The billboard across the street from Kirishima’s apartment changes regularly, but there’s never been an ad like this on it, before.
When Kaminari sees it, he doesn’t bother to hide his laughter. Instead, he slings an arm around Kirishima’s shoulders and pulls him close. “Oh, man,” he says, around fits of giggles, “You are so doomed.”
Jirou, walking by in the hallway, gives the billboard an assessing look. Then she blinks and shrugs. “I mean, are we supposed to be focused on the jeans, or…?” She gestures vaguely at the rest of the ad.
It’s only Ashido who tries to offer any comfort. She bounds into Kirishima’s room a moment later, takes one look at the billboard, and then pushes Kaminari away so that she can rest both her hands on Kirishima’s shoulders. “Be strong,” she says, in an even and sage-like voice. “You’re being tested, but I believe in you.”
Her words would probably mean more if Kirishima didn’t hear her laughing about it in the hallway a few minutes later. So, his friends? No help at all.
Kirishima lets out a rumbling sigh before falling backwards onto his bed. Even from this vantage point, he can see the entirely of the billboard outside his window. And, well. It’s not like he’s complaining.
Technically, it’s an ad for Best Jeanist’s new fall line. Best Jeanist, who can get away with embroidering “BJ” into the back pocket of his jeans and still have people paying through the nose for a pair. To be fair, they’re nice jeans. But Kirishima is more interested in who’s wearing them.
His back is turned to the camera, and aside from the jeans he isn’t wearing anything at all. The lighting of image accentuates the long slope of his spine, the taper of his shoulders down to his waist. The jeans are tight, perfectly-fitted. One of his thumbs is hooked into his back pocket, the long line of his bare arm bracketing the image. His hair, pale blond, has been gelled and combed to perfection—though Kirishima thinks it’s somewhat lacking in personality. But that feeling is quickly eclipsed, because the model’s face is half-turned towards the camera, revealing his profile. His lips are curled into a snarl, and one fiery eye stares out at the viewer, daring them to take a step closer or turn heel and run away.
“You’re killing me,” Kirishima tells the larger-than-life photograph of Bakugou Katsuki that’s taken up residency outside his window.
But he’s not complaining.
Mornings after a show are always a struggle, so when Kirishima wakes up at three pm he decides not to be too hard on himself. When he blinks open his eyes, afternoon sun assaults his vision through his open curtains. And, beyond the window, there is Bakugou Katsuki, still snarling at Kirishima like he’s just issued a challenge.
“Morning to you, too,” Kirishima says, rolling his eyes. He scrambles around on his bedroom floor for a pair of jeans, pulling them on along with a faded t-shirt that reads Crimson Chevalier in old-fashioned block lettering.
A few minutes later, he stumbles into the kitchen to find Kaminari and Jirou sitting side by side at the counter with matching bowls of cereal. Kaminari’s bright blond hair is stuck out at every angle, and Jirou’s eyes are aren’t open at all as she brings her spoon up to her mouth.
“Rough night?” Kirishima asks them, grinning even when Jirou sticks out her leg to trip him.
“Present Mic is just so loud,” she complains, which is rich coming from a person who has headphones in so constantly, they might as well be an appendage. Even now, a white cord hangs around her neck, connected to her phone sitting on the counter.
“Ehhh.” The sound Kaminari makes isn’t quite a word. Still, he sticks up his hand and offers Kirishima a thumbs-up.
Kirishima digs around in the fridge, pulls out a plate of leftovers, and joins them at the counter. “At least today’s a day off?”
Jirou sniffs, finally blinking open her dark eyes. “Oh, did Ashido not tell you—”
“Kirishima!” As though summoned by the sound of her name, Ashido comes bounding into the kitchen. She’s wearing a neon green, oversized t-shirt that Kirishima is pretty sure once belonged to him, and as she skids to a halt she thrusts her phone in Kirishima’s direction.
“Mina,” Jirou snaps, flailing ineffectively at her with one arm, “It’s morning. You’re too loud.”
“It’s three o’clock,” Ashido says, rolling her eyes.
