There are many ways, so many ways—literally infinite ways—this night could have gone.
It’s dark, they’re all exhausted, and they’re all sat at a restaurant in civilian clothes after a long few hours at their internships, Shouto and Izuku off at the table next to them and Katsuki sitting across from Endeavor. The invite had been Enji’s, and none of them are prone to turning down free food, especially after a shift like that, and it’s nice, honestly, in Katsuki’s opinion, sitting and eating in exhausted silence—well, he and Enji are eating in exhausted silence while Izuku and Shouto chat about whatever the fuck inspires them at this god awful time in the night.
Enji exudes heat even with his flames turned off, and it’s welcoming in a drowsy sort of way, and maybe he hasn’t been sleeping the greatest recently and that’s why it’s so fucking nice, but—it is! Sue him. It’s nice. It’s nice in the same way he finds Shouto’s warm side nice when they sit in the common room just before he heads off to bed. It’s nice.
His feet feel sweaty, which is so unbelievably gross, and yet he still can’t find it in him to move, letting the heat wash over him in calming waves, lulling his buzzing mind into a state of approximate relaxation that has his eyelids drooping and appetite fleeing, and he doesn’t even really realize he’s done with his food until Enji moves to stand and the heat shifts and startles him back into alertness, throat tight and muscles tense, eyes searching for a threat that doesn’t exist.
“Anything else?” the man asks them as he rises, burning gaze washing over all of them. They shake their heads like trained dogs—which, fuck that, he’s definitely not a dog, let alone a trained one—and he moves to stand then, all of them stumbling up to follow, and if Katsuki stands next to him unlike his usual distance of ‘as far from the fucking Todoroki drama as is humanly possible while still working with the dude’, well, that’s his business.
Also, seriously, fuck off. He’s tired. Cut him some slack.
“Kacchan, are you okay,” Izuku asks softly, eyeing him worriedly as they step out of the restaurant. It should really be alarming that Katsuki can’t even bring up enough ire to be pissed—because, really, the concern just makes him feel warm, and he just grunts, grip flexing around the handle of his hero case, other hand shoved deep into his pocket. “Kacchan?”
“I’m fucking fine, nerd,” he bites back, baring his teeth in a snarl that pales in comparison to literally any of his ones in the past. He’s too drowsy for this shit.
The broccoli head doesn’t even have the decency—the goddamn courtesy—to look chagrined, instead just displaying open concern that has his stomach flip flopping and his brain feeling a little bit more like mush, an irritating buzzing in his ears, and he’s jolted out of it when a hot hand falls onto his shoulder and bodily steers him out of the way of oncoming foot traffic, and he hears Izuku let out a sharp yelp of surprise—and he imagines Shouto’s just done the same.
“Oh! Sorry, sorry!”
It’s a small consolation to know he wasn’t the only one distracted, even if it’s a little embarrassing to be steered by the neck like a toddler.
Except Enji’s warm grip has his muscles loosening, achingly tense shoulders dropping, and he feels, somehow, even more drowsy than he did before. He’s not sure if the frown Shouto sends his way when they rejoin after the majority of whatever drunken party just galloped down the street is gone is because of the fact that Enji doesn’t remove his hand or because he looks worse than he thought and Izuku might actually have reason to worry.
It doesn’t matter, though, in the end.
Quite frankly, he’s grateful for the guiding hand because unless there’s a sudden threat, he highly doubts he’ll be able to piece his attention span together long enough to get himself back to the dorms safely, anyway. Or, really, to the number one hero’s car so that they can be driven back.
He’s satisfied in the knowledge that he can let himself be directed through the streets this time and that he’ll have his first proper night’s rest in four days if how he’s feeling now is anything to go by.
And that’s exactly what he does, honestly. And he can’t find it in himself to be embarrassed. Exhaustion is exhaustion, and he’ll be the first to admit that he’s been pushing it. He’s never done well without sleep, and going to classes and internships is an exhausting blend that has his insomnia feeling all the more apparent.
He’d thought he’d gotten it under control over the years, but clearly he hasn’t quite mastered managing it, and Izuku is a a good stand in for Enji when they arrive at the school and make their way over to Heights Alliance, solid and warm against his side in a different but equally comforting way.
And, boy, are those words he’s never even thinking about in the presence of Shouto, slowly mending father-son relationship or not.
“We’ll see you tomorrow, Shouto,” Izuku bids in the elevator, and that’s when Katsuki faintly registers the fact that Izuku’s taken him up to his floor, to his room, and he’s suddenly grateful for it—not that he’ll vocalize it even if he could, which he can’t, because his mouth feels almost glued shut with sleep—as they step out and he nearly crashes into the wall—yet another embarrassing event he’s going to aggressively ignore, feeling horribly unsteady on his own legs. Izuku’s quick to straighten him, and once he’s inside his room, it feels like all bets are off, his body entirely willing to just check out for the day, mind gone.
