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Bakugou is sitting in the police station.

Time isn’t moving forward with him. It has a hand over his mouth holding him back, holding him down, beneath the surface of the unreal waters which suspend him. All sounds reach his ears muffled. The phone ringing, and the station hand answering. Chatter, officers exchanging details, Bakugou winces at the utterance of the word “explosion”. None of it is real. None of it can be happening to him.

He jangles the handcuffs on his wrist, and this attracts the weary attention of the station hands. The cuffs aren’t necessary. He is not going anywhere. He sits, and he stares forward, and his ears ring.

Bakugou has fucked up. Bakugou understands for the first time in his life the sensation of fucking up beyond repair. He is watching dreams evaporate in front of his eyes, staring forward unseeingly at the pallid white floor tiles around him. His eyes trace their lines. He does not see them. They are not real. He is not real. He has fucked up. He has fucked up.

Behind his eyelids, a single image burns. It is branded into his eyes. The scorched wick of a torso lingers there, shifting to a negative impression of itself with each blink. A torched wick, balanced on disembodied legs, falling forward. Falling forward. Falling forward. Falling forward again with each blink. It’s a sight he has no way to unsee.

His heart rate picks up. His breathing comes faster and shallower. He says nothing. He has fucked up. He has fucked up, and he can never fix this.

Because he is still, and because he is silent, no one pays him any mind.

A man walks into the precinct. He is just a bit portly, immaculately dressed in a suit and tie. He shrugs off the tweed overcoat, leaving just vest and undershirt and tie, and hangs it with familiarity on the coat rack by the entrance. He lifts his bowler’s hat in greeting, and overlapping responses greet him from the precinct office. “Fujimori” is uttered, affably. He extends a hand, and several workers shake it with a smile. A joke is cracked. A chorus of deep belly laughs follow. The man with the bowler’s hat – Fujimori – calms his mirth and asks one of the officers about his kids, and when the idle chatter ends, he asks where his client is.

Fingers point toward Bakugou. Fujimori lumbers over, with a confidence that reminds Bakugou of lions, his face at ease. Fujimori lowers himself to a squat so he is eye level with Bakugou.

“I’m Hiroji Fujimori. I’m a lawyer with U.A. You’ve had a hell of a day, huh, Katsuki Bakugou? Why don’t I help get those handcuffs off and get you home for some rest?”

Bakugou looks up. He hears the words, but his ears are still ringing, so he clearly has not heard them correctly. It sounded like the man said he was going home.

“Home?” Bakugou asks.

“Well, the U.A. dorms. Under protective custody but, I promise, you won’t even notice.”

“I’m not going home,” Bakugou responds. He isn’t sure it’s his own voice speaking, or his own lips moving.

“Oh? Got somewhere else you’re headed?”

“Jail.”

Fujimori lets out a deep laugh, the kind that rumbles his whole body. He fans himself briefly with the casefile in hand. “Right. Right right right, no one’s given you the run-down. Ease back those shoulders, son, you’re not headed to jail. Chin up! Try for a smile. This isn’t my first rodeo.” He offers a nod back to the officers. “Ain’t that right?”

There’s a chorus of agreement. Bakugou is looking, but not processing. His mind hangs on “not headed to jail.”

“…When am I going to jail, then?”

“Hopefully never! Not very becoming of a U.A. Hero to be doing time, hmm? Come on. There’s a car waiting out front for you. Let’s gather up your stuff and get you home. Bet you’re dying for something more comfortable than this chair, and these cuffs. Hell, I bet you want nothing more than a night in your own bed right now. Poor boy,” and Fujimori angles his head over his shoulder, “just how many hours have you lot kept him all tied up here, hmm? A touch reprehensible.”

Fujimori is wrong. Bakugou is not thinking about his bed or rest or sleep. Nor is he concerned with how many hours he’s been sitting at the precinct – though it’s been several. He has not thought about those things because time has not restarted. Because there is no future of his to consider with a bed and rest and sleep, not with the unfixable thing he’s done.

Bakugou says none of what he’s thinking. He’s uncharacteristically uncapable of trying. So he silently stands when Fujimori motions him to, and follows as Fujimori takes him back to the precinct desk, where Fujimori strikes up another amicable conversation with the officer in possession of the keys.

Back at the dorms, Bakugou showers off the smell of flesh that isn’t his own. He crawls into his U.A. bed for what he is sure is the last time. Hours pass staring at the ceiling, until Bakugou slips into dreams which play back his own last calamitous explosion to him a few dozen more times.

Fujimori is waiting for him the next morning, parked alongside the grass outside with the dew brushing along the footboard of his Mercedes. He is wearing a different suit today, a darker one, and he is holding two steaming cups of coffee, one which he offers to Bakugou. Bakugou takes it, though he isn’t sure why. The feeling of heat soaking into his palm is abhorrent.

“How’d you sleep?” Fujimori asks. His attendant opens the back-left passenger door for Bakugou. Bakugou stares. He does not answer, and he does not get in. Fujimori continues. “We’ll just be headed into the office for a few hours this morning. Some of my colleagues would like to meet you and hash over some details from yesterday. Might ask you to sign a few papers, if you’re comfortable with that.”

