Katsuki has always kept daruma dolls for his goals.
They are fist-sized, red-colored, fierce-faced roly-polys that always bounce right-side up, no matter how much you flick them down. The papier mâchés are sold eyeless in Buddhist temples at the beginning of the new year. You paint one eye on with a marker or ink, and one-eyed it sits to remind you of your goal. The second eye gets painted on when you have finally succeeded, and two-eyed it is returned to the temple at year end and burned en mass in a purified bonfire.
Katsuki wasn’t quite 4 years old when his parents first bought him one. It was for learning his kanji . He had liked it so much he exceeded his goals and learned kanji far in advance of his pre-school level. When other kids his age were still learning to write their names, Katsuki could read their kanji in the many, different ways they can be read.
He had brought his daruma to school one day, and their teacher, delighted at the learning opportunity, had explained what it was for to a gaggle of wide-eyed preschoolers. Katsuki remembers standing to the side, feeling smug for having already known those things. The daruma had been the size of a mandarin, just small enough to fit in their child-sized hands, and got passed around with awe. Izuku, his green eyes big with wonder, had easily been the most impressed among them.
Over the years, Katsuki had had a daruma for various things: for getting a black belt in aikido, for reaching advanced level in drums, for getting into UA.
And of course, he had one for the goal he’s pushed himself to reach since he first became aware of what heroes are.
On a shelf, in his dorm room in Heights Alliance, sits a daruma . It's old. The red paint is chipped in places and the white of the paper underneath peeks through. Some of his classmates have been in his room before for one reason or another—Todoroki, Kirishima, Sero, even Iida—none of them had given the ugly doll a second glance.
Izuku, of course, spots it the first time he comes into Katsuki’s room.
"Kacchan, is this..." Izuku says in awe, picking it up from the shelf.
Katsuki grins, bright and fierce. "Yeah, for when I become a pro hero. I'm almost there, Deku."
Izuku beams back. Katsuki had drawn its left eye back when they were in second grade. Izuku replaces the daruma on the shelf with almost reverent care.
When Katsuki looks back on this years from now, he will blame it on All Might. He would only be half-joking.
At one of the lowest points that Katsuki will ever endure in his life, All Might tells him—tells Izuku and Katsuki both: If you could learn to respect each other and lift each other up, you can become the ultimate heroes. Ones who save by winning and win by saving.
Katsuki doesn’t accept it then—not yet. It wasn’t exactly what he wanted to hear at the time. But every dam breaking starts with a single crack, and All Might’s words that night begin the inevitable crumbling of Katsuki’s walls.
He isn’t sure when or how, but somewhere along the way, between ‘Catch-a-Kacchan’ training and discussions-over-tea with All Might, needing to work together has somehow morphed into choosing to be together. What had been tentative in the beginning had somehow become commonplace, even expected. Even outside of training and enforced hospital stays, they end up studying, arguing, eating together, walking from dorm to class to library to gym side by side. There are weekend train rides to home and back, video games, shared secrets, quiet star-filled evenings at the dorm rooftop.
Katsuki has a collection in his head of Izuku’s stupid laughs, and he feels a warmth settle in his chest whenever he causes Izuku’s shy dimple to appear—like he’s won something good .
That Izuku is the only one who can accept Katsuki’s feelings has taken on a deeper nuance. Having Izuku beside him now means so much more than being each other’s hero support and shield.
For the first time in a long time, Katsuki wants something that isn’t related to being the #1 hero.
Unfortunately, as far as Katsuki can tell, Izuku—oblivious dumbass that he is—is still stuck in their roles as rivals and childhood friends. It leaves Katsuki with a wish and a goal.
So on the first day of the new year, in their last year in UA, Katsuki finds himself frowning down at a line of daruma , scrutinizing them for any imperfections. They are hand-painted, and no two dolls are exactly alike.
“Just pick one already, brat,” his mom tells him after a while. “I’m cold and you’re holding up the line.”
“Shut up. This is important.”
“You know, there are steps to this,” she says, pinching his cheek. “You can’t aim for being #1 if you’re not even a hero yet.”