He can hear Izuku’s soft huff of laughter, distant but present, as he’s hoisted up, door swinging shut behind them.
Izuku’s growth spurt is both a blessing and a curse, and Katsuki hates it at all times. No exceptions. Not even now.
He just doesn’t have the energy to fight back right now, that’s it. Yup. That’s it.
“I should’ve known you haven’t been sleeping,” he whispers as he sets Katsuki onto the bed, gentle—always so fucking gentle, like he’s going to break even though he’s not made of fucking glass; he’s probably more durable than Deku himself. “You’ve been off your game.”
“Depressing,” he slurs, blinking dazedly at the green-haired monstrosity of a human being that has an entirely unfair unknowing claim on the stupid organ pumping blood through his veins as he bends down and undoes the button of Katsuki’s pants.
He can’t even be embarrassed, hardly ever is to begin with, hips shifting weakly in a poor imitation of aid as Izuku undresses him, folding his pants and setting them aside. The shirt comes off next, and for the brief moments that the light is blocked out as it’s dragged up over his head, sleep hits him like a punch in the face before it’s rudely stabbed away by the cruel light as the shirt is successfully removed and he’s left lounging in his briefs, socks carefully removed with soft, calloused hands.
“You’re basically asleep already, Kacchan,” Izuku murmurs, and if he had more fucks to give, he would yell at him for making fun of him. But right now, he doesn’t really feel cognizant enough to do more than flail a hand out and snag his fingers in Izuku’s shirt and cling. “Kacchan?”
“Just sleep here,” he mumbles, or thinks he does, anyway, fingers hooking harder into the fabric with whatever strength he has left as Izuku shifts.
Like fuck he’s going to let the loser leave. If something decides to attempt to interrupt his first decent sleep in days, the nerd should be around to deal with it for him. That’s just how it should be.
He’s not sure, but he thinks he sees Izuku smiling down at him as his hand settles around his wrist and gently pries his fingers off. He grunts, brows twitching into a weak frown that only smoothens as he hears the scrape of a zipper and soft footsteps, the rustle of fabric.
The bed is most definitely not big enough for both of them to fit with room, not really, but he doesn’t mind. Not usually, and especially not right now.
When they were kids, this was their favorite way to sleep during sleepovers—huddled together, always touching in some way even on the hottest of days. Katsuki remembers those times, so clear and crisp in his mind like they had just happened and not like they were prized mementos that he keeps shut away in the deep recesses of his brain, heart aching. Izuku’s bare shoulder is warm and solid under his cheek, and he can hear the steady breaths he takes—inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
His heartbeat slows, breaths dipping to match him.
Latching onto the arm closest to him, scarred and strong, as if to ensure he couldn’t possibly leave, he feels safe. And warm. So warm.
And it seems like a good choice, this sharing a bed thing, especially to his sleep-addled mind—an inspired decision, truly one of a kind.
In the harsh light of the morning, far too early for such a late night—and shut up, ten is a late night for him, okay, fuck—he realizes rather quickly that any decision with or regarding Deku is bound to be a stupid one that inevitably ends in a headache for him.
“This better be serious,” Aizawa grumps down the phone line, and, really, if it wasn’t for the respect he holds for the man he’d be shouting at him that it’s not like he wanted to also be awake and bothered right now, but not everyone gets to choose how they’re woken up, Aizawa, so fucking deal with it—
“We have a situation and you need to get down here.”
“Kid, it’s four in the morning—”
Big green eyes blink up at him from a small, round face, and Katsuki scrambles out of the bed, nearly braining himself on his desk in his haste, turning his back to the bed as he tries to catalogue the past night through his hazy memory.
It’s not helpful.
“Get. Down here.”
A beat of silence that feels like it stretches eons and then, “Alright.”
That one word is a blessing, and he feels like he can actually take a breath when he hangs up—albeit a shaky and far too thin one. A breath is a breath, and he’s not about to be picky when he’s trying not to panic.
And there goes all of the air he managed to swallow down.
Letting his hand with the phone fall limply to his side, he slowly turns with hesitant steps to face his bed, heart thudding a painful tattoo against his ribs, and he feels ill as his eyes land on those same bright green gems and floppy curls and freckle spotted round cheeks that haunt his nightmares and plague his mind during his darkest moments. That same small hand from his childhood that has him jolting back on instinct, feeling all too exposed and far too vulnerable in the confines of his own room, skin bare and yet feeling too hot.