Fujimori gets in the back-right passenger door. The attendant takes the wheel. Once settled, Fujimori cranks up the AC and fans himself with the documents in his hand. He motions for Bakugou to get in as well. This time, Bakugou complies. Fujimori leans over and shuts the car door for him.

“You said you’re a U.A. lawyer?” Bakugou finally asks. He grips the coffee too tightly in his lap. He’s wearing his U.A. uniform, with the pants hitched up correctly. It’s what he was ordered to wear.

“Sure am. Going on 20 years this September. Y’know, I’ve got a son a little bit younger than you. HUGE fan of the U.A. Sports Festival. I get tickets and bring him every year. You were his top-ringer, favorite by a mile. Your victory over that Todoroki kid—

“Stop.”

“Hmm?”

“Stop.”

“Ah, sports festival a sour subject with you, son? As I recall you did end up restrai—”

“No. Stop being so casual. And friendly. Like this. Sports festival. Sports festival?! Like that’s ever going to matter again!” Bakugou’s voice builds toa  crescendo, pent up horror spilling from his mouth like a faucet. “It’s cruel, don’t you think, to make me talk about U.A. like I’m ever coming back.”

“Hey now, the way I see it you’ve still got another two full years at that school before they’re done with you.”

“If you think that then you don’t know what happened yesterday. What kind of lawyer are you who doesn’t even know—”

“I know your case file forward and back, son. I’m no amateur. In fact, I’m very very skilled at what I do.”

“Then you know that I k—”

“—Calculated an unwinnable risk, and acted under extreme duress, and fear for you own life, in the face of a paralyzingly dangerous situation. And I know that your actions were necessary to ensure the safety of yourself and all others in the area.” Fujimori raises his own coffee to his lips and drinks from it, leaving the both of them to ruminate in the whir of the A.C. “An admirable and heroic act, with a tragic but unavoidable outcome.”

Bakugou feels colder, in a part of himself untouched by the A.C.

“…It wasn’t like that,” he whispers.

“I assure you it was, boy.”

The car blinker clicks on. They hang a left. Bakugou fixes his eyes out the window, watching the world spin by him. There’s an anger like solid ice encasing his heart, the kind he cannot act on, the kind that paralyzes him in his seat, the kind he’d only felt once before – when All Might lost his power for him – that Bakugou had vowed to never feel again.

Self-hatred. Ice instead of fire. That is what makes it so paralyzing.

“…Why are you representing me?”

“Because U.A. requested that I do.”

“And why would U.A. care? This wasn’t a U.A. mission. This didn’t have anything to do with them.”

Fujimori turns and offers him a warm smile. His face is disarming, and gentle, and grandfatherly, and he extends a hand to pat Bakugou on the shoulder.

“Come now, I think you’re a sharp enough boy to figure out the answer to that question.”

Bakugou leaves the office numb again. His memories of the incident feel hazier now. They feel less his own. He’s been asked to hold on to someone else’s construction, to coddle it in his mind until he believes it is his own. He needs to sew it back into himself. And forget his own memories. And move on.

Six hours have passed since he walked into the conference room with Fujimori, met with a half-dozen other lawyers whose names and faces all escape him now. He’s been asked too many times to describe the villain’s face, to describe man’s dress and his expression and his body language. Bakugou no longer trusts any memory he has of face, and body, and dress, and name.

Bakugou does not remember what, precisely, the villain said to him. He does not remember how he said it or why. Or how the villain had used his quirk, or how many times, or how close to Bakugou. Bakugou knows with certainty the villain had smashed him into the pavement, because it is that white-hot rage he felt in response that is seared into the memory behind his eyelids, like an after-image in the wake of an atom bomb.

The missing details, the absent paint strokes in his memory, have been helpfully filled in for him. Bakugou has been informed by the half-dozen lawyers that the villain had attacked him first, and with such bloodlust and such aggression that Bakugou had acted purely, and only, in defense of himself. Bakugou has been informed that the contusions to the back of his skull, documented at the police station, and the abrasions along his arms and legs and back all constitute intense physical trauma, from the villain who struck first, against Bakugou who had every reason to fear for his life.

Bakugou has been informed that the villain was a scoundrel, a lowlife, a man with a record and no family and no ties to the community.

Bakugou ruminates on all these new elements he’s been told to graft into his memory, as the car vibrates beneath him and Fujimori makes idle one-sided chatter on their ride back to U.A. All these memories meld together, such that Bakugou cannot pick apart what is his own, and what is not. He stares into the blood-red setting sun over the horizon, and he realizes he never will be able to.

There were no witnesses. There were no cameras. The only other man, who might otherwise have had the chance to defend himself, is dead.

Bakugou showers again. He already showered this morning. Bakugou tells himself it is because he’s been out all day. He doesn’t let himself consider what about the outing has made him feel so unclean.

