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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.”

“Wait—seriously?”

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?”

“No?”

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.

Chapter Text

Sero sits at the breakfast nook, looking distinctly out of place. Kirishima remembers him as several years younger, when he was made up mostly of elbows and knees. He’s still lanky, but he’s grown into his height. Kirishima can’t help but notice the stack of dirty dishes in the sink, the crumpled magazines and sheet music that litter the kitchen and spill into the living room. In contrast with Sero, who looks like he’s just stepped out of a photoshoot, Kirishima feels grubby and unkempt.

But Sero doesn’t affect that attitude. He glances around the apartment, an almost wistful smile on his face, until his eyes land on the framed, enlarged magazine article on the wall opposite the sink.

Get Ready to Riot!, the article reads. The photograph is taken at an upshot angle, Ashido dominating the center of the frame. Her hands are clasped around a microphone, her skin tinged a rosy pink with exhilaration as she shuts her eyes and sings. The dark makeup around her eyes is slightly smudged, giving her a raccoon’s look that somehow still works for her. Just behind her is Jirou, her guitar almost vertical as her fingers find the right chord. The moment before, she’d shed her trademark leather jacket, leaving her in a deep purple tank-top and ripped jeans. Off to one side is Kaminari at his drum set, drumsticks moving so quickly that in the photo they’re just two blurred lines. The steel drums catch the light, along with the silver jewelry hanging off Kaminari’s neck and glinting from his ears. And then, far to one side, is Kirishima. His gaze is fixed downward as his strums his cherry red guitar, but he’s smiling—happy enough in that moment to just be playing music, almost unaware of the crowd around him, the hands reaching up from below the stage.

Now, seeing Sero staring at the picture, he blushes and scratches at the back of his neck. “What?” he asks, when Sero doesn’t look away.

For a moment, Sero’s smile shifts into a sharp frown. Then he shakes his head. “Nothing. I guess the media still loves Ashido, huh.”

Kirishima shrugs. “She’s the lead singer. Of course, they’d focus on her.”

“Of course, you’d let them,” Sero mutters.

“What was that?” Kirishima asks. It sounds too much like the starting notes of an old fight, one that he really doesn’t want to relive right now. They’ve all moved on from it—Ashido and Kirishima to this new band, Sero to being Bakugou Katsuki’s agent. Which reminds him—“What did you come here to say, Sero?”

Sero smiles again, bashful this time. He looks more like himself, even when he rests his elbows on his knees and fixes Kirishima with a dark-eyed stare. “It’s a little awkward,” he starts.

Kirishima rolls his eyes. “Dude, this already the most awkward day I’ve had in a while, and last week I saw Present Mic in his underwear.”

Sero shudders at Kirishima’s words, then laughs. It cuts through the tension of the room, and when Sero starts up again his voice is more relaxed. “And I told you, didn’t I? The media caught you and Bakugou together, last night. I don’t know what you were doing—but. This is going to cause some issues.”

Kirishima thinks of Uraraka and his heart drops into the pit of his stomach. She’s going to see that photograph. She’s going to see her boyfriend leaned over another a guy, a guy she took pity on and spent the better part of last night with. What will she think? How could Kirishima have done this to her?

“Bakugou wasn’t out,” Sero is saying. “I mean, he’s still not, technically. But there’s only so many ways to explain a picture like that.”

“Sero,” Kirishima says with a nervous laugh, “Nothing happened. Like, seriously. I don’t even know why he was over there, and then he just came up to me and…” Kirishima waves his hands, gesturing ineffectually.

Then, Sero’s words register, and Kirishima’s jaw drops.

“We were trying to keep the stunt with Uraraka-san going so no one would figure it out,” Sero is saying, even though there’s a grin pulling at the corner of his lips as he looks at Kirishima. “I mean, Bakugou’s never really been interested in anyone. But then, apparently right before I started working with him, he really started pushing for roles that were beyond what his agency could tolerate. So, he switched over to the agency I work for, but I don’t think anyone was ready to start casting Bakugou Katsuki as the romantic lead in gay films.”

“He’s gay,” Kirishima says, and his heart starts beating against his ribs like a bird trapped in a cage.

Sero shrugs. “I mean, probably? He’s definitely not interested in women. But he tolerates Uraraka-san, so it was easy enough to stage a few things. Her people were on board, and it’s helped them both stay relevant, so…”

“They’re not dating?”

Now, Sero snorts. “Bakugou isn’t horrible to Uraraka-san, but I still don’t think she’d put up with having him as a boyfriend.”

So, he’s not a homewrecker. That’s one less thing to worry about, at least.

“I’m sorry—what does any of this have to do with me?”

Sero leans forward with a glint his eye. Suddenly, he looks every bit the calculating professional he must be, if he manages Bakugou Katsuki. “If Bakugou is going to upend all our efforts with the press, we’re going to make it happen in a way that helps his career, rather than tanking it. He’s popular enough that people might tolerate him coming out. But they’re definitely not going to accept him if he’s running around, getting caught with a different guy every week. What our agency thinks is that the public can handle a gay man, but only if he’s tied down. Committed.”

“I don’t… understand…” Kirishima’s mouth is dry. He’s trying very hard not to think about Bakugou, leaning over him and smelling like a campfire. He’s trying very hard not to think about his heated stare, or the sharp jut of his collarbones.

Sero looks up and grins widely. “Don’t worry so much, Kirishima! I wouldn’t even be making this offer if I didn’t think it’d help you out, too.”

“Offer,” Kirishima repeats skeptically.

Sero nods. “It’s the chance of a lifetime, really,” he says. “We want you to date Bakugou, for the sake of his reputation with the press. Some public appearances, a few ‘candid’ photos. For at least a couple of months.”

“Bakugou sent you to ask me to date him?” Kirishima asks, baffled.

“Of course not. We, his people, are asking you to date him. He’s going to have to get on board, if he wants his career to survive. And in the bargain, Riot will get all sorts of publicity, because their lyricist will be dating one of the industry’s hottest stars. A win for everyone.”

Kirishima doesn’t know if it’s because he woke up past noon, but his brain is having a difficult time processing all of this. Somewhere, a voice in his head is crowing Do it! Date Bakugou Katsuki! When are you ever going to get this chance again?. But that voice is quickly drowned out by a half-dozen others, each expressing anxiety or confusion or apprehension.

“I’ll give you some time to think about it, okay?” Sero says kindly. He pulls out a metallic gray business card and leaves it on the counter. “I have to go make some calls, deal with the fallout from last night. The quicker you decide, the more it’d help me out. Give me a call soon, okay?”

As he gets up and passes Kirishima, he reaches out to pat his shoulder. “I never really knew what you saw in Bakugou, before I started working him, but now it’s different. He’s not a bad guy. I really want to see his star keep rising, you know?”

Two hours later, Kirishima sits on the couch, sandwiched between Ashido and Kaminari. Jirou is across from them, cross-legged on the floor. Ashido and Kaminari haven’t stopped yelling for the past fifteen minutes, and Kirishima is starting to get a headache.

“They want you to date Bakugou,” Kaminari yelps, for perhaps the fifth time. He’s caught between giggles and hysterics. “Can you even handle that? Have you ever tried to fake anything before, in your whole life?”

“You let Sero into our apartment without even telling me,” Ashido interrupts, eyes flashing. “What if I had woken up and come to get breakfast? What if I was in my underwear and he was just sitting there at our breakfast nook?”

“Why are you coming to breakfast in your underwear,” Kirishima asks weakly.

“You can’t do this, it’ll be a disaster,” Kaminari continues. “Have you seen that guy? I know you have a thing for shitheads with hard abs, but c’mon. Everyone knows his personality’s been run through sewage pipes a couple times.”

“I mean, Sero’s right—it wouldn’t hurt us,” Ashido continues, voice still pitched at a whine. “Being seen around town with him, everyone would ask who you are. And then everyone would ask about the band. It wouldn’t be bad…”

“What about the bad fact of our Kirishima dating some guy who’s apparently been faking it with the same girl for like, three years?” Kaminari throws back his head. He turns to Kirishima and says, “You’ve got a fragile heart. This guy’s obviously a player.”

“It’d be fake with me, too,” Kirishima says, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “And my heart is manly and tough, get off me.” He pushes Kaminari away, but that does little to deter him.

“Can you idiots get serious, for a moment?” Jirou asks tiredly. She’s been sitting on the ground, contemplating, for long minutes now. “There’s one part of this we haven’t thought about, at all.”

“What’s that?” Kaminari and Ashido ask in unison.

Jirou dismisses them with a wave of her hand, then focuses on Kirishima. “Do you want to fake-date Bakugou? Do you want to have to do press events and photoshoots, and all that other stuff? Are you even considering this?”

As soon as she asks, Kirishima knows that he’s not just considering it. He’s already made up his mind. Being around Bakugou last night had been confusing, to say the least. But it was also intoxicating. And if it’d benefit the band, he’d probably be willing to do just about anything. He knows that none of the others are going to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do, but he also doesn’t know what else he can really do to push their collective dream forward.

And maybe, at his core, Kirishima is selfish. He wants to get to know Bakugou, and to just be around him. Even if the premise is a fake one. In any case, it’d be dishonorable to let Bakugou’s career struggle just because someone had caught them standing near each other. Bakugou had moved in, but Kirishima hadn’t moved away. In some way, isn’t this his fault, too?

Ashido rests a hand on Kirishima’s shoulder. “We’re going to support you, no matter what.”

Kaminari sighs. “Obviously,” he says, with only a little reluctance.

Jirou purses her lips to hide a smirk. “At least you won’t have to fake your big, stupid crush on him?”

“Shut up,” Kirishima groans. The others all laugh.

Kirishima calls Sero a little while later. “I’m in, I think. Just, before this goes any further—can I meet him? Like, really. Not for the cameras.”

Sero gives Kirishima the address of a café downtown that he’s never been to. He rushes out the door before Ashido can insist on dressing him, and immediately regrets it. He’s wearing one of his many faded band t-shirts (this one a tangerine orange, with Fatgum’s logo printed across it) and an old pair of cargo shorts. Still, Kirishima tells himself, this is a condition, not an actual fake-date. There’s a contradiction rolled up in that sentence, somewhere, but in any case he shouldn’t have to worry about how he’s dressed.

A bell rings as Kirishima pushes open the door of the café. It’s a quiet place, decorated all in pale yellow and cream. Kirishima passes by the desert counter, eyes widening as he reads the price cards on the macarons and scones. He glances back up at the signs, and suddenly it clicks.

Sugar Rush, he thinks, resisting the urge to smack his forehead with his palm. Sato Rikido had been at the party last night. This is the café adjunct of his bigger restaurant. No wonder the prices are so exorbitant.

“Kirishima-san?” A young woman in a pale yellow apron approaches him, bobbing her head. “Bakugou-san is waiting for you.”

She points out a booth in the back of the café, with high-backed seats that don’t let other customers see who’s sitting there. Kirishima swallows roughly before thanking the woman and heading for the booth.

Be normal, he tells himself as he walks across the café. Be normal, he’s just a regular guy, and a regular guy you’re going to have to date. Don’t treat him like an alien. Don’t gawk at him. Don’t stare at his abs—wait, won’t he be wearing a shirt? Please let him be wearing a shirt—

Kirishima is so lost in his thoughts, he barely realizes when he comes to stand in front of the booth. Then, someone clears their throat.

“Well?” Bakugou snaps. “Are you going to sit down, or what? Shitty hair.”

Kirishima is definitely underdressed. Bakugou is wearing a crisp black button-down, open over a red t-shirt. There’s a pair of sunglasses pushed back into his hair, and he’s drumming his fingers against the table impatiently. He’s more dressed-up than he’d been at Hagakure’s party, but more real than Kirishima’s ever seen him in a television commercial or billboard.

“Hello?” Bakugou says, reaching over to punch Kirishima in the shoulder. “Are you even listening to me?”

Kirishima winces, rubbing at his shoulder where Bakugou had hit him. “Yes, yes, geez.” He quickly sits down opposite Bakugou, frowning at him. “And it’s Kirishima, you know. Not ‘shitty hair.’”

Bakugou leans back into his seat, crossing his arms over his chest. “Whatever.”

“No, not whatever,” Kirishima says, slightly miffed. “I mean, if we’re going to date, you should know my name. Honestly, you should probably call me Eijirou.”

Bakugou looks up at him with a disgusted expression. “Like hell.”

There’s something less-than-hostile about his response, more confused than genuinely angry. Kirishima wonders, suddenly, if Bakugou has ever actually dated anyone. If he’s been pretending to be with Uraraka, would he have been able to?

“…I could call you Katsuki,” Kirishima says, unable to stop the smile playing at his lips. He’s reminded of science classes back in high school, of leaning with Ashido over the same lab table and titrating an acid with little drips of solution. Kirishima had often let too much in at once, but Ashido had a defter touch, able to calibrate things correctly with enough patience and effort.

Bakugou glares at him with such intensity, Kirishima is surprised he doesn’t catch fire.

“Call me that ever again and I will rip off your leg and beat you dead with it,” Bakugou spits.

Kirishima laughs. “Dude, that’s not very nice. And I’ll call you Bakugou, then, if you call me Kirishima. Deal?”

Whatever.” Bakugou looks even more sullen, now.

Kirishima doesn’t know exactly how to deal with this. He knew that the dating was Sero’s idea, not Bakugou’s. But he still didn’t expect Bakugou to look so utterly miserable at the idea.

“Look,” he says, pitching his voice a bit lower. There’s no one sitting around them in the café, but there’s no harm in being careful. “I don’t know what Sero’s said to you, but if you don’t want to do this, I don’t want to, either.”

Bakugou’s still staring at him. “You think Soy Sauce can actually tell me what to do?” he demands.

Kirishima rests his elbows against the table, then presses his hands against his face. “Are you just being contrary on purpose?” he asks. When Bakugou doesn’t answer after a moment, Kirishima blinks open his eyes to see that Bakugou’s gaze has dropped from his face down to his arms.

“What,” Kirishima asks.

Bakugou’s brows cut a sharp crease over his eyes. “You have tattoos.”

Kirishima glances down, then shrugs. “Huh? Oh, yeah. I guess you couldn’t see them, last night.” He’s particularly fond of the designs of these—an ornate sword on the interior of his right forearm, cutting a long line from his wrist to the joint of his elbow. On his opposite arm is a matching shield, both inked in stark black against his skin.

Bakugou scowls at him. “You don’t make any goddamn sense.”

Kirishima arches a brow. “I’m a musician with tattoos—I think that makes more sense than anything else about me, probably. Anyway, I chose this spot because when you’re singing into a mic, your arms face the crowd. See?” He demonstrates the position, curling his hands around an imaginary microphone.

“But you don’t sing,” Bakugou tells him.

Kirishima laughs sheepishly. “Well, that’s true. And—wait, how’d you even know that?”

Bakugou rolls his eyes. “I do my fucking research, asshole.”

He pauses to consider that, for a moment, then takes a deep breath. “Hey, how about we start over? Hi, I’m Kirishima Eijirou.” He pauses, but Bakugou says nothing. “And you are…?”

Bakugou blinks at him. “You fucking know who I am.”

Kirishima frowns and kicks him under the table.

“Fuck. Fine.” Bakugou huffs. “I’m Bakugou.”

“Nice to meet you,” Kirishima says with forced pleasantness. “So. Why do you want me to pretend to be your boyfriend?”

“I thought Soy Sauce already explained this shit to you. What am I paying him for—”

“I know what Sero said,” Kirishima interrupts. “I want to know what you think.”

Bakugou says nothing for a moment, then shrugs. “He explained it to you, didn’t he? The agency thinks that if I don’t have a boyfriend, it’ll fuck up my image. I don’t really care about any of that bullshit, but I’m sick of the rest of it. If this gets me what I want, then fine. I’ll do it.”

And what is it you want, Kirishima almost asks. But he doesn’t think that Bakugou will be any more forthcoming.

“Okay,” he says after a moment. “Then I guess we’re a team, now.”

Bakugou pulls a face.

“Aren’t you an actor?” Kirishima asks, feigning incredulity. “If you can’t even pretend to like me, I don’t see how anyone’s going to want to hire you.”

“Fuck you,” Bakugou says, with less bite than before. “You’re the one who’s going to have to worry about selling it. Just wait—I’m going to date the hell out of you, until you’re coughing up blood.”

“I think someone needs to explain to you how dating works,” Kirishima says, a bit uncertainly. But another part of him thinks, oh. Bakugou is going to take dating him very seriously. And Kirishima’s imagination runs with that, until he’s lost sight of the person sitting in front of him.

“I’m leaving,” Bakugou says, getting up and letting his sunglasses drop down over his eyes.

“What for?” Kirishima asks, also getting to his feet.

“I have to get fitted for the premiere, on Friday,” Bakugou growls. “You’re going to be there, too.”

Bakugou Katsuki’s latest role is in Ground Zero, a spy thriller co-starring Todoroki Shouto, another UA alumnus. Kirishima had heard about the film, had even marked its premiere date months ago, but had forgotten about it until now. Sitting on the couch, laptop propped on his knees, he looks at the poster with a curious expression.

Bakugou and Todoroki are centered in the shot, both wearing sharp suits and holding guns. They’re angled away from each other, but Bakugou looks back over his shoulder at Todoroki. Behind them, visible inside the bloom of an explosion, is a woman with dark hair and an even darker smile—Yaoyorozu Momo, playing the film’s villain.

“Lucky,” Jirou says, passing by. “I want to go to a Yaomomo movie premiere.”

“Maybe I can bring a guest?” Kirishima suggests.

Jirou waves him off. “Dude, you don’t get a plus one. You are the plus one.”

Kirishima supposes that’s right, though he’s still having a hard time wrapping his head around that concept.

Someone knocks on the door, three times in quick succession. Kirishima jumps up to go answer it as Jirou makes her way back to her room.

At the door stands a man with shiny golden-blond hair. His eyes are a blue so bright and pale they seem almost purple, and he’s wearing a silky white shirt and a truly blinding pair of metallic silver snakeskin pants. He has a garment bag casually draped over his shoulder, and when he sees Kirishima, he snaps his fingers, showing off several jeweled rings.

“This is what I’m working with,” he says to no one, words strangely accented. “Hello, Monsieur Kirishima. I’m Aoyama Yuuga, and I’ve been sent to make you look presentable.”

Kirishima has never had a stylist before. The label keeps track of Riot’s image for shows, but no one really cares if Kirishima wants to wear just jeans and t-shirts on stage. Kaminari dresses far flashier, and Jirou has the punk aesthetic locked down. Add in Ashido’s flare for tight, brightly-colored clothing, and there’s enough to grab anyone’s attention. Aside from fussing over his hair, Kirishima’s never cared too much about his appearance. He knows that no matter what he does, he’s not going to be the one drawing eyes.

And yet. Now, he’s being shaved and cologned and made up, dressed in a suit that fits him perfectly even though he doesn’t remember giving anyone his measurements. The suit is a deep blue color, over a black dress shirt. Aoyama does up all of the buttons but leaves off a tie—“You’re not supposed to look like a businessman, you’re a rock star”—then attacks Kirishima’s face with makeup. Kaminari, Jirou and Ashido all mess around with eyeliner at the least, but Kirishima’s never had much patience for it. Aoyama tuts at him impatiently, mutters something about glare in photos, but seems content with a bit of powder and some strategic color dusted over Kirishima’s skin.

“Do you know what I’m supposed to do?” Kirishima asks, as he’s lacing up his black dress shoes.

Aoyama gives him a skeptical look. “What does anyone’s date do at these things? Hold his hand on the red carpet, step aside when he’s giving an interview. Be thankful I won’t be there, taking all of the attention for myself.”

Kirishima’s phone buzzes with a text notification quickly after that—his ride is downstairs—and when he steps back into the main part of the apartment Kaminari, Jirou and Ashido are all waiting to gawk at him.

Kaminari has one hand pressed over his mouth. “Fuck, sometimes I forget how hot you are.”

“Knock ‘em dead, Kirishima.” Jirou gives him a thumbs-up.

“Try not to take all the attention from the movie stars, ‘kay?” Ashido chirps.

Kirishima feels his face getting as red as his hair, but thankfully he hears a honk from downstairs and has the excuse of rushing out the door. He doesn’t know what to do with the way the others were looking at him. He doesn’t know if he even likes that sort of attention.

Bakugou is already seated in the back of the town car when Kirishima slips inside. He’s sitting with his knees spread apart, dressed in a charcoal-colored suit and white shirt. His shirt is unbuttoned to expose his throat, and he barely casts Kirishima a second glance as he stares moodily out the window.

Kirishima swallows as he gets seated. Bakugou’s pale blond hair is fluffed up in its regular style, but there’s something more deliberate about the way certain strands fall over his eyes, today. Kirishima imagines that he must be wearing makeup, too, but his skin looks no different than it had the last time they met—smooth and unblemished. The faint smell of cologne drifts through the car, a different scent than the one Aoyama had spritzed Kirishima with.

“So,” Kirishima says, after a moment’s awkward silence, “Are you excited?”

Bakugou barely turns his head to blink at him. “I’ve been to a thousand of these stupid things. What’s there to be excited about?”

Kirishima considers that. He’s performed the same songs dozens of times over, even in the short time he’s been a part of Riot. It’s still exciting, even if they play the same set two nights in a row. He wonders if he’ll ever reach a point at which he finds it boring.

“You’re not the star of every movie you go to the premiere of, are you?” Kirishima asks, still trying to break into the realm of normal conversation. “I bet all eyes will be on you, tonight.”

“They better be.” Bakugou turns back to stare out the window, a clear dismissal.

But Kirishima persists. “What do you want me to do?” he asks.

Now, Bakugou turns back to him, that expression of confusion and frustration ghosting over his face. “I don’t want you to do anything,” he mutters. “Just be my date, who fucking cares.”

Kirishima grinds his teeth together. He thinks back to the later seasons of UA, when Bakugou’s character had been set on winning Uraraka’s. He’d gone about it all wrong, at first—emotional outbursts but no clear declaration of his feelings, being terrible to her friends while still trying to convince her he was worth it. But over time, he’d softened. There’d been a particularly poignant episode when Uraraka’s character had lost her mother, and Bakugou’s had arrived at the hospital just in time to hold her as she fell. Kirishima remembers the tenderness of that embrace, the softness of Bakugou’s expression, because he’d watched that episode at least a dozen times.

But Bakugou isn’t that character, is he? He’s someone else entirely, someone who’s probably never actually been in a relationship, before.

“They should pay me for this,” Kirishima says aloud.

Bakugou huffs out something that might be a laugh. “Yeah, no shit. You could’ve asked for money, and Soy Sauce would’ve given it to you. Idiot.”

Kirishima grimaces, then remembers Aoyama’s instructions. “I’m going to hold your hand,” he tells Bakugou.

Bakugou’s eyes go wide. “What the fuck.”

“On the red carpet,” Kirishima tells him. “I’m going to hold your hand, so everyone knows I’m your date.”

“You’re an idiot,” Bakugou tells him.

Kirishima shrugs it off. “Maybe. But you’re the gold-star actor who’s going to sell this, aren’t you? And that means you have to hold my hand.”

The car comes to a stop shortly after that, with the driver coming around to open the door on Bakugou’s side. Bakugou jerks his head towards the door and asks, uncaringly, “Are you ready or not, Kirishima?”

It’s the first time he’s used Kirishima’s name. In return, Kirishima grins. “Hell yeah. Let’s do this.”

He’s not prepared for the roar of noise—people calling out questions, camera bulbs flashing, music playing—or the torrent of light and sound.

In reality, he’s not prepared for any of this.

Chapter Text

The lights are so blinding that, for a moment, Kirishima can’t even see. He’d slid across the seat to get out of the car, but now he stumbles. Someone grabs him by the upper arm and hoists him to his feet, and before he can mumble out a thanks he realizes that someone is Bakugou.

Bakugou straightens up, lets go of Kirishima and steps away from him. And, in that moment, he transforms completely. It’s nothing truly obvious—he doesn’t smile, doesn’t affect affability, doesn’t say a word. But he lifts his head and looks out at the crowd with a challenge in his fiery eyes, and instead of the person who’d been sitting in the back of the car with Kirishima—closed off, internally-focused, guarded—he becomes a star, giving off light and attracting everyone’s notice. He doesn’t smile, but his expression isn’t sullen—it’s aloof and confident and cocky in the most attractive way. There’s something inviting about him, enticing, even when someone calls out his name and he barely spares them a second glance.

This is the Bakugou Katsuki of the magazines, the billboard ads, the TV commercials. This is Bakugou, who’s captured the public’s attention since his first role at the age of four. This is Bakugou, who can get away with throwing tantrums in front of the press, because even when he’s angry and bratty they all remember what he can be in other moments. And not many people are strong enough to resist this light, this gravitational pull.

Kirishima definitely isn’t strong enough.

He walks with wide strides to catch up with Bakugou, falls in step as they head down the long carpet towards the front of the theater. Massive set-ups show off Ground Zero’s posters—larger than life shots of Bakugou and Todoroki walking away from explosions, of Yaoyorozu holding a knife to Todoroki’s throat, of Bakugou jumping from a plane towards the ocean. Even amongst these perfect, monumental images of himself, it’s the real Bakugou who draws all eyes. He faces forward, eyes focused straight ahead, gazing out at something the rest of them can’t notice because he’s dominating their vision.

Then, the torrent of noise and cheers abates for a moment, and Kirishima hears someone say, “Is that him? The boyfriend?

And, just like that, the focus of the crowd shifts. Kirishima feels hundreds of eyes trained on him, the weight of their curiosity a suffocating force. He pauses mid-step, unsure of what he’s supposed to do. Does he answer the question? How would he even tell who answered it? He and Bakugou are dating, supposedly, but are they boyfriends?

A strong grip encircles his wrist as Bakugou tugs Kirishima forward. His hand is softer than it has any right to be, even as he squeezes around Kirishima’s wrist so tightly it’s almost painful.

“Keep up,” he mutters out of the side of his mouth. “You act like you’ve never had a camera pointed at you, before.”

Kirishima has definitely had cameras pointed at him, before. But never several hundred of them, at once, and usually only when he’s performing. Hearing a dozen flash bulbs go off every moment is not the same as someone taking shots of him while he’s on stage.

And yet Bakugou navigates this environment as easily as breathing, and more comfortably than he had the party or the café or the car ride. He’s in his element, tugging Kirishima down the carpet to reach the professional press at the entrance of the theater.

Once there, he stops and spits out, “That son of a—he’s late.”

“Who?” Kirishima asks, keenly aware of the fact that Bakugou hasn’t let go of him, yet.

“Todoroki, that icy bastard, I’m going to kill him—”

“Bakugou-san!” A voice calls out, high-pitched and chipper. “A moment of your time, please?”

Bakugou mutters something under his breath and straightens up. “C’mon,” he says to Kirishima, “Interviews.”

Surely, Bakugou can manage those himself. But he pulls Kirishima along with him, and when he stops in front of a pretty reporter with an oversized microphone, he makes sure Kirishima is right next to him.

The reporter smiles as she introduces herself, then sets off asking questions about the film. They’re typical—how much training did Bakugou have to do, what was the dynamic like on set, what was it like working with the director, what was his favorite scene to shoot. Bakugou has practiced, clipped answers to each of her questions, full of interesting sound bites filtered through his gruff personality.

Then, the tenor of the interview shifts.

“So,” the reporter says, smiling coyly at Kirishima, “who’s this, Bakugou-san?”

Bakugou rolls his eyes. “Like you don’t know.”

“I might,” the reporter agrees, “But isn’t it polite to introduce your… companion?”

Bakugou gives her a look of thinly-veiled exasperation. “Since when do I care about being polite?”

Kirishima, sensing that Bakugou’s fuse has been lit, steps in before he has a chance to explode. “I’m Kirishima,” he says, “I’ve never been to a movie premiere, before.”

The reporter beams at him. “But we’ll see you at more from now on, I hope?”

Kirishima laughs. “I mean, if Bakugou keeps inviting me.”

Bakugou’s grip on his wrist grows impossibly tighter, but Kirishima does his best to ignore it.

The reporter laughs prettily. “Would you say that’s very likely? I mean, this is only the second time we’ve seen you two together. How serious are you?”

“I don’t do things I’m not fucking serious about,” Bakugou mutters under his breath.

Kirishima shrugs. “That’s a tough question, don’t you think? I mean, no matter how much hope you have for a relationship, it’s always up in the air, right?”

The reporter nods earnestly. “Of course. But, of course, you have to know what a surprise it was, seeing Bakugou-san with you and not Uraraka-san. How did you two meet?”

Bakugou opens his mouth to answer, and then his brow wrinkles. He hasn’t thought this through, Kirishima realizes. He doesn’t know what to say.

“At a concert!” Kirishima cuts in. “At my—Riot’s—concert, that is. You know Hagakure Tooru? She’s a fan of ours. She brought Bakugou along to a concert, and the rest is history, you could say!”

“History is news, while it’s still happening,” the reporter says. “And we all certainly find the two of you newsworthy.”

Bakugou rolls his eyes. “Get a new hobby,” he tells her. The reporter only laughs in response, before a coordinator waves her on and calls in the next interviewer.

And so it goes, for several minutes. Bakugou answers questions about the movie, Kirishima cuts in to answer questions about their “relationship.” He re-spins the story of Hagakure and Bakugou coming to Riot’s concert enough times that he almost believes it’s true.

Finally, there’s a break in the crowd, and Bakugou turns to look at Kirishima suspiciously. “How are you so good at this?” he demands.

Kirishima has to stop to think about it. Is he good at this? “I’m just talking,” he says with a shrug. “I wasn’t really planning on it, but everyone’s nice and they’re not asking super invasive questions.”

“You were nervous about the cameras, but interviews are fine?” Bakugou’s glaring, now, like Kirishima’s a puzzle he can’t figure out.

“I guess?” Kirishima says. “I haven’t really thought about it.”

“Idiot.” Bakugou starts to turn away, then glances back to ask, “Who told you? About the concert.”

“What are you talking about?” Kirishima asks, but the rest of his words are swallowed up as the crowd, once again, explodes.

Bakugou turns towards the noise and hisses under his breath. “Motherfucker.”

A shiny, metallic blue car has just pulled up to the red carpet. And getting out of it is Todoroki Shouto.

It’s hard to compare Bakugou’s presence to Todoroki’s. Bakugou is blazing and hot, too powerful to ignore. Todoroki has a subtler presence that draws attention all the same, graceful but strong. He’s wearing a blue suit several shades lighter than Kirishima’s and white shirt, his tie perfectly straight as he gets out of the car. His hair, half-white and half-red, should make him look ridiculous, but instead it just adds to his almost otherworldly beauty. Marring one side of his face is the scar he’s had since childhood, the one that somehow adds gravitas and character to his appearance rather than detracting from it. He turns back to help someone else out of the car, and once again the crowd explodes with cheers.

Yaoyorozu Momo steps out onto the red carpet with a grace that Kirishima can’t quite describe. Her red gown flows out behind her, diamonds glittering at her ears. Her dark hair is pulled away from her face, and she stops every few paces to wave and smile at the crowd, blushing all the while. Todoroki walks to one side of her, not responding in the same way to the onlookers but eliciting just as many cheers.

“Those assholes,” Bakugou is saying, “They’re late on purpose to make an entrance, I wanted to be the last one here, I’m going to strangle Todoroki with his shitty rich boy tie and them I’m going to set him on fucking fire—”

“Woah, dude,” Kirishima says, resting a hand on Bakugou’s shoulder. “Calm down, maybe?”

Bakugou rounds on him. “I am calm,” he spits, even though as he speaks his mouth opens so wide that Kirishima can count all his teeth.

“Whatever you say,” Kirishima says with a sigh.

Todoroki and Yaoyorozu have made their way up the red carpet, and Bakugou stops hissing under his breath long enough to take a step away from Kirihima. His eyes narrow as Todoroki and Yaoyorozu step away from each other to take separate pictures. Then, Bakugou smirks and shifts his position just as Todoroki begins walking towards him.

It takes Kirishima a moment to realize what he’s doing. But, sure enough, Bakugou is trying to trip Todoroki on the red carpet. Kirishima takes a moment to be stunned by the sheer pettiness of that action. But then he’s stepping towards Bakugou and grabbing his shoulder, pulling him back.

“Hey, cut that out,” he says, pulling Bakugou out of Todoroki’s path.

“What the hell,” Bakugou grouses, twisting around to shake Kirishima off, “Let go of me—”

They move together, Bakugou trying to pull away and Kirishima trying to keep his grip, and then Kirishima feels his expensive shoes slip against the red carpet. Bakugou’s eyes widen with surprise—it’s amazing how different he looks in that moment, eyes round and lips slightly parted—and then he’s falling backwards. Everything happens in slow motion, and for a moment they’re suspended in air, weightless. Then, they hit the ground with an audible thump, Bakugou on his back and Kirishima poised over him.

Bakugou still looks shell-shocked, as though it has never occurred to him that he could fall, before. He lays there, looking up at Kirishima, his brow furrowing slowly as he processes.

Kirishima is poised on his hands and knees over Bakugou, their faces too close together. If Kirishima leaned down at this moment, just a bit, his lips would brush against Bakugou’s. If he let that happen, would Bakugou have that same awe-struck expression?

A camera clicks. Then another, and another, until the noise all blends together in a wave that washes over them both. Bakugou moves as though to push Kirishima away, but before he can Kirishima leans down to whisper in his ear.

Cameras,” he reminds Bakugou. “Don’t freak out, remember?”

“You don’t need you to fucking tell me that,” Bakugou hisses at him.

Still, he keeps his expression relatively neutral as Kirishima gets up and helps him to his feet. The cameras are still flashing around them, and both Bakugou and Kirishima stand awkwardly, a few paces apart.

“Bakugou,” Todoroki calls out, over the noise. He’s standing to one side, face impassive as though he’d seen none of what just happened. “They want all three of us for interviews.”

Bakugou glances back at Kirishima. “Go wait over there,” he says carelessly, as he shoves his hands into his pockets and trudges towards Todoroki and Yaoyorozu.

Kirishima is left to watch from afar as the three of them stand in front of a crowd of reporters and photographers. Yaoyorozu is between Todoroki and Bakugou, smiling at the cameras and taking the lead with the interviews. Todoroki answers in curt sentences, and Bakugou’s facial expressions give away more than his words. But somehow, looking at them, it’s easy to tell that they’ve spent months shooting this movie. They fit together, somehow, like the way Kirishima fits together with Jirou and Ashido and Kaminari.

The crowd shifts, obscuring the three actors from view. Kirishima frowns—there are other actors from the film here, the directors and producers as well, plus a crowd of other celebrities who enter the theater without stopping by the reporters. But Kirishima is still waiting, wondering what he should do.

“Kirishima-san?” a voice calls out to him.

He blinks, and when his vision clears Yaoyorozu is standing right in front of him. She’s even prettier close up—oil-dark eyes and perfect skin, a smile that could charm probably anyone but Bakugou.

“Oh,” he says, “Hi.”

“We’re going inside now, to watch the film. Are you coming?”

Kirishima nods, and Yaoyorozu waits as he walks over to her. She walks with the commanding grace of a general, or some ancient goddess of war in a video game. Kirishima doesn’t know what to say to her, until he remembers—

“Oh, Jirou says hi. You talked to her a few nights ago, I don’t know if you remember—”

Yaoyorozu pauses mid-step, looking at Kirishima with bright eyes. “Really?”

“Uh, yeah. You spoke to her and Kaminari for while—”

Yaoyorozu shakes her head. “No, I meant, Jirou-san wanted you to say hi to me?”

Kirishima huffs out a laugh. “Of course. She was actually really disappointed she couldn’t come tonight, she sees all your movies.”

Yaoyorozu’s cheekbones have gone the same color as her dress. “I didn’t think—I mean, they’re not really her style—she’s so, you know, punk rock, and I’m—”

“Woah, woah,” Kirishima says, holding up his hands. “I mean, yeah, Jirou’s the coolest, but she’s also really sincere. I’m sure she’ll enjoy this one, too.”

Yaoyorozu smiles again, less stately and more human, somehow. “I hope so. You’ll have to tell me what you think, too.”

“Hurry up,” Bakugou calls, when Kirishima and Yaoyorozu reach the entrance of the theater. He’s standing next to Todoroki, and Kirishima can’t sense any real tension between them now that they’re out of view of the cameras.

“Sorry,” Kirishima says brightly, as he reaches Bakugou and the two of them head into the theater. “I got a little distracted.”

Bakugou huffs, but the two of them walk side by side until they’ve found their seats.

Once the movie starts, it’s hard to remember that Kirishima’s here as anything more than a fan. The lights dim, the music starts, and Kirishima rocks back and forth in his chair as Ground Zero pops up on the screen in bright white letters. Next to him, he hears Bakugou huff, but in the darkness he can’t make out his expression.

The movie starts out typically enough—Todoroki’s an ace spy who’s become washed out since he lost his last partner. Bakugou is an up-and-coming agent, eager to prove himself Todoroki’s equal or better. Their partnership is a disaster from the start, with Todoroki hesitating while Bakugou rushes in, the two of them completely out of sync with each other. The action sequences come fast and brutal, with Bakugou and Todoroki losing embarrassingly in the first few fights when they can’t manage to work together.

As the deeper plot unfolds, Yaoyorozu’s character enters. She’s the head of the intelligence underworld, a shadowy figure in crisp black suits who commands a formidable army. When she breaks into the action, she’s all fierce smirks and cackling laughter.

“Oh, shit,” Kirishima says, after a particularly powerful scene, “She’s acting like you.”

“What?” Bakugou demands out of the corner of his mouth. “What are you talking about, shit-for-brains, no she isn’t.”

“She totally is,” Kirishima insists. “She’s even got that murderous squint thing you do. I bet you 20,000 yen that she’s doing it on purpose.”

“Shut up,” Bakugou hisses, sitting back in his chair. “Watch the fucking movie.”

At the climax of the film, Todoroki’s character faces off with Yaoyorozu’s—realizing, at last, that she’s his former partner. Seeing the normally placid Todoroki’s face break with grief, Kirishima is struck by the depth of his acting. For the entire film, he’s been so closed off, it was easy to think that he had no emotions at all. But now, they all come roaring to the surface—his grief and anger and joy all mingle together as he points his gun at her, hand shaking.

On screen, Yaoyorozu has Bakugou in a headlock—Bakugou, who’d rushed in when Todoroki had hung back. Now, Yaoyorozu might kill him before Todoroki has a chance to stop her.

Kirishima’s heart beats against his ribcage, the tension of the scene sinking into his bones. His mind scrambles to come up with a way out for both Todoroki and Bakugou—because, even after their dysfunctional journey, surely there’s more they can learn from each other? Surely the agency still needs both of them to recover, from this?

Todoroki’s character drops his gun just before he lunges for Yaoyorozu’s. She tosses Bakugou aside, but not before setting off multiple shots of her own. She and Todoroki tangle together, attacking each other brutally. Blood stains their clothes, tears gathering in Todoroki’s eyes as he manages to subdue her.

Kirishima is holding his breath, but then the magic is broken. Beside him, Bakugou has gotten to his feet and is walking past him, out of the row of seats.

“Where are you going?” Kirishima whispers.

Bakugou doesn’t answer him.

Kirishima turns his attention back to the film, just in time to see Yaoyorozu and Todoroki die in each other’s arms. Bakugou stands over both of them, looking shell-shocked. Blood stains his cheeks as he leans down over the bodies, his expression finally shifting from shock to resolve.

By the time the credits roll, the real Bakugou still hasn’t returned.

As the theater lights turn on, Kirishima pushes his way through the crowd to look for Bakugou. The crowd is buzzing happily, and he sees Todoroki and Yaoyorozu standing with the director, exchanging congratulations. He wonders if they, too, are asking where Bakugou’s gotten off to. Or maybe this is normal, for him.

Kirishima makes it out into the hallway, and sees twin shadows cast against the wall across the theater. He heads towards them, and then stops short when he hears Bakugou’s harsh voice.

“Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing here? Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”

Kirishima doesn’t round the corner—this might not be the best time to interrupt. But he also doesn’t move away, or make any effort not to hear the rest.