Kirishima doesn’t catch the rest of their conversation, because he’s too busy looking down at the tabloid website Ashido had pulled up on her phone. The headline reads High School Sweethearts Growing Up?. Underneath is a picture of two actors Kirishima recognizes from their multi-season run on the teen drama UA. The first, a young woman with warm brown eyes, smiles at the camera even though her cheeks are pink—Uraraka Ochako. The guy behind her has an arm around her waist, tugging her away from the camera. Though he has lifted his other hand to shield his face—at the same time, offering the camera an obscene gesture—Kirishima still recognizes him. Bakugou Katsuki.
It takes Kirishima a long moment to scroll past the picture to the text of the article.
Former co-stars Uraraka and Bakugou were spotted out on the town yesterday. While rumors of their romantic relationship have never officially been confirmed, the pair seemed cozy enough having drinks together. Maybe this finally ends our years’ long question of will they, or won’t they?
Uraraka and Bakugou have both won multiple awards for their roles in UA. Their characters’ tumultuous romance, slow to build but satisfying, left many fans wondering if the two teen stars could be more than friends when the cameras were off. Even though UA ended three years ago, Uraraka and Bakugou continue to be seen together.
On-screen, Uraraka’s character was able to tame Bakugou’s antagonistic one into someone we could all root for. Can she do the same in real life for the notoriously bad-tempered star?
Kirishima frowns down at the phone for a moment, until Ashido taps him on the shoulder and takes her phone back from him.
“You think they’re really dating?” he asks.
Ashido shrugs, fluffing out her bubblegum-pink hair with both hands. “Who knows? You know I’ve been out of circulation for a while, and even before no one really bothered gossiping about Bakugou.”
It’s funny, Kirishima thinks, how they all talk about Bakugou like they know him. As far as Kirishima knows, none of them have met him—but he’s like Yaoyorozu Momo or Todoroki Shouto—famous enough that everyone feels like they know him.
“Speaking of circulation,” Jirou says, nudging Ashido with her foot.
“Oh, right,” Ashido says, clapping her hands together. “I forgot to tell you last night, Kirishima—we’ve been invited to a party.”
The way she says the last word immediately has Kirishima suspicious. He likes parties well enough, but there are parties and then there are parties.
“What’s that mean?”
“Don’t look at me like that,” Ashido says with a sigh. “I don’t care if we get a hundred good reviews, if no one knows who we are the album’s not going to sell. So, when I say, ‘we got invited to a party,’ you should say, ‘Thank you, Ashido-san, what would we do without you?’”
“What kind of party?” Kirishima insists.
Ashido pouts at him from the other side of the counter. “Ki-ri-shi-ma. It doesn’t matter what kind of party. It’ll be fun, I promise.”
“I’m ready to have fun,” Kaminari puts in helpfully, having woken up a little more.
“I’m ready to keep him from completely embarrassing us.” Jirou points a thumb in Kaminari’s direction, smirking when he rounds on her.
“See?” Ashido says. “Everyone’s on board, Kirishima!”
Kirishima looks her straight in the eye, because he knows her well enough to understand where this is going. He’s already accepted his fate when he asks, “Who invited us, exactly?”
Ashido smiles sweetly at him. “Hagakure Tooru.”
It must be nice being the most sought-after model in the industry, if it pays for a penthouse apartment with a rooftop pool. Kirishima isn’t sure he could accurately describe what Hagakure Tooru looks like, because in each photoshoot he’s seen her in she’s sporting a completely different aesthetic. A new hairstyle, different colored contacts, a persona that fits the mood of the shoot exactly. Is she tall or short? Are her features round or sharp? He honestly couldn’t say.
Still, he finds himself standing on her rooftop that evening, nervously straightening the cuffs of his shirt. Music blares from a DJ’s setup across the roof, and in between two dozen people are milling about the pool, talking and sipping on drinks. On the face of it, there’s nothing to be nervous about. Usually, Kirishima has no problem dealing with crowds this side or bigger, and enjoys his time spent around new people.
But these aren’t just any people. Everywhere he looks he spots a model or an actress or a best-selling musician. It’s like he can see their resumes floating about their heads, awards and popularity laid out for all to see. And with every face he recognizes, he realizes a hard truth—he’s not meant to be here. He can’t compete.