So he doesn’t think about it, and he scrubs off the phantom lingering smells of burnt flesh from his body, and towels off, and changes into sweats. Alone in his room, with the blood red of the setting sun eking through his window, Bakugou considers going right to bed. His eyes shift to the clock beside his bed. It’s 5pm, and he hasn’t eaten yet today.

Bakugou stands, indecisive, and moves to the door.

When he opens it, he sucks in a sharp breath. Todoroki is standing at his doorway, leaning ever so slightly against the wall, his appraising eyes roving once over Bakugou before he straightens up entirely.

“Move,” Bakugou says.

“Where did you go with Fujimori this morning?”

Bakugou balks, only for an instant. He shoves past Todoroki, and sets his focus on navigating to the dorm kitchen. “Who?”

“The lawyer. I saw from the window. You were talking to him. You got in his car. And you’ve been gone the whole day until now.”

“What do you care?” Bakugou picks up his pace. Todoroki matches it.

“Because it’s Fujimori.”

“I don’t know what that means. Fuck off and leave me alone.”

“What did he want with you? What happened?”

“Nothing.”

“You’re lying.”

“Fuck off.”

“Tell me.”

Bakugou stops cold and whirls on Todoroki. He feels his hand twitch, but he thinks better of it.

“It’s from my work study. It’s confidential. I can’t tell you, and I wouldn’t tell you anyway. We’re not friends. You don’t demand things from me. Fuck. Off.”

Bakugou takes off again.

“Fujimori…” Todoroki trails off. He hustles to keep himself in lock step with Bakugou, flanking him, refusing to be shaken off. “Just tell me why it’s Fujimori then.”

“Again, I do not fucking know what that question means. Why the fuck do you expect me to know anything? Do I look like a lawyer? Go bug Deku, you clingy piece of shit.”

Did I hear my name?

Bakugou rounds the corner, Todoroki in tow, and he finds himself face to face with Midoriya. Midoriya has one eyebrow quirked, hair wet from his own shower, grasping a glass of water in his hands. Midoriya’s eyes flicker between Bakugou and Todoroki.

“What… are you two up to? Uh, something fun?”

“Good.” Bakugou grabs Midoriya by the shoulders, lifts him, and spins hallway around in place. He plants Midoriya back down as a human divide between himself and Todoroki. “Deku’s here. Go bug each other.”

Midoriya looks back and forth between Bakugou and Todoroki. Worry creases his brow. “Um, okay? Is there something you wanted to talk to me about, Todoroki?”

Bakugou glances for a fraction of a second at the kitchen, and curses under his breath, and turns in place, and shoves past Todoroki and Midoriya. He stalks back to his room, where he slams the door shut and locks it. He throws himself onto his bed and buries his face in his pillow, not bothering with the lights.

There’s muffled chatter in the hall. There are footsteps pattering overhead. There is a world outside his room that has spun on without him.

The question ‘why Fujimori?’ sits like a rock in Bakugou’s chest, and he rips the pillow out from beneath himself, pressing it over his head completely.

It’s fully dark now. Bakugou has no intention of moving from bed.

It is 5:07 pm.

Bakugou remembers very few details from the incident, anymore.

His memories are more like wispy embers, and they burn, and they flash-ignite without warning. He remembers heat, humidity, sapping sweat dripping down his hairline and curving along his nose. Heaving breath like a swelling knife wound in his bruised chest cavity. The viscous wetness of blood mingling and running in spider veins down his cheek, to the corner of his mouth, where it painted his teeth and tasted coppery on his tongue.

He remembers rage, white hot, swamping his mind. He remembers uproarious indignation that anyone could fell him like that, crack his head open on the concrete like that, knock the air from his lungs like that, make him taste his own blood like that. He remembers his every breath being a wheezing effort. He remembers the sun searing him, blisteringly bright, when he could manage to pry his eyes open to the spinning sky above. He remembers a ringing that stole all sound from his ears.

Bakugou no longer knows anything past that. His memories aren’t his own. The ones that were are overwritten, or buried, deformed beneath the crushing weight of denial. But he hadn’t meant to. He knows he hadn’t meant to. It has to be that he hadn’t meant to.

A slamming at his door tears him from his hazy half sleep. Bakugou sits bolt-upright, and his heart is slamming in his throat.

Yo, dude, you get dinner yet? I haven’t seen you like all day. What’s up?

Bakugou blinks, bleary-eyed, and the clock at his bedside swims into view. It’s 8:47 pm.

Bakugou lays back down. His every nerve remains on fire.

“Go away, I’m sleeping.”

Bakugou can sense the hesitation at the door.

Alright,” Kirishima answers, and his voice is careful. “Catch you tomorrow then.

In the common area, Kirishima walks in with his fingers threaded through his loose hair, his motions agitated, and he falls onto the couch beside Midoriya.

“Yo, hey, Midoriya, you know Bakugou pretty well, yeah? Do you think something’s like, up with him?”

Midoriya looks up from his phone. Iida, sitting on the adjacent couch, slams his book shut with entirely too much force. “Bakugou had an excused absence from class today! I can confirm this, if you are worried he is shirking from his student duties.”