“I am gonna be #1,” he replies, pulling his face out from her hold without taking his eyes from the selection. “But this isn’t for that.”
“Oh? So what’s this one for?” his mom asks, curious.
Katsuki refuses to let the heat he feels on his cheeks distract him from his search. “None of your business.”
He doesn’t need to look to know his parents have exchanged a look over his head.
“Well, anything important deserves consideration,” his dad says, playing his role as peacemaker of the family. He slings an arm around Katsuki’s shoulder, squeezes encouragingly.
Katsuki doesn’t shrug him off. His father is one of the greatest men he’s ever known; he’s had to be to put up with his mom. He’d been a gentle giant in a lot of Katsuki’s memories, and it still shocks him sometimes that they’re almost of a height these days—and Katsuki is still growing.
On his other side, his mom hooks her arm through his, snuggling closer. It is cold as fuck. Katsuki decides to allow it.
He’s now sandwiched tight between them, and the nervousness he hadn’t even been aware of suddenly eases.
It’s annoying sometimes how well his parents know each other; how well they fit together. Thoughts and actions perfectly in sync. His father’s calm to his mother’s explosiveness. How he looks before she leaps. Katsuki can only hope to have something close to that one day.
Or fuck that. Hoping is for the weak. Katsuki will work his ass off to get it, like he’s always done.
The specifics are a little vague but Katsuki is sure of the end goal. He wants a true partnership with one Midoriya Izuku. In every way that matters.
And he finally picks the perfect daruma for it.
When Izuku sees Katsuki’s new daruma the next day, he asks the same question Mitsuki had and Katsuki reflexively replies the same way. “None of your business, nerd.”
But Izuku isn’t his mom, and Katsuki sees the surprise and hurt flash in his green eyes. It’s a perfectly understandable reaction considering daruma goals aren't really a secret; they're just meant to motivate you.
"Sorry, Kacchan. Didn't mean to pry," Izuku says.
Katsuki looks at Izuku’s wobbly smile and grimaces. Day 1 and he’s already mucking things up.
“You're not. It's fine. I just...I don't wanna say yet," Katsuki says, face turned to the closet door. He can feel heat climbing up his neck.
Izuku seems to be appeased by that, and his smile turns more genuine. “It’s okay, Kacchan. But whatever it is, I know you can do it.”
Katsuki’s flush deepens at the words, his tongue feels awkward inside his mouth so he just grunts in reply. He decides right then and there that that’s gonna be one of the first things to go: him blushing before Izuku. He should be impressing Deku with his qualities, not the other way around.
He glares at the one-eyed daruma on his shelf and promises to do better.
They graduate from UA, and their first year as sidekicks is something Katsuki doesn’t recall very well, what with all the stress, fatigue, and overall lack of sleep. He probably spends way too much time at the hospital but he honestly loses track after the second ER visit.
Just as they are getting the hang of being pro heroes, Izuku's mom announces that she will be joining his father abroad since Izuku is all grown up and can now fend for himself.
Katsuki has been naturally blessed with many things, and he is fast to recognize heavenly gifts when they fall in his lap. Before Izuku can get over his shock, Katsuki shuffles him off to their new place—a surprisingly decent-sized 2-bedroom apartment located exactly midway between their hero agencies.
Katsuki’s parents know their son very well and give in with good grace, Masaru only letting out a few sighs about how fast time flies. They help Katsuki and Izuku move in, making sure they have all the basics, and leave looking equal measures proud and melancholic, fluffing their hair as if they were still schoolboys and not young men armed with pro hero licenses and enough firepower between them to level a small building.
Katsuki takes over cooking. He puts on the All Might ‘Kiss Me I’m Here!’ apron and pushes all dishwashing duties to Izuku’s side of the house-chore ledger.
During Izuku's weekly video calls with his mom, Katsuki pops his head up on screen with a "Hi, Auntie" and none-too-gently bumps Izuku off to talk recipes. Izuku just shakes his head and waits for his turn. Katsuki’s pretty sure Izuku doesn't really mind. After all, Katsuki learning Inko's recipes is possibly one of the best things that’s ever happened to him—way up there with getting into UA and receiving One For All.