Okay. Okay, fuck.
Green eyes glisten with slowly welling tears, and his heart lurches, stomach twisting.
He chokes out, cautiously, weakly, “Deku—“
“Kacchan!” And there’s the smile, that same eager smile that’s never changed no matter how old they get, no matter how far apart they were, no matter what challenge he faced, and he can’t fucking breathe. “Why are you so big? Oh, Kacchan, is this—did your quirk come in? Kacchan’s amazing!”
“What? No. Deku,” he scrambles, grabbing the first shirt his fingers touch, and he doesn’t even care that it’s Deku’s as he tugs it on, stupid slogan almost laughing at him as it hangs around his frame like a fucking bag, “I—fuck, okay.” His palms crackle, slick with sweat, and his eyes press shut, trembling breaths making his lungs ache, and he needs to calm down, calm down, calm down—fuck.
There’s a rustle, and he peers down when he feels arms, so small and fragile and achingly familiar, wrap around his leg, and green wet eyes with fat, hot tears already rolling down round cheeks look up at him with that same damning concern that is always on his fucking face, and Katsuki wants scream, but he also wants to cry, and he can’t fucking do either, and—
He crumples, knees hitting the ground, and he grabs for his shirt on the floor, hurriedly tugging it onto Izuku’s naked body, and small hands reach up and palm at his cheeks as his head ducks, fingers working on tying a knot at the bottom of the shirt to shorten it up just a bit, and he freezes at the touch, fingers twitching before they stiffly finish it up. And then Deku’s in his lap, clingy shit that he is, small hands pawing at his cheeks and he doesn’t know why—
“Don’t cry, Kacchan.”
“Don’t—don’t cry,” Izuku hiccups, and his face is a blotchy red mess of tears and snot, and it’s so absurd to be told by that mess to not cry that Katsuki can’t help but snort, heartbeat slowly calming, lungs shuddering around a breath that feels slightly fuller, lips twitching around the sudden burst of mirth that fills him up inside as Izuku beams at the sound, sniffling something ugly and thick as his nose drips and his eyes drip and fucking everything’s dripping—god, he forgot how much more Izuku used to cry in these moments when they were younger—and he huffs, catching Izuku’s wrists and wiping at his own eyes, shaking his head with a sniff.
“Look at you, nerd. You’re a damn mess,” he mutters, but he can’t help the fond tone that sneaks into his voice, unbidden like the traitor it is, and he leans back, Deku clinging to him clumsily, refusing to get off like any sane human would do, and grabs blindly for his desk, searching in the drawers for the packet of tissues he keeps there—mainly for the amount of crying Kaminari does during tutoring—and Deku’s still sniffling like an idiot when he finds them, hiccuping around tears and a wavering smile.
“Well—well,” Izuku hiccups, and he leans into it when Katsuki presses back his hair gently, heart clenching at the softness of the curls underneath his touch, tugging out a tissue and going about wiping wet cheeks and a snot smeared upper lip, “Kacchan was sad, so, so, so I was sad, and, and, Kacchan was crying, so I, I cried because when Kacchan hurts, I hurt, and, and—”
“Okay, okay, I got it,” he mumbles, cheeks burning, and, honestly, he shouldn’t be surprised that is the exact moment the lock on his door clicks and it swings open to reveal Aizawa looking hassled and hastily put-together, tired gaze sweeping over them before it’s settling on Katsuki, clearly asking for a breakdown Katsuki doesn’t know how to give.
“Okay, so it was serious. Explanation,” he instructs, closing the door as Izuku blows his nose into the tissue Katsuki holds up for him, “now.”
So Katsuki gives him the run-down the of the previous night. What he remembers, anyway.
“Why didn’t you visit Recovery Girl if you were having trouble sleeping?”
“That’s not the most important part of this right now,” he bites back, and Aizawa simply levels him with a raised brow. “Look, Todoroki will probably have a more detailed recount for you. Fucking Endeavor was there with us the whole time, too.”
“Endeavor,” Izuku echoes in quiet awe under his breath, nestled determinedly against Katsuki’s chest despite the blonde’s best efforts to detach the fucking leech.
“I’m not worried about the recount, Bakugou,” the man sighs tiredly, clearly beyond exhausted, and three years of this nonsense and Katsuki still can’t quite quash the worry that flares inside of him at the sight. “I’m worried about you.”