“Nah nah – I mean – maybe that’s part of it, I dunno. But it’s not just that he wasn’t in class but like, I haven’t seen him at all today. And I tried to go bug him just now but he shut me out.”

“Bakugou goes to bed early,” Iida continues.

“I know he does but like. I dunno. It’s different. It’s kinda reminding me of how he acted after Kamino.”

“I saw him earlier today, but just for a little bit,” Midoriya answers. “Todoroki was talking to him, then he told me to talk to Todoroki.”

“Why?”

“Um, I don’t actually know. Do you know, Todoroki?”

“I don’t know,” Todoroki answers from the floor, where he sits leaning against the couch Kirishima and Midoriya occupy. After a moment of silence, he adds in, “But it’s something bad.”

Kirishima straightens, couch springs straining beneath him. “What do you mean bad? What do you know?”

“He was with Fujimori.”

“Who’s Fujimori?” Kirishima asks. All eyes remain pinned on Todoroki, not a flash of recognition in anyone else’s face, not even Iida’s.

“He’s a U.A. lawyer.” Todoroki fidgets. “He’s… a specific kind of U.A. lawyer. I saw a lot of him, when I was very young. After Mom went away, I saw a lot of him, pretty much every day.” Subconsciously, Todoroki raises a hand to skim along the uneven skin of his left eye. “Dad was his client.”

“Oh, um, I met a couple U.A. lawyers after we rescued Eri.” Midoriya shoots a quick glance to Kirishima. “Me and Kirishima both. Bakugou’s doing a work study right now. Maybe it’s like… maybe something like Eri happened.”

Todoroki shakes his head. “You and Kirishima have not met Fujimori. Whatever U.A. lawyers you talked to, they weren’t Fujimori.”

“What makes you sure?”

Todoroki lingers in the silence. His lips part, but he says nothing immediately. He thinks long and hard on the words hanging behind his tongue. There’s a twitch along his mouth, some repressed fidget of hostility that comes slowly burning into his eyes.

“I’ve been told not to talk about Fujimori. My father has told me not to. But… I think I don’t care what my father told me.” Todoroki pushes off from the couch he is leaning on, settling toward the center of the carpet and turning in place, so that he completes a circle made of himself, Kirishima, Midoriya, and Iida. “I might still get in trouble with U.A.… But maybe I don’t care about that either.” Todoroki pauses. “Fujimori… Fujimori is a monster. Scum, the lowest and most disgusting sort of person humanity has to offer—no, not humanity. Calling human would be too generous. He’s a weapon, not a human.”

Midoriya scoots a fraction forward. His body leaks with uneasy tension. “And he’s… you said he’s someone who works for U.A.? U.A. hired him?”

“U.A. would be sunk without him,” Todoroki declares coldly. “And Fujimori… does not get involved lightly. And he would never be involved in the Eri mission, because U.A. wasn’t at fault for anything bad that happened there.”

“I…” Midoriya fidgets again, waxing uncomfortable. “I mean, um, not all the details of that mission were made public, you know. It um… that mission didn’t go as planned. I mean, I don’t… I’m not blameless, I think, for the things that went wrong.”

“Me neither,” Kirishima cut in.

“Sir Night Eye—”

“I know Sir Night Eye died,” Todoroki responds, chillingly flat. His eyes appraise Midoriya once-over. “Did you kill Sir Night Eye?”

“No,” Midoriya answers. “Why would you even—”

“Then Fujimori was not your lawyer.”

Silence fills the room. A palpable dread sets in over them, like a blanket of fog, clammy and cold to the touch.

“What… do you think Bakugou did?” Iida asks.

“Something as bad as my father did to me and my mother,” Todoroki answers, and he does not hide the personal condemnation from his voice. “Or worse.”

Bakugou wakes at 6:15 am to another message from Fujimori. It requests Bakugou meet him outside once more. No dress code is specified.

Bakugou appears wearing the sweats he fell asleep in, leery eyes meeting Fujimori who stands along the same dew-swept section of street beside the U.A. dorms. Bakugou shifts furtive glances up and to the dorm windows, face racked with tension.

“People can see us from the windows,” Bakugou comments, curt.

“Does that worry you?”

“Yes. Todoroki knows you. Why the fuck does Todoroki know you?”

Fujimori lets out a good-humored chuckle. “Ah, Todoroki’s boy. Figures he may not be too fond of me.” Fujimori adjusts the suspenders digging into his shoulders. He is more casually dressed today. “Well then – here’s some excellent news for you: this will be very, very brief, so brief you don’t have to worry about being spotted with me.” Fujimori curls a smile, wide and self-satisfied on his flushed red face. “Would you like to hear another lick of good news?”

“What?”

Fujimori extends a hand, low and firm, an invite to be grasped and shaken. “All charges against you have been dropped. You’re a free man with a clean record, Katsuki Bakugou.”