Living together also means adjusting to each other. Who gets to use the bath water first? Do they eat breakfast before or after the morning shower? What temperature should the living room be? How far into winter must they actually be before they turn on the kotatsu ? Katsuki’s body temperature tends to run higher than most humans—the Todoroki freaks excepted—for optimal sweat production. Izuku grudgingly acquires additional items in his house-chore ledger as part of the thermostat compromise.
The same adjustment goes for family traditions.
Izuku and his mom had always gone to the Shinto shrine a bus ride away from their house for hatsumode . But the Bakugous had instead gone to a Buddhist temple located at the other end of the city for their first-of-the-year visits. The two are different, of course. Although Katsuki remembers that the nuance had been lost on that glittery blond annoyance, Aoyama, who had grown up outside Japan and lumped temples and shrines together.
Katsuki scowls when it comes up, their first year of living together. He gears up for a fight about where to go. But it turns out Izuku doesn’t mind either way and simply shrugs, leaving Katsuki feeling smug for having won without throwing a single verbal punch. He ignores the amused, indulgent look Izuku aims at him and basks in his win.
A couple of weeks later, on the first day of the new year, the two of them brave the cold and walk to the nearby temple for their first hatsumode together.
The temple visit goes pretty much the same way it would have gone for Izuku in a shrine. Bow at the gates. Cleanse hands and mouth. Throw in a donation. Pray. At Katsuki’s terse reminder, Izuku remembers not to clap and they instead light a stick of incense.
The one difference though is the daruma dolls. Alongside store fronts selling omamori charms are ones that carry the red roly-polys, brand new and eyeless. At the other end of the temple is a stand filled to brimming with two-eyed versions, their purpose achieved, now awaiting the purifying touch of fire.
“Are you getting a new one?” Izuku asks, eyeing the stall with curiosity. There’s a healthy line of people waiting to purchase.
“Nah,” Katsuki says, shaking his head. “I already got ones for what I want.”
Katsuki has replaced his ‘to be a pro hero’ daruma with ‘to be #1’ a couple of years back. He’s got a ways to go at #22, so it still sits in his room, alongside a one-eyed brother that Katsuki refuses to talk about.
“I’m sure you’ll achieve it, Kacchan,” Izuku says, green eyes brilliant with the strength of his belief. He smiles up at him, wide and so bright it does something to Katsuki’s chest.
“I’m working on it. Every day. Without you even saying that.”
The back of Katsuki’s fingers brush against Izuku’s in the lightest of touches. Their skin is cold from the frigid air. He feels Izuku’s fingers twitch. But the temple is crowded—someone bumps into Katsuki from behind; he snarls back, and the moment is lost. They leave the temple with hands shoved in their pockets, Izuku chattering about their schedule for the week.
Katsuki’s fingers remember the contact. All the way home, he wonders what would have happened if he’d gone with his impulse and taken Izuku’s hand.
“Why don’t you just tell him how you feel, shounen?”
Katsuki scowls at the grinning All Might on the TV screen. “Easy for you to say, old man,” he mutters.
“Hmm? Did you say something?” Izuku asks from his position on the couch cuddled—huddled!—against Katsuki’s side.
The temperature is still a good 3 degrees away from when they can turn on the kotatsu heater, and Izuku had point blank refused to have more chores piled on his side of the ledger. He found a compromise by grabbing a soft knit blanket and fitting himself against Katsuki’s side.
Back when they were in UA, Todoroki’s left or right side—depending on the month—had been prime couch location. In desperate times, people sat gingerly beside Katsuki. He’s not the furnace that Torodoki’s left side is, but he’s pretty hot stuff, if he has to say so himself.
“I said ‘why are we watching this shit again?’” he says instead.
It’s an old All Might documentary, done when they were in third grade in elementary. It was the year they stopped hanging out together as friends, Katsuki having deemed himself too good to spend time with a shitty nerd like Deku. They didn’t watch this documentary together until 6 years later when they were already in UA.