“I’m fine,” he gripes, but he can feel his hands shaking, and he lurches, palm crackling instinctively, as Izuku suddenly latches onto one, clumsy fingers stroking the back of his hand and the length of his forearm while making soft shushing noises that have his cheeks flaring red and his stomach twisting in discomfort as Deku—fucking Deku—takes his weakness and thrusts it into the harsh light of day, shines a spotlight down on it, draws a map, fucking places a neon sign over it like he always fucking does, and fuck, fuck, fuck.
He doesn’t want to be here.
Aizawa stares at him, them, and Katsuki fights not cry. Or scream. Or do literally any of the embarrassing things his stupid heart wants him to do, like give into the comfort Deku’s providing like he’s not also the one causing all of his distress.
Fuck, he fucking hates this broccoli haired loser so much.
There’s a sigh, and his eyes flicker up to see his teacher slouch a little in the deckchair he’s currently occupying, expression tight even as his shoulders slump. “I’ll speak to Todoroki when he wakes up before class, so make sure he knows. And as for Midoriya,” he trails off, and Katsuki feels the green mass of hair shift, probably to look over at Aizawa and sighs because he knows what’s coming—knows like he knows everything in life, like he knows that he’ll be number one, like he knows that his friends are beyond loud, like he knows that Deku’s a clingy little shit and there’s a fucking reason he could never shake the nerd off his tail and, really—
“I’ll be good!”
“You won’t even know I’m there.”
Katsuki’s head falls.
Silence reigns for a moment, and Katsuki counts the seconds in his head.
Honestly, just kill him.
Death doesn’t come, of course, and life finds him at Yaoyorozu’s door, Izuku left at his room, feeling positively murderous as the girl opens the door and straight up yelps at the sight of him. Three years and these idiots still pull this shit on him. They’re lucky he’s never punched them for it, really.
“Bakugou! What a surprise,” Yaoyorozu sings, hands working hurriedly to tie her hair up into her signature ponytail, shirt loosely buttoned and skirt already sitting comfortably on her hips. “How can I help you? Is there a problem?”
“I need you to make me some clothes,” he says, trying to keep the irritated growl out out of his voice. “Pants, actually.” He hates Deku violently right now. The little shit refused to take off his shirt.
“Kacchan gave it to me. Does Kacchan not like me anymore? Does he not want to share his stuff with me anymore? Do you not love me anymore Kacchan?”
Do you not love me anymore, Kacchan?
Literally fuck Deku.
“Pants,” she echoes, startled.
“Yeah, about,” he gestures with his hands a hasty measurement, thinking back to four year old Deku probably going through all of his belongings like the creep he is, “this big.”
“Uh, okay? Any color?”
“Just pants. I don’t care about the extra shit.”
He pays her back for her service in a full breakfast already prepared downstairs because she’s not some fucking machine and he’s not going to treat her like one no matter how many times she says it’s fine. He hates owing people shit, anyway. And Izuku, weepy little shit that he is, cries over his pants and slips them on like they’re the greatest thing ever, and Katsuki just wants this day to be over.
And after seven hours of the class fawning over Izuku during every break as he sits in his usual desk behind Katsuki and doodles and writes, the day finally is, and he feels like he can breathe for a moment. It was—it was so similar to life before, back when they were younger, back when they were inseparable and Katsuki would’ve been a millionaire if he had a dollar from every time that blasted nickname left Izuku’s lips. “Kacchan, look at this; Kacchan, look at that. Kacchan, what do you think? Kacchan, you’re so amazing! Kacchan, don’t get upset. Kacchan, stop it—you shouldn’t do that to yourself. Kacchan, Kacchan, Kacchan—”
He wants to punch something, scream, tear his hair out, hide, something, anything—he feels like an exposed nerve, pulsing and unprotected, frizzing with so many signals coming in and scraped raw. He just wants to tear his flesh and drag it over, get some shelter, some protection, so that everything doesn’t just hurt, hurt, hurt and feel so fucking raw.
“So, you guys were actually friends as kids?”
“I always thought Midoriya was lying about that,” Uraraka admits, tucking her hair behind her ear as Katsuki tries not to crumble apart, lungs shaking, as he slumps further into the couch. He doesn’t even care that he’s taking up all of the space. He’s just a little busy trying to piece together enough of a will to drag himself up to his room to deal with Deku alone without the buffer of their classmates even though they are very much not fucking helping.
“Kacchan’s my best friend,” Izuku grunts, dragging himself up onto the couch with small limbs, feet kicking out and scrabbling against the fabric until he gets himself up, and Katsuki groans as he gets crawled over, but then Izuku’s shoving at his head and he lifts it purely to glare at him, and the little shit plops down in the suddenly vacated space, hands immediately diving into blonde strands and patting away.