“I wasn’t trying to hide,” another voice, softer but not hesitant, says. “Todoroki-kun invited me. I came to support you, both of you.”

Bakugou lets out a strangled noise. “Do I look like I need your support? I’m not like you, I don’t need to ride other people’s coattails to be successful, you—”

“Stop yelling,” the other person says. “Just—it has nothing to do with success! I want both of you to do well, of course I do—”

Shut up,” Bakugou hisses. “What part of ‘I never want to see your goddamn face again’ is so hard to understand? See Todoroki on your own fucking time, suck his dick for all I care, just stay the hell away from me—”

The other person lets out a sigh. “You know that’s impossible. And if you won’t listen to me, about the rest of it, or accept my apology—”

You did it on purpose,” Bakugou says, his voice coming out hoarse and strained. “You can trick every other fucking idiot on the planet, but I know, you can’t make a fool of me again—”

Kirishima stands just out of view, increasingly confused. It’s no secret that Bakugou has an anger problem (or maybe more than one), but this is more than he’d been prepared for. And, in any case, he can hear the thunder of hundreds of steps behind him. Whoever Bakugou is chewing out, the two of them are about to be caught by a crowd of people.

Yes, I did think it was a great movie,” Kirishima calls out, loud and exaggerated, “So wonderful to see so many rising stars.”

He doesn’t really know what else people say after movies, but he stamps his feet a few times, hoping that Bakugou hears. Maybe he wants to be caught screaming at whoever this is, but Kirishima is at least going to give him a bit of warning, first.

It’s Bakugou who peeks out from around the corner first, eyes bloodshot and jaw clenched. When he spots Kirishima, he barks out, “What the fuck are you doing here?”

Kirishima jabs a thumb over his shoulder, where he’s sure the rest of the crowd must be visible by now.

“Well, darling, you kind of ditched me, and you’re my ride home.”

Bakugou’s face contorts at the endearment. “Do you want to die?”

“I’m sorry—did you just call Kacchan darling?” A second person has stepped out from the hallway, now—slightly shorter than Bakugou and Kirishima, with a wild tangle of dark green hair and a face covered in freckles. His pointed nose and wide eyes are familiar, because, like Uraraka and Todoroki and Bakugou, he’d been a star on UA. Midoriya Izuku, recently cast in a string of films with the legendary director Yagi Toshinori, is covering his face with both hands. Whether he’s trying to hide laughter or horror, Kirishima can’t tell.

“Shut the fuck up, Deku,” Bakugou says.

“No, you’re right,” Kirishima agrees, “That doesn’t really suit him. What’s that you called him? Kacchan?”

Midoriya grins crookedly; at the same time, Bakugou grabs Kirishima by the collar and yanks him forward.

“I will kill you,” he promises. “I’ll bury you alive with Deku and you’ll have to listen to his stupid fucking muttering until you finally suffocate, is that what you want?”

“You probably shouldn’t threaten to kill me so much,” Kirishima says, as conversationally as he can with Bakugou’s face so close to his own. “I mean, if the press hears, I guess we could spin it somehow, but then they’re going to think we’re into some really kinky stuff—”

“Shut up,” Bakugou orders, shoving Kirishima away.

Midoriya is covering his face, again. Kirishima feels star-struck, again, standing in front of him. He’s in a deep green suit that somehow doesn’t clash with his hair, but he’s paired it with a pair of beat up red sneakers and a tie that looks like it’s just been stuffed into his shirt. On UA, Midoriya had played the central character. He’d grown from a scrawny, nervous-looking boy to one of the most endearing characters on television, to the point that the show’s ratings had survived his risky endgame romance.

“There you are,” Yaoyorozu calls out to them, as she and Todoroki approach. “Oh, Midoriya-san! I didn’t know you were coming.”

Midoriya smiles sheepishly, rubbing at the back of his neck. “It was sort of a surprise.”

Yaoyorozu glances between him and Bakugou. “I see.”

Todoroki huffs out a puff of air. “I’m glad you made it,” he says to Midoriya, and his expression doesn’t shift much, but his voice is suddenly warmer than it had been on the red carpet.

Midoriya grins at him. “Wouldn’t have missed it for—”

His voice is cut off as Bakugou elbows him in the stomach.

“Hey,” Kirishima says, but Midoriya waves him off.

“It’s fine,” he says, straightening his shirt. He glances at Bakugou, pursing his lips. “Kacchan, you—”

“I’m leaving,” Bakugou announces.

“What?” Yaoyorozu asks, “But we were all going to my home, for tea.”

“Is he invited?” Bakugou asks, jerking his head in Midoriya’s direction.

Yaoyorozu hesitates for only a moment. “Of course he is, Bakugou-san. Kirishima-san, you’re welcome to come, as well—”

“We’re leaving,” Bakugou repeats, and this time he grabs Kirishima’s wrist and starts pulling him away from the others.

“Hey,” Kirishima starts to say, “Wait a second—”

“I said we’re not going!” Bakugou roars, not even turning as he speaks. “C’mon, we have to get out of here before the fucking cameras follow us.”

Behind them, Kirishima hears Midoriya say, “I can go, I’m sorry if—”

“Let him go,” Todoroki says.

“Is it because he wants more time with his boyfriend?” Yaoyorozu asks.

Boyfriend?” Midoriya squeaks.

Bakugou’s grip tightens around Kirishima’s wrist, and he doesn’t let go until the black town car pulls up and they’re able to get inside. As soon as they’re seated, Bakugou twists bodily to stare out the window, chin balanced against his hand.

“Dude,” Kirishima says, once he’s caught his breath, “What the hell was that about?”

“Fuck off,” Bakugou mutters without turning his head. “Just, shut the hell up, Kirishima.”

Kirishima’s brow furrows. “No, hey. Wait a minute. You don’t just get to yank me around like that. If I’m going to change my whole life over this, you at least have to be open with me. This isn’t going to work, otherwise.”

Bakugou lets a breath out through his teeth. “You think I give a fuck? Go ahead, walk away.”

It hurts, more than it should considering that this is only a business arrangement. But Kirishima doesn’t back down so easily.

“No,” he says, leaning into Bakugou’s space. “Look, wouldn’t it have made sense to go to Yaoyorozu’s? If someone saw, and took pictures, or whatever?”

“You’re an idiot,” Bakugou tells him, and before Kirishima can complain he continues, “She’s not going to have a publicity party—they’re literally going to sit around in her giant ass mansion and have tea, like friends. Like fuck I’d want to be there.”

“They seemed like your friends, earlier,” Kirishima says, thinking that Bakugou trying to trip Todoroki probably doesn’t count against that assessment.

“I don’t have any fucking friends,” Bakugou says. He’s still turned away from Kirishima, still not meeting his eyes.

He doesn’t say it with any more emotion than his usual grousing—no heat, no fire behind his words. And yet they hit Kirishima as though Bakugou had screamed them. He thinks about the amount of passion Bakugou had displayed on screen, the subtlety of his emotions. And he thinks about Bakugou’s presence on the red carpet, how everyone had clamored to be nearer to him.

It just doesn’t make sense. Regardless of Bakugou’s attitude, he’s clearly the type of person who pulls others towards him. So why isn’t anyone close to him? Why is he so determined to walk away from the people who might be his friends?

“I think we’ve been going about this the wrong way,” Kirishima says, slumping down against the leather seat. Bakugou doesn’t respond, so Kirishima continues, “We’re never going to sell this if we don’t actually get to know each other.”

“Don’t tell me you have some hair-brained plan,” Bakugou mutters.

Kirishima grins. “Oh, I do. And I think Sero’s going to want you to go along with it.”

Chapter Text

At a certain point, there are more clothes strewn over Kirishima’s bed and across his floor than are left in his dresser and closet. He scowls down at his options, pulls on a shirt, and then runs from his bedroom back to the living room.

“Well? What about this?”

Jirou and Kaminari, sitting together on the couch with their eyes glued to the TV, don’t bother looking up at him. Jirou’s legs are draped over the coffee table, her back flat against the couch cushions. Kaminari hugs his knees against his chest as he sits forward on the couch, teeth clenched in anticipation as he watches the screen. Around them, empty take-out boxes and ice cream cartons litter the floor and end tables.

“Guys!” Kirishima insists.

“Shh!” Kaminari hisses at him. “This is the good part!”

Kirishima glances at the TV, purses his lips and sighs. On the coffee table, pushed aside so that Jirou can use her makeshift footrest, are boxed sets of Blu-rays. Midoriya Izuku, Uraraka Ochako, Todoroki Shouto and Bakugou Katsuki are printed across the various boxes, along with the embossed golden logo of UA and a season number, one through five.

On the screen, Uraraka’s character Ayane is standing in the rain, biting down on her lower lip to keep from crying. Her face is a blotchy red, etched with determination even as the rain soaks through her school uniform and leaves her shivering. As they watch, a shadow falls over Ayane, and Bakugou’s character Nobuhiko appears at her side, holding a bright red umbrella that provides the only spot of color in the otherwise gray-washed scene.

In the many times that Kirishima has re-watched this episode, his heart always skips a beat during this scene. Ayane and Nobuhiko had interacted only barely in the first season, usually in tension over Nobuhiko’s treatment of Midoriya’s character Daiki. But in this next season, they’d had more and more scenes that didn’t involve Daiki at all.

Usually, Kirishima loves this episode. But watching it now, he feels something uncomfortable curl up in the pit of his stomach. The cameras are careful not to focus on Nobuhiko’s face for the majority of the scene—only wide shots of his silhouette, his hands holding out the umbrella, the way the rain plasters his pale hair to the back of his neck. But Kirishima knows what’s coming, next.

As Ayane looks up, startled by the appearance of the umbrella, the camera follows her gaze. And then the shot finally lands on Nobuhiko’s face—guarded as it always is, but eyes soft with concern rather than sharp with derision. The first real sign of compassion that UA’s viewers saw from Nobuhiko—or Bakugou Katsuki.

Kirishima physically turns his head away from the TV and clears his throat. “A little help, here?”

The credits begin rolling on the screen a moment later, and Jirou looks up at Kirishima only to shrug. “I really don’t see how this outfit is any different than the last five.”

“Which means it still sucks,” Kaminari says without looking up.

Kirishima glances down at his glaringly bright red shirt and denim shorts. Not anyone’s definition of fancy or stylish, but he’s quickly running out of options. He groans and runs a hand through his hair, which he hasn’t had a chance to gel up yet.

“Well what am I supposed to do, then?”

“Go shopping?” Kaminari suggests.

“I’ve only got twenty minutes!” As Kirishima speaks, he sees Jirou reaching for the remote to turn on the next episode of UA. “Stop that!”

“We’re doing research,” Jirou says matter-of-factly, propping herself up on her hands so that she can pull herself into a proper seated position. “You go out on your date, and we’ll keeping watching your boyfriend’s show.”

“It’s not even a real date,” Kirishima mutters, shifting from one foot to the other. “And I let you borrow my Blu-rays! Don’t ignore me, now.”

“I still don’t get what they’re going to do with Daiki now that Ayane’s into Nobuhiko,” Kaminari says, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “I really thought they were going for the childhood friends to lovers thing.”

“Yeah, for a main character his love life is all over the place,” Jirou says.

Kirishima chokes, momentarily distracted from his fashion dilemma. “Wait,” he says, “You don’t know?”

Jirou and Kaminari turn to him in unison. “No?”

Kirishima holds back a laugh, then says, “Shit, I really have to get ready—just, don’t watch season four without me, got it?”

“What are you doing, Kirishima, we’re going to be late.” Ashido walks in carrying a designer shopping bag, already dressed in a zebra-print shirt dress and purple tights. She glances at the TV and sighs. “Not you guys, too. I already had to put up with five years of watching every episode ten times.”

Kirishima rounds on her, slightly affronted. “No one was making you watch with me!”

“Enough of that,” she says, pushing the bag into Kirishima’s hands and then nudging him back towards his bedroom. “Forget your fictional boyfriend! You have to deal with your real one! Or your real fake one—whatever. Just go get dressed before the car gets here!”

Jirou and Kaminari are snickering behind their hands, but they hush up quick as UA’s theme song starts. Kirishima glances back at the screen just once—sees Bakugou-as-Nobuhiko staring off into the distance as a bittersweet melody plays—and then he bolts for his room.

Ashido, as it turns out, is a godsend. She must have realized the deficiencies in Kirishima’s wardrobe long before he had, because her rescue option is perfect. By the time he gets a text that the car is waiting for them downstairs, Kirishima is ready and looks good enough not to embarrass himself. The Suneater t-shirt is his, bought at a concert almost three years ago, but the black jeans are new, more fitted than he’d buy for himself, and the denim jacket was probably much more expensive than its fraying sleeves indicate. He’ll have to ask Ashido and pay her back.

Honestly, including Ashido in his plan was almost entirely selfish. If he’s going to go through with this, he can’t keep feeling like he’s the fish out of water. Every time he enters Bakugou’s world, he’s thrown off his balance and can’t act like himself. And as Kaminari had pointed out, Kirishima’s not good at pretending.

“Come on, come on,” Ashido says, stamping one foot as she ushers him out the door. She probably never worries about her own appearance, having long-since mastered her particular style of animal prints and neon colors, but there is flush riding high on her cheeks today. She might be actually nervous.

The car waiting for them isn’t the same one that had taken Bakugou and Kirishima to the premiere. Instead, it’s a sleek silver Acura, expensive but much less conspicuous. Sero rolls down the window from the driver’s seat and waves.

“Hey, you two!” He’s smiling from ear to ear, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbows. Thankfully, he’s not dressed like a junior executive, today. It makes him seem like Sero, again, and not someone who belongs to another world.

Kirishima and Ashido slide into the back, and that’s when Kirishima notices Bakugou sitting in the passenger seat. He doesn’t turn around to acknowledge them.

Ashido, however, has no fear of death. She leans forward and jabs Bakugou in the shoulder. “Hey—we haven’t met before.”

“So?” Bakugou leans away from her, and in the rearview mirror Kirishima can see the scowl that etches across his face.

So, hi, I’m Ashido. It’s nice to—”

“I don’t care,” Bakugou says.

“Oi,” Sero says mildly. “Don’t be rude.”

“I’m not the one dragging you along to my fucking high school reunion,” Bakugou hisses from between clenched teeth.

Kirishima can’t help but laugh, at that. “Are you feeling left out?”

Bakugou finally turns around, glaring fiercely. “You shut up. This is all your fault.”

“Nice to see you too, sweetheart,” Kirishima says dryly.

Bakugou visibly shudders. “Do you see any fucking cameras, here? Don’t call me that bullshit.”

“No one’s going to believe that one, anyway,” Sero says as he pulls onto the main road. “Bakugou’s not exactly sweet, and we’re still trying to figure out if he has a heart.”

“Fuck you, Soy Sauce,” Bakugou mutters murderously.

“Anyway, you’re wrong,” Ashido tells him.

“Hah?”

“We didn’t go to high school together,” Ashido says matter-of-factly. “I had almost graduated when my first single came out, and Sero didn’t start interning with the agency until after. Isn’t that right?”

Sero nods. “We were eighteen when we started dating.”

“I. Didn’t. Ask.” Bakugou looks like he’s about to bang his head against the dashboard for emphasis. Then, he turns back to Kirishima. “You don’t think they’re being fucking weird? Just hanging out with us when they used to date?”

Ashido rolls her eyes. “It’s not like we hate each other now, or something. We just—didn’t work out, that’s all! And anyway, maybe you two should be taking notes. Unless you plan on faking this forever, someday you’re going to have to act like exes, too.”

The thought hadn’t occurred to Kirishima before, though now he realizes it should have. Of course, he and Bakugou aren’t going to pretend forever. A couple months, Sero had said. Someday, this is going to end, and Bakugou is going to be his fake ex-boyfriend.

The idea sits uncomfortably with him for the rest of the car ride.

No matter how insistent he’d been when he’d brought up the idea, Kirishima is still surprised that Bakugou actually agreed to come. Especially the way he’d suggested it—If we’re going to fool people into thinking that we’re dating, we can’t just show up in public together all the time and pretend like we’re so close! You’re going to have to actually spend time with me!

But Bakugou, even though he’d looked unhappy about it, had at least agreed that Kirishima’s suggestion was a logical one. They didn’t know each other well enough to pull this off, and so they’d have to fix that.

Kirishima had roped in Ashido for selfish reasons, then asked Sero to come along to keep the balance and because he knows Bakugou best. On his suggestion, they end up back at Sugar Rush.

“What the fuck are we doing here,” Bakugou asks as they get out of the car. Today, he isn’t wearing designer clothes or fancy sunglasses. Instead, he slouches in his black t-shirt with a white skull printed across it, his black pants sagging as he shoves his hands into his pockets.

“It’s a pretty classic date, you know,” Ashido says brightly, moving to walk beside Bakugou. Again, she seems entirely impervious to waves of hostility radiating off of him. “You know—a cooking class!”

Bakugou stops mid-step, shoulders hunching as he turns away from Ashido to glare daggers at Sero. “You goddamn traitor.”

“Don’t be mad at Sero,” Kirishima says for the tenth time as they find their way to Sugar Rush’s kitchen classroom. “I was the one who asked him for suggestions.”

“And he was the one who sang like a fucking canary,” Bakugou says, still hunched over and looking at the ground.

They’ve come around the side of the building to an entrance separate from the café’s. Here, the décor is still yellow and joyful, but instead of cozy booths and tables the space is made up of a half-dozen cooking islands arranged in straight rows. At the front of the room is a larger counter, and behind it stands Sato Rikido himself—a man who looks more like a pro-wrestler than a professional chef, but Kirishima isn’t going to judge.

Sato is just as friendly as he’d been at Hagakure’s party. He’s unbelievably tall, with spiky brown hair and impressively-muscled arms visible past the short sleeves of his chef’s coat. After he greets Kirishima, Sero, and Ashido, he looks over at Bakugou with a funny smiling playing at his lips.

“You know, when Sero called me, I didn’t think you’d actually show.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bakugou asks, voice gruff and impatient. He’s eying the sleek white cooking appliances like they might be a robot army in disguise.

“I dunno,” Sato says easily, as though it doesn’t really matter to him one way or the other. “I guess I just never imagined you actually going on a date like this.”

Bakugou’s face may as well be made of stone. He stomps across the room, grabs Kirishima by the wrist, and tugs him over to one of the kitchen islands. “Would I fucking be here if this wasn’t a date?”

Kirishima isn’t sure what to do—as far as he knows, only Sero and the other members of Riot know that he and Bakugou aren’t dating. But he’d meant for this to be something casual and private, a place where he and Bakugou wouldn’t have to put on a show. Sero had suggested Sato’s ridiculously expensive private cooking classes, and Kirishima trusted his judgment enough to go along. But if they have to put on an act for Sato the whole time, doesn’t that defeat the whole point?

Then Sato starts to laugh, warm and good-natured. “Oh, thank god you’re being normal.”

“I’m always fucking normal,” Bakugou growls at him.

“In those pictures you were all heart-eyes,” Sato tells him. “I thought you were possessed, or something.”

Bakugou fixes Sato with another glare. “Are you going to teach us how cook something, or what?”

“Oh, right,” Sato says with another laugh. “Give me a second, then we’ll get started.”

Kirishima, standing next to Bakugou at the counter, has a moment to look him over as Ashido and Sero get situated at a different island across the aisle from them.

“So, you and Sato are friends, then?”

Bakugou looks up at him with a furrowed brow. “No.”

“But he like, knows you?”

Everyone fucking knows me, shitty hair. You knew who I was before we’d even met.”

“Kirishima,” he reminds Bakugou, since he’d thought they’d moved past the I-can’t-call-you-by-your-actual-name thing. “And you know what I mean! He knows you enough to know when you’re acting differently. That’s a big deal, isn’t it?”

“He isn’t the worst person I have to be around,” Bakugou says blandly, as though that explains it.

“Alright,” Sato calls out in a booming voice, even though the four of them are at the first row of counters and he’s only a couple meters away from them. “Who’s ready to make some macarons?”

Bakugou jabs an accusing finger at Kirishima. “You said cooking. This is baking.”

“Baking is cooking!” Kirishima says, honestly baffled. What does it matter, anyway?

“No, it isn’t,” Bakugou snaps.

Kirishima sighs. “Maybe just stop looking for things to be unhappy about, and try to enjoy yourself?”

Bakugou doesn’t say anything in response. Sato is calling out instructions and passing out trays of ingredients—perfectly-measured bowls of sugar, and almond flour, and whatever the hell cream of tartar is. Sero and Ashido are laughing as they take their own set of ingredients, leaning across each other and talking non-stop. At least for them, this won’t be like pulling teeth.

“Hey,” Kirishima says, “you think we can make better macarons than those two?”

Bakugou gives him a look that says I know exactly what you’re doing, and I’m not going to fall for it. But then something other than his disdain for Kirishima must win out, because a fierce smile cuts across his face.

“We’re going to crush them,” he promises.

Kirishima had engineered this outing to get to know Bakugou better, so in the most technical sense, it’s a success. He learns that Bakugou’s competitive streak is enough to motivate him no matter what his mood. He learns that Bakugou is a control freak when it comes to baking—or maybe anything. And he learns that Bakugou does not trust him to mix a bowl of ingredients.

“You’re not doing it right,” Bakugou snaps at him.

Kirishima, holding a whisk poised over their bowl of flour and sugar, blinks in confusion. “There’s no way to mix wrong.”

Bakugou clicks his tongue against his teeth, coming up behind Kirishima and placing one hand over his. With rough movements, he corrects the angle that Kirishima is holding the whisk at, then forces him through a rhythm of mixing two or three times until he steps away, trusting Kirishima to do the rest on his own.

It’s a simple thing—a moment, barely more than a few seconds. But when Bakugou moves away, Kirishima can still feel the pressure of his grip, the heat of his body. It was a moment of closeness, but it’d been natural instead of staged.

“Why did you stop?” Bakugou demands.

Kirishima shakes his head, trying to break through his reverie. “What?”

Bakugou clicks his tongue again, grabbing both the bowl and whisk out of Kirishima’s hands. “You’re fucking useless.”

As Bakugou goes through the next few steps, Kirishima leans his chin against the counter and looks up at him. “So, you like cooking?”

Bakugou barely looks up as he pushes the mixture through a sieve. “I’m good at cooking,” he says, as though it’s something different.

“I wouldn’t have guessed,” Kirishima admits. “I mean, I’ve read a lot of your interviews in magazines, but you’ve never mentioned it.”

Bakugou makes another of those impatient, slightly-disgusted noises. “Why would I tell a shitty magazine anything real?”

Kirishima supposes he can’t argue with that. After all, his own “relationship” with Bakugou is a farce for the media. But does that mean that nothing he knows about Bakugou is real?

“What else do you like?” Kirishima asks.

“When idiots with obnoxious hair know when to shut up,” Bakugou mutters, smacking the sieve with a spatula.

Kirishima huffs. “What is it with you and my hair, anyway?”

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Bakugou says under his breath, almost to himself. Then he turns around and gestures at the ingredients spread out over the counter. “Are you going to help, or what?”

“Now you want my help,” Kirishima says teasingly, shaking his head. But he’s reminded of an earlier conversation, when something else Bakugou had said stuck out to him. “Hey—before you said. I mean. Have you really been to one of our concerts?”

Bakugou’s hands don’t stop their methodological movement through the steps of the recipe, and it takes him a moment to respond. In that moment, Kirishima thinks that Bakugou is going to pretend like he hasn’t heard.

“I went,” Bakugou says, finally. “But not with Hagakure. It was a few weeks ago. When Present Mic started his string of shows here.”

“Wait—you were at our opening night? How did I not know that? I don’t think any of us—no one told me you were there!” Kirishima can barely remember that night, he was so high on adrenaline and endorphins and nerves. Did he play well? Did he embarrass himself? Where had Bakugou been, in the crowd? How could he have been there and gone unnoticed?

“Oi, Kirishima,” Bakugou says, jabbing him in the side with an elbow. “Don’t go making a big deal out of it. And obviously you didn’t know I was there, because when people know that I’m somewhere, it becomes a big fucking deal. I just wanted to go listen to some music. Don’t freak the fuck out about it.”

That makes sense, Kirishima supposes. And in a way, it was nice of Bakugou to not make his own presence at the concert a big deal, and steal the thunder of their opening night. But that still leaves Kirishima with one question.

“Did you like it?”

“What?” Bakugou blinks at him.

“Our music. My songs. Did you like the concert?”

Bakugou purses his lips and focuses on very violently cracking an egg and then separating it into a mixing bowl. “It was fucking fine,” he says at length.

What!” Kirishima yelps. “No, it was awesome, c’mon!”

“If it was awesome, I would’ve said so!” Bakugou yells back at him.

“No, you wouldn’t have!” Kirishima insists. “You say everything sucks, anyway. And if you didn’t think it was awesome, you have to come again! If I know you’re there, I’ll blow you away this time, I promise!”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Sero calls out from across the aisle. “I mean, if we want to make a thing of it.”

“Fuck off,” Bakugou says to no one in particular. He picks up another small bowl after he finishes cracking eggs, doing his best to ignore Kirishima.

“Just say you’ll come—please?” He really doesn’t think he’ll be able to live with himself if the only time Bakugou ever hears his music has already come and gone. He didn’t even get to know it was happening. It might have been his only chance to impress Bakugou, to show him that he actually does have skills and talent.

“Shut up,” Bakugou snaps, his voice so loud it belies how gently he’s nudging the ingredients into the mixing bowl.

“C’mon, Bakugou—just say so! It’ll be great! I can dedicate a song to you, as my boyfriend!” That last part he says without really thinking about it—anything to make Bakugou come, again.

Bakugou jerks back so suddenly that the bowls on the counter all rattle, and then he looks at Kirishima with an enraged fire shining in his eyes. “If you make me drop this fucking mixture we’ve been working on I will murder you,” he says, without taking a breath. “And how’re you going to dedicate a song when you’re not even near a mic?”

Kirishima wonders, for a moment, why Bakugou was paying enough attention to notice that. It’s not like his voice is in any of their songs—Ashido’s the singer, and her voice is amazing. But Bakugou had picked out the fact that Kirishima doesn’t typically speak at all, during their shows.

But he’s not about to back down. “Was that a challenge? Fine. When you come, I’ll talk to the crowd, and I’ll tell them we’re playing a song just for you.”

“I didn’t say I’d—”

“Alright, guys,” Sato calls out, clapping his hands together. “Let’s add some flavors and color, okay? What were you guys thinking—”

“Red!” Kirishima calls out, on instinct, at the same moment that Bakugou snaps, “Orange.”

They turn to look at each other, each looking affronted. But then, Kirishima starts to smile at the fierce look in Bakugou’s eyes.

He’s having fun, Kirishima decides, even if he won’t admit it.

The macarons end up being a mix of red and orange, flavored like raspberry and honey and apricot and black tea. Kirishima would never have thought to add any of those flavors together, but he trusts that Sato knows what he’s doing. They spend the better part of three hours cooking, and then they get to pack their small macarons into white-and-yellow striped Sugar Rush boxes.

Bakugou reaches over and grabs one of Sero’s chocolate macarons, biting into it. Then he scoffs. “Ours win,” he decides.

“Not everyone can be a secret baking genius,” Ashido says, grabbing one of their raspberry macarons and munching on it. “Ugh, these are so good. I hate you.”

“Should we head out?” Sero asks. “I can drop you two off, and then I’ve got to figure out when I can fit a concert into this guy’s schedule.”

“I never agreed to that,” Bakugou mutters.

“Mm-hmm,” Sero says, shaking his head. They say their goodbyes to Sato and head back towards the entrance, but just before they leave the building Kirishima waves Sato and Ashido ahead.

“Go on,” he says, motioning for Bakugou to stay back. “I just wanted to talk about something.”

When Ashido and Sero have gone on, Kirishima turns to Bakugou with a thoughtful expression.

“What,” Bakugou says, sounding unduly harassed.

“I just wanted to say thanks, for agreeing to come,” Kirishima says, smiling in a way that he hopes is reassuring. “I mean, I know it wasn’t part of the deal, but I’m happy we did this.”

Bakugou crosses his arms over his chest. “You’re so weird.”

Kirishima notes his posture—the way he’s trying to keep the world at bay, with every hard glare and unfriendly gesture. Then, he leans in closer to Bakugou’s space.

“You know, you’re going to have to get better at this,” he says, resting one hand on the wall near Bakugou’s head. In that moment, he realizes he’s mimicking what Bakugou had done to him, that first night they’d met.

Bakugou glares back, but there’s a color rising on his cheeks. “Better at what?”

Kirishima hums thoughtfully. “You know, this. Being close together. You were fine before, when we were cooking and you weren’t thinking about it. But even in front of the camera, at the premiere—you kept staring at me like I make you nervous, or something.”

“You’re the nervous one,” Bakugou snaps, but he makes no move to get away.

Kirishima’s smile deepens. “Yeah, but I am. I’ve never done something like this, before.”

“I’m not nervous,” Bakugou reiterates. But he makes no move to get away from Kirishima.

There’s something familiar about his expression, now—the way he stares straight ahead, unwilling to show weakness by looking away. But his eyes aren’t narrowed and angry—they’re wider, open and searching. His lips are parted slightly, his pale skin still flushed. His brows draw together slightly, like he’s worried over something or holding something back.

What’s he thinking? Kirishima can never be sure. But oh, he wants to know.

“Let’s just go,” Bakugou says, finally. He brushes aside Kirishima’s arm and stalks off, looking nothing like the confident, magnetic movie star as he hunches over and keeps his striped pasty box tucked under one arm.

But even without that magnetic pull, Kirishima still feels a pang, watching Bakugou walk away from him.

Two days later, the four members of Riot have managed to eat through every macaron that Kirishima and Ashido had brought home. Now, all of them sit scrunched together on the couch, deep into UA’s fourth season.

On the screen, Midoriya’s character Daiki is running down the street, chest heaving as he forces his legs to keep moving. But he isn’t successful, because someone grabs him by the arm and turn him around—Todoroki’s character, Yuki.

Daiki looks up in shock, desperately brushing the tears out of his eyes with the back of his hand. Yuki looks at Daiki with an equal amount of emotion, evident in the tense set of his jaw and the pleading look in his eye.

I’m sorry,” Yuki says. “I don’t know what I did to upset you, but I’m so sorry—”

Don’t apologize to me,” Daiki says, wrenching himself out of Yuki’s grasp. “Just—please, don’t. Don’t you get it?”

No,” Yuki says honestly. “I thought—I thought you’d return my feelings.”

And Daiki doesn’t respond, for long moment. Instead, he stares up at Yuki, struck dumb by this confession. He stares straight ahead, his eyes wide and searching. His lips part slightly as a flush rises in his skin, and then his brows draw together… like he’s worried over something, or trying to hold something back.

Yuki,” he says, just before the credits roll.

“What!” Jirou screeches, picking up a pillow and throwing it at the TV. “They actually went there, I don’t even believe it—”

“You didn’t know?” Ashido asks. “Don’t you remember, it was all over the media forever, how UA dared to make good on all their teasing? It was a big deal, at the time.”

“Is this why you like this show so much?” Jirou asks, turning to Kirishima. “Because there are actually gay characters?”

Ashido rolls her eyes. “Kirishima was having a crisis over this show long before this episode aired.”

Kaminari starts laughing, and soon Jirou joins in. It’s a good-natured, warm sort of laughter, and even if Kirishima were paying attention to it he wouldn’t be insulted at their teasing.

But he’s not listening, and barely hears what they’re saying. He’s too busy wondering why Midoriya’s character had worn an expression that looked so much like Bakugou’s. It’s an uncanny similarity, too exact to ignore. But Kirishima has no idea what it means.

Chapter Text

Kaminari is leaning towards the mirror, eyeliner in hand, when the door slams open. He startles, his hand jostling as he draws a crooked like from the corner of his eye to his ear.

“What the hell—!”

No one really listens to his exclamation. Ashido, who’d been the one to throw the door open, strides right past him to Kirishima, stopping in front of him and resting her hands on her hips.

“You have to do something about Bakugou,” she says. It should be hard for her to appear intimidating— she’s already dressed for the show in a cheetah-print dress and fishnets, her pink hair a cotton-candy cloud around her face. But Ashido still manages to look murderous, her eyebrows slanting dangerously, emphasized by the heavy eye makeup she’s wearing.

Kirishima had been hunched over his own vanity, eschewing makeup in favor of scribbling notes on a pad of paper. Now, he very carefully sets both pad and pen aside as he looks up. “We gave him his own room to wait in, didn’t we?”

“Yes,” Ashido confirms, arms shifting to cross over her chest. “But Jirou and I can still hear him screaming down the hall.”

Kirishima vaguely wonders what Bakugou could be screaming about. When Sero had arranged for him to attend tonight’s concert, Kirishima hadn’t heard anything about pushback from the star himself. And it had been reported to Kirishima that Bakugou-san had arrived on schedule, just half an hour ago. Kirishima had planned to go say hi before they were due on stage.

“Did anyone ask what’s wrong?”

“Oh, no,” Ashido says, still glaring at Kirishima. “That’s your job. He’s your boyfriend.”

“Fake boyfriend,” Kaminari supplies helpfully, as he rubs at the side of his face with makeup remover.

“Whatever!” Ashido snaps. “Just, stop him from yelling. You know how Jirou gets— she’s got headphones in and is trying to drown out the noise, but. If she’s off today it’s your fault.”

Kirishima winces. Jirou likes to fully immerse herself in music before a show, and the three of them have long-since learned to leave her alone during that time.

He sighs and pushes himself to his feet. “Okay, okay. I’ll take care of it.”

“This guy’s really a piece of work, isn’t he?” Kaminari asks, frowning.

“It’s fine,” Kirishima says adamantly. He doesn’t know why he feels the sudden urge to defend Bakugou— he is a piece of work, and pretending to date him has caused Kirishima no shortage of headaches. And yet— “I’ll take care of it,” he repeats.

He hears Bakugou before he sees him, even though the door to the backstage waiting room is shut.

“I don’t care,” Bakugou screeches. “I’m not doing it, you can’t fucking make me—”

Without context, it sounds like a child’s tantrum. Kirishima wonders if it can really be that simple. He takes a deep breath, knocks on the door, and then goes in without waiting for a response.

Bakugou is standing up in the middle of the room, hands clenched at his sides as he looms over the other person in the room— Sero, sitting in a comfortable armchair with his legs drawn up, not even looking as Bakugou berates him.

“I don’t know what you want from me, then,” Sero says patiently. “It’s a good contract, and top billing.”

“I told you,” Bakugou seethes, “I’m not working with Ponytail again, not after what she fucking did—”

“I still think that’s mostly in your head.” Sero shrugs. “And besides, do you have any idea how long your blacklist is? If you actually never worked with any of those people, again, you’d be stuck doing one-man shows.”

“Maybe I’ll just fire your useless ass—”

“Hey, hey,” Kirishima says, stepping further into the room when it becomes clear that neither of them will notice him, otherwise. “What’s the problem?”

Bakugou spins around so quickly that it gives Kirishima whiplash. His cheeks are bright red, his eyes shining with anger. And yet—

It’s unfair, how good he looks in that moment. He’s wearing cropped pants and a pair of leather loafers, a v-neck and a burgundy-colored baseball jacket. His blond hair is brushed back from his face, and when his gaze lands on Kirishima, for a moment his expression changes. His mouth drops from its snarl for just a moment, before he recovers himself and throws his hands in the air.

“What the hell do you want?” Bakugou demands.

“A little peace and quiet before my band goes on would be great,” Kirishima says, honestly. “You’re causing a bit of a scene.”

Bakugou’s face contorts, and then he turns bodily away from Kirishima. He crosses his arms over his chest and mutters something that Kirishima can’t make out.

“Look,” Sero says, “It’s just one option. There was the other one, too—”

No.” Bakugou’s answer is explosive, even though his voice goes quiet as he utters the single word.

“Oh, come on,” Sero says. He turns to Kirishima— “He’s got an offer to go in and read for this awesome movie— huge budget, the whole thing—and he won’t even look at the script.”

“Shut up,” Bakugou snaps at him.

“I just don’t get it,” Sero says honestly. “I know you and Midoriya have issues, but you’ve worked together before. For years. Why can’t you do one movie together?”

“Because I don’t fucking want to,” Bakugou says, voice rising again.

Sensing that Bakugou may be about to explode once more, Kirishima raps his knuckles against the back of Sero’s head. “Hey, could you give us a second, maybe?”

Sero lifts his brows, as though to say You sure you want to be alone with this?

Kirishima rolls his eyes. “Just— go get some of the snacks they keep for us backstage, or something. Come back in ten.”

Sero gets to his feet, stretching his long arms over his head. “Good luck,” he says, and then he leaves the room before Bakugou can start screaming at him, again.

Bakugou is still standing in the middle of the room, petulant. It’s a nice room, meant for VIP guests. A plush couch is pushed up against one wall, and Kirishima walks over to sit himself down on it.

“Want to come sit with me?” he asks.

“No,” Bakugou spits.

“Okay,” Kirishima says agreeably. “I’m gonna sit, though.”

“I don’t fucking care.”

For a moment, Kirishima lets the silence hang in the air. He imagines that he can hear Bakugou’s heavy breathing. He works himself up with his entire body when he’s angry, so much so that Kirishima wonders how he has the energy. Being upset takes a lot of effort, and Bakugou always seems to be upset.

“So,” Kirishima says, leaning back against the couch, “What’s the deal with you and Midoriya Izuku?”

Bakugou lets out an impatient tut. “There’s no deal,” he says viciously. “I’m never working with him. Ever.”

“O-kay,” Kirishima agrees. “Why? I mean, you were on UA together for five years. And I know your characters hated each other, on the show, but by the end you got along really well, and all the reviews said the development of the Daiki-Nobuhiko relationship was one of the best and most complex on the show—”

Kirishima cuts himself off when he sees how fierce Bakugou’s glare has gotten.

“I’m just saying,” he finishes off, somewhat lamely, “You must’ve gotten along, having gone through all of that?”

“It’s called fucking acting,” Bakugou snarls. “It’s all fake, and I just happen to be really goddamn good at it.”

“Okay,” Kirishima says again. “So, what’s the actual problem?”

“What are you, my fucking therapist?”

Kirishima shrugs. “No, I’m your boyfriend.”

Bakugou makes a noise like a boiling kettle. “Like hell, you are.”

Kirishima lets out a long breath. “You know that, and I know that, but we don’t want everyone else to know that, do we? And when we’re at a movie premiere and you sneak off to scream at some other guy, that’s pretty weird.”

“I wasn’t sneaking off with him, you stupid fucking—”

“Okay, okay,” Kirishima says, lifting his hands in a gesture of surrender. “But, you know, it’d be great if you’d keep me in the loop, at least.”

For a moment, he thinks that Bakugou is going to brush him off, again. But then Bakugou’s shoulders lower from where they’ve hiked up to his ears, and he deflates just a little. Pursing his lips, he walks over to sit on the couch, on the opposite end from Kirishima.

“I don’t want to do another fucking project with him,” he says, finally. “And I told Soy Sauce what I wanted, and if he can’t get me that I don’t know why I even keep him around.”

“He’s doing his best,” Kirishima says, feeling that he should stand up for Sero’s honor. “I mean, if you’re getting offers that’s good, right? Weren’t you worried that when you came out, it’d be a scandal?”

Bakugou huffs out another breath. “I don’t give a shit about any of that. Coming out, or whatever.”

“Oh,” Kirishima says. He supposes Sero had mentioned that, saying it was Bakugou’s PR team that was scrambling more than Bakugou, himself. “Me, too. I mean, most people I know figured it out pretty easily? It was different, for Jirou. She was at this big conservatory when she was younger, everyone thought she was going to end up first chair in the symphony, or something. She doesn’t hide the fact that she likes girls, now, but—”

Kirishima stops when he sees Bakugou looking at him flatly.

“I don’t care,” Bakugou says.

At that, Kirishima cracks a smile. “No, I guess you wouldn’t.”

Bakugou glares at him, eyeing him sideways from the other end of the couch.