Bakugou does not take Fujimori’s hand. He doesn’t so much as move. He feels as if the ringing in his ears is back. He feels again as if he’s misheard.

“…There hasn’t been a trial yet.”

“You’re right about that. We nipped it in the bud before it even reached that stage. That’s a fantastic development, because trials have their way of dragging their feet. For years, sometimes. You’re a fortunate young man.”

“How?”

“Hmm?”

“How did the charges get dropped?”

“Well I just compiled your case is all. Argued it before the district judge and the chief of police over a nice batch of chamomile tea I brewed early this morning, and they’re both exceptional, bright, reasonable man of conscience. Not one person in that room wanted to see a U.A. star’s future snuffed out before it could even begin.”

“I killed—”

“—And there’s a few weeks off, being offered to you too, courtesy of the U.A. President Nedzu himself. He wants you to take the time you need to heal from this trauma. There’s a therapist too, under U.A.’s direction, that we’d like you to meet with daily. Sorry, that part’s non-negotiable. But she’ll be good for you. You’ve been through a lot for a boy so young. Everyone just wants to see you succeed.” Fujimori steps closer, and he rests a heavy hand on Bakugou’s shoulder. “And most importantly, the events from that day are under gag order. No word of this will ever reach anyone outside that precinct or outside U.A.”

“The villain…”

“Pardon?”

“What happens to him now? With his—with the—with what’s left of him. …What happens?”

“That’s not for people like you or me to worry about. You, especially, my boy. Just focus on the happy news.” Fujimori retracts his hand, and he lumbers back toward his car. There is no attendant this time. He opens the driver’s side door and glances back to Bakugou from overtop the car. “There will be a few more meetings in the coming weeks that you’ll have to attend with my colleagues, and a few more things for you to sign, and just a few attestations. But no one will ask anything difficult of you from here-on out. The hard part’s over. Quite luckily, this may be the last you see of me.”

Fujimori tips his hat once more, and disappears into his car with the tinted windows. It’s nice—the car. It’s exceptionally too nice, and too proper, and too clean for a man like Fujimori.

The engine revs. Fujimori vanishes along with the car at the next left turn.

Bakugou is left alone in the cold clammy morning air, with the sun wicking at the grass-top dew drops mingling with the cuffs of his pants.

Time restarts for Bakugou.

Now, and only now, Bakugou feels the passing wind against his cheek, and the wetness at his ankles, and the cadence of songbirds characterized by their punctuation through time. Time is moving fast again, with him in the stream, spinning dizzyingly forward.

Fujimori is right, this news is good news, Bakugou understands that. There’s a future in front of him again. A hero path ahead of him. He can carry on. He can graduate from U.A. He can become the #1 Hero. He can surpass All Might.

Bakugou’s memory stirs.

He is stricken with the image of two eyes looking back at him, gray and befuddled, panicked and unsure. They are eyes which belong to a head, a head with belongs to a body, all atop legs too scattered to know where to run. The image is a quivering bit of prey in front of him, cowed into a quaking revolting shell. It is a thing filled with regret at the sight of the rage it spurred from Bakugou by daring to slam Bakugou into the pavement first.

Bakugou remembers pulling the pin from his gauntlet. He remembers doing it with revelry. He remembers the sweet, nigh-intoxicating high, the euphoria that came with the sense of complete command, absolute control, unchecked power, the drive to win, to win, to win.

He remembers the lock and jolt to his shoulder, now. The eruption of searing heat. The explosion ringing in his ears. And the quaking, shivering thing of prey, in a moment of panic, darting directly into the blast, when all common sense dictated that it should have darted away.

Bakugou now remembers the blast erupting into black smoke, with a smell so wretched on its wind that Bakugou had buckled on spot. Bakugou now remembers the feeling -- suddenly greasy, suddenly unclean with the blowback of the blast, suddenly sticky dripping sapping wet with—

Bakugou remembers the torched wick of a torso – with full context now, he sees it. Suspended in time. Atop legs that should not stand.

Alone now in the cold morning air, alone outside the U.A. dorms, Bakugou buckles at the waist. He doubles over, falls forward like the image so seared into his mind. He moves forward in time with the dismembered legs, both his knees and its knees hitting the ground. Bakugou’s palms strike the dew-strewn lawn, his legs sink into the wetness. He holds himself up a moment, on arms too trembling to command, with a heartbeat too slammingly loud in his ears, and he loses his stomach contents into the grass below.

Bakugou is in class that same day. He does not take any of the offered leave, even when Nedzu appears at his dormitory door that morning at 7:30, even when Aizawa pulls him aside at the classroom entrance to ask, in as few specifics as possible, if Bakugou really intends to be here.

Bakugou confirms both times that he’s fine, and that he’s going to class, and that he doesn’t want them to mention anything to do with this ever again.

In class, he pretends to not see when Kirishima tries to catch his attention. He pretends not to feel the cold lick of malice from Todoroki’s eyes probing his back. Hardest of all, he pretends not to notice Midoriya’s pleading look, that detestable, abhorrent disarmed expression of weakness and worry so characteristic of him.