Katsuki can’t even fight it when his face is pushed down to rest on his tiny little lap, eyes suddenly burning as small fingers weave through his hair and pet at his scalp. God, when was the last time Izuku did this? Fuck, when was the last time Katsuki let him do this? When—when?
“Wait, so when did you guys stop being friends?”
Everything feels like it freezes.
The hands still, icy weights on his head, and Katsuki feels like he’s going to puke, muscles tensing and throat aching, suffocating, and fuck—he needs to leave, he needs to leave right now, like right the fuck now, fuck—
“Why would Kacchan and I stop being friends?”
Izuku’s brow furrows, big eyes staring up at a room of strangers. Kacchan shakes under him, minute tremors that making him feel like he’s vibrating with him, and he hurries to soothe him, hands clumsily patting around the curve of his scalp, so unfamiliar and yet still the same. There’s still the same little dip in the skull at the center of his head, and Katsuki still shudders just a bit and tilts his head away when his fingers brush it. There’s still the scar at the back of his neck from an accident playing outside.
No matter how old Kacchan is, or how young Izuku becomes since he’s apparently supposed to also be big, Kacchan will always be the same.
And these people—he doesn’t know them, but he knows that their words have an impact, an impact on Katsuki. And he won’t stand for an upset Kacchan, not now and not ever. Because they’re best friends, no matter what these people say.
“Oh, uh,” the brown haired girl with the pink cheeks looks uncertain, and Izuku feels sickly pleased at having knocked her off her rhythm, arms curling protectively around Katsuki’s head, suddenly wishing he were bigger if only to be able to encompass more of Kacchan’s body and hide him from view. They don’t deserve to see Kacchan upset, especially not if they’re the ones causing his sadness.
Because Kacchan is sensitive.
He knows that like he knows he breathes air and that his dad is gone away and that Katsuki likes his mom more than his own and that he loves Kacchan with his whole heart. For all that Katsuki is strong, he’s also so much more. So much more. And he feels a lot. It’s what’s going to make him a great hero! Izuku wishes he could compare. But he can do this. He can protect the man who’s going to save them all someday right here and right now, offer his support and help in whatever way he can.
He’s not going anywhere.
He’s the Deku that stays, after all.
“We don’t actually know how you guys stopped being friends,” the girl with purple hair comments, looking sheepish, and he blinks at her owlishly before his expression collapses into a glare that he doesn’t even try to hide. Couldn’t even if he did. “You guys just didn’t get on well when you came here. Neither of you actually explained the details.”
No. No, no, no. That’s a lie. She’s lying. She’s positively lying.
“If you don’t know, then you can’t be right.”
“You can’t talk about things you don’t know.”
They’re all lying.
“Kacchan says spreading mis—misinform—misinformation is bad.”
“Oh, Midoriya, we’re not—”
If—if they were telling the truth, then Kacchan wouldn’t be here. If they were telling the truth, Kacchan wouldn’t have held him earlier. If they were telling the truth, then Kacchan wouldn’t have taken care of him today, wouldn’t have let him stroke his hair, wouldn’t be shaking in his lap with small tremors in a tension lined body like if he flexes every muscle he can hide the shake. He does that a lot.
Izuku can read him like a book.
“None of you know Kacchan. Stop making him sad.”
That finally gets Katsuki moving, and when he twists, forces his breath steady and expression bland enough to look up, it’s to see Izuku, eyes brimming with tears, like they always used to, expect the expression of rage on his face is new—unknown yet not unfamiliar—filled with so much anger that he’s actually pretty sure he sees Uraraka freeze.
Katsuki’s not the only one who changed as they grew.
And Izuku’s larger than life emotions were even worse when they were younger.
He focuses on that instead of the words falling from the four year old’s lips, damning words that once more lay him open for all to see when all he wants to do is run and hide, instead left flailing to keep on his mask, to wear this facade of nonchalance and irritation like he’s not fracturing apart into a million pieces every time Izuku steps in front of him—like he’s something, someone, to be protected.
“Don’t talk!” Izuku’s fingers almost hurt as they twist in his hair, clenching tightly, trying to tug him closer. Katsuki feels his breath catch. “You don’t get to upset Kacchan. None of you do. You don’t—you shouldn’t—Kacchan deserves better, he,” the boy hiccups, big eyes dripping like small faucets, “he should never be sad, he shouldn’t, he—he deserves—Kacchan should always be happy.”
“Midoriya,” Uraraka tries, eyes big and sympathetic, all of their expressions are, really, leaning closer and crouching down, looking apologetic. Izuku simply snarls around giant tears and a dripping nose, curls bouncing with every irate jerk of his head.