Ashido elbows him in the side. “You look like you just stopped breathing,” she says, out of the side of her mouth. “What’s wrong?”
Kirishima tries to offer her a smile. She certainly looks the part, herself—pink hair and brilliant smile, a leopard-print mini skirt and an air of confidence that can’t be faked. Ashido Mina was meant to be in the spotlight.
Kirishima, on the other hand—Kirishima’s an imposter, and he’s sure everyone knows it.
Before he can get too caught up in that train of thought, Ashido grabs his shoulder and turns him to face her. She’d insisted on picking out his outfit for tonight—a deep red button-down and his nicest pair of black jeans—and now she steps up on her toes to straighten his collar, unbuttoning his shirt enough to expose just a little bit of his chest.
“You’re going to be fine,” she assures him. “Seriously. You’d better be, because if you ruin this for us I’m going to tell everyone what your natural hair color is.”
Kirishima’s cheeks immediately turn the same furious red as his hair. “Ashido.”
She claps her hands against his cheeks. “Just kidding. Mostly. But, really. Go talk to someone—make a friend. You’re good at this stuff!”
“Maybe I’ll just stick with you a little longer—” Kirishima’s cut off as Ashido cranes her head over his shoulder, letting out a tiny gasp.
“Oh, my—Kirishima. It’s Sero.”
Sure enough, when he turns around to follow Ashido’s gaze he sees Sero Hanta—no one’s image of a celebrity, too plain and unassuming to be an actor or a model. He looks the same as ever, with his inky black hair and cheerful smile.
But beside Kirishima, Ashido is clenching her hands and biting the inside of her cheek. “I didn’t know he was going to be here,” she says.
Kirishima half-smiles. “You could go talk to him, you know.”
“I know,” Ashido says, tapping her foot impatiently. “Ugh—fine. I will!”
She marches away from Kirishima, across the rooftop towards Sero. He’s standing amidst a small group of people—celebrities who all greet him like a friend—but as soon as he spots Ashido he pulls away from them.
“Hey,” Kirishima hears Ashido say, “How’re you?”
As far as opening lines go, it isn’t the most brilliant. But Sero looks sheepish and ducks his head as he offers her a greeting.
A minute later, Ashido punches him in the shoulder. “You jerk,” she says. “I missed you.”
Kirishima should probably go over and say hi, as well. He hasn’t seen Sero in almost two years, the same as Ashido. But maybe it’s also best that he gives them their space, for now.
Sucking in a breath, he turns back to the bulk of the party. Kaminari and Jirou are on one corner of the rooftop, talking to a woman with dark hair who towers over both of them—Yaoyorozu Momo. Kirishima still isn’t sure how Kaminari approached her so easily. Jirou’s skin had turned green at the thought, but Kaminari had pulled her along with him easily enough. His confidence isn’t quite the same as Ashido’s—more guileless, really—but they have something of the same spark.
Kirishima bites down on the inside of his cheek, barely noticing as someone comes up beside him.
A voice says, “What are you doing over here by yourself?”
Kirishima turns to see who’s addressing him, but as soon as he does he freezes. She’s not particularly tall or imposing—soft brown eyes, round pink cheeks, a kind smile. They’ve never met before, but Kirishima recognizes that smile. He’d watched it once a week, every week, for years.
“Hi,” she says, open and friendly, “I’m Uraraka Ochako.”
“I know,” Kirishima says, before he can think better of it. He winces at himself. “I mean—”
Uraraka laughs. “You recognize me? I should’ve figured. And you are?”
“Kirishima,” he says. “Kirishima Eijirou. I’m here with my band—”
“Oh!” Her face lights up with realization. “Tooru-chan mentioned you—your band is an English word, right? Light? Or, wait—Riot?”
He finds himself grinning at her. “That’s us.”
“That’s so cool,” she says, “Tooru-chan said you were opening for Present Mic right now! That must be so fun.”
“It’s a lot of work,” Kirishima admits. “But yeah, it’s pretty awesome.”