The partners are presumably random, but Bakugou stares on with disgusted certainty that Midoriya’s been intentionally assigned to him for sparring practice. Each pair of students has been spread about in sparring rings around Ground Beta, ample room given between each location, such that no quirks, and no voice, could carry between any two. Only the loudspeaker affixed to the Ground Beta building issues commands to each group.

The round starts.

Bakugou squares his feet, crouched slightly, hatred burning cold in his eyes. Midoriya meets his gaze, and squares his own feet, and raises his own hands. A silent few seconds of tense nothing passes between them. Bakugou’s gauntlet-less hands itch.

“Dodge!” Bakugou barks across the makeshift arena.

Midoriya loosens his footing a fraction, confusion crawling back into his face. “You haven’t attacked me yet.”

“Well get out of the way before I do!”

“If you attack me, then I’ll dodge.”

“Well you better! Because I’m telling you to dodge!”

Midoriya blinks. Bakugou remains rooted in place. In a split second, Midoriya has bounced from his spot. He winds back a kick, the shimmer of green iridescent veins spawning like stream rivulets down his thigh, down his leg. He closes the distance between them, and Bakugou only stares back wide-eyed as Midoriya’s shin connects with his jaw.

Bakugou stumbles, face smarting, a white-hot lick of rage exploding like a cannon from within his chest. The anger swamps his mind and drowns all thought and leaves him only with the livid, licking, untamable desire to fire back.

He thrusts a palm out, arm locked in tight at the elbow, immaculately drawing Midoriya into his line of attack. Midoriya’s eyes go wide, but he is still in the air, still falling, and won’t get the chance to course correct until he hits the ground. Bakugou has the shot.

Bakugou does not take it.

Time slips around him again. Leaving him behind, knocking him at the ankles, as if he is standing knee-deep in a stream to which he does not belong. The force threatens to make him stumble. He simply stands, hand extended, the promise of an explosion sputtering behind his palm.

Midoriya lands, and Bakugou has left himself wide open.

Midoriya doesn’t take his shot either.

“Do you want to… maybe call off the fight, Kacchan?”

“No! Attack me again!” Bakugou yells, hand thrown out harder, though nothing bursts on his palms.

“I…” Midoriya hesitates. He looks around, and he lets the rivulets of power bleed away from his arms and legs. He loosens his footing, stands taller, lets the tension ease out of his body.  “You know, um… After we rescued Eri, I couldn’t really do much of anything for a few days. I couldn’t even use my quirk without having to focus way too hard on it.”

“I don’t care about your stupid mission. Attack me! Attack, you damn nerd!”

“Is it… something like that for you too, Kacchan? …Is it something worse?”

“Mind your own damn business! And get out of the way before I fire at you!”

“Todoroki isn’t being too kind with his guesses. …Kirishima refuses to believe what Todoroki has to say, if that makes you feel better. But I think I know you a bit better than Kirishima, actually, and I’m not sure what to believe.”

“What makes you think I give a single shit about what Icy-Hot thinks? Or what you think?”

“Are you allowed to tell me what happened?”

“No.”

“…How bad is it? The thing that happened?”

’How bad?’” Bakugou mocks. “Not at all! Zero! Nothing! Everything got resolved this morning. Nothing’s happening. There’s nothing more to it. You can tell that to Todoroki, and tell him he can keep his prying eyes the fuck off me cuz there’s nothing more for him to see. And you can fuck off for good measure too.”

“Everything got resolved… because of Fujimori?”

“We’re still fighting. Shut up and dodge! Attack! Do something!”

“Because – what Todoroki said – is that’s what Fujimori does. He makes problems go away. No matter what. By whatever means necessary. That he’s U.A.’s ace in the hole. That U.A.’s spotless track record – its perfect reputation – for decades…” Midoriya trailed off. Bakugou faltered at the sight of Midoriya wiping at his own cheek with the heel of his palm. “Stupid of me, huh, Kacchan?” Midoriya said with a bitter laugh. “I just assumed U.A. put out perfect heroes, all perfect heroes. That every pro from U.A. was like All Might. That every pro from U.A. just… could never do anything wrong. I idolized all of them. Every single one of them, for being perfect heroes. I thought Endeavor was a fluke… I wonder how many Endeavors U.A. has made?”

Bakugou lets out a strangled noise. He thrusts his right palm out with force, and he fires off a blast that lights and catches, erupting outward, hurdling toward Midoriya. Midoriya dodges it with hardly any effort, a simple step to the right and the blast does not so much as lick him. Midoriya doesn’t bother striking back just yet.

“What about you, Kacchan? …It wasn’t as bad as Endeavor, was it?”

“No—it—aggh! I told Icy-Hot it wasn’t even about me. My work-study—it’s just because my work study—”

“With Moonshot, yeah?” Deku curls a hand. He lets a wick of electric green static burst in his palm, which whips his hair with its ebb and flow. “Your work study is with Moonshot right now. Moonshot’s office is small. She only has herself and three sidekicks, and none of them are U.A. graduates. You’re the only person from U.A. working there.”

