how Naoko had found her dead after she killed herself. Kaminari had been twelve the first time he read 'Norwegian Wood ', and it had been against his father's wishes because of the heavy subject matter. "I think it's important - for her to talk about this. Not only for the characters, but for us, as the readers. It's like a cautionary tale, kind of." He traced the words on the cover of the book slowly. "How you can miss that… sometimes, the happiest people are the ones who struggle the hardest."
"Kaminari…" Jirou spoke quietly, and a second later Kirishima was crushing him in another hug.
"I love you, man!" He sobbed, "I love you so much!"
"I love you, too, big guy," he chuckled, snuggling against Kirishima's chest and patting his back.
Kirishima looked ready to go into another tirade powered by brotherly love and affection, but was interrupted by a gentle knock on the door.
"It's unlocked!" Jirou called out, and the door was opened by Sero, who was followed in by a very distraught-looking Iida.
"Hey, guys, Iida has something to say," he said, closing the door behind him. "And don't worry, Bakugou doesn't know about it."
"Why wouldn't Bakugou know about it?" Jirou asked, and Iida pulled Kaminari's tablet from behind his back. "Oh."
"Kaminari-kun, I found this in the common room three days ago when I was going out for my morning run," he explained, holding it towards him with both hands as Kaminari stood up. "I intended to find the person who it belonged to and lecture them about leaving personal items in the common areas, but…" he looked deeply ashamed and clearly struggled with his words. "I… there is nothing on your tablet to indicate that it is yours. The image files are password-protected, so the only clues are the books on it. And I -" he stopped abruptly and took a deep breath before bowing violently at his waist and yelling at Kaminari's floor, "I did not consider that you would have such an extensive collection of literature, nor so many books in English! I have paid you a great disrespect and insult! I know now I should have taken it to Aizawa, or asked around the class, or have even made an effort to get to know you better! My actions have caused you emotional pain and distress, and for that I cannot forgive myself -!"
"Iida!" Kaminari snapped to stop him, and Iida froze but didn't stand up straight. "I already forgive you," he insisted gently.
"You should not," Iida muttered, "I - for all intents and purposes, I stole a possession of yours that holds great personal value -"
"The way I choose to see it is that you kept it safe," Kaminari smiled, finally accepting his tablet and hugging it to his chest. "I must have taken it to the common room after I fried myself last week. I-" he faltered and glanced around the people in his room. "I don't like being alone when I'm fried," he admitted, "my subconscious mind must associate the common room with company."
"Huh, that's a good idea," Jirou said, tapping something out on her phone. "What do you guys say to a sleepover in the common room?"
"That sounds awesome!" Kirishima cheered.
"I don't know, guys, I kinda have to…" Kaminari drifted off and gestured at the mess he had made of his room.
"Kaminari-kun, allow me to clean this up for you," Iida spoke up, and everyone stared at him in disbelief. "However unintentional it may have been, I caused you a great deal of stress and grief. I am quick and efficient, I will be able to clean everything up and join everyone in the common room for a class sleepover in no time at all!"
"What? Iida, I can't let you do that -!" Kaminari tried to say, but he was interrupted by Sero and Kirishima flanking him and grabbing him by his armpits to carry him out of his room. "Whoa, hey! What's the big idea?"
"Don't take too long, Iida," Jirou said, patting Iida's shoulder as she followed the boys out of the room.
"Guys, really, we don't have to!" Kaminari tried to insist as he was carried down the hall. "Hell, we shouldn't ! It's a school night!"
"Quit complaining and prepare yourself for storytime," Jirou deadpanned, hitting the elevator button for the ground floor.
Kaminari felt his anxiety growing, and Sero let go of him while Kirishima hardened his hands without moving. "Sorry," he muttered when sparks fizzled against him, but Kirishima just smiled.
"Relax, dude, we're all doing this as a show of support!"
"And who all is 'we'?" Kaminari asked warily as the elevator doors opened up, revealing a common area filled with blankets and pillows, and pretty much everyone from their class. "Oh."
"Kaminari!" Uraraka cheered, being the first to see him. "Mina told us you wanted to read us a bedtime story!"
Anxiety clawed at his throat and he held his tablet tighter, the plastic cover creaking under his grip. "Um."
"Personally, I thought it sounded lovely. My nanny used to read to me when I was little, and I have fond memories of it," Yaoyorozu said, pulling a pillow from her thigh and passing it to Todoroki.
"My mother and sister read to me when I was young," Todoroki said, looking thoughtful. "But my father found out and said it was 'improper'. I think hearing bedtime stories now would make him mad."
" Um ."
"I think all of us had stories read to us when we were young," Midoriya told him, already curled up under an All Might blanket. "After everything that's happened this year, I'm sure most of us miss those simpler times."
"I know I do," Asui added, "I miss reading to my siblings, kero ."
Kaminari felt his cheeks heating up and rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly as he let out a small, nervous chuckle. "I'm glad you guys are looking forward to it, it's just that…" he glanced at Kirishima beside him, then Sero, and Jirou nodded when his eyes settled on her. "The book I wanted to read tonight… it's in English."
All of his classmates looked surprised - all of them, and yeah, okay, that kind of hurt.
Surprisingly, it was Ojiro who recovered from his surprise first, chiming in with an enthusiastic, "So read it slowly!"
"Yeah!" A long-sleeved shirt waved in the air, "It can be good listening practice for all of us!"
"Hagakure has a point, and if anyone has any questions I'm sure those of us who understand can explain!" Yaoyorozu insisted.
A new thickness grew in Kaminari's throat as Kirishima started nudging him towards the couch. "Yeah?" He rasped, looking over his classmates as they all nodded enthusiastically.
"And next time," Tokoyami spoke up as Kaminari was pushed into a seat, "you can read 'Norwegian Wood'. I look forward to hearing what you think."
"He's already read it, apparently," Jirou said, sitting down on the same sleeping bag as Yaoyorozu. "Says it's his favorite Murakami novel."
"Truly?" Tokoyami's eyes lit up and he said, "I would like to hear your thoughts."
"Yeah, of course," Kaminari murmured reverently, his eyes starting to burn.
"Oi." He felt the couch dip violently next to him and saw Bakugou flopped into the seat beside him. "Wipe that snot off of your face," he sneered, "I'm not gonna be friends with someone who cries as much as Deku ."
"Too late, man," he chuckled, clicking on his tablet and tapping through the screens. "Is everybody sure about this?" He asked one last time, just to be sure.
"Go for it!"
"We're all ears."
That last agreement prompted everyone to turn and stare at Shouji in disbelief, his eyes smiling.
"Dude," Kaminari whispered reverently, yelping when Bakugou flicked his ear.
"Just get to it, Pikachu," he said without any venom.
"Alright, alright!" He laughed, looking down at his tablet and taking a deep breath.
"When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home..."