It’s like a dream—Uraraka Ochako standing right in front of him, talking to him like she’s a normal person. She looks just like she does on TV, and sets off talking about how Hagakure had been to one of Present Mic’s recent shows and seen them perform. Kirishima is suddenly very glad that no one had told him about that—he doesn’t know how he would’ve performed, knowing she was in the audience.
“Anyway, she said you were really, really good!” Uraraka says earnestly.
Kirishima laughs because he’s not sure what else to do. “Oh,” he says, cheeks growing redder by the moment. “I mean, Ashido’s an amazing singer, and you should hear Jirou on the guitar. And Kaminari, of course.”
“I’m sure you’re amazing, too, Kirishima-kun.” There’s no choice but to believe her, Uraraka is so sincere. “Your name—Riot? Where’d that come from?”
“It means like, a protest?” Kirishima tries to explain. “A disturbance of the peace. But mostly I liked it because there’s a line in an old Crimson Chevalier song where he uses it.”
“Crimson Chevalier?” Uraraka asks, tilting her head to one side.
From behind Kirishima, someone scoffs. “It’s classic rock, round face. You haven’t heard of him.”
As a strange sensation travels up Kirishima’s spine, Uraraka puts her hands on her hips and scowls at who’d been speaking.
“I might’ve,” she protests.
The same voice lets out a dismissive tut. “Sure. Whatever. And where’ve you been, anyway? I want to get the fuck out of here.”
“Pease forgive Bakugou-kun,” Uraraka says to Kirishima. “He’s this rude to everyone—don’t take it personally.”
Of course, Kirishima thinks. Of course, Bakugou Katsuki is standing right behind him. With great effort, Kirishima turns around slowly enough to not seem too desperate. Then, of course, he ruins it.
“You’re not wearing jeans,” he says, unable to stop himself.
Bakugou Katsuki, in baggy black pants and a plain t-shirt, stares at him. For a moment, Kirishima is privy to his resting expression—a scowl on his face and a deep crease between his brows, but a relative calm still settled over him. Then, Kirishima’s words register, and his jaw visibly clenches and his eyes narrow to slits.
“Yeah,” he bites out. “No shit.”
Uraraka covers her face with both hands, smothering her laughter. “Shh, shh, Kirishima-kun, he hates that billboard.”
“Because it’s a fucking travesty,” Bakugou grouses, voice rising. “I told Jeanist his hairstyling is shit, and he didn’t listen, and now that piece of shit ad is making me look like a joke all over the goddamn city!”
This is Bakugou Katsuki, a voice in Kirishima’s mind says, this is Bakugou Katsuki losing his shit at a fancy party that he isn’t dressed for and doesn’t want to be at.
“You don’t look like a joke,” Kirishima says, because that much seems obvious to him. “I mean, the hair was a bit much, but I don’t think anyone’s first instinct is going to be to laugh, man.”
Well, he amends in his mind, Jirou and Kaminari and Ashido all laughed. But that was because of Kirishima, mostly. They might laugh at Bakugou to his face, too, but that’s because they’re good-natured assholes. Hopefully, they’ll never meet and Kirishima will never have to worry about it.
“Ha?” Bakugou rounds on him, expression so angry that Kirishima can practically see the smoke blowing from his ears. “What the fuck would you know about it?”
“Bakugou-kun,” Uraraka says sharply, her smile replaced by a disappointed expression.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Kirishima says to her. “And, well, I’ve seen it? So that’s enough to make a judgment, don’t you think?”
“Who the fuck even are you, shitty hair?” Bakugou demands, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Kirishima Eijirou,” he says, trying for a grin. He’ll let the hair comment slide, he decides. “Nice to meet—”
“I don’t actually care,” Bakugou says, turning away from him and back to Uraraka. “Look, we showed up. People fucking saw us. Can we go, now?”
There’s definitely something different about the way Bakugou talks to Uraraka, even if his language isn’t any more polite. And he’s asking her permission to leave.
A heavy stone of realization falls on Kirishima’s chest. Maybe they really are dating. Kirishima knows he has no right to be disappointed about that—it’s creepy, even. Just because he feels like he knows Bakugou doesn’t mean he actually does.