His voice is hoarser than he imagined it would be which is mildly embarrassing, but, really, dealing with Deku at this age is embarrassing in and of itself, so what’s a little hoarseness, to go along with it. They can’t get anything substantial from that, anyway, probably. Hopefully.
When those eyes turn down to look at him, he flips onto his back with a smooth shuffle, digging in his pocket and dragging out the packet of tissues he had stuffed there precisely because of the potential of another waterworks show, opening it up and dragging out a couple with a small huff. “Look at you,” he mutters, reaching up and gently patting the soft material under his eyes and across chubby cheeks, wiping freckled pastures free of the moisture, “making a mess again.”
“But—but Kacchan was sad again, so—”
“I’m not sad, Deku,” he mumbles, softly, reassuringly, trying to keep the exhaustion out of his voice, trying to be calm, trying to be a lot of things he hasn’t managed to be since he was four—since before his quirk, since before they drifted apart.
Deku looks down at him and then drops forward like a sack of potatoes, burying his mildly cleaner face into his neck with a sniffle, curls soft against his skin. “Liar.”
Katsuki looks up at the ceiling blankly, ignoring the eyes on them, focusing on small hands in his hair and soft curls against his cheek and sniffled breaths against his neck. He wishes he were asleep. “Maybe.”
Two days go by before Aizawa gets anything resembling a lead, and, by then, they’ve established a system. A system of Deku playing bodyguard and Katsuki being too fucking tired to deal with it properly. His classmates tell him he should discourage this un-Deku-like behavior. Katsuki tells them all to not-so-kindly fuck off.
Clearly none of them grew up with the clingy shit.
And Deku—he’s apparently made it his life’s mission to take care of Katsuki.
Katsuki wishes Aizawa would work faster.
It’s a childish desire, really, but he means it all the same.
He feels tired, emotionally wrung out, heart abused and aching. He’s really not sure if leaving Deku in his care was the best idea, but he also wasn’t going to entrust him to anyone else—not that Deku would even let him consider the possibility and not like he was actually given a choice. But now, standing behind the broccoli haired monster as he sits on the counter and lets Katsuki’s hands guide his through the process of breading the pork cutlet that will become their dinner, he kind of wishes he had handed him over during the brief window of chance he might have had.
Maybe if he had just said that he wasn’t okay, that maybe he wasn’t in the best mental space—or, fuck, even just physical state—to take care of a four year old, then he wouldn’t be here.
Izuku’s curls are soft against his forehead when he lets his head drop down in exhaustion, and he aches in places he didn’t even know could, a full body throb of pure tiredness that transcends simple physical limitations, and he just wants to rest. This—he isn’t ready for this. Somedays he’s not sure he can ever even have this again. Izuku’s got an appallingly big heart—he knows they could get to this place again. Hell, he’s sure they would already be there if it was up to Izuku, but—
He’s not sure if he would survive it if they did.
But—he forgot. Forgot under the layers of repression and anger and pain, forgot during years of silence and distance, brusque words harshly exchanged, dotting a crumbling relationship—he forgot what it felt like to be in someone else’s care. He wasn’t supposed to be, wasn’t ever supposed to be. He learned that young, very young. That wasn’t for people like him—that wasn’t for him. But Deku—
Big eyes and an even bigger heart, soft hands that would hold his so tightly, bright smiles that would make every problem and ache and pain seem so trivial in the face of such brightness—Deku took care of him. ‘Kacchan’s so strong’ was his mantra, but he still ran to his aid if he got a scrape or a bruise, wouldn’t mock him when a particularly violent scene in whatever All Might movie they watched made him rear back like he’d been slapped, would stroke his hair and shush him when things felt like too much and wipe his tears, would cry with him so he didn’t feel so achingly alone in the sea of emotion, “when Kacchan’s sad, I’m sad.”
He can’t have that. He won’t survive that.
That night, making Deku stay in his bed to sleep, letting him be so close, was a mistake. A mistake that just seems clearer with every passing day.
“Kacchan’s so talented,” Izuku chirps, hoisted on his hip to watch as Katsuki puts the meat to fry, fingers curled in his shirt.
“It ain’t talent, loser. It’s skill.”
Izuku tilts his head. “But isn’t it talent?”
“Talent, you’re born with, dumbass. Skill, you cultivate.”
“I fucking practiced at this shit, Deku. That’s why it’s skill.”
Emerald orbs widen and then brighten, smile spreading so tall and large that it looks almost painful, cheeks bunching and dyeing a happy shade of pink that make his freckles look dark in comparison. “Kacchan’s so amazing, then!”
Yeah. So fucking amazing.