For a moment, there’s silence between them. Kirishima glances up at the wall clock, calculating how much time he has. He’s already dressed for the concert— low-necked black tank, comfortable dark jeans— and his hair is spiked up. A thick red leather bracelet is fastened over his left wrist, a gift courtesy of Kaminari. It’s a simple enough ensemble, but that’s what he needs with all the energy he expends onstage.

Bakugou mutters something, too low to be intelligible.

“Huh?” Kirishima turns back to him.

“I said, are you just going to sit there? Why the hell are you even here?”

Kirishima blinks. “Oh, well, you’re my guest. And you were upset. It’s basically my responsibility to make sure you’re having a good time, right?”

“No,” Bakugou says, immediately. “This is fucking fake, Kirishima. Why would you care if I’m— ugh.”

He says it like it’s the most unbelievable thought— that Kirishima wouldn’t want him to be miserable. Kirishima wonders, for a moment, if Bakugou could possibly be unaware of how attractive he is. Not just in aesthetic sense, either, but in the way that he pulls other people towards him. Surely he realizes how much Kirishima is drawn to him? Even when Bakugou is screaming or ranting, Kirishima is curious. He doesn’t get how someone could be so wrapped up in their own emotions, to completely block out everyone else’s.

“I told you,” Kirishima says, “I want you out in the audience tonight, and I want to know that you’re there. So I can perform for you. So I know that when you see me, I’m being the absolute best I can be. Anything else would be— I dunno— disgraceful to my honor as a man!”

Bakugou deliberately draws his eyes from Kirishima’s head to his toes. “What man?” he asks snidely.

Now Kirishima pouts, puffing out his chest. “I’ll have you know that I am the manliest member of this band. Well, aside from Ashido, maybe.”

Bakugou’s brow crinkles as he tries to make sense of that statement. Then he huffs out something that Kirishima is beginning to recognize as a laugh.

“You’re such a fucking idiot,” he says, but there’s no venom in his words. If Kirishima didn’t know any better, he’d say that Bakugou is looking at him almost fondly.

That idea makes his heart flip over in his chest. It’s a stupid, impossible thought. But what if Bakugou really did like him? What if he wanted to spend time with Kirishima, too? Even, just as friends. What if there was anything between them that wasn’t a contrivance?

“I want you to watch me, tonight,” Kirishima blurts out, suddenly. “I’ll— I’ll prove it to you. We’re great, our music is amazing. And if you watch me— you’ll see. I know you will.”

Bakugou leans away from Kirishima, brows drawing together again. “What the fuck are you talking about,” he mutters. “The whole point of coming was to watch you, wasn’t it?”

He says the words petulantly, arms crossed over his chest. And of course, he’s right. That was the entire point. Of course, if Bakugou is here, he’s already agreed to that much.

Kirishima looks away, embarrassed. He’d gotten too excited, let his emotions run away from him. He gets to his feet, awkwardly clearing his throat.

“Anyway,” he says, “Have you calmed down, now?”

Bakugou looks like he’s about to take issue with that question, but then he just rolls his eyes and sinks further back against the couch. “Whatever.”

“Okay,” Kirishima says, not trusting himself to look over at Bakugou. “I’ve gotta go— sound check— but try to have fun tonight, okay?”

In the abstract, Kirishima knew that having his name and picture plastered all over the tabloids was going to change his life. He knew that being tied to Bakugou Katsuki would bring him more fame and attention than he’d ever had before, in his life. But, for some reason, he hadn’t been prepared for this.

The venue where Present Mic has been in residency for the past few weeks is a massive stadium, repurposed from an Olympic judo arena. Kirishima has never looked up the exact number of seats— the idea of it is too overwhelming— but he knows that Present Mic sells out shows wherever he goes.

He also knows that, as the opening act, Riot is there to pad out the timing. The audience filters in during their shows, and although they always play to a crowd, it’s not the packed seat-by-seat extreme of what Present Mic draws later in the same night. Usually, when Riot takes the stage, Kirishima can pick out the empty seats throughout the venue.

Tonight, he looks out and sees a sea of faces, people dressed in red, purple, pink and yellow, and he hears an ear-splitting uproar as the stage lights go on in dim amber, so that the silhouettes of the band members are visible.

“Riot! Riot! Riot!”

He’s used to enthusiasm, to applause and cheers. But this, this is specifically for them.

A purple light goes on over Jirou, standing posed with her guitar. As soon as the light hits her, her fingers begin to dance across the strings, starting up a melody.

Next, a yellow light flashes over Kaminari. His drum beat starts out steadily, filling out the foundation for Jirou’s notes.

The red light is next, over Kirishima. He knows his role by rote, lets his fingers start moving before he even thinks about it, guided by Kaminari’s steady rhythm.

Kirishima!” The entire crowd seems to scream in unison, the noise breaking Kirishima’s concentration like he’s a cord that’s just been yanked out of an amp.

He glances up, surprised, even as he forces himself to keep playing. Some more unaffected part of his mind takes over the music, muscle memory helping it along. But Kirishima is still looking out over the crowd, lips slightly parted, as he takes in the hundreds of people shouting his name.

In front of him, on stage, a pink light shines on over Ashido. She grips her microphone in both hands, and without any preamble she begins to sing.

Her voice soothes the crowd, focusing their energy so that all eyes are drawn towards her. Her voice isn’t perfectly smooth or melodious— there’s an edge to it that comes out at high moments of the song, a bit of personality and emotion that breaks the flow in a way that keeps everyone’s attention.

It’s then that Kirishima remembers the last time he felt quite like this. It had been years ago, the last time he’d played at this venue before Riot had accepted the gig with Present Mic. He hadn’t been much of anyone, back then— just a stupid kid with lank black hair, a love of music and a heart too weak to fulfill his own ambitions.

Ashido had been singing on that night, too. Still a teenager, wearing angelic white and made up with rosy cheeks and pink lips. Her voice had also drawn the crowds the attention, but the music hadn’t been Riot’s high-charged, erratic rock.

And Kirishima, playing behind her with the rest of the band, hadn’t been given his own spotlight. No one in the crowd had known his name.

But now, everything is different. He’s only slightly behind Ashido, and the crowd is yelling his name and singing along to lyrics he wrote. Kirishima breaks out into a smile as he strums his guitar, the song building to a furious crescendo.

Then, Kaminari stops playing, and Jirou pauses her skilled dance over the strings of her guitar. Kirishima picks up the melody, and Ashido sings over the simple line of music.

It’s a song about joy, about the manic energy of youth, of singular moments to live in that get remembered like the negatives of photographs— never quite clear, though they leave an impression all the same.

This is what he loves. These moments, when he can feel the energy flowing through him and channeled by his bandmates, when they act as a unit in perfect sync. They sing Kirishima’s lyrics and play Jirou’s melodies and follow Kaminari’s beat, and Ashido ties them all together.

As the song comes to a close, the crowd bursts into furious applause. Kirishima leans back on his heels, winded.

It’s Ashido who leans forward, waving out at the crowd enthusiastically.

“We’re Riot,” she says with a wink, gesturing at the rest of them. “Welcome to the show.”

They’ve played this set enough times by now that it should be routine. But the energy of playing to a full crowd, of hearing his own name on their lips, changes the atmosphere for Kirishima entirely. He’s hyper-aware throughout the performance, his heart stuttering in his chest whenever he takes conscious note of the amount of people he’s playing to.

And there’s the small fact that this isn’t the exact same set they always play. At Kirishima’s suggestion, they’ve changed up their finale. But now that the moment to implement that change is drawing closer, he’s suddenly more nervous than he can remember being.

It’s towards the end of the show that Ashido turns to Kirishima in the middle of a song, crooking her finger and gesturing for him to step towards her.

Kirishima has no idea why she does that— she never has before, on stage— but his body reacts before his mind can catch up. He steps towards her, the stage crew following his movements with the spotlights until red and pink are intermingled on stage.

The crowd explodes. Ashido pulls her microphone off its stand, holding onto it in one hand as she sings, using her other hand to pull through Kirishima’s spiked hair.

He’s used to her touching him— the four of them have all grown used to being cuddly, given how much time they spend together— but this is a more deliberate move. She circles around him, hips swaying in time to the music, words washing over him as though she’s whispering them in his ear.

It takes longer than it should for Kirishima to realize what she’s done. By the time she’s finished moving, they’ve completely reversed positions— now, Kirishima stands at the center of the stage, tethered only by his amp chord, and Ashido has become a moving target, slightly left of center.

She’s given Kirishima the spotlight.

The song comes to a close, and again the crowd erupts into applause. Kirishima stands on stage, looking out over the faces and raised hands. Are there more people in the crowd now then there were only a few songs ago?

Beside him, Ashido nudges Kirishima with her hip.

He startles, realizing that he’s meant to start the next, last song. But instead, he keeps staring out at the crowd. Kirishima has never lacked for dreams, and since he began scribbling down lyrics and tapping out beats, he’s wanted to be a performer. He wants to bring people joy through his music, to connect to them in the way he’s connected to Crimson Chevalier’s music since he was a kid. But this is— this is—

He doesn’t know where to look. He doesn’t know who to focus on. He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to reach any of these people, when his mouth is too dry for him to speak. When his fingers feel numb, frozen over the strings of his cherry red guitar.

And then, he glances up. The VIP boxes are above general seating, close enough to the stage to give those important people the best views without requiring them to mix in with the masses. Kirishima has never had anyone to offer those prized seats to, before now.

In the closest box, he can make out two figures among the rest. The first is a man in his forties, with long dark hair. There’s a gray scarf wound around his neck, hiding half of his face. He slouches back in his seat, eyes sleepy.

But Kirishima’s gaze doesn’t rest on that man, even though he registers as vaguely familiar. Instead, Kirishima glances over to the person next to him.

Bakugou is sitting up in his stadium seat, leaning forward. He has his chin rested against one hand, eyes narrowed with anger— no, not anger. Focus. He’s looking right at Kirishima, just like he’d been asked. He’s not looking at anyone else. Under the flashing lights, his eyes stand out a stark red, and Kirishima is drawn in by them.

Kirishima coughs, clears his throat. The moment seems to be dragging on forever, but the awkwardness hasn’t registered with the crowd, yet.

Ashido slings an arm over his shoulders, her laughter echoing through her mic and over the crowd. She’s not laughing at him, but instead trying to calm him down.

“Was there something you wanted to say?” she asks, playing coy for the audience’s benefit.

“Yeah,” Kirishima breathes out, eyes still pulled towards Bakugou. His voice crackles over the mic, and heat floods his face. But then he clears his throat, and says softly, “This is for you.”

He doesn’t specify who he’s talking to. But a hush falls over the crowd, as though hundreds of people have simultaneously drawn the same breath. In that moment of stillness, Kirishima begins to play.

He loves music, but he can’t write an entire song on his own. He comes up with lyrics, snatches of rhyme patterns and general beats that sound good enough in his head. Then he’ll bring what he’s come up with to Jirou, and she’ll refine his ideas and add the melodies, making the music more complex and beautiful than Kirishima could’ve managed on his own. Kaminari lays the beat in, grounding Jirou’s ambitious notes. And then Ashido will layer her voice on top, and while they’ll rehearsing and writing she and Kirishima will sing together, filling in the gaps for each other and building on everyone’s ideas.

So now, standing in the center of the stage, Kirishima plays a song that doesn’t belong just to him. His hand trails up and down the neck of his guitar like an athlete running staircases, barely pausing for breath. The song spreads out over the crowd— not the erratic energy of the last number, but something calmer and more deliberate. Despite that, Kirishima feels the intensity of this song more than any other.

He’s only playing alone for an instant, but it drags out in his mind for an age before Jirou and Kaminari begin to play around him. And then Ashido steps up again, lifts her mic and sings.

Despite the fact that it took four people to write this song, it conveys a simple and direct message. It’s a song about meeting someone, and wanting to fall in love with them. About the moment of certainty, looking at their face, and knowing that if you step forward even a bit, you’ll fall into a deep well of emotion just waiting to be discovered.

And as he plays this song, and listens to Ashido singing his lyrics, Kirishima keeps his gaze on Bakugou.

By the time they get off stage, Kirishima is drenched with sweat and coming down off an adrenaline high. His entire face is heated, cheeks red and hair matted with sweat. The echoing cheers of the crowd follow Riot as they leave the stage and head to one of the lounges backstage. The four of them throw themselves into the room, letting out a collective sigh of relief.

Kaminari lays flat on the couch, reaching up to unbuckle his black choker and massage his neck.

Jirou slumps down beside him, resting her head against Kaminari’s shoulder without caring about how the colorful triangles she’d painted on her cheeks have smudged.

Ashido forgoes furniture entirely and lays out on the floor, limbs splayed like those of a starfish. Her hair puffs around her face, and she reaches up to yank off her yellow headband and press at her temples.

Kirishima stands frozen in the doorway, for a moment, the screams of the crowd still ringing in his ears and the image of Bakugou’s blazing stare burned into his memory.

None of them move, or speak. They don’t have to. Each of them recognizes how different the energy had been tonight, couldn’t help but notice the surge of the crowd and the way more people had known the lyrics to sing along.

Eventually, Kirishima slumps down against the wall, and the four of them slowly turn their heads to look at each other. It’s Kaminari who laughs first, followed by Ashido, and then Kirishima. Jirou joins in last, the infectious energy of her band catching like a spark on dry brush. Their happiness burns through them like a wildfire, and for a moment they don’t have to think about anything else.

“What are you still doing here?” a voice snaps at them, sometime later.

Kirishima glances up to see Present Mic— or Yamada Hizashi, as he’s known off-stage. His blond hair is coifed to perfection, even after the two hours he’s spent on stage, though he’s shed his leather jacket to reveal the tight t-shirt he wears underneath. Kirishima wonders, vaguely, if Yamada-san had thrown the jacket out into the crowd for some enthusiastic fan to catch.

“Huh?” Kirishima glances up, tired now that the energy of the crowd isn’t fueling him.

Yamada claps his hands together, jolting the rest of them from their stupor. “There’s a crowd outside,” he says impatiently. “They’re waiting for you.”

It’s Jirou who speaks up, glancing at Yamada skeptically. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure,” Yamada grouses. “Go, sign some posters, so my fans can have their chance.”

Kirishima almost laughs, at that. Yamada may be something of a prima donna, but Kirishima has seen him spend hours making his way through a signing line. He’s never left a fan wanting.

Achingly, Kirishima gets to his feet. “Let’s go.”

The crowd outside the stage door is much smaller than the one inside the stadium had been, but it seems larger. Without the buffer of the stage itself, and the shield of his music around him, Kirishima is overwhelmed by the amount of people screaming as soon as the four of them step out the door.

One of the crowd managers hands out metallic permanent markers—gold for Kaminari, pink for Ashido, purple for Jirou, and red for Kirishima.

The crowd is a mix of people, all ages and genders and styles of dress. Some of them have hand-made posters, many of them are holding out a copy of Riot’s single, all of them are making noise.

“Kirishima!” One of them shrieks as he approaches.

“That’s me,” Kirishima says, because it’s true. He lifts the marker to sign the man’s CD, writing out the characters of his name and then two interlocking English R’s, all written in red.

Ashido, Jirou and Kaminari make their way through the crowd around him, signing various things as they go. Ashido stops for selfies every few steps, putting up both her hands in victory signs as she tries to balance her marker. Kaminari shoots a thumbs-up at his fans, and occasionally pulls Ashido in for a group picture. Jirou’s more aloof, signing her name with quick efficiency, and blushing whenever someone asks for a picture.

Kirishima goes through the crowd, smiling as much as he has, thanking everyone who speaks to him. It’s when he’s made his way halfway through the line that he notices what this particular fan is holding out for him to sign.

It’s a magazine, open to a specific page. And on that page is a picture of Kirishima, on the ground at a red carpet event, bracing himself over Bakugou Katsuki. Their eyes are locked, as though they don’t even notice the picture being taken.

“You want me to sign this?” Kirishima squeaks.

The young woman holding it up nods emphatically. “If you don’t mind? It’s just, I support you and Bakugou-san so much, I—”

Kirishima scribbles his name across the page without a second thought, before the heavy weight of guilt has time to settle over him. He hadn’t even seen those pictures, yet, hadn’t bothered to go looking for them. But now that he cares to notice, he sees many people holding up similar magazines. They must’ve heard the interviews from the red carpet, seen that first picture from weeks ago. And maybe it was through Bakugou’s fame, and Kirishima’s by association, that they’d come to be here.

But they’d all been chanting Riot’s name all night, dancing to their songs, singing along to Kirishima’s lyrics. What does it matter how they got here, as long as they’re enjoying themselves now?

The thoughts swirl around Kirishima like a heavy fog as he continues stepping through the crowd. He’s genuinely happy that these people are here, and their enthusiasm has reignited his energy. Even without the music connecting them, in this moment, he still feels immeasurably close to them. And beyond that, he’s grateful that they’ve given him a chance.

It’s in that haze that Kirishima gradually makes his way to the back of the line. A low gate cuts the crowd off from where the members of Riot are walking, so that none of them can rush in too quickly. Kirishima barely registers getting to the end of the gate, until someone calls out to him.

“Hey, asshole.”

That’s not the tone anyone else in the crowd has been using, to say nothing of the words themselves. Kirishima glances up, and there, at the end of the crowd, separated by the venue’s security from the rest of the crowd, is Bakugou.

He pays no attention to the gate, hooking one leg over it and vaulting himself to the other side. As soon as the crowd realizes who he is, they begin screaming, and the flashes of dozens of cellphone cameras appear like sunspots in Kirishima’s vision.

Bakugou doesn’t seem to mind any of it. He stops towards Kirishima, his face etched into hard, intense lines.

For a second, Kirishima wonders if he should be bracing himself for a punch.

But then Bakugou is right beside him, reaching out and grabbing the low neck of Kirishima’s tank to pull him forward.

For a second, they stare at each other, Bakugou’s eyes smoldering and Kirishima’s widening.

Then, Bakugou leans in and presses his lips against Kirishima’s.

The crowd grows impossibly louder, and from somewhere beside him Kirishima hears Kaminari shriek, “Bakugou!”

But then, everything else fades out of focus. Instinctively, Kirishima lifts a hand to grip Bakugou’s upper arm, holding him close. He’s the one who leans in the second time, and when Bakugou lifts his head in surprise the kiss goes off center, so that Kirishima’s lips are pressed to the corner of Bakugou’s mouth.

Something electric sparks through him, and Kirishima closes his eyes and breathes deep. He doesn’t want this to end.

Chapter Text

The problem isn’t that Bakugou kissed him. No, the problem is that afterwards, Kirishima can’t stop thinking about it.

It’s not the first time he’s imagined kissing Bakugou Katsuki. He remembers being a teenager, laid out in bed and imagining. He’d been fifteen when UA had first come on air— the same age as Bakugou. But it hadn’t been until years later that he’d been able to categorize his fascination with the actor as attraction. That was after he’d started to parse why he admired Crimson Chevalier so much, why he found Suneater’s masculine voice more attractive than teen idol Nejire-chan’s.

Being attracted to men was not something Kirishima had struggled over. It was a realization that had come upon him over time. It had taken shape and rearranged the facts of his life so that they made more sense. His posters of Bakugou Katsuki just took on new meaning, when Kirishima looked up at them and thought of Bakugou not just as someone to emulate, but someone he wanted to be with.

But those had been the far away fantasies of a boy who never imagined his dreams of fame becoming a reality. He never thought he’d meet Bakugou, and so his fantasies had been safe and distant and purely hypothetical. Now, though—now everything is different.

Now. It’s been two days, and Kirishima is lying in bed, thinking about how deceptively soft Bakugou’s lips had been. How quick the kiss was, over entirely too soon. How the crowd had shrieked as Bakugou pulled back, how Bakugou had looked down his nose at Kirishima and left, without any sort of explanation. Kirishima had stood there, stunned, until Kaminari had pulled him away.

He’d woken up the next morning to his face on every celebrity gossip website, his hair a blazing fire under the harsh lights of phone camera flashes. The pictures had been proof that he hadn’t just hallucinated the entire night.

But it had left him unsatisfied. Bakugou had kissed him in a way that played well for the cameras— visible and unmistakable for what it was. But Kirishima hadn’t gotten to hold him, or lick into his mouth, or bite down on his soft lips—

“Fuck,” Kirishima says aloud, staring at his ceiling. “I’m so fucked.”

At a baseline, Kirishima knows he’s being selfish. Bakugou isn’t pretending to date him because he wants to be close to Kirishima, physically. And really, Kirishima shouldn’t want that either. But the acting is confusing his body, probably. Whenever he’s around Bakugou, he feels the electric current running between them. And he can’t help but want more.

His phone is lying on the bed beside him, and he rolls over to grab it before he can think better of it. He taps out a message and hits send.

Kirishima doesn’t know how long he lays there, but the next thing he knows his bedroom door is slammed open.

“What— Bakugou!”

It’s like he’s been summoned by Kirishima’s imaginings—Bakugou Katsuki, standing in his doorway, wearing that old skull t-shirt and a disdainful expression. He looks down at Kirishima with raised brows, his arms crossed over his chest. “Damn,” he says idly. “You live like this?”

Kirishima glances around his room, color rising in his cheeks. It isn’t so bad— a bookshelf full of CD’s, a free-standing punching bag, some clothes littering the floor, everything a violent shade of red—

He leaps to his feet and jumps across the room, coming to stand in front of UA poster hanging on his wall. It isn’t a poster of just Bakugou, thankfully, but he’s the central figure in the image. Kirishima stands up as straight as he can, hoping to block the poster from view.

“What— what are you doing here?”

Bakugou scoffs. “You’re a piece of shit, you know that?”

Kirishima frowns. “What—”

Bakugou silences him with a glare, then fishes his cellphone out of the pocket of his jeans. He unlocks the screen and reads off in a deceptively calm voice, “That kiss after the concert was pretty lame. Have you ever kissed anyone, before?”

Kirishima is sure, now, that his face is the same color as his hair. “Well,” he starts to explain, “It was kind of just, a peck? And if we’re supposed to be madly in love, we should really—”

“I’m going to fucking kill you, now,” Bakugou says in that same calm voice. It’s honestly more terrifying than when he yells.

“How did you even know where I live— hey!” Kirishima dodges as Bakugou rushes at him, sidestepping and running to the far corner of the room. “Calm down, okay, it was a joke.”

Bakugou’s hands are balled into fists at his sides, and he lets out a barely-human growl as he charges at Kirishima, again.

Kirishima’s not exactly sure who’d win in an all-out fight between the two of them. He’s not really interested in finding out.

“How’d you even get in here,” Kirishima says, laughing nervously.

“Your front door was unlocked,” Bakugou hisses from between clenched teeth. “But you don’t have to worry about that, because I’m going to fucking bury you after I kill you.”

“If you kill me, you’ll never get any better at kissing,” Kirishima says in a rush, running around to the other side of the bed so that it’s between him and Bakugou.

Bakugou freezes, at that, face contorting with rage and something like bewilderment. “I’m not bad at kissing, you fucking idiot.”

The way he says it is like a child’s retort. Kirishima can just imagine him saying, I’m not bad at anything.

“Maybe,” Kirishima allows. “But I bet I’m better.”

“Are you shitting me,” Bakugou seethes. “You should be grateful I’d even consider kissing a shitty-haired bastard like you.”

Kirishima is very grateful. But Bakugou doesn’t need to know that, right now.

“Have you?” he asks, instead.

“Have I what,” Bakugou spits back.

“Kissed anyone, before.”

Bakugou throws out a hand, gesturing at the UA poster at the wall. “Obviously.”

Kirishima can’t blush any more than he is, already. But it’s like he’s just been called out, for having a poster on his wall three years after a show has stopped airing.

He imagines, for a moment, all the kisses on UA—Uraraka and Bakugou’s characters, mostly, and the gradual development of their relationship through carefully-orchestrated touches and measures of affection.

Kirishima snorts. “That doesn’t count. Those were like, stage kisses. For a show.”

For a long moment, Bakugou doesn’t say anything at all.

Kirishima is definitely a horrible person, but he can’t help the sly smile he wears in that moment. “Have you never kissed anyone off-camera, before?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Bakugou orders. His expression shutters, now guarded. He crosses his arms over his chest, again. “Like you’re any better.”

Kirishima isn’t much better, but he does have a little experience. His grin widens as he says, “Actually, I am.”

Bakugou’s jaw visibly clenches.

“But, hey,” Kirishima says, trying to sound as appeasing as possible, “there’s a really easy way for us to, you know, bridge the gap.”

“What the fuck are you talking about.”

Kirishima sucks in a breath and then answers quickly, before he loses his nerve. “We could practice.”

For a second, he’s sure that Bakugou is about to hit him. But then Bakugou’s clenched hands loosen, and he looks at Kirishima with assessment rather than murderous intent.

“Fine,” he says, moving to sit at the edge of Kirishima’s bed.

“Wait— really?”

Bakugou turns his head to the side to glare at Kirishima. “Get the fuck over here, before I change my mind.”

Kirishima doesn’t need to be told a second time. He comes around the other side of the bed, sitting on the opposite end from Bakugou. In his earlier daydreams, he had imagined today going something like this. But those had been fantasies, wishful and unrealistic. Now Bakugou Katsuki is sitting on his bed and waiting for Kirishima to kiss him.

“Holy shit,” Kirishima mutters, clenching and unclenching his hands.

“Are you going to just stare into space, or are you going to kiss me?” Bakugou says irritably.

Kirishima clears his throat and readjusts his position, turning to face Bakugou fully. Bakugou has his lips pressed together in a firm line, glaring at Kirishima but pointedly not looking at his lips.

Something inside of Kirishima softens. He leans closer to Bakugou and raises his hands, stopping just short of touching Bakugou’s face.

“Hey,” he says, “Relax.”

“Shut up,” Bakugou mutters.

But that’s enough. When Bakugou’s lips part around the words, Kirishima leans in. He rests one hand against Bakugou’s shoulder, curls the other around the back of Bakugou’s neck. Then he pulls Bakugou closer and presses their lips together, more deliberately and with far more awareness than he’d had two nights ago.

Bakugou doesn’t react, for a long moment. His lips are as soft as Kirishima remembers, but they’re still against Kirishima’s. Then, Bakugou reaches out and grabs Kirishima around the wrist, holding him in place. He pushes into the kiss, rather than pulling back.

It’s Kirishima who leans away, gently detaching himself from Bakugou so that he can look him in the eye. “You can move, you know,” he says. “There’s a rhythm to kissing.”

“Shut up,” Bakugou says, “I know that.”

“Okay,” Kirishima says agreeably. “Should we try again?”

They lean in at the same time. Bakugou’s lips part readily against Kirishima’s, now, and when Kirishima gently traces Bakugou’s lower lip with his tongue he feels Bakugou shudder against him. Not to be outdone, Bakugou reaches out and grabs at Kirishima’s hair, loose today around his face. Kirishima licks his way into Bakugou’s mouth as Bakugou pulls at his hair, and the conflicting sensations are enough to push everything else out of his mind, for that moment.

Something buzzes against Kirishima’s thigh, jolting them both out of the kiss. Bakugou curses under his breath, grabbing his phone out of his pocket and throwing it to the other side of the bed.

“Fuck off,” he mutters at the phone, for good measure.

Kirishima chuckles. He wonders if Bakugou knows how much he uses that phrase as a space filler. He can’t possibly mean it every time he says it, just like he can’t possibly mean it every time he threatens to kill someone.

With a huff, Bakugou turns back towards him. “Stop slacking off,” he says.

Kirishima’s smile goes crooked as he lifts a hand to press against Bakugou’s cheek. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to wake up in a second and this will have been a dream.”

Bakugou rolls his eyes, brushing off Kirishima’s hand and pressing his lips against Kirishima’s experimentally. He isn’t hesitant— the pressure of his lips in firm and solid— but he moves away too quickly for Kirishima’s liking.

“I’m serious,” Kirishima says, and then he kisses Bakugou again. He mirrors the angle Bakugou had gone for, but lets himself go off-center at the last moment so that his kiss lands half against Bakugou’s cheek.

“Obviously. I’m everyone’s fucking fantasy,” Bakugou says, with an arrogant assurance that really, really shouldn’t be as attractive as it is. He pushes Kirishima back, his hands a comfortable weight on his shoulders, until Kirishima falls back against the bed. Bakugou looms over him, now. “You’re not special, that way.”

Kirishima blinks up at him, wondering what Bakugou means by that. Of course, there are probably thousands— millions?— of people who find Bakugou attractive. Best Jeanist wouldn’t be selling so many pairs of jeans if that wasn’t the case. But Kirishima resents the assumption that his feelings are typical.

“Yeah?” Kirishima says, reaching for Bakugou and pulling him down so that they can kiss, again. “Does everyone get to do this, too?”

Bakugou acquiesces to the kisses, pressing forward on his own and mirroring Kirishima’s technique. Even amidst their conversation, they’re getting better at this. Their lips fit together naturally, with fewer awkward clashes of teeth.

Bakugou huffs and bites down on Kirishima’s lower lip. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” he growls out. He’s sitting over Kirishima’s legs, now, as Kirishima leans up to meet him halfway. It’s not the most comfortably position, but like hell Kirishima is going to say anything that’ll move Bakugou away from him, at this point.

“Dude, you already played your hand,” Kirishima says, one of his hands settling at the base of Bakugou’s neck. The short hairs there are soft as he brushes his fingers over them. He kisses Bakugou’s cheek, then the line of his jaw. “It’s okay, though. If this is all new to you.”

Bakugou mimics Kirishima’s motions, kissing his cheek and then his jaw. But as Kirishima speaks, Bakugou pulls back. “No one is worth this,” Bakugou informs him. “There’s literally no one out there I want to do this shit with.”

“You’re doing it with me, right now,” Kirishima says, even though he knows that getting Bakugou to realize that he doesn’t want to be doing this is not in his best interest.

“Whatever.” Bakugou, emboldened by something, bites down on Kirishima’s tongue the next time their lips meet.

The pain jolts through him, not entirely unwelcome. “It’s okay,” Kirishima assures him. “I don’t mind helping you practice.”

“You talk a lot,” Bakugou says irritably.

“Character flaw,” Kirishima returns. “I’ve got a lot of ‘em. Besides, I bet there was no real way for you to get close to anyone else, right? When you were pretending to date Uraraka.”

Bakugou sits back fully, the entirety of his weight on Kirishima’s legs. “Don’t fucking start with that,” he warns. “I never even agreed to that. The reporters just made shit up, took pictures of us when we were standing next to each other and acted like that made us fucking lovers. What a joke.”

Kirishima blinks. “But you agreed to this. With me.”

Bakugou looks down at Kirishima with an inscrutable expression. His cheeks are flushed, from the kissing, and his hair is slightly mussed. “Easier than giving Soy Sauce one more fucking thing to nag me about.”

But even as he says it, his logic seems weak to Kirishima. The media had played up Bakugou and Uraraka’s relationship for years. Bakugou may not have endorsed it, but that was still an incredibly long time to not dispel the rumors. And then he’d immediately delved right into this fake relationship with Kirishima, going at it with more gusto than he’d ever shown the charade with Uraraka. He’d kissed Kirishima two nights ago, without any prompting whatsoever. Kirishima doesn’t get it.

“Hey, can I ask you something?”

“What,” Bakugou says, so flatly it’s hardly a question.

“What are you getting out of this? I know Sero said your reputation was on the line, and that they had to, you know, soften the blow of you being gay and all. But that all seems like stuff Sero would worry about, more than you. Why’d you agree, at all?”

Bakugou doesn’t answer, for a long moment. His eyes narrow to slits as he stares Kirishima down, like he’s thinking hard about what he’s going to say. Then he lets out an irritated noise.

“It’s whatever,” he says vaguely, turning away so that he’s not looking Kirishima in the eye. “But lying about who I’m dating isn’t as shitty as lying about who I am.”

“Oh,” Kirishima says, dumbly. That, he can understand. He’s always felt supported, in who he is, more worried about what he thinks of himself than what others think of him. But Bakugou, who’s been in the public eye his entire life, maybe he’s never had the luxury of answering just to himself. How can he even be sure of who he is, when everything he does is so scrutinized and twisted by an audience?

Kirishima settles his hands at Bakugou’s waist, for a moment just content to have that point of content. “I don’t know why this all landed on me,” he says, truthfully, “But I’m happy I can help.”

When he looks up, he finds Bakugou staring at him openly. His eyes are no longer narrowed and angry, but rather wide and incredulous. He’s looking at Kirishima like he’s a puzzle, or a riddle, something completely indecipherable.

“Fuck,” Bakugou mutters. “You really mean that, don’t you. Idiot.”

“You need to work on your pet names, boyfriend.” Kirishima says.

Bakugou snarls. “Hell’s going to freeze over before I call you a pet name.”

“Okay, okay,” Kirishima says with a laugh. He can’t really imagine calling Bakugou by a pet name, either, even if they were really dating. That just seems— too soft for him, somehow.

Bakugou presses one hand down against Kirishima’s chest, keeping him pinned with physical pressure even as he corners Kirishima with his gaze. “Pay attention,” he orders.

Before Kirishima can ask what he means, Bakugou leans down until he’s laying almost directly on top of Kirishima. He kisses him soundly on the lips, adopting a steady rhythm that pauses only when Kirishima’s lips part and Bakugou thrusts his tongue into Kirishima’s mouth. The kiss goes wet and messy, after that, and Kirishima’s blood pounds in his veins.

When Bakugou finally pulls back, he leaves Kirishima gasping for breath. “So?” he demands.

“Ha— what?”

“The fucking kiss,” Bakugou snaps. “That was better than any of the ones you gave me, wasn’t it?”

Is Bakugou asking Kirishima to grade him? Kirishima can’t quite believe that, except that Bakugou is looking at him insistently, like he’s expecting an assessment.

Kirishima gurgles out a laugh. “Ah, yeah. Definitely the best one, ever.”

Bakugou clicks his tongue against his teeth. “Fucking useless,” he mutters.

The atmosphere between them is comfortable, lazy, even punctuation by Bakugou’s irritation and Kirishima’s nervous energy. For a moment, Kirishima is completely disconnected from the world, alone in this moment with just Bakugou.

The moment breaks.

“Kirishima,” Kaminari calls out, bursting through the door, “we ordered pizza— what the hell!”

“Has no one in this apartment heard of knocking?” Kirishima asks.

Kaminari stands in the doorway, looking like he’d just been struck by lightning. He blinks at Kirishima and Bakugou, then says, “I— ah. Bakugou. In your bed. On top of you.”

Bakugou takes no heed of Kirishima’s limbs as adjusts himself, getting to his feet and not even bothering to straighten his clothes. Kirishima has no idea how he looks so— well, not calm, exactly, but unaffected. He’s flushed and rumpled, his lips kissed red. But he stands with all the assurance of a god amongst mortals.

“Thank fuck,” he says, sounding bored. “I’m starving.” He strides out the door, shoving Kaminari ahead of him.

“Er, right,” Kaminari says, “I guess you can have some pizza, too, Bakugou.” But then he cranes his head back at Kirishima and mouths, What was that?

Kirishima shrugs apologetically. He’s not exactly sure, himself.

It takes Kirishima a moment to get his bearings, after Bakugou and Kaminari have left the room. Just as he’s gotten to his feet, preparing to follow them, his phone lights up from where it’d fallen amongst the blankets and pillows.

Incoming Call - Unknown Number |

Kirishima slides open the display. “Hello?”

“Hello, Kirishima-kun? This is Uraraka.”

Kirishima is sure that this a dream, that he’s about to wake up and be fifteen years old, again. He’ll yawn and open his eyes and realize he’d fallen asleep watching UA, again, and any moment Ashido will come to wake him up because they’re about to leave for Hokkaido or something.

“Kirishima-kun? Are you there?”

Kirishima shakes his head. This isn’t a dream. “Yes! Hi, Uraraka. Um— how do you have my number?”

“Sero-kun,” Uraraka explains. “I’m glad I caught you! I’ve been trying Bakugou-kun all day, but he won’t answer any of my calls. He’s being such a baby.”

Kirishima’s not exactly sure what that means, but he doesn’t have long to dwell on it. It’s like a bucket of water has just been thrown over his head. Last time he and Uraraka had talked, it had been at Hagakure’s party. It had been when Bakugou and Uraraka had still been together, at least in a press sense.

“Uh,” Kirishima says, suddenly very nervous, “Is there something I can help with?”

“I hope so,” Uraraka says. She doesn’t sound upset, or like Kirishima had ruined her image in the press or stole her fake boyfriend. In fact, Kirishima can’t remember hearing anything about Uraraka in the media for the past couple of weeks. “Actually, this is more of an invitation! A bunch of us are going to spend a few days at the beach, at one of Momo-chan’s estates.”

“Okay,” Kirishima says, very lost.

“I wanted to know if you wanted to come with us,” Uraraka explains. “I know your band performs pretty frequently, right? But it’d only be for two days, or maybe you could just come for one day if that’s too much? And of course, the rest of your band should come, too! It’ll be me and Deku-kun and Todoroki-kun and a few other friends, too.”

“You want me to come?” Kirishima asks, baffled. “Why?”

Uraraka laughs. “Because we like you, Kirishima-kun! This trip is a tradition, we go every year, when all of us can get together. But Bakugou-kun never agrees to come, and I was thinking if his boyfriend was there, he’d maybe at least think about it.”

Kirishima remembers Ground Zero’s premiere— Yaoyorozu had invited Bakugou along then, too, but he hadn’t agreed to go. But they all keep trying, for some reason.

“You want him to come?” Kirishima asks. He doesn’t mean it unkindly— hell, he knows better than anyone the strange pull of Bakugou’s overtly off-putting personality. But he’s not sure that others see things the same way.

Uraraka lets out a little puff of a sigh. “Of course! I mean, we’ve all had our issues, over the years. But Bakugou-kun worked with all of us for five years. We’re friends, whether he wants to admit it or not. And anyway, it’s really time that he and Deku-kun talk things out. It wasn’t Deku-kun’s fault, no matter what Bakugou-kun thinks.”

“Um, you’ve definitely lost me,” Kirishima admits. “I have no idea what’s going on between Midoriya and Bakugou.”

Uraraka hums knowingly. “He’s like that even with you, hm? When I heard he was actually dating someone, I thought that meant he was opening up! I thought it was a good sign, at least.”

Actually dating. It hits Kirishima like a punch to the chest. Uraraka doesn’t know. She thinks that Kirishima and Bakugou are really dating, that these newest developments in Bakugou’s life are signs of some grand shift in personality. But they aren’t. It’s all a lie, and one Kirishima is helping to keep.

“Listen, I—”

“I’ve probably said too much,” Uraraka says apologetically. “Bakugou-kun will tell you in his own time, I’m sure. But you should come with us, and you should try and get him to come, too. I promise, it’ll be fun! At least for you. I never know, with Bakugou-kun.”

Kirishima smiles as he talks to her. Uraraka’s aura of levity and kindness is infectious. “Sure,” he says, trying to push aside his guilt. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Oi,” a gruff voice calls out, “are you gonna come eat or— who are you talking to.”

Bakugou is standing in the doorway, balancing a plate laden with pizza in one hand. He glares suspiciously at the phone held against Kirishima’s ear.

“Is that Bakugou-kun?” Uraraka asks, over the line. “Tell him to stop being a jerk and screening my calls!”

Bakugou must hear her voice in the enclosed space of Kirishima’s bedroom, because all at once he drops the plate of pizza to the floor and lunges across the small space.

Kirishima doesn’t have time to react. He yelps as Bakugou rushes him, only thinking to hold the phone out of reach at the last moment. But Bakugou isn’t deterred. He tackles Kirishima around the waist, sending them both toppling backwards onto the bed. The fall knocks the wind out of Kirishima, and in the resulting confusion Bakugou grabs the phone out of his hand.

“What the hell d’you think you’re doing, Uraraka?” Bakugou yells into the speaker. “Don’t fucking talk to Kirishima. And stop calling me!”

He jabs his thumb against the end call button, tossing the phone aside with angry exhalation of breath. “Meddling asshole,” he mutters, rolling away from Kirishima to lie on his back.

“Do you treat all of your friends like that?” Kirishima asks tentatively, a moment later. They’re lying side-by-side, both looking up at the ceiling.

“She’s not my goddamn friend.” Bakugou crosses his arms over his chest, which makes him look a little ridiculous as his legs hang off the edge of the bed.