Uraraka sighs and frowns at Bakugou. “I haven’t gotten to talk to everyone, yet! And Deku-kun isn’t even here.”
“If he’s who we’re waiting on, I’m definitely out of here,” Bakugou says.
This time, Uraraka rolls her eyes. “You’re so dramatic. Let’s stick around for another hour, okay?”
Bakugou clenches his teeth, every muscle in his body tense. He’s not just angry—he’s uncomfortable. But then he seems to steel himself, because he throws his hands up in the air and says, “Fine. You better come find me in an hour.”
Then he stalks away from both of them.
Uraraka lets out another sigh, then smiles apologetically. “He’s not good with new people. Or people, really.”
Kirishima grins crookedly. “Well. I mean, he’s mostly as advertised, then?”
Uraraka insists on showing him around, after that. They meet Hagakure Tooru—who has teal hair, today, and a face so perfect it looks photoshopped—who actually stops Kirishima to compliment his music. He’s taken aback at being recognized, even though he knows Hagakure invited them to this party. Sato Rikido, head chef of Sugar Rush, finds them after that. And then they pass by Yaoyorozu Momo, who’s still talking to Jirou and Kaminari. It’s a dizzying whirlwind of introductions and conversations, and Kirishima can barely keep up.
“Who’s that with Sero-kun?” Uraraka asks, cupping one hand over her eyes to see.
“Ashido,” Kirishima says. Because, sure enough, the two of them are still ensconced together one on side of the roof. They have their head leaned together, expressions caught between serious and bashful.
Uraraka taps one finger against her chin, humming thoughtfully.
Then, from further away, someone calls out, “Ochako-chan!”
The two of them turn to see Asui Tsuyu—Japan’s Olympic darling and gold medal swimmer. Uraraka turns back to Kirishima with a brilliant smile.
“That’s Tsuyu-chan,” she says, introducing her like she’s introduced everyone to Kirishima, tonight, even though he recognizes all of them.
“Why don’t you go join her,” Kirishima says, “I think I’m going to go get some air.”
It isn’t very hard to convince her. Kirishima offers Asui a wave, then pulls himself through the crowd to the edges of the party. Even though they’re outdoors, on a rooftop, it’s hard not feel stifled by the sheer personality of the crowd. Kirishima edges away from all of it, behind one of the vine-covered walls that makes off the party area. Leaning against the other side of the wall, he lets out a low breath.
“Holy crap,” he says, head lifting as he undoes another button on his shirt. He feels like he’s just run a marathon.
“What the fuck,” someone says, from a few feet away.
Kirishima looks up with a start.
Bakugou Katsuki is crouched there, almost at the edge of the roof. Without the fairy lights of the party illuminating his face, he looks like one of his character posters from UA: brooding and shadowed, his pale hair just visible in the moonlight.
Kirishima swallows. Sure, he’s been at a party with countless attractive and impressive people for the better part of the evening. But none of them were Bakugou Katsuki.
“What the hell are you doing over here?” Bakugou demands, getting to his feet.
“Just, you know. Getting some space?” Kirishima hates that it sounds like a question—he hates that his voice squeaks, as though he’s nervous. With everyone else, he’d been more or less able to fake it. But standing next to Bakugou only emphasizes how out of his depth he is.
Bakugou’s brows draw together, and for a second Kirishima imagines that he looks thoughtful instead of angry. Then, he scoffs.
“No point coming to one of these shitty parties if you’re not actually seen at it,” he says roughly.
Kirishima shrugs. “I think I’m good, actually? There’s four people in my band, anyway, and out of us I’m the last person anyone’s going to focus on.”
The crease between Bakugou’s brow deepens. “You say a lot of stupid shit, you know that?”
Kirishima hardly thinks that’s fair—he’s barely had a conversation with Bakugou, and nothing he’s said is all that stupid. But just as he’s about to protest, Bakugou steps closer, right into his space.