Katsuki squirms at the memory, and his squirming dislodges Izuku who utters a wordless protest.
“Because it’s my turn to pick what to watch. And I’m too tired to watch anything new,” Izuku says, resettling against Katsuki’s side.
It had been a tough week with multiple villainous activities. Izuku had barely managed to escape a hospital stay, a field medic was fortunately in the right place at the right time to patch him up before his injuries could become critical. Truth be told, neither of them were up for anything complicated tonight.
Izuku’s phone beeps from the side table, on the end nearer Katsuki. He hands it over and soon hears huffs of amusement.
“Todoroki-kun has it in his head that he wants me for a brother.”
“And be Endeavor’s spawn?”
“Heh! He wants me to go on a date with his brother, Natsuo-san.”
Katsuki freezes. Something heavy manifests in his stomach, leaden and uncomfortable. He tries to think of what he knows about Todoroki Natsuo. Three years older, with the pale good looks of their mother’s side of the family. A mental healthcare worker, specializing in pro heroes’ trauma. A massive improvement over Todoroki’s other brother.
“But he’s not a pro hero!” Katsuki finally manages to blurt out. Unlike me.
Izuku cocks his head, looks at him oddly. “What does that have to do with it?”
“It means you can’t date him!”
“I wasn’t going to, Kacchan.” Izuku says it slowly, in measured tones, like he’s trying to calm a panicked civilian in the middle of rescue. “Todoroki-kun’s just messing with me.”
Katsuki feels oxygen flood his lungs. “Good. Yeah, okay. Good.” He takes another lungful of air.
There's a gap between their bodies now, their comfortable huddle disrupted by Todoroki’s tasteless suggestion. Katsuki settles back down on the couch, waits for Izuku to lean against his side.
But it’s not enough.
He stretches out his arm over Izuku’s shoulder and pulls him in. Izuku stiffens—Katsuki fervently hopes it's in surprise and not discomfort—then melts against him with a sigh. His head rests on the crook of his Katsuki’s neck, and Izuku’s hair, smelling of their spicy mint shampoo, tickles his chin.
“He wouldn’t have been the best for you anyway,” he says.
Because he’s not me. “He’s a fucking Todoroki.”
When Izuku laughs, Katsuki feels his huffing breaths on his skin.
When Katsuki opens the front door, he immediately notices the extra pair of shoes by the genkan . Men’s shoes, expensive leather. There’s something vaguely familiar about them.
He takes his own boots off and pads quietly to the kitchen, following the sound of voices.
“—every day I feel like I’m lying to him.”
“If you feel that guilty about it, just tell him, Midoriya.”
The shoes may be vague but the voice is definitely known to Katsuki.
“Just tell me what?”
“Kacchan!” Izuku is so surprised to see him, he actually starts. Todoroki blinks mismatched eyes at him. Izuku gives a nervous titter that immediately has Katsuki’s eyes narrowing.
“I didn’t hear you say ‘I’m home’,” Izuku says, high-pitched and breathless.
Katsuki raises an eyebrow and lifts the bag of take-out food intended for their dinner. “I’m home, Deku.”
Izuku blinks. He visibly relaxes and smiles up at Katsuki, soft and welcoming. “Welcome home, Kacchan.”
And oddly enough, Katsuki feels himself relaxing too. He steps closer until their arms are brushing and places the take-out on the island.
Had Katsuki been a more suspicious person—no, scratch that, Katsuki is fucking suspicious of every man, mother, and child. But this is Deku . And to a lesser, more grudging degree, this is Todoroki. They wouldn’t be doing anything truly hurtful behind his back. But some dumb, annoying shit like a surprise birthday party wouldn’t be off the table.
Todoroki makes a show of consulting his watch, masculine and elegant on his wrist. “Well, that’s my cue to leave.”
“Oh, but Todoroki-kun, stay for dinner!”
“Yeah, what is this? You think we can’t feed you hah?” There are only two portions in the bag but they’re hero-sized and Katsuki can easily whip something else up to add.
Todoroki shakes his head. “Another time. I need to stop by the agency before I head home and it’s already late.”