He jolts, turning from where he’s setting the finished plates of food down on the table, meeting Aizawa’s eyes. He places Izuku on the chair, shoving utensils into his hands, taking a calming breath as he turns and walks over to Aizawa. “Got an update?”
“We’re scheduling a time to get Endeavor in to talk to him. The traffic cameras didn’t catch the clearest images of the people at the restaurant you said you went to, and we already ruled out the villains you all fought.”
“You guys drafted some profiles that match with the basic descriptors and the quirk kinds, right?”
“You know we did.”
Katsuki resists the urge to snarl back in response, instead looking down at the ground with a furrow in his brows. Calling in Enji was a good idea, but they were also counting on his memory to identify the quirk user—or rather the multiple people in the group they bumped into—the drunk group filled with too many giggling, hunched forms—the drunk group Enji pulled him out of the way from that he barely remembers, a black mass of bodies and dark clothes. If they looked faceless to him, he’s not sure what Enji will have to go off of.
“Todoroki’s the one that pulled Deku out of the way. He might have had a better vantage to anyone near Deku.”
“We already made a note of that. He’ll also be brought in.”
And Katsuki was on babysitting duty.
He suddenly feels even more tired.
“Have you been sleeping, Bakugou?”
He looks up, startled, and his chest aches. He wants to say no, give a negatory, say that he hasn’t and that he’s feeling terrible, but, honestly, it’s hard to not sleep well with Deku wrapped around his head, murmuring soft assurances like he can somehow feel how frayed Katsuki is. But his exhaustion isn’t physical. And that’s the worst verdict he could have had, honestly. Because UA doesn’t care if the injuries aren’t on the outside.
Aizawa might be different, but that doesn’t matter. Not really. Not with this. Because Deku wasn’t going to go anywhere, anyway. So no matter what, he’d still be feeling like this, still be feeling hollow, wanting to cry and scream but not wanting Deku to do the same, not wanting to stress out a boy that for some godforsaken reason cares for him way too much.
He wants to disappear.
Aizawa’s gaze is scrutinizing, critical, searching and prying in its weight before he nods and looks over at where Deku sits, happily munching on his bowl of katsudon while also tossing them cautious looks.
Looking out for Katsuki.
His throat feels tight.
“I’ll keep you updated.”
His eyes burn.
He wants to disappear.
He just wants to disappear.
Deku comes to gym—purely to watch. They’re hoping he’ll maybe retain his memory when he gets bigger, hopefully, and that he’ll be able to use his memories for something beneficial. It’s a little bit of a shot in the dark, but it doesn’t really matter too much. It’s not like Deku would stay in the classroom anyway—and it certainly wouldn’t be advised.
He’s next to Katsuki, playing with his fingers while keeping up a stream of mumbled commentary that has Katsuki’s head feeling pleasantly fuzzy, lips twitching unconsciously into a smile. He feels young again, sitting with Izuku and watching the news, listening to him theorize on their quirks while they both stare at images they’re both probably too young to see, joyous and unhindered by all the stuff that comes later.
“I can’t wait till I get my quirk,” Izuku suddenly sighs, head tilting to knock against Katsuki’s arm, and he freezes, heart stuttering. “Then I can always protect Kacchan. And Kacchan can protect the world.”
He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe—he can’t—he remembers how it went when Izuku first found it, giant tears and hollow, empty eyes, dark bags and trembling lips. He had looked devastated, gutted, like his world had been destroyed in front of him—like his future had been set up in flames. And Katsuki—Katsuki remembers twisting the knife, and he can’t breathe, can’t breathe.
“You probably got yours first, though, right? Kacchan’s amazing.”
“I wonder what mine’ll be.”
“Ah, I forgot Kacchan knows! Hey, hey, what’s my quirk? When does it come in? Am I good at protecting you? Do I take care of you?”
Deku’s clambered off the bench to stand between his knees, small hands reaching up to eagerly tug at his sports uniform. Katsuki finds himself desperately glad that they’re sat far from their classmates, a consequence—or benefit, depending on how he looked at it, and it definitely felt like a benefit right now—of Deku’s feral streak with them, and Deku’s stupid big eyes are pleading and open, wide and beseeching, and Katsuki doesn’t know what to do, what to say, how to act.
“You’re just like All Might.”
His voice is hoarse and it cracks over the words, brittle and faint. He doesn’t know what to do—doesn’t know, doesn’t know. All he knows is that he can’t repeat the past, not now, not when he knows how it goes. He can’t, he can’t—
His eyes burn. “Yeah.” Izuku’s curls are soft between his fingers, and his smile grows even brighter, and Katsuki’s face twitches into a poor mimicry, wobbling and barely noticeable, and his vision fractures.
“Do I take care of Kacchan?”