Deku strikes. His attack clips Bakugou’s left side. Bakugou bears it, not so much as a noise escaping his lips. He side-steps, ducks, and slams Midoriya beneath the ribcage with enough force to knock the wind from Midoriya’s lungs.

“You always think you’re helping, you damn fucking nerd. You’re not helping! You’re just prying into shit that doesn’t concern you. It’s over. It’s done with. And I can’t talk about it anyway! So shut up, before I make you shut up.”

Midoriya pulls in a few wheezing breathes. He coughs, and straightens, and speaks along a rasp.

“Actually… I don’t even think I’m trying to help, Kacchan. I want to help you. I always do. You know that. …But I’m afraid this might be something I can’t help with, or can’t bring myself to help you with, if Todoroki is right.”

“Icy-Hot knows nothing. He’s full of hot air and conspiracy theories, and it’s none of his business. Whatever he thinks happened is wrong, and he should shut the fuck up about it.”

“Are you sure he’s wrong… King Explosion Murder?”

Shut up.” Bakugou’s palms crackle, and he squares his feet again. “Shut up and di--… Shut up and fight me.

Bakugou doesn’t wait for a response. He throws himself right into the fray, with the one and only goal of firing his explosions off in quick enough succession to prevent Midoriya from getting another word in.

Sensei! Sensei Sensei!”

Aizawa pauses at the sound of pounding mechanical feet hitting pavement, the rumble of vibrations shaking the ground, and fence, and rubble near Ground Beta. A wetness has stirred in the air, the threat of an impending thunderstorm.

“Iida, I was just coming to collect eve—”

“There’s a fight! Uh—well of course there are fights as this is a sparing match exercise but there is a fight which is not part of the designated sparing activity I mean! I’ve come to report an incident of student violence which I witnessed! I saw it happen and promptly came to find an authority figure and luckily you’re right here but I request you accompany me back to the meeting grounds where—”

“Who?”

“Bakugou, and—”

“Midoriya,” Aizawa concludes.

Iida shakes his head, frantic, spinning on spot and motioning Aizawa to follow as his suited legs take off once more. “Not Midoriya! Todoroki…”

Aizawa falters, and then he picks up his pace to match Iida. He steels himself, and it takes no longer than 20 seconds of threading through rubble for the two of them to round the corner, and enter the scene which had already announced itself with the rising cacophony of voices from 30 feet out.

With a split-second glance, Aizawa gleans three immediate pieces of information from the gaggle of 19 assembled students standing at the center of the training ground.

One, that Bakugou has been knocked down to the pavement, soles of his shoes, seat of his pants, and palms of his hands flat to the ground, left cheek split and leaking blood, with a creeping redness threatening to swell many times over in size across the breadth of the wound.

Two, that Midoriya has grasped Todoroki from behind, his arms looped up beneath Todoroki’s armpits and locked in place in a forceful attempt to restrain Todoroki, who’s lashing against the hold.

Three, that Todoroki’s right fist is split and bleeding, and he is staring down at Bakugou with the spark of murderous intent in his eyes.

“Tell me what you mean by ‘It’s been resolved’. It’s over? Meaning Fujimori already— What did you get away with? I think I know. I think I know what you did. So tell me I’m wrong. Tell me what that scumbag let you get away with.”

Bakugou says nothing. He raises his left hand to his cheek, pressing lightly. A heavy raindrop falls from above, landing with a patter on his cheek.

Todoroki pulls against Midoriya. “Answer me!”

“Todoroki!” Aizawa shouts. He marches forward, eyes alight with his quirk activation, though there is no need for it. Neither boy has used his quirk.

“This bastard’s been meeting with Fujimori.” Todoroki thrusts a hand out, index finger extended, sharp in its accusation as he turns bodily to Aizawa. “And whatever he did, he got off scot-free this morning! He’s bragging about it!”

Todoroki. That’s enough.”

“He needs to tell us!” Todoroki challenges. A rumble of thunder affixes itself along the end of his words, as if chorusing agreement. “How can we be comfortable calling Bakugou a classmate until we know?”

“Midoriya, you can let him go. I’ve got this under control.” Aizawa’s eye flicker to Midoriya, who blinks, and hesitantly releases his arms from Todoroki.

Todoroki looks between Aizawa and Midoriya, his confidence wavering. “Sensei, you know who Fujimori is. You have to know who he is. You’ve been at U.A. long enough.”

“Yes, I know who Fujimori is. He’s a U.A. employee. Not a villain.”

“Then you don’t know who Fujimori is.” Todoroki counters. He thrusts both hands out. “He’s the reason my mom—he’s the reason my dad—he’s the reason I—” Todoroki catches himself all three times, unable to, or perhaps forbidden from saying more.

He backtracks, calms himself, a glint of desperation lighting in his eyes. Todoroki turns in place, bodily facing Bakugou once more. “Just defend yourself. Just tell me what happened. If you’re innocent then clear your name, and just tell us what Fujimori wanted with you! Why can’t you do that? Why?”