“That’s not what she thinks,” Kirishima says, reaching up to rest his hands behind his head. “She wants us to go on vacation with her.”

“Like I could stand going on a trip with her.”

“What about with me?” Kirishima bites down on the inside of his cheek, mulling this all over. “I mean— I think it’d be fun. But it’d be weird if I went and you didn’t go, you know?”

“Why,” Bakugou asks blandly, “it’s not she’s going to complain if you go and I don’t.”

Kirishima doesn’t think Uraraka would complain, exactly. But she clearly wants Bakugou there. Kirishima imagines the four UA alums like the members of a band— they’d spent so much time together, worked on such a meaningful project for so long. But maybe, like in a band, there had been creative differences.

“Do they— ah. Would it be weird for you, showing up with a boyfriend? Uraraka didn’t seem phased by it, but did anyone else know?”

Bakugou keeps his gaze fixed on the ceiling, letting out a harsh breath. “Are you asking if fucking Deku and Todoroki know I’m not straight?”

“Um, yeah?” Kirishima laughs, trying to cover up his nerves. Talking to Bakugou is like walking through a minefield. “I mean, they wouldn’t care, right? Midoriya and Todoroki played a gay couple for the entire last season, they wouldn’t have done that if they’d—”

Shut up,” Bakugou growls. “Fuck, why do you have to keep poking at it? I don’t fucking care, anymore.”

“Dude, you obviously do. You freaked out, the last time I saw you with Midoriya.”

Bakugou barks out a harsh, cold laugh. “Right. Because he’s so goddamn innocent, and I’m the one overreacting. Of course.”

Kirishima frowns. “I can’t take your side if you don’t tell me what your side is.”

“Deku knew,” Bakugou spits out. “Of course, he did, he’s a goddamn stalker. Always watching people, figuring out everything about them.”

“So… he figured out you weren’t straight?”

“It was my idea,” Bakugou says, licking over his lips. “The only thing anyone remembers that stupid show for, I came up with it. I pushed for it. The fucking show-runner was a coward. It took two years to convince him that it wouldn’t tank his show, to take that risk. It was supposed to be my fucking storyline.”

Kirishima blinks. He had never even considered the possibility that Nobuhiko would be the character to come out on UA. His storyline with Ayane seems inevitable to Kirishima, looking back on it. But he’s had three years to re-watch the show in its entirety, to allow the various seasons and storylines to fuse together into a coherent whole. At the moment each episode was being filmed, surely there was more room for possibility.

“That’s amazing,” Kirishima breathes out. “I mean, whether it was Nobuhiko or Daiki, in the end— dude. You have no idea. Seeing it happen, on TV, with the whole world watching. The fact that UA went there at all meant everything, to me.”

He’d been eighteen, a year and a half into his career as a performing musician. The lead guitarist of up-and-coming star Alien Queen’s band. At a time in his life when Kirishima hadn’t know what he wanted, or exactly who he was, UA was his anchor. And it had helped him feel okay, about a lot of things.

“I don’t fucking care,” Bakugou says, but his words sound more like a reflex than anything with actual intent. “It should have been me.”

Eighteen-year-old Kirishima probably would not have been able to handle Bakugou playing out a coming out scene. He probably would’ve exploded.

“So, you’re mad at Midoriya because he got the storyline you wanted?” As petty as it sounds, saying it aloud, Kirishima gets it. Bakugou had been a teenager himself, a young actor with nothing but promise. It must have been a risk, fighting for that storyline. And to have it not given to him— Kirishima thinks he can understand that anger. “But that wasn’t Midoriya’s fault, was it?”

“He only looks innocent,” Bakugou growls. “The two of you’d probably get along, fuck. You both just keep smiling like idiots, no matter what’s going on in your heads.”

“I can’t imagine him being some kind of, I dunno, role-stealing mastermind,” Kirishima says.

“Because you’re an idiot,” Bakugou tells him.

“Maybe,” Kirishima says agreeably. “But I have a pretty good imagination.”

Bakugou huffs, not offering anything immediate response.

It’s sort of nice, just lying there beside him. Kirishima has never dated anyone all that seriously, before. The time he’s spent with Bakugou has now thoroughly outlasted any of the strings of dates he’s been on with anyone else. And now, it’s like Bakugou has honestly opened up to him. Like he would have if he and Kirishima were really dating.

“Thanks for telling me,” Kirishima says, sincerely.

“Like it matters. You’re not going to be on my side.” He says the last of that snidely, mocking Kirishima’s earlier words.

“But I am,” Kirishima says. “I mean, I don’t want to kill Midoriya or whatever it is you’re after, but I get you, man. And if us doing— you know, this—is going to help you get the roles you want, I am so for it.”

“Yeah?” Bakugou drawls, “And what the fuck’s in it for you?”

Kirishima can think of a lot of things. Because he’s selfish, and even if all of this will mean nothing, in the end, he’s enjoying this time with Bakugou. He likes being with him.

But the first thing that makes it out of his mouth is no grand declaration. “Well, you know. I get to take credit for you not being terrible at kissing, now.”

Red rises from Bakugou’s neck up to his temples, like the temperature rising in a thermometer. Then he shoves Kirishima off the bed.

Chapter Text

“Kirishima-san, everyone!” Yaoyorozu is standing at the door to greet them, her dark hair and long dress blown back by the sea breeze. She waves. “I’m so glad you made it, welcome!”

With a groan, the four members of Riot topple out of the car and onto the pathway in front of Yaoyorozu’s summer home. A few days ago, booking a two-day vacation to the remote seaside town had seemed like a great idea. But after playing a show last night and waking up before sunrise this morning to drive out, they’re having second thoughts.

“I hope your drive was alright,” Yaoyorozu is saying, coming towards them. It’s only mid-morning, but she’s styled to perfection. Her dress is turquoise and peach and white, the loose fabric conveying class and comfort all at once.

Jirou’s the first to recover herself. After stifling a yawn, she rubs a hand over her face. “Yeah. It was— great. Totally great.” She stands up a bit straighter, smoothing down her hair and trying to appear less than dead on her feet.

Ashido and Kaminari nod in time. “Thanks for the invite,” Ashido says. “And for sending the car. It’s too much, you know.”

Yaoyorozu waves them all off. “Nonsense! The house is just sitting here, otherwise, and there’s room for everyone! Now, come it— I’ve had breakfast laid out for all of you, and everyone else is inside! The omelet bar should take a moment to warm up, but we’ll get you started with tea, or coffee!”

She turns around to lead them inside, but the others linger for a moment before they follow her. The house looms in front of them, a massive structure that sits on the edge of the beach and casts a long shadow across the entire landscape.

“I feel like I just got slapped in the face with how rich she is,” Kaminari mutters ruefully.

“She’s so cute about it, though.” Ashido shakes her head.

They go after Yaoyorozu, leaving Jirou on the curb with Kirishima. Just before they, too, follow the others inside, Kirishima hears Jirou mumbling under her breath.

“Some people really are just completely different from the rest of us, aren’t they…”

There’s not much time to linger on Jirou’s words. Inside the house, a veritable feast of breakfast food has been laid out for them. Yaoyorozu is motioning them towards different options— rice and fresh fish, a juice bar, fresh waffles and pastries. Ashido and Kaminari grab plates and start loading them, smiling at Yaoyorozu’s enthusiasm.

Kirishima piles his own plate with breakfast sausages and then pulls out a chair at the long table. The kitchen opens out onto a deck, the glass doors pulled open so that the breeze and sunshine are let into the room. Soon enough, the others join him, and for a moment the five of them enjoy a companionable meal. And, then—

“If you would just listen, I’m sure you would see the sense in my position,” a loud, authoritative voice says. “It would be in your best interests, in addition to benefitting the careers of your peers—”

“How many times do I have to tell you to get lost?”

Kirishima knows that voice well enough by now to expect it when Bakugou comes stomping into the kitchen. He’s dressed for the beach in black and red swim trunks, a familiar pair of expensive sunglasses hanging from the neck of his tank top. He’s looking over his shoulder, incensed, but as soon as he turns around he stops short.

For a moment, he just stands in the doorway, staring at Kirishima. Then, Sero and another dark-haired man crash into Bakugou, all three of them tumbling forward.

Ashido throws back her head and laughs as the three men get back to their feet. It’s Sero who recovers first, and he helps to detangle Bakugou and their other companion.

“Thank you, Sero-kun,” the man says, straightening his thin-framed glasses. He’s tall and broad-shouldered, wearing a track jacket over his beach attire. Kirishima doesn’t recognize him, though he feels like he should.

“Both of you get away from me,” Bakugou grounds out, sidestepping them and pulling out the chair next to Kirishima. He turns the chair around and sits in it backwards, reaching out to grab a piece of meat from Kirishima’s plate.

“Hello to you too, babe,” Kirishima says, rolling his eyes. “You know there’s a whole spread of food like, right there, right?”

The man in glasses clears his throat. “Bakugou-kun, aren’t you going to introduce us?”

Bakugou looks back at him with a look of disgust. “No.”

Kirishima elbows him in the side, then turns to newcomer. “I’m Kirishima—nice to meet you.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” the man says, extending a hand for Kirishima to shake. “I’m Iida Tenya. I’m an agent with Ingenium Talent, which you may have heard of. We’ve been very interested in you all, Kirishima-kun. Your band’s right has been nothing short of meteoric, and I have to ask you about who’s managing—”

He shows no signs of slowing down until Yaoyorozu gets to her feet and says, “Iida-san, didn’t we decide that there’d be no work talk, this weekend?”

Iida steps back, abashed. “Of course. I didn’t mean—”

“It wasn’t his fault,” Sero puts in. “I got him started, asking him to talk to Bakugou. We’ll lay off now, Yaoyorozu. Promise.”

“Talk to you about what?” Kirishima asks Bakugou.

“Some bullshit,” Bakugou mutters, and then he reaches out and drains Kirishima’s glass of orange juice.

Kirishima raises a brow. “You don’t have to be a brat,” he says casually. “Besides, you shouldn’t be grumpy, anymore. Look, I’m here now.”

He means it as a joke. He doesn’t really expect that Bakugou will be happier with him around, or that he was waiting for Kirishima to arrive. Honestly, he’s found that the only way he can really play at being Bakugou’s boyfriend is if he turns all of it— the affection and familiarity— into a joke with himself.

But then Bakugou surprises him. He scoffs, “Yeah, only after sticking me with these losers for a day.”

Kirishima grins despite himself. “Sorry?”

“Iida-kun, have you see—” Again, from the hallway, Kirishima hears a voice before he sees who it belongs to. But before he has a chance to recognize the person, they let out a gasp and run towards him. “Kirishima-kun! You made it!”

Uraraka is suddenly in front of him, grabbing both of his hands and smiling widely. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she says, before she spots Bakugou and suddenly turns indignant. “Is that why you just ran away? You were coming to meet Kirishima-kun?”

Bakugou leans forward in his chair, staring Uraraka down. “So what?”

“You’re impossible,” she tells him. She turns to Kirishima. “He’s impossible.”

Kirishima nods sagely. “Believe me, I know.”

The kitchen is open enough to not feel crowded, even as the newcomers grab their own plates of food and pull up chairs around the table. They go through introductions, and it’s only Bakugou who holds himself back from the laughter and conversation. He’s not doing much of anything, until the last members of the group arrive.

Todoroki and Midoriya come into the kitchen together. They’re talking in low voices, but stop when they realize how many people are gathered there. Kaminari, Jirou and Yaoyorozu are talking on one side of the table, Ashido and Uraraka between them and Bakugou and Kirishima. Iida and Sero complete the circle, with Sero across from Ashido and next to Kaminari.

“Everyone’s here,” Midoriya says, smiling brightly. “It’s good to see you again, Kirishima-kun.”

Kirishima has never been able to quite label the nature of Midoriya’s appeal. He doesn’t have Bakugou’s fierce good-looks or Todoroki’s sculpted beauty. But there’s something so warm and open about his face, a kindness and sincerity that radiate through everything he does. The world had fallen in love with Midoriya Izuku through UA and his character Daiki, and now, being in the same room as him, it’s impossible not to see why. He’s a person who lights up a room with his very presence.

Midoriya’s gaze drifts to Bakugou and Kirishima, his brow furrowing slightly as he takes in the sight of Bakugou leaning across Kirishima to steal food off his plate.

“Dude,” Kaminari says, looking up, “We watched your entire show in like, four days. It was amazing.”

Midoriya’s cheeks turn a bit pink, but he and Todoroki go over to sit with Kaminari on his side of the table.

Before they can get settled, Bakugou kicks his chair back from the table with an audible slide across the wood-paneled floor. He gets to his feet without looking at anyone, and then stomps back out of the kitchen.

Midoriya watches him leave, the smile frozen on his face.

Uraraka frowns after Bakugou. “Honestly,” she murmurs. “I wanted them to talk this out before everyone got here…”

Kirishima doesn’t ask her to clarify. Instead, he gets up and follows Bakugou out of the kitchen, waving his apologies at the rest of the group.

It doesn’t take him long to find him. The house is wide and open— the rooms blend into each other, many of them connected just doorways. Bakugou is in a sitting room, standing up and staring out at the ocean through the massive glass panels.

Kirishima steps up beside him. If they were in public, maybe he’d feel comfortable touching Bakugou— resting his hand on Bakugou’s shoulder or his hip, grabbing his hand. But without any eyes on them, Kirishima doesn’t have the excuse to do any of those things.

“Hey,” he says, when Bakugou doesn’t acknowledge his presence for a moment, “Is this— okay? I know I asked you to come, but if you really can’t stand it you should have told me.”

“It’s fine,” Bakugou grits out. His hands are clenched at his sides.

Kirishima doesn’t believe him. From what Uraraka had told him, from what Bakugou himself had said, Kirishima figured that this outing would be good for him. That he’d have a chance to be among his not-friends again, in a relaxed way, and that they’d maybe be able to mend some broken fences. But Bakugou doesn’t even want to try.

“I don’t want you to be miserable for the next two days,” Kirishima says, brow furrowing.

“He’s going to figure it out,” Bakugou spits out.

“What?”

“Deku,” Bakugou hisses, voice going low. “He’s a fucking— ugh. He notices everything. He can’t know that we’re in a bullshit relationship.” Bakugou’s facial expression barely changes, but the crease between his brows deepens. He’s genuinely concerned about this.

“Why? I mean, Ashido and the others know. So it wouldn’t—”

“It would ruin everything,” Bakugou says, his voice so fierce and insistent and Kirishima immediately believes him. Bakugou wouldn’t care this much, if Midoriya didn’t represent an actual threat to what Bakugou is trying to do.

“Okay,” Kirishima says. “It’s fine, we’ve practiced. No one’s going to figure it out. Everyone thinks we’re dating, it’s fine.”

Bakugou opens his mouth to respond, but then freezes when they both hear footsteps just outside the room.

“Fuck,” Bakugou growls. Then he grabs Kirishima by the neck of his t-shirt and pulls him forward, covering his mouth in a wet, sloppy kiss. It’s been a few days since they were together last, but Kirishima remembers how to respond to these kisses. For a moment, he just shuts his eyes and lets himself lean into it. Bakugou reaches up a hand and tugs on Kirishima’s ponytail, carding is fingers through Kirishima’s loose hair.

“Bakugou-kun, Kirishima-ku—” Uraraka’s voice is lost in a squeak as she enters the room. “I’m, ah—sorry to interrupt!”

The last words come out all in a rush, and Kirishima feels Bakugou’s lips pull into a smile against his just before he lets Kirishima go. Kirishima sucks in a breath, smoothing out his hair and trying not to look disappointed that the kiss is over.

“What the fuck’re you doing, walking it on us?” Bakugou growls, sounding honestly indignant.

“I didn’t mean to,” Uraraka says, waving her hands in front of her. “Besides, you could’ve found a room with a door.”

“You were looking for us?” Kirishima asks. He smiles, but it feels strained. That was one way to keep their cover, he supposes, but a little warning would have been nice.

“We’re going down to the beach,” Uraraka says, voice returning to a normal rang even though her face is still red. “And I don’t care how in love you guys are, Bakugou-kun isn’t allowed to keep you all to himself!”

She grabs Kirishima by the arm and tugs him forward, Bakugou rolling his eyes even as he falls into step with them. Uraraka’s chatter carries them through the house to the others, but the entire time Kirishima is distracted.

Whatever Bakugou wants from this weekend, from him in general, Kirishima can deal with. As long as he gets to be close to Bakugou, he’s willing to play along.

It takes a few minutes to gather everyone up to head down to the beach. Yaoyorozu takes the lead, walking with Jirou and Ashido and pointing out the various points on the horizon to them. Bakugou walks more or less with Todoroki, and Midoriya and Iida bring up the rear of the group with Sero and Kaminari. Kirishima and Uraraka end up in the middle of the crowd.

“It’s a private beach,” Uraraka explains. “Honestly, I’d never been to one before Momo-chan started inviting us here. I was in Hawaii last week, with my parents, and we went to a public resort. I sometimes like that better, but at home it’s impossible. One of us alone would be recognized, so all of together is basically impossible.”

Kirishima winces sympathetically. “I only end up in the tabloids when I’m with Bakugou, but even that’s a bit weird.”

Uraraka hooks her thumbs into the pockets of her jean shorts. Her pink swimsuit leaves her shoulders bear, and she’s tied up her hair so that the dotting of freckles across her shoulders and the back of her neck is visible. “Mm-hm. I’ve seen those pictures, you know.”

She smiles slyly at him, and Kirishima shifts with embarrassment. He’d mentioned the tabloids without thinking, and he knows Uraraka doesn’t mind his relationship with Bakugou, but it’s still so awkward. She played his love interest for five years, and they’d been thought of as a real life couple for longer than that. Surely, if anyone was going to discover their secret, it’d be her?

“I still feel like I should apologize,” Kirishima says, “I mean, I didn’t mean for it all to come out without warning, to you. That day, at Hagakure’s party— you must think I was trying to fool you, or something.”

Uraraka waves her hands, flustered. “Of course not! To be honest, it happened almost at a perfect time— I take my parents to Hawaii every year, at the same time. I didn’t wake up to a media ambush, or something. Iida-kun handled the press while I was out of the country, and I didn’t have to deal with it at all.”

Kirishima feels a bit better, about that. He hasn’t been ambushed by any media, himself, but he imagines that’s because Bakugou’s the real draw to the story. No one really cares about Kirishima Eijirou, rhythm guitarist and lyricist of Riot. Even the fame Riot is gaining from the relationship is just that— a new hype around the band, rather than Kirishima himself.

As though she senses his discomfort, Uraraka nudges Kirishima with her elbow and pitches her voice low. “It’s okay,” she says conspiratoryily. “I’m happy you and Bakugou-kun have found each other. You really like him, right?”

She says it as though it’s a given. She’d seen them kissing, and to her they’d probably seemed like a young couple caught at the height of passion. And, foolish as it is, Kirishima wouldn’t call that a lie. At least, not on his end.

“I really do,” he says, with quiet intensity. “I really like— oh.”

They’ve stopped a ways down the beach, everyone setting down umbrellas and towels and bags. Bakugou has wasted no time in shedding his shoes and stripping off his tank top. But he pauses when he feels Kirishima’s eyes on him.

“You do a hell of a lot of staring,” Bakugou says, voice sharp and satisfied. It’s like he likes having Kirishima watching him.

Kirishima swallows roughly, dragging his eyes from Bakugou’s abs up to his face. Play it cool, he thinks. Act natural!

“I’m allowed to, aren’t I?” he says, then resists the urge to smack his hand against his forehead. What a stupid line.

Bakugou scoffs, turning away. “Whatever. We’re racing out to the island, are you coming or what?”

Kirishima blinks and looks around— Midoriya and Todoroki have also stripped down to their trunks, Midoriya stretching out his arms and Todoroki waiting with a staid calm beside him.

“Um— no one else?” Kirishima asks, glancing around.

Uraraka rolls her eyes. “Bakugou-kun just wants to race because Tsuyu-chan isn’t here to wipe the floor with him. It’s better not to indulge him, Kirishima-kun.”

“It’s more trouble than it’s worth,” Sero says, laying out on the sand. “It won’t stop with the race, Kirishima. You’re going to be proving how strong or fast you are for the rest of the day.”

Kirishima lets out a chuckle. “That sounds pretty fun, actually.”

“Then get a fucking move on,” Bakugou says, heading for the waves. His trunks sit low on his hips, revealing the shape of his hipbones.

Kirishima sighs a little— out of appreciation, probably. “You’re on.”

The island is really a collection of large rocks, some meters out from the beach. By the time he reaches it, Kirishima knows he’s come in fourth in the race. Bakugou and Todoroki had sped ahead almost immediately, and Kirishima had kept pace with Midoriya until the end. Now, he staggers onto the rock and sees Todoroki and Midoriya lying out against it. There isn’t much space left, and Kirishima edges around Torodoki’s head and tries to avoid stepping on anyone’s outstretched arms. Bakugou is sitting on the edge of the rock, legs dangling into the water.

There’s no place for Kirishima, here. Not just physically, but— the three of them, they’ve known each other for so long. They became famous together, grew up into a world where everyone knows who they are. Even though Bakugou had yelled something about Midoriya only being allowed to come because he’d lose—there was still a natural rhythm to that. Why did Kirishima ever think that he could fit, here?

“Oi, hair for brains,” Bakugou snaps at him. “What are you doing?”

He doesn’t gesture overtly, but Kirishima follows his gaze to the stretch of rock left between him and Midoriya. Kirishima breaks into a grin as he sits between them, heaving a bit as he catches his breath.

“Who won?” he asks, when his lungs stop burning.

“This candy-cane fucker cheated,” Bakugou growls, reaching out to shove Todoroki.

Todoroki barely blinks as he edges out of Bakugou’s reach. Instead of denying it, he rolls gracefully off the rock and into the water, causing a splash that drenches Bakugou from head to toe.

“Fucker,” Bakugou repeats, viciously, before diving into the water to engage in a water war. He chases after Todoroki in the water, sending up splashes like watery explosions.

Next to Kirishima, Midoriya laughs. His dark green hair is flattened by the water, making his eyes look even larger.

Kirishima chuckles, himself. “Are they always like that?”

Midoriya rolls over to face Kirishima. “Mn, not always. Kacchan’s been a lot happier than usual, lately. I think Todoroki-kun finds him easier to deal with when he’s not upset about something.”

Kirishima wonders if this is what Bakugou is like when he’s happy. It must show on his face, because Midoriya cocks his head to one side and gives Kirishima an assessing look.

“You probably already know this, because you and Kacchan are dating, but it’s hard to get how he actually feels out of him. After this morning, I thought he was mad at me, but— right now it feels like how it used to when we were kids.”

Something about his tone makes Kirishima think that he’s not talking about being fifteen-years-old and on the set of UA.

“How long’ve you guys known each other?”

Midoriya rolls up to a sitting position, legs crossed as he holds onto his ankles. “Forever, really. We grew up in the same neighborhood. I know what I’m talking about when I say Kacchan is happy, right now.”

Kirishima looks out at Bakugou, still splashing around in the ocean as Todoroki stays just beyond his reach. Bakugou’s eyebrows are narrowed dangerously, cutting a sharp line into his face, but he’s smiling. There’s a fierce glint in his eye and the bright sun shines off the white of his teeth. It’s unfair, how beautiful he looks at that moment. It reminds Kirishima of the barely-contained sensuality of the Best Jeanist billboard, or the brooding depth of emotions that Nobuhiko showed on UA. Everything Bakugou does, he does with complete commitment and deep intensity.

“He’s really talented, isn’t he,” Kirishima mumbles, idle thoughts escaping him.

Midoriya puffs up with something like pride. “Kacchan’s the most talented person I know,” he says honestly. “Definitely the best actor I’ve ever met, even though he can be kind of a jerk about that. But there’s no denying it.”

Of course, Kirishima has always known that. Bakugou is an unfairly talented actor. He is so very, very good at what he does.

And right now, he’s playing out a role in his real life. He’s worried about Midoriya finding out the truth, and so he’s acting the part with perfect subtlety.

Kirishima knew all this, has always know it. So why does it hurt to remember it, now?

They let the sun dry the water off their backs, until Bakugou demands another race back to shore. It’s harder to tell the standings when they all stumble onto the beach, exhausted.

“Can we take a break, now,” Todoroki asks, voice barely inflected.

“Fine,” Bakugou concedes, “But after lunch we’re deciding a champion once and for all. Kirishima, we better fucking win.”

We. Like he and Bakugou are a team, in this together. Kirishima doesn’t know when Midoriya and Todoroki became their enemies, but that’s hardly important.

“Duh,” he says, ringing the water out of his ponytail. “We’ll be the ultimate champions.”

While they’ve been gone, the others have laid out a picnic lunch. Bentos are stacked on one blanket, which is laid in a patch-work with several others to make room for everyone to sit. Sero is manning a cooler, handing out sodas and beer. Kirishima takes a can gratefully, sipping on his drink as he takes a seat.

Kirishima sits next to Bakugou with his lunch, with Ashido on his other side. Jirou and Yaoyorozu are next to Ashido, everyone else arranged in smaller groups. Kirishima doesn’t expect Iida to grab his bento and come to sit beside him and Bakugou.

“Hello again, Kirishima-kun,” he says, sitting with a strange sort of formality.

Bakugou shoots him a glare, but otherwise ignores him in favor of methodologically shoveling rice into his mouth.

“Yo,” Kirishima says. “You guys have fun on land?”

“Of course,” Iida says, with a smile. “But besides that, I wanted to thank you.”

“What for?” Kirishima has never met Iida, before today. He doesn’t know what the guy would have to thank him for.

Iida casts a significant look in Bakugou’s direction. “I believe we can credit you with making this a complete reunion,” he says. “Midoriya-kun and Uraraka-kun may not say so, but this means a lot to them. And so, we are grateful to you.”

Gratitude is an uncomfortable burden, especially when unearned. Kirishima smiles in a strained way, under the weight of Iida’s matter-of-fact thanks.

“I didn’t do anything,” he tries to protest.

Bakugou lets out an irritated huff. “I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.”

And maybe that is true— Kirishima had asked Bakugou, over and over, if he’d consider going. And part of that was Kirishima’s selfishness. He wanted to go, to spend time with Uraraka who’d invited him so kindly, to get to know these people who shine like bright lights in a cityscape. And he’d also been meddling— wanting Bakugou to reconcile with his own friends because Kirishima thought that that would be best for all of them.

Iida tilts his head to one side, considering the space between Kirishima and Bakugou and nodding to himself. “Just as I thought. Anyone who Bakugou-kun would start a relationship with would surely be a very special person.”

“Not really,” Kirishima says. “I’m just a normal guy.”

Bakugou rolls his eyes and stabs at his lunch more viciously than is strictly necessary.

“In any case,” Iida says, “I believe you are a good influence. Has Bakugou-kun spoken to you about the movie he’s been offered?”

Not exactly, Kirishima almost says. But around a bite of his lunch, he recalls, “The one that Midoriya is going to be in?” He casts a worried glance in Bakugou’s direction, but he doesn’t react.

Iida nods again. “Actually, Uraraka-kun, Midoriya-kun and Todoroki-kun are all signed on. I represent all three of them. And the director and producers agree that if Bakugou-kun were in the movie, as well, the entire value of the production would skyrocket.”

Kirishima can just imagine. The four UA alum haven’t worked together since the show wrapped. Todoroki and Bakugou were both in Ground Zero, and Uraraka and Midoriya have done a project or two together. But this would be a true reunion.

“I don’t think he really cares about that,” Kirishima says honestly.

Midoriya has gotten up from his side of the picnic, going around the group with a bag of popsicles and single-serve ice cream. But when he gets to Iida, Bakugou and Kirishima, he pauses. He passes Iida an ice cream, then bites down on his lower lip like he’s mulling something over.

“You know, Kacchan,” he says softly, “It’s not for any of the press stuff that All Might wants you on this one.”

Now, Bakugou does react. His eyes flick up to Midoriya’s and he sneers. “You still fucking call him that? Grow up, Deku.”

Red rises in Midoriya’s cheeks, but he looks indignant rather than embarrassed. “That’s not the point—”

Bakugou reaches out and grabs the bag of desserts from Midoriya, riffling through until he finds something he wants. He throws the bag back in Midoriya’s face. “If Yagi wants me on his stupid movie, he can ask me himself.”

It’s when Bakugou says the name that Kirishima finally makes the connection— Yagi Toshinori, the highest-paid actor in history, star of the multiple-installment All Might series of superhero films. He had retired after a long-term illness had taken him out of the game for several years. He’d resurfaced just a few years ago, returning not to acting but directing. And Midoriya has had considerable roles in his last two movies, both of which were run-away successes.

“Holy shit,” Kirishima says, “Yagi Toshinori wants you in his movie? That’s— that’s amazing.”

Bakugou scowls at him. “It’s not that goddamn special.”

Midoriya frowns like he’s about to take issue with that.

“You say that like you know for sure. I’m not even a film guy and I know that Yagi is like, next level.” Kirishima forgets that he’s supposed to be acting the supportive boyfriend— he thinks about watching a movie with UA’s complete main cast, directed by a legend. He couldn’t have dreamed up anything better.

“Because I do,” Bakugou growls, biting into his popsicle.

“Kacchan was in the seventh All Might movie,” Midoriya puts in, helpfully. “It was his first role, when we were four-years-old. They used to bring it up, sometimes, when we did interviews for UA.”

That rings a bell, albeit vaguely. Kirishima had paid attention to those interviews, but had taken it as given that UA was Bakugou’s breakout role. Now he wonders, with a strange sort of fascination, what Bakugou was like as a four-year-old actor.

From a few feet away, the picnic erupts with noise. Kaminari is sitting cross-legged on the blanket, surrounded by Jirou, Ashido and Sero. Sero is leaning over Kaminari’s shoulder to point something out on the phone screen that they’re all glued to.

“No way,” Kaminari shrieks, “he’s so cute.”

Bakugou’s head whips to the side, eyes roaming over Kaminari and the others until they come to rest on Sero. “Soy Sauce, you better not’ve—”

Sero looks up and smiles guiltily. “Too late.”

“Kirishima,” Ashido calls out, “Come look at this!” She waves the phone at him.

Kirishima goes, even though Bakugou makes a strangled sound of protest. Ashido holds out the phone to him, on which an old movie trailer is playing on a loop. Most of it is action shots and explosions— Yagi Toshinori in his prime, golden hair and bulging muscles and unflappable smile. But then, amongst the clips of Yagi’s character All Might punching his way through walls, is a small boy. He’s being grabbed by a shadowed figure, crying as he’s ripped out of All Might’s arms.

When the title card comes up, it ends on a scene of the boy reaching out for All Might’s hand. It’s Bakugou, his features unmistakable even without his trademark scowl. His pale blond hair is like dandelion fluff, his expression open and genuine and heart-wrenching.

Kaminari is barely holding back his laughter. “I can’t believe it,” he wheezes, “he’s so grumpy all the time but look at him! He’s like, a little angel. What the hell.”

The others are covering their faces in their hands, smothering their laughter and cooing over the image of Bakugou as a small child. Behind him, Kirishima hears another strangled noise as Bakugou steps up and wrenches the phone out of his grip.

“Shut the fuck up,” he seethes, holding the phone in a painfully-tight grip.

“Are they… making fun of Kacchan?” Midoriya asks in the world’s least-subtle whisper to Iida.

Iida nudges his glasses up his nose and nods. “It would appear so.”

“We’re not saying anything bad,” Ashido says to Bakugou. “You were cute. And Kirishima definitely needs to see this, as your boyfriend.”

Bakugou squeezes the phone so hard that they all hear a crack.

“Dude!” Kaminari says, “That’s my phone!”

Bakugou chucks it back at him, then stalks away. He wrenches up one of the free blankets and makes his way up the beach, away from the rest of the group.

“Huh,” Midoriya says, like he can’t quite process what he’s just witnessed.

Kirishima jogs up the beach to join Bakugou. He’s laid out the blanket and is now sitting up on it, knees against his chest as he stares out at the ocean.

“Nudge over,” Kirishima says to him, coming to sit beside him.

“If you say anything,” Bakugou starts, but Kirishima cuts him off.

“What, I’m going to make fun of you for being a professional actor when the rest of us were still in the playpen?” He laughs at how ludicrous the thought is. “You know, I’ve known you were pretty cool for a while, but I had no idea you were so young when you got started.”

The scowl is etched across Bakugou’s face like carvings into stone. “We’re not fucking talking about this.”

Kirishima doesn’t bother pointing out that Bakugou had not made good on that statement, in the past. Instead, he sits cross-legged on the blanket with Bakugou, watching the gentle ebb and flow of the waves against the sand.

Bakugou doesn’t say anything for several long minutes. But he doesn’t tell Kirishima to leave, even as he leans back to lie down against the sand. The sunlight catches on his pale hair, making it stand out a stark gold— almost like Yagi Toshinori’s.

Kirishima doesn’t know how long he sits there watching Bakugou. But it’s long enough to notice when the tension eases out of his limbs, when his eyes flutter closed as he falls asleep. The sun is warm against Kirishima’s face, and he thinks Bakugou has the right idea of it. The blanket is big enough for both of them, so Kirishima lies back and lets the rhythm of the waves lull him.

He’s half asleep already when Bakugou lets out an incoherent mumble and rolls over, closing the last bit of distance between them. They’re both still bare-chested from their swim, salt and sand dried against their skin. But even so, it’s natural and comfortable to drape an arm across Bakugou’s chest, to let his hand rest against the nape of Bakugou’s neck. Kirishima can feel Bakugou’s breath against his cheek, imagines his heart beating in time to the waves.

Chapter Text

He wakes up to a leaden weight against his chest, somehow comforting rather than suffocating. As Kirishima opens his eyes, he sees the ocean dyed red and orange by the setting sun. Lying across his chest is Bakugou, fast asleep. The sand is gritty underneath Kirishima’s back where he’s been pushed off the beach blanket, and he’s cold where the ocean breeze passes over his bare skin. Still, he’s reluctant to move.

Bakugou’s face is softer in sleep, even though there remains a line of worry between his brows. His lips are gently parted as he breathes through his mouth, and one of his arms is draped over Kirishima’s waist.

Kirishima has fantasized about waking up to the sight of an unfairly good-looking man, before. But his daydreams are never like this, never this soft, like a watercolor painting. He holds his breath, tenderness welling up inside of him as he looks down at Bakugou and imagines kissing him awake.

“Damnit,” Kirishima mutters, betrayed by his own thoughts, his own desires.

Immediately, Bakugou stirs. The crease between his brows deepens, and he makes an unhappy noise as he curls closer to Kirishima.

Kirishima’s heart beats furiously against his chest as he says, “Sorry, sorry!”

It’s an instinctive response, the same one he makes whenever he wakes up one of his roommates too early in the morning. But it’s exactly the wrong thing to do at this moment, because it causes Bakugou’s eyes to flutter open as he wakes.

Kirishima sucks in a breath and braces himself for impact. He’s sure that at any second, Bakugou will register exactly how they’ve been sleeping, and there’ll be hell to pay.

But Bakugou doesn’t explode. His eyes go from clouded to sharply alert, and he pushes himself up into a seated position as he rubs at his eyes with the heels of his hands. All the while, Kirishima holds his breath and waits.

“What?” Bakugou growls, after a moment. His voice is sleep rough, and Kirishima desperately tries not to think of other situations that would cause his voice to pitch that low. “What the fuck’re you staring at, Kirishima?”

I’m waiting for you to realize you want to kill me, Kirishima thinks. But the moment doesn’t arrive. Bakugou proceeds to brush the sand off his skin, shivering in the cooling air. He doesn’t move away from Kirishima, even though their legs are practically tangled together. He doesn’t avert his gaze from Kirishima’s bare chest, doesn’t put any space between them.

It’s then that Kirishima realizes— Bakugou did not wake up to the same situation that he had. Bakugou did not wake to fantasies of a romantic kiss, or the impossibility of lying next to his long-time crush. The only reason Kirishima is embarrassed, right now, is because he fears his reactions will reveal too much. He’s scared that Bakugou will realize how he feels.

But Bakugou can be utterly casual, can sit too close beside him without giving a single fuck, because this doesn’t mean anything to him. It’s a role he’s paying, and he needn’t fear revealing feelings he doesn’t have.

“What’s wrong with you?” Bakugou says, shoving half-heartedly at Kirishima’s side. “You look like you’re going to puke.”

Kirishima isn’t nauseous, not unless what he’s about to throw up is his heart.

The furrow on Bakugou’s brow deepens, confusion and irritation warring over his face. “What are you—”

“Kirishima, Bakugou! Time to get up!”

They turn simultaneously to see Ashido and Uraraka running up the beach towards them. They’re both smiling widely, but when Ashido spots the two of them her expression turns sly.

“You guys’ve been sleeping for hours,” she complains, crossing her arms over her chest. “Kirishima, come hang out with me.”

Bakugou lets out a huffy breath. “Maybe he wanted to get away from you losers.”

“Don’t be rude,” Uraraka says. “And anyway, Kirishima-kun came here to spend time with all of us, didn’t you?”

Kirishima smiles weakly as he looks around at the three of them. So far, he’s proven nearly incapable of saying no to any of these people.

“We can all hang out together?” he suggests, grabbing Bakugou by the elbow so that he can hoist them both to their feet.

Bakugou sputters and edges out of his grip. “Gross.”

“That’s kind of sweet,” Uraraka says, tapping one finger against her chin. She looks at Ashido and says, “Bakugou-kun doesn’t want to share his boyfriend with us.”

“Too bad,” Ashido says, grabbing Kirishima’s hand and tugging him forward. “I had dibs first, Bakugou!” She sticks her tongue out.

“Fuck off, Black-eyes,” Bakugou grouses, stomping forward so that the four of them are walking in a line.

Kirishima reaches back to grab up the beach blanket, draping it over his arm as he walks between Bakugou and Ashido. Uraraka walks on Bakugou’s other side, still wearing a thoughtful expression. When Kirishima accidentally catches her eye, he blushes and looks away.

Yaoyorozu has a lot of ideas about what a proper beach trip entails. The picnic meals had been one item on her list, and another is dinner around a bonfire. They move their party up the beach to where a few fire pits are marked out, and it’s Todoroki who kneels in the sand and gets the blaze started. They settle in a circle around the glowing flames just after the sun has set completely, hoodies and t-shirts thrown on in a hurry as the night grows colder.

“You know what goes great with bonfires,” Kaminari says, tapping his fingers against his thigh.

“No,” Yaoyorozu says, leaning towards him with rapt attention, “I don’t.”

Kaminari grins and putts up both his hands in finger-guns. “Music, of course.”

Yaoyorozu claps her hands together, nodding. “Of course! We’ve never had musicians with us, before, but you all must play us something! I haven’t even gotten to see you in concert, yet.”

Jirou, sitting next to Kaminari, sits up with a look of mild panic on her features. “I don’t think— I mean— we’re a rock band, that’s not really your scene, is it?”

Yaoyorozu frowns thoughtfully. “I like music,” she says, “And I’m sure I’d like anything you were a part of, Jirou-san.”

Jirou laughs nervously. “Er, if you think so.”

On the other side of their lopsided circle, Bakugou rolls his eyes and leans further against Kirishima. “Shit, Ponytail’s so obvious.”

Kirishima blinks at him. “What do you mean?”

Bakugou gives him a flat look that says nothing so much as You’re an idiot and I don’t know why I hang out with you. But then he waves a hand towards Yaoyorozu and Jirou. “Yaoyorozu. Whatever the stuck-up, rich version of getting in someone’s pants is, that’s what she’s trying with your bandmate over there.”

Kirishima chokes on a laugh. “What, no. Seriously?”

“Like I said, it’s fucking obvious.” Bakugou takes a sip from the soda can he’s nursing, shaking his head. “No wonder everyone loses their goddamn minds when someone comes out, this gay shit really is contagious.”

This time, Kirishima laughs properly. “Can’t argue with you there. But Jirou’s been out for as long as I’ve known her, at least.”

Bakugou makes a noncommittal noise. “Good news for Ponytail, then.”