His guffaw is weak, breathy, and he swallows thickly, blinking rapidly to clear his gaze, but it doesn’t really work, and Deku’s looking a little panicked now, smile faltering as he reaches up with small hands, pawing at his cheeks frantically, his own eyes filling, and, fuck—what a loser. They’re both losers, sitting off to the corner, crying over nothing and everything, not that Deku fucking knows that, useless shit that he is, going off and getting de-aged on him. It has something that maybe approximates as a sob rattling out of him, and his shoulders hunch high, and he feels so tired—so fucking tired.
“You always take care of me,” he chokes out, voice barely above a whisper, breath shaking as he tries to keep the sobs in, tries to hide, but the dam’s opened and he can’t—he can’t—“Always.”
Deku’s arms are stupidly warm around him, big and secure, holding his face pressed into his shoulder, long fingers stroking through his hair. “Oh, Kacchan,” he whispers, voice low and deep, and Katsuki shakes at the sound, hands coming up at grasping uselessly a shirt that fits far too tight, curling into the wall of warmth provided.
He’s just so fucking tired.
“I’m always going to take care of Kacchan. Always.”
Loser, he thinks softly, pulling back, and it’s Izuku. His Izuku—his stupid Deku—staring at him with warm, kind eyes and tear stained cheeks, stupid dumbass sympathetic crier that he is, never grew out of that shit, and Katsuki huffs around a sob, and Izuku wipes at his cheeks with a calloused thumb.
“Fucking nerd, your pants ripped,” he mutters, wanting to scrub at his face, but Izuku catches his hands, holding them gently and tucking Katsuki’s head into the crook of his neck, placing his arms around his neck and then reaching down to grip under his thighs.
“Be my pants for a second, yeah?”
He yelps as he’s hoisted up, legs wrapping automatically around that dumb nerd’s waist, and when he pulls back to look at the broccoli haired idiot with a glare, the loser is grinning, wide and bright, unashamed of his tear stained cheeks and puffy red eyes, cheeks flushed lightly in embarrassment as he begins to move, One For All crackling along his body.
“Sorry, Kacchan. I don’t have Mirio’s confidence. Hold on.”
He’ll forever deny that he laughed like an idiot, laughed around the tears, laughed around the exhaustion, when Deku—stupid, caring, heart too big for his own fucking good, Deku—shoots off at a sprint with Katsuki in his arms for the locker room, buck naked from the waist down, in front of their entire class and their teacher.
What a dork.
He clings a little tighter.
They find out, a week later, much to Deku’s embarrassment—and, fuck it, Katsuki’s embarrassment, too—that is was definitely one of the gaggle of drunks, but not any of the ones they suspected.
Instead it was a long haired fellow with bunny teeth and a sheepish laugh and a cocky demeanor and a quirk that was supposed to turn whoever it touched into a form that would allow the person to accomplish whatever goal they had in mind. It wasn’t very useful, and it was unpredictable, so the guy told the cops—and Aizawa and Endeavor, personally and professionally invested as they were—he wasn’t one to use it, but his control isn’t great when he’s drunk, so he usually travels in the middle of his friends to avoid accidental contact.
Clearly shit hadn’t worked out that night.
When Aizawa looks at them, he looks at Deku pointedly. “What were you even thinking about?”
Deku’s cheeks flare red, and the look he sends Katsuki is shy but warm, sure and centered in a way Katsuki decidedly doesn’t feel right now.
“I was thinking I wanted to take care of Kacchan.”
Katsuki feels his face burn.
“And I guess his quirk figured the only way Kacchan would let me is if I was a kid.”
Katsuki wants to disappear.
Aizawa sighs, tiredly. “Problem children, all of you.”
Izuku laughs, rising to stand, and Katsuki echoes the motion purely out of a sudden desire to be nowhere near his teacher now, face embarrassingly red, feeling unappealingly shy, and he just wants to bury his face into a pillow and scream. “Sorry, sensei. Thank you for telling us,” he calls, and his hand is warm on the small of his back, steering him out of the room. And when the door shuts behind them, Izuku steps around him, standing so close that Katsuki can feel his warmth, and—“You see, Kacchan?”
“Fucking see what?”
His hand is warm against the nape of his neck, and his curls are still so soft when he bends his head down and knocks their foreheads together, smile gentle.
“Whether I’m big or small—young or old,” and his gaze is piercing, reassuring, steady, and Katsuki’s chest aches, “I’m always going to take care of you.”
“Better not be lying, nerd,” he mutters instead, face feeling disgustingly warm and insides mushy, but Izuku’s smile is blinding, and he feeling his heart beat faster.
Losers, the both of them.