Katsuki goes for a quick wash and change, leaving Izuku to see their unexpected guest out. When he comes back to the kitchen, the food trays have already been laid out. Izuku is on his phone, waiting for him so they can eat together. It’s all unbelievably domestic. His 12-year-old self would have gagged. But then his 12-year-old self was an asshole so he doesn’t really count.
He lets Izuku chatter over dinner. The key to getting Izuku to spill his secrets is to figure it out for yourself and confront him with it. That or pounce at the right moment. Since Katsuki has no idea what this is about—he waits.
Katsuki is leaning against the counter, a picture of relaxation, while Izuku beside him takes care of the few dishes they used with the meal. “What are you gonna tell me, Deku?” he asks just as Izuku shuts the faucet off.
Izuku freezes. He starts to wipe his wet hands on his shorts—the heathen—but stops as Katsuki hands him a paper towel he’d pulled up in advance.
Izuku swallows. Katsuki could see his throat work up and down. He peeks up at Katsuki through his lashes and seems to take courage in whatever he sees in Katsuki’s expression. He squares his shoulders, lifts his gaze to look Katsuki full in the face. His lips are trembling with nerves but his green eyes are clear and full of conviction.
“You’re the bravest person I know, Kacchan. I just… I just wanna be brave too.”
Katsuki frowns, frissons of apprehension beginning to move up his skin, unsure where this is heading. He takes the damp, now mutilated paper towel from Izuku’s nervous hands and tosses it. Their fingers brush, and at the contact, Katsuki slides his rough, calloused hand into Izuku’s, his fingers entwining with scarred and crooked ones. Izuku gives a small stuttered inhale.
“I like you,” he blurts out. “ Really like you. Will you...d-do you think you can stand to be with me?”
As romantic confessions go, Katsuki is pretty popular and he’s heard better. The venue could stand to be upgraded too. Their PR lessons have covered situations like this: Don’t be smug, don’t be an asshole. Be kind but be firm. Tell them clearly you cannot return their feelings.
Oddly enough, not one of those classes ever taught them how to say ‘yes’.
Katsuki will just have to improvise.
He slides his free hand up Izuku’s neck and grabs him by the collar. When Izuku’s mouth opens in a meep of surprise, Katsuki kisses him.
Three years later
Izuku holds the two-eyed daruma up for inspection with his gloved hand. The new year has just begun and the wind insists on biting. He curves himself against Katsuki’s warm and toasty side.
“Kacchan, I don’t understand. We’ve been together forever. Why are you just now giving this back for burning?”
“Hah? What does being together a long time have to do with anything?”
Izuku throws him a confused look. “I thought—I thought you said this was for getting together with me?”
“Dumbass,” Katsuki pulls Izuku closer, arm around his shoulder, “how can my goal be dependent on someone else?”
“So what’s the goal then?”
Katsuki looks at the daruma : fierce-faced, it stares back at him. “I wanted to be the best partner I could be. For you.” He clears his throat, chances a glance at Izuku. The green eyes are welling with tears. “For fuck’s sake. Such a crybaby.” He drops a lingering kiss on Izuku’s brow, amidst a mess of green curls.
“Kacchan, you have always been the best…”
“I make you happy.” Katsuki hadn’t meant it as a question. He knows he makes Izuku happy. He sees it, he feels it. It came out as one anyway.
“ Very happy.”
“Course I do,” he says with more conviction, making Izuku laugh.
Katsuki places the daruma among others like it in the stand. By tonight, they would all have turned to ashes, the goals they carried scattered to the winds.
“And that’s done.” He couldn’t help but grin as satisfaction washes over him. “New year, new goals. C’mon,” he says, herding Izuku up the steps, back to the main temple grounds. “Let’s go get me a new one.”
“What’s that one for?”
Katsuki thinks of the small velvet box he had to hide in his locker because Izuku is a mess who likes to rummage around Katsuki’s drawers and steal his shirts.
I’m gonna be the best fucking husband to you, Deku. Even better than my dad ever was.
“It’s a secret. I’ll tell you in fifty years.”