Kirishima can’t help but wonder how that would play out— he’s never heard anything in the media about Yaoyorozu liking women. Not everyone is as resilient as Bakugou, who was outed so unceremoniously.

“Kirishima,” Jirou calls out, waving one hand at him. “Get over here, we’re going to play!”

Sure enough, someone has procured the two acoustic guitars that Jirou and Kirishima had brought with them to the beach house. Kirishima smiles an apology at Bakugou as he extracts himself from his side, going over to join the rest of Riot. He takes one of the guitars and sits next to Jirou, Ashido and Kaminari on either side of them.

The others— Yaoyorozu, Sero, Uraraka, Iida, Midoriya and Todoroki— gather around so that everyone is on one side of the fire. Bakugou trudges over last, sitting down with Todoroki and Iida when he makes sure that Midoriya is sitting on the other side of the group with Uraraka.

All eyes are on the four of them as Jirou starts strumming out a steady rhythm. Ashido picks up the lines of the song. It’s not one of theirs, but instead an old classic that calls to mind the fleeting days of summer and youth. It’s a crowd-pleaser, and when it’s through Yaoyorozu leads the others in rapturous applause. Bakugou sits with his arms crossed over his chest, frowning.

“Keep going!” Uraraka calls out, and so they oblige.

It’s easy to get lost in playing music, especially in such a casual setting. Kirishima strums his guitar, following Jirou’s lead through a series of songs as Kaminari taps out beats against his thighs and punctuates their rhythms with claps. Ashido pulls them along with her voice, as enticing as a siren’s when they can all hear the ocean waves crashing behind them.

When they’ve made it through a couple songs, Jirou nudges Kirishima in the side. “How about the new one you’ve been working on.”

“I haven’t taught Ashido the lyrics, yet,” Kirishima protests.

Beside him, Ashido lets out an exaggerated sigh. “So? You can sing it.”

“No one wants to hear that,” Kirishima insists.

“You’re being stupid,” Ashido says. She addresses their audience, “Tell him he’s being stupid.”

“You can do it, Kirishima-kun,” Uraraka says, giving him a thumbs-up.

Bakugou, on the other hand, glares him down. “You’re being stupid.”

Ashido grins at him when he says it.

Surrounded by an eager crowd, Kirishima gulps a breath and feels his heart speed up in his chest. It’s not that he doesn’t sing—of course, he does. He sits at his window and writes songs all day, singing without any self-consciousness. He sings when the band practices together, just the four of them. He’d sung his entire life, and then when he’d met Ashido it’d been the two of them singing together.

He doesn’t want to call it stage fright. He gets up on a stage nearly every night of his life and plays before the kind of crowds that Present Mic draws. But he’s never managed to use his own voice when performing. Instead, it’s Ashido who sings his lyrics. And he wants her to do it, wants the band to come together over the feelings he puts into words. But when someone else sings the words, they change meaning. They aren’t his anymore, not in quite the same way. There’s a safety in that. He can hide the true depths of his feelings, because he’s not the one signing them into the world.

But now, with ten pairs of eyes on him, he has no excuses. He isn’t standing on a stage, surrounded by strangers. Instead, there’s the comfortable intimacy of the fire’s glow and the distant sounds of the ocean. There’s Ashido and Kaminari and Jirou surrounding him, and Bakugou sitting right across from him.

It’s Bakugou he’s looking at when he strums out the right chord. He smiles as he starts to sing, even though the song isn’t necessarily a happy one. The lyrics come to him easily, since he’s been scribbling them out for weeks now, refining them. Now, the story comes easily.

The feeling lives deep down inside of you, as sure as the blood in your veins. It’s something you wouldn’t notice unless you think to look for it, because it’s a part of you before you even realize it. Like oxygen, you don’t know that you rely on it until it’s missing. But there’s a reason you keep the truth hidden, even from yourself. Because once you give it a name, once you acknowledge it, there’s nowhere left to hide. You’re not the only one painfully aware of the truth—everyone else can see it now, too. And that’s the riskiest thing, because something seen can become something rejected. Your feelings, safe when they are unknown, are vulnerable when brought into the light. You keep pretending, because it’s easier than admitting you’re in love.

Kirishima’s fingers pause against his guitar before his voice stops. He looks down, catches a breath, and then he lifts his gaze.

Nine people are facing him, their attention displayed in different ways. Iida and Yaoyorozu are leaning forward like they can catch more of the song, that way. Midoriya has one hand cupped over his mouth, gaze sharp and analytical. Todoroki’s eyes are closed, and Uraraka is swaying in time to the echoes of the music. Sero catches Kirishima’s eye and grins widely. But Bakugou sits in the shifting shadows caused by the fire and glares, his eyes burning like smoldering embers.

Kirishima lets out a hiccupping laugh, then sets his guitar aside. “It’s not really finished,” he says by way of apology, “Usually we work on the songs all together, but that one’s still just me, so.”

“So?” Kaminari says derisively, planting a hand on top of Kirishima’s head. “Dude, shut up. That was amazing.”

And then, all around him, the others start agreeing. Yaoyorozu and Iida are clapping and Sero is calling out praise and Ashido is wearing an I-told-you-so expression. Kirishima’s entire face goes red, but he can’t help but smile through his embarrassment. Moisture gathers at the corners of his eyes, and he brushes it away impatiently.

Surrounded by these people, each of whom is immensely talented in their own way, Kirishima thought he would feel inadequate. But instead, he’s surrounded by warmth and acceptance, and his heart has never felt so full before.

But then he looks up and catches Bakugou’s eye, again, and he wonders how they went from leaning against each other on the other side of the fire to Bakugou staring at him with a cold anger in his eyes.

The fire has gone down to embers, but everyone is still laying out against the sand, too lazy and content to move just yet. Jirou is leaning against Kaminari as she holds out a hand and displays the tattoo inked across the inner portion of her forearm—a treble clef against the five lines of a musical staff, and then a line of precise notes.

Yaoyorozu trails her fingers across the tattoo almost before she’s aware of it, then sits back with pink cheeks. “Is it just random notes, or a specific song?”

“It’s a song,” Jirou tells her. Her cheeks are getting redder, too. Instead of elaborating, she lifts her other hand to show off a second tattoo on her wrist. This one is in color—deep purple and black ink forming a jagged speech-bubble like the kind found in comic books. Inside the speech bubble, block letters read RIOT!.

“For the band,” Yaoyorozu says, nodding. “That’s a lot of dedication.”

Jirou shrugs, thumbing over the tattoo as she sits up. “Well, we’re in this together, now. We all went and got the tattoos at the same time, after we recorded our first song together. We knew it was something special.”

“That’s right,” Kaminari cuts in. He lifts the hem of his tank to show off the yellow and black version of the same tattoo that’s inked against his hipbone. “We all match.”

Everyone is following the conversation, now, and they turn to Kirishima next. He shrugs and points out the same tattoo, his red and black, on his bicep. “You guys have already seen mine, I wasn’t even wearing a shirt for most of the day.”

“We didn’t realize it was special, then,” Uraraka tells him.

Kirishima grins. “The name was definitely my idea, but it wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn’t the four of us. So yeah, it is pretty special.”

All eyes are on Ashido. She’d been lying on her side next to Uraraka, but now she sits up and turns around so that her back is facing everyone else. She pulls the neck of her t-shirt down, revealing the pink and black tattoo on the back of her shoulder.

“You have one, too?” Sero’s voice echoes in night air, shocked.

Ashido whips around to stare at him. “What’s that supposed to mean, of course I do.”

Sero waves his hands in front of his face, quickly trying to backpedal. “Oh, yeah. Of course. I didn’t mean—”

Ashido’s eyes narrow, glowing yellow like a cat’s in the low light. “No, I think you did.”

“What are they talking about,” Jirou mutters to Kirishima.

And Kirishima thinks he can guess, can hear the ghosts of an old argument starting to stir. He wishes he could stop it.

“It just didn’t seem like something you’d do,” Sero says, deciding to stand his ground. “I thought maybe you’d move on, or. You were never one to share the spotlight, Mina. I was just surprised.”

Ashido purses her lips like she’s trying to hold her tongue, but then she fails. “How do you know what I would do, or how I feel? And of course, I share the spotlight, we’re a group—”

“You didn’t used to be,” Sero says, a bit helplessly. “You were solo for a long time, Mina, and even now you’re sort of the focus?”

“I was seventeen,” Ashido seethes, her voice burning. She’s on her feet, now. “And you were the one who left, remember? So how would you know whether I can share the spotlight or who’s the focus of our band? None of that has anything to do with you!”

Sero in uncomfortable with Ashido’s ire directed at him, but his brow scrunches with frustration. “You’re still the only one singing, aren’t you? Even though we all just heard what Kirishima is capable of!”

Now, he has to intervene. “Hey, don’t blame Ashido for—”

“Just shut up, Sero!” Ashido yells, stamping her foot ineffectually in the sand. “If I’m so awful, why were you ever even with me? Just—you could’ve stayed away, you know! I didn’t ask for you back!”

She pivots on her heel, grabbing her things off the ground and she stops away from the fire and towards the path leading back to the beach house.

Everyone is shocked into silence. Jirou is the first to move, jumping to her feet and running after Ashido. Yaoyorozu and Uraraka share a look, and they both follow.

Kaminari rounds on Sero. “What the hell was that? Why’d you go after her, like that?”

“I wasn’t going after her,” Sero says, crossing his arms over his chest. “And you weren’t there, before, so—”

“I know her now,” Kaminari says, frowning. “Ashido’s a good person. She’s not like, using us, or whatever. She’d never do that.”

Sero casts a furtive glance in Kirishima’s direction.

“She wouldn’t,” Kirishima reiterates. “You should apologize to her, in the morning. Give her some space, for now, and let’s all just get back to the house.”

Iida, Todoroki and Midoriya have been pretending like they haven’t been privy to all of this. Now, they enthusiastically start rounding up the rest of the gear. Kaminari deflates a bit, though his movements are snappish as he works with Sero to fold up the blankets. Finally, they’re ready to head back.

Todoroki says in a soft aside to Midoriya, “I thought we were the ones in the teen drama?”

Kirishima grimaces. He doesn’t think of it that way, but he also acknowledges that he wasn’t at the center of things when Sero and Ashido broke up. He’d been a sounding board and a shoulder to cry on for both of them, but he’d only understood their fight as much as it pertained to him. Years later, he’s still uncomfortable with how it all went down.

Sero had told him that if he didn’t get out of Ashido’s shadow, he’d be lost in it forever. But it wasn’t Ashido’s idea to start Riot, or ever her decision to be the sole vocalist for the group. Whatever Sero thinks happened, he’s wrong.

At the same time, Kirishima can’t blame him. Having a fundamental disconnect from someone you care too much about—that’s pitiable, not contemptible. But if this old fight is going to blow up, again, he doesn’t want to be the excuse for it anymore.

There is no peace to be found, tonight. When they reach the beach house, Yaoyorozu emerges from one of the bedrooms to inform them of room assignments—Ashido is sharing with Jirou, Uraraka with Yaoyorozu. Kaminari is bunking with Iida and Sero, and then there’s another room for Todoroki and Midoriya. Which leaves—

“It is only a vacation home, after all,” Yaoyorozu tells Bakugou and Kirishima. “We don’t have eleven bedrooms. But I’m not fussy enough to think that the two of you would want separate beds, anyway. It’s a very comfortable room, Kirishima-san, I’m sure you’ll have everything you need.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m not complaining,” Kirishima says, even as he casts a nervous glance in Bakugou’s direction. He definitely isn’t happy, angry energy visible in the tense curl of his spine. “Listen, can I talk to Ashido, for a second?”

Yaoyorozu smiles sympathetically but shakes her head. “Jirou-san already got her to go to sleep. She was very upset, but I’m sure she’ll want to see you in the morning.”

Kirishima stifles a sigh. Chances are, in the morning, Ashido will act like none of this ever happened. She’s resilient, that way. But she isn’t so confident that she’s never been hurt.

“Thanks,” he says to Yaoyorozu, then shoulders his bag and heads down the hall.

It truly is a massive bedroom—a large double bed dominates most of it, but one wall is made up entirely of glass panels that look out onto the ocean, shielded only by sheer curtains. There’s an en suite bathroom, which Bakugou heads to without preamble. The water starts running a minute later.

Bakugou emerges from the bathroom with skin ruddy from the shower’s heat, wearing loose cropped pants and a clean tank top. He towels off his hair and doesn’t say anything to Kirishima.

Kirishima gathers his own bundle of clothes and toiletries, heading for the bathroom. Bakugou isn’t usually one for ambient conversation, but there’s something pointed about his current silence. Kirishima doesn’t know what he did to earn Bakugou’s anger, but it’s like they’ve taken a leap backwards just when they’d started to make progress.

He leaves his hair loose and damp around his shoulders after his shower, pulling on a t-shirt and boxers. When he reenters the main room, Bakugou is lying on one side of the bed, on top of the covers. He has his arms folded behind his head as he stares at the ceiling.

Kirishima sits down on the edge of the bed. “What’re you thinking about?”

Bakugou blinks, a grimace ghosting over his features before he makes his face go blank once more.

“Is it the bed thing?” Kirishima asks. “‘Cause we already basically slept together, earlier, and you didn’t seem to mind that.”

An angry flush colors Bakugou’s cheeks. “Just shut up.”

“I’m serious,” Kirishima continues, “It’s not that big a deal, is it? Kaminari and I fall asleep together all the time, same with Ashido. Jirou’s a little pickier. And I’d believe that you are, too, except for earlier—”

Bakugou moves so quickly that Kirishima barely registers what he’s doing, until Bakugou’s foot slams into Kirishima’s side, kicking him off the bed. Kirishima lands in a heap on the ground, head spinning as he tries to reorient himself.

“Shut. Up.” Bakugou is back in the same position, lying down and staring at the ceiling. It’s like he’d never moved.

Kirishima pulls himself to his feet, staring at Bakugou with confusion. “Dude. What is your problem?”

“You,” Bakugou snaps. “You’re really pissing me off.”

Kirishima blinks. “I didn’t do anything?”

Bakugou swallows a curse, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling. “You don’t even fucking see it.” He curls upwards until he’s in a seated position, staring Kirishima down with fire in his eyes.

“See what?” Kirishima snaps, truly frustrated. Why does Bakugou keep expecting him to read his mind?

Bakugou points at him. “Why don’t you sing for Riot?”

The question blindsides him. “What?”

“You heard me. Why are you up there like an extra when it’s your music?”

“It’s our music,” Kirishima protests. “It’s not like I could do it all by myself even if I wanted to, every piece of it is important.”

Bakugou makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. “You don’t even try.”

Now Kirishima is genuinely affronted. “Look, I don’t know what brought this on, but what does it even matter? I’m not telling you how to act, or what roles to pick, or anything. You don’t tell me how to handle my music.”

“At least I know my own worth,” Bakugou says, crossing his arms over his head. “Sero might be the world’s biggest fucking idiot, but he was right. You let Ashido take the spotlight. You do it on purpose.”

“I—” Kirishima stops himself, shakes his head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It’s pretty damn obvious,” Bakugou snaps. “You know what’s worse that someone with no talent forcing themselves where they don’t belong? Someone who has talent and hides it, who doesn’t believe in themselves.”

Kirishima’s voice catches in his throat. He loves music. He’s always dreamed of being on a stage and sharing his songs with the entire world. But it doesn’t matter what he wants, or what he’s dreamed of. He’s known that for a long time, now.

“Thanks for your opinion,” he says slowly, voice hollow. “But I can’t do anything to change it.”

“The hell you can’t—”

“I can’t,” Kirishima says, and it comes out strained. “I freeze up! The instant I open my mouth on stage, I can’t do anything! You think I haven’t tried? I have. I’ve been trying for years. And maybe it’s easy for you, Bakugou, when you’ve been acting since you were four and you’ve never had to worry about whether you’re good or not. You’re amazing, and everyone knows that! But not everyone is that amazing! Not everyone can do what you do.”

Bakugou is looking at him with eyes flickering like candlelight. Kirishima can’t tell what he’s thinking, and for once he’s not even trying. He doesn’t have the energy to spend on figuring Bakugou out, not when he’s just driven home that Kirishima might never achieve the things he wants to. It’s one thing for Ashido to push him to do more, for Kaminari to encourage him. But to be laid bare in front of the one person he wants to impress more than anything? That’s excruciating.

“It must suck, huh,” he says quietly. “Having to pretend to be with someone who isn’t good enough.”

Bakugou’s face scrunches with irritation. “You’re so stupid,” he says, and there’s a quality to his voice that Kirishima can’t parse.

“Yeah,” he says. “I guess I am.” For a second there, he had himself thinking that he could be worthy of Bakugou. What a lie he’d told himself.

They don’t say anything else to each other, and the bed is big enough that when they both lie down they don’t even touch. Kirishima curls up on his side, acutely aware of the space between them, wider than the ocean.

Chapter Text

The other side of the bed is cold, sheets pulled crisply back into place. Kirishima rolls over to glance at the place where Bakugou had slept. It gives no indication that he was ever anything but alone. Sighing, Kirishima stretches his arms over his head and blinks at the sunlight filtering into the room. New light, a new day— he needn’t carry over the weight of yesterday’s emotions.

Bakugou’s bags are already packed, set to one side of the bedroom door. He must’ve woken a while ago, and left the room as soon as he was able. Kirishima gets dressed and repacks his own bag. This vacation was always going to be short, but Kirishima never imagined it’d leave him so hollow.

He wanders into the kitchen and sees half the group seated at the table, nibbling on breakfast and talking amongst themselves. Jirou and Yaoyorozu sit to one side, heads bowed together as they discuss something. When they hear Kirishima approach, they look up suddenly and nudge over to make room for him.

“Don’t worry about it,” Kirishima says, not taking the space now between them. “I’m just looking for Bakugou.”

“He was here to eat a little while ago,” Yaoyorozu tells him. “But he left as soon as he’d eaten.”

Kirishima runs a hand through his hair. “Figures.”

“Yo, Kirishima,” Jirou says, tugging on the end of his t-shirt to stop him from walking away. “Everything ok?”

She looks straight into his eyes when she asks, and Kirishima knows that he’s not doing a good job of keeping up the act. Jirou isn’t asking Kirishima the fake boyfriend if he’s alright— she’s asking Kirishima, the real person she knows.

“Yeah,” Kirishima says, forcing a smile. “I just misplaced him, that’s all. I’m gonna go find him before he gets too grumpy about it.”

Jirou’s sharp gaze follows him out of the kitchen.

In the open and interconnected rooms of the first floor, it’s easy to track the murmur of voices until he picks out the one he’s searching for. But before Kirishima steps into the living room to follow the sound of Bakugou’s voice, he pauses.

“You’ll do it,” Bakugou is saying roughly. “You fucking owe me.”

“You don’t need to threaten me,” a voice that Kirishima recognizes as Midoriya’s responds. “Honestly, Kacchan, you know I—”

“You. Owe. Me.” Bakugou repeats the words with all the venom of a snake’s bite. “You’d be nothing if you hadn’t been riding my coattails our whole lives, would you? So, when I ask you for something, you shut up and do it.”

Midoriya lets out a long-suffering sigh. “You know that’s not true. Maybe in the beginning— but. You know I’d do you a favor anyway, right? We can just have a conversation, like normal people. Like friends—”

“Shut up, Deku,” Bakugou grinds out.

“I’ll ask them,” Midoriya confirms. “I’m sure they’d be happy to do it, anyway.”

“Whatever.” Bakugou’s voice is like the burn of open palms hitting gravel and scraping open. “This isn’t me asking you for help. Don’t get any ideas.”

“Of course,” Midoriya says, his voice echoed by his nervous, abortive laugh. “You’d never ask me for help. I know that.”

When the conversation doesn’t continue for a moment, Kirishima backs up from the doorway. And not a moment too soon— Bakugou comes out of the room with his hands in his pockets, brows drawn together in a sharp V over his eyes. He pauses mid-stride when he spots Kirishima.

They stare at each other. The emotions they’d revealed last night haven’t abated, at all.

“What’re you staring at,” Bakugou mutters, finally.

“You,” Kirishima says honestly. He means it to be flippant, but it comes out with a hint of longing.

Bakugou blinks, then glowers at him. “What the fuck’re you ever talking about.”

He stomps away, after that.

Kirishima had thought that they’d talk things out, that he’d explain to Bakugou that he really is happy with how things are. If Riot gets famous, what does it matter what role Kirishima has in it? He’s happy with how things are, and just because he hasn’t lived up to every one of his dreams doesn’t mean he’s failed. He’s told himself these things over and over again, and if he can just get Bakugou to believe them everything will be alright.

But maybe Bakugou would see straight through those lies.

“Kirishima-kun?” After Bakugou’s gone, Midoriya pokes his head out of the doorway. “What are you doing out here by yourself?”

There’s something about his expression— open and inviting— that topples the last of the walls Kirishima had been trying to build up. He slumps against the wall, covers his face in his hands.

“I fucked up, Midoriya,” he says. “I fucked up so bad.”

He hears Midoriya step towards him, and when he uncovers his eyes Midoriya is leaning over him, frowning as his gaze flicks to one side to where Bakugou had just been.

“I was worried about this,” he says under his breath. Then, aloud, “Don’t blame yourself too much, for Kacchan’s moods.”

“I want to make him happy,” Kirishima says. I want to impress him, I want him to be proud of me.

Midoriya gives him a wobbly, sympathetic smile. “You probably do, more than anyone else. But Kacchan is a complicated person. And if you beat yourself up every time he gets upset, you won’t be happy.”

There’s the echo of experience in what Midoriya is saying, drawn from a wealth of memory.

When Kirishima doesn’t respond, Midoriya keeps going. “It took me a long time to figure that out. Kacchan is— it’s hard to step away from him, once you get close. I don’t want to intrude too much, on what’s between you two. But if he’s opening up to you, it’s because he values you. So, give yourself some credit, okay?”

Kirishima rubs at his eyes with the heels of his hands. “Damn, Midoriya. You’re really smart.”

Midoriya waves his hands. “No, no, not at all. I just— if what I know about Kacchan can help, at all…”

“Thanks.” Kirishima smiles, and he doesn’t have to force it.

The beach house seems like a dream, as soon as they return home to their apartment. The schedule of Present Mic concerts on the wall is slowly ticking down, with fewer and fewer left. They return to a series of messages from their label and manager, asking about studio time and the last few songs they need for their full album. It drags them away from thoughts of Sero and Bakugou and everyone else, if only for a little while.

Kirishima sits at the kitchen island, one foot flat against the seat of his stool and the other dangling as he knocks his pen against the counter. His notebook lays open in front of him as he crosses out words and scribbles down new possibilities.

“You’ve been at that for hours,” Kaminari says from the couch, “You wanna take a break?”

“No.” Kirishima bites down on the inside of his cheek. “We need— just two or three more. I can finish this.”

Kaminari shrugs. “Suit yourself.” He turns back to Jirou. She’s leaning over her phone, rapidly tapping out a new message. Kaminari groans. “Hey, hey— aren’t you supposed to be the workaholic and I’m the slacker?”

“You are the slacker,” Jirou says without looking up. She bites down on a smile before she sends off the text.

Kaminari throws his hands up in the air. “You’re all impossible! You know, I thought this was a bad idea from the start. We start hanging out with a bunch of people who’re too pretty and too successful, and it throws us totally out of whack. This is all your fault.” He points an accusing finger at Kirishima.

Kirishima looks up. “Huh?”

Kaminari shakes his head. “This is exactly what I’m talking about! You know, you don’t even look happy, right now. Are you sure you want to keep this up?”

Kirishima knows what he’s talking about, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. He frowns, turning pointedly back to his notebook. He doesn’t think his scribbles, full of dark thoughts of inadequacy, would convince Kaminari that his fake relationship was any better of an idea.

“Hey, Kirishima.” Ashido wanders into the kitchen. She looks— well. She’s wearing another of Kirishima’s old t-shirts, the neck hanging off one of her shoulders. Her hair is a tangled cloud around her head, her eyes tired and ringed with residual dark makeup.

She hasn’t wanted to talk about Sero. Kirishima had asked, the first day they’d been home, and then again. But Ashido had grinned and dodged the subject. Whatever she feels, it’s clearly taking its toll. But Kirishima doesn’t know how to help.

“What’s up?” Kirishima asks.

Ashido pulls up a stool, scooting close so that she can look over Kirishima’s shoulder at his notebooks. “I want you to help me write a song.”

That’s not how they work, usually. But Kirishima looks up and says, “Okay. What about?”

Instead of answering the question directly, Ashido frowns. “You know I wouldn’t have asked you to play in my band, back then, if I thought you wouldn’t want to. If I thought it would be bad for you, or make you feel worse.”

Kirishima blinks. “Of course I know that. You were helping me. Sero doesn’t know what he’s talking about—”

“But he’s not completely wrong,” Ashido says. “I wanted to help you, but I also wanted to be the best singer I could be, with the best songs. I am selfish. I do like it when everyone’s looking at me.”

From the living room, Jirou and Kaminari are listening. Ashido must know this, must want them to hear, too.

“That not true,” Kirishima protests. “You’ve got a big heart, Ashido.”

Ashido smiles crookedly at him. “Not always. But you know, Sero knew that. When we first met, I was a teen idol. A diva. And he liked that about me, I know he did. I made his life exciting. He felt special, because I liked him, and I was me.”

A heavy weight falls on Kirishima’s chest. He’s felt that, before—not from Ashido’s perspective, but from Sero’s. Of course, it feels good to be the one noticed by someone who doesn’t have time for anyone else. Of course, it feels good to be the one liked by someone who only ever hates. It’s addicting, it’s affirming, it’s dangerous.

“But he knew that.” Ashido’s brow furrows, and her hands clench into fists. “He knew that, when we started dating, so he doesn’t get to hold it against me now. He doesn’t get to judge me.”

“He’s a jerk,” Jirou says, from the living room couch. “You don’t have to feel bad based on what he said, Ashido.”

“It’s fine,” Ashido says, shaking her head. “I just. I’m feeling a lot of things. And that’s what we do, isn’t it? We turn feelings into music.”

Kirishima catches Jirou’s eye across the room, and understanding settles between them. The potency of what Ashido is feeling can be, should be, channeled into something.

Kaminari drums his fingers against the arm of the couch. “I don’t know whether I want to hug everyone or tell you all to get back to work.” He sounds harassed about this.

Jirou scoffs, then loops an arm around Kaminari’s shoulders. “We can do both. Hand me that sheet music.”

Jirou and Kaminari work on music, while Kirishima continues to scribble out his lyrics with Ashido’s input. Beside him, his phone buzzes against the counter. He frowns when he sees who the message is from.

Sero (12:15): can we get 3 tickets for your next show?

Kirishima takes a moment to consider his response before sending it.

Kirishima (12:17): Maybe not the best idea to ask me for a favor right now.

Sero (12:18): it’s not for me. it’s for him.

There’s no need for Kirishima to ask for clarification. He wonders if he can keep this up, if he even wants to see Bakugou right now. He wonders why he’s upset that Bakugou wants to bring someone else—two someone else’s—to his concert.

But he still hasn’t learned to say no

Kirishima (12:20): Ok.

The show is over before Kirishima even realizes it’s begun. He’s so focused on not looking towards the VIP box, on not relying on seeing Bakugou there, that time passes him by entirely. After the set, he stumbles off the stage with the rest of Riot and it’s only the ache in his muscles and the sweat beading down his brow that tells him he was there at all.

Yamada is in their waiting room backstage, pulling a comb through his golden hair even though it’s been sprayed into a solid mass. He glances up when they enter, pocketing the comb to offer a thumbs-up.

“Yo, kids. Good job out there.”

“Thanks, Yamada-san,” Ashido chirps, as the rest of them flop down on the couches. After months in residency with Present Mic, their stamina is much better than it had been when they were just playing at clubs and the like. But the impact of the show still hits them.

“Hm,” Yamada says, giving them a considering look. “We’re winding down to the end, now. Have you all thought about what you’re doing, next?”

Kirishima’s head falls back against the couch. He hasn’t given it any thought at all. Ashido’s been the one to guide most of Riot’s trajectory, and the management from their label. But the gig with Present Mic had been stable enough that none of them have thought past it. The last few weeks have flown right by them.

“Er,” Kaminari says, “We’ll think of something?”

“Sure,” Yamada says, though there’s a skeptical glint in his green eyes. “I’ve gotta get on stage, but the staff dropped that off for you.” He points towards a large cardboard box in the corner, then heads out the door.

Ashido lets out an excited squeak as she lunges for the box.

“What’s that?” Jirou asks, barely lifting her head.

“Our merchandise!” Ashido days, pulling the box open. “Kaminari had the idea, and the label loved it, so!”

Kaminari goes over to join her, a smug expression on his face as he pulls a set of soft cotton hoodies out of the box. The first is purple, with Riot’s black speech-bubble logo printed across the front. “Here, Jirou.” He tosses the hoodie at her, then sniggers as it lands over her face and she growls at him.

Ashido grabs a pink hoodie from Kaminari and immediately pulls it on over the black dress she’s wearing, zipping it up and twirling around to model for the rest of them. There’s a yellow one for Kaminari, and finally—

A red sweatshirt lands in Kirishima’s lap, and he looks down at it with a sense of wonder. When they’ve all put theirs on, matching except for the colors, they look exactly like Kirishima imagines them— variations on a tune, the same melody played in different keys. He smiles widely, fingers lingering on the soft hem of his hoodie.

“You know what the problem is, though,” Ashido says, scooting in next to Kirishima on the couch. “Now, when we see people in our merch, we’ll know exactly who their favorite is.”

“That’s not a problem, that’s the point,” Kaminari tells her. He wears his hoodie over his black tank, so that from head to toe he sports the sharp contrast of lightning against the night sky— all yellow and black. “Don’t be too jealous when mine sell out first, you guys.”

“I’m not holding my breath, for that,” Jirou tells him.

“Pink’s going to win,” Ashido adds.

“I think we’re all going to do just fine,” Kirishima says. He imagines a sea of their colors, evenly interspersed. He doesn’t need it to be dominated by red— Riot is all of them, and whether someone wants to wear purple or yellow won’t change that.

Ashido elbows him in the side. “Where’s your manly pride, hm? Tell us you’re going to beat all of us!” She dissolves into laughter, Kaminari joining in with her.

Someone knocks sharply on the other side of the door, and then one of the stage managers pokes her head in. “Sorry to interrupt, but some of the VIP guests would like to come backstage and meet you. Should I send them in?” She looks straight at Kirishima as she asks the question.

Bakugou hadn’t wanted to come backstage, last time.

“It’s your boyfriend,” the stage manager says, a sly smile playing on her lips. Because, of course, she’s just one more person who only knows the public version of the story. She has no idea that Bakugou and Kirishima are— fighting, or frustrated with each other, or however they’d left it. And how could she know, when Kirishima himself can’t even figure it out?

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Kirishima says. “Send them back.”

She tilts her head to give him a questioning look, but quickly disappears behind the door again.

“He brought people with him, didn’t he?” Kaminari asks. “Who d’you think it is?”

Kirishima shrugs. “Honestly, I have no idea. He doesn’t even want friends.” But some part of Kirishima is more angry than curious. He can’t imagine Bakugou inviting even Uraraka to come see a concert with him. And he’d certainly never spend more time than he had to with Midoriya or Yaoyorozu. Even Sero he only tolerates, really. But is Kirishima just completely unaware of another category of person in Bakugou’s life? Someone he likes more than all these people he’s forced to spend time with or passively tolerates?

Is there someone he likes more than me?

Heat washes over him. He’s been working so hard, trying his best to break through to Bakugou, and he casually just shows up with friends? What the fuck is that?

There’s a knock at the door before it opens, again. Kirishima looks up, face set into fierce lines, and then his jaw drops.

The first person to enter the room is tall and broad-shouldered. His eyes are dark but his hair is a shining gold, curled over his brow in a way so perfect it must be natural. Kirishima has seen his face before, plastered over town in posters for the indie film with some French title— Lemillion?— something like that.

Toogata Mirio, who has so many acting awards it’s almost laughable, given that he’s only a few years older than Kirishima.

Coming up right behind him, following like a shadow, is a lanky young man with pale skin. His dark hair is cut jaggedly, shadowing his eyes and framing his face. His hands flutter nervously at his sides, belying the aesthetics of his outfit— combat boots and ripped black jeans, leather bracelets at his wrists and a choker tight around neck.

Kirishima’s heart stops.

“Oh my— holy—” He can’t even get the words out as he jumps to his feet, pointing at the man. “You’re Suneater. I mean— Amajiki-san!”

A red flush paints Amajiki Tamaki’s face as he grabs for Toogata’s arm and turns his face away from the room. “Yes,” he says, voice soft and resigned.

Kirishima barely registers that Bakugou has entered the room behind them. He’s too busy rushing forward to stand in front of Amajiki, eyes wide and full of stars.

“You’re my— I mean— your music is incredible. I’ve seen you in concert five, maybe six times? Every chance I get! You’re such an inspiration, I don’t even know what to say.”

Amajiki doesn’t look Kirishima in the eye, face cast down with embarrassment. Beside him, Toogata chuckles.

“We could say the same to you, couldn’t we, Tamaki? Good job, Riot, we loved your show.”

Amajiki nods, mumbles, “You were awesome.”

Kirishima is sure that his smile is about to split his face in two. Even after Riot was signed to the same label as Suneater, he’d never thought he’d have the chance to meet the other band’s front-man. Amajiki is one of the most adaptable musicians Kirishima has ever heard, his songs shifting styles and genres as easily as a chameleon changes color. Kirishima lays awake at night and prays to have a fraction of that genius.

“Tamaki loves going to shows,” Toogata is saying, as the rest of Riot gathers around them. “But sometimes it’s hard because we get recognized too easily, and all we want to do is listen to the performers, you know? But then Midoriya— well, I guess it was actually Bakugou here, wasn’t it?— invited us here, and we just had to come.”

“We’re glad you enjoyed it,” Ashido is saying, and while Jirou nods.

“You guys are like, really famous,” Kaminari blathers. “This is kind of amazing.”

Toogata leads the conversation, but Kirishima is focused on Amajiki the whole time. He doesn’t say much, stays close to Toogata’s side. But every nod, every slight smile, every approving word— they all make Kirishima’s heart swell. This is clearly someone who doesn’t offer praise easily, who has a truly discerning ear for music. And he’d liked Riot’s show.

Ashido and Kaminari pull Toogata towards the merch box, determined to find him a sweatshirt. That leaves Kirishima and Amajiki together, still standing.

“You really are one of my favorites, ever,” Kirishima says, looking up at Amajiki. “Your song— ‘Chicken Legs’— when I first saw the record for it I thought it was the weirdest thing ever, but then I listened to it and it— it changed my life. Sorry, am I babbling at you? I think I’m babbling.”

Amajiki shifts from foot to foot, but then he smiles softly. “Thanks,” he says. “It was supposed to be a bit weird.”

“Yeah? Yeah,” Kirishima agrees, nodding vigorously. “That’s why it works, though.”

“You guys really were good, tonight,” Amajiki says. His voice is reedy, which puts an amazing tone into his music. Spoken and not sung, it emphasizes his reticence. “We should collaborate, sometime.”

Strobe lights are going off in Kirishima’s brain. It’s such a casual thing to say— the kind of thing that amazing musicians probably say to each other all the time, whether they mean it or not. But if Amajiki Tamaki is saying it to him, he must actually consider Kirishima worth the comment.

“Amajiki-san wants to collaborate with me,” he says, as though speaking to someone else. He turns, looking for Bakugou, wanting to share this with him. But Bakugou is no longer in the room.

Kirishima turns fully, eyes narrowed as he looks for Bakugou. There’s Jirou back on the couch, and Ashido and Kaminari pulling a pink Riot sweatshirt over Toogata’s shoulders, and Amajiki leaning against the wall, looking at him curiously.

“I think I just lost my boyfriend,” Kirishima says, frowning.

“I should probably go rescue mine,” Amajiki says, under his breath.

Kirishima doesn’t know whether he was meant to hear that, and when he glances back at Amajiki the other man lifts a single finger to his lips. As their eyes meet, an understanding passes between them. Kirishima’s been entrusted with a secret. He nods, places his hand over his heart for just a moment.

Then he calls out, “Anyone see where Bakugou went?”

Jirou points out the door. “He said he had to get some air.”

Kirishima doesn’t know how he could have missed that. He takes his leave of the rest of them, then races out into the hallway. It takes him only a minute to find the stage manager, who points him towards the back entrance. A good place to go, if all you want is air. The back entrance leads out onto the parking lot for the staff and crew. It’s fenced off enough that no overenthusiastic fans could find their way there.

There’s a storm inside of him, the cold front of his anger meeting the solid warmth of his excitement. Bakugou had invited Toogata and Amajiki, tonight— or he’d asked Midoriya to invite them on his behalf. Why had he done that? And why would he do it and then not stick around?

Kirishima grinds his teeth. He just can’t figure Bakugou out. Is all of this just for his own purposes, or did he know that meeting Amajiki was one of Kirishima’s dreams?

He pushes open the doors leading outside, then stops in his tracks.

As summer comes to a quiet close, warm rain falls. The paved parking lot is lit by a series of floodlights, bright and glaring against the damp ground. The atmosphere is muggy and oppressive. The light catches on the falling rain, each drop visible for a moment before it continues to fall past the beam of light.

Through it, Kirishima sees Bakugou.

He’s standing utterly still, his head tilted towards the sky. Rain plasters his pale hair to his forehead and neck, and he doesn’t blink to shield his eyes from the drops. Over his maroon t-shirt he wears a white button-down that’s turned transparent, soaked through. Rain drips down his neck and pools at his collarbone. His hands are clenched into fists at his sides.

Kirishima is frozen at the sight. How could he have ever stopped noticing Bakugou, even for a moment? His gravity is so strong, it pulls the breath out of Kirishima’s lungs.

As Kirishima looks at him now, he can’t decipher what Bakugou is feeling, why he’s doing this. There’s anger in the tension of his clenched hands, the pull of his spine. He glares up at the sky with bloodshot eyes, but his expression is more empty than angry.

“What are you doing?” Kirishima calls out, as soon as he finds his voice.

Bakugou doesn’t respond. Instead, he closes his eyes and stays very still. It’s like he’s gathering strength. He lifts his hands to rub the rain off his face, and then finally he turns to look at Kirishima.

“Fucking nothing. Why do you care?” He shivers as he speaks.

The weather is warm enough that Kirishima doesn’t mind getting slightly damp, but who knows how long Bakugou has been standing out here. His clothes are completely soaked.

“I can get behind the whole manly, you against the weather thing,” Kirishima says, stepping forward, “But this is a little much.”

Bakugou glares at him. His forehead and cheeks are red.

“Dude,” Kirishima says, “You look kind of awful. Or, as awful as you can look, anyway.”

The color in Bakugou’s cheeks deepens. “Stop saying shit like that.”

One side of Kirishima’s mouth lifts in a crooked smile. “I can’t help it, I blabber.”

“Obviously,” Bakugou grumbles. “You never know when to shut up.”

He takes a step towards Kirishima, but sways on his feet. Kirishima lunges forward to steady him, and Bakugou doesn’t even bother trying to fight him off. Bakugou ends up leaning against Kirishima’s side, shivering.

“You’re burning up,” Kirishima tells him, concerned. He pulls away from Bakugou for just a moment, tugging off his hoodie so that he can drape it around Bakugou’s shoulders. It’s slightly too big for him, making him look young and vulnerable as it hangs off him.

“C’mon, let’s get out of the rain,” Kirishima says.

Bakugou grunts, but doesn’t resist as Kirishima guides him back into the building. He shivers again, sending beads of water out from his hair. As they step through the hallway, he pulls his arms through the sleeves of Kirishima’s hoodie and tugs it tighter around himself.

Kirishima gurgles out a laugh. “You’re the first person to have my merchandise.”

Bakugou gives Kirishima a sideways look. “Makes sense,” he mutters. “I’m your fucking boyfriend.”

Right, Kirishima thinks distantly. Bakugou in a Riot hoodie would definitely make for good photo ops.

“How do you know Amajiki-san, anyway?” Kirishima asks, sticking close to Bakugou’s side.

“I don’t. Deku did a movie with Toogata. He makes friends everywhere.”