He smells like a campfire, Kirishima thinks, as the more rational part of his brain shuts down. Bakugou stands just a centimeter or so above him, and he’s definitely leaner than Kirishima is. Still, he has this unmistakable presence—it fills the air, and Kirishima can’t breathe in anything else.
Bakugou doesn’t say anything, and Kirishima’s own words are caught in his throat. Bakugou leans over him, pressing one arm against the wall on the side of Kirishima’s head. He keeps looking down, searching with his dark, intense eyes. Kirishima doesn’t know what he’s looking for. But their faces are barely a hair’s span apart, and if this were a movie Kirishima could imagine this being the set up for a kiss.
It’s a stupid thought, one Kirishima regrets as soon as he’s had it. He’s just—he’s just a filler in a band that hasn’t made it big yet, and Bakugou Katsuki is perhaps the most talented actor of their generation. There’s no comparison between them, no hope of Kirishima ever being on Bakugou’s radar. And that’s all before Kirishima even considers that Bakugou is dating someone else.
Somewhere above him, Kirishima hears a clicking noise. “What was that?”
Bakugou takes a step back, eyes narrowed as he seeks the source of the noise. But it’s impossible to see anything beyond the rooftop they’re standing on.
“Fuck,” Bakugou mutters, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
From the party, happening just a few feet away from them, a chorus of noise rises up. “Midoriya,” at least five people say at once, joyful and welcoming.
Bakugou’s face contorts. Whereas before he just looked intense, now he’s almost murderous. His jaw clenches, lips pulling away from his teeth in a snarl.
“I’m fucking out of here.” He doesn’t say anything else to Kirishima, just leaves him standing alone.
Kirishima wakes up around noon with a headache. He rolls out of bed, pointedly ignores the billboard outside his window, and reaches around for a notebook and pencil. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he hums a tune off-rhythm as he scribbles across the page. The lyrics aren’t anything much—half-formed thoughts and words that sound interesting, nothing that could be considered a song, yet. But he’s got notebooks and notebooks filled with such snatches, and maybe someday they’ll form something more.
He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there, thinking of ways to describe the intensity of dark eyes, when he hears a knock at the front door.
Kirishima walks to the door, nonchalant in his boxers and ratty t-shirt. The rest of the apartment is quiet, and so Jirou and the others must not be awake yet. Kirishima doesn’t remember any of them mentioning having visitors.
When he opens the door, Sero Hanta is standing there in a sharp navy suit. There’s a pair of expensive sunglasses perched on his head, and when he sees Kirishima he smiles.
“Hey, man,” Kirishima says, even though he’s slightly confused. “It’s been a long time.”
“Too long,” Sero agrees.
There’s a stiffness in the air between them, a feeling that Kirishima desperately wants to rid himself of.
“I don’t think Ashido’s awake, yet,” he says, “if you’re here to see her?”
Sero shakes his head. “Um, no. Actually, I’m here to see you. On behalf of my client?”
Kirishima blinks at him. “Your client?”
Sero tilts his head. “You checked the internet this morning, didn’t you?”
Sero mutters something under his breath, then pulls out his phone and taps around on it for a moment. Then he turns it towards Kirishima.
There’s a picture of him on Sero’s phone. There’s a picture of him from last night on Sero’s phone. There’s a picture of him from last night, with Bakugou Katsuki, on Sero’s phone.
In the photo, only their faces are visible. Kirishima is leaning against the vine-covered wall, head tilted upwards as his eyes focus on Bakugou. With his spiky red hair, the pale scar above his eye, even the gleam of his teeth—it’s unmistakable. It can’t be anyone but him.
Standing over him is Bakugou, looking down with narrowed eyes, his lips slightly parted. There’s no more than a hair’s span between them. They look like they’re about to kiss.
Across the image, block letters ask, Bakugou Katsuki’s New Leading… Man?
“Holy shit,” Kirishima says, because he doesn’t know what else to do.
Sero smiles at him, all straight teeth. Suddenly, Kirishima’s not so sure he’s dealing with an old friend.
“Anyway,” Sero says, “I’m Bakugou-san’s agent. I’m here on his behalf, to deal with this situation.”
Kirishima wonders if it’s too late to go back to bed.