“Todoroki that is enough. This is not like you, and it is not acceptable,” Aizawa growls this time. He stalks forward, using himself as a means of separation between the boys, and he grips Todoroki by the shoulder. “I think you’re letting your personal feelings get in the way of common rationality. My office. With me. Now.”

Todoroki appraises Aizawa, and then his eyes go wide. A few more heavy drops leak from the blackened clouds above. They plick across Todoroki’s face, riding his expression, loosening with shock.

Todoroki opens his mouth, and the energy has been sapped from his words.

 “…You know. You know what it is, don’t know? You’re part of this. You really are okay with this.”

“Not another word until we reach my office, Todoroki. If you defy me, I’ll consider it grounds for suspension.” Aizawa turns in place, and he surveys the rest of the class with deathly cold eyes. “Midoriya, Iida, take Bakugou to Recovery Girl’s office. Everyone else, get back to the dorm. I don’t want to hear a word about this by tomorrow morning, understood? The threat of suspension extends to all of you.”

There is a palpable unease in the air that rides along the rumble of the clouds. The rest of the students nod, Uraraka and Asui with a prick of tears at the corner of their eyes. Wordlessly, Iida extends a hand for Bakugou to grab, and lifts him from the ground.

Kirishima throws one last worried look in Bakugou’s direction as the skies fully open. The class is caught in the downpour, the scenery effaced by a thick sheet of heavy rain. The three boys vanish from view, and Kirishima raises an arm overtop his head for cover, and he joins the others headed back to the dorm.

Class begins wordlessly the next day. No one dares to mention it, but everyone has noticed Todoroki’s empty desk. The threat of suspension, of following in Todoroki’s footsteps, cows everyone into compliance. Bakugou sits stiff in his own seat, his insides too mangled, his dreams too riddled with his haunting memories playing on repeat to afford him more than a few moments of uninterrupted sleep the previous night. He feels full of cotton, his stomach in knots, his brain too much a hazy mess to make sense of what’s unfolded. His jaw has swollen, hot to the touch.

Aizawa enters, his face blank and tired. He shuffles a few papers and greets the class with a monotone Good morning. Most voices echo the greeting back, but quieter, mumbled. Only Iida seems to muster the energy for a proper greeting. The downpour from the previous day has lightened, but not vanished. It plicks against the muted gray windows, sealing in the atmosphere.

“The bin for your English essays is now on the front table. Present Mic says you may turn them in any time between now and Friday. Late submissions will not be accepted.” Aizawa shuffles the papers in his hands. “Also, we have another announcement.” Aizawa nods to the doorway. Faces turn.

Shinsou stands at the entrance, face drawn into a bit of a grimace. He rubs at his neck and looks away. “Um… Hi. I’m Hitoshi Shinsou. Some of you already know me.”

No one answers him, because the class already knows Shinsou, and they’re all weary of what answering him may lead to. On a different day, friendliness might have won out over fear. Today, no one can muster the optimism.

“He’s transferring into 1-A starting today. Please extend a warm welcome.”

Silence beats around them. Iida manages a clipped greeting. A few more students nod. Bakugou watches it all unfold from his hazy fog.

Shinsou is no more lively in his acknowledgement of his introduction. He looks away, hoisting his bag on his shoulder, and shuffles down the aisle. He reaches Todoroki’s seat, and places his bag atop it, and sits down.

Midoriya’s chair screeches backward. He is standing, his face a mask of concern. “Uh, Sensei, Shinsou, um, that’s Todoroki’s desk. Todoroki sits there.”

“Todoroki has decided to transfer to Shiketsu High School, effective today,” Aizawa states simply. “Sit down, Midoriya, and raise your hand in the future if you wish to speak.”

Bakugou feels the ripple through the air. The potent unease. The prickle of disbelief that comes in just the form of a few slipped gasps, a few wide eyes swinging to Todoroki’s seat, and then swinging over to him, as if staring at him may reveal the answers they’re never allowed to know.

The haze in Bakugou’s brain won’t let him think. It’s made worse by his own shock, and his own disbelief, and his own gnawing discomfort in his gut when he looks over, and finds Todoroki absent from his seat.

It’s Kirishima’s pained eyes that he accidentally meets in the process.

Bro… what’s happening?” Kirishima leans across the aisle. He speaks as quietly as he can for someone suppressing shock. “Please man, please just tell me it isn’t anything bad. Tell me Todoroki was wrong. Please dude. Please, I just gotta know you didn’t—

“Kirishima!” Aizawa barks from the front of the room. Kirishima goes stock-still, spine stiff, head snapping forward to face the teacher. Aizawa turns to face the board, and he grabs a piece of chalk, snapped at the midpoint, and begins to write textbook page numbers on the board. “Not another word on the topic. I thought I made myself clear yesterday, or would you like to be an example?” Aizawa turns, and lifts an eyebrow in Kirishima’s direction. Kirishima, white in the face, shakes his head. “Good. I didn’t think so. Now be quiet. Class is starting.”