Kirishima hums softly. “You know, I’ve figured something out about you,” he says.

“What’s that?” Bakugou eyes him suspiciously.

“You must be a huge Riot fan,” Kirishima says smugly. “Because you came back, a second time.”

Bakugou shoves at Kirishima. “Fuck right off, shitty hair.”

Chapter Text

As the song ends, Kirishima lifts his hands from his guitar’s strings. His fingers throb, old callouses worn down over the past few days smarting. Next to him, Ashido pushes back from the mic and brushes her sweaty hair off her forehead. Jirou keeps one hand pressed against the sleek black body of her guitar, eyes closed as though she’s memorizing the sound of the last few notes as they reverberate through the air. Kaminari sits back, his skull pressed against the wall as he stretches out his spine. In the aftermath of the music, all of them are focused on themselves and the sound—it’s as though nothing else exists.

It’s been two days of straight recording, and Riot’s worked itself to the bone in the process. Outside the recording booth, lyric sheets and pages of music litter the coffee table and couches where they’ve been taking most of their breaks. In the past five hours, they’ve laid out three tracks. If the studio has its way, the album will be done by the end of the week.

For Kirishima, who builds up songs like a running stream slowly gathering force, it’s a distinct change of pace. Like someone has thrown open the floodgates and now he’s careening down a rushing river. It’s exhilarating as much as it’s exhausting and terrifying.

He understands the need for the rush— ever since Kirishima started “dating” Bakugou, more and more attention has come Riot’s way. And when reporters and bloggers and tabloids call their label and ask for information on the band, there needs to be something there to promote. Not just a couple songs available as mp3 downloads, not concert tickets only available to those in the city. No, what the studio needs is an album they can sell— a clear statement of who Riot is and why the world should take notice.

They’ve recorded nine songs, written over the space of the couple of years that Riot has been together. The narrative of the album doesn’t quite flow, yet— there’s something missing, and Kirishima winces as he thinks of listening to the entire thing. Before he releases it to the world, he needs to make sure it says what he wants it to.

“That was great,” the sound engineer says over the intercom. “Take five, or ten. We’ll start on the next track after lunch.”

Kirishima and Jirou immediately get up and exit the recording booth, but Ashido lingers as Kirishima sets down his guitar.

“What’s up?” he asks.

Ashido laces her fingers together in front of her, bites down on the inside of her cheek before she replies. “I saw you were working on something new, and I was wondering…”

It’s rare for her to be so hesitant, but now her dark eyes flick from side to side. When she’d asked Kirishima to write a song specifically for her, she’d revealed something of herself that Kirishima had never thought to look for. She’d entrusted him with something, and now he needs to prove worthy of that trust.

“It’s something,” he tells her, frowning slightly. “I mean, it’s not done yet. But we could go over it now, if you want.”

Ashido throws her arms around his neck, holding him close for a moment. “You’re the best, Kirishima. You know that, right?”

He smiles wanly. “Sure.”

Ashido pushes him away with a huff, rolling her eyes. “You don’t know it. Which seems impossible, but that’s also sort of why you’re the best.”

He tilts his head, trying to parse what she means. But eventually he gives up, and goes to retrieve the sheet music that he and Jirou have been working on.

“I’m warning you, it’s rough,” he says, hoisting an acoustic guitar from its stand in one corner of the booth.

Ashido waves off his words. “It’s fine, just play it for me!”

Kirishima takes a deep breath, then strums out a few chords to ready himself. The song has only the barest hints of a melody, the notes deceptively delicate. He plays through the main line one time, then another. Then he starts to sing.

Ashido keeps her eyes trained on him the whole time. They do this often enough— Kirishima will sing a song like he’d imagined it in his head, then Ashido will give her own rendition. She often adds things he hadn’t thought of, runs and musical quirks that add character to the song or shift its tone. Together, their two visions of what the song should be come together into a whole.

This time, when he finishes, Ashido just stares on at him in silence.

“What,” he says, shifting. “You didn’t like it?”

Ashido shakes her head. “No,” she says, “it’s beautiful. It’s almost more than I wanted to say.”

Discomfort gnaws at Kirishima’s stomach. He’d taken what Ashido had told him for the song, but he’d embellished. He brought his own feelings, too, and now the song tells two stories. Or maybe the same story, from two angles. He’s not quite sure, yet.

Ashido pulls up a stool and sits beside Kirishima, grabbing the sheet music out of his hand. She glances over the lyrics, a frown creasing her brow.

“Sing it with me, this time?”

They start off in a round— Kirishima sings a line first, and then Ashido echoes him. She makes some changes, he pushes back on others. Before he knows it, they’ve gone through the entire song six or seven times.

Kaminari and Jirou are back in the studio, sitting at the sound engineer’s station instead of coming back into the booth.

“We can hear better from here,” Jirou explains. “With a little distance.”

“Start again,” Kaminari instructs. “From the top, together.”

Kirishima begins the song on his guitar, shutting his eyes as he starts to sing. This time, Ashido joins him at once, so that they’re traveling through the song at the same pace.

He wonders if Ashido is thinking of Sero as she sings. Kirishima knows whose memory he’s pulling on. He imagines Bakugou, radiating an energy that pulls people in at the same time it pushes them away. He imagines what it would be like to be at the center of a force like that— what would you think of yourself, if people treated you with equal doses of admiration and frustration? How would you approach the world?

The feeling comes through in his words, as he pitches lower and his voice takes on a gravelly tone. Ashido’s voice, sharp and clear, layers over his almost perfectly. Her words are laden with as much emotion as his, and for a moment it’s like they’re both wading deeper and deeper into a river, held down by more water the further in they go, as it comes up over their heads and sweeps them away.

When they finish and Kirishima’s hands still on the guitar, the world around them is silent except for the last reverberations of music. Slowly, Kirishima opens his eyes.

From the other side of the glass panels, someone is staring at him with a satisfied smile playing at her lips.

Kirishima nearly drops his guitar in surprise— the weight of it leaves his hands, and it’s only the cloth strap around Kirishima’s shoulder that keeps it from crashing to the floor.

“Kayama-san! When did you get here?”

Kayama Nemuri lifts her hands and offers Kirishima and Ashido a round of applause. She’s a tall woman with a jagged mane of black hair, lips painted blood red and bright eyes hidden behind red-rimmed glasses. She wears perfectly-tailored white cigarette pants and a matching blazer over a black corset. As she claps her hands, the silver bracelets at her wrists jingle.

“Well done, Kirishima-kun, Ashido-san,” she says. Her voice is rich and melodic, even though her talents lie behind the scenes of a microphone. “That’s definitely the version we want on the album.”

Kirishima squeaks in surprise. “You were recording?”

Pressing down on the intercom, Kaminari offers a him a thumbs-up through the glass. “I thought you’d want to hear it played back! But I didn’t know Kayama-san would be walking by.”

Kayama’s lips pull into a slyer grin. “This is my record label, isn’t it? I’m allowed to walk my own halls.”

“Of course,” Kirishima says, as Ashido gets up to grab a drink of water, “But, Kayama-san, that wasn’t a real version— I’m not singing on the album!”

Kayama pushes up her glasses as she looks down her nose at him. “I know a hit when I hear one, Kirishima-kun. Sometimes, you get a song right the first time, and when that’s so, you don’t mess with it.”

“But—”

She lets out a sigh, brushing back her dark hair. “Aren’t you the one who declared yourself to me with so much boyish enthusiasm and dedication? Where has that Kirishima-kun gone?”

His cheeks burn crimson at the memory— six months ago, when Riot had been playing at a small club. It had been in the beginning, right when he felt that he needed to do something to push himself forward. When his shame had faded enough to let him breathe again, when he’d been determined to change the trajectory of his life. He’d heard that an executive from Midnight Records was at the venue, and charged in with reckless abandon.

“Riot, hmm?” Kayama had asked him, nursing a glass of wine as she sat to one side of the stage. “That’s an interesting name.”

“It’s from an old Crimson Chevalier song, actually,” Kirishima had said, sheepishly scratching at the back of his neck. He’d been prepared to face a suited, wooden executive, not the full might of Kayama Nemuri herself.

“It takes some confidence to pick up the mantle of another artist,” Nemuri told him. “Are you up for that?”

Kirishima had shut his eyes, steeling himself for a moment. “Yes,” he’d said a moment later, with utter certainty. He knew how good his band was, even then. Riot was something special. “We’re going to be worthy of it.”

Kayama had grinned at him and clapped her hands together. A few days later, they were signed with one of the biggest labels in the country and rehearsing to be the opening act for Present Mic, one of Midnight Records’ most famous acts.

“Anyway,” Kayama says now, with an air of finality, “I’m producing this record, and this is the version of that song I want. So that’s the version we’ll have.”

She leaves no room for argument, though her smile gentles as she glances around at the four of them. “You’ve done good work, all of you. Stop by my office before you leave for the day— we need to talk about where Riot is headed, next.” She blows them a theatrical kiss before she leaves the room.

“Just being around her makes me dizzy,” Kaminari says, watching her leave.

“Why’d you do that?” Kirishima asks, leaving the booth to join Kaminari in the outer room. Ashido follows behind him.

Kaminari shrugs. “Because the song sounds good that way. I told you, I didn’t know she was outside.”

“It doesn’t matter what it sounds like,” Kirishima says, voice sharper than he intends.

“Um, doesn’t it?” Jirou puts in. “Isn’t the whole point for the album to sound as good as possible?”

“But— ugh! Ashido, tell them!” Kirishima throws his hands up.

But Ashido is standing to one side with her arms folded, looking at Kirishima severely. “How’d it feel?”

“What?”

“Singing with me,” Ashido explains. “How’d you feel, just now?”

Kirishima takes in a steadying breath, thinking back just a few moments. It had felt— different. Singing in time with Ashido, acknowledging what they could be, together. Singing his feelings with his own voice.

“I—” He hesitates before answering. “It didn’t feel wrong.”

Ashido smirks. “Mm-hmm.”

Kirishima’s face heats, and he runs a nervous hand over his spiked hair. “It’s not—I mean. I like singing, you guys know that. That was never the problem.”

Kaminari spreads his hands, pushing himself back in his chair and propping his feet up against the wall. “Mm-hmm.”

“Stop doing that,” Kirishima says, fighting back a laugh. “You know I know what you’re doing, right?”

Jirou reaches over and pats Kirishima lightly on one cheek. “Mm-hmm.”

“You guys are impossible,” Kirishima groans.

“Do you want to listen to your song, dude?” Kaminari asks, eyes wide and innocent.

Kirishima doesn’t fight his grin, this time. “Yeah,” he says. “I really do.”

Kirishima stands in the hallway, flushed and excited as he taps on his phone. He’s had it turned off while they recorded, so now he waits for any new messages that might’ve arrived in the last few hours. But a blank screen greets him. Frowning slightly, but not to be deterred, he taps out a quick message.

Kirishima (2:15): You won’t believe this! We’re recording a song, and I actually sang on it. And I think it’s really good? Like, *really* good. I want you to hear it.

He waits for some acknowledgment of the message, but none comes. Frown deepening, he scrolls back up to read the string of unanswered messages.

Kirishima (3 days ago): Did you make it home alright?

Kirishima (2 days ago): Studio called us in for recording this week. I’m going to be pretty busy, but we could go get lunch or something if you’re around?

Kirishima (2 days ago): Dude, did you lose your phone or something?

Kirishima (yesterday): Another day of recording. What are you doing this week?

Kirishima (8:10): Bakugou.

No answer has come, not since the last time Kirishima saw Bakugou at Riot’s last concert. It’s not that Kirishima expects constant communication. Bakugou has made it clear how self-sufficient he is, how little he needs Kirishima or anyone else. But before that, he’d at least acknowledged the messages. Kirishima knew he’d been reading them. This sudden silence, after the strangeness of their last encounter, leaves Kirishima worried.

Biting down on his lip, he composes a new message, this time to Sero.

Kirishima (2:25): Hey. Where is he?

Instead of a text, Sero’s response is to call Kirishima a moment later. Kirishima’s heart skips a beat as he answers.

“Hello?”

Hey, Kirishima,” Sero says, his voice light but not nearly as warm as it usually is. “No word from Bakugou?”

“No,” Kirishima says cautiously. He wishes he knew how to bridge the distance between him and Sero without feeling like he’s betraying Ashido. He wants to go back to the days when all of them were friends and nothing was quite this complicated.

Sero lets out a little huff on the other end of the line. “Sounds about right,” he mutters. “He’s probably just being a baby. He came down with a bad cold on Monday, we had to cancel a bunch of interviews and readings this week while he recovers. I told him to tell you, so you’d know if someone asked.”

“He’s sick?” Kirishima tries to imagine it. Bakugou had been flushed, that night in the rain, but— Kirishima sighs. “You really thought he’d tell me? C’mon, man.”

Sero laughs lightly. “I don’t think you get it, Kirishima. He’s more open with you than he is with just about anyone else. He actually cares about what you think.”

Kirishima’s abut to protest that, but decides that he has more pressing concerns at the moment. “Who’s taking care of him?”

No one,” Sero says. “You think he’d let anyone? No, he’s probably just holed up in his apartment. I tried to make him a doctor’s appointment and he freaked out about it. Y’know, even more than usual.”

“So he’s just alone? For the past three days?”

Sero’s shrug is practically audible. “Hey, you may be good at crashing past his objections, but he still can fire me, you know. Sometimes, when he tells me to fuck off, that’s what I’ve got to do.”

Kirishima presses his lips together. The last couple times he’s been sick, he’d come down with the flu at the same time as Ashido or Kaminari. There’d always been a few extra, healthy people around to run to the pharmacy or brew tea or listen to sniffling complaints. Kirishima can’t imagine being alone, like that.

“Hey, Sero. Where does Bakugou live?”

A doorman lets Kirishima in, directs him to the elevator and then up to the top floor of the building. Kirishima tries to compare the building to Hagakure Tooru’s, or Yaoyorozu’s beach house. Both places had reeked of money and luxury, in different ways. Bakugou’s building is probably just as expensive, but it’s toned down. Everything is dark wood and steel and glass, muted colors in the lobby and strange abstract art pieces that look like explosions hung in the hallways. Kirishima’s arms are laden with grocery bags as he taps his foot and waits for the elevator to pause on the right floor.

He should have guessed that Bakugou lived in a penthouse apartment, in a nondescript corner of the city where he can blend in with business people and other rich-but-not-famous types. Given how often the paparazzi seem to be dogging him, Bakugou probably needs a place other people can’t find easily.

There’s a keypad by the front door, and Kirishima shuffles his grocery bags so that he can enter the code that Sero had given him. The alarm system chimes as the door swings open, announcing Kirishima’s entry into Bakugou’s home.

He doesn’t know what he’s expecting as he walks through the threshold. For all that Bakugou occupies his thoughts, there are some things about the actor that Kirishima just can’t contemplate. Him having a normal life is one of them— Bakugou seems to exist only in the public eye, an explosive force that exists, bright and loud, before fading out of existence.

But the apartment is startlingly normal. There’s a shoe rack by the door, boots and loafers neatly arranged in it, all Bakugou’s size and style. The hallway is impeccably tidy, a well-cared for house plant stood to one side as the space opens up into a main room.

An enormous flat-screen TV is mounted on the wall, playing the scrolling credits of a movie. Surrounding it on either side are sleek shelves, laden with rows upon rows of movies, television shows, and video games. Kirishima’s eyes roam over the sheer volume of titles, trying to take them all in. Facing the TV is an L-shaped leather couch, and curled up in one corner of it is a mass of blankets. Sticking out of the blankets like dandelion fluff is a mess of pale blond hair.

“Bakugou,” Kirishima calls out, setting down his grocery bags and kicking off his shoes, “You okay, man?”

There’s no answer, so Kirishima whispers a quiet apology for intruding as he steps into the living room. The mass of blankets doesn’t stir, even when Kirishima comes right up next to the couch. As he lowers a hand towards Bakugou’s head, he can feel the heat radiating off him. He’s making soft snuffling noises as he sleeps.

“You’re gonna suffocate yourself,” Kirishima whispers, reaching out to pull aside the top-most blanket.

Bakugou mumbles something in his sleep, curling in on himself as Kirishima tries to tug his blanket away.

“Hey,” Kirishima says again, shaking him slightly. “Get up, for a second. You should be sleeping in a bed, at least.”

Bakugou mumbles again, and this time it sounds distinctly like Fuck off.

Kirishima grins wryly, then says, “You want me to carry you to bed?”

Bakugou’s eyes flutter open for a moment, glassy and unfocused. Red color sits high on his cheekbones, and his nose and upper-lip are crusted over with post-nasal drip. He blinks blearily at Kirishima, not really seeing him.

“…’m fine,” he says, almost coherently, after a moment.

“O-kay,” Kirishima says, struck for a moment by how small Bakugou sounds and looks, curled up like a kitten in one corner of the massive couch. “Can I sit here with you, then?”

“No,” Bakugou says, pulling his blankets over his head. “Go away.”

“Nope,” Kirishima says affably, taking a seat beside him. Bakugou’s apartment is wide and open, full of natural light. He clearly has a lot of stuff, if the shelves full of movies are any indication, but the apartment creates the illusion of space and Spartan sensibility.

Bakugou shudders visibly, then very slowly pulls himself upright. Leaning back against the couch with the blanket wrapped around him like a cape, he squints at Kirishima as he tries to focus his eyes.

“What,” he rasps, “are you doing here.”

“I was worried about you,” Kirishima says, leaning forward to press a hand against Bakugou’s forehead. “You don’t answer my texts for three days, I start to think you’re skipping out on me, or something.”

He means it as a joke, but Bakugou’s expression crumples into something caught between anger and sadness.

“You’re not allowed to say that, t’me.” He spaces his words carefully, but they still manage to slur in the end as Bakugou’s head falls back against the couch. He groans, shivering.

“Right,” Kirishima says softly. “Because we’re not actually dating. But I can still worry, you know? And look, you were sick and all alone! That’s not acceptable, at all.”

Bakugou breathes out through his mouth, pulling his legs up against his chest. “I’m alone all the fucking time,” he mumbles, pressing his chin against the top of his knees.

Kirishima frowns at that. “Sure,” he starts, “but you don’t have to be, you know? If you’d called me, I would’ve been here.”

Bakugou shakes his head, shoulders hunched. “Go record your album.”

Kirishima lets out a little gasp. “You did read my messages!”

Bakugou brings his hands up to press against his temples, glaring at Kirishima. “Shut up. Stop being loud, or go away.”

“I’m not going away,” Kirishima says. “I brought— soup! And medicine! And everything else I need to take care of you. Don’t worry, okay? I’m going to make you feel better.” He ends this with a wide grin.

Bakugou looks up at his face for a moment, then winces. “I’m going to throw up.”

“Hey,” Kirishima starts, and then his eyes go wide. “Oh, you’re serious. Do you have a bucket? Bathroom? Where’s your bathroom, Bakugou?”

They end up staggering down the hallway together, Kirishima trying to support Bakugou as Bakugou tries to push Kirishima off him. He ends up retching over his black-tiled bathtub, but there’s not much substance to the clear fluid he brings up.

After a few minutes, when Bakugou is leaning his forehead against the wall, Kirishima looks critically at him.

“When was the last time you ate?”

“Stop talking,” Bakugou groans.

“No, I’m serious,” Kirishima says, “I haven’t seen you in three days, have you just been lying on your couch that whole time?”

Bakugou doesn’t answer, just hunches further in on himself as he shivers against a cold that Kirishima can’t feel.

Kirishima heaves a sigh and crosses the distance between them, pulling Bakugou against him so that he can hoist him to his feet. “Geez,” he says, when Bakugou slumps against him instead of pulling away, “Why do you have to make everything so difficult for yourself?”

“I don’t need you,” Bakugou says petulantly.

Kirishima rolls his eyes. “Sure, whatever. Just let me help you to bed, alright?”

It takes a bit of coordination, but Kirishima first manages to towel off Bakugou’s sweaty face and neck before practically dragging him down the hallway to his bedroom. Again, it’s far more well-kept that Kirishima would’ve imagined (or could’ve managed, himself). Bakugou’s bed is made, and there’s a desk in one corner, home to a sleek computer and many neat stacks of paper. Kirishima sets Bakugou down on the bed and then roots through his dresser for some clean pajamas.

“Ugh,” Bakugou groans, laying down on his back as his feet dangle off the edge of his king-size bed, “I hate you.”

“Sure, sure,” Kirishima agrees. He pulls out a pair of sweats and a loose t-shirt, throwing them in Bakugou’s general direction. “Can you get dressed yourself while I go heat up some soup?”

Bakugou fumbles with pulling off the tank he’s wearing, utterly disregarding Kirishima’s presence.

“Alright,” Kirishima says, sighing softly. He pads back into the hallway to reclaim his grocery bags, then spends ten minutes navigating his way through Bakugou’s futuristic and intimidating kitchen. Everything is perfectly-labelled and seemingly made of stainless steel. His cupboards are full of spices and there’s nothing pre-prepared in his fridge.

Not trusting his own culinary skills, Kirishima brought pre-made soup with him. In all fairness, it’s more of a broth, clear and mostly flavorless. Kirishima helps himself to a tray and bowl out of Bakugou’s cupboards, lays out some medicine and makes his way back to the bedroom.

Bakugou is lying more or less where Kirishima left him, except now he’s wearing flannel pants and the t-shirt Kirishima had picked out for him. He’s still shivering, but appears to have lost his energy halfway through getting under the covers. When Kirishima enters, Bakugou blinks up at him with a murderous expression.

“How are you in my house,” he demands.

Kirishima shrugs him off, shifting some of the papers on Bakugou’s desk so that he can set the tray there for the moment.

“Don’t touch that,” Bakugou snaps, which of course makes Kirishima take a second look.

It’s a script, he realizes. It’s probably hundreds of pages long, all bound together and titled in neat block writing—Because He Is My Hero, the cover page reads, A Film by Yagi Toshinori. A bright post-it note sticks out off a page about a third of the way through the script, and on it someone has neatly written Bakugou to read for Dragon King.

Puzzling over that, Kirishima goes back to the bed to help Bakugou under the covers. He stacks three pillows together so that Bakugou can sit upright while still leaning against them, then tucks the covers back around them. Bakugou accepts this treatment with an impotent kind of hostility—he glares, but has no strength to fight back.

“Why isn’t anyone here with you?” Kirishima asks, sitting on the edge of the bed.

Bakugou lets his eyes fall shut, still breathing heavily. “I don’t want anyone here.”

Kirishima purses his lips. “You want me to go?”

Bakugou’s eyes open just enough for the angry red slits of his irises to be visible. “No. I just fucking hate being sick.”

“Why’s that?” Kirishima gets it; no one likes being sick. Sure, it’s a good way to get out of school or to be pampered for a bit, which is nice. But ultimately that stuff isn’t really worth it. But Bakugou’s words had been getting at something else.

Bakugou clenches his eyes shut. Whether it’s the fever or the nausea, something about his current state must be loosening his tongue. Because when he blinks open his eyes, he says, “Because something terrible always happens when I am, ok? Just, fuck off about it.”

“It really does suck to be sick,” Kirishima says, leaning over to brush the hair back from Bakugou’s brow.

He shudders against the coolness of Kirishima’s skin, but doesn’t push him away. “That’s not what I meant.”

Kirishima waits, and after a moment Bakugou continues.

“You can’t do anything when you’re like this,” he mutters, turning his face so that he’s talking to the wall instead of to Kirishima directly. “I’m just—stuck. And powerless. I can barely fucking see, or think, and then when I wake up the entire world has gone to hell.”

“I think everything’s fine,” Kirishima says, trying to be helpful.

Bakugou snorts, which turns into a cough. “You don’t get it.”

“You can explain it to me,” Kirishima tells him. “I mean, I know you like keeping everything bottled up, but. When you talked to me about Midoriya, that helped, right? I mean, it helped me understand you. If you need to tell someone things, to get them off your chest, that person can be me. I don’t mind. I want to tell you things, too.”

Bakugou turns over, blinking blearily up at Kirishima like he can’t keep him centered in his vision. “I was in a movie when I was four,” he says, at length.

“Yeah.” Kirishima nods. “Sero showed us the trailer. The seventh All Might movie, right?”

Bakugou blinks, which must be some sort of confirmation. He coughs again, then scowls at himself before continuing. “It was my first movie. Not even real acting—just standing around and saying lines, then looking scared. It took months to film, but halfway through I got really sick.”

Kirishima can just imagine what the grueling pace of a movie production would be like for a four-year-old. “Yeah?”

Bakugou grimaces. “Fucking dehydration, or something. I was in the hospital, they had to push production back for two months since I looked so shitty even after I was better. They couldn’t just reshoot with another kid, All Mi—Yagi wouldn’t allow it.”

Yagi Toshinori, Kirishima thinks. The actor behind All Might, and the director of the movie script currently sitting on Bakugou’s desk.

“He’s so fucking stupid,” Bakugou says, hands clenching against his bedcovers. His eyes are wet.

“What do you mean?” Kirishima asks. He doesn’t really know how movies work, but he’d expect anyone to be grateful for the opportunity to work with Yagi.

Bakugou clenches his eyes shut again, gritting his teeth. “He’s stupid, because he was sick! And he fucking knew it, too. But he let them stall the production, and he kept pushing himself through it. He didn’t tell anyone he had goddamn leukemia. He should’ve been in the hospital, and he would’ve been if we’d finished the movie on time. But we didn’t, and he acted his way through a debilitating illness, doing all his own goddamn stunts, and when it was all over he couldn’t do it, again. He was coughing up blood and they had to take him away and— and then he couldn’t be All Might, anymore. Stupid— fucking— idiot.”

“You think that’s your fault?” Kirishima asks quietly. “Bakugou, you were a little kid. You couldn’t have controlled any of that. If Yagi-san was going to get sick, it would’ve happened anyway.”

Bakugou glowers at him, lowering himself further into his nest of blankets and pillows as moisture leaks out of the corners of his eyes.

“Fuck,” he mutters, rubbing at his face. “I fucking hate being sick.”

Kirishima edges closer. “You should take some medicine, and then get some rest. You’ll probably feel better after you get some proper sleep.”

“I don’t want to sleep,” Bakugou growls.

“You’ll feel better,” Kirishima tells him.

“No, I won’t,” Bakugou snaps. “I’ll wake up and you’ll be gone and I’ll feel like shit.”

Kirishima blinks, sitting back for a moment. “You don’t want to go to sleep because you think I’ll leave? Why would I do that? I came to take care of you.”

Bakugou blinks up at him suspiciously. “You have to leave at some point.”

Kirishima shrugs. “Sure, eventually. But for now, I’m all yours. You don’t even have to sleep, just rest. I’ll stay and hang out with you.”

“Meaning you’ll annoy me to death,” Bakugou mutters, then covers his face as he starts coughing, again.

Kirishima rubs his back, wincing in sympathy as Bakugou’s chest rattles. “You’ve got to work on the mixed messages, Bakugou. ‘Should I stay, or should I go,’ you know?”

“No,” Bakugou hisses. Then he groans and lets his head fall back against the pillows. “Fuck, just stay.”

Kirishima smiles softly. “Sure, whatever you want.”

Bakugou’s brow furrows, like he’s trying to catch a second meaning in Kirishima’s words. “But don’t make a big deal about it. I don’t need your pity.”

Kirishima laughs before he can help it. “Dude. I don’t pity you. I care about you.”

And as he says it, Kirishima realizes the truth of the matter. He genuinely does care about Bakugou, more than he’d ever thought possible. It isn’t just attraction, or being star-struck. Everything Bakugou shares with him, every emotion he reveals—it all makes Kirishima want to take care of him more.

“I really do,” he continues, before Bakugou can interrupt him. “I think you’re completely awesome, I know you can take care of yourself. You probably would’ve just popped up again in a few days and never even told me you were sick, right? But right now, you’re here and you were alone and feeling shitty. I don’t want to leave you like that. I never would.”

Bakugou is rubbing at his eyes again. “It’s – embarrassing.”

Kirishima nods. “Sure. But who am I going to tell?”

“You won’t leave,” Bakugou says, not inflecting his words with a question but asking all the same.

“I won’t leave,” Kirishima promises.

Chapter Text

Three days later finds Kirishima sat on Bakugou’s couch, legs crossed in front of him as he balances the heavy script on his lap.

Bakugou’s on route to recovery. A doctor had shown up two days ago to look him over, had handed over some prescription medication and muttered under her breath about celebrities who never grew up or learned to take care of themselves. Kirishima was a bit affronted, by that; even if Bakugou couldn’t be trusted to take care of himself, Kirishima was there to pick up the slack. But the medicine is doing its job, even if Bakugou has spent most of the past few days asleep. Kirishima can be grateful for that, at least.

(Bakugou had asked him not to leave, and so Kirishima stayed. He was left with too much time to watch Bakugou as he slept. His face eased of all tension except the barest furrow in his bow, he’d curl beneath his layered blankets and murmur quietly in his sleep. Kirishima, sitting across the room, would look at him and wonder what thoughts were intruding upon his dreams.)

Tonight, Bakugou had woken up late and dragged himself to shower with only the barest grumbling. Kirishima had vacated the bedroom for him, grabbed the script as an afterthought and brought it to the living room with him.

Because He Is My Hero, by Yagi Toshinori. Bakugou clearly doesn’t want him looking at it, but that just ensured Kirishima would. Now, he sucks in a breath as he pushes back the cover and begins to read.

He’s never looked at a script, before, and it takes him a moment to adjust to the formatting. The scenes and staging directions are sparse and economical, giving just a hint of what the movie will look like. The dialogue starts off fast and snappy, but there are moments when it lingers, and by the time Kirishima’s been skimming for ten minutes he’s already come to one monologue, an epic speech.

The main character is an unassuming young man who receives an enchanted sword from a strange old beggar, and soon sets off on an adventure. He falls in with a friendly apprentice witch and a straight-laced knight, and together they journey to defeat a great evil. Eventually, they rope in the neighboring kingdom’s runaway price to their enterprise, too.

Kirishima finds himself grinning as he flips through the pages—the characters are bursting with personality, and if he pauses between scenes he can see them playing out before him. After a few minutes, he flips ahead in the script, looking for the character marked for Bakugou by the note on the script.

The dragon king enters the story in the second act. He introduces himself by attacking the young hero, then refuses to listen to the other companions’ explanations and leads the entire group into an ambush, all because he won’t take anyone else’s word as true.

Kirishima winces as he reads—the dragon king is a formidable character, but he’s also his own worst enemy. He has his own reasons for wanting to defeat the evil the hero is going after, but he can’t allow himself to accept help or ally with the group. He constantly throws himself into danger, insistent that he can do it all on his own.

All told, he’s a bit of an idiot, even if Kirishima finds his fiery independence endearing.

“What are you doing?”

Kirishima snaps the script shut and looks up, caught red-handed. “Er…”

Bakugou is standing just by the doorway, wearing nothing but a fluffy towel wrapped around his waist. His hair is wet, plastered to his forehead and neck. His skin is a ruddy red from the shower, rivulets dripping down his chest and the length of his arms. His chest rises and falls unevenly, illness still holding a cough inside him. There are bags under his fierce eyes, but when he fixes Kirishima with a glare he’s nothing but intimidating.

Fuck, Kirishima thinks, dragging his eyes from Bakugou’s pecs and up to his eyes.

“Well?” Bakugou demands, utterly unabashed by his nakedness.

(Kirishima can’t really blame him, for that. They are in Bakugou’s house, and Kirishima is the one who read the script without permission, and obviously Bakugou has nothing to be ashamed of, body-wise, since he’s the hottest person Kirishima has ever laid eyes on, days of vomiting illness or no.)

“I… got bored?” Kirishima tries, holding up his hands in what he hopes is an innocent gesture.

Bakugou opens his mouth to respond, then just shakes his head and mutters something to himself, under his breath.

“What was that?”

“Don’t touch my stuff, asshole. Ever heard of a NDA?” He stomps into the room, reaching over the back of the couch to grab the script from Kirishima’s lap. His fingers leave wet patches against the script’s pristine cover.

“No?” Kirishima tries. Bakugou hasn’t tried to murder him yet, which is generally a good sign.

Bakugou rolls his eyes. “Nondisclosure agreement. As in, when they send you a fucking script like this, you’re not supposed to let the entire goddamn world read it.”

“I’m not the entire world, though,” Kirishima protests. “I’m your boyfriend. I mean, as far as these script-people know, right?”

Bakugou stares at him for a long moment, like he’s trying to make Kirishima stop existing through sheer force of will.

“Like that’s the kind of scandal I need,” Bakugou spits out, disgusted. “‘Actor’s dumbass boyfriend leaks script of the biggest movie of the year.’ ‘Yagi’s epic ruined by big gay crush.’”

Maybe it’s because he’s still on the mend, but Bakugou’s muttering is decidedly audible and coherent. Kirishima rests his arms along the back of the couch and pushes himself up, looking at Bakugou with round eyes.

“Is that what our story is?” he wonders aloud, “You had a crush on me?”

Bakugou hisses like a boiling kettle, one hand clenching where it holds up his towel and the other crushing the script until it’s folded in two.

“Don’t you even pay attention,” he seethes.

Kirishima blinks, thinking back. They’d told the press that the two of them had met at a Riot concert, but the way they’d worded it, Bakugou had just been dragged along by Hagakure. And Kirishima hadn’t put a lot of thought into that narrative, to begin with. In his imagination, they’d been two people in the same extended circle of fame, who’d happened to collide.

“I mean, who’d believe that, anyway,” Kirishima continues, laughing. “Why would you have even known who I am, before we met? Forget having a crush on me.”

“Don’t people generally have crushes before they get together,” Bakugou grinds out from behind clenched teeth.

Kirishima rests his chin against his hand, considering. “Sometimes? Oh, man, you should have seen Sero when he first started working for Ashido’s management company, back in the day. He’s friendly to everyone, right? Of course, you know. But he’d always be hanging around, waiting for Ashido to finish rehearsal or whatever, and he’d bring her flowers and those sour candies she really likes, all before they were even dating! It was sweet, you know? But he was definitely the one with the crush.”

“Do you have a point,” Bakugou says tiredly.

Kirishima shrugs. “No really. Just, you know. If anyone had a crush, between the two of us, it was me.”

When Bakugou looks straight at him, his eyes look like coals warmed over a fire—bright hot, a vivid and violent red.

Bakugou must step closer, but Kirishima doesn’t register his movement. Instead, he just realizes that Bakugou is in his space, standing on the other side of the couch, leaning forward so that their faces are only inches apart. His skin is still a ruddy pink from his shower, his shallow breaths audible in the short space between them.

“Do you?” Bakugou asks roughly.

Kirishima is frozen in place, looking at him. Does Bakugou know what he’s asking? And shouldn’t the answer be obvious to him, by now? Kirishima had told him he cared about him, just a few days ago. And while he cares about a lot of people, no one has ever provoked as much feeling in him as Bakugou has.

And all of that has really just been layered on top of what Kirishima felt for Bakugou before he’d ever met him—admiration, and attraction, and the undeniable pull of Bakugou’s star.

He could just say yes, and admit it. Say that his feelings have been tangled up since before he started pretending, and that things have only gotten more complicated since then. He could lay it all out for Bakugou, tell him what he really wants.

Kirishima opens his mouth to speak, but all that comes out is a hiccup of noise. He leans back, trying to put distance between himself and Bakugou, but ends up tipping over from where he’s balanced on his knees. He flails, both his arms windmill-ing, and one of his palms smacks against something as he struggles.

“Motherfucker.”

Kirishima lands sideways on the couch, scrambles to get himself righted. When he looks over, Bakugou is covering his eye with one hand, wincing and cursing up a storm.

“Shit!” Kirishima rolls himself over the back of the couch and comes up next to Bakugou, reaching for him with nervous hands. “I’m sorry—I panicked!”

“Fuck off,” Bakugou growls, pushing Kirishima away with one hand.

Kirishima presses closer, grabs for Bakugou’s chin and tries to get a good look at his eye. It’s a little red, but he doesn’t look hurt otherwise. Kirishima breathes a sigh of relief.

Once again, they’re so close together. Kirishima is painfully aware of Bakugou’s nakedness, of how much of Bakugou is laid bare before him.

This is dangerous, he thinks. But even so, he can’t bring himself to step away.

“You’re so useless,” Bakugou mutters, finally putting space between them. He frowns, thinking something over. “Go grab a jacket, we’re going out.”

“Huh?”

Bakugou clinks his tongue against his teeth, gathering his patience. “I’m going to go get dressed, and then you’re going to buy me some fucking dinner. I haven’t eaten anything but your stupid store-bought soup for three days.”

“The soup was great,” Kirishima says first, on instinct. Then he frowns right back at Bakugou. “Plus it’s like, close to midnight. Where are we going to get dinner?”

Bakugou lets out an impatient noise, shaking his head. He reaches down to grab the script up from the ground where he’d dropped it, then turns and stalks off towards his bedroom with far more dignity than any man clad in only a towel should have.

At some point, Kirishima is going to have to stop being surprised by Bakugou. But for now, he’s still awed when Bakugou reappears within a few minutes, bundled up in Kirishima’s red Riot hoodie with a black denim jacket pulled over it. The feeling persists as Bakugou ushers him out of his apartment, then marches him down several city blocks until they reach a hole in the wall restaurant with a fluorescent neon sign that announces yes, they’re open at 12:30 am.

“Welcome,” one of the waitstaff calls out, as Kirishima and Bakugou enter and the bell hanging over the door chimes. The woman, dressed in black with a red apron at her waist, looks at them with recognition. “Bakugou-san! We haven’t seen you in a while.”

Bakugou responds with nothing more than a noncommittal grunt, then leads Kirishima to an empty two-person booth in the far corner of the restaurant.

“Shouldn’t we wait for them to seat us?” Kirishima asks.

Bakugou scoffs at him. “Look around, dumbass. Does this look like the kind of place you get seated at?”

Maybe he has a point. The entire restaurant would fit into Bakugou’s apartment three or four times over. There’s two free-standing tables, and booths lining the walls. The chef is leaning against the counter, waiting for orders. The only other customers at this hour are a middle-aged couple huddled in another booth on the opposite side of the restaurant.

“You picked it,” Kirishima says, sliding into the booth and shrugging out of his jacket. There are menus balanced against the wall, and he grabs one to start flipping through.

“Whatever,” Bakugou mutters, taking his own seat across from Kirishima.

The waitress comes over after a minute. “The usual, Bakugou-san?”

Kirishima mouths, you have a usual? Bakugou ignores him.

“Make it two, Nakamura,” Bakugou says, not bothering to look at the menu.

The woman—Nakamura—glances between Kirishima and Bakugou with a glint in her dark eyes. “You’re Bakugou-san’s boyfriend?”

Kirishima shrugs helplessly. “Seems that way, doesn’t it!”

Nakamura laughs. “Make him take you somewhere nice, next time! He can afford it.”

Bakugou scowls at her. “Are you going to get our food, or what?”

“Yes, yes,” she says, lazily. “Don’t be rude, Bakugou-san.”

She walks back towards the kitchen after that, leaving Kirishima squinting suspiciously at Bakugou.

“What?” Bakugou snaps.

“This is your place!” Kirishima says, pointing an accusing finger at him.

“My place,” Bakugou echoes, in his Kirishima-is-an-idiot voice.

“You know! Your place, your haunt, the restaurant where you’re a regular and everyone knows you and you have rapport with the waitress!”

“It’s ten minutes from my apartment, of course I come here a lot,” Bakugou mutters, rubbing one hand down his face. “Don’t make a big thing of it.”

“Fine!” Kirishima says, sitting back with a happy little grin. He looks around the restaurant again, this time with a more curious eye. This is a place Bakugou likes. That’s enough to make it interesting to him.

Bakugou sits in grumpy silence until Nakamura returns with their food—two bowls piled high with steaming noodles, meat and vegetables. She sets the bowls down in front of them, winks at Bakugou, and the retreats to the front of the restaurant.

For all that the restaurant isn’t much to look at, the food is delicious. Kirishima can’t resist the enticing smell, stuffing his face with noodles until the spiciness of the dish catches up to him and he lunges for his glass of water.

Bakugou looks up from where he’s been methodologically shoveling noodles into his mouth. “Weakling,” he says, the corner of his lips lifting in a smirk.

“You could’ve warned me.”

Bakugou shrugs. “I could’ve.”

With renewed determination, Kirishima digs back into his meal. Everything is cooked to perfection, and when he finds an almost-boiled egg in his noodle broth, he nearly moans with how good it is.

Bakugou must’ve been starving, because he eats through his entire meal all at once. When he’s done, he sits back in his seat and watches Kirishima fish around in his noodles.

“So,” Kirishima says, in between bites, “Are you going to do the movie?”

“Are you seriously starting on that, right now.”

“Yeah, I am,” Kirishima says, crunching on green onions. “I mean, I’m curious. It seems like a really good script! It’s the only one I’ve ever read, but I’d definitely go see that movie.”

Bakugou rolls his eyes. “It’s a fucking blockbuster. Everyone is going to go see it.”

“That’s more reason to do it, right? Good for your career, and all that.”

“I don’t need exposure, I’m not a fucking amateur. I’m not doing it.”

Kirishima looks up, a little crestfallen. It’s probably not his place, but he thought there was something nice about the idea of Bakugou working with Yagi Toshinori again. Something that would help Bakugou get over the past, maybe.

“Why not?” he asks, keeping his voice carefully casual.

Bakugou grinds his teeth. “Because it’s not the kind of bullshit I want to do.”

Kirishima takes another bite to hide his smile. “So what kind of bullshit do you want to do?”

Bakugou’s cheeks color a startled pink, but eventually he looks up at Kirishima and mutters, “The same thing I’ve been trying to do forever.”

It takes Kirishima a moment to realize what Bakugou is talking about. But then, the answer becomes obvious. Ever since his days on UA, Bakugou’s been pushing for one kind of storyline. And he’s never gotten to play it out, yet.

“You want to do a romance?” Kirishima asks, around another mouthful of noodles.

Bakugou taps his fingers impatiently on the table. “No. I get offered about ten shitty romances a day, who the hell do you think you’re talking to? If I get one more script for a character who’s an asshole to some girl and she falls in love with him anyway, I’m going to lose my mind.”

Kirishima chokes on a laugh. “You get typecast a lot, huh.”

“People are just fucking lazy. I’m good at this shit, and I don’t need to keep playing characters that are just what people think I’m like.”

“I think you could play anyone,” Kirishima says, honestly. “Your character in Ground Zero wasn’t an asshole, though I guess Nobuhiko was, for a while. But if he’d been an asshole to Ayane I wouldn’t have liked them together so much. I always thought they were really sweet.”

Bakugou rests his elbows against the table, chin against his hands. “You’re a real fucking fanboy, aren’t you.”

“I never said I wasn’t,” Kirishima reminds him. “And besides, Yagi-san’s movie seems different from everything else you’ve done. It’s all fantasy and magic and dragons. You don’t think that’d be cool?”

“Don’t,” Bakugou says warningly. “I’m not going to do his piece of shit movie, so everyone can just stop, already.”

Everyone? Oh. Yagi’s movie is the one Iida was talking about, back at the beach house. The one he was encouraging Bakugou to take, because Midoriya and Uraraka and Todoroki had already signed on.

“You really hate them all that much?” The words are out before Kirishima can think better of them, before he can think of a way to phrase the question that isn’t so much of an accusation.

Bakugou grimaces. “Who says it’s about them? Maybe I’m just tired of playing the bad guy to make shitty Deku look good, all the time.”

Ah. Midoriya must be playing the film’s protagonist—which probably makes Uraraka the helpful witch and Todoroki the runaway prince. In the young hero’s clashes with the dragon king, he’d definitely come off better.

“I sort of figured they’d end up friends,” Kirishima says, leaning back. “Isn’t that usually how stories like that go? I mean, even if they don’t like each other, they’re still on the same side.”

Bakugou makes an irritated noise in the back of his throat. “I fucking told Sero what kind of script I want, next. And I’ve done every possible thing to make it happen. So if I don’t get what I want, then maybe I need to find a new agent.”

Kirishima winces. Sure, her and Sero aren’t the friendliest they’ve ever been, but that doesn’t mean he wants to see him fired. “Don’t worry so much,” he says. “I’m sure whatever it is you want, it’ll come through.”

Bakugou huffs and sits back in his seat again. “Yeah,” he mutters. “Whatever I want.”

He’s so bad at saying things directly, Kirishima thinks. The times when he’s truly opened up to Kirishima have been moments of frustration or vulnerability. But at a baseline, he doesn’t want to say what he’s thinking, what he’s actually feeling, at all.

For some reason, that makes their situation seem—special, somehow. Sitting along together in the middle of the night, in the place that Bakugou frequents. He’s letting Kirishima in, albeit in a different way that Kirishima was maybe asking for. But he’s probably still getting more of Bakugou that anyone else has.

“At least you know,” Kirishima says thoughtfully. “Sometimes people can’t even figure out what they want.”

“Yeah, dumb people,” Bakugou says, staring down at his hands. He looks up, sees the expression on Kirishima’s face, and bites down on his tongue. “What? You don’t know what you want?”

When he says it like that, it does seem stupid. But all Kirishima can do is shrug. “Sometimes, I don’t know, I just get a bit confused about it! I mean, I love making music, I love Riot, I love writing songs. And sometimes I think I really want to sing, perform that way for everyone. But I can never do it, so maybe it’s not something I actually want? I don’t always know exactly which way I want to go. I can’t help it.”

Moments like these, Bakugou’s gaze is too intense, too perceptive. “Do you not know, or are you telling yourself you don’t want it because you think you can’t have it?”

Kirishima swallows nervously. How is he supposed to know the difference? If you hold yourself back from something for long enough, how can you remember if you wanted it at all?

Bakugou frowns. “Just—do whatever you want, in the fucking moment. It’s not that complicated. If you want to sing, then do it. No one’s going to tell you can’t, or that you suck at it. Because you don’t. People aren’t that dumb. They wouldn’t keep listening to your stuff if they didn’t like it.”

A weight lifts off his chest as he processes what Bakugou is saying to him. And maybe it’s something that Bakugou has tried to say, before—that he thinks Kirishima is good, and worth it, somehow.

A moment of clarity hits him like a bolt of lightning, illuminating everything around him. Right here, right now, Kirishima knows what he wants. He looks up, and sees Bakugou leaning towards him, and thinks—maybe he wants the same thing.

Kirishima reaches over the table, brings his hand to rest on Bakugou’s cheek like he’s asking for permission. And Bakugou, who always wraps up what he means in a shield of pretense, just blinks at Kirishima and leans a fraction of an inch closer.

Kissing Bakugou has by now become familiar. Their lips press together, soft and chaste, before they pull apart and then come back together again. Bakugou’s still running warm, heat radiating off his skin. Kirishima strokes his thumb along Bakugou’s jaw, rhythmic and soothing.

For all that they’ve practiced this, for all that they’ve acted like a couple, this moment is different. When Kirishima kisses Bakugou, now, there’s an honesty in it he cannot mask and does not want to.

When they pull apart enough to look at each other, Kirishima smiles and Bakugou purses his lips like he’s fighting the urge to do the same.

Endeared, Kirishima laughs. “You know, I don’t care what Nakamura says.”

“Ha?”

“This is probably the best date I’ve ever had.”

He ends up crashing on Bakugou’s couch for the night, since it’s well past two am by the time they make it back to the apartment. He passes out quickly, rousing some indeterminable amount of time later when Bakugou stalks into the kitchen to make himself breakfast. Kirishima turns over, groaning, and quickly falls back asleep.

The next time he wakes, it’s because his cellphone is shrieking at him. Extending one hand out from his heavy blankets, Kirishima gropes around until he finds the phone, pulling it into his nest and trying to read the blurry screen with sleepy eyes.

Kaminari (7:15): You didn’t come home last night!! Everything ok?

Jirou (8:30): you do remember we have a 9am meeting with kayama-san, right?

Ashido (8:45): KIRISHIMA WHERE ARE YOU THIS IS IMPORTANT

Kaminari (9:15): Ashido’s freaking out, just so you know! And because she’s freaking out, I’m freaking out!! Where are you??

Jirou (9:30): the other two are freaking out, in case you didn’t get the memo. but we’re rescheduled with kayama-san for after lunch. let us know you’re alive before then, please.

Ashido (10:15): KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA

Kaminari (10:25): KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA

Ashido (10:35): KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA

Kaminari (10:45): KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA KIRISHIMA

Kirishima winces, and scrolls past another five or so messages to the same effect.

Jirou (11:50): our meeting’s at 1:15. be here, call me, whatever. just do something before i murder ashido and kaminari.

Slightly dazed, Kirishima checks the time—12:30. Jolted into awareness, he throws back his blankets and jumps to his feet. He’s got time, he can make it—he just needs to get himself presentable and across town, before then.

“Bakugou!” he yells out, not waiting for a response, “I’m late for a meeting and I’ve got to go but I’ll see you later, okay? Okay! Bye!”

By some miracle, Kirishima makes it to the studio. He’s wearing yesterday’s clothes and his hair is down around his face, but he makes it and that’s what matters. The staff at security and reception shoot him odd looks as he runs for the elevators, but he waves them off with a laugh.

“It’s okay, I’m Kirishima Eijirou!” he calls out. “You know, from Riot? I’m mildly famous, don’t worry!”

No one tries to stop him, so that’s a plus. Three minutes later, he slides into Kayama’s office looking like he was brought in by a tornado.

“Sorry I’m late, sorry for everything, I’m here!”

Ashido, Jirou and Kaminari are sitting around Kayama’s desk. They turn to stare at him, and then everyone starts speaking at once.

“Dude,” Kaminari says, throwing his hands up in the air. “What the hell!”

“If you’re going to ditch us for your boyfriend, you could at least tell us.” Ashido crosses her arms over her chest, pouting.

Jirou purses her lips for a moment before saying, “Everything okay, Kirishima?”

From behind the desk, Kayama clears her throat. “Children.”

They all turn to face her. Kayama is wearing her usual black and white, with silver bangles at her wrists. Today, her dark hair is pulled into a knot at the back of her head. She looks down at Kirishima over the rims of her glasses.

“Take a seat, Kirishima-kun,” she says. “We’ve got things to discuss.”

Feeling uncomfortably like he’s just been called to the principal’s office, Kirishima pulls up a chair and squeezes in to one side of Jirou.

“As I was saying,” Kayama continues, “You all are at a crossroads, right now. Your album is almost complete, you have your last concert with Present Mic next weekend, and you need to start considering next steps. Ways to capitalize on your recent… notoriety.”

She casts Kirishima a significant look, as she says this, and he can’t help but be offended. He and Bakugou haven’t been in the tabloids for a while, and even before that it was supposedly for the band’s own good.

“What?” he says, as Ashido and Kaminari look at him.

“You must’ve seen Twitter this morning,” Jirou says tiredly.

“I think you’re overestimating me,” Kirishima says, confused.

“Set up a Google alert for yourself like the rest of us,” Kaminari tells him, reaching over Jirou to punch Kirishima in the side.

Ashido, for her part, just passes over her phone.

Kirishima takes it and glances down at the screen, sees his own shock of red hair first. It’s a photograph that looks like it was taken through a window—Bakugou and Kirishima, sitting at a booth in a run-down restaurant, kissing over the table. Both of their eyes are closed, and they they’re utterly oblivious to the fact that they’re being watched, photographed.

Something twists in Kirishima’s gut like a snake, cold and tangled. Last night hadn’t been for the cameras, or for fame. It had been genuine, and seeing it captured in a photograph where the lights are too bright and the picture is blurred makes it seem like it wasn’t even real—like it was as fake as everything else.

“I,” Kirishima starts to say, but then his voice tapers off. What is he supposed to say about this?

Kayama sighs softly. “It’s not bad press,” she says lightly. “But I’m here to make your music careers, not just buy you some cheap fame. I want the focus on you, on this album.”

The four of them turn back to her, nodding. Kirishima’s never felt the atmosphere between them be so serious.

“I think you need to go on tour,” Kayama continues. “Get out, let the country see you, let the people hear you. We can announce it when we finalize the date for the album. I’ve already lined up a few acts you’d make good openers for. One in particular, actually.”

Kirishima barely hears her. He looks back down at the picture, at the growing count of likes and shares.

This is what they all wanted, isn’t it?

Chapter Text

The trip back to their apartment is quiet, or maybe it only seems that way. Kirishima goes through the motions like he’s underwater, insulated from sound and clear vision and touch. By the time he surfaces for air, he’s sitting in their living room, unsure of exactly how he got there.

Ashido is leaning over him, hands on her hips and brow furrowed. “Kirishima? Are you okay?”

He shakes his head, hopes that’ll clear his mind some. “Sure. Yeah. What were we talking about?”

Kaminari, sitting perched on the arm of the couch, lets out an exasperated breath. “Our tour with your favorite band, maybe?”

Oh, right. They’d been in Kayama’s office, and she’d been going over her plans for them. They have one more concert opening for Present Mic, and then she wants them to go on tour as soon as their album comes out. And she wants them to go on tour with—

“Suneater,” Jirou says, from the other side of the couch. “I wouldn’t have put the two of us together, but it makes a certain amount of sense. Plus, we couldn’t ask for better exposure.”

Ashido is still leaning over Kirishima, trying to look him straight in the eye even though he keeps turning away from her. “You’re supposed to be bouncing off the walls,” she tells him. “What’s wrong?”

“He’s daydreaming about his boyfriend,” Kaminari huffs.

“No, I’m not,” Kirishima protests. He doesn’t know what he’s feeling. Was it really just twelve hours ago that he was sitting in the diner with Bakugou, feeling happier than he’s ever been? It was a perfect moment, like the scene in a snow globe— untouchable and preserved.

“Sure,” Kaminari says, disbelieving.

“Leave him alone,” Jirou says lightly. “We wouldn’t have the kind of traction we do, right now, if he hadn’t gotten our names in every tabloid in the country.”

Because that was the point, Kirishima reminds himself. It wasn’t about him actually falling in love with Bakugou, it was about Riot getting famous and Bakugou preserving his own career. It wasn’t about the two of them as individuals, at all. And he needs to stop thinking about it that way.

Ashido lays a hand on his shoulder, and Kirishima finally looks up. Ashido’s eyes are liquid dark, round with concern. She’s startlingly beautiful, in that moment— her cheeks flushed a subtle pink, her long lashes accentuated by her dark eye makeup. But maybe what makes her so striking, just then, is the emotion in her eyes. It’s raw concern, like she’s aching for him alone.

Kirishima sucks in a breath. “I don’t know if I want to go on tour, right now.”

Kaminari smacks a hand against his forehead, and Jirou’s face takes on a pinched look. Ashido holds up a hand before either of them can say anything.

“Explain,” she says.

Kirishima folds his hands in his lap, dropping his gaze from Ashido. He wonders if Bakugou would be disappointed in him for his indecision. He wants to be a person of conviction, who can just reach out and take what they want. But he’s not like Bakugou. He has none of that certainty. What he may have wanted before has been eclipsed by something else.

“It’s months on the road,” he says, thinking through it even as he speaks aloud. “We’d be all over the country, in a different city every night. We wouldn’t be back home for weeks and weeks.”

“So?” Ashido asks, not unkindly.

“So,” Kirishima says, and suddenly his voice is miserable, suddenly there’s a heat in his eyes and he feels like he’s going to cry. He’s letting them all down, he knows he is. They’ve been in this together from the start, the four of them. And now he’s going to be the one who ruins everything. He sucks in a breath, tries to keep himself together. “So, nothing. It’s fine. Let’s go on tour.”

Kirishima.”

Three voices say his name in unison, so harshly it’s like a pianist hitting the wrong key in the middle of a song.

He looks up and sees them all staring at him, matching expressions of frustration on their faces.

“Dude, don’t do that,” Kaminari says, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

“I wasn’t—”

“Don’t say what you think we want you to,” Jirou continues, with a soft sigh. “Just because you’re doing it for us.”

“We don’t want that,” Ashido says. Her brows crease into an angry V over his eyes. “Why would we want that? We love you, Kirishima. We want you to be happy.”

The other two nod solemnly.

The dam breaks. Looking at them, feeling their concern and love, Kirishima folds in on himself. He rests his forehead against his knees, and his shoulders start to shake as the tears come. Furious and angry, they roll down his cheeks even as Ashido sits herself down on one side of him and Kaminari takes his place on the other. They lay their hands on his back, gentle and reassuring, but Kirishima can’t stop crying.

“I don’t know what to do.” The words come out in between sobs, like they’re being ripped out of his throat. “I don’t want to have to choose.”

Even a week ago, the thought of touring with Suneater would’ve filled him with nothing but joy. The idea of standing on the same stage as Amajiki Tamaki is beyond even his wildest dreams. Playing to the same audiences, standing in the same signing lines, spending time with one of his idols— it’s too good to be true.

But the past few months with Bakugou have been exhilarating in a completely different way. The small moments he’s build up with Bakugou, the thin string of connection between them that’s grown stronger and stronger— how could he give that up?

“I really like him,” Kirishima says, aware that he’s not making any sense. “I like him so much, and if I leave— it’s not real, we’re not together, if I leave it’s going to end.”

From beside him, Kaminari lets out a hiss. “We really are stupid.”

Kirishima rubs at his eyes, pulling himself up. Immediately, Ashido puts a hand around his shoulders and pulls him against her side. He rests his head against her shoulder, feels the warmth of her body and the solid comfort of her presence.

“We should’ve seen this coming,” Kaminari is saying, shaking his head.

“What?” Kirishima asks, breathless.

Jirou is hugging her legs against her chest, chin against her knees. “I think what Kaminari means is that, when you first started acting like Bakugou’s boyfriend, we should’ve know you wouldn’t be able to keep your own feelings out of it.”

They’re right. This is his fault.

“I’m sorry.” He doesn’t know what else there is to say.

“No,” Kaminari says, so fiercely it startles him. “No, shut up, you’re not the one who’s supposed to be sorry! We’re sorry. We shouldn’t have let you do this. We should’ve protected you.”

“What?”

Kaminari looks him straight in the eye, and his eyes are red like he’s about to start crying, too.

“You care about everyone,” Kaminari says, like an accusation. “And we’re supposed to know that better than anyone. This was bound to happen, and we let it.”

Kirishima looks around at the three of them, all with equally guilty expressions on their faces.

“No,” he protests, “no, it’s not your guys’ fault! How could you even think that?”

Jirou’s lips pull into a thin smile. “Maybe because you’re sitting here, miserable, and it happened on our watch?”

“That doesn’t make it your fault.” Kirishima rubs his hands over his face, trying to get his thoughts straight. “If I feel guilty for making you guys feel guilty for how I feel, we’re just going to keep going like this forever.”

Kaminari barks out a laugh, punches Kirishima lightly in the side. “You really fell for him, didn’t you? You fell for Bakugou Katsuki.”

Kirishima doesn’t know what to say to that. It’s not inaccurate—he feels something for Bakugou, can’t stop thinking about that last kiss. But his feelings aren’t as simple as he’d like them to be.

“Looks that way, doesn’t it,” he says, thinking to the photo on Twitter. Whatever is happening between the two of them, it’s out there for the entire world to see. He can’t shield it.

“We won’t go on tour unless all four of us agree to it,” Jirou says, toying with the ends of her bangs. She usually isn’t the decision-maker, and maybe that’s why she looks down at the ground when she says it.

“No, guys, you can’t worry about me—”

“Kirishima, shut up,” Kaminari says again, slapping his hand down on the crown of Kirishima’s head.

“You brought us together,” Jirou says. “We’re not going to do anything, unless you’re on board with it, too.”

Kirishima starts crying, again, but these aren’t tears of despair. Rather, it’s as though happiness is leaking out of him, too big to be contained in his chest.

“You guys,” he says, voice watery and rough.

“But if you decide we’re not doing this, you get to tell Kayama-san that, okay?” Kaminari says, winking.

Jirou kicks him. “Knock it off.”

Kirishima laughs, even though the sound comes like it’s being scraped from the back of his throat. When he has a moment to think, he realizes that Ashido hasn’t said anything, though she hasn’t moved her arm from around him. He looks up at her questioningly.

“Could the two of us talk?” she says, while Jirou and Kaminari are distracted by each other. “Alone?”

They step into Kirishima’s bedroom a minute later. Kirishima gestures Ashido to take a seat on the bed, and only happens to glance out his window as he moves to join her. He gasps at what he sees, shock going through him like arrow into his heart.

Bakugou’s billboard—the Best Jeanist ad, the one that went up weeks and weeks ago, before any of this started—is being plastered over in white. Workers are preparing the billboard for a new ad, and as they do they systematically erase Bakugou’s fiery image. The provocative jut of his hips in those jeans is already gone, as is the sharp angle of his bare arm, and now they’re working on the pale color of his hair.

It shouldn’t hurt, the way it does. But Kirishima physically reaches out, as though he can stop the work that’s already been done, as though he can keep that image of Bakugou preserved and whole. As though he can keep the real Bakugou to himself.

Kirishima,” Ashido says sharply, grabbing his wrist. “What’re you doing?”

Kirishima shakes his head, rubbing the back of his hand over his eyes. He needs—sleep. He needs to get himself together, and to get his emotions in check. That’s why everything seems to bad right now, isn’t it? Because he was out until the middle of the night and slept on Bakugou’s couch and ran to get to the meeting at Kayama’s office on time. He just hasn’t had time to process, or rest, or do anything at all. When he’s settled himself, none of this will feel quite as bad. He has to believe that.

He slumps down onto the bed beside Ashido, lying flat on his back as his legs dangle over the edge. Staring at the ceiling, he asks, “What was it you wanted to talk about?”

Beside him, Ashido stifles a sigh. “Kaminari was right. We should’ve seen this coming.”

“You don’t have to say it like that,” Kirishima mumbles.

“Like what?”

“Like it’s a tragedy,” Kirishima breathes out. Liking someone, isn’t it supposed to feel good? That’s what he’s always tried to write into his songs—a love that fills you up from the inside and then spills out of you because it’s too strong to be contained. Like drinking champagne too fast, and feeling the bubbles rising through your body until you’re giddy with them. Bakugou has made him happy, hasn’t he? Where has that happiness gone?

“If it’s not tragic, then why are you looking like that?” Ashido asks. She flops back, so that they’re lying side by side. Next to Kirishima’s broad chest, she’s slim and slight. Her shirt rides up a bit, revealing the curved line of her stomach and her rosy skin.

He takes a moment to think about it, to figure out how he feels.

“I don’t know what to do,” he admits, whispering the words like a secret. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

Ashido hums, reaching up and resting her hands behind her head. “Can I tell you a story?”

He’s always known her to be flighty—to jump from one topic to the next, to be more concerned with herself than the people around her, in a nonchalant but not unkind way. But right now, he doesn’t think she’s changing the subject.

“Okay,” he says.

She’s silent for a moment, still staring at the ceiling instead of looking at him. Then: “I really did love Sero, you know.”

Kirishima doesn’t interrupt, just nods. He’s not sure she can see the motion.

“I mean, I was seventeen. And some people think you can’t love anyone, when you’re that young, but I think I loved him more because of it. He was—he is—so good, you know? He’s funny, and he’s down to earth, and he doesn’t take any crap from anyone. He never let anything phase him. Even me! And I was a big deal, you remember that?”

Kirishima laughs, this time. He remembers Ashido at seventeen—bright pink hair and brighter smile, commanding presence and killer voice. He remembers standing behind her on stage and thinking, she’s it. She’s everything a star should be.

“You were like a hurricane,” he tells her.

“Right?” Ashido laughs, too. “I mean, maybe I should be embarrassed by how much of a diva I was, but I don’t think I’d do it any differently, now. But somehow—Sero got that, about me. He anchored me. I really, really loved that about him. He talked to me like I was a real person, but also like he’d follow me anywhere. I barely knew what to do with that, how he felt about me.”

He blinks at her phrasing. Not how she felt about him, but how he felt about her.

“But we had our problems, too,” Ashido says with a labored sigh. “I got an offer to—I don’t know if you ever heard about it, but—my publicist wanted me to write a song, for a TV show. Then perform it, for cross-promotion, and stuff. And Sero and I had a huge fight about it.”

Kirishima remembers the fight, but not what caused it. When had Ashido been on a TV show?

“I didn’t end up doing it,” she says, like she’s read his mind. “Because—because of what we were fighting about. Sero asked me, he said—” She cuts herself off with a deep breath.

“It’s okay,” Kirishima says, “You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to.”

“No,” Ashido insists. “I have to tell you, Kirishima. Because I don’t want to see you do something stupid, or something you’ll regret, when I could’ve helped you.”

They’re both silent, for a beat.

“Sero asked me if it was all worth it. If I wanted to be famous, more than anything else. More than I wanted to be with him.”

The words curve around Kirishima’s heart and squeeze. “Ashido—”

She smiles sadly. “I didn’t know. I loved him, sure, but I loved being a performer, too! And I thought, I’m seventeen! What happens if I give this life up for him, and then we don’t last? What if he doesn’t love me as much as I love him? What if he doesn’t love me anymore, if I’m not a famous idol? What then?”

Kirishima can’t imagine Sero’s feelings changing for such a reason. But as he’s quickly learning, maybe he never knew much about Sero and Ashido’s relationship, at all.

“Not knowing, it wasn’t good enough,” Ashido says. “And so, he moved on, and so did I. And then, six months later, I quit. Being an idol wasn’t what I wanted. But Sero was already gone by then, and so I had neither of the things I thought I wanted.”

Only now does Kirishima realize why Ashido’s telling him this story. Suddenly, he can’t get enough air. His throat is closing up, constricting his breathing.

“I’m not telling you what to do,” Ashido says. “And I don’t regret it, not really. I love what my life is, now. I love being in Riot, and performing with all of you. But you’ve got to make that choice for yourself, Kirishima. I want you to be happy, I want you to get whatever it is you want. But if you’re giving up one thing, I want you be sure the other is worth it.”

Ashido had given up a real relationship to chase her own dreams. And Kirishima has what, by comparison? A couple of stolen moments within a much larger lie. He hears the warning in Ashido’s words.

“I think you’re like Sero, in a lot of ways,” she says idly. “A lot of good ways, I mean. But I’m scared that maybe Bakugou is like me. He did start this whole thing just to save his career. Are you sure that’s not the only thing he’s after?”

What if he doesn’t like you as much as you like him? Ashido is asking. What if you give up your career, and at the end of it you don’t even have him?

Kirishima shakes his head, draping one arm over his eyes. “Fuck,” he mutters. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

Ashido curls up next to him, laying her head against his chest. “Be selfish, Kirishima. Make a decision for you, and not for anyone else. But do it with your eyes open, okay?”

He lets his arm drop down onto her shoulders, bolstered by her warmth.

“What would I do without you,” he murmurs.

She pokes him in the side. “That’s my line, Mister.”

He still has no idea what he should do. But for a moment, he’s content to just lie beside her.

That is, until a moment later. When he looks up and glances out the window, and sees all that’s left of Bakugou’s Best Jeanist ad: one startlingly bright red eye, smoldering as it looks out at him from an otherwise blank canvas of white. That eye stares at him, like it’s pinning him to the spot. Like it’s reminding him of something.

Maybe it’s a blessing, that Kirishima’s life is so hectic. It keeps him from thinking too much, at least. Even when he hasn’t decided what to do about the tour, when he hasn’t managed to get ahold of Bakugou in two days, he can’t really dwell on it. Because tonight is Riot’s last concert opening for Present Mic.

The atmosphere is different, tonight, even though they’ve played this show countless times. One of the managers bursts into their dressing room an hour and a half before they’re supposed to go on, and insists on decking them out in new outfits. Kirishima’s usual black tank is replaced by a furiously crimson one, with Riot! stamped across it in black lettering. Jirou gets one in purple, Kaminari one in yellow, and Ashido one in pink.

“We’ll sell more of them if we wear them first, I guess,” Kaminari says, pulling his tank over his head. He’s wearing a black choker around his neck, a small metallic lightning bolt dangling from it. His jeans are black, so tight they might as well be painted on. With his long legs and jaggedly-cut hair, he’s like lightning in a bottle. His energy is hectic, but somehow contained in these moments before they get on stage.

Kirishima feels like he’s leeching his strength off of all of them as they get ready to take the stage. Ashido’s cheer and Kaminari’s energy and Jirou’s focus. He’ll need all three, if he’s going to make it through tonight.

Before the lights have gone down, he looks out at the crowd, at the VIP box. Amajiki Tamaki is there, accompanied by his bandmates and his boyfriend, Toogata Mirio. Behind them, a man with shaggy black hair is leaning back in his seat—Kirishima blinks, because he can swear that the man is dozing off, despite the din around him. But beside him—beside him is Bakugou.

Kirishima swallows roughly. Bakugou isn’t looking toward the stage, not yet. He’s wearing a black button-down and has his arms crossed over his chest. His expression is neutral, for him—which means he looks like he’s ready to commit a murder.

And Kirishima’s in love with him. He’s so in love that just looking at Bakugou hurts, like there’s something inside him that’s grown too big for his chest and is about to burst out.

“He’s here,” Ashido says from beside him. But she’s not looking at Bakugou. She’s looking to the seat beside him, where Sero is sitting. He’s leaning forward, elbows against his knees, like he can’t wait to see the show.

Kirishima reaches for Ashido’s hand. “He’s seen our shows before,” he reminds her. “He always comes with Bakugou, doesn’t he?”

From Ashido’s other side, Jirou sucks in a breath. “Yeah, but in those shows, we didn’t have a bunch of new songs to play.”

“Including one that’s about Sero,” Kaminari finishes, brows inching upwards towards his hairline.

“It’s fine,” Ashido says definitively. She pulls away from Kirishima and snaps her fingers. “I’m a professional, you know! And this is fine.”

When they’re on stage, Kirishima can breathe easily for the first time in days. Music has always been like that, for him. It pulls him into a different world, where the only things that matter are the sounds and the feelings. Everything that’s been swirling around inside of him—love and confusion and indecision and despair—they seem to leave him as his fingers strum the strings of his guitar, as Ashido sings his words to the crowd, as Kaminari bangs out a beat and Jirou pulls off a particularly skillful solo.

This is the world he’s always wanted to be in. Why would he—how could he—give this up for anything?

This time, he’s barely aware of Bakugou in the crowd. He can’t be, because if he looks towards where he knows Bakugou is that will break the spell. He’ll be pulled out of the peace of this moment, and all his feelings will come roaring back to the surface. Right now, he can’t afford that.

They play a particularly long set, new songs littered in amongst the ones they’ve been playing for months. As their time on stage winds down, Ashido pulls her mic off its stand and addresses the crowd.

“I hope you’ve all been having a good night,” she says, and the crowd roars in response. Laughing, Ashido fluffs her hair. “Well! Save some of that energy for Present Mic, will you? It’ll be our secret that you liked us best.”

The crowd laughs, clapping and cheering. Ashido has that way with them, always manages to charm them entirely by the time Riot leaves the stage.

But now, her voice drops just a little lower, and her smile fades into something more open and honest.

“We have one more song to play for you,” she says. “It’s incredibly special to me, and I hope you listen to it with all your heart. Because we’ve all put our hearts into it.”

She takes a step back, and Kaminari taps out a slow, gentle beat. Ashido replaces her mic on its stand and wraps both her hands around it.

The first words come easily. Ashido stares out at the crowd as she sings, the rest of them playing the simple melody that Kayama-san had so approved of that day in the studio. They strum their guitars slowly, and Ashido’s voice falls like stones into a stream, soft and deliberate.

But the song gets more honest, the longer it goes on. It starts out with a romance and turns to something darker, something selfish and raw. And as Ashido is carried away in the current of the song, her voice cracks. She hitches a breath, and then she stops singing entirely.

Kirishima glances up, and realizes that Ashido’s looking straight out at the crowd, to where she knows Sero is sitting. She’s looking at him, and she’s frozen.

Kaminari tappers off in his playing, staring at Ashido. Jirou’s fingers falter a minute later. Their song peters out, noise echoing through the stadium as the crowd begins to murmur restlessly.

This can’t be happening. Ashido doesn’t freeze. She’s the confident one, the one who was made for the spotlight. She’s the one who’s carried them this far. But she isn’t moving, isn’t singing. Something’s gone terribly wrong.

She’s never asked Kirishima to write a song for her, from her before. And so maybe she’s never bared herself so fully to a crowd, never been so honest in her singing.

He’s moving before he’s even really thought about it. One moment, Kirishima is standing back and to the side, and the next he’s standing right next to Ashido, guitar still in his hands. He strums out the opening bars of the melody again, like they’re shifting back into the song. He pauses, then plays them again. But Ashido doesn’t join back in, doesn’t start singing.

Kirishima is looking at Ashido when he begins to sing. He’s still strumming out that melody, and the words come easily—it’s like being back in that recording booth, with just him and Ashido, not realizing they had an audience. He sings, and he plays the song he wrote for her. The one in which he’d tried his best to understand her feelings, and melded them with some of his own. His perception of Bakugou, and his perception of Ashido, and the feelings shared between all these people he cares about so much. He sings them, and his voice carries from the stage, out over the crowd.

Ashido blinks up at him, wetness in her eyes that shine golden under the stage lights. But she sings with him, then—their voices mingling one more, deep and rich and high and intense. They look at each other and sing, and around them there is utter silence from the crowd.

They both stop singing at once, as Kirishima plays the last few notes on his guitar. On cue, the lights of the stage dim.

“Kirishima,” Ashido whispers, hands coming up over her mouth, “you were singing.”

He’s still a bit dazed when the noise finally reaches him—the enormous din of the crowd as they cheer and cheer and cheer, a mix of Riot! and Kirishima! and We love you!

The sound rushes up around him like he’s just dunked his head underwater, like he’s in the ocean and the current is pulling him under. He’s too numb, too stunned to feel anything like horror or fear at what he’d just done.

Because he wasn’t singing for himself, just now. He’d been singing for her. For Ashido, and a for another person, out in the crowd like a single luminous star in the darkness.

Chapter Text

He’s still riding high on adrenaline a few hours later, when Present Mic throws an arm around Kirishima’s shoulders and pulls him close.

“Who do you think you are, kid?” Yamada demands, still flushed from his own performance. His golden blond hair is pulled back into its usual, improbable style, but he’s shed the leather jacket for a plain black t-shirt. “Why didn’t I know that you had pipes like that, hah?”

“Um, sorry?” Kirishima blinks into the bright lights, the sheer volume of Yamada’s voice.

Yamada rolls his eyes, blinking at the ceiling. “And you’re not even cocky about it. If I wasn’t already a star, I’d be sizing you up as a rival.”

If they were anywhere close to the same league, Kirishima wouldn’t even be in Yamada’s weight class. Yamada has to know that, and is probably just being nice.

Kirishima immediately throws his hands up in front of his face. “It’s not like that, Yamada-san! I’m not a singer, I was just trying to keep the performance going! Anyway, that’s Ashido’s job—”

Yamada snorts, with no patience for Kirishima’s deflections. “No one’s doubting her. Hell, you’ve been opening for me for months, you think I don’t know she can sing? But the two of you, together—that was something else, kid. You’d be smart not to let it go so quickly.”

Kirishima is sure that his face is as red as his hair. He really doesn’t know what possessed him to sing tonight—or he does, but doesn’t want to face those emotions so directly.

Yamada had invited them back to his penthouse apartment for an after-party, of sorts. That was his last show in-residence at the arena, and Riot’s last time opening for him. Some executives from the label are around, along with everyone who’d been in the VIP box earlier in the evening. Kirishima gulps, remembering that last detail.

The sitting room is massive—hardwood floors and glass walls that look out over the lights of the city. People are milling about with drinks, chatting and dancing and looking out onto the city. Kirishima barely has time to register all their faces as Yamada tugs him across the room.

There’s a sunken section of the room, where a handful of people are sitting on sleek leather couches. Kirishima recognizes a few familiar faces before Yamada tugs him in front of a man who’s draped over the couch like he might fall asleep on it at any moment.

He’s tall, with wan-looking skin and eyes surrounded by deep bags. His hair is dark, jaggedly cut and falling over his forehead and around his shoulders. He’s dressed all in black, but instead of put-together he seems careless—his clothes baggy, his face dotted with stubble.

On the couch across from him are Bakugou and Sero. Bakugou has his arms crossed over his chest, brow furrowed as he broods. Sero, on the other hand, is waving his arms excitedly as chatters to the tired-looking man.

In that moment, a surge of harsh anger rises through Kirishima. Why does Sero look so happy? Doesn’t he know what he’d done to Ashido? How badly she feels, because of him? Why should he get to feel happy when she doesn’t?

As though sensing Kirishima’s thoughts—or maybe just spotting his glare—Sero looks up and his cheery expression disappears for a moment, replaced by a frown and the flash of something like guilt in his eyes. And immediately, Kirishima regrets, because Sero is also his friend, and—this is too complicated. He doesn’t know if he’s supposed to pick a side, or how he’s supposed to feel about Sero when he only has Ashido’s perspective on their story.

“Shouta,” Yamada says, breaking through Kirishima’s thoughts. “There you are.”

The tired-looking man looks up at Yamada and blinks like he senses a headache coming on. “I haven’t moved,” he says in a deep, slow voice. “You’re the one flitting about like a hummingbird.”

“I wanted you to meet all the kids,” Yamada says, excitedly. “This is Kirishima.”

Kirishima steps forward, prepared to introduce himself, but the man—Shouta?—just sighs.

“I know who he is,” he says, waving a vague hand at Bakugou.

And, it should be impossible, but Bakugou’s cheeks stain a furious red as the man gestures at him. Then he jerks his chin up and says, “Obviously. He’s my boyfriend, why else would I be here.”

His words are sullen, impatient, but they send sparks through Kirishima’s veins. Has Bakugou ever claimed him so readily, before? Usually it’s Kirishima who steps in to keep their cover story going.

“Kirishima,” Sero cuts in, smooth and professional like the agent he is, “This is Aizawa Shouta-san. He’s an incredible director, from Eraser Head Features.”

“He’s an incredible director, when he isn’t firing every single actor off his set,” Yamada sneers, elbowing Aizawa in the side. Aizawa grimaces at him.

Kirishima looks away from Aizawa, only to meet Bakugou’s glare. His eyes are burning with something that Kirishima can’t name, but they look like hot coals. He’s definitely not happy.

“Hey,” Kirishima says, moving towards Bakugou. “I really need to talk to you.”

Before Bakugou can answer, Sero steps between them. He shrugs apologetically. “Sorry, Kirishima. But we actually really need to finish this conversation.” He gestures are Aizawa, who’s still trading barbs with Yamada.

“Shouta,” Yamada is saying, “What did you think of my show, huh?”

Aizawa rolls his eyes. “Was it any different than the last dozen?” he asks blandly. Yamada lets out a sound like a boiling kettle, but Aizawa just shrugs. “My ears aren’t bleeding, I suppose.”

Sero is raising his hand like he’s waiting for Aizawa to call on him, or at least return to their conversation. But before he does, Aizawa turns to Kirishima.

“You got quite the reaction tonight,” he says, assessment in his dark eyes. “Not bad.”

For some reason, the simple words are truer praise than the platitudes Kirishima’s gotten from others tonight. He smiles brightly, bobbing a half-bow in Aizawa’s direction.

“Ah, thank you!”

Aizawa turns towards Sero and Bakugou. “Where were we?”

Sero starts talking at a mile a minute, and Kirishima can barely follow what’s said. He knows a dismissal when he sees one, and he edges around Yamada and heads back into the crowd before he can be pulled in any more directions.

On the other side of the room, Kirishima spots Amajiki Tamaki. He’s dressed as usual, in dark jeans and a baggy jacket, metallic piercings glinting from his face. There’s an air of casual cool around him that Kirishima wishes he had. Amajiki slumps forward in his seat, hands folded in his lap as he talks to Kayama Nemuri.

She’s another matter, entirely. The head of Midnight Records is in a slinky black dress, straddling the line between cocktail and casual. Her dark hair is loose down her back, and she balances a flute of bubbling champagne in one hand as she murmurs something to Amajiki. He looks up at her, cheeks flushing, and she throws back her head and laughs. She reaches out with her free hand to pat him consolingly on the shoulder. She looks up and makes eye contact with Kirishima.

“Just the person I wanted to see,” she calls out, gesturing him over.

Kirishima walks towards them. He’s been wearing the same smile all night—genuinely happy, in some respects, but bashful. He can feel a dozen pairs of eyes on him, and when Kayama’s dark blue eyes focus on him, she looks like the cat that’s just eaten the canary. Under her gaze, Kirishima feels like the second course.

“I knew the brash Kirishima-kun I’d met so long ago was in there somewhere,” she says brightly, poking Kirishima square in the chest with one red-lacquered nail. “But even I didn’t see such a spontaneous performance coming. Ah, youth!” She takes a long sip of her champagne.

“I didn’t mean—I mean, it wasn’t planned—” Kirishima sputters, unsure of how to explain himself. There’s some part of him that’s inordinately pleased that people honestly seem to have enjoyed his performance. But there’s still a voice in the back of his mind, wondering how that could possibly be the case. He’s not the star of this band, and he certainly didn’t want to wrestle the spotlight away from Ashido. He wanted to help her, help the band hold things together. He wasn’t thinking of what would come after.

“Of course, it wasn’t,” Kayama says. “But it was perfect. That’s part of why you’re such an asset, Kirishima-kun. You’re very genuine. Even your love story, all the drama with that boyfriend of yours, everyone can tell that’s your real self even when you’re in the tabloids. We couldn’t have constructed better press for you.”

A heavy stone drops to the bottom of Kirishima’s gut. He’s not genuine at all, is he? He’s never wanted to deceive anyone, in his entire life. But somehow he’s caught in a lie so complicated that Kayama thinks it’s the real thing. But it’s not quite fake, either, is it? After all, what he feels for Bakugou has become genuine. He’s not even sure where the lie ends and the truth begins, anymore.

Kirishima dips his head back and laughs nervously. “That’s not how I would put it…”

“Modest as ever,” Kayama says fondly. She gets to her feet, high heels hitting the ground with a click. She leans in and pinches Kirishima’s cheek between her thumb and forefinger. “Don’t lose that spark you have, alright? I can sell the world your music on its own, but having such a personality attached doesn’t hurt in the slightest. And once the two of you go on tour…”

She looks significantly between Amajiki and Kirishima, and Kirishima wishes the ground would open up and swallow him whole. He just wants to be excited about the opportunity, to face Amajiki with all the excitement he should be feeling right now. Instead, it’s one more thing tugging at him. He’s going to be ripped in half, at this rate.

“Anyway,” Kayama says, smoothing down her dress. “I’m going to go make sure Shouta and Hizashi are behaving themselves. The two of you, though—I’ll see you and all your bandmates in my office first thing on Monday. We have planning to do, boys.”

With that, she strides off, heels clicking against the ground as she walks.

Kirishima lets out a deep sigh, sinking into the seat Kayama had just vacated.

“Yeah,” Amajiki agrees. “Kayama-san never stops being overwhelming.”

Kirishima looks over at Amajiki, laughing again. “Most of the time, I find her really fun,” he admits. “Tonight has just been… a lot, I guess.”

Amajiki is still looking down at his hands, thumbs nervously circling one another. “I had no idea you could sing like that,” he says quietly.

“I sing all the time,” Kirishima admits. The others at the party aren’t paying much attention to them, at the moment, and Kirishima feels like he can talk more freely with Amajiki. “But just not—I mean. I tried, in the past. To sing in front of crowds. But I just couldn’t do it.”

Amajiki purses his lips together like he’s trying to hide a smile. “And tonight was different?”

“I wrote that song for Ashido,” Kirishima tells him. “We’ve been through so much together, and singing with her was different than being on stage alone.”

Amajiki nods in understanding. “Going on stage still makes me nervous.”

“What?” Kirishima gapes at him. “But, Amajiki-san, you’re Suneater! You’re the best! What do you have to be nervous about?”

“I know I’m skilled,” Amajiki says, smile self-deprecating. “But my mind works against me. I’m not strong enough to do it on my own.”

Kirishima huffs at him. “I don’t believe that! I’ve looked up to you for so long, Amajiki-san! And if you can get past your nervousness, and still perform the way you do—that makes you even stronger, to me!”

Now Amajiki looks up, dark eyes meeting Kirishima’s. “So then, you’re stronger than you think you are, too?”

Kirishima opens his mouth to object, and then snaps it closed again.

Amajiki laughs, a little. “I hate parties,” he says, changing the subject. “But Mirio convinced me to come. Because I wanted to tell you how amazing you were, tonight.”

Warmth surges in Kirishima’s chest, burning away the hollow indecision that’s been eating at him for days. Amaijiki Tamaki thinks he’s amazing?

“I don’t really get it,” Kirishima says. “You go on tour, and you’re so cool, all the time. I’ve seen you perform. Everyone loves you.”

Amajiki shrugs. “It’s different to perform, than to be around people in person, like this. Even when I’m nervous, I get on stage and everyone seems far away. I can just focus on my music.”

Kirishima laughs. “I think it’s the opposite, for me. I’m much better at talking to people than performing for them.”

Amajiki smiles, tongue-ring glinting as he licks nervously over his lips. “Maybe we can learn from each other, then. We’ll be spending a lot of time together, soon.”

Because Kayama-san wants them to go on tour together. Suneater and Riot, travelling around the country for months. There’s so much that Kirishima could learn from Amajiki, so much that just being around him would do for Kirishima’s music and performance. But—

“How do you do it, Amajiki-san?” Kirishima demands. “Toogata-san isn’t with you, when you go on tour. How do you leave him for so long?”

Amajiki blinks, a blush coloring his cheeks. He glances across the room, to where Toogata is standing with Kamanari and Ashido, laughing at something one of them has said. Amajiki’s face softens when he looks at Toogata, a warmth filling his eyes.

How has no one else figured them out? Kirishima wonders. It’s obvious how much Amajiki loves Toogata.

“He’s always waiting for me,” Amajiki breathes out, “whenever I leave, I know he’ll be there when I get home. He comes out to see me whenever he can, and I’m not very good without him. But he gives me strength, and he wants me to be my best. I’m not good at being optimistic and bright, the way he is. The way you seem to be, Kirishima. But he helps me get there.”

Kirishima blinks. Of course, Amajiki and Toogata are in a real relationship. Toogata is Amajiki’s boyfriend, and will be waiting whenever Amajiki comes home.

“I’m scared,” Kirishima admits.

“To leave Bakugou?” Amajiki asks. He tilts his head. “It isn’t easy. But I think… you can make it work. Mirio and I have.”

But what you have is real, Kirishima wants to yell. He doesn’t have anything so solid to hold onto. He doesn’t have something real—but could he?

“He needs to know how I feel, before I leave,” Kirishima mutters, chin pressed against his clenched fist. “I can’t leave him when things are still uncertain.”

Amajiki’s hand comes down on his shoulder, giving him a tentative, supportive pat. “I think the whole world knows how you two feel,” he says, not unkindly.

Kirishima looks up and laughs sheepishly. But maybe it’d be more truthful to cry.

“I really need to talk to you,” he says, grabbing Bakugou’s elbow and pulling him out of the crowd.

“Hey—!” Bakugou growls, until he spots the look on Kirishima’s face. “Fine, asshole. Don’t grab me.” He yanks himself out of Kirishima’s grip, striding towards one of the tall glass doors. It’s off to one side, out of sight. It leads out onto a balcony, and Bakugou steps out onto it.

Present Mic’s apartment looks out over the entire city, bright lights blinking down below them like stars. Kirishima rubs at his elbows as the cool air blows past them. Bakugou walks over to the edge of the balcony, leaning his elbows against the railing and staring out at the skyline.

It was months ago, now, but Kirishima is struck by the memory of the last time they were up this high, together. When they stood on the rooftop at Hagakure’s party, back when they were still strangers. Now, when Kirishima looks at Bakugou he doesn’t see a famous actor with a furious expression. He sees Bakugou Katsuki, a man full of vulnerability and strength. He sees the person he’s come to love.

“You wanted to talk,” Bakugou grumbles, not turning back to look at him. “So, talk.”

“Is something wrong?” Kirishima says, instead of the words he’s been mulling over in his head for the past half-hour. “You don’t seem happy.”

Bakugou shrugs. “Do I ever?”

“Yes,” Kirishima says, coming up to stand beside him. “Maybe not the way other people do, but I know when you are. At least, I think I do.”

Bakugou turns towards him just a fraction of an angle, enough for Kirishima to see the slow arch of his brow.

“At the diner,” Kirishima mutters, embarrassed. He scratches at the back of his head. “I mean, I had a good night, and I thought you did, too. But you didn’t call me after, and…”

“Isn’t that what people do after real dates,” Bakugou says blandly.

“Well, yeah. But I—I really wanted you to call me, Bakugou.”

It’s enough of an admission that Bakugou turns more fully towards him, red eyes reflecting the bright lights of the city. His gaze feels like the heat of a fire, close enough to burn straight through Kirishima.

“You’re pretty fucking brave tonight, aren’t you,” he says, and Kirishima can’t even begin to parse his tone. “Singing on a stage in front of hundreds of people, and then telling me you expect a goddamn phone call. What happened to being too scared for all of this, huh?”

Is Bakugou scolding him, or praising him? Didn’t he want Kirishima to work up the guts to sing in front of a crowd? And if he wanted that, does it mean he also wants this relationship to be more than a front?

“I’m really confused,” Kirishima admits quietly. “I have been, for a while now.”

“I could’ve told you that.”

“It’s your fault, you know!” Kirishima says suddenly, throwing up his hands. “You keep trying to convince everyone that you’re such an asshole, but guess what? I don’t believe that, anymore. I know you, and I know you’re better than what you want everyone to think.”

Bakugou blinks at him, like this is the first time Kirishima has truly caught him off guard. “Shut the fuck up,” he says, but the heat in his words has gone from a blazing inferno to crackling embers.

Why did you do it? Kirishima wants to ask. Why did you show me parts of you that no one else has seen? Why did you show me things that would make me fall in love with you?

Far below them, the lights of the city twinkle in and out of existence. Everything seems far away—the entire world, everything Kirishima has been carrying around for so long. Right now, it’s just him and Bakugou. And he has to get Bakugou to listen to what he has to say.

“Kayama-san wants us to go on tour,” he says, all in a rush. “As the next step, in promoting Riot. Us and Suneater, nationwide. And that means I’d be gone for months, Bakugou. I wouldn’t be able to see you, or take pictures for the press, or be your date to movie premieres. I’d have to be focused on my band. Do you understand?”

Bakugou crosses his arms over his chest, in a way that seems almost defensive. It’s like he’s trying to shield himself. “So what? You want out?”

“No!” Kirishima cries, more fervently than he intends. “No, that’s not what I want, at all!”

For a moment, something like doubt flickers across Bakugou’s face. For a moment, he looks as open and vulnerable as he had when he’d been sick and his guard had been down. Something genuine and insecure and hopeful shines in his eyes.

“Bakugou,” Kirishima says, taking a step forward, reaching for him. “Bakugou, I want—”

“I’m going to be in Aizawa’s next movie,” Bakugou spits out, stepping just out of Kirishima’s grasp. “That’s what we were talking about, before.”

“What?” Kirishima blinks.

“His production company is the artsy, indie bullshit one inside of the same studio Yagi works for,” Bakugou explains, words coming fast but with clinical detachment. “He does all sorts of weird shit that the critics lose their goddamn minds for. And he wants me to be in his next movie.”

“That’s… great,” Kirishima says, forcing a smile. “I mean, if that’s what you want.”

Bakugou shrugs, like he couldn’t care less. “It’s shooting on location,” he mutters. “On Miyakojima.”

“The resort island?” Kirishima asks.

Bakugou gives a curt nod. “It’s a summer beach movie. A romance.”

A summer romance doesn’t sound like the special project Bakugou’s been waiting for. Unless…

“It’s opposite another man,” Bakugou says. “The budget’s shit and the studio expects it to tank, but they’ll let Aizawa do whatever the fuck he wants because it’s him. So, he goes and decides he’s directing a summer romance with a gay couple.”

“The storyline you wanted,” Kirishima says quietly. “Bakugou, that’s great. That’s—that’s so great.”

“There’s a catch.” He’s looking out at the city again, hands clenched over the railing. His every muscle radiates tension, like he’s choosing every word carefully.

“What is it?”

Bakugou huffs a sigh. “You probably don’t know how studios work, do you.”

“Not really,” Kirishima admits.

“Figures.” Bakugou shakes his head. “They’ll try to tie down big actors, when they can. Give the actor a movie he wants to be in, but anchor the contract to another project the studio wants. A good role for the actor with a money-maker for the studio.”

“Makes sense,” Kirishima says, though he’s not quite sure where Bakugou is going with this.

“They’re not going to give me just Aizawa’s movie,” Bakugou grumbles, gnashing his teeth. “They’re too sure they’ll take a hit on it, and I can’t do it for nothing. If I don’t make them acknowledge me, and who I am, the movie won’t mean as much. It has to cost them something, so that they take me seriously.”

No wonder he’s been brooding, Kirishima thinks. He’s been trying to figure out how to make this whole thing work.

“So…?” Kirishima prompts.

“So,” Bakugou seethes, “they tied Aizawa’s movie to Yagi’s. If I want to do the romance, I have to do the fucking blockbuster.”

Because He is My Hero, the script Kirishima had read at Bakugou’s apartment. With Midoriya, and Uraraka, and Todoroki. Where Bakugou will play the villain to Midoriya’s hero. The film everyone has been pressuring him to do, that Bakugou has adamantly refused. Directed by the actor Bakugou so admires, but who fills him with guilt and regret.

“Are you sure you want to do that?”

Bakugou rounds on him, eyes flashing. “I don’t do anything unless I’m fucking sure,” he says, so loudly and with such heat that it’s like he’s trying to convince himself, rather than Kirishima. “I told Sero to find another fucking way, but this is it. And I’ve been waiting too damn long to let this movie go. So, I’ll do it. I’ll show them all what I’m capable of. I’ll show the whole damn world.”

This time, when Kirishima smiles, it isn’t forced.

“I know you will,” he breathes. “You’re amazing, Bakugou. You’re my favorite actor, you know. And not just because of the way you look, or the roles you play. For a long time, I’ve felt close to you because of the way you act.”

Bakugou is looking at him, breathing heavily. “You don’t fucking get it, do you.”

Kirishima knocks his head to one side. “Get what?”

Bakugou runs a hand through his hair impatiently. “It’s two movies, back to back. The romance is going to be at least two months on location, and then who knows how long Yagi’s movie is going to take. I’m going to be tied up for the next year.”

Kirishima will be touring the country, and Bakugou will be stuck in one place, shooting his movie. Would they ever be able to see each other?

Maybe if they were really dating, had a real foundation to move forward from, this wouldn’t matter. They could go off on their separate paths with something solid between them, and return to each other when all was said and done. But when it’s been fake from the start, how can they hold onto it? Does Bakugou even want to?

“So… you got what you wanted, then,” Kirishima says. “Does that mean… you’re done with me?”

Bakugou clicks his tongue against his teeth. “I just told you, I won’t have time for fucking anything for a year, what do you expect—”

“I don’t want to break up,” Kirishima says suddenly, desperately. “We don’t need to, do we? I mean, wouldn’t that be more trouble than it’s worth, anyway? More drama than we want to deal with? We can just—go. Do the things we need to do. And it’ll make sense if we aren’t taking pictures together, or showing up places. Because everyone’ll know you’re shooting a movie and I’m on tour. No one’ll ask questions.”

“What’s the fucking point, then,” Bakugou starts to say.

But Kirishima cuts him off. He surges forward, grabbing Bakugou’s face in his hands and pressing their lips together. He doesn’t know how to say all that he needs to. Maybe if he had time, he could write it into a song. And maybe his feelings would reach Bakugou that way, be easier for him to understand. But right now, all he has is this surging sensation in his chest, this sense of urgency that pushes him closer and closer to Bakugou. He can’t let him go, not without at least trying to convey his feelings.

He kisses Bakugou for all he’s worth. And after a moment, Bakugou kisses him back. He lifts a hand to fist in the back of Kirishima’s shirt, and they’re pressed so close together than Kirishima can feel the thunderous beat of Bakugou’s heart. His lips are rough and insistent against Kirishima’s, and Kirishima’s kiss is desperate and thorough.

Don’t let this be the last time, he thinks. Please don’t let this be the last time we’re together, like this.

They break away from each other, gasping for breath. Bakugou lifts a hand to his mouth, fingers against his lips like he can still feel Kirishima against them.

“I’ve gotten a lot of good advice, lately,” Kirishima says quietly. “From a lot of people who know a lot more than I do. One of them told me to be selfish, to go after what I want. And I think, I need to do that.”

“Isn’t what you want to be a musician?” Bakugou asks accusatorily. “To be famous, because of your music?”

“Bakugou, I—” Kirishima starts to say, because Bakugou has to know. Before they leave each other, Bakugou has to know.

“No.” Bakugou cuts him off, lowering his hand and looking at Kirishima with challenge in his eyes. “Don’t you fucking dare, not now. When we see each other, again. Tell me then.”

He squares his shoulders and steps away from Kirishima, back towards the door. But Kirishima pushes forward again, grabs Bakugou around the wrist.

“I’m going to miss you,” Kirishima says. His eyes burn as tears gather there. “Bakugou, I’m gonna miss you so much.”

Bakugou tugs his wrist out of Kirishima’s grasp, then shakes his head. “Fucking idiot,” he mutters. “You’re going to be famous. People’re going to be screaming your name every night. When will you even have time to miss me?”

“I will,” Kirishima insists. Fuck, he’s crying. He rubs at his eyes with the back of his hand.

“You’re a rock star,” Bakugou reminds him. Something about his voice is far away, hollow and lonely. “Try to enjoy it.”

He stalks off, back towards the party and the future he’s been wanting for so long.

Kirishima stands alone on the balcony, the city lights shining far below him and tears dripping slowly down his face. He sucks in a breath, wiping at the tear tracks and biting down on his lower lip.

“When I sing on tour, it’ll be for you,” he says quietly.

Bakugou is already far away, and Kirishima doesn’t know if he’s heard.

Chapter Text

It’s the first time in a week that Bakugou doesn’t have a hellishly early call time, and he isn’t even happy about that. Waking up without having somewhere to be, something to do, gives him too much time to think. And that’s something he’s been avoiding for six weeks, now. (And longer, but he really won’t let himself dwell on that.)

The apartment he’s been staying in is comfortable, but it’s blank. There are no personal touches, no comforting reminders of anything or anyone. He can’t stay here for any amount of time, because it drives him fucking nuts with its emptiness.

He pulls on his running shorts and sneakers. Glancing out the window, he sees the sun barely rising over the horizon, dyeing the ocean around the island a vivid crimson. He scowls at the color, shoves his headphones into his ears and heads out the door.

As he starts running in a parallel line to the ocean, an old song croons at him through his earbuds. The voice is soft, tentative, but the message is clear. He’s been listening to it, on and off, for years now.

Love isn’t a muscle. It doesn’t grow weaker when it isn’t used. It doesn’t decay when you can’t move it for some time.

Love is like breathing. It’s involuntary. Even if you’ve been drowning, the moment you hit the surface you’ll breathe it in. Your body will respond before you can think, gasping for air. You’ll pull it into your lungs for all you’re worth and you’ll be surrounded by love.

And it won’t be distant or foreign anymore. You’ll know what to do.

He listens to the song on repeat as he runs along the ocean, as the mild winter wind blows across his skin and the slowly rising sun tinges the world around him the colors of a blazing fire. He runs, and tries to push past everything that’s weighing him down. But his every thought, his every emotion, pulls against his muscles until he’s gritting his teeth and nearly screaming as he climbs up to the top of a hill overlooking the beach.

He flops down onto the ground, pulls out his earbuds as he pants heavily. He rolls over and pulls himself up to a seated position, bracing his hands against his knees as he stares out at the horizon. The sky is still a furious red, and Bakugou stares out at the color and his entire body aches.

“Fuck,” he growls, wishing there was something around for him to take his anger out on. But there’s only the cloudy sky, the clear ocean, and wind whistling through the grass. Everything is perfect and beautiful, and he hates it.

He hates it, and he misses Kirishima more than he’d ever thought possible.

Bakugou pushes open the door to his apartment and sees Sero waiting for him, sitting at the kitchen island like he owns the entire damn apartment. Bakugou throws him a particularly filthy glare before grabbing himself a bottle of orange juice out of the fridge and drinking straight from it.

“You can’t always blame your bad moods on me, y’know,” Sero tells him. He’s dressed for a day on set, in pressed slacks and a pale blue polo short. His stupidly expensive sunglasses are pushed back into his hair, and there’s wearing the fancy watch that Bakugou got him for his birthday two years ago. Everything about him says, Yes, I’m young, but if you don’t take me seriously you’ll regret it. Everything, that is, except the stupid smile on his stupid face.

“Fucking watch me,” Bakugou mutters, wiping off his mouth with the back of his wrist. Despite his attitude, he pulls out the chair next to Sero and sits himself down in it.

Sero lifts both his brows, looking at Bakugou with disbelief. “Dude, seriously. You could just call him, you know.”

Bakugou hates the idea of being so transparent, but with Sero there’s not much he can do about it. The fucker knows things, and Bakugou can’t take those pieces of knowledge back any more than he could actually fire Sero. It leaves him trapped with a person who is entirely unintimidated by him. Which means Bakugou has to play dirty.

“Oh, yeah?” he challenges. “How’d it go, then? When you called Raccoon Eyes?”

Sero’s cheeks heat and he waves his hands in front of his face, because of course he hasn’t called Ashido. He’s not going to call Ashido, because he’s a damn coward.

(It’s not the same, for Bakugou and Kirishima. It’s never been the same.)

“You know it’s not the same thing,” Sero protests. “If I call Ashido, it’s going to make things worse. You’re not calling Kirishima because you’re too scared to be happy.”

Bakugou lunges without conscious thought, shoving Sero off his kitchen chair and onto the floor. Sero lets out an undignified yelp, and Bakugou leans back against the counter with his lips pursed into a straight line.

“You were saying?” he says, as Sero gets to his feet and then back into his seat.

Sero shakes his head. “He sang a song for you,” he says quietly.

Bakugou snorts out a laugh. “She sang a song for you, dumbass. He just helped because he’s a sucker for his fucking friends.”

“Ashido doesn’t write songs,” Sero reminds him. “You’ve gotta know that. And forget the song—what about the rest of it? Why’d you just walk away?”

Bakugou pins his agent-slash-manager with a livid gaze. “There’s a small list of things I’ll take your shit about, Sero. And this is nowhere near on it.”

Sero doesn’t back down, just frowns at Bakugou and crosses his arms over his chest.

He doesn’t know when he let his life get this tangled up—this whole thing with Kirishima, and Kirishima knowing Sero, and Sero being hung up on Ashido, and Ashido being in Kirishima’s band. Everything is so convoluted at this point that it’s like a minefield—if he approaches just one part of it, the entire thing will blow up in his face.

He runs a hand over his face, scowling at himself. This is the exact reason that he’s avoided all this shit for so long.

“Lose the attitude,” he snaps. “We’ve got to get to work.”

He’s just gotten through hair and makeup when he spots an unwelcome figure striding towards him. Bakugou doesn’t bother hiding the scowl that deepens on his face as he glances at a woman with a shock of green hair and an obnoxiously wide smile.

“Oh, Bakugou-kun,” Fukukado Emi chirps at him, “What’s got you so angry today, huh? How can we turn that frown upside down?”

“None of your business,” Bakugou grumbles, which probably isn’t the best thing to say to the movie’s script writer. He’ll never understand how Fukukado, who doesn’t appear to have a serious bone in her body, wrote the heart-wrenching drama he’s currently filming. But he doesn’t understand much of anything, these days.

“Come on, now,” Fukukado says, slinging an arm over Bakugou’s shoulders. She’s not a large woman, but she’s got an immense presence. Plus, she’s loud. “Tell me about it. I’m sure it’ll cheer you up.”

“I’m sure it won’t.” Bakugou bites at the inside of his cheek. He’s never gotten the inclination this industry has to form on-set families. He doesn’t want Fukukado to mother him, or to even try and be his friend. All he wants is to do his job, do it well, and then go home and never talk to any of these people ever again.

Thankfully, Fukukado doesn’t push the point. The two of them arrive on set together, but Bakugou pulls away from her as soon as he’s able to take a seat and wait for his call. Unfortunately, there’s another fly buzzing around this morning.

“Yo, Bakugou,” a falsely-cheerful voice says.

A shadow falls over Bakugou, blocking out the sun and his view of the clear blue ocean. He doesn’t look up, just stares resolutely forward as he says, “Fuck off.”

Shindou You chuckles as he takes his seat next to Bakugou’s. Like Bakugou, he’s already been through wardrobe and makeup for the morning. (After the first few days of filming, the crew had learned not to have them in their makeup chairs at the same time. It’s impossible to do Bakugou’s face when he’s scowling that hard.) Shindou is left looking impeccable, almost too perfect in his short-sleeved buttown-down shirt and dark board shorts.

“Oh, you’re in a bad mood today,” Shindou comments, smile never leaving his face. There’s a touch of red-pink gloss over his lips. He’s just enough taller than Bakugou for the difference to be noticeable, and with his dark hair and open expression he stands in direct contrast to everything Bakugou is.

“Is being around a fake asshole like you supposed to put me in a good mood?” Bakugou demands, unwilling to uncross his arms from over his chest.

Shindou shrugs, utterly unbothered. “I dunno, I thought we’d have some cute behind-the-scenes banter to tease everyone with before the movie comes out. You know, costars who become incurable pranksters or darlings on set. It’d be fun, you know?”

Bakugou stares Shindou down, unblinking. “You’re out of your goddamn mind.”

Bakugou has just fumbled his lines for the third time when Aizawa calls cut and lets out a frustrated hiss. Shindou still has his hands at Bakugou’s waist, fingers flexing as he no doubt jeers at Bakugou’s mistake. The morning’s cloud cover is gone, leaving Bakugou overheated and uncomfortable. He growls, pulling out of Shindou’s grip and pushing him away unceremoniously.

(It was supposed to be a sweet scene, the two of them fighting and then flirting by the ocean. Bakugou’s character stalked away, embarrassed, and then Shindou pulled him back with his hand around Bakugou’s wrist. They ended up pressed close together, Shindou holding onto Bakugou, minutes away from a first kiss.)

From over by the camera, Aizawa pinches the bridge of his nose. He gestures blandly at Shindou, but addresses Bakugou. “Let’s review. This is the person you’re currently falling in love with. Stop looking like you’re about to clock him.”

Bakugou sends Shindou a sideways glare, even though he knows Shindou isn’t the problem. Fuck, he’s spent the majority of his career pretending to fall in love with women. Compared to that, this should come more naturally to him, shouldn’t it? In any case, he’s a goddamn actor. None of this should be this hard. He should just disappear into the role, and forget his own feelings entirely. What’s wrong with him?

“Well?” Aizawa prompts. Despite the blazing sun overhead, he’s dressed in his customary black. His long hair is pulled back into a knot at the nape of his neck. Over the past few weeks, Bakugou’s grown accustomed to the fierce focus of his eyes underneath jaggedly-cut hair and the tired lines of his face.

He thinks he respects Aizawa. Likes him, even, in some distanced way he’s not quite ready to admit to. But right now, with Aizawa looking at him and Shindou being smug beside him and Fukukudo standing back on set, laughing for some goddamn reason—

Bakugou lets out a frustrated noise, hands clenched at his sides.

“I don’t need your ego,” Aizawa says. “I need your emotion.”

Bakugou deliberately uncurls his fingers, but there’s tension running down every line in his body and he’s hyperaware of the fact that every person on set has their eyes trained on them. He’s suffocating under the weight of their gazes.

“I need a break,” he snaps. Without waiting for permission, he stalks off set and towards his trailer.

Some well-meaning production assistant has left him a fruit basket and a stack of glossy new magazines. Bakugou shoves them off the low table, grinding his teeth as apples and mangos rolls across the floor. He’s about to throw himself down on the couch when the cover of one of the magazines catches his eye.

The background of the image is a solid white, and in the foreground of the image are two men, standing back to back and staring out at the viewer. One of them is tall and lean, with dark hair hanging in his eyes and his hands resting on a sleek guitar. But Bakugou barely registers Amajiki Tamaki’s face, because the person he’s standing next to is so much more important.

Kirishima is dressed in a black sleeveless hoodie, his Riot tattoo a bright red against his bare skin. His teeth flash as he grins out at the camera, expression open and joyful and mischievous. His hands are curled around a microphone.

Bakugou hasn’t seen him in almost two months, since he left him at Present Mic’s after party. He hasn’t seen that smile, or that stupid red hair, or those muscled arms. He hasn’t heard Kirishima’s voice, or felt the touch of his fingers, or—

He throws the magazine down onto the couch, but because the universe fucking hates him it flops open to the feature article. Which means Bakugou is greeted with a page full of snapshots of Riot and Suneater, on stage and behind-the-scenes, smiling and singing and laughing and dancing and—

“Fuck you,” Bakugou snaps at the magazine. “Fuck you, I don’t want to see how happy he is, I already goddamn know!”

But because he’s determined to pick at this scab until it starts to bleed, Bakugou reaches down and picks up the magazine, eyes darting over the text of the article and its interview with everyone’s newest crush, Riot guitarist and lyricist Kirishima Eijirou.

Most of the interview is useless fluff, but Bakugou can hear Kirishima’s voice in his answers, his bashful laughter and genuine enthusiasm. Three-fourths of the way down the page, however, Bakugou pauses.

Interviewer: So, Kirishima-kun, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

Kirishima: Elephant? I’m not sure what you mean.

Interviewer: Don’t be coy, now! A few weeks ago, you and Bakugou Katsuki were getting cozy in local diners, and now there’s no news about you two, at all! What’s the story, there?

Kirishima: Ha! Maybe you could tell me? Sometimes these magazines have the story before I do.

Interviewer: Now I know that isn’t true! You both took a big risk, coming out into the public with your relationship. We just want to know—what’s next for Bakugou and Kirishima?

Kirishima: Well. You know what’s next for me—I’m on this tour, and having the time of my life working with Suneater. As for Bakugou—keep an eye out. He’s always got a few projects cooking.

Interviewer: You know that’s not what I meant! What’s next for the two of you, together?

Kirishima: That would be telling you a lot. You’ll just have to wait and see. But he’s working hard, right now, and I know he’s doing his best just like I am. I’m sending him all the luck I can.

Interviewer: Just luck?

Kirishima: Who knows?

Interviewer: Well, here’s hoping we get to see some more pictures of the two of you together, soon.

Bakugou doesn’t read the rest of the interview. It ends with a snapshot of Kirishima, backstage at one of Riot’s shows. He’s sitting up, his blue shirt unbuttoned to halfway down his chest. His smile is lax and easy, softer and smaller than usual, almost wistful.

This is better, Bakugou tries to remind himself. If Kirishima is on the cover of magazines and giving exclusive interviews, then Riot is getting where it deserves to be. Nothing is holding them back, and soon Bakugou will become a footnote in their story.

Every cell in his body rebels at the thought. He’s no one’s footnote, no one’s path to fame and nothing more. He should be the singular event of Kirishima’s life, not something he can pick up and move on from with so little fanfare. Kirishima should be as miserable as he is, damn it!

But he’s already made Kirishima miserable enough, hasn’t he? Because seeing Kirishima crying on Present Mic’s balcony all those weeks ago had given him no satisfaction. The smiles in these photographs, genuine and bright—they’re much better than the alternative.

Kirishima is out there doing his best, reaching the stars, and what is Bakugou doing? Fucking up the one thing he’s always wanted.

“Okay, let’s try this again,” Aizawa says, in a tone of voice that indicates he’d rather be doing anything else.

By the time Bakugou had made it back to set, the sun had shifted enough that picking up his scene with Shindou had been impossible. Instead, they’ve shifted to an indoor set, to a scene that Bakugou acts in alone.

The lights are dim and a rain effect is in progress, a gentle rhythm rolling over the set.

“You’ve just found out he’s been lying to you,” Aizawa says, setting the scene before they begin. “Everything you thought you knew about him, everything you were falling in love with, that was a lie. You know, and you’ve just left him standing out in the rain, and now you’re trying to figure out how you feel and what you need to do.”

Bakugou’s face is impassive as he listens to Aizawa’s words. Of course, he knows all of this already. He’s memorized the script, knows it backwards and forwards. His shameful performance from this morning is made all the worse for the fact that Bakugou knows this story, chose this story, and wants to portray it as best as it can possibly be. He doesn’t need Aizawa to remind him of all this.

“You’re losing him,” Aizawa says. “Maybe you never had him to start with. All you feel is the crushing emptiness that comes when he isn’t there, and now you can’t move forward.”

When Aizawa stops speaking, Bakugou takes his place on set. It’s the entryway of his character’s apartment, and he strides in through the front door and slams it with a deafening thud behind him. He’s soaked through, his hair plastered against his brow and the back of his neck, his shirt weighed down.

Before this, they’d been out in the rain, and he’d been the one to walk away.

As the door closes, Bakugou sinks to his knees. The cold of the rain gets under his skin, into his very bones. He’s shaking, staring straight ahead without seeing.

Aizawa’s earlier words echo in his mind—Everything you knew about him, everything you were falling in love with, that was a lie. You’re losing him. Maybe you never had him to start with.

He doesn’t know when the tears start, only that they are hot and angry compared to the cold hollowness of the rain. These are not pretty, performer’s tears. His eyes ache with them, his throat closing over as he gasps for breath. He hugs himself around his knees, finally pulling his head down so that he’s no longer looking straight at the camera.

What does he want, in that moment? For something to quiet the hurricane of emotions tearing its way through him. For someone to hold him together until the storm subsides. For everything to make sense, so that he’d have something to hold onto.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. He knows what he wants. He couldn’t admit it to himself, before. But now it seems obvious, and he isn’t his character and he isn’t thinking about Shindou You.

He imagines a kind face, a warm smile. He wants Kirishima back.

The sob that rips its way out of him is harsh and discordant. From somewhere around him, the gentle tap-tap-tap of simulated rain slows and then ends.

“Cut,” Aizawa says, taken aback.

A silence settles over the set, eerie considering just how many people are present there. When Bakugou looks up, everyone is staring at him—Aizawa, with perceptive and considering eyes; Shindou, standing back with his mouth slightly agape; Fukukado, for once not laughing, one hand against her chin. And behind them, the other actors and production assistants and camera men and makeup team and set crew and everyone else. All staring, all looking at Bakugou with something like awe.

Shindou is the first person to start clapping, but his applause is eclipsed by everyone else’s within a moment. All of them, all of them staring at Bakugou and offering him a standing ovation for the performance, for the emotion, he’d just given.

The thing of it is, Bakugou doesn’t even like bars. Growing up as a child actor determined not to become a cliché, he turned up his nose to the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism. But he isn’t a child any longer, and when his work is directly related to the issue he’s trying to avoid he doesn’t have many other options.

They’re living in a resort town on a remote island while they film the movie, so there aren’t many places to go. Thankfully, it’s the off-season, so he doesn’t get crowded by the unwelcome attention of fans and gawkers. Instead, he sits at the bar and orders a beer, staring at it for long moment instead of drinking it.

“Wow, I can’t believe it,” an annoyingly familiar voice says, “Bakugou Katsuki, in the flesh!”

He barely flicks his gaze upwards to see Shindou, standing over him with his hands braced on his hips. He’s out of costume, now, and dressed in black jeans and a tight white t-shirt. His black hair is windswept, and he looks down at Bakugou with a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

Bakugou is suddenly sure that there’s no one on earth he hates more than Shindou, other than fucking Deku. But Shindou’s closer at hand, if he gives into the urge to commit a murder tonight.

“What the hell are you doing here,” he bites out, one hand still curled around his sweating bottle of beer.

“Looking for a little excitement,” Shindou says with a shrug, sitting down on the stool next to Bakugou despite Bakugou’s warning growl. “It’s not my fault you picked the best bar in town to hang out in, you know.”

Everything is his fault, Bakugou wants to say. But he knows that’s not true, even if Shindou is currently the focus of all his surface anger.

“Then pick the somewhere else,” Bakugou snaps at him. On reflex, he takes a sip of his beer, the taste foreign and sharp on his tongue. “Go find some other hellhole to get lost in.”

Shindou just smirks at him, lifting a hand to signal the bartender. After he’s ordered, he turns back to Bakugou. “You know, I really do want to be your friend.”

Bakugou’s glare goes from furious to incredulous. “I don’t give a fuck.”

“Yeah,” Shindou says, emphatically, “I really mean that. I admire you a lot, you know. It’s a dream come true to be working alongside a UA alum. And that performance today, well. That was just more proof of your strong heart, wasn’t it?”

“You’re full of shit.” Bakugou turns his head away. He just wanted some time to himself, alone. He should’ve stayed home in his apartment, told Sero to go out and buy him some drinks if he wanted to take the edge off for the night. But instead he’s here, and if he makes a scene with Shindou someone is bound to notice.

Everything in his life, someone notices. Nothing is private or sacred.

Shindou sighs, but there’s something indulgent and patronizing about the way he does so. He leans back against the bar, sipping at his own drink. “Please don’t screw this movie up for me, Bakugou.”

He’s as slippery as an eel, and that’s only one of the reasons that Bakugou can’t stand him. It’s hard to get a read on Shindou, hard to figure out what game he’s playing.

“I could say the same fucking thing to you, asshole.” Despite his blunders earlier in the day, Bakugou is the last person to ruin a movie. His very presence elevates the entire thing, damn it.

Shindou hums thoughtfully. “Could you, though? This is really important to me.”

Bakugou’s not about to admit to this piece of shit how important the movie is to him, too. Shindou doesn’t deserve to know that, doesn’t deserve to have Bakugou opening up that vulnerable part of himself.

So instead he just lifts his chin and grinds out, “Yeah, I could. Shut up about it.”

Shindou lets out another of those thoughtful hums, and the next thing Bakugou knows Shindou is leaning into his space, their faces too close for comfort.

“If that’s so,” Shindou says, and his breath ghosts across Bakugou’s face, “Then you should really start selling it better, you know.”

His brain short-circuits. Shindou is too close to him, and Bakugou, for the first time in his life, is frozen. This isn’t the controlled atmosphere of a movie set, where Bakugou knows exactly what Shindou’s about to do. Instead, this fucker is just too damn close, and Bakugou can’t read the intent in those dark eyes.

Shindou smiles slowly, like a lioness about to pounce at unsuspecting prey. And in that moment, Bakugou thinks—is Shindou attractive? He’s a goddamn movie star, with eyes like night stars and a sharply-cut jaw. Bakugou’s done enough shirtless scenes with him by this point to know he abs that would make any athlete weep with envy. But he doesn’t feel any attraction towards Shindou—it’s the opposite, really.

Don’t touch me, Bakugou thinks. Shindou leans closer. Don’t touch me, get the fuck away from me, I’m going to kill you—

A hand lands against Bakugou’s shoulder. But instead of jumping up, getting away, he relaxes into the touch in a way he hasn’t in weeks. He knows this touch—he doesn’t hate it.

“Hey,” a voice says, somewhere above him. The hand on his shoulder squeezes. “What’s going on here?”

The voice isn’t accusing, just mildly curious. The person steps closer, and Bakugou can feel the reverberation of their voice through their chest, against his own back.

Shindou glances up, eyes widening and then smile blooming wide on his face. “Oh, ho,” he says, like he’s just won some kind of lottery. “The boyfriend. This is unexpected!”

“Is it?” The person standing behind Bakugou laughs bashfully, but when he speaks again his voice is full of confidence. “I mean, of course I’d come see my boyfriend the first chance I got.”

And Bakugou leans back, feels the hot line of contact against his back, and his lips pull into a savage, satisfied grin.

“Fuck off, Shindou,” he says, without even looking behind him. There’s nothing about this touch, this voice, that he could possibly misinterpret. He knows exactly who’s standing behind him.

Because Kirishima is here, and Bakugou doesn’t want to share him with